WWE Ruthless Aggression: Episode 1 Report by Josh Lopez
The following is a transcript of WWE Network’s newest series, “WWE Ruthless Aggression.” Please share some of your favorite Ruthless Aggression moments in the comment section. We’ll be highlighting the comments made by the superstars, producers, and executives from that era and fan perspective from the current members of the WWE Roster.
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Episode 1: It’s Time To Shake Things Up Narrated by Michael Rappoport
Description: “From the ashes of the Monday Night War, a new era is born – Ruthless Aggression. For the first time ever, hear the true stories from those who lived it, and witness the emergence of an entire new generation of Superstars, who would change WWE forever‘
Michael Rappoport: In the early 2000s, an era in sports entertainment was introduced to the world. An era from which greatness was born. An era that would go down in WWE history. An era define in two words. Ruthless Aggression!
The Monday Night War
Bruce Prichard: The Monday Night War, as it pertains to the wrestling business, there was WWE, Monday Night Raw. And it was the dominant wrestling television show in the industry on USA. Well, Ted Turner bought himself a wrestling company and Turner wanted to compete. And Turner hired Eric Bischoff and they provided us with an awful lot of great competition, that kicked our ass for 83 Weeks. Now someone was coming at us. And it makes you dig a little deeper to me be more creative and to do something different and new.
Michael Rappoport: After being nearly down for the count, WWE reinvented itself with an edgy attitude and The Monday Night Wars were officially on. Turns out the war rejuvenated WWE. But despite the dynamic provocative shift in creative, Raw was still struggling to regain the audience it lost to Nitro over those 80-plus weeks. Then one incident permanently shifted the balance of power. Led by Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, The Undertaker and D-Generation X, the shock and awe of the Attitude Era ultimately spelled doom for WCW. In March of 2001, the war that started between the two millionaires finally ended with one billionaire still standing.
Vince McMahon: You see, it was just a matter of time before I, Vince McMahon, bought my own competition. That’s right. I own WCW.
Michael Rappoport: On the screen and behind the scenes, it was the greatest victory in sports entertainment history.
Hulk Hogan: WCW was out of business and Vince had bought the company. And WWE had their hand raised in victory. They were the single wrestling company that dominated the whole world.
Bruce Prichard: It’s kind of like the joy that I can only imagine of a country and they have won the war and it’s over. And you have this jubilation because you won. Whoo-hoo, we won the war. All right, we bought our competition. And then it quickly became, what’s next? What do we do now?
Brian Gewirtz: It’s great. We’re on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, Time, Newsweek, TV Guide and all that kind of stuff, but that was last week. What are we doing next week? How are we gonna keep this going?
Christian: You know, there was always this buzz of this competition between these promotions. So now that was gone, and you’re the only game in town, how do you create that buzz? How do you do it on your own? That was a concern.
Brian Gewirtz: Competition is good, but when it’s gone, it can’t be replaced. So this is a critical period right now because what’s going to happen? Is the audience going to stay? Are they going to completely leave? Is the wrestling phenomenon over?
The Invasion Angle
Michael Rappoport: Vince McMahon’s resounding victory resulted in a hostile takeover of his competition and Mr. McMahon was gleefully reveling in the opportunity to bury his rival once and for all. After all, revenge is a dish best served live on national television during a simulcast of Raw and the final Monday Night Nitro. The plan was for Shane to lead a WCW Invasion against his father’s army of superstars.
Brian Gewirtz: The Invasion was the most anticipated angle, I think, in WWE history. You’re gonna see the top stars of WCW who you have never seen interact with WWE talents before clash.
Becky Lynch: I got super excited about it. I had seen all these people come in and I wanted to know more about them. It was discovering a whole new well of talent.
Ricochet: I was a fan of both brands. So having them collide at the same time and they are all just coming together and what’s going to happen, I was excited for that.
Michael Rappoport: The immediate results of WWE vs WCW Round II were electrifying.
Brian Gewirtz: In the audience’s mind, you could finally see Goldberg vs Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Outsiders vs. Undertaker & Kane. Expectations were probably the highest it could possibly ever be. But what they got didn’t match those expectations to put it incredibly mildly. When you’re not going to have Hogan, Hall, Nash, Flair, Bischoff, Mysterio, Goldberg, Steiner, all those people.
Bruce Prichard: Those guys had contracts that were guaranteed by AOL and Time Warner. We didn’t acquire those contracts because in our viewpoint, they were unreasonable. They were not something that we wanted to pick up, especially at the time. But the perception to the outside world was we bought WCW, so we bought all that talent. That wasn’t the case. The WCW talent that we got that came over initially, they really wanted to succeed. These were young talent, hungry, that just wanted an opportunity. But they were years away from ever being ready.
Mark Jindrak: We were young guys, so we’re just kind of getting our feet wet in the business. We didn’t feel comfortable because a lot of us weren’t ready. We didn’t know the culture, how they worked, how they did things. The only thing we knew is what was done in WCW. And obviously, that didn’t work or we would have never been bought by Mr. Vince. So just a lot of uncertainty, confusion. It was overwhelming almost.
Drew McIntyre: The guys that came in realistically were not able to take out Stone Cold and The Undertaker and Triple H and the gang.
Bruce Prichard: You are trying to create an invasion with people that the audience doesn’t know. And they didn’t pose any type of threat to us whatsoever because our audience didn’t know who they were and/or care.
Brian Gewirtz: On the WWE side of things, there’s a little bit of uncertainty, too. TV Time is essentially currency in WWE. Certain talents are thinking, i’m struggling to get on the show in general. Now we’re going to be bringing in 30 new talents? How’s that going to affect me?
Christian: There’s only so many spots on the show every week. Now you have an influx of new superstars that obviously you want to introduce and you want to give them time to kind of push some other people back down, and you can kind of feel there was a little bit of hostility in the room from that. Like, man, I thought I was going to get an opportunity here and now it seems further than ever.
Bruce Prichard: So we would create a different show with the WCW talent.
Brian Gewirtz: But within minutes of the Buff vs Booker match, that was dead. I have never seen a crowd react so adversely to something that we were trying to get over like that.
Kevin Owens: I wasn’t a WCW guy at all. Like I certainly didn’t care when Buff Bagwell showed up, no offense to him or anything. I just didn’t know him. I didn’t really care, you know.
Mark Jindrak: The stars in WCW, they were stars in WCW. But like they weren’t up to par in terms of WWE.
Brain Gewirtz: Arn was saying it was going to be bigger than the moon landing and all that kind of stuff. And it was not bigger than the moon landing. The moon landing was significantly bigger than Buff vs. Booker that night in Tacoma.
Michael Rappoport: Without enough star power, the WCW Invasion was flawed from the git-go. By November 2001, WCW was laid to rest, for the last time.
Jim Cornette: All of a sudden, the WWE is the only major league game in town. Where can you get the next generation of talent from? Where are we going to get our future stars from? The only way you can learn how to work is in front of people, experience night after night, repetition. Different opponents. What about if we instituted a developmental program in Louisville at Ohio Valley Wrestling?
Bruce Prichard: The intent was to elevate new stars and elevate some younger talent. And i’ll use John Cena as an example. At the same time, here’s Randy Orton coming along. Brock Lesnar. Batista.
Batista: It was crazy. It was like all these stud athletes, man, and they just kept coming and coming. I think we felt like we were the next era.
Bruce Prichard: And the list goes on and on with young talent that just wasn’t quite ready yet. You knew they were going to be stars. But you have to invest time. And it takes time from an audience standpoint to get attached to that star.
Michael Rappoport: While WWE patiently developed future stars, the WCW Superstars who were locked into contracts during the ill fated invasion were finally free agents. It was surreal seeing the WCW talent that nearly toppled Vince McMahon’s empire now appearing on Raw and SmackDown. Fantasy matchups fans wanted to see could finally happen. And WCW Legends provided a short-term shot of adrenaline. But it was a handful of WWE stalwarts who actually carried the company torch.
Mick Foley: Any time a company is undergoing transition, you really rely on those bedrock performers. And in our case, it was Triple H and Undertaker who had been great Attitude Era stars.
JBL: When business is good, everybody wants to be on top. When business is bad, that’s when they call people like The Undertaker and Triple H and say we need you to carry the business. Most people didn’t want to do that because that was a huge burden and obligation. And people would blame you for business being bad. But the guys that had to carry the title and carry the company in bad times, those are your real workhorses.
Kurt Angle: Undertaker is the leader of the group, you know. He deserves to be that. He’s been around for a long time. He’s earned a lot of respect. He’s had some incredible matches.
Mick Foley: Kurt Angle stepped up in the biggest way possible to become one of the greatest superstars of all time.
Michael Rappoport: As WWE entered into the new millennium, the WWE Attitude born out of necessity was suddenly feeling outdated and forced.
Bruce Prichard: Things were almost on autopilot. And there wasn’t that same hunger and there wasn’t that same drive to be the best.
Brian Gewirtz: You have a reputation to uphold as the crazy, edgy kind of show that’s live every Monday. Anything can happen in WWE. It wasn’t easy to transition out of that. We went through a phase in trying to keep our edge for as long as we possibly could, we were purposely trying to be edgy. And it wasn’t like organically edgy.
Hulk Hogan: Vince was still looking for that shock factor.
Bruce Prichard: A lot of the force feeding, if you will, is what led to maybe a little bit more rapid decline in interest.
The Brand Split/Departure of The Rock & Stone Cold Steve Austin
Michael Rappoport: As WWE came to grips with creative issues, it took a step back towards fixing another lingering problem.
Bruce Prichard: We had a large assembly of talent with a lot of young guys. How are these guys ever going to get better? How are they ever going to be able to break through if they don’t have an opportunity? So if we split the rosters, it’s going to force us creatively and force the talent to step up if you have two separate rosters and completely separate television shows.
Michael Rappoport: A brand split in which half the talent would go to Raw and the other half go to SmackDown was drastic. But in theory, it would provide tremendous opportunities for the entire roster.
The Miz: As a fan, I was excited. This is something new, something different that WWE has never done before. And so if WWE is going to have no competition, we’ll compete within ourselves.
Michael Rappoport: This new direction represented an investment in WWE’s future, but came with unavoidable short-term risk.
Brian Gewirtz: The ratings are going to go down. There’s no question they are going to go down. As a viewer, you’re going to tune in and, wait, where is Jericho? Where is Kurt Angle? Where is Trish? But it was kind of like seen as this is necessary for survival because if we don’t, the audience is going to be burned out. That was the mindset going into it.
Bruce Prichard: There was a sense of rebuilding. We knew we were at a point in the company and in creative, we might have to take two or three steps back to move ahead three or four or five steps.
Michael Rappoport: The draft created anxiety throughout the entire roster. No one knew what to expect. Ric Flair selected for Raw and Mr. McMahon for SmackDown.
Bruce Prichard: The initial draft, I don’t know that any talents other than maybe one or two top talent had any clue where they were going on the drafts.
Bubba Ray Dudley: The Dudley Boyz were synonymous with tag team wrestling. Nobody wanted to see Bubba wrestle by himself. Nobody wanted to see D-Von wrestle by himself. We took The Dudley’s away from the WWE Universe because Vince wanted to shake things up.
Brian Gewirtz: I think Vince liked that dynamic backstage of everybody on their toes as far as what you hear, what’s going on, what’s happening. Are you on that show? I know a lot of talents were extremely pissed off about this.
Matt Hardy: To a lot of people, this is just like their life and their livelihood. And they spend more time with these people than they do with a lot of their families. And how much is my routine going to change? Is my role that I am currently doing on television, is it going to be compromised? Is it going to be lessened? Over here on the other show am I going to get the same opportunities that i’m going to get here? All those questions weigh in and they can weigh heavily.
Kevin Owens: I was curious to see how it was going to go. And curious about the concept of creating your own competition. But I was skeptical about how much of an actual competition it would be because in the end it’s still the same company.
Michael Rappoport: As if the draft wasn’t unsettling enough, the unthinkable was about to happen.
Brian Gewirtz: At that point, Rock is transitioning into Hollywood. We knew his time was going to be limited. And selfishly it’s a bad thing.
Adam Cole: Certainly for me as a fan, I remember being incredibly worried. For the longest time I watched this guy religiously.
Kofi Kingston: When you talk about the pillars of your company, you think about The Rock. And you think about like the shoes that you have to fill. Those are probably two of the biggest shoes to try and fill.
Bruce Prichard: Losing The Rock to Hollywood, that was a big hit. Losing Stone Cold Steve Austin in general was a major hit.
Kevin Kelly: You read on the internet now it says, Stone Cold Steve Austin is not happy with things. Steve, leave it all on the line here. Give us the bottom line. What’s your mindset and how are you feeling about everything that’s going on with the Raw brand?
Steve Austin: Bottom line is everything sucks. I’m not happy with the direction of Stone Cold Steve Austin is going. I’m not happy with the direction the whole company is going. I think the writing has been pretty substandard. I’ll go better than that, it’s been piss poor.
Brian Gewirtz: Steve Austin is the greatest. The biggest star in the company. That’s why we are all here and now out of business to WCW because in part of what Steve himself accomplished. So Vince would ask one question in these writer meetings, how is Stone Cold raising hell this week? They’d call Steve and let him know what the plans were. They would be very short terse conversations. We’d be told, yeah, Steve didn’t like it. So we’ve got to think of a different way for him to raise hell this week. And the dynamic was getting very frustrating for Steve and getting frustrating for us, like from Steve’s perspective, it’s like, oh, it’s the same old bullshit every single week.
Steve Austin: A little bit of frustration was starting to set in. And the wheels are starting to fall off. I was running hard. I was making all my shots. I was beat to shreds and I was drinking a lot. And just a lot of elements going on there. And the train was about to go off the track.
Michael Rappoport: While Austin’s frustrations continued to escalate, a newcomer from OVW was making an immediate impact. Brock Lesnar’s powerful presence sparked a radical idea from Raw’s creative team.
Brian Gewirtz: In a writers meeting with Vince, we said, well, how about we do Brock Lesnar vs Stone Cold Steve Austin. Vince thought about it and was like, well, by the time we do it three years later at a WrestleMania and make money off of it, nobody is going to remember this. Yeah, let’s do that.
Bruce Prichard: No buildup, no nothing. It was King Of The Ring Elimination Match. And then Brock, young guy, the next big thing, man, he goes over Steve. No one was going to call that. And it was a bold creative decision. Vince went for it. Vince liked it.
Steve Austin: I got a call from Jim Ross who was gonna to buzz creative by me. Vince would like to see Brock Lesnar go over me in a King Of The Ring Qualifier Match. And I said really? You guys want to beat me in a qualifier match? Unannounced? You’re not going to do a one or two or three week build out of this match and get a number out of it? Man, I don’t have a big head, but guys like me are pretty damn hard to fine. That didn’t make any business sense to me. I’m always about being business. I’ll do business with anybody. Getting beat don’t mean a damn thing to me. I told Jim, I said, really, that’s what we’re going to do? He goes yeah. When I said really that’s what we’re going to do? I mean like really, that’s what we’re going to do? Because if we are, I ain’t fucking coming.
Vince McMahon: Then soon as we arrive at the building, we were informed that Austin had called and booked he and his wife Deborah on a flight back to San Antonio.
Brian Gewirtz: Vince heard that and went apoplectic. That’s putting it mildly. That’s an insult to apocalypses, I think.
Vince McMahon: He got on the plane and went home. He took his ball and went home. And obviously, i’m pissed off.
Steve Austin: And I no showed Atlanta, Georgia that night. It was just like, you know what, fuck you. I’m taking my shit home.
Bruce Prichard: Vince was so upset and probably more hurt than anything, that Steve never even gave him the opportunity to let’s figure out a way out of this when we get to the building. And we announced that Steve Austin has gone home, folks. Could cooler heads have prevailed? Maybe. But they didn’t. The sponsors from my recollection were pretty patient with us. The audience, on the other hand, they wanted their Austin. They wanted their Rocks. They wanted their big stars. And I don’t think they were as patient.
Brian Gewirtz: It’s not easy, you know, on any television show taking the two best characters and wiping them off.
Bruce Prichard: You are listening and you are looking at live event revenue and you are looking at the audience engagement. It’s not the same.
GET THE F OUT ! (The Lawsuit Was Not Mentioned)
– We see a clip of Vince McMahon’s Interview on Byte This!
Michael Rappoport: Prophetic words to say the least. Shortly thereafter, the company was reimagine and rebranded in typical McMahon fashion. World Wrestling Entertainment, get the F out.
Mark Henry: Vince got attitude. And he used the middle finger to the world. It worked.
Michael Rappoport: Getting the F out was a way to keep some of the old attitude and an opportunity to begin the process of moving in a new direction. And with no F, WWE was born.
Hulk Hogan: World Wrestling Entertainment? Like I just went, please, that’ll never work. But it sure did.
Brian Gewirtz: It’s like 7-11 changed their name to 7-12. But I think Vince saw it as a positive move anyway. As he’s famously said over and over again, he doesn’t want a wrestling company. He wants an entertainment company.
Bruce Prichard: Things have to change sometimes. And it was difficult, but we got the F out and did what we do best and that’s entertain.
Michael Rappoport: Suddenly with a new name, new logo, and new vibe, business was picking back up. And the brand split was starting to pay off.
Bruce Prichard: Now there was competitiveness.
JBL: There was a huge competition, a very healthy competition between the two brands.
Christian: I remember being on an overseas tour and we were on SmackDown which was, you know, kind of marked as the B Show, so to speak. And I remember we got the numbers for this tour. The B side SmackDown had done bigger numbers than Raw. And I remember everybody getting up and high-fiving each other and giving each other a pat on the back. Everybody was legitimately excited that we had done bigger numbers.
Bruce Prichard: If Raw would get a good number, they would come in, ha ha, Raw did a 4.6. And then SmackDown would fight to get a better rating. So what we were doing was working.
Natalya: It became a competition within the company. And you saw a lot of guys really shine. And when there’s competition, it breeds a better product.
Bubba Ray Dudley: Well, the brand split presented great opportunities for the talent to get out there and do what they do best, which is entertain.
Mark Henry: There was too much talent for one show. You had 30 guys in the locker room not being able to get tv time. So the brand split was like the best thing since slice bread because now you’ve got another eight guys, the 12 guys able to go and have a platform.
Brain Gewirtz: It was designed specifically for people like Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy, Edge, Eddie Guerrero, people that you see like, man, there’s something there that people are sparking to. That was always the goal — to create new stars.
Michael Rappoport: More than a year after the Monday Night Wars conclusion, WWE had began to forge a whole new identity. And for the most part, it was working. But there was still something missing.
Bruce Prichard: There were a lot of younger guys. There was a lot of peers that felt it should be this guy or should be that guy. And we wanted the guy not saying it should be him saying it’s me.
Eric Bischoff: Anybody that’s involved in innovation and entertainment in particular, it’s all driven by energy. It’s all driven by passion. And I think you really have to rally your team.
Bruce Prichard: The message for the talent was this is your opportunity now. I need a new number one. Who wants to be it? Open playing field, step up or step out. And I want to see somebody that wants it so bad that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it.
Christian: Maybe there was a sense that there was some passengers and not enough drivers.
Bruce Prichard: Who’s going to separate themself from the pack and lead versus follow? Step up and take it. The rest is history.
– Episode 1 concludes with John Cena’s WWE Debut.
Checkout Episode 192 of The Hoots Podcast