The first episode of WWE’s Ruthless Aggression documentary series debuted on Sunday morning. It ran for just 40 minutes and I decided a write a recap of it. As we covered in a news post last week, there will be five initial episodes that are released with the second episode out tomorrow (Monday) and then the next three Mondays after that.
Here’s the synopsis of the first episode on WWE Network:
S1 | E1: It’s Time to Shake Things Up
From the ashes of the Monday Night War, a new era is born – Ruthless Aggression. For the first time ever, hear the true stories from those who lived it, and witness the emergence of an entire new generation of Superstars, who would change WWE forever.
The documentary was narrated by actor Michael Rappaport. They showed clips of many memorable moments from the Ruthless Aggression moments and then they played a clip of Vince McMahon saying “Ruthless Aggression” in the Raw ring.
It began talking about the Monday Night Wars with WWE Executive Director (of Smackdown) Bruce Prichard talking about Raw’s place on USA Network. They skipped a lot of things to say that Ted Turner bought WCW and wanted to compete, so then Nitro competed with Raw. Prichard mentioned that WCW kicked WWE’s ass for 83 weeks as they showed clips of Nitro.
They showed clips of some Attitude Era moments featuring the big names like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, they showed Sable stripping, Cactus Jack and then they focused on Austin giving the middle fingers to boxer Mike Tyson in January 1998 saying that moment was what changed things. I agree with that.
WWE Buys WCW
It was mentioned that in March of 2001, the war ended when one billionaire was left standing: Vince McMahon.
Hulk Hogan talked about WWE beating WCW and then WWE became the single wrestling company that dominated the whole world. Prichard said there was jubilation because they won…and then it quickly became what’s next? What do we do now?
There were comments from Brian Gewirtz, a former WWE writer who they noted was the Head Writer of Raw from 2002 to 2012. I believe he started in WWE in late 1999 right after Vince Russo left, but that wasn’t mentioned. Anyway, Brian was there a long time and he works for The Rock now because of their close friendship from their WWE days. Brian talked about all the success, then said it was always about keeping things going. Christian, a former WWE superstar, talked about how you had to try to create a buzz and do it on your own. Gewirtz said that competition is good and healthy, but when it’s gone, it can’t be replaced.
They showed clips from March 26, 2001 when Vince McMahon gloated about buying WCW on Raw, but then Shane McMahon appeared on Nitro saying that he owned WCW. It was just a storyline to set up the feud between Vince and Shane. It was mentioned that the plan was for Shane to lead a WCW invasion of WWE and Gewirtz said it was an anticipated angle. They showed clips of the WCW guys attacking WWE talent while Becky Lynch talked about how it was about discovering a whole new wealth of talent. There were clips of WCW guys making an impact as Ricochet said he was excited for it. They showed clips of Booker T attacking Vince McMahon until the WWE guys chased Booker out of the ring.
The WWE vs. WCW story continued with Gewirtz talking about expectations were high for dream matches like Austin vs. Goldberg and Outsiders vs. Undertaker/Kane, but what they got was not that. Gewirtz mentioned all the big WCW names that didn’t come over to WWE right away. Prichard noted that those guys had contracts that were guaranteed by AOL/Time Warner, so it was unreasonable for WWE to pick up those contracts. Prichard said that buying WCW didn’t mean they got all that talent. Prichard spoke about how guys were years away from ever being ready.
Mark Jindrak, who was a young WCW guy that went to WWE, was talking about how they were just getting their feet wet in the business and said a lot of them weren’t ready. Jindrak said they knew what was done in WCW and that didn’t work, so there was a lot of confusion. Drew McIntyre spoke about the guys being brought in initially were not seen as threats to the big names in WWE. Prichard said that WWE’s audience didn’t know who they were. It was mentioned by Gewirtz and Christian that it was tough to get everybody on TV when 30 new talents were brought in. Prichard said that they would create a different show with WCW talent. That led to a different show with the WCW talent…or at least one match.
They showed a clip of the infamous WCW match on Raw between WCW Champion Booker T and Buff Bagwell in Tacoma, Washington, which was not exactly WCW territory. Gewirtz said he had never seen a crowd react so adversely to something like that. Kevin Owens said he didn’t care when Buff Bagwell showed up. Jindrak talked about how some WCW stars were not up to par to the top WWE guys. Gewirtz mentioned Arn Anderson saying it was bigger than the moon landing, which was ridiculous. They showed the clip of Austin and Kurt Angle beating up Bagwell and Booker, then tossing them out of the arena.
It was mentioned that by December 2001, WCW was laid to rest for the last time. It was really at Survivor Series in November 2001.
(Analysis: It was important to spend 10 minutes talking about WWE/WCW as it relates the transition to the next era, but they also skipped a lot of things along the way. It’s not like WWE is going to have anybody say it was a mistake by creative to kill WCW off in six months instead of letting the story play out for a longer period of time. That’s a WWE documentary, though. They will tell it their way. If you watched any of the Monday Night Wars documentary episodes then there’s plenty more on the WWE/WCW on there.)
Developing Talent at Ohio Valley Wrestling in Louisville
There was a shot of Louisville, Kentucky and the Ohio Valley Wrestling school. Jim Cornette, who worked for WWE at the time, talked about OVW: “Where can you get the next generation of talent from? Where are we going to get our future stars from? The only way you can learn how to work is in front of people, night after night, repetition.” Cornette mentioned the developmental program in Louisville and that’s when we saw John Cena in the OVW ring.
Bruce Prichard talked about the talents they had there like John Cena, Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar and Batista. Batista talked about how they had all these stud athletes and they just kept coming. Batista said that they felt like they were the next era. Prichard said that the young talent were not quite ready, but you have to invest time and it takes time from an audience standpoint to get attached to them.
They showed a clip of Ric Flair’s WWE return in November 2001 after his WCW contract had expired. Flair explained to Vince that he bought half of the company, which led to some hilarious facial expressions from Vince.
The NWO trio of Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash also returned to WWE in February 2002. They went right after Steve Austin and The Rock with Rock setting up his WrestleMania 18 match against Hulk Hogan. A clip of WrestleMania 18 was shown with Rappaport saying that the WCW legends provided a short term shot of adrenaline, which I would agree with and he mentioned that it was a handful of WWE stalwarts that carried the company’s torch.
A clip of Triple H was shown at WrestleMania 18 when he beat Chris Jericho to win the Undisputed WWE Title. The WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley talked about how Triple H and Undertaker led the way. John Bradshaw Layfield spoke about how when business is good everybody wants to be on top and when it’s bad, they call on Undertaker and Triple H.
(Analysis: I wouldn’t say business was that bad, but I see his point. When you compare it to Austin’s peak years as the top guy, it was bad.)
Kurt Angle talked about how The Undertaker was the leader of the group while noting he was around for a long time, earned a lot of respect and had a lot of great matches. Foley said that Angle stepped up in a big way to become one of the biggest superstars of all time.
They showed some clips of cheesy things they did that didn’t work like Torrie and Dawn fighting at a funeral, Booker T in bed with a woman along with Goldust, Ric Flair pantsing Chris Jericho and Bruce Prichard claimed there wasn’t that same drive to be the best. They showed another thing that failed with Stacy Keibler holding up an “I Love My Testicles” shirt from when she managed Test and “Testicles” was the name for his fans. It was bad. Gewirtz said that they had a reputation to uphold and it wasn’t easy to transition away from the edgy Attitude Era days. They showed clips of awkward things like Billy & Chuck posing in a ring, Mae Young kissing Jerry Lawler and Gewirtz said that they were purposely trying to be edgy, but it wasn’t organically edgy. Hogan said that Vince was still looking for that shock factor as we got a clip of William Regal kissing Vince’s ass. Bruce Prichard claimed that a lot of the force-feeding is what led to a little bit more of the rapid declining interest.
The Brand Split in 2002
Prichard talked about how they had a lot of talent with a lot of young guys, so how would they get better and break through? Prichard said that if they split the roster then it would force WWE creatively and force the talent to step up if you have two separate rosters. The Miz said as a fan, he was excited about it. There were a lot of behind the scenes clips shown.
It was mentioned by Gewirtz that the ratings are going to go down and there was no question they would go down. The viewers would tune in wondering where’s Jericho, Angle, Trish and others while adding that this was necessary for survival because if they don’t do this, the audience would burn out. Prichard said they knew they had to take two or three steps back to move ahead four or five steps.
The WWE Draft of 2002 was shown with Ric Flair selecting for Raw and Vince McMahon for Smackdown. Prichard said he didn’t think anybody other than one or two top wrestlers had any clue where they were going during the draft. They showed highlights from the draft like when The Dudleys were split up. Bubba Ray Dudley spoke about how fans didn’t want to see the Dudleys split up, but Vince wanted to shake things up. Gewirtz said Vince liked to keep everybody on their toes while adding that a lot of talents were pissed off.
Matt Hardy said that a lot of people spend their time with the wrestlers than their own families, so it was their livelihood and how much is their routine going to be changed? Matt mentioned all the questions that come into play. Kevin Owens talked about how he was curious about the brand split, but wondered about the competition aspect since it was the same company.
The Rock and Steve Austin on the way out
The Rock’s transition to Hollywood was the next topic with Gewirtz talking about how they knew that Rock’s time was going to be limited. Adam Cole talked about how as a fan, he was incredibly worried because he loved The Rock. Kofi Kingston talked about how Rock was a pillar of the company. Prichard said that losing Rock to Hollywood was a big hit.
Steve Austin’s unhappiness was the next subject with Austin saying he wasn’t happy with the direction of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the whole company. Austin said that the writing has been “sub-standard” and “piss poor.” Gewirtz said that Austin is the greatest, the biggest star in the company and why they were here and not out of business because of what Steve accomplished. Gewirtz said that Vince would ask the writers how would Stone Cold raise hell this week? Gewirtz said they’d call Steve to let him know the plans, but then they would be told that Steve didn’t like it and they’d have to think about different things. They said Steve was frustrated because it was the same old bullshit every week.
Steve Austin was interviewed in present day talking about how he was frustrated, he was running hard, he was making all of his shots, he was beat to shreds and drinking a lot while adding that “the train was about to go off the track.” They showed a clip of Austin in 2002 saying he wasn’t happy.
The arrival of Brock Lesnar was shown next. He started on the Raw after WrestleMania in 2002. They showed Lesnar beating up the likes of Rikishi, Jeff Hardy, Spike Dudley and Shawn Stasiak. Gewirtz talked about how they had a writer’s meeting where somebody suggested Lesnar vs. Austin. Gewirtz did not mention who initially came up with it. Vince thought by the time they do it at a WrestleMania in three years and make money off of it, nobody is going to remember this match on a Raw in 2002.
Prichard talked about how it was no build up and just a King of the Ring elimination match. Prichard said that Lesnar would go over Steve, he thought it was bold and Vince liked it.
Austin talked about how Jim Ross (head of talent relations at that point) called him up to tell him that Vince wanted Austin to put over Lesnar on Raw in a King of the Ring qualifying match. Austin responded with shock while adding he didn’t have a big head, but guys like him are hard to find. He’s right about that. Austin claimed he would do business with anybody, getting beat doesn’t mean a damn thing to him and he told Jim he wasn’t coming.
They showed a clip of Vince talking about it in 2002 (I believe from the WWE Confidential show) and Vince said when they were at the building, they were told Austin had called and booked he and his wife Debra (they were only married a few years) on a flight back to San Antonio where they lived. Gewirtz said that Vent went apoplectic and said that’s putting it mildly because that’s an insult to apocalypses. The 2002 Vince clip said that Austin took his ball, went home and Vince was pissed off. Austin said he no-showed Atlanta, Georgia that night, he thought “f**k you, I’m taking my shit home.” Prichard said that Vince was so upset that Austin didn’t even give Vince the chance to figure it out. A clip aired from Raw with Vince saying Austin was gone and he owed an apology to everybody in that locker room.
(Analysis: Austin has said and written many times that he regrets going home when he heard the creative plans that night. He has said that if he could do it again, he would have done it differently and probably talked to Vince. I feel like they should have included Austin saying that on here, but that’s not the story they wanted to tell.)
Prichard said that cooler heads could have prevailed, but they didn’t. Prichard said that sponsors were okay with things and they were patient while he didn’t think the fans were as patient. Gewirtz talked about how it wasn’t easy for any television show to lose two of their best characters. Prichard said that things like live event revenue and live engagement was not the same.
A clip was shown of Vince McMahon on Byte This hosted by Kevin Kelly and Tom Prichard. It was from the summer of 2002 with Vince saying they were in a “state of flux” at this point. Vince said when business isn’t as good as it has been, that you begin to oversell, which will turn people off. Vince said he believes there will be a tidal wave from a creative direction standpoint and it will wash away a lot of their ills and he knows it is on his way.
Get The F Out
They mentioned the World Wrestling Entertainment name with the “Get The ‘F’ Out” that they used to promote the name change in May 2002. The idea was that it was a new look and new attitude. This happened before the Austin walkout, but it wasn’t much earlier. Hogan wasn’t sure about WWE as a name instead of WWF, but then it worked. Gewirtz said that Vince saw it as a positive thing because he didn’t want a wrestling company, he wanted an entertainment company.
(Analysis: The main reason the company changed the name is because the other WWF – World Wildlife Fund – won a legal battle against WWE for the “WWF” name and then WWE was forced to change its name. You would think they might mention that in a sentence, but again in WWE’s re-telling of things, they don’t want to say that. With that said, I agree with Gewirtz that Vince probably saw it as a positive thing to get “Entertainment” in the name of the company.)
They showed highlights of exciting Raw and Smackdown action following the brand split including that Undertaker ladder match with Jeff Hardy and Rey Mysterio’s famous cage dive. They talked about how business was picking back up.
Prichard said there was competitiveness and JBL talked about the healthy competition between the two brands. Christian said he remembered being on a European tour and he was Smackdown, which was considered the “B” show as he mentioned that Smackdown did bigger numbers than Raw.
Christian said that they were legitimately excited they got bigger numbers. Prichard said that people on Raw would celebrate if they got bigger ratings and then Smackdown would fight to get a better rating, so what they were doing was working. Natalya talked about how you saw a lot of guys really shine because of the competition Bully Ray said it gave talent the chance to do what they do best, which is entertain. Mark Henry said it was too much talent for one show, so the brand split was the best thing because now you got a chance to be on TV. They showed more highlights of the action on the shows.
Gewirtz talked about how the brand split was designed for guys like Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy, Edge and Eddie Guerrero because it was the goal to create new stars. All of them would become WWE Champions, so it worked in that sense.
The June 24, 2002 episode of Raw was shown with the Raw superstars surrounding the ring as Vince McMahon stood in the ring for a promo.
Prichard said that they didn’t have that number one guy. Vince did a promo saying he was an unqualified success. Eric Bischoff said that you have to have passion and rally your team. Vince continued his promo saying that the one quality that makes him a success is…Ruthless Aggression. Prichard said that the message for the talent was that this your opportunity, he needs a new number one, so who wants to be it. Vince asked who had that quality? Prichard said Vince wanted to see somebody that wants it so bad that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to get it. Vince: “Who among you has enough Ruthless Aggression?” Vince encouraged the wrestlers to reach up and take it.
On the next Smackdown three nights later (it was taped the next day), Kurt Angle issued an open challenge. Angle was a top guy at that point. That led to the rookie John Cena walking out in red tights and boots. Prichard said that the rest is history. Angle asked what quality he possesses that makes him think he can face the best in the business: Cena: “Ruthless Aggression!” They showed Cena’s punch on Angle and that’s the end of this episode.
This episode had a runtime of 41:25 on WWE Network.
I thought it was very good and insightful as most WWE documentaries are. There are also flaws in the way that they try to frame the stories to make themselves look better, which I tried to point out a few times. It’s not necessarily a complaint on my part. It’s just an observation. I definitely learned some things along the way. That’s why we watch these things, right? I like to think I’m something of a WWE diehard fan that knows a lot of things, so any time I can pick up new information that’s a plus.
They did a nice job of talking about the end of WCW, the influx of talent and why the Invasion didn’t succeed due to the bigger WCW names not coming to WWE right away. Once again, though, I feel like they could have had the Invasion play out more and then with slower storytelling they could have brought those bigger WCW names in like they did eventually. It’s easy to say all of this looking back on it. Anyway, several people made the good point that due to there being so much talent after the WCW purchase, they needed to create their own competition and that led to the brand split. They did well in terms of explaining why they had to do the brand split in case some fans weren’t watching or didn’t know why it was done.
It was great to hear from former long-time WWE writer Brian Gewirtz, who was in that job for about 13 years or so and he was able to provide some interesting commentary here. Bruce Prichard was behind the scenes in WWE in that era and he’s back there now, so he’s got a lot of things to say too. If you listen to Bruce’s great podcast with any regularity, you know he’s great at telling stories. They could have used another one or two people in those kinds of jobs to get their perspective. Too bad we couldn’t hear from Jim Ross since he’s in AEW now.
The people that they interviewed for it had good comments although I would love to hear from bigger names. That means Vince McMahon, plus top wrestlers like Triple H, The Undertaker, Kane, Edge and so on. Kurt Angle only spoke briefly so I’d like to hear more him. There are many others I’d like to hear from too. Perhaps they will pop up in other parts of the series.
#RuthlessAggression's series premiere is available now… and there's PLENTY more to come tomorrow!
— WWE Network (@WWENetwork) February 16, 2020
The second episode has a focus on John Cena since the synopsis says “Enter John Cena” on it. I plan on recapping every episode in the series, so if you don’t have WWE Network or you just want my take things, keep checking back here on TJRWrestling for my reviews of the series.