IMO, 2003 was one of the best years for wrestling, especially for Smackdown but Raw wasn't so bad either. Even if the storylines weren't all that great (they weren't bad but still...) the match quality was amazing, so I'm going to go through some of my favourite matches from 03, giving them a rewatch. I'll do one at a time to spark up some discussion every now and then.
Kurt Angle (c) vs. Chris Benoit
Singles match for the WWE Championship
WWE Royal Rumble 2003
In a match, that on paper you'd expect a five star rating, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit put on an absolute classic at The Royal Rumble. It's a match with your average, everyday build up but with quite the extraordinary backstory. if you factor in their past history which dates back to Wrestlemania 2000 and continues through 2001 and reemerges towards the middle and backend of 2003, then you have to look at this match in a completely different light to truly appreciate it for what it is; an absolute wrestling clinic. Also, you have to look past the inevitable and obvious Lesnar/Kurt match at Wrestlemania which you knew was going to happen at the time so you knew Angle was going to walk away with the title.
With all that in mind, on to the match. A few things annoyed me about this match and I'll go through them, even though mot of them just seem a little nitpicky for me. You have Angle's knee injury which Lesnar caused weeks prior to this match - if you were as clever and as ring savvy as Benoit, wouldn't you go for that? Well you could argue that he did, but only for a few minutes as Benoit kept looking for the Sharpshooter or Boston Crab. Eventually, Chris does get it but he gets it within five minutes of the match. Kurt Angle is still relatively fresh yet he falls victim to a Sharpshooter. I would have preferred it if they held off on the submission until a while later and really focus on Benoit's need and desire to lock it in and do damage to the already damaged leg. As well as this, as soon as Benoit locked in the Sharpshooter and Kurt broke free, Benoit didn't try it again? Just because you've done it once doesn't mean you shouldn't do it again and it's something that quite bugged me about the whole match.
Other than that, this match is great. Back and forth momentum with the crowd firmly behind Benoit as you'd expect - Man, 2002 and 2003 really were the best for Benoit in terms of fitness and general performance, the dude was a machine! There were a few spots and bumps which were pretty cool, including a vicious DDT to Kurt and a very innovative transition spot from a Crippler Crossface (even though Kurt didn't really take the advantage from it). The mid-match interaction and counters were amazing and it really captured both men's character and personas - The no-nonsense, methodical, weardown style, as well as the heart, intensity and determination of both men.
The one thing that I love about this match is that neither man has an advantage for a sustained amount of time. Even though it is obvious as fuck Angle is going to win, both men make you feel like Chris genuinely has a chance of winning his first WWE championship and it's a great feeling. You even kind of think like that even if you know the result, looking back in hindsight. Just everything about this match is great and arguably the best of their series and IMO, if it was based entirely on match quality, Michael Cole was right in saying that this could headline Wrestlemania. The last five minutes are superb and one of the best finishing stretches I've seen, quite easily.
All in all, if you haven't seen this match then you need to fucking watch it, seriously. Both men put on one of the best performances of their careers and IMO it is the best match between these two men. 2003 was a great year for both men, especially for Kurt Angle, but it's a shame that Chris ended up being thrown in a to a random tag team match at Wrestlemania. This match, plus his performance at NWO 2003 should have proven that he deserves to be in the main event.
Next Up: The World's Greatest Tag Team vs. Rey Mysterio and Billy Kidman (Vengeance 2003)
SD 03 was awesome, but Raw 03 was fucking TERRIBLE. Not so much about HHH hogging the title as it was him having shitty matches on a consistent basis. Then Goldberg gets the belt and continues the "wold champ has shitty matches" trend before dropping back to HHH. There ARE a couple of gems from Raw 03 (HBK/Jericho is highly underrated and often completely forgotten), but they are few and far between. Up there as one of the worst years for Raw after the brand split; 2002 being another one too.
I agree completely. Whilst 2003 was pretty shit for Raw, the matches that were good were superb, IMO. You had Jericho/Michaels both at Wrestlemania and Raw, Christian and RVD in the ladder match, Goldberg and Jericho wasn't too shabby, the Raw Survivor Series match which I thought was good, Randy vs. HBK at Unforgiven, Orton and RVD at Armageddon and the Triple H vs. HBK match on Raw. There were a handful of great matches but nothing compared to Smackdown of the same year.
Outside of maybe... 4 matches all year from Raw 03, I don't think anything really came close to superb. At all. Both HBK/Jericho matches, Austin/Rock and HHH/Booker T. And 3 out of 4 happened at WM lol.
Not really, no. There are a handful of ladder matches from Raw around 02-05 or something that on paper should have been great but I thought kinda sucked lol . Christian/Edge from 01 is also one of them. There were quite a few ladder matches on Raw (and Raw PPV) using the likes of Edge, Christian, Jeff, Matt, RVD and maybe a couple of other guys that usually excel in matches like that, but stunk up the join for me lol. Undertaker/Jeff and Eddie/RVD from 02 are probably the only ladder matches I enjoyed on the Raw side of things from that entire time period.
SD! 03 was awesome indeed. Watched a few matches from that year and I will really impressed by Cena. Guys like Lesnar, Angle, Benoit, Taker, Eddie aren't bad guys to headline Smackdown are they? Even Vince was involved in Smackdown. Epic shit.
The Rock vs. Mankind (Ladder Match) – RAW 02/15/99
It was the night after No Way Out where both men literally knocked each other the hell out. This match is brutal as most of their matches are. Rock looks to snap Mankind's knee from his body as he uses the ladder as a weapon. I thought the psychology was very strong here especially for two guys that aren't high flyers. There are no high spots in this match but I think it is a nice change of pace for a ladder match. Austin on commentary is always great. This is also the beginning of the build to Rock/Austin for WrestleMania XV.
And some "Smackdown Six" stuff from 2002:
Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero (No Disqualification Match) – Smackdown! 09/26/02
In the summer and fall of 2002, Edge and Eddie Guerrero had a series of battles whether it was tag team matches or singles on PPV, these two ‘clicked’ and produced quality work together. This match is on Eddie’s latest DVD Viva La Raza and on the set Edge says this is one of his favorite matches ever. He loved working with Eddie because both men are so passionate about stealing the show in ways they only know how to. Well in this No DQ match they did just that and they also earned a ton of respect after it.
This is “the conclusion” of their many battles and when watching it I could tell both Edge and Eddie wanted to lay it all on the line with the chairs and ladders in the mix. All throughout the match Eddie showed his machismo by slapping his chest, taunting Edge and the crowd as he performed some of the most amazing offense. Even though Eddie played his role as heel extremely well, sometimes when a wrestler is so damn talented the people can’t help but love and cheer for and Eddie got a lot of chants.
There are plenty of big ladder spots in this match as they just beat the hell out of each other. Some of my favorites are Eddie’s He-lo on a ladder sandwiched Edge, the sunset flip powerbomb off a ladder which is so dangerous especially for Edge who later had a serious neck injury, and the crazy backdrop into a ladder which Eddie lands on the top of his neck! Both men had the crowd at the palm of their hands in this action packed, classic and it wouldn’t end just yet. Both men probably in the moment felt the intensity of the match and Edge rammed Eddie’s head hard into the ladder busting him open. But nothing tops the Edge-a-Cution off the top of the ladder!!!
The standing ovation both men got especially Eddie was incredible. You don’t see stuff like that every day and this is special. Earlier in the match when Eddie beat his chest it was to spite the people but in this raw moment looking at him struggle to his feet the people HAD to react with insurmountable respect. I got chills when “Latino Heat” music played. Before the final replay of the finish you can see Eddie beating his chest with love to the fans. You can see why this thing we call wrestling or sports entertainment whatever is more than just a show. This is passion and love for the performance of the greatest athletes and entertainers in the world. Eddie bares his soul here as he left bloodied, defeated but respected.
Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit vs. Rey Mysterio – Smackdown! 09/26/02
Angle totally bashes Mysterio, his hometown San Diego, illegal immigrants and Benoit before the match. This is a homecoming for Mysterio and Angle wants to spoil all of that while also trying to gain a measure of revenge against Benoit for defeating him at Unforgiven last Sunday.
This match is just about everything in it jammed packed in what seems like a short amount of time. I mean the match may be 15 minutes I didn’t time it but it felt like seven. Angle and Benoit from the start want to eliminate Rey Mysterio from the equation so they can finish their battle to prove who the best wrestler is so the biggest little man gets tossed out earlier. Both technicians start off with the counter exchanges wrestling on the mat and riding each other.
I like Mysterio’s role in this match because every time Benoit and Angle get too comfortable suplexing each other Rey jumps in with his amazing aerial assault. Like I said before there’s a lot of action in this one and no botches whatsoever. If people enjoyed the WrestleMania 22 triple threat match then you will love the hell out of this one because it’s even better.
Edge vs. Kurt Angle – Smackdown! 10/03/02
In a backstage segment before the match Kurt compared himself to a Mozart symphony or a Renoir painting. Kurt says he is as close to perfection as you can get and the gold medals prove it. Edge reminds him that he isn’t perfect and the bald head proves it! So Angle sucker punches Edge as they set out to have their match. This was maybe a two minute segment and so many things were accomplished in that short amount of time. Angle continues his feud with Benoit and Mysterio, he brings up the history between him and Edge before their match thus giving the match more heat and giving himself more heat with the fans. The people want to see Angle get his ass kicked more now and they will root for Edge to do it.
This match takes place only a week after Edge’s No DQ classic with Eddie. Edge could have come into the match with rage looking to unleash it all on Angle in a fury but he doesn’t do that. Edge instead controls his anger by focusing on an attack to Angle’s shoulder. The reasoning could be Edge wanting to eliminate the Ankle Lock which is very smart. Or Edge maybe wants to injury Angle’s shoulder like Edge got his shoulder injured in their Cage Match earlier in the year. Edge continued to mobilize Angle with arm drag-arm bar take down-submissions.
One of my favorite wrestling exchanges in the entire match is when Edge has a key-lock on Angle’s arm and Angle sweeps Edge’s leg putting him on the mat straight into a pin cover with the leg hooked! Edge kicks out but he still has the key-lock in and attempts to pin Angle! I just thought that was cool.
Any time someone outwrestles Angle he’s going to be totally pissed off and he resorts to pulling hair and punching in the ropes. This is classic Angle storytelling of the Olympic Gold Medalist throwing his pure wrestling acumen out the window when someone gets the best of him at his own game.
Angle eventually takes control of the match after an Angle Slam to the floor outside of the ring. Then the assault on Edge’s mid-section begins. Edge is one of the top babyfaces I have ever rooted for and this match is one of those instances where he does an incredible job of selling an injury. Edge delivers a tremendous performance here with his eyes looking so dazed and he continues to sell all of Angle’s offense to perfection.
Continues to build and build leading up into a crazy ref bump and pin fall finish which leads to the match being restarted and ends with a decisive finish (sort of). This match is off the page and about the same level as their matches at Judgment Day and Backlash 2002.
Chris Benoit vs. Rey Mysterio – Smackdown! 10/03/02
“Rey Mysterio is simply breathtaking but will the Rabid Wolverine take his breath away tonight?”
We have learned that Benoit and Angle will be tag team partners in the WWE Tag Team Title Tournament and they must co-exist despite the fact that they hate each other and continue to attack each other. But they only have to co-exist while they are officially teaming up in the ring.
This is sort of a mini-dream match for me. Both men perfect their craft like no other. Benoit and Mysterio are without a doubt two of my Top 10 favorite workers. Tazz mentioned Benoit and Mysterio were in WCW for years but they never had a match together so this might be the only singles match between these two greats and they both are still in full competitive form!
Benoit immediately asserts his ruthless (or toothless) aggression on Rey-Rey by countering his tilt-a-whirl offense into back breakers, throwing him hard into the turnbuckle and chopping the shit out of the little guy! Benoit is so vicious with the knee strikes. He has no mercy for anyone. Benoit knows he must ground the high flyer and he does just that with more knees to the back.
I always found it remarkable how Mysterio can exude so much pain and desperation through his mask. Mysterio is a true underdog and you can’t help but to cheer for him to continue to fight. Mysterio uses his Lucha style to counter Benoit’s aggressive submission holds and suplexes. The fluidity of their counters and shifts in the match is simply marvelous to see. They may not have wrestled much together but with their amount of skill they create a beautiful match together. Mysterio will bump so well it looks almost too dangerous for him to be in there with Benoit.
If they’d had a match in WCW it would probably be this match which is saying a lot when you look at all the awesome stuff they did there but this was a new prime for them in WWE.
So Cal, how do you feel about the Raw Survivor Series match?
I'd have to watch it again to see if it holds up but on last viewing I loved it.
Which was that again? Bischoff Vs Austin teams? Personally I think it gets overrated and honestly don't think HBK's performance at the last guy trying to hold on was THAT great, but its still a really good match, one I forgot about.