November 22, 2009
Matt Peddycord, Scott Criscuolo, & Justin Rozzero

The 100 Greatest WWE Matches of the Decade: 2003

WWE Champion Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit Ė (Royal Rumble 2003)

Matt: Up to this point, this match was exactly how a match between Angle and Benoit should go: with the top prize on the line. Nobody was better. Why SHOULDNíT these two be fighting over the WWE title? These two traded back and forth between anklelocks and crossfaces and just absolutely ruled everything that had happened on the show prior to this match. Just an absolutely awesome affair. And even though Benoit lost, he still received a standing ovation on his way out for his excellent performance.

Justin: As if Benoit and Angle didnít have enough pressure on them, they were tasked with waking up a comatose and jaded crowd as well. The bout was mat based to start as both men worked a quick, crisp pace and traded control as it wore on. Adding the great action, Cole and Tazz did a wonderful job telling the story of the match and they proved that they were really starting to become the premiere broadcast team of WWE with their insight and storytelling. The brief slow down of the bout would be short lived, as the pace got ratcheted back up with a crazy flurry of stiff, impactful offense moves. The final five minutes or so were just tremendous. It started with a nice battle over the crossface and transitioned into a counter maneuver buffet. It felt like a true heavyweight war as the momentum kept shifting with each move. Angle would finally land the win when he traps Benoit in the Anklelock and Chris was forced to tap. This was just a beautiful, old school clean wrestling match. They proved that they didnít need weapons, gimmicks or blood to get the crowd invested in their match. It was an instant classic that won over the fans big time. The closing portion was just fantastic and Benoit looked strong even in losing.

Scott: Another pair from the Smackdown Six, and just like all of their other PPV battles Benoit and Angle tear the house down for 20 minutes. This match, however, seems to go down as more special, more unique than the others. Maybe because of the fact that itís a title match or that Angle has this tag team of backups now to make him even more hated, or the fact that Benoit and his fans have been waiting for that first elusive World Title. So with all the plot points and the history these two have, we are presented with one of the greatest title matches ever put together in a ring. Both guys, awesome mat technicians and clearly in superior physical condition, go all out for 20 minutes with the WWE Title on the line. The crowd is clearly all over this one after just having to watch that last piece of shit. Both guys know how to dictate and sell better than almost anyone, and thereís no wasted motion by either guy. They both want to be the best, and they went out and showed it.

Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho Ė (WrestleMania XIX)

Matt: Chris Jericho gets to wrestle his idol. According to Jericho for the storyline, Shawn Michaels is the reason he became a professional wrestler and now heís going to have end his career. When Sweet Chin Music wasnít enough, HBK had to surprise Jericho with a rollup to secure the win. And then Jericho punches his idol in the balls. Another heck of a match on the PPV of the year.

Justin: For the first time in five years, Shawn Michaels stepped onto the grandest stage in the game to compete in a match. This feud had been simmering since December and there was a lot of intrigue surrounding it. Michaels was Jerichoís idol growing up and Chris now had a chance to face him at WrestleMania. Both men seemed fired up by the crowd and the magnitude of the match. The two showed great chemistry right away as their work together was smooth as silk. The second half the match was quite good with great near falls and reversals. Michaels would quickly recover and roll Jericho up to steal the win and bring a close to a fantastic match. I think there are a couple of points that prevent this match from being graded even higher. I thought Michaels was a bit spotty in selling his back. Jericho punished it for almost the whole match, but Michaels would pretty much ignore it for various stretches. Also, there is always the usual debate over whether Michaels really needed the win. At this point, Shawn was still a part time wrestler and Jericho had been floundering a bit. A big win over Shawn could have bumped him back up a level. They tried to get Jerichoís heat back by having him kick Michaels in the nuts after the post match hug but I thought that cheapened the emotion of the story and the match. I am not too upset about Michaels winning, only because shortly after this he decided to return full time and this was no longer a part time guy beating a potential main eventer. Overall, however, the match was great and Michaels announced to the world that he could still deliver an awesome WrestleMania match.

Scott: Chris Jericho said many times during this buildup that he wanted to be Shawn Michaels. This match shows that Shawn Michaels, on the drop of a dime, can step up on the WrestleMania stage and Jericho finally got his wish and wrestled his idol. We almost saw a tearful reconciliation, but Jericho kicks him in the nuts to keep his heat. Except for the lack of back selling by Michaels, the match is perfectly done.

WWE Champion Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar Ė (WrestleMania XIX)

Matt: Brock Lesnar gets put over FOR REAL this time. Heíd already been champion after beating Rock at SummerSlam, but now Angle makes him look even better than before. Of course that shooting star press flub didnít help. Some people say he didnít get enough rotation, others say Angle was too far away. Anyhow, great wrestling match that helped make both guys look incredible.

Justin: This bout officially ushered in the next chapter in WWE history. The main event style would no longer be characterized by a crazy overbooked brawl with dozens of finisher trading and reversals. We were now seeing two legit amateur studs throwing down the gauntlet and putting on a hard hitting, mat based slugfest. Kurt Angle proved his toughness, and maybe solidified his stupidity, as he fought through a major neck injury to put on an epic main event with the Next Big Thing. Angle would unleash a great 360 release German that was just awe inspiring. After Angle kicked out of an F5, Brock got desperate and headed to the top rope. As the crowd buzzed, Brock unleashed his legendary shooting star press. Until this point, it had never been seen on WWE TV. Unfortunately, it isnít always wise to debut a move that big in a match this big, because Brock miscalculated the distance and crashes onto the top of his head in a super scary moment. It was an awesome sight, but it could have been really bad if Brock was seriously injured. As it was, you could tell he was out on his feet. Even in the post match, Brock was starry eyed as he celebrated with the championship. Despite the flub, this was still an incredible match as both men went all out and delivered a classic. It is even more incredible when you factor in how injured Angle was heading in. Brock is back on top of the Smackdown world and would be looked at as the torch bearer and the future of WWE. The book on the Attitude Era has officially been closed and, for better or worse, a new era is now upon us.

Scott: Brock Lesnar certainly earned his keep in 2002, defeating Rock and Undertaker to establish himself. Then losing the WWE Title at Survivor Series to Big Show, he needed to change gears and become a fan favorite. Heís been gaining the fans respect with a win at the Royal Rumble and a quest to become champion from the cheating weasel Kurt Angle. The match is great, different from the previous matches here. Not a lot of quick strikes or fast paced action. Angle grounds the early pace and Lesnar sells well as the crowd is trying to stay energized after a long night filled with emotions and action. Angle was due for surgery after this match so he was going to do everything he can to make Lesnar look like a million bucks.

Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrero Ė WWE U.S. Title Tournament Finals (Vengeance 2003)

Matt: This was their usual great wrestling match that was ruined somewhat by Rhyno interfering in the finish and turning on Benoit, but hey thereís still 20 minutes of awesome before that.

Justin: This bout features two of the best going at it for the newly minted United States Championship. Benoit and Guerrero fought their way through and reached the finals to renew their rivalry. The crowd was really hooked in by the time Eddie was able to hit Benoit with the belt and drop a frog splash on him for a near fall. Benoitís buddy Rhyno would come down to the ring, but he turned on his friend and dropped him with a gore, allowing Eddie to win the match and take the title. The match was flat out awesome, but the ending was weak and unnecessary. The match should have had a clean ending and they could have saved the Rhyno turn for TV. Either way, it was still a great match and a fantastic opener to what would end up being a tremendous show.

Scott: So really, can you think of a better opener to fire this show up? I canít remember of the last PPV opener to pass the twenty minute mark. Obviously thereís Owen & Bret from WrestleMania X, but if you think hard I donít think thereís another since. As usual these two always bring the goods. I think this match is even better than their last PPV outing back in December at Armageddon. The pace is crisp, and even with all of Eddieís antics, it adds to the match and makes him even smarmier. Rhynoís heel turn at the end was out of the blue, but I guess it bails the writers out of having to job Benoit clean. No problem, doesnít take away from a great match and an awesome start to that show.

The Undertaker vs. John Cena Ė (Vengeance 2003)

Matt: I donít think Cena was ready for Brock at Backlash, but he was ready for the Undertaker. This was an awesome brawl and probably the first match where Cena was able to back up all the smack he was saying on the mic back in those days. Even though Taker got the win, he still managed to make Cena look like he could hang and that was really all that the match required.

Justin: The push of John Cena continues as he steps into Undertakerís yard for another big PPV match. Cena had really been gaining steam and was getting some quality pops from the crowd due to his biting raps and overall hip feeling. Taker hadnít really been doing much other than mentoring Orlando Jordan, so he was used here to help elevate Cena. The problem is Taker pretty much just destroyed Cena in five minutes and he had him pinned with a chokeslam but Taker picked him up to allow the match to continue. That annoyed me. Cena would control for a while until Taker would battle back and sneak in a mammoth Last Ride out of the corner to pick up the win. After the stupid squash part of the match, Cena looked really good as he hung with Taker throughout a stiff war. I didnít like how they basically had Taker win the match twice, especially with relative ease the first time. If they wanted to do the squash portion early, Cena should have won in the end. Cena was good enough here to gain from the outing, but Taker didnít need the win, and really didnít need two wins within 16:00. Despite that, this was still a really good brawl and the crowd stayed hot for it.

Scott: Cena went right along with Takerís pace and let the big guy dictate. Iím sure almost all the fans in Denver on this night didnít expect this match to go sixteen minutes, but indeed it did. Cena had a couple of moments where maybe, just maybe the upset could happen. Alas, Cena is set right up for the Last Ride and three seconds later respect has been laid out. A great match that shows Undertaker was slowly getting into the best shape of his career and putting on better and better matches. As for Cena, that match may have punched his ticket to bigger and better things down the line, but a little vig was paid here to get there. No bother, both guys went out and did what they had to do and it was the surprise match of this show.

WWE Champion Kurt Angle vs. The Undertaker Ė (Smackdown 9/4/03)

Matt: Taker had showed signs of changing over to a more MMA-based style in the past. It was never more evident before than in this match. You know these two looked back to this match when they were getting ready for their No Way Out 2006 match that completely turned Takerís career around for the better. Just when it looked like Taker was going to pull out the win and regain the WWE title, Brock Lesnar runs in for the DQ.

Justin: This was an extremely good TV match that featured some great mat based wrestling. Angle was on a roll at this point and Taker seamlessly meshed with to put out a fun well worked bout. Taker was able to escape the anklelock multiple times and looked to be ready to take home the WWE Title until Brock Lesnar showed up and cost him the belt. Angle and Taker always worked well together and this was further proof of their great chemistry.

Scott: They wrestled the previous summer when Taker was the Champion and Angle was the challenger. That was a great match, and this one was just as good. Their first few matches in 2000 were not the best, but they slowly learned to work each otherís style and by their last big match at No Way Out 2006 they were spot on. This match is one of the more forgotten in their series, but the pace was good and Taker who was in a creative funk on the show really looked motivated and brought the goods for the now back from injury Angle.

WWE Champion Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar Ė 60-Minute Ironman Match (Smackdown 9/18/03)

Matt: In the ten years of the show, this was the most important match on Smackdown to date. Think about it Ė this was strictly a PPV match and you were getting for free. Two of my best friends went to this show and absolutely loved it. Why didnít I go? I have no idea. Anyways at one point in the match, Brock Lesnar beat Angle up with a chair to get DQíed, then pins Angle to gain a fall for himself. Brilliant! Why hadnít anybody ever thought of that before? I know thatís a bad example, but this was a great wrestling match too. Angle vs. Lesnar for 60 minutes. It has no choice but to be good.

Justin: Ah, the forgotten Iron Man match. I enjoyed this one because of the intelligence shown by both men, especially Brock. I also liked that he won the match and title cleanly to really put over how great he was. The commercials break the flow up a bit, but it is still a fantastic contest as the two men just went at each other nonstop, especially in the second half, and really delivered on a stipulation that played into the rivalry perfectly. I would have liked to have seen this on PPV as I think the stipulation plays out better there, but it is still a lost classic during a time when Smackdown was producing a lot of them.

Scott: It should have been #1 on the DVD of Smackdownís 100 greatest moments. A great match between what I think is 2003ís Feud of the Year. These guys were joined at the hip and carried what was the better show in 2003 with one awesome match after another. Even as a heel, Lesnar still played it pretty straight and became the first guy in WWE history to have a lead in an Iron Man match and not blow it.

Kurt Angle vs. John Cena Ė (No Mercy 2003)

Matt: Cena was wrestling the finest stars on Smackdown all year Ė Brock, Taker, Eddie, and now Angle. It could only be a positive thing for his career to try and keep up with Angle. Just a great match to continue pushing Cena along. Of course they would turn him babyface pretty soon, but he was an excellent character as a trash-rapping heel while it lasted.

Justin: Man, Kurt Angle just dominated this year. And he had nearly three months off with a major neck injury. Amazing. This was another great outing that saw the pace dictated by Angle. Cena went along for the ride and really held up his end of the bargain well. Many thought Cena should have grabbed the win here, but a hard fought loss was just as good, really. He was slowly proving that he could hang with the big boys and the fans were slowly starting to turn him face at this point as well. Really fun match that fit the classic Angle formula.

Scott: I honestly donít remember this match that much, but what I do remember is that Cena really cemented himself as a player in the WWE landscape. Many thought his great match with Undertaker at Vengeance was a fluke, but this proved that was not the case. No Cena doesnít have Angleís skills, but he is a good worker and will bust his ass.

Randy Orton, Mark Henry, Scott Steiner, Chris Jericho & Christian vs. Shawn Michaels, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, and the Dudley Boyz Ė 5-on-5 Elimination Match (Survivor Series 2003)

Matt: Letís face it Ė Survivor Series 2003 as a show sucked. Well it sucked until this match came along. Do you remember anything else from this show without looking it up? I donít. This was just a prime example of Shawn Michaelsí ability to take a rather lame situation and turn it around into a match that gets you on the edge of your seat and changes a mediocre match into something memorable. When it came down to Orton, Jericho, and Christian against HBK, he turned it on and had an awesome final ten minutes of wrestling.

Justin: I really love this match. It officially signaled the return of the classic Survivor Series style match as well. The early portion of the match was somewhat forgettable, but once it came down to Michaels against Orton, Jericho and Christian, business picked way up. Michaelsí blade job was insane and he just sold the beating like a champion should. He was just battered and abused and barely eeked out two pinfalls. Just when you thought he would steal a win and save Steve Austinís job, Randy Orton was able to outsmart and defeat him, with some help from Batista, to win it. This was epic storytelling by one of the all time greats. It also gave Orton a big time win to help set him on his way to stardom.

Scott: Pretty solid match with a lot of chaos and activity. This was also the match that began Randy Ortonís legacy as Mr. Survivor Series, winning an elimination match 3 years in a row. The catch that Austin had to leave Raw didnít really matter in terms of the match, but the endless chaos and the miracle run that Shawn Michaels ALMOST finished made for a great ending.

World Heavyweight Champion Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels Ė (Raw 12/29/03)

Matt: I didnít watch Raw much at all in 2003. It took 51 weeks for them to have a match I remember six years later. Once again, Shawn Michaels handled 30 minutes better than anybody else on Raw at the time with his arch nemesis Triple H. Hunter had just regained the World title from Goldberg two weeks earlier and he wasnít about to give up the belt. Even with all the distractions from Flair, Bischoff, and Austin, this was an incredible match where you really didnít know if Shawn was going to pull out the victory or not in the end. Check out this forgotten classic on HBKís Heartbreak & Triumph DVD set.

Justin: This match officially signaled the return of the workrate freak Triple H and the death of boring, routine based Triple H that we had been stuck with since 2002. These two worked a beautiful, clean battle over the World Title, just as it should be. This match also came out of nowhere as Raw hadnít really been known for delivering epic TV matches at that point. Many thought Michaels should have won the match, because the finish killed the crowd, but they had bigger plans for that title at this point. This was a great match to close out the year and got everyoneís hopes up that the good Triple H was back.

Scott: After not facing each other for almost a year, this rivalry was renewed with an unbelievable match right in Michaelsí backyard. Yeah the Bischoff screwjob at the end sucked, but it didnít take away from the pace or the workrate. Not as violent or dramatic as the SummerSlam 02 match, but still one thatís in the annals of both these menís careers.

Next week, weíll see ten more matches from the year of 2004!

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