WWE Vengeance 2003 Review feat. Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle vs. Big Show

Image Source: WWE
CompanyWWE
EventVengeance 2003
SeriesVengance
Edition3
FormatPay-Per-View
DateSunday July 27 2003
VenuePepsi Center
LocationDenver, Colorado, USA
Attendance9,500

WWE Vengeance 2003

WWE Vengeance 2003 was the first ever all-SmackDown PPV to be held in the United States (the blue brand had given us Rebellion 2002, but that was a UK exclusive). At the time, SmackDown was a hotbed for high-quality wrestling action, and that would transcend to the supercard stage, with several fantastic matches on display along with what ended up being the only full-length PPV clash between The Undertaker and John Cena. Prior to the show, Ultimo Dragon defeated Kanyon on Heat, which marked Dragon’s first WWE PPV exposure of sorts and Kanyon’s last noteworthy bout in the company; actually, both would be gone from WWE within 12 months.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS TV SHOWS? READ OUR PRE-PPV REVIEWS OF RAW & SMACKDOWN!

WWE United States Championship Tournament Final
Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrero

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In the opening match, WWE provided a wrestling purist’s dream as Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero battled it out in the final of an eight-man tournament to determine the first official WWE United States Championship. The title had been an NWA/WCW mainstay for 26 years before being dissolved at Survivor Series 2001, yet it was resurrected here for the SmackDown brand as its answer to the Intercontinental Title on Raw, and while it has switched shows over the years, the U.S. strap has been around ever since (in fact, as of this writing, it’s only nine years away from outliving its predecessor, which is scary when you think about it). The match itself was exactly what you would expect: hard-hitting, technically spot-on and action-packed, thus drawing the Denver, Colorado audience into almost everything they did. Eddie had recently turned heel, but you sensed that fans didn’t want to boo him, and he would ultimately turn face again around a month later. On this night, Latino Heat triumphed, but it wasn’t clean at all: after a ref bump, Benoit’s storyline pal Rhyno ran in, but he turned heel himself by Goring his buddy, allowing Eddie to hit a Frog Splash to win the match and the gold in a strong start to the card.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS EDITION? READ OUR WWE VENGEANCE 2002 REVIEW!

Indecent Proposal Match
Billy Gunn vs. Jamie Noble

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Next up, we had a standard match with an unusual stipulation. Billy Gunn had recently returned and had a low-key romance with blonde bombshell Torrie Wilson. Jamie Noble, meanwhile, was long established as a feisty redneck, with Nidia by his side. Yet Noble had his evil eyes on Wilson, and somehow he coaxed Gunn into agreeing to a match where, if Jamie won, Torrie would have to sleep with Noble. Nope, don’t expect this storyline to be featured on WWE television in 2020. Although Nidia did her best to sneakily cost her man the match (since she understandably didn’t want her love interest shagging Torrie), Torrie tried to stop her anyway, and when Billy was accidentally nudged into Wilson on the ring apron, the shenanigans allowed Noble to claim the pin via a roll-up. Noble was delighted; Torrie, who had agreed to the whole sordid thing beforehand, was horrified. As it turned out, there was a compromise of sorts in the days that followed, whereby a four-some was considered agreeable to all. I want to see that you’ve gotta love the Attitude Era, but this came during the Ruthless Aggression years, so those who pine for a return to TV-14 television in WWE should consider that plotlines like this would likely reappear if the company did change course.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE PREVIOUS PPV? READ OUR WWE BAD BLOOD 2003 REVIEW!

APA Invitational Bar Room Brawl

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Then we had a really strange segment. Faarooq and Bradshaw held an invitation brawl within a mock-up bar set, and joining them were SmackDown’s lesser-ranks of the era, along with those who for some reason weren’t given a match on the card, such as Matt Hardy. There were also some bizarre cameos from Doink, The Brooklyn Brawler and, for some reason, the Easter Bunny (bear in mind that Easter was long gone by this point). It also included Brother Love, who was a long way from launching his Something To Wrestle podcast, and therefore his long, rambling speech before the brawl began was simply dull. The scrap itself was as chaotic as you would expect with some mad spots, though it culminated in a slightly underwhelming yet still violent fashion, as Bradshaw whacked Brother Love with a bottle, thus ensuring that he and Faarooq were the last men standing. A very weird match presentation, then, which is barely remembered unless you actually went and rewatched this show.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FIRST EDITION? READ OUR WWF VENGEANCE 2001 REVIEW!

WWE Tag Team Championship Match
The World’s Greatest Tag Team (C) vs. Rey Mysterio & Billy Kidman

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With the card in danger of falling off a cliff, we thankfully had a regular wrestling match to change things for the better. Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas were slowly starting to see their profiles as a tag team diminish, but they got a chance to put on arguably their best WWE match as a duo here against the reigning Cruiserweight Champion Rey Mysterio and his old pal from WCW, Billy Kidman. It was a great mix of styles, with Benjamin and Haas focusing on double-team attacks and technical assaults to counteract the high-flying favoured by their challengers. It’s one of those matches where it’s best to simply advise you to sit back and watch it for yourself, because you’re in for a treat if you do so. The World’s Greatest Tag Team retained after hitting Mysterio with a clothesline/powerbomb combination manoeuvre to end a terrific doubles match on a real high (no pun intended, since this show was held in Denver).

No Countout Match
Sable vs. Stephanie McMahon

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When wrestling historians look back on 2003, they’ll likely forget about the feud between Stephanie McMahon and Sable. And with good reason: in 2000 or even 2001, fans might have been interested in one-tine WWF/WWE poster girl Sable targeting Vince McMahon’s daughter, but in 2003, few cared about babyface Steph as SmackDown General Manager taking on Vince’s heel love interest on the side Sable, whose second WWE tenure was nowhere near as memorable as her first one. The match isn’t too bad, though, as the two women worked hard to put on a bout that was at least tolerable, considering that Steph was a non-wrestler and Sable barely wrestled in her “prime”. In the end, A-Train ran in and volleyed Steph with a bicycle kick (yep) while Sable distracted the referee, allowing her to pick up the pinfall win over a knocked-out McMahon. Incidentally, this is the only time I can remember the No Countout stipulation ever being used for a PPV attraction, and since the finish didn’t involve countouts, it didn’t exactly make a big difference, which might explain why we haven’t seen it since.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE LAST EDITION? READ OUR WWE VENGEANCE 2011 REVIEW!

The Undertaker vs. John Cena

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Long before WWE only gave The Undertaker and John Cena three minutes for their WrestleMania 34 encounter, they were allowed to have a proper match here at Vengeance 2003. Undertaker was very much on a hot streak during this period as Big Evil, while Cena was a fast-rising star that was a babyface turn away from becoming a main eventer for the rest of his career. At this point, though, he was still the arrogant, disrespectful and controversial rapper who cut some brutal rhymes on Taker prior to this bout. Undi (whose motorcycle let him down during his entrance, meaning that he had to leave the bike at the top of the ramp) helped to give Cena the best PPV match of his career so far here, which must have fans wondering even more about why WWE didn’t allow the two legends to have a genuine supershow encounter at any point after that. Although Cena banged Taker up by causing him to suffer from internal bleeding, it wasn’t enough to secure the win, as a physically-hurt Dead Man kicked out of the FU. Inexperience ultimately showed for Cena as he fell for the usual trick of punching Taker in the corner, only to take a Last Ride which meant that Undertaker was victorious. Incidentally, smark fans were unhappy at the time about Cena losing. Can you imagine smarks ever complaining about a Cena defeat again after 2003 (when he didn’t lose to Kevin Federline, anyway)?

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FOLLOWING PPV? READ OUR WWE SUMMERSLAM 2003 REVIEW!

Vince McMahon vs. Zach Gowen

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Vince McMahon was originally set to face Hulk Hogan here, when Hulk was under the mask of Mr. America. The working plan was for Vince to defend his hair against Hogan/America’s mask, and believe it or not, Hulk was going to win, with Vince being shaved bald here. But instead Hogan walked out of WWE at the end of June, not returning until WrestleMania 21 weekend when he was inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame. Though it was disappointing at the time, it worked out for the best in the long run as Vince ended up going chrome-dome in a far bigger fashion at WrestleMania 23. As for the Mr. America saga, Vince simply presented post-show footage of America unmasking to reveal that he was, of course, Hogan (the story was that Vince paid Hulk to stay at home, so while he was Mr. America and denying all relations to Terry Bollea, Hogan was getting around that stipulation), and fired him to write him off television.

It also worked out well for the one-legged Zach Gowen, who had been presented as Hogan’s friend. Once Hogan was gone, Gowen earned his on-screen WWE position and ended up raising Vince’s ire enough to face him here on PPV. The match followed a rather basic formula, working around McMahon’s limitations more than Gowen’s (Zach could go some incredible things when you consider that he left his prosthetic leg at ringside during his bouts), and it got a big reaction from the Colorado crowd. Towards the end, Zach kicked a chair into Vince’s face, with McMahon’s head pulling a gusher in response. It didn’t deny Vince the win, though, as he pinned Zach after Gowen had missed a top rope moonsault. This would mark the beginning of the end already for Zach Gowen in WWE, with him being absolutely bludgeoned by Brock Lesnar in a shocking scene a month later, whilst Vince would only become more and more repugnant within the storylines as 2003 rolled on.

WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FOLLOWING EDITION? READ OUR WWE VENGEANCE 2004 REVIEW!

WWE Championship Triple Threat Match
Brock Lesnar (C) vs. Kurt Angle vs. Big Show

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These three had been connected on-screen for the previous nine months. Show had beaten Lesnar for the WWE Title at Survivor Series before Brock cost him the gold against Angle at Armageddon; however, it was then revealed that Angle was in cahoots with Paul Heyman and, subsequently, Show (which made no sense). Lesnar won the Royal Rumble to earn a title shot against Angle at WrestleMania XIX, where he triumphed; afterwards, Kurt underwent neck surgery and returned to TV in June. Around the same time, Lesnar and Show had resumed their feud, which included the iconic SmackDown moment of Lesnar suplexing Show off the top rope and breaking the ring. All of this, plus an Angle babyface turn, set up this three-way main event. I was personally disappointed that we didn’t just get Lesnar vs. Angle 2 here, but admittedly this was a high point in Show’s career, so I guess he earned the right to be involved too.

And it was probably for the best from an in-ring standpoint too, because this was an awesome match. In the annals of great WWE triple threat contests, this one is often overlooked, but it shouldn’t be because it was first-class from start to finish. It helps when Lesnar and Angle are two of the participants of course, as both were at their peaks here, but Show also grafted to keep up with his two opponents. After Show was driven through an announcer’s table, Brock and Kurt (both of whom were busted open) went at it for a stretch, and after each man teased the chance to secure victory, it was Kurt who actually got the nod when he Angle Slammed Lesnar and pinned him to win his fourth WWE Championship to a huge response. The heroic comeback was complete for Kurt, though it came at a price: while he and Lesnar had formed a storyline alliance of sorts in previous weeks, this defeat led Brock to turn heel on Angle a few weeks later, thus setting up their actual WrestleMania rematch at SummerSlam.

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WHAT HAPPENED AT THE FOLLOWING TV SHOWS? READ OUR POST-PPV REVIEWS OF RAW & SMACKDOWN!

WWE Vengeance 2003 had a lot to offer. A forgotten classic of a main event, the only true full-length clash between Undertaker and Cena on PPV, an excellent Tag Team Title match and a strong opener make this one of the better supershows of the Ruthless Aggression era, certainly when it comes to single-brand cards. There are some duds, no doubt, but they are greatly outweighed by the high-quality matches on display.

WANT TO RELIVE WWE VENGEANCE 2003? WATCH IT RIGHT NOW ON WWE NETWORK!