This is a review of the fifth episode of WWE’s Ruthless Aggression docuseries on WWE Network. It’s the final episode in this first season of the series. There will be five new episodes up later this year.
In case you missed any of my previous reviews in the Ruthless Aggression series, the links are below.
Episode 1 – It’s Time to Shake Things Up
Episode 2 – Enter John Cena
Episode 3 – Evolution
Episode 4 – Brock Lesnar
Here’s the synopsis of this episode on WWE Network:
S1 | E5: Civil War: Raw vs. SmackDown
WWE’s first-ever brand extension divides its roster and sparks civil war between Raw and SmackDown. As competition heats up between brands, Eddie Guerrero, JBL, Edge and others showcase Ruthless Aggression as they capitalize on their newfound opportunity to become stars.
This is the final episode in the first season. I’ll insert some comments in blue font as well. Let’s get to it.
The episode began with a Vince McMahon press conference from 2003 talking about how sometimes you have to take a step back to take several steps forward and that’s what they have started to do with the brand extension. Vince said it takes a while to build stars, to build back up and with a little bit of lady luck on their shoulders, they’ll get back to the promised land.
The narrator is Michael Rappaport just like in the previous four episodes.
They started with some highlights of WrestleMania 18 in 2002, which included a dream match as The Rock faced off with Hulk Hogan. Hogan said that WWE dominated the whole wrestling world, so how do they move ahead.
Bruce Prichard talked about how they tried to come up with something different and something new because they had to do two two-hour shows on different networks. Prichard said it was the same talent on both shows, then things were almost on auto-pilot.
Paul Heyman was next as a graphic noted he was “Head Writer – Smackdown 2002-2003” although he was removed in the early part of 2003. Heyman said when you first play chess, look at the whole board, not individual pieces. Heyman said if you’re booking sports entertainment for tomorrow, you’re screwed and you have to think about what your main event is going to be in 18 months.
John Bradshaw Layfield claimed that they had the best roster of all time at that point. That’s an arguable point, but if you look at the talent in 2002-03 it was a stacked roster. JBL said that from the low card to the midcard to the main guys, there was a massive influx of talent. Prichard spoke about how they had a large assembly of talent and you had to wonder how these young guys would break through. Matt Hardy said he was super hungry while Christian said there was something of a competition from within.
Brian Gewirtz was back again and he was the Head Writer on Raw from 2002 to 2012. Gewirtz said there were people saying great that there was competition, but then they might not be on TV the next week. JBL said with one roster, you can’t really push other people except your main guys so you burn through your roster at light speed.
Brand Extension Draft
They moved on to the brand extension draft on March 25, 2002, which was one week after WrestleMania 18. The first pick by Vince McMahon for Smackdown was The Rock and Ric Flair picked The Undertaker. Heyman said that people from Raw wanted to beat Smackdown and Smackdown wanted to beat Raw, so you had hunger and people wanting to compete against each other. Adam Cole talked about how he was curious how this would turn out. Becky Lynch said she would watch Smackdown on Sky Sports and she didn’t have the channel that showed Raw at the time. Gewirtz said that in the long run, it would be better.
(The Rock was the first pick in March 2002. In August 2002, he was gone from the regular roster to film movies, he was back for a few months in early 2003 and then gone again. It made sense that Rock was the first pick at the time, but long term he wasn’t around that much.)
Bubba Ray Dudley talked about how it presented opportunities for the talent. The Miz said he was excited about it. Seth Rollins said that you could see how Raw and Smackdown would develop their characters. They showed the clip of Rey Mysterio hitting a cross body block on Christian and Lance Storm on Smackdown. They showed highlights of the memorable Undertaker/Jeff Hardy Ladder Match on Raw.
On the July 15, 2002 edition of Raw, Vince introduced Eric Bischoff as the General Manager of Raw and it was a huge shock since Eric was the former President of WCW. There were comments from Drake Maverick and Ricochet talking about how shocking it was.
Prichard spoke about how Bischoff had been their opposition for so many years. They showed a clip of Bischoff saying he was the only person to take it to Vince McMahon and Bischoff said “there’s a heel.” True that. Bischoff said he assumed that his career was over after WCW died and he was surprised when Vince called. Bischoff said that when Vince talked about Ruthless Aggression he was talking about guys like him. They played the pic of Booker T saying “tell me I didn’t just see that” when Bischoff walked by. Bischoff said he wanted to get back in the business and to work for Vince. Hogan said when he saw Eric on TV he was grinning ear to ear because that’s his boy. Hogan said that Eric helped the WWE storylines.
Stephanie McMahon spoke about how she became the Smackdown General Manager. Stephanie said that she was able to help in terms of the character and the story. The new rosters and on screen authority figures added new life to WWE programming according to the narrator.
(Stephanie was a heel for few years, so this was her chance to be a babyface and she was in the role for over a year. She did well at it. Stephanie was also powerful backstage at just 25 years old and she was one of the people running the creative team in WWE under Vince. It’s good to be a child of a boss in the wrestling business.)
Changes to the Rosters
Gewirtz talked about how the rosters were imbalanced at first and that Raw needed a bit of a shakeup. Heyman said that they were in unchartered waters, so they had to figure it out as they went. Prichard said that Heyman was in charge of Smackdown and Gewirtz was in charge of Raw. Prichard said that they would have real-life negotiations in the writer’s room. Heyman proposed a trade to send Jericho and the Unamericans (Christian, Storm, Test), Gewirtz said that Heyman was really trying to sell it to him and Gewirtz said if you throw in Jericho then they’ll do it. Heyman said that he had his eye on Eddie Guerrero, so he moved to Smackdown. Heyman said that there was “behind the scenes laughter” about the trade. Heyman knew it was the deal of the millennium for Smackdown and he liked it. Gewirtz said that both shows benefitted from it. There were clips from Vince McMahon talking to employees in 2003.
(It was not mentioned here, but Chris Benoit was also moved to Smackdown. The weird thing about that was that Benoit was drafted to Smackdown, then they put him on Raw for some reason and then had to be moved back to Smackdown. WWE is obviously not going to mention Benoit, but he was a big part of the trade.)
The WWE Championship was a part of Smackdown with Brock Lesnar as the champion. In September 2002, Bischoff handed Triple H the new World Heavyweight Title, which was like the old WCW World Title aka the “Big Gold Belt.” The clip of Vince talking said it looked like the brand extension was going to work.
Prichard said that the general perception was that Smackdown was the “B” show and Raw was the “A” show. Bischoff said it was human nature because Raw was the show that premiered first. Gewirtz said that Raw was live while Smackdown was taped. Gewirtz said that Vince will deny it until he’s blue in the face, but Vince’s focus was on Raw. Heyman claimed that “Smackdown was Raw’s bitch” and he wanted to make Smackdown the show to watch.
The Competition Was Fierce
A clip aired of Angle vs. Mysterio on Smackdown on September 12, 2002. They showed a clip of the great action. Angle talked about how Smackdown was more of the wrestling show and they had some great individuals. Seth Rollins said he was all about the wrestling with the guys on Smackdown doing their thing like Rey, Eddie and Edge. That led to Edge talking about having that opportunity of them wrestling week in and week out and having no handcuffs, here’s 25 minutes, carte blanche. Gewirtz talked about from a writing perspective, the guys would get long matches, so it was easier to write the show. Adam Cole talked about the amazing matches.
(What was interesting about this is that when they showed highlights of the action on Smackdown, they included Benoit in some of them. That’s rare. During that period, there was a group known as The Smackdown Six consisting of Angle, Benoit, Mysterio, Edge, Eddie Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero that were having those amazing matches week after week. Smackdown from June 2002 to March 2003 was so fun. I highly recommend it if you need some wrestling to binge-watch.)
Eddie Guerrero was shown hitting his three suplexes on Shelton Benjamin while Prichard said that Smackdown was about the in-ring performances and Raw was more about the characters. Mick Foley said he was kind of a Raw guy because it was a live show that had a shot of adrenaline. Ricochet said that Raw had characters as they showed Triple H and Flair laughing at Goldust, who was electrocuted. Kofi Kingston said there were really good entertainers. A Booker T/Goldust Star Wars segment was shown. They showed highlights of Shawn Michaels hitting Triple H with a superkick on Raw.
Heyman said that he informed Cole and Tazz that they were going to war with Ross and Lawler, so that meant taking pot shots at Ross and Lawler. They had Lawler and Gewirtz say that Heyman loved doing stuff like that. Heyman said that he didn’t want to be the loser in this fight. Shelton Benjamin talked about the competition and how they wanted to kill Raw in the ratings with Christian saying they wanted to be part of the best show. Heyman said competition meant the main events, who has the best matches, who sells the most live event tickets, who sells the most merchandise and so on. Bubba Ray said the wrestlers wanted to know who made more money. Big Show said that the Raw guys used to laugh at them by saying Smackdown was the B show, but Show added that they kicked Raw’s ass in the ratings.
They showed a chart that showed that Smackdown beat Raw in the TV ratings battle from July 2002 to February 2003.
Heyman said that there was not a lot of time to celebrate your victories. Bubba Ray said that Smackdown had strong storylines and great in-ring action and it was definitively the better show. They showed a clip of Vince McMahon on Byte This didn’t give a definitive answer why Smackdown was better while adding that Raw can be great and then sometimes it can be bad. A clip aired of some fan telling Eric Bischoff that Raw sucked.
They showed a clip from No Way Out 2003 when Steve Austin made his triumphant return to WWE and he got a massive ovation for his match against Eric Bischoff. They noted that Austin’s return provided a much needed boost to Raw, which was true.
There was a clip of Goldberg giving The Rock a Spear on Raw and then Brock Lesnar’s monstrous superplex on Big Show that broke the ring on Smackdown. Drew McIntyre talked about how business was up and it meant great opportunities for everybody.
Vince McMahon was shown commenting, in 2003, about how because of the two brands they had, it allowed them to tour on an international basis where they had tremendous growth and opportunity. Vince said that they were always a global brand, but now they can travel around the world more. Vince said that the brand separation was working. Bruce Prichard said that what they were doing was working and the talent was reaping the rewards of that success.
New Stars Were Ready to Step Up
The narrator talked about how for sustained success, new stars had to step up and into the spotlight. This was around the end of 2003.
JBL talked about how Eddie Guerrero was a great star, but not a main eventer and now with the brand split he got the opportunity. Prichard said that Eddie was the most loved in the dressing, he was the most respected and the talent was ready for it. Batista put over Eddie for being able to control a crowd more than anybody he ever worked with. Batista said that there was something about him that could be so lovable and then the next second he could be so despicable. They showed some of the craftiness of Eddie. Angle talked about how Eddie was one of the top three greatest of all-time.
They showed No Way Out 2004 when Eddie Guerrero hit the Frog Splash on Brock Lesnar to win the WWE Championship. It was Eddie’s only WWE Title win and it was a great moment. They had a big celebration at Smackdown two days later (aired later that week) and it was a memorable moment. They played a clip of Eddie saying he was the WWE Champion. Bruce Prichard talked about how it didn’t matter what race or person you are, everybody loved Eddie Guerrero. They played a clip of Eddie’s crafty win over Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 20.
(I know that WWE didn’t want to mention it on the documentary for obvious reasons, but Chris Benoit was also pushed in early 2004 with the Royal Rumble win as well as the WrestleMania 20 main event where he won the World Heavyweight Title. That moment when Benoit hugged Eddie at the end of that WrestleMania was memorable at the time.)
The focus was on John Bradshaw Layfield talking about how he was a tag team guy and a midcard guy at best, but this was his opportunity as well. Bruce talked about the JBL character saying that they took this human being that was a financial whiz and a loudmouth Texan, so they put him on the screen. They showed clips of the first JBL promo and JBL making his entrance in a limo. Brian Gewirtz said that the audience wasn’t sure of JBL as a main eventer, but then JBL made it work. They spoke about the JBL character with Prichard saying that everybody hated him. JBL admitted he’s not sure there would have been a JBL if not for the brand split, but he had that opportunity.
They moved on to Raw with Randy Orton and Batista becoming rising stars. They showed Orton hitting a RKO on Chris Benoit to win the World Title at SummerSlam. Triple H talked about how they set the table well for them, they gave them a platform and those guys jumped off.
They mentioned Raw would push the entertainment envelope, but also broke down barriers like when Trish Stratus and Lita main evented Raw on December 6, 2004. Bubba Ray said that they elevated the women’s division.
Lita spoke about how it was excitement mixed with confidence as Lita challenged Trish for the Women’s Title. There was a scary spot with Lita landing on her neck on the floor, but she was okay. Lita won the Women’s Title with a moonsault and the fans loved it because Lita was the face in the story.
(The match is good, but not great. At the time in December 2004, two women main eventing didn’t feel like a big deal. However, WWE has talked about it so much in the last few years due to the Women’s Evolution that it has felt like a bigger deal since then.)
The next focus was on WrestleMania 21 in 2005 with JBL defending the WWE Title after he held it for 242 days. They showed John Cena beating JBL to win the WWE Title for the first time. Cena was moved to Raw shortly after that after being a rising star on Smackdown.
Cena’s move to Raw on June 6, 2005 was shown. The announcers were shocked by it, but most of us expected it at the time. Also, later in June 2005, Batista was moved to Smackdown. That meant that Cena and Batista were the new faces of their new shows.
(Cena going to Raw was obvious because he was clearly going to be positioned as the next top guy. Cena’s rise was on Smackdown, but then he spent the majority of his career on Smackdown because we all knew WWE viewed Raw as the “A” show since it was live, since it was older and it’s just how it was. Batista did well as the top face on Smackdown too.)
Edge talked about how splitting the shows absolutely did give the talent the opportunity. Edge said that the brand extension made it easier for talent to break through. That led to the highlight of Edge beating John Cena to win the WWE Title at New Year’s Resolution 2006 to win his World Title.
There were highlights shown of Booker T reinventing himself to become King Booker in 2006. They also showed Rey Mysterio becoming the World Champion at WrestleMania 22 in 2006.
There were about two minutes left, so it was time for final thoughts. Bruce said it was a group effort and they had separate teams, but everybody worked together. Big Show said they had a lot of trust in eachother for what they were doing as a team. Show said they were some of the hardest working days he ever had and the most fun he ever had in the business. Batista said that it was just fun with so many talented guys, there was so much good entertainment and good storylines…it was perfect. Heyman said he didn’t know what WWE would have been like if they didn’t do the brand split, but he knows they have benefitted from it for years. That was the end.
The Ruthless Aggression second season returns in the fall for season two. Those episodes are:
– Elimination Chamber
– Diva Search
– Tough Enough
– Money in the Bank
– The Undertaker
– Ohio Valley Wrestling
I’ll be back in the fall to review those episodes whenever they air.
This episode had a runtime of 40:53 on WWE Network.
This was well produced and overall a good episode of the documentary series. My favorites parts of these shows is getting the perspective from the wrestlers that were there at the time, as well as the guys like Heyman, Prichard and Gewirtz that were working behind the scenes. When guys like JBL, Edge, Batista and others talk about how big the brand extension was for them, they are absolutely right. There’s no doubt that some guys would have broken through to become top guys without the brand extension, but as Heyman said at the end there, the company benefitted from it for many years in terms of creating those new top stars. With all of that said, they could have done a deeper dive on business and if things were really better. It’s a WWE documentary, though, so they never go that in-depth with stuff like that.
I think the best episode in this first batch of five was probably the one about John Cena and then Evolution after that. The other three are about the same. I enjoyed watching all of them and writing about them. I will write about the next season of episodes in the fall as well.
Thanks for reading this review. My contact info is below.