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.
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
CHAMPIONS AT THE TIME
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
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.”
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.
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
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)
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.
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
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
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)
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.
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.
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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