As we arrive in 2003, the retrospective will more or less rightfully tell you that it was the beginning of a dip for the WWE and the industry as a whole. Scott Steiner’s main event push the two previous pay-per-views were disastrous, with some suspecting that may have been the intended plan. That same year was also the “reign of doom” for Triple H’s extensive run as champion, which got stale months before it concluded. The Rock spent most of 2002 away from the ring to film the Scorpion King and he finished up for the time being the month after this show. As we now know, this event was also the final match for Stone Cold Steve Austin as an in-ring wrestler. Make no mistake about it, 2003 was definitely a down year for WWE, but Wrestlemania 19 is usually considered a stellar show, proving that if you have the right pieces in the right place, you can make the most of the roster.
The show opened with Rey Mysterio vs. Matt Hardy in a short, but entertaining bout. Rey debuted for the company less than a year earlier and at that point, management probably didn’t know what they truly had with Rey on the roster. In retrospect, it’s somewhat ironic that he went from the opening match to winning the World Heavyweight title at WM in the span of three years. It can’t be understated how much of a special athlete Mysterio is and he’s undoubtedly path the way for many of the competitors that are featured on WWE programming today. For Matt Hardy, this heel run showed that he could be more than just a member of a tag team, and truthfully, he probably didn’t get the credit he deserved as a performer until more recent years.
The Undertaker vs. Big Show/A-Train handicapped match was a rather odd booking decision since it wasn’t much of a match and looked to be a way to get Nathan Jones involved in the show without him actually wrestling. If Nathan Jones, who was mediocre at best, wasn’t up to par to wrestle on the show then he probably shouldn’t have been booked to do anything at the event. Speaking of Nathan Jones, his stint under the WWE banner is a rather bizarre scenario. He was brought in alongside The Undertaker, but appeared nowhere near ready to work WWE TV so he disappeared from the product after WM 19. When he resurfaced toward the end of the year to do a match at Survivor Series, he the company just a few weeks later. Next up was the three way tag team title match that saw Team Angle defeated Rhyno and Chris Benoit and The Guerreros to retain the belts. The match was fine, but looked a little rushed and only went about seven minutes so there’s not much to discuss here.
The Shawn Michaels/Chris Jericho bout was really pivotal for both athletes. It was Michaels’ return to WM for the first time since his exited from the ring in 1998 and while he looked to be in top form previous, this was an important contest as far as his place at the WM franchise. On the flip side, this angle really helped elevated the profile of Jericho after a rather lackluster reign as Undisputed champion and getting lost in the shuffle prior to this feud. The bout was really good and stood out, despite being booked in the middle of the show. HBK won the contest, but Jericho’s cheap shot after a phony hug left him leave with heat.
The Triple H vs. Booker T match was decent, but the booking decisions made in this angle still remains one of the biggest mishaps in wrestling history. The promos used in the angle were trashy and boarder line went too far. This could’ve been remedied if Booker T won the title and had the triumphant moment, but Triple H wasn’t going to put anyone over in this era. If I had to guess, I’d say the main reasons for Booker T not winning the belt, despite being over and ready to win it, were based on the political status of the company. As mentioned, Triple H, “The King of Kings” had ascended to the throne, with The Rock ready to depart for Hollywood, and Stone Cold going to retire, this was the start of the Triple H era, he wasn’t going to allow anyone else to take the top spot. The other aspect is that at the time, Booker T was still known as a WCW commodity, and we know that management hasn’t made it a priority to showcase WCW. The possible proof of this theory is that when King Booker won the World Heavyweight title three years later, it was with a gimmick that was a WWE product. The bottom line is, this title win could’ve made Booker T a star to the WWE audience at a time when the roster lacked depth, but they made the wrong decision for Triple H to retain it.
Vince McMahon vs. Hulk Hogan was bowling shoe ugly, but it was a tremendous performance. This match didn’t need the perfect drop kick or moonsault because it had the critical elements that allow for a stellar display of sports entertainment. Hulk was an over baby face, and Vince was a hated heel. The crowd was emotionally invested in the result of the match, and say what you want about Vince McMahon, but he’s an incredible performer in his own right. The visual of him peeking over the apron as blood runs down his face was a perfect heel moment. Roddy Piper’s surprise appearance was a cool moment, but outside of this run-in, I think almost everyone would agree that his 2003 run wasn’t what it could’ve been if it was booked right. Hulk got the win, but I’d say that much of the credit for what made this match so memorable goes to Vince because he was such a great heel.
The third match in The Rock/Stone Cold trilogy was just a masterpiece. The back and fourth action created unbelievable drama that built throughout the contest. In retrospect, the background of Stone Cold’s journey to WM 19 makes this performance even more impressive, as he was in the hospital from a panic attack less than 24 hours before he was set to go to the ring in front of over 50,000 fans. These two had such an electricity during their in-ring exchanges and the crowd followed everything they did. The Rock got the win, and it was Stone Cold’s final match, but it was definitely a solid retirement match.
Brock Lesnar won the belt in the main event more or less than a year after his debut on WWE TV. Granted, he beat The Rock at Summer Slam in 2002 a mere six months after he arrived on the scene, but Wrestlemania was really booked to be a defining moment for him. Ironically, it was almost a decade later that Lesnar became the top draw when he returned, but that was the original plan at WM 19. This was a really good match, but it’s remembered more for Brock’s botched shooting star press than anything else. It should be noted that this is another example of how great Kurt Angle is because he was working through a serious neck injury just to get through the match, but he still had a solid performance at the event.
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Until next week
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