The SmarK Rant for RUTHLESS AGGRESSION: Episodes 1 & 2 (02.17.20)

The SmarK Rant for Ruthless Aggression – Episodes 1 & 2

Episode 1:  “It’s Time To Shake Things Up!”

OKAY THEN.  Everyone is bugging me to review this show, and it’s pretty short, so let’s have at it.


So back to the Monday Night Wars to start, with Bruce Prichard giving the brief overview that we’ve all heard a billion times.  WCW kicked their ass for 83 weeks (actually more than that but let’s not quibble yet) but then RAW made a dramatic comeback thanks to Mike Tyson and Steve Austin.  “And then there was only one billionaire standing”.  Although Vince was only a billionaire when the stock was at specific prices, but let’s not quibble yet.

So Vince won the war and bought all the competition, and then it’s like “What’s next?” This actually gives us Brian Gewirtz as a talking head for the first time I can remember, pointing out that competition is gone and can’t be replaced.  Well unless you let other promotions exist without raiding all their talent and blocking them from running your traditional arenas, but HOW LIKELY IS THAT TO HAPPEN LOL.  But WCW started “invading” to give that illusion of competition again.  Gewirtz lays out the amazing dream matches that we wanted to see, and then points out that none of those people actually showed up because WWF didn’t want to pay those contracts.  This gives us a funny soundbite showing guys like Palumbo and O’Haire and Jindrak and an overlaid announcer calling them “The best that WCW has got”.

Prichard points out that they were trying to create an “invasion” with guys that the audience didn’t know and/or care about.  Yeah, but you know how you make people care and know them?  PUT THEM ON TV AND HAVE THEM WIN.  Christian and Gewirtz talk about how the WWF guys were not wanting to give up their TV time, so they decided to create a WCW show, which the crowd immediately turned on.  A lot of this stuff is pretty out of order, actually.  So then we just skip over the whole thing and it’s summed up as “By November WCW was laid to rest for the last time” and that’s that.

Moving on, Jim Cornette pops up to talk about OVW and all the talent that they somehow got at the same time.  Cena, Batista, Orton, Lesnar, Benjamin.  Man, they really missed the boat on Benjamin.

Back on RAW, Ric Flair is out of his contract so he shows up, along with the nWo.  But of course, it was HHH and Undertaker who carried the company during this period.  BECAUSE OF COURSE IT WAS.  Prichard points out that the Attitude stuff was feeling forced and “running on auto-pilot”, where they were trying to be edgy for the sake of it.  And this led to a decline of interest from the fans.  Also, they had a bunch of talent, so they needed to split the rosters and thus give everyone a chance to have opportunities to shine.  Well that’s one interpretation of the whole period, I suppose.

Over to the draft, with the Dudley Boyz getting split up, which no one wanted to see.  Matt Hardy talks about how paranoid the talent was about where everyone would end up.  Kevin Owens points out that despite the illusions of competition, it was still the same company, so there was only so much “competition” they could offer.

Then, in 2002, Rock gets famous and leaves, and Austin walks out on the company.  Gewirtz points out that Austin was the reason they were all here and not out of business to WCW, and their job was to keep Austin happy and they couldn’t do it any longer.  This leads us to the introduction of Viking Spacelord Bork Laser, and the writers pitched a match with Austin in a nothing King of the Ring qualifier where Brock would win.  Bruce Prichard of course declares it a “bold creative decision” that Vince loved.  Austin pops up to call bullshit on this bullshit, and if that’s the way it’s going to be, he ain’t coming.  Gewirtz:  “Vince went apoplectic, which is putting it mildly.  That’s an insult to apocalypses, I think.”  To say that everyone involved handled this whole thing badly is also putting it mildly.  Prichard notes that the sponsors were patient with losing the two biggest stars, but the audience was not.  We actually get footage of empty house shows, and footage from Byte This as Vince thinks there’s a “tidal wave” coming that’s going to wash away their ills.

So in 2002, WWE is born because Vince wanted a change to rebrand the company.  THIS WAS 100% A VINCE MCMAHON DECISION.  I can’t stress that enough.  There was no lawsuit involved.  Suddenly there was a new logo and name and business was picking up.  Really?  Was it?  Because I don’t recall that at all.  But despite all the money being made and success being spread around because of the name change and brand extension, which was great and perfect I should remind you, they still needed a #1 guy.  So Vince does a promo where he demands RUTHLESS AGGRESSION from his roster of midcard geeks.  This of course leads to John Cena debuting on Smackdown to challenge Kurt Angle.

Well that first episode was…something.  Your usual naval-gazing stuff with the timeline completely out of order and somehow purging the entire World Wildlife Fund lawsuit from history.  But it was no worse than the Monday Night War stuff and there was some legit interesting ideas buried in there.

Onto the next one!

Episode 2:  “Enter John Cena!”

So we pick up immediately after the first one, with Cena making his debut and then talking today about how he failed and missed the brass ring.

Hulk Hogan points out that there’s a world of difference between being a star and being an attraction.  For instance, being married to the boss’s daughter?

So Gewirtz was watching tapes of Rico in OVW, and his reaction was “Did you see that Cena guy who was working with him?”  We get a highlight reel of Cena’s promos from OVW and you could tell this guy had something.  His “let’s rewind it” deal in particular was great.  Cena describes his dark matches as “not screwing up” and then meeting Vince, which resulted in Vince immediately telling him to get a haircut.  We get footage of the Angle-Cena match where Angle talks about trying to blow up Cena and failing at it.  And then of course the new guy loses.

But hey, Undertaker shook his hand and gave him the rub, so Cena was clearly the future of the promotion, right?  2020 Cena again pops up to point out that the character was a failure, and stuff like wearing different colored tights for each city weren’t exactly a career-making star turn.  They needed something different. Cena was confined to Velocity doing boring matches, but creative had nothing for him.  So they were going to cut him at Christmas and he was out the door.  But then they were all sitting on a bus and freestyling with Rikishi, which happened to be heard by Stephanie.   So Cena made up a rap for her on the spot, and then reinvented himself as a rapper on the Halloween Smackdown in 2002.

This leads to the Doctor of Thuganomics period, which was amazingly great and probably could have lasted a lot longer for him.  This led to some jealousy from other talent, but Cena paid no attention and just kept doing his thing.  Gewirtz notes that when someone new gets over, it gives you a brand new weapon in your arsenal and a new toy to play with.

Onto Wrestlemania XX, skipping over the babyface turn and stories like the Wrestlemania 19 thing where mainstream rappers wouldn’t touch WWE, as there was apparently a backstage narrative where Cena didn’t respect the business and people didn’t want Show to put him over.  Cena points out that he parked in the public lot with everyone else, which helped to keep him grounded.

At the same time, this was the last show for Steve Austin and the Rock (are they gonna tell the story behind THAT one, I wonder?) and Brock Lesnar left.  But moving on to JBL, as Cena beats him a year later at Wrestlemania 21 and suddenly he’s the guy.  This gives us the monstrosity that was the spinner belt, which thankfully everyone immediately buries.  Big Show:  “The spinner belt.  30 pounds of garbage.”  But they sold tons of merchandise.

Cena then made a decision:  There were a bunch of kids watching, so he had to stop rapping.  That’s another unique interpretation of why the change was made.  Also, the hardcore fans hated him, which guaranteed he’s be on top for years to come.  Then we jump ahead again to Wrestlemania 22 and the match against HHH.  The fans were increasingly turning on him but Vince told him to keep going out there and smiling.  Apparently things were still great in WWE and Cena was still making money, but personally this was the low point of my fandom and 22 was the first Wrestlemania where I just skipped it.  Also, this was apparently where Cena was given the ball by HHH.  OK then.

Cena continued doing press and appearances like an unstoppable publicity Terminator, working tirelessly.  Onto Wrestlemania 23, with the show moving to stadiums on a permanent basis, where they set new attendance records.  This was apparently due to John Cena and not due to Donald Trump.  They kind of make up a storyline for the Shawn Michaels where there wasn’t really one to begin with, and it’s another mountain that Cena has successfully climbed.

Pretty dull episode here.  Cena’s an interesting guy but they just cut out giant chunks of the story and there wasn’t really any kind of narrative past a certain point, just turning into “Oh yeah, Cena headlined another Wrestlemania and everything was sure great!”  I kind of wanted more about the early Cena stuff and they would have been better off just leaving it at Cena’s World title win.

Overall, the first 2 episodes are watchable, but just scream “Completely needless content dump”.  I can’t give it much of a recommendation, but as something to watch in the background, it’s fine.