The bright lights of Boston Massachusetts’ Fleetcenter shined down on the WWE as the Royal Rumble event brought mayhem, action and excitement to a world wide audience. I attended this event with some good friends and it was quite the show even though it was beyond obvious to me that Brock Lesnar was going to win the Rumble to set up his match with Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 19. In my youthful years, I would wait outside the security gates on Causeway St. in order to catch a glimpse of the wrestlers entering the building on the off chance that one of them would hand out an autograph. I was never able to obtain an autograph in all my years of attending events. However, I did witness Booker T and Rob Van Dam trade backstage passes for a huge bag of weed with a fan five hours before the event. Also, I was almost ran over by Ken Shamrock in August of 1997 while crossing the street. Most people would see their life flash before their eyes at this moment. I, on the other hand, marked out like a fanboy in the middle of the street since I was in the presence of the world’s most dangerous man while preventing him from taking a left hand turn onto Canal street.
Flash back to 2003, and it is now time for the Royal Rumble. I remember very little about the Spike Dudley vs. Steven Richards match that aired on Sunday Night Heat except for fans chanting “ECW, ECW” throughout the match. The opening match for the pay-per-view pitted The Big Show vs. Brock Lesnar where the winner gained entry into the Royal Rumble match. Both men traded power moves back and forth until Lesnar landed the F5 for the victory. Big Show jumped Lesnar from behind in a jealous rage after the bell and injured his ribs thus casting an air of doubt over Lesnar’s participation in the Rumble match. The Dudley Boyz wrestle Lance Storm and William Regal in a match with the usual bad guys getting the upper hand for most of the match until D-Von makes the hot tag to Bubba Ray. He cleans house and sets up Regal for D-Von’s dreaded “WAZZZZZ UUUUUP” headbutt from the top rope.They nail Storm with the Dudley Death drop and capture their 8th WWE tag team championship. Torrie Wilson beat Dawm Marie in a forgettable match that fans were disillusioned with the entire angle due to the storyline involving the fake death of Torrie’s father that was done in a dull and shameless manner.
The World Heavyweight Championship was on the line as HHH defended the title against “Big Poppa Pump” Scott Steiner who was making his in ring return to the WWE. This was one of the WWE vs. WCW dream matches wrestling fans salivated over and it was a nightmare. Steiner got winded about five minutes into the match and he looked lost without a clue in the world. Most wrestlers kick, punch or clothesline, but Steiner threw suplex after suplex until HHH got himself disqualified to end the match. The fans loved Steiner when he walked in and hated him when he left. I think this is why you never saw him near the main event again because if HHH can’t pull a good match out of you then Fuhgeddaboudit.
The WWE title match was next as Kurt Angle defended against Chris Benoit. This was the single greatest wrestling match I have ever seen in person. The fans inside the Fleetcenter witnessed 20 minuets of wrestling poetry. Boston is usually funny when it comes to technical wrestling since we have been treated to a lot of the greatest moments in history. The fans were on the edge of their seats from as these two gave it everything that had. What made this match unique is that it was different style than the WWE was use to producing as you can tell Angle and Benoit had no restrictions in what they were allowed to do. At the 12 minute mark of the match, Benoit hit a release german suplex that turned Angle inside out and jacked the crowd out of their seats. Benoit applied his 5th crippler crossface, but Angle reversed it and secured the Ankle Lock for the 4th time in the match. Benoit used his legs to kick him away several times but Angle held on like a Pitbull. Angle pulled Benoit to the center and sat down on the leg and with nowhere to go, Benoit has no choice but to tap out. This match represented the difference between Raw and Smackdown at the time. Raw was the show for big angles while Smackdown was a wrestlers wrestling show. The standing ovation Chris Benoit received after the match was a moment I would never forget as he was the guy that was my professional influence as a wrestler. I also believe that ovation made Vince McMahon realize Benoit could be a world champion.
The Royal Rumble match now, with 15 Raw superstars and 15 Smackdown superstars duked it out with the winner getting a title shot against their brands champion in the main event at Wrestlemania. Even thought it was one of the least memorable Rumbles in history, it did have its moments including Chris Jericho’s MVP performance with eliminating Shawn Michaels almost immediately. Rey Mysterio and Edge came out early and delivered some action packed moves and Tommy Dreamer came in at number 10 and turned it into a hardcore rumble with a trash can full of weapons ala New Jack. The innovator of violence cleaned house with an arsenal of house hold items and proceeded to hit Jericho with the mother of kendo stick shots. The sound reverberated like a gunshot as Jericho Nestea plunged to the canvas. Y2J got the last laugh as he made Dreamer his 6th elimination of the night. Rikishi came in at # 20 and super kicked the hell out of everyone but was eventually eliminated by Batista. Shawn Michaels came back out to try and failed to illegally eliminate Chris Jericho but provided enough of a distraction for Test to big boot the Winnipeg native over the top rope and gone from the Rumble. The heavy hitters started coming in with Lesnar at #29 and The Undertaker at #30. The final four came down to Lesnar, Taker, Batista and Kane. Undertaker eliminated Batista and then battled Kane before eliminating him. Batista was angered at his elimination, so he distracted Undertaker by attempting to hit him with a chair but Undertaker avoided it and nailed Batista with a chair. Lesnar took advantage of the situation and eliminated a distracted Undertaker to win the Royal Rumble to headline Wrestlemania.
Overall, the 2003 installment of the Royal Rumble was a thumbs in the middle affair. Raw was exposed while Smackdown reigned supreme. The Rumble sold the show but the WWE title match stole the show with a performance that will be forgotten due to the scandal that scarred Benoit’s reputation forever. However, he wasn’t the only one in that match because it takes two to tango. I choose to remember 1/19/03 as a great time with my best friends and the night Kurt Angle proved that he was the best wrestler on the planet with a once in a lifetime performance that will never be duplicated.