What’s up homies? It’s time for another edition of Mania Main Thoughts, where I methodically look back at all of the past Wrestlemania main events like some kind of psychopath.
Today, we’re headed back to 2003, when Wrestlemania XIX packed out Seattle’s Safeco Field. If you’ve read the first edition of Mania Main Thoughts, where we looked at WM2000, you’ll see what a huge difference three years made.
For one, WMXIX was the first to be put on under the WWE banner, with the company name transitioning from the WWF to WWE (thanks to pressure from the World Wildlife Fund) the previous spring. Wrestlemania had also returned to larger stadiums, with the the past two emanating from the Astrodome and the Skydome. There were also plenty of new faces. While WM2000 was the epitome of the Attitude Era, WMXIX highlighted the beginning of the Ruthless Aggression Era. If the Attitude Era was seen as a rebellion against the cartoonish characters of the Hogan Era, the Ruthless Aggression Era took us even further away from outlandish gimmicks. Stars from this era – John Cena, Batista, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Shelton Benjamin – were characterized more as legit fighters.
WMXIX was also the first Mania under the WWE’s original brand split. Like today, SmackDown! was seen as the superior show in the early days of the split, so much so that it was their marquee match – a showdown between WWE Champion Kurt Angle and The Next Big Thing, Brock Lesnar – that was chosen to close the big show.
Brock Lesnar was still in his rookie year going into WMXIX, but he’d already captured the WWE Undisputed Title by defeating The Rock at Summerslam 2002. At that time, the Undisputed Title was being shared between both Raw and SD, but Lesnar announced after his win that he was signing exclusively to SD. This prompted Raw to create their own title – the World Heavyweight Championship, hence why the WWE Undisputed Title was no longer undisputed.
Lesnar would lose the title at Survivor Series that same year to The Big Show after Lesnar’s manager, Paul Heyman turned on him. Brock got his revenge on Show at the next PPV, helping Kurt Angle defeat Big Show for the WWE Title.
As WWE Champion, Kurt Angle also took Paul Heyman as his manager and built Team Angle. An Olympic gold medalist in wrestling, Angle also brought in two other legit NCAA wrestlers – Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas – to be his Team Angle flunkies. Using his posse, Angle was the ultimate heel champion, utilizing every advantage in his power to keep the belt.
Things would get dicey for Angle when, at the 2003 Royal Rumble, Brock Lesnar won the Royal Rumble Match and set his sights on Angle for a WWE Title shot at WMXIX. And so the scene was set for a barnburner of a showdown between two legit athletes, the likes of which the WWE may have never seen before.
In the weeks leading up to Mania, Angle would use Team Angle to foil and beatdown Lesnar at every turn, even once employing his brother Eric as a BLOODY DOUBLE to escape Brock on an episode of SmackDown! Things reached the point that the WMXIX match was altered with the stipulation that, if Angle were counted out or disqualified, he would lose the championship. That’s right, the “No Championship Advantage” stip done right (check out my WM25th review to see how you can use this wrong).
WMXIX is definitely one of my Top 5 Wrestlemanias. You’ve got a totally stacked card featuring Rock/Austin III, a hot opener for the Cruiserweight Title, Eddie & Chavo Guerrero in a great tag match, HBK/Y2J and the big Hulk Hogan/Mr. McMahon showdown that was like 20 years in the making. It was also the first Wrestlemania that prompted me to buy a cheese tray.
With all of that goodness, Angle/Lesnar had to do a lot to steal the show. But boy did they do it.
There’s little not to like about this match. For all of his cheating leading up to the event, Angle came out completely alone for the match – no Heyman, no Team Angle. Lesnar (who came out second – why can’t they consistently respect the champ?) entered to a huge pop. His ribs were taped, selling Team Angle’s most recent SmackDown! beatdown.
The match itself was a mat classic. Angle and Lesnar went back and forth, hold for hold. Rewatching this match made me realize how much different Brock’s style is today, where he mostly does big power moves. At WMXIX, Brock was reversing anklelocks, performing rollups, heavily relying on that amateur wrestling background.
Of course, nobody could’ve pulled this kind of match out of Lesnar but Kurt Angle, who has to make the short list of greatest of all time. The intensity that Angle wrestles with was only matched by Lesnar, pushing them into new heights of, well, ruthless aggression.
I really love that this match was played straight with no interference. They didn’t even tease a countout or DQ. It’s like the whole “No Championship Advantage” stipulation was used to explain Angle’s drive in the ring to win clean. Angle pulled several great holds out for the match, leaning hard on submitting Brock – be it with his Ankle Lock or anything else.
I also loved the commentary on this from Tazz and Michael Cole. This is a duo that definitely never got the respect they deserved as an announce team, as they were part of what made SmackDown! so great in the early days of the first brand split.
Another note about this match – wrestlers kicking out of finishers in a big match has become old hat in WWE these days, but back in 2003, it was still a rarity. The crowd popped huge when Lesnar kicked out of an Angle Slam and then Angle kicking out of an F5. So much so that, when Angle picked Lesnar up for a second Angle Slam, you were sure the match was over until Lesnar managed to float out of it.
Lesnar was finally able to hit a second F5, but instead of going for the pin, he decided to up the ante and hit the top rope. If you’ve ever seen Brock Lesnar, he’s not the kind of guy who needs to go flying around.
Now, word is that Lesnar had impressed the folks down in OVW (where he trained) with an awe-inspiring shooting star press. So much so, that someone backstage (I’ve heard Bruce Prichard) urged Brock to bust out this move as a Wrestlemania highlight.
That night in Seattle, Brock performed the shooting star press perfectly – if Kurt Angle had been positioned correctly. Brock laid Kurt down in the ring well outside of his range and ended up almost completely missing the flip. Kurt rolled to his side at the last second, which caused Brock to jam his head between Angle and the mat, looking legit like he may have broken his neck.
The crowd gasped. What should’ve been an awesome WM moment became infamous. Angle improvised as Brock stumbled around the ring, finally hitting a THIRD F-5 and getting the 3-count. Brock would walk out the new WWE champion, but he was lucky to walk out at all.
It’s sad that this great technical classic will always be remembered for a botched move, but then again, how often does a guy nearly die in the main event of Wrestlemania? Some say Brock, as a big guy, should’ve never been encouraged to hit the shooting star press, that it didn’t fit his character. I disagree though. As a young, athletic guy, you want to leave it all in the ring at Mania. Brock tried, it just didn’t work out.
All in all, this is a must-see Mania match. Next time, we’ll be going back to the 90’s to take a look at a time when someone forgot to tell Hulk Hogan and the WWF that the war was over.
Final Score: 9.0 (Highly Recommended)