Throwback Thursday: WWE Vengeance 2003 (Aired 14 Years Ago Today!), As Seen on WWE Network

July 27, 2017 by Brock Allen

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Looks like it’s time for another trip through the archives of the WWE Network as this week’s entry to Throwback Thursday revisits WWE Vengeance 2003, which took place 14 years ago today!

By the summer of 2003 WWE was a year and change into the Brand Extension and roughly a year into the new era of “Ruthless Aggression”. After a year of doing joint RAW/SmackDown! PPVs WWE decided the time had come for “brand exclusive” shows. While there had been such exclusive shows in the UK the first international exclusive was the June 15, 2003 RAW-branded Bad Blood event (headlined by the Triple H/Kevin Nash HIAC). The next month SmackDown! followed suit with Vengeance 2003 and the model, much like today’s extension, was created.

WWE Vengeance - Classic PPV Stage & Pyro

In respect to the SD! brand, it was, by this time, finding its way after the Paul Heyman era came to an abrupt end in February ’03. The roster was one of the best in modern history, including Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Big Show, Edge, and The Undertaker, to name a few. Though the Heyman era was over SD! remained the superior product to the RAW brand thanks to a far more varied and open landscape, as opposed to the Triple H show Monday Night RAW had developed into.

With all previous editions of SmackDown! and RAW, as well all prior PPVs, currently available for you to enjoy on the Network today, context is definitely of no concern with this one.

WWE Vengeance 2003 (WATCH)
Date: July 27, 2003 – Location: Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado
Attendance: 9,500 – PPV Buyrate: 0.69 (<322,000) Commentators: Michael Cole & Tazz – Interviews: Josh Mathews

Throwback Thursday: WWE Vengeance 2003, As Seen on WWE Network

WWE Champion: Brock Lesnar
WWE United States Champion: VACANT
WWE Tag Team Champions: The World’s Greatest Tag Team (Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin)
WWE Cruiserweight Champion: Rey Mysterio

The show opens with a vignette highlighting Kurt Angle, Stephanie McMahon, Brock Lesnar, and Zach Gowan’s desire to be “the real deal” while Mr. McMahon says tonight is all about control and that whoever is in his way will “get taken out.”

After the usual pyro goes off (remember that?) Michael Cole and Tazz welcome us to the show as Eddie Guerrero’s music hits and the action goes straight to the ring.

Finals of the Inaugural United Stated Championship Tournament (WATCH – 2:45)
Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit

WWE - Chris Benoit & Eddie Guerrero Face-to-Face in the Ring
Vengeance 2003 on WWE Network - Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit

To say that this match was “highly anticipated” is an understatement for sure. For fans of real pro wrestling seeing these two battle for a major title on a WWE PPV was a fantasy come to true.

This one is a true clinic in respect to pacing, timing, and psychology. Both men work slow, in the best of ways, with every move meaning something. This one won’t be on any WWE Home Video release anytime soon (for obvious reasons) but I would highly recommend any serious wrestling fan seeking this match out. Late in the match the referee goes down and Eddie attempts, and fails, on numerous occasions to use the U.S. title belt to win. Eventually Benoit cinches in the Crippler Crossface but the referee isn’t there to see Eddie tap. Benoit wakes up the referee and hits a German suplex on Eddie only for Eddie to pull the referee into Benoit’s diving headbutt. With the official still down Rhyno hits the ring, looking to spear Eddie, when he shockingly turns on Benoit, spearing his old friend and spitting on him. Eddie takes advantage and hits the Frog Splash for the pin at 22:14. This actually marked Eddie’s second reign as U.S. Champion and the first since winning the title at WCW Starrcade ’96.

WINNER and NEW WWE United States Champion, Eddie Guerrero (Pin, 22:14)

Backstage Vince is smelling a bouquet of roses when Stephanie (whose acting is beyond lousy here) walks in to confront her father. Vince talks about it being a bad week for the family but Stephanie, who blames Vince for orchestrating it all, doesn’t want to hear it. Vince says he’s going to RAW to confront Kane for tombstoning Linda on the stage. Stephanie tearfully says she’ll believe it when she sees it. Vince says he bought flowers for Stephanie, who says the roses are nice. Vince tells her the roses are for Sable, but that he got her “a nice little dried arrangement in honor of your mom’s condition.”

WWE - Stephanie McMahon Upset with Her Father Vince McMahon Backstage

Next we get a vignette highlighting the absurd Billy Gunn/Jamie Noble match.

“Indecent Proposal Match” – If Jamie Noble Wins Torrie Wilson Must Sleep With Noble on SmackDown! (WATCH – 31:10)
Billy Gunn w/Torrie Wilson vs. Jamie Noble

Yeah… So if Jamie Noble wins he gets to ball Torrie Wilson. Kayfabe or not, it’s this kind of crap that makes me glad the “Attitude Era” is over.

Noble comes to the ring with his “love case”, which is full of “sex oils” and sex toys, a case Gunn opens for all of us to see. The match itself is forgettable to say the least. Early in the match Nidia comes out to watch and help Billy Gunn. Noble ends up getting slapped around by both Torrie and Nidia before Gunn tries to take advantage but Gunn’s knee gives out allowing Noble to cradle Gunn for the pin at 5:01. “It’s not funny,” says Tazz, “but it kinda is.” Cole wants to be “fly on the wall” when it goes down ’cause, ya know, non-consensual sex is awesome!

WINNER is Jamie Noble (Pin, 5:01)

Backstage Funaki interviews Farooq and Bradshaw (who are both drinking) about the forthcoming “Bar Room Brawl”. We then see footage of Brooklyn Brawler earning his spot in the match from the last week’s SD!. Bradshaw then invites Funaki to join the fight as the Easter Bunny hops by.

WWE - The Easter Bunny Hops by The APA, Faarooq & Bradshaw!

With everyone assembled around the makeshift “bar” Bradshaw tells them there are no rules other than “the last man drinking wins. We gonna test your toughness and we gonna test your liver!” Bradshaw then offers a toast. “Some like beer and some like grass. But if you’re standing in this bar we’re gonna kick your ass.” Brother Love grabs the mic and says there’s going to be a “benediction”. Brother Love tells the APA to shut up and bow their heads for his “message of love.” Brother Love talks of turning “beer into blood” and “forgiveness for this”, after which Brother Love smashes a gimmicked stool over the backs of the Conquistadors to start the match.

“22-Man APA Invitational Bar Room Brawl” (WATCH – 41:02)
Doug Basham w/Shaniqua vs. Danny Basham w/Shaniqua vs. Nunzio vs. Chuck Palumbo vs. Johnny “The Bull” Stamboli vs. The Easter Bunny (Sean Evans) vs. Matt Hardy vs. Shannon Moore vs. Brother Love vs. Doink the Clown (Nick Dinsmore) vs. Sean O’Haire vs. Bradshaw vs. Faarooq vs. John Hennigan vs. The Brooklyn Brawler vs. Matt Cappotelli vs. Spanky vs. Chris Kanyon vs. Conquistador #47 (Johnny Jeter) vs. Conquistador #45 (Rob Conway) vs. Funaki vs. Orlando Jordan

Vengeance 2003 on WWE Network - APA Invitational Bar Room Brawl

This one is just a fight and a bump fest and is arguably one of the stupidest, worst matches in WWE PPV history. In the end Funaki falls off his stool and Bradshaw wipes out Brother Love to win at 4:31.

WINNER is Bradshaw (4:31)

Backstage Jamie Noble is sniffing or licking Torrie Wilson’s Playboy spread. The camera gets a bit too close and we actually see some of the nudity in the magazine, for those curious. When asked about Nidia, Noble says she’ll “get over it”.

WWE Tag Team Championship (WATCH – 54:38)
WWE Cruiserweight Champion Rey Mysterio & Billy Kidman vs. The World’s Greatest Tag Team (Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas)(c)

Vengeance 2003 on WWE Network - World's Greatest Tag Team vs. Rey Mysterio & Billy Kidman

We follow two forgettable duds with a Tag Team title gem. This match is nearly non-stop action from bell to bell that employs some interesting psychology and pacing to tell an athletic, realistic story that is simply a joy to watch. The match breaks down late with both teams hitting big moves and scoring incredibly close near-falls. In the end Hass and Benjamin connect on a powerbomb/lariat Doomsday Device to retain the titles at 14:53.

WINNERS and STILL WWE Tag Team Champions, The World’s Greatest Tag Team (Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas) (Pin, 14:53)

Next we see a footage from the last week’s SD! of Stephanie fighting Sable.

“No Count-out Cat Fight” (WATCH – 1:13:09)
SmackDown! General Manager Stephanie McMahon vs. Sable

Stephanie’s “angry face” at this point was really just female Triple H. If there’s anything that can be said about Stephanie is that she has improved leaps and bounds as an in-ring performer.

Stephanie grows tired of Sable posing in the aisle and drags her to the ring where the match officially begins. This one isn’t as bad as it would seem to be on paper. It’s physical and stiff and employs basic hardcore rasslin’ psychology, for the most part, and is every bit as personal as the angle leading in. Partway through the match Stephanie tears Sable’s top nearly all the way off. When referee Brian Hebner attempts to give her the shirt off his back A-Train runs in, runs over Stephanie with a running Avalanche, and flees through the crowd. Sable makes the cover and wins at 6:26. After the match referees help Stephanie out of the ring as she complains about her ribs to a nice ovation from the Denver crowd.

WINNER is Sable (Pin, 6:26)

Next we see a great video package highlighting the Cena/Taker feud based on Cena looking to take over “the yard” and Undertaker looking to be respected.

WWE - The Undertaker's Motorbike Breaks Down on the Entrance Way!

In the ring John Cena cuts a rap promo on Undertaker. “It’s time to take out the Evil, keep him in pieces / I’m gonna eat’cha alive, dog; they’ll find your bones in my feces.”

Undertaker comes out on his motorcycle but it stalls on the stage. Unable to restart it Undertaker ditches the bike and walks to the ring as if nothing happened!

“Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:25:00)
John Cena vs. The Undertaker

Vengeance 2003 on WWE Network - John Cena vs. The Undertaker

This is an interesting match to watch in 2017 for obvious reasons. What’s most interesting to me is how little John Cena has changed. Aside from the reckless bumps, the kicking, a habit of over-selling and terrible ring shoes (oh, wait…) Cena’s style has remained largely unchanged. Watching this match today makes me wonder just how great a match these two could have put on at WrestleMania a year or two ago. In fact this match feels like a WrestleMania showdown, and would have been a helluva lot better than what we actually got in Seattle. Late in the contest Cena hits Undertaker in the ribs with his chain and hits the FU for a near fall. Cena goes for the ten punches in the corner when Undertaker stands up and hits Cena with a devastating Last Ride for the 1-2-3 at 13:59.

WINNER is The Undertaker (Pin, 13:59)

Next we get another fantastic video package highlighting the McMahon/Gowen feud.

“Grudge Match” (WATCH – 1:50:53)
WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon vs. Zach Gowen

WWE - Vince McMahon Fights One-Legged Zach Gowen!

Prior to the match Gowen, who makes his WWE PPV debut in this match, takes off his prosthetic leg and hands it to the referee. Save the hope spots here and there the bulk of this match is McMahon taking out Gowen’s leg and humiliating the kid. Eventually Gowen takes control and starts taking out McMahon’s left leg. Gowen hits the moonsault but McMahon gets his foot on the rope at two. McMahon brings in a chair but Gowen ends up kicking it back in McMahon’s face instead, which opens up a massive gash on the top of McMahon’s head. Gowen goes for a Whisper in the Wind type move but McMahon rolls out of the way. Mr. McMahon, bleeding like a “stuck pig”, as Cole says, makes the cover and scores the pin at 14:04. After the match the Denver crowd gives Gowen a standing ovation as Gowen walks to the back.

WINNER is Mr. McMahon (Pin, 14:04)

In the back Josh Mathews catches up with Eddie Guerrero as Eddie runs out of the arena. Mathews asks Eddie if his win is “tainted” by what Rhyno did to Benoit. Eddie says “a victory is a victory”. “Chris Benoit? What happened to him was his fault.” Eddie says, “With friends like that who needs enemies, ese vato?” Eddie says he doesn’t have any friends and doesn’t want any friends, and “that’s the way it’s just gotta be.” Eddie says all he needs is the U.S. title before walking off.

Next up we get yet another incredible video package detailing the Big Show/Lesnar/Angle story.

WWE Championship – “Triple Threat Match” (WATCH – 2:15:31)
Big Show vs. Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar(c)

Vengeance 2003 on WWE Network - Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show, Triple Threat Match
WWE - Bloody Faced Kurt Angle & Brock Lesnar Have A Staredown!

Though this match employs the overused two-in, one-out throughout, it’s one of the better Triple Threat matches to this point and is relatively non-stop from bell to bell. Lesnar steals the show first with a massive F-5 and later an unbelievable running powerbomb on Big Show. Angle answers that feat by putting Big Show through the Spanish announce table with a giant Angle Slam. Big Show, who was just starting to develop into the character and performer he is in 2017, looks great in this match and comes close to winning on numerous occasions. Lesnar and Angle, both bloodied and battered, are the true stars of the match as they set the stage perfectly for their WrestleMania XIX rematch the following month at SummerSlam ’03. After Lesnar posts himself, Angle sinks in the ankle lock before releasing it to take out Big Show with the Angle Slam. Moments later Angle hits the Angle Slam on Lesnar to win the match, and his fourth WWE Championship, at 17:31. This ended Lesnar’s second WWE Championship reign at 119-days.

WINNER and NEW WWE Champion, Kurt Angle (Pin, 17:31)

After the match Angle celebrates his victory, shouting “I did it again!” as he walks up the aisle. As the referee raises Angle’s hand again the show goes off the air.

Final Thoughts

Vengeance 2003 was a pretty huge test for the SmackDown! brand and one they passed with flying colors. Despite the Gunn/Noble match and the APA “Bar Room Brawl” this is an exceptional event, with even the Sable/Stephanie match delivering a compelling, physical story.

WWE - Stephanie McMahon in Ring Attire, Stretching Before Match

You can relive this classic event now, or see it for the first time, right now if you are a subscriber to the WWE Network. And, as always, please let us know what you think of the event below.

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Thanks for reading – until next week, see ya at ringside!

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15 Comments left on this article...

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  1. Justin F says:

    Just a correction: The Attitude Era is often considered to have died in 2001 and since this is 2003, it would be more appropriate to say “Ruthless Aggression” era.

    • Brock Allen says:

      Hello Justin F. I stated in the open that they were “roughly a year into the new era of “Ruthless Aggression””. In the Nobles/Gunn match I was simply referring to the more salacious and over the top sexual nonsense of the “AE”. Though there was a bit of that in the “RA Era” I often associate that era with great in-ring action and realistic, competition-based storylines. To me this nonsense angle between Gunn & Noble was a holdover of the “AE” and not a product of the “RA Era”. Had it been a year or so later I would have stated it differently. Old habits die hard in wrestling and some of the more risque bits of the “AE” took a long time to die off.

      Thanks for reading Justin F and taking the time to leave your thoughts! Take care!

  2. Sal says:

    The tag team championship match is on the third rey mysterio dvd and quite a underrated tag team match it is.

    And I would’ve loved to have seen the triple threat title match on the recent Kurt Angle dvd.

    • Steven Jackson says:

      I agree that the tag-team match is really underrated. The rematch that was the opener a week later on Smackdown was just as good, if not even slightly better than the Vengeance match. The teams had brilliant chemistry and harked back to classic tag-team psychology which helped keep the fans excited.

      The triple threat match was really fun and I would like to have seen it on more sets, rather than just on the blu-ray of “Brock Lesnar: Here Comes The Pain (Collector’s Edition)”. I thought the main event scene on Smackdown in 2003 was really strong, and brought about some interesting matches, this being one of them.

      Overall, I think this is one of the best PPVs of the 2000s and a great representation of what made the “Ruthless Aggression” era so good.

  3. Cherie Smith says:

    For anyone interested Cheating Death, Stealing Life:The Eddie Guerrero Story includes the U.S.Title Tournament Final in its entirety one of the better matches between these two(although personally I’ve never seen a bad match between these two lol)

    • Jeff Copeland says:

      There one night stand 05 match. Both looked like they did not wanna be there! Also Eddie just looked really bad

      • Derby says:

        Benoit wanted to have a good match but for whatever reason, Eddie didn’t wanna do the job that night and basically put no effort in that match.

        • Corey C. says:

          I get Eddie was a heel, feuding with Mysterio at the time. He still came off looking both bored and upset. I don’t think anyone got paid for performing that night it largely being a tribute show, a highly memorable one at that.

          • d.p. says:

            All the talents got paid like they normally would while the non-WWE guys had a one night contract so they got paid as well even if it was just a cameo. Nobody worked for free.

            As for Benoit & Guerrero, I agree that this was a match that I liked over time but just wasn’t feeling when I initially saw it. I agree that ONS was really the only bad match I remember them having but a lot has been said about Guerrero during that time like he was in that mode that he was getting into in recent times where he was just in “cruise control” for some of his matches where got people like Kurt Angle upset at him backstage, he was upset that he would fight & cleanly lose to Benoit when they never wrestled each other in ECW unlike how him & Malenko or Scorpio had the classics, or do this in the middle of his Mysterio feud which didn’t make sense to him.

            • Corey C. says:

              Ah, thanks for clearing that up. The Lita/Edge affair chants echoing from the crowd certainly did not help either. Angle’s usually laid back with other workers so that says a lot about Eddie’s mindset then.

    • Brock Allen says:

      Hello Cherie Smith. It’s funny. At the time, I didn’t care for this match or the finish. Too much Sports Entertainment crap for my liking. In hindsight, I couldn’t have been more wrong. A truly classic match between two all-time greats.

      Thanks for reading Cherie Smith and leaving your thoughts. It’s always appreciated! Have a good one!

  4. Corey C. says:

    Taker/Cena was epic! Top-notch wrestling caliber. No championships. No silly match gimmicks. Neither a mat classic nor a spotfest. All about respect. Two generations clashing in storytelling worthy of nostalgic praise.

    For a long time, I did not catch the bike malfunction and just assumed it was Taker’s way of saying that this bout was different, that the gloves were coming off since this was out of character for him at the time. I remember Taker making a statement by stopping his own 3 count at one point. Never forgot the chills I felt from that. This is match I recommend non-wrestling fans or news ones watch if they’re interested or make reference to if someone asks me why I’m a wrasslin’ fan. These two would wrestle a couple more times on Smackdown! that year but the original contest never gets old.

    First time I saw this Eddie Guererro/Chris Benoit bout I was unaware of their history and I thought the match was slow at first but by the finish I was so invested in it I was pissed by the outcome!

    Some may cringe at this Zack Gowen feud and understandably so since it involves uncomfortable context towards the disabled being committed by an out of hand scripted A-hole Mcmahon. As someone who experiences limited mobility issues I just want to say this storyline hit close to home. I thought it was cool the way they pulled it off.

    Okay, the bar room brawl was hokey and it deserves every critique it gets but it was so bad it’s good. Everyone had a blast. Anything featuring Doink the Clown I expect no less.

    • Corey C. says:

      Last but not least, I forgot to thank you Brock. Your review brought back a lot of fond memories. Big Show taking bump after bump makes its own meme. Mute sound, repeat scenes over and over, play slow soft music.

      • Brock Allen says:

        Thank you for the kind words Corey C. I’m happy you enjoyed the article and that I was able to jog a few memories. Thanks for the tip on the Big Show bumps. Date night!

        Take care Corey C.

    • Brock Allen says:

      Hello Corey C. I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts (all except the Bar Room Brawl… lol). This was a great show that featured a number of WrestleMania caliber matches. If Cena hadn’t been injured I would have loved to have seen Taker/Cena at Mania. It’s been so long I can’t actually remember what Cena was going to do at Mania aside from the failed rap battle. I may be in the minority, but I enjoyed the Gowen story at the time until McMahon won this match. It never made sense to me why Mr. McMahon had to go over. In respect to the Eddie/Benoit match, I felt much the same way you did despite following both guys from ECW to WCW and to the WWF/E. I was upset as a “mark” that Eddie would be reduced to playing a character and I figured it meant he and Benoit would never main event or be world champions. You can see how right I was about that one! HA!

      Thanks for reading Corey C. and taking the time to leave your thoughts! Have a good one!

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