With Goldberg’s loss to Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania one of the greatest comebacks in WWE history has come to an end. With that in mind, Throwback Thursday looks back at how it all began by revisiting Backlash 2003 on the WWE Network, which took place 14 years ago today.
By spring 2003, with the “Attitude Era” and the “Monday Night Wars” a thing of the past, WWE was moving in a new direction: “Ruthless Aggression”. With younger talent taking over and more wrestling than ever, the WWE was becoming the closest thing to “pro wrestling” it had ever been, and it was working. But all was not well. Following WrestleMania XIX injuries and exits, including Kurt Angle, The Rock, The Undertaker, and Stone Cold Steve Austin to name a few, left the WWE in serious need of legitimate star power. Enter Bill Goldberg.
Besides Sting, Bill Goldberg was the biggest WCW star to never work for WWF/E. Goldberg’s WWE run seemed to get off to a great start by being paired with the departing Rock for a dream match debut at Backlash 2003. Then the match happened, and Goldberg’s WWE run would never be the same. From the seemingly botched entrance to the over-booked match Goldberg’s WWE run went from hot to not in record time. Between the adult content of the programs and the booking of his character Goldberg quickly soured on WWE and would leave in March 2004, not returning again until 2016.
For those curious, Jonathan Coachman replaced Jim Ross on commentary after the Ross “quit” on the April 7, 2003 edition of RAW following comments Ross made about Eric Bischoff after Bischoff “fired” Stone Cold Steve Austin. Ross would return to commentary on the May 5, 2003 edition of RAW after Jerry Lawler defeated Chief Morley.
Context isn’t an issue here as all previous editions of RAW and SmackDown!, as well as all PPVs, are available on the Network right now.
WWE Backlash 2003 (WATCH)
Date: April 27, 2003 – Location: Worcester Centrum, Worcester, Massachusetts
Attendance: 10,000 – PPV Buys: 0.67 (<345,000 homes)
Commentators: Michael Cole & Tazz (SmackDown!); Jonathan Coachman & Jerry Lawler (RAW) – Interviews: Lillian Garcia & Terri Runnels
CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME:
World Heavyweight Champion: Triple H
World Tag Team Champions: Rob Van Dam & Kane
WWE Women’s Champion: Trish Stratus
WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar
WWE Tag Team Champions: Team Angle (Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin)
WWE Cruiserweight Champion: Matt Hardy
The show opens with a Rock/Goldberg vignette. After the pyro Jonathan Coachman and Jerry Lawler discuss the big Rock/Goldberg showdown before tossing it to Michael Cole and Tazz at ringside who talk about the Cena/Lesnar WWE title match.
— WWE Tag Team Championship (SmackDown!) (WATCH – 2:39)
Los Guerreros (Eddie & Chavo Guerrero) vs. Team Angle (Shelton Benjamin & Charilie Haas)(c)
Team Angle come to the ring with a framed portrait of Kurt Angle which sits at ringside for the match. The only drawback is Cole & Tazz and their endless speed talking, trying to squeeze in every fact they know as the match unfolds, not allowing the match to breathe. The match breaks down late with Eddie doing all he can to help Chavo win without success. Shelton runs Eddie into the ring stairs as Chavo lifts Haas for a back suplex. Shelton pulls Chavo’s legs out from under him and holds them down as Haas scores the pin at 15:04 to retain the titles.
WINNERS and STILL WWE Tag Team Champions, Team Angle (Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas) (Pin, 15:04)
After the match Eddie launches Chavo over the top rope onto Team Angle, taking them (and the Kurt Angle portrait) out. With Team Angle down Los Guerreros pick up the Tag Team titles and drive off in a green low rider with the straps as Team Angle are left dumbfounded in the ring.
Backstage Torrie Wilson tells Test to stop calling her and tries to leave when Test grabs Torrie and forcibly kisses her. Torrie swings to slap Test but Test grabs Torrie’s arm. Torrie storms off holding her arm as Test laughs. Moments later we see Sable standing in a nearby doorway, a witness to the altercation.
— “Grudge Match” (SmackDown!) (WATCH – 25:04)
Sean O’Haire w/Roddy Piper vs. Rikishi
The story in this one goes back to the post-WrestleMania XIX SmackDown! when Piper, with O’Haire’s help, smashed a coconut over Rikishi’s head as Piper had done to Rikish’s uncle Jimmy Snuka in 1984. Before the match Rikishi throws O’Haire around outside the ring. Though the match is fine for what it is it’s just not very exciting. In the end Rikishi busts Piper open with a coconut and celebrates before being wiped out with by O’Haire’s Widow Maker for the pin at 4:55.
WINNER is Sean O’Haire w/Roddy Piper (Pin, 4:55)
At catering Sable meets Stacy and lies to her, telling Stacy that she saw Torrie kissing Test. Stacy throws her food down and walks out.
In another spot of the arena RVD and Kane prepare for their upcoming title defense. RVD worries about Chief Morley screwing them out of the titles but Kane reassures him that if they’re going down, they’ll take everybody else with them.
— World Tag Team Championship (RAW) (WATCH – 36:53)
Special Guest Referee: Chief Morley
The Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray & D-Von) vs. Rob Van Dam & Kane(c)
The story in this one is the Dudley Boyz being forced to work with Bischoff and Morley or else lose their jobs. Though this isn’t a bad match it’s just more of the same from these four guys at this time. Late in the match, as Kane attempts to chokeslam Bubba, Chief Morley low blows Kane. Morley goes after RVD but hits Bubba instead. D-Von loses it and beats up Morley until Lance Storm makes the save. Bubba takes out Storm before the Dudleys hit Morley with 3-D. Kane chokeslams Bubba and tosses D-Von out of the ring as RVD goes up top for a huge Five-Star Frog Splash on Bubba as a new referee comes in for the pin at 13:01.
WINNERS and STILL World Tag Team Champions, Rob Van Dam & Kane (Pin, 13:01)
Backstage Stacy confronts Torrie in the ladies locker room about kissing Test and the two begin to fight.
— WWE Women’s Championship (RAW) (WATCH – 56:00)
Jazz w/Theodore Long vs. Trish Stratus(c)
Before the match Jazz gets on the mic and says, “The bitch is back, and the bitch is black, believe that!” The story here was Trish still hurting from the attacks of the Dudley Boyz and Jazz from the last week’s RAW. As for the match, it’s quite good considering the short time, though Trish does seem to forget to sell the rib and back injuries of the last week. Trish hits the Stratusfaction on Jazz and looks to have it won when Teddy Long throws a show in Trish’s face to break up the count. (Really, who throws a shoe?) Trish throws the shoe back before being caught in an inside cradle for a nice false finish. Jazz blocks a sunset flip from Trish and, with the help of the ropes, scores the three-count at 5:51 to win the second and final WWE Women’s Championship of her career. This marked the end of Trish’s fourth reign as Women’s Champion at just 28-days.
WINNER and NEW WWE Women’s Champion, Jazz w/Theodore Long (Pin, 5:51)
Backstage Booker T questions Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash about being ready. Nash tells them they can do as they like but to “keep Triple H with me.”
— “Grudge Match” (SmackDown!) (WATCH – 1:06:53)
Big Show vs. Rey Mysterio
This one was all about Rey Mysterio embarrassing Big Show over the last two weeks on SmackDown!. When Rey has distance Rey can do some damage but when Big Show gets close, it’s over. After Big Show pushes the referee back Rey is able to clonk Show with a steel chair and a series of 619s. Rey looks to end it when he springboards off the top rope only for Big Show to catch Rey by the neck and crush Mysterio with a massive chokeslam for the win at 3:08.
WINNER is Big Show (Pin, 3:08)
After the match EMTs strap Rey to a backboard. Big Show returns, shoves the EMTs away, and swings the backboard (with Rey still on it) at the ring post like a baseball bat. Rey hits the post and ricochets face first to the floor.
Next Lillian Garcia interviews World Heavyweight Champion Triple H, Ric Flair, and Chris Jericho about their upcoming six-man tag team match. Triple H says he’s not worried because he has “the all-time great team” of Jericho and Flair. Jericho says he’s going to make HBK tap out to the Walls of Jericho while Flair says that Booker T may be a 5-time World Champion but that Booker T as to deal with the 16-time Champion. Triple H closes by saying that Kevin Nash forced Triple H’s hand and brought it all upon himself and that tonight they plan on taking care of business.
Back in the arena Lawler and Coach discuss the six-man tag when the scene cuts to the back where Stacy and Torrie brawl until Scott Steiner saves Stacy.
Tazz and Cole discuss the Stacy/Torrie fiasco and plug the event’s official theme song before we get a nice vignette highlighting the Lesnar/Cena feud.
— WWE Championship (SmackDown!) (WATCH – 1:21:00)
John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar(c)
This one is all Lesnar early on and it’s more than refreshing to see a Lesnar match where “The Beast” does more than two or three moves. Cena, in full heel mode, looks essentially unchanged. Lesnar being busted open adds an element of drama to the match that was lacking coming in. Suddenly Cena looks like he can win. The match gets a bit sloppy during Lesnar’s comeback with Cena seemingly unable to keep pace with Lesnar. Cena tries to use his chain until the referee takes it away. As Cena turns around Lesnar is there to deliver a big time F-5 for the three-count at 15:05 to retain.
WINNER and STILL WWE Champion, Brock Lesnar (Pin, 15:05)
Next we see a vignette detailing Kevin Nash’s surprise return to WWE and the chain of events leading to the forthcoming six-man tag team match.
— “6-Man Tag Team Grudge Match” (RAW) (WATCH – 1:43:36)
Chris Jericho, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, & World Heavyweight Champion Triple H vs. Booker T, Shawn Michaels, & Kevin Nash
The first half of this match is non-stop action with all six guys having a chance to shine. When it does slow down it’s in the favor of the heels with Shawn Michaels taking the brunt of the punishment. The match turns when Kevin Nash gets the hot tag and it breaks down soon after into a brawl. Nash has Jericho ready for a Jackknife Powerbomb when Flair tries to break it up. In the melee Flair goes into the referee and the two spill outside the ring. Nash powerbombs Jericho but gets wiped out by Triple H and the sledgehammer. Triple H covers Nash for the 1-2-3 at 17:52. An unnecessarily cheap finish, in my book, to a great six-man tag.
WINNERS are Chris Jericho, Ric Flair, & World Heavyweight Champion Triple H (Pin, 17:52)
Next we see replays of the Big Show/Mysterio match including the post-match attack as Michael Cole and Tazz yammer about Rey’s “vital signs” being “good” and speculate about nerve damage and paralysis, for crying out loud. This is just the cherry on top of the poo sundae that was their work for this show. Che puzza!
Up next we see a vignette setting up Goldberg’s debut match versus The Rock followed by Terri interviewing The Rock. Rock says he’s done it all, that he’s not afraid of anybody. Rock says the spear hurt but the eight shots Goldberg took to the head hurt a helluva lot more. “Goldberg, The Rock ain’t next. You’re next, ya whisker biscuit, bald-headed bitch!”
— “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 2:15:23)
The Rock vs. Goldberg
Few debuts for high profile talent have gone as badly as this. Bret Hart’s WCW debut and Sting’s WWE in-ring debut at WrestleMania XXXI come to mind, but this was something else altogether. Fans paid to see Goldberg run through Rock as he would Lesnar 13-years later, but what they got was a long, drawn out match with The Rock (a man who was leaving and wouldn’t be seen until December ’03 and not wrestle again until WrestleMania XX) that took the shine off Goldberg before he even hit his first Jackhammer.
The match itself is brutal to watch 14-years later. Goldberg takes the first half and Rock the second, until Rock hits the Rock Bottom late. Like Hulk Hogan, Goldberg kicks out, shrugs off the damage, and ends the match with two spears and a Jackhammer at 13:05 as the fans voice their displeasure with the match.
WINNER is Goldberg (Pin, 13:05)
We see replays as Goldberg celebrates in the ring to close out Backlash 2003.
Backlash 2003 was sold as a one match show in Rock/Goldberg but it’s the rest of the card that makes this a great WWE PPV and one of the very best Backlash events ever.
Cena/Lesnar over-delivered as did the two Tag Team title matches and the Women’s title match, plus it features one of the all-time classic post-match attacks when Big Show clobbered Rey against the ring post. Cole and Tazz’s commentary aside, Backlash 2003 is must-see for any WWE fan.
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Thanks for reading – until next week, see ya at ringside!
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