This was originally written for Epinions.com on July 10th, 2004.
Typically in World Wrestling Entertainment, tradition is usually kept intact, even though there are a few notably disgusting moments within the company’s history of violating tradition and it’s principles. However, one of the WWE’s most time-honered traditions have been the Royal Rumble match and event. Since 1988, the Royal Rumble match was a proving ground. The rules were simple. 30 Men would compete under the rules of a Battle Royale. The match begins with two men, and every two minutes or so (it changes year to year), a new wrestler will join the Rumble. This continues until all 30-Men have entered. A wrestler is eliminated if he is thrown over the top rope and both feet touch the floor. A winner is declared whenever all other participants are eliminated and one man remains.
Originally, the Royal Rumble event was just an idea to draw fans into seeing their favorite superstars within one match. The “every man for himself” motto that has been used since it’s inception brought about intruiging possibilities. Friends fighting friends. Enemies battling enemies. Even tag teams would sometimes battle it out (Demolition, the Hardy Boyz). Though most of the time, the Royal Rumble match is tiring and overly long, there have been a few notable Royal Rumbles which were very fun to watch and entertaining (1992, 1997, 1998, and 2001 are my personal favorites). In 1993, a special stipulation was added to the Royal Rumble match. The winner of the Rumble would become the instant #1 Contender for the World Championship and compete for it in the Main Event at that year’s Wrestlemania, which is the WWF/WWE’s biggest annual event.
Date: January 19, 2003
Location: Boston, Massachusetts
Building: The Fleet Center
The 2003 Royal Rumble was probably one of the more interesting ones in recent memory when it comes to predictability, in the fact that it didn’t have much of it. At the time, almost all of the WWE’s top draws were either gone from the company, or busy with other programs (storylines). Kurt Angle was busy feuding with “The Canadian Crippler” Chris Benoit as the feud escalated into a huge match at the Pay-Per-View. Triple H was having a bitter rivalry with Scott Steiner, who recently arrived after year and half hiatus. Stiener had not been seen since the final WCW Nitro, and immediately wanted a World Title shot, and was granted one at this PPV. The most electrifying man in sports entertainment The Rock was busy filming his movies and other commitments, and had been gone from WWE television since August of 2002, only to return a couple of weeks after this event to feud with Hulk Hogan, who was also gone and returned after The Rumble. The company’s biggest star of the late 90s, Stone Cold Steve Austin gone for good in the eyes of many, walking out on the company in the spring of 2002 due to being “burned out”. Surprisingly enough, Austin made a return at the Pay Per View immediately following this one.
Of the likely candidates to win the Rumble, I found myself contemplating pretty hard. We had older superstars like Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker who already established several runs as well as main evented Wrestlemanias, but those were out of the picture. I knew better. I knew Vince McMahon wouldn’t book any of these guys to win the Rumble, as he typically used this event to catapult new wrestlers to superstardom. Other likely candidates were Chris Jericho and Kane, whom had both held world titles, but never got to marinate in them and were never given full pushes and runs at the top of the company. Then there’s the underdogs who many feel deserve the push, like Eddie Guerrero, Booker T, and Rhyno. Still… I didn’t know.
Then there’s Brock Lesnar, a man dubbed “The Next Big Thing”. Lesnar was a former NCAA Champion and arrived at the WWE a year earlier, destroying everybody in his path. After four months, Brock defeated The Rock to win the title and become the youngest WWE Champ ever (an accolade the Rock had before Brock won the belt). In the fall, Brock was screwed out of the title by his manager Paul Heyman, aligning himself with The Big Show. Brock was hungry for his title, but would have to go through the Big Show before he was able to even compete in the Rumble match. This turned into the opening match of the night, which found Brock almost dominate his opponent into a victory after lifting the 500 pound behemoth and hitting his F-5 finisher shortly after the 5 minute mark. Brock was in the Rumble… but would he win?
In a match which didn’t have much heat behind it, the so-called Un-Americans (Lance Storm and William Regal), defended against the Dudleys. The Un-American group was a stable that tried a bit too hard to gain heat, but never really could like they wanted, despite having the Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff under their control. Anyways, this little match for the Raw Tag Titles was a short, ten minute whack which is easily skippable, finding The Dudleys regain the Tag Team Titles for the 17th time if you count their ECW and WCW title reigns. The two teams would continue to feud with twists and turns, but frankly… few cared.
Another feud which nobody gave a fuck about was the idiotic one between Torrie Wilson and Dawn Marie. The story here is that Dawn Marie made passes at Torrie’s dad Al Wilson, even to the point where Al married her out of lust. Torrie hated the fact that Dawn was with her father, and up until this point the storyline actually made a bit of sense. However, as it would turn out, Al Wilson “died” on Smackdown as Dawn Marie “sexed” him to death. That’s right folks, the WWE did an angle where a man died because his heart couldn’t take the sex. If this isn’t 3-year old humor, i don’t know what is. Granted if this happens in a Kevin Smith movie it’s acceptible, but wrestling should try at least a little bit to be realistic, and in wrestling, people shouldn’t die in angles, and thats fact. The fact that the WWE put this crap on Thursday nights completely insults my intelligence as well as other WWE fans. The match itself is garbage, with both women only serving as eye-candy and doing their typical “cat-fight” routines until Torrie wins with a botched-up neckbreaker. What really jerks my chain here is the complete lack of acting skills by either woman. I mean, give me a break, if your father died, wouldn’t you be a bit more ticked off than to want to settle it in a wrestling ring. Torrie barely showed any signs of sadness, and tried a bit too hard. I like Torrie and Dawn for eye-candy, and that’s ALL they should do. Unfortunately, it’s been a year and half since then and the WWE still hasn’t learned its lesson, throwing us insipid “death” angles with Paul Bearer, and meaningless catfights with two women who don’t know how to wrestle.
An interesting backstage segment happens at this point, which finds both General Managers Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon promising huge bombshells for their shows. Bischoff would of course bring back Stone Cold Steve Austin (the icon of the 90s), while Stephanie brought back Hulk Hogan (the icon of the 80s). Both served in helping set up their respective matches at Wrestlemania.
The next match is arguably the worst match of 2003. Scott Stiener had popped up in the WWE at the Survivor Series Pay-Per-View in November. Soon after he signs with Raw and immediately is pushed into the Main Event slot to feud with Triple H, their reigning champion. Steiner had a few fans behind him, but many of the “smarks” knew that his best days were WAY behind him and that his workrate was terrible. My guess is that Vince McMahon (the owner) recognized that since Steiner dominated WCW in 2000, he would be an ideal challenger for Triple H’s World Title, which used to be the WCW Title. As the match progressed, fans realized that Steiner had a limited arsenal of moves and were treated to clothesline after clothesline, then followed up by several over-head belly-to-back suplexes. Steiner had absolutely nothing special to add to the match, and Triple H himself wasn’t having great matches at the time either. The match suffered from having two bad workers in a match with little heat and no pre-planning. In watching closely, you can tell that the match is sloppy and unorganized, with Steiner seemingly improvising his moves. Sometimes improvisation is fine, but not when you do a belly-to-belly over, and over, and over. Eventually, the fans at the arena were so sick of the bullshit that they began to boo both men, and yet they continued the match. 20 of the most boring minutes in wrestling passed by until Triple H purposely started to try to get himself disqualified. As the story goes, Triple H couldn’t “beat” Steiner (yeah right), so he tried to take the chicken way out and save his title. After numerous attempts to get himself DQed, Hunter takes his signature sledgehammer and pounds Steiner, forcing the referee to call a DQ and announce Steiner the winner, but not the champ. After the match, Steiner locked in a half-assed “Steiner Recliner” for a few minutes until they got Steiner away. Yeah the match was over, but what pissed me off even more is that the WWE had the balls to actually CONTINUE this unbelievably heatless and boring feud for another Pay-Per-View. Who would pay to see this borefest? Either way, this match would wind up being one of the most boring in recent memory.
The true highlight of the entire night finally arrives. In a match which was the complete opposite of the last one, Kurt Angle succesfully defended his Smackdown WWE Title against Chris Benoit in a classic match. Typically these 25 minute title matches feature lots of rest breaks, but no such thing here. These guys took barely any rest-time and were going at it hard from the opening bell. There was brawling, a few spots, and superb technical wrestling. Suplexes, Reversals, Near-Falls, all of those were found here as these two men gave it everything they’ve got for Smackdown’s richest prize. One particular moment that sticks out in my mind was Chris Benoit’s DDT to Angle on the apron, which was a very dangerous, risky spot to attempt. The two kept going at it and for the last 10 minutes or so we saw nothing but crisp wrestling moves, near-falls, submissions, and reversals… at full speed. The finish came when Angle locked in his signature Anklelock after Benoit had kicked out of his other finisher, the Olympic/Angle Slam. Benoit was close to reversing the hold, until Angle clamped down with a leg-sissors, ensuring that Benoit could barely move. Seeing that the end was near, the courageous Benoit had no choice but to tap out. After this 25 minute extravaganza, Angle was carried out by his chronies Benjamin and Haas and Benoit recieved a well-deserved standing ovation. This match is basically the only truly excellent part of this lackluster card.
This year’s Royal Rumble match was a bit different than previous years. After the infamous brand extension where the WWE was split into two parts (Raw and Smackdown), there needed to be a balance. This Royal Rumble featured 15 Raw superstars and 15 Smackdown superstars for a total of 30 men. As the rules stated, whichever superstar won the Rumble would go on to Wrestlemania XIX to face off against the World Champion of his respective brand, whether it was Raw or Smackdown, in the Main Event. It’s very hard to top that last match, and the Royal Rumble match failed to succeed. However, the Rumble did secure a few nice feuds which would be taken to Wrestlemania. Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels were the first two men in the ring, and this would kick-start a feud that would blow-off at Wrestlemania XIX with Michaels going over (winning). This part was exciting, but it didn’t last. The middle of the match suffered from being boring, and only featured a little bit of brawling and a few nice moves, but nothing to really remember. Finally, at #29, Brock Lesnar entered the Royal Rumble match and immediately dominated, eliminating several people. The Undertaker came in at #30 and the two were about to go at it, until Raw’s Kane and Batista got in the way. These four giants wound up being the finalists. After Batista went out thanks to a shortlived reunion between Taker and his brother Kane, Taker turns on Kane, eliminating him. This gives Lesnar enough time to throw Taker over the top and win the Rumble. Lesnar would become the #1 Contender for the Smackdown Title, and defeat Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania XIX. Exactly one year after that, Lesnar would wrestle his final match against Bill Goldberg at Wrestlemania XX, ending his career with the WWE to pursue life as a football player in the NFL.
Royal Rumble 2003 was a lackluster event. The lack of star power truly hurt the WWE, as man of the stars here were either not established, or perhaps too established. Besides a somewhat boring Rumble match at the end, the undercard itself was terrible. A few of the matches ended some feuds that fans honestly didn’t care about, while some were just bad. Sadly, the two god-awful matches overshadowed the CLASSIC WWE Title match which is really the only true reason to purchase this DVD. Luckily for WWE fans, this Rumble was the last of the lackluster shows that WWE put on during this time, and picked it up at No Way Out in February all the way to Wrestlemania XIX thanks to the arrivals of Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. Regardless, this show is awful and shouldn’t be bought, specially considering the WWE Title match will be on the new Chris Benoit DVD released this month…
– Brock Lesnar defeated The Big Show to earn a spot in the Royal Rumble later in the night
– The Dudley Boyz defeated WWE World Tag Team Champions Lance Storm and William Regal to win the titles
– Torrie Wilson defeated Dawn Marie
– Scott Stiener defeated World Heavyweight Champion Triple H via disqualification when the champion used a sledgehammer on the challenger
– WWE Champion Kurt Angle defeated Chris Benoit via submission to retain the title
– Brock Lesnar won the 30-Man Royal Rumble by last eliminating The Undertaker