WWE Judgment Day 2003
WWE Judgment Day 2003 was the last PPV before WWE tailored its B-level cards in the United States to be Raw- and SmackDown-brand exclusives (Bad Blood started things for Raw, while Vengeance was the first SD-only PPV in the US). The big four – WrestleMania, SummerSlam, Royal Rumble and Survivor Series – would remain cross-brand, but it wouldn’t be until Backlash 2007 (by which point ECW had become a third brand) that all supershows once again included eligibility for everybody on the roster. In theory, that means Judgment Day should have been a strong event with the bulk of the company at its disposal, right? Erm, not quite.
Before our first match, Stone Cold Steve Austin came out (which is never a bad way to open up a show). Having recently become co-General Manager of Raw alongside Eric Bischoff, Austin cut a basic speech welcoming fans to Judgment Day, before promising to enjoy the event in a skybox. More on this later.
Chris Benoit, Rhyno & Spanky vs. John Cena, Chuck Palumbo & Johnny Stamboli
Talk about a random collection of wrestlers for the opening match. Cena was starting to become established as the one to watch on SmackDown via his heel rapper gimmick, but going from a WWE Title shot at Backlash to this was quite the short-term drop. In contrast, Spanky – Brian Kendrick – probably couldn’t have believed his luck at the time, while The FBI – Palumbo and Stamboli, accompanied by Nunzio – were receiving a decent push as a threatening yet boring villainous trio, and Benoit and Rhyno simply made the numbers up. The match didn’t last too long either, not even breaking the four-minute mark, before Palumbo pinned Spanky for the win. Filler matches like this aren’t unusual on PPV, but it felt odd for this bout to kick off the evening.
Test & Scott Steiner vs. La Resistance
Speaking of career plunges, Big Poppa Pump had been a big signing for WWE in the autumn of 2002, but after two terrible World Title matches against Triple H at Royal Rumble and No Way Out, he was quickly demoted, and at this point, he was defending the honour of America in the aftermath of the second Gulf War, along with his tag team partner Test, against newcomers Rene Dupree and Sylvain Grenier. This was Raw-level stuff at best, but at least it served a greater purpose than the first match, partly because Test – who had been teasing a heel turn for a little while – inadvertently clocked Steiner with a Big Boot, causing them to lose the bout. The French heels would capture the World Tag Team Titles from Kane and Rob Van Dam a month later at Bad Blood, while the Test-Steiner tandem would quickly collapse, leading to a long feud over the affections of Stacy Keibler.
Before the next match, we had a funny segment, as Mr. America was asked for an interview by Gregory Helms. America was Hulk Hogan in a mask, as Vince McMahon had paid him to stay at home following their WrestleMania XIX Street Fight, and Helms was playing Peter Parker to his version of Spider-Man, that being The Hurricane. With both trying to conceal their true identities, and each person accusing the other of being someone else, this was good stuff.
WWE Tag Team Championship Ladder Match
The World’s Greatest Tag Team (C) vs. Eddie Guerrero & Tajiri
Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas had been feuding with Los Guerreros for a few months, but Chavo Guerrero was injured just days beforehand, ruling him out of this Ladder match. In a nice surprise, Eddie Guerrero recruited Tajiri (one of my low-key favourites from the era) to replace Chavito, and the end result was a really good bout filled with unique spots. Tag team Ladder matches are generally more interesting than singles bouts of the same nature because you have more people and, usually, more ladders to work with, resulting in more creativity being demonstrated. Tajiri being the wild card here meant more unpredictability than we would have seen if Chavo had been involved as planned. In the end, the fans also got to see some history, as Eddie pulled down the belts to claim the win for him and The Japanese Buzzsaw. Though it’s not a classic Ladder match, it’s on the, erm, rung below, and I would recommend checking this clash out. Benjamin and Haas would reclaim the belts in July, after which Eddie turned heel on Tajiri, before turning face again in August, and after reuniting with a returning Chavo in September, they quickly and finally beat Shelton and Charlie for the titles. Then, they lost the gold to The Basham Brothers in October, and Chavo turned heel on Eddie in January. That wasn’t confusing at all to write.
We then had another humorous backstage segment, this time between Chris Jericho and Roddy Piper. Jericho had recently introduced his Highlight Reel talk show segment, and Hot Rod – the host of Piper’s Pit, of course – had taken exception. I liked this, and moments like this and the earlier Hogan-America/Helms-Hurricane interaction were part of the appeal of joint-brand cards at the time, because it meant that you would get segments that weren’t possible on Monday and Thursday nights due to the separate rosters.
Intercontinental Championship Battle Royal
For some reason, it was decided that the IC Title should take a permanent sabbatical following No Mercy the previous October (it was hyped as the end of an era admittedly, so it wasn’t like it was just discarded one night). After a few months, WWE realised it was a mistake, and so it was decided – with Austin making the announcement by virtue of “some jackass” – Bischoff – deciding in storyline to scrap the belt – that the championship would return here, and the winner of a Battle Royal would be the new titleholder. The field included all former IC Champions on Raw, plus Booker T (the story was that one competitor who hadn’t held the gold before could be included). The participants were Chris Jericho, Christian, Kane (who was technically the last true IC Champ prior to the belt being taken away, so shouldn’t he have been awarded the prize again in advance?), Rob Van Dam, Test (in his second appearance of the night, because apparently everybody needed to see Test wrestle twice), Lance Storm, Goldust and Val Venis, with the latter having been rehired by Austin following his firing as Eric Bischoff’s Chief Of Staff, Sean Morley.
The match itself is watchable but nothing to shout about. Battle Royals tend to be fun but not exactly must-see attractions, and that was the case here, especially with a fairly hodgepodge line-up. In a big shock, Christian eliminated Jericho, as the two had been storyline pals for months, and Y2J had been the senior member of their alliance. This meant that it was down to Christian and Booker, and T managed to throw Christian over the top rope; however, because a ringside referee had been knocked down, the elimination hadn’t been seen (a la Royal Rumble 1997). This allowed the seemingly-eliminated Christian to retrieve the IC Title from Pat Patterson (the first titleholder, who had been brought in as guest ring announcer in a nice touch) and whack T with it. By now, of course, the ref was up, meaning that Christian could eliminate Booker to win the IC Championship. This was a major moment for Christian, as it essentially and finally began his singles run proper, following peaks and valleys following the split of his tag team with Edge in September 2001. Within weeks, he had a new haircut, new ring attire, new theme music and a new following of “Peeps”, though his feud with Booker was only just beginning here.
Torrie Wilson vs. Sable
Yes, this was still the era where a bikini contest could be a marketable PPV attraction. It did pit recent Playboy cover girl Torrie against former Playboy cover star and recent returnee Sable, who had taken issue with Wilson’s growing popularity. Tazz was the host, and while it’s easy to look back on this and think of how degrading it must have felt to female viewers, this was what many of WWE’s target audience were interested in at this point, as evidenced by the very enthusiastic crowd reaction to this segment. Either way, Torrie won, and then received a kiss on the lips from Sable. That was meant to be controversial in 2003 (“Two women kissing? Surely not!”), which again shows how things have changed – I should say progressed, really – since 2003.
Mr. America vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper
Eighteen years after Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper clashed at the first WrestleMania, they met again on PPV here. Hogan, as noted, was in the mask of Mr. America and accompanied by Zach Gowen, a one-legged wrestler who had just debuted on SmackDown when Piper pulled his prosthetic leg off (yep), while Piper was accompanied by Sean O’Haire. People say that this was awful, and obviously it wasn’t good, but what the hell were they expecting from 49-year-old Terry Bollea and 48-year-old Hot Rod? Anyway, this weirdly enough had historic value because Hogan finally pinned Piper in a WWF/WWE ring on PPV, when he hit the Legdrop following ringside shenanigans. Neither would appear on a PPV for the company again until WrestleMania 21, when both marked their simultaneous inductions into the WWE Hall Of Fame.
WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match
Triple H (C) vs. Kevin Nash
Unlike other fans, I didn’t mind the novelty of a HHH-Nash feud as it had a built-in story, and their brawl on the May 5 Raw was pretty exciting. I can appreciate, however, that their matches were hardly classics, and this was the worst of their three PPV bouts. HHH had Ric Flair in his corner, while Nash was backed up by Shawn Michaels, though the two “managers” fought to the back before the bell even rang. The match itself is what you would expect at the time from both men: a fairly sluggish, slow brawl. It didn’t help that HHH, just like at Royal Rumble, got himself intentionally disqualified when he struck Earl Hebner with a sledgehammer, thus losing the match but retaining the WHC in a moment that felt like rock bottom of a struggling card. Nash beat up The Game a lot afterwards, though, and he eventually Jackknife Powerbombed HHH through the Raw announcer’s table, even shoving Michaels aside in the process. This set up a Hell In A Cell contest at Bad Blood to end the feud, which HHH won of course, as this was the peak “everybody loathes HHH because he keeps winning” era.
Remember earlier when I said that Austin was going to watch the show in a sky-box? Well, Eric Bischoff quickly joined him, and for the rest of the night, Austin had slowly gotten Bischoff to the point where he had eaten too much and drunk too much, leaving him pissed as a fart by this point. As a result, after some additional drinks, Bischoff threw up out of the skybox and possibly over some fans. That was the pay-off to this show-long angle, which did have its moments during the night, though the final visual isn’t for the weak of stomach.
WWE Women’s Championship Fatal Four Way Match
Jazz (C) vs. Trish Stratus vs. Victoria vs. Jacqueline
I didn’t even recall that this match had happened, and by the end of it, I had already forgotten the action. Whereas Jazz vs. Trish vs. Victoria had been pretty good at WrestleMania, here the four-way (and not because of Jackie’s addition but because of the placement on an already-weak show) just served to reduce fan interest as we waited for the main event. I would go into the wrestling itself, but there isn’t much to note down really. Jazz pinned Jacqueline to continue her reign as Women’s Champion, but she would lose the belt to the debuting Gail Kim in a Battle Royal on the June 30 Raw.
WWE Championship Stretcher Match
Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Big Show
The last match featured another Lesnar-Show clash, following previous bouts at Survivor Series and Royal Rumble. Show had been on a reckless tear, having seriously hurt Rey Mysterio at Backlash and having targeted other wrestlers in the preceding weeks. It was up to Brock to slay the giant once again, and in a Stretcher match no less (since a stretcher board had played a key role in Show’s previous beatdowns on smaller adversaries). Big Show is rarely mentioned as one of Brock’s best opponents, but he should be because they actually had some good chemistry. And that showed here, as they put on a respectable main event to at least give this card some value. Rey Mysterio ran in to get a measure of revenge on Show, but he was caught by the giant; however, Mysterio was saved from potential further punishment by the WWE Champion, who jumped off a friggin’ ringside forklift onto Show in an awesome visual. One F5 later, and Brock had used the forklift to push Show – laying unconscious on a stretcher board at the time – over the line at the top of the aisleway to win the match. This didn’t actually end the Lesnar-Show feud for good, though their next match on SmackDown a month later led to arguably the best moment in the history of the blue brand, where they broke the ring following a top rope suplex from Lesnar.
WWE Judgment Day 2003 sounded a bit poor on paper and was worse in execution. The Ladder and Stretcher matches were exciting, while the Battle Royal was at least important in terms of resurrecting the IC Championship. But the America/Helms and Jericho/Piper backstage angles were the only other thing that I got a kick out of, while HHH vs. Nash managed to be disappointing despite the low expectations going in. Although there would only be two more joint-brand supershows for the rest of 2003, theoretically meaning that the Raw-only and SmackDown-only cards would have reduced talent pools, WWE Judgment Day 2003 was the worst WWE PPV of the year for me, and it’s understandable as to why, despite it serving some historical significance in a few ways, nobody really remembers the show nowadays.