Ruthless Review

WWE VENGEANCE 2003

PHANTASM review
Published 17 August 2021

03/08/1997

East Rutherford, NJ, USA

Continental Arena

Above: The commentary team welcome us to Summerslam 97

WWE United States Title 

Tournament final match- vacant title

Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit

Eddie kicks of Vengeance in one of his custom low riders. The match begins with plenty of old school back and forth, catch as catch can, between the men who have had parallel career paths. It’s hard to watch this without thinking of the upcoming tragedies both men would endure. In 2003, both these former Radicalz were on their way to world championship pushes, the US title a stepping stone towards this. In this exchange, Benoit is the crowd favourite and dominates the early going. A series of suplexes include a top rope super-plex and numerous Germans lead to the crippler cross-face and an Eddie rope break. Eddie gets big crowd pops after hitting the 3 Amigos with a big one for good measure, then slightly botches the Frog Splash, for which Benoit tries to roll away but does not get enough distance between himself and Eddie… ouch. 

Above : Mankind and Triple H do battle. Credit WWE.com

The vacant title is used by Guerrero, who plays possum to the crowds delight. Cheat 2 win! A stray diving head-butt from Benoit nails the ref as Rhyno runs to the ring and drills Benoit! An Eddie Frog Splash later and we have a new US champion! 

Above: Chyna interferes

Above: Mankind leaps from the cage

A good wrestling match. Initial, fluid chain wrestling to start and strong build towards power/signature moves throughout the middle section. Great comedy and storytelling from Eddie, good underdog tough guy stuff from Benoit. Interesting, creative finish and a satisfying outcome with Latino Heat taking a step towards the main event scene with a mid card title run.  

Winner by pin-fall: Eddie Guerrero

6.8/10 – Thumbs up

Above: It’s Dude Love


Vince and Stephanie McMahon backstage

-Thumbs down

Above: Pillman vs. Goldust

Indecent Proposal match

Billy Gunn vs. Jamie Noble

No. Just no. The stipulation of this one states that if hillbilly Noble wins, Tori basically becomes his sex play thing. Sigh. Pointless and forgettable. the sort of Jerry Springer sexist nonsense that you just kind of accepted when you were between the age of 11-15, but is completely unacceptable in adult hindsight. Basically the creative team throwing shit at the wall and seeing what sticks. This may have worked at the end of 97/beginning of 98, but in July of 03 it certainly stinks. 

Of course the hillbilly wins with a roll up and alas- Tori is his prisoner/ new girlfriend I guess. Tori is not even given any sort of character here, she is used as a token female object of Noble’s creepy desire. Why do we need to see this?

Also, this is a sad reminder of BABG’s downward career trajectory, doing the JOB to Jamie freakin Noble, circa 2003. An unwanted reminder at how bad Billy was as a singles competitor. it’s hard to imagine that at this point in time, BABG is one half of one of the greatest tag teams in history. Why the hell did they have to repackage him as The One Billy Gunn. The one what? The one that could not hang with the main event scene and got publicly destroyed by the Rock in the summer of 99? The one that set the business back several years with that disastrous wedding angle with Chuckky in 02? Instead of ‘The One‘ he should be called ‘The Two‘ as this match was a steaming pile of shit.  

The only positive about this match is that it was short and doesn’t take up anymore PPV time. Bit early for a popcorn match though…

Winner by pin-fall: Jamie Noble

1.2/10: Thumbs down


APA Invitational Bar Room Brawl

Next is a drinking challenge set up by the APA, which includes such superstars as Matt Hardy, Brian Kendrick, the Basham Brothers, Spanky, Doink the Clown and Brother Love. About 20 guys are drinking in the makeshift bar set up on the arena floor as Brother Love gets the mic and starts talking trash. The chaos begins, drinks are flying and people are thrown wild west style through the saloon. It looks like this one is last man left standing. Sean O’haire is trying to act tough and it isn’t working. He really is a never has been. The Easter bunny is also here and takes a bump… wonder who’s in the bunny suit? Cole and Tazz are having fun calling this one, which is good to see compared to the modern day Cole who is basically a robotic sound byte cog in the WWE machine. Matt Hardy drops a leg drop from up high and breaks the table on the second try. Funaki passes out, which leaves us with the APA to finish off Brother Love for the win. 

Above: LOD vs. The Godwinns

No technical masterpiece here, but a bit of fun. Probably could have been done on a Monday night raw, or after a really good match later in the card. But, fun filler non the less.

Winner: APA

3/10 ~ Thumbs up


Backstage: Jamie Noble

~Thumbs down


WWE Tag Team Title match

The Worlds Greatest Tag Team(c) vs. Billy Kidman/ Rey Mysterio

The former WCW Filthy Animals team up with some good chain wrestling to get things started. Just incase you forget, the good guys are dressed in white, while the baddies are dressed in dark maroon. Kidman hits an early shooting star, and Haas gets to the ropes. The heels lock in a bow and arrow submission and the crowd go….luke warm. A hot Mysterio run see’s swinging crucifixes and jumping DDT’s galore, a centon gets a 2.9 count and gets the crowd right involved. WGTT hit a top rope clothesline/ cross body, with the wrong man making the pin for the win.

Good action, plenty of flying to get the locals invested, with Rey and Kidman getting well put over in a loss. Solid in-ring work from all 4 men, Mysterio is somewhat wasted being thrown into a tag team match however. Not a lot of storytelling in this one, that will come later in the event.

Winner: Worlds Greatest Tag Team

6.2/10~ Thumbs up 


No Count-out Cat Fight

Sable vs. Stephanie McMahon

Tazz- ” It’s gonna be a hot cat fight” And just like that, we are back to the Attitude era. Sable prances and grinds her way to the ring, showing off her talents. Will she offer up her first half decent wrestling match? Well no, but this one has some good story behind it and Steph is putting in a good effort as sympathetic babyface. Sable works way better as the loathsome coward compared to the hot hero from back in 98′. While Steph in 03′ has yet to become the power hungry and intolerable CEO owner we now associate her as. This cat fight does unfortunately highlight a forgettable era for woman’s wrestling, for which was struggling to seperate itself from the ‘puppies’ tits and ass objectification of the late 90’s and evolve into a division focussing on athleticism and good wrestling spots, for which woman like Lita and Trish Stratus were initiators.


Back to the match, Stephanie is working well as a somewhat butt kicker, laying into the unsympathetic Sable, to the delight of the live crowd. After a lull in the action (for which I’m sure both competitors forgot what the hell the were supposed to do) A-Train runs in and flattens Stephanie, allowing Sable to pick up the cheap 1,
2,3.

Bit of a clusterfuck, but an interesting fight with solid crowd investment. Pity about the screwy ending, not sure the wrestling world was ready for inter-gender run-ins just yet. Yes, Sable is the coward heel, but surely she could still get a win on her own without interference?  Short and relatively sweet though, nothing fancy or technically pretty.

Winner by pin-fall: Sable

4.5/10~ Thumbs up

John Cena vs. The Undertaker

Killer promo package. Strong buildup to this one, with emphasis on the up and coming Cena student vs. the long timer Undertaker mentor figure, done in quite a subtle way. In July of 2003, white rapping new school Cena is the companies potential and future no doubt. He has found his niche and is being put through the rigger. Why couldn’t he have stayed the doctor of thuganomics opposed to damn super Cena  dammit! In hindsight, this has a real passing of the torch feel to it similar to the HBK/Y2J feud earlier in 2003. Old school vs new school, this should have been Taker’s match earlier in the year at Wrestlemania 19, instead of that Big Show, A train, Nathan Jones shamozzel. But alas, we have the match here at Vengeance. 

Above left and right: Bulldog and Shamrock battle it out.

Big Evil (after his bike stalling on his entrance) kicks off with a flurry of fists in the corner, followed by a guillotine leg drop on the apron, then ‘old school’ from high above, lifting Cena’s head before the count of 3 so he can punish the young lion with an early choke slam. Cena counters the Last Ride and escapes early squash fate, bouncing back with heel-ish offence and an eventual slow down of the pace. Ground and pound from Cena has the Deadman in trouble, bleeding from deep within and putting his younger foe over as only The Undertaker can do. One thing that isn’t putting Cena over here is his M.C Hammer-esqe hair do, for which is questionable in any era. 

Above: Shamrock snaps

Taker’s ribs and internal bleeding becomes the theme to this one, even the high altitude, Denver air is going against the Undertaker here. Cena continues to chop down the monster. 1996 Vince McMahon would not allow a Cena size man to do this, but he has slowly learnt from those dark ages. This heel psychology is much more entertaining than the future babyface Cena match we will eventually be presented with. The young heel working a body part is more believable and interesting than the super human upcoming act Cena would take over where he would constantly overcome insurmountable odds, over and over and over. No celebrating with the troops here, just trash talk and ground and pound. After  series of false finishes, the action kicks into higher gear, Taker kicks out of an FU, yes not an AA, as well as an illegal use of a chain by John. Undertaker looks winded, bloodied and done. But experience betters cocky youth on the night, with a surprise Last Ride for an Undertaker victory! Old school reigns supreme.

Heck of a battle, good psychology, great in-ring story telling and this match definitely holds up when viewed through a 2021 lens. These two would never truely have that huge one on one program and big match, (WM34 didn’t exactly have the big blockbuster match long term fans were craving) so this match stands strong in terms of history for these two. The veteran really puts over the young up and comer, who is all the better for taking the loss and certainly looks strong in defeat. John Cena’s time is coming, it just isn’t right now.

Winner by pin-fall: The Undertaker

8.0/10~ Thumbs up


Above: Shawn Michaels backstage


Vince McMahon vs Zach Gowen

Another great, emotional, pre match promo really sums things up. Vince is truely the devil here, channeling some of his heat from the Corporate Ministry days. Ok, maybe not as bad as the time he had his daughter abducted and almost married in an unholy wedding, but beating up a one legged kid is pretty damn brutal! The story for this one is pretty simple and effective- the ultimate underdog looking to live his dream, standing in the way is the greedy corporate, ego driven, sociopathic boss. You know, that old chest nut. Zach is fighting for his survival and it is a pity he didn’t stick around in the company for longer, as his matches and storylines were always quite engaging. The bell rings and everyone with a pulse is pulling for ZG. The evil boss is playing that of which he loves so much- the big glistening and unbeatable adonis. (see Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Lex Lugar etc) The man is quite delusion.. 

ZG gains ascendancy, nailing a top rope aisee moonsault and mounting some baby face offence. Pity they tagged him with ‘Zach attack’ though..eye roll. Rather than presenting him as a glorified child, Zach should have been presented as a hard edged fighter who has been screwed by everyone and keeps on fighting for survival. Rebellious don’t care attitude rather than adolescent white meat, grit over cheese. Stay away from super hero shit WWE. (Sorry Hurricane Helms, Mighty Molly and Nikki Cross) It worked for Hogan but has not truely worked since. Back to the match, Vince sucks in the heat, he is excellent at in ring storytelling, that I cannot fault him for. He really hides his physical limitations by putting focus on his character strengths and drawing heel heat.

His pantomiming and general exaggerated facial expression is a good blue print on how to get over as a heel in the ring. V beats down his smaller opponent, he even references Bret with the figure four around the outside ring post. A half leg Boston crab really hits home the point Vince is clearly making: Zach is a one legged man in an ass kicking contest. Cole and Tazz cheering on Z is mirrored by the audience, who fights back and nails a moonsault on the owner followed by a low dropkick onto a chair, which bounces off Vince’s skull. And oh my god- he has suffered a gusher! Vince’s brain is partially exposed, the red stuff is spurting. Did he blade way too deep or did the side of the chair legit bust him? Either way, the blood is flowing and they need to go home ASAP. The look on Zach’s face reads “oh shit, did I do that?” Vince McMahon is losing blood by the gallon. Z ascends and goes for the twisting thingamaggigy to finish him off, but finds nothing but canvas, allowing V to roll him up for the 3 count- silencing the crowd. 

Above left: Austin working Owen. Credit WWE.com
Above right: Owen hits a suplex

As frustrating as it is, this is the right result. Better to have Z as the always underdog who gets so close but just misses getting the victory. It did seem like Vince was wrestling himself at times, bottle feeding Gowen through the match. Perhaps Zach could have been giving a bit more offence through the middle of the match, he definitely needed to mount more at the very end end. Not his fault though, blame booking. Heck of an effort by the guy, with excellent heel work from Vince and some classic old time storytelling told. I am sure they had to end things prematurely due to the amount of blood the owner was losing. Graphic stuff.

Winner by pin-fall: Vince McMahon

7.0/10~ Thumbs up


Above: The piledriver that broke Steve Austin’s neck

Above: Austin wins gold

Winner by pin-fall and new Intercontinental champion- Stone Cold Steve Austin (16:16)

6.8/10  ~ Thumbs up (Thumbs down for the accident)


WWE Heavyweight Title

Triple Threat No Disqualification

Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Kurt Angle vs. The Big Show

Lesnar is nowhere near as good as baby face. In 2003, he is young, hungry, on top of the world as champ, yet he does not have that aura about him that he would carry after his 2012 return as the conquering Kong. This match takes a while for any semblance of story to kick in, the early going is made up of random action. Triple threats are always more difficult to execute in regards to storytelling, no exception here. Brock hits a giant F-5, for which Angle interrupts. Then nails the Show with a friggin running powerslam! Kurt brings a chair into play and uses it on unprotected skulls… no! From what we know now in 2021 about concussions, (see, CTE) this is difficult to watch. 

Left, middle, right: Bret, HBK and Undertaker’s entrances

Brock is busted. Big Show is angry. Angle makes him angrier by slamming him through the poor  Spanish table. Ay curumba! Just who are the heels and who are the baby faces in this one? It isn’t exactly clear if you didn’t already know going in. Not a good sign. In ring stare down between Angle and Lesnar is a good preview for the upcoming Summerslam, they fight for a while before Angle nails a German suplex into an inside-out, release German…yikes. A bloody, fired up Kurt attempts the Angle slam for which is countered into a spine buster and where the hell is BS? Oh, there he is, getting all mad and hitting both blokes with a double choke slam.

Above: HBK laying down the law

Big Show cant gain the 3 count though, much to his chagrin and cops a big slam for his troubles. Another Angle slam later, this time to the champ and Kurt Angle gets the 1,2,3 for the win and the title! The Olympic gold medalist celebrates in the ring, holding WWE gold aloft after once again climbing the mountain, claiming his fifth word title reign in the process.q

Above: Undertaker working the back

An entertaining bout, more focussed on power moves than true storytelling. Nothing wrong with that from time to time. Sometimes it’s just fun to watch three guys beat the snot out of each other. Big Show is so close to being good as a giant in this one, it takes too long for him to settle into the heel role and he probably takes too much punishment. The big man was way, way too exposed to the audience throughout his entire career. He should have been booked much less frequently and been used as a rare attraction filled with more mystery and intrigue. Brock desperately needs to turn heel and become the cold blooded bastard he excels at. While Angle is at his usual best as tweener, working smooth and giving his all, as a legitimate athlete that thrives on competition. Strong bout overall, nice way to cap off a PPV.

Winner and new WWE champion: Kurt Angle

8.1/10 Thumbs up

Above Left: Figure four around the ring post
Right: HBK and Hart exchange words

No matter what people say, the Ruthless Aggression era is sports entertainment at its finest. The hangover of the Attitude era has well worn off and the PG era is nowhere in sight. Vengeance is an event somewhat forgotten in the annals of WWE history, but deserves some recognition as a well structured, entertaining PPV. A strong opener was followed by 2 or 3 forgettable spots, working into the big Undertaker/ Cena clash and the big fight feel main event. Good storytelling in both McMahon’s match ups, plenty of blood and violence over the course of 3 hours. 2003- what a time to be a wrestling fan! 

Above Left: HBK accuses Bret
Right: The final moments of the match

Above: The Hitman scores the win

Above: The Hart Foundation celebrate

PHANTASM review