By 2003 times were really changing in WWE. Steve Austin and The Rock were both on their way out as full-time wrestlers. The roster had been split into two, with Raw and Smackdown each having their own exclusive wrestlers. And there was a new top dog on the block: Brock Lesnar.
He had debuted the night after Wrestlemania 18 and his path of destruction began immediately. He won the King of the Ring in June. And in August at Summerslam he defeated The Rock to become the youngest WWE Champion in history. His reign ended when he was double-crossed by Paul Heyman at Survivor Series and defeated by Big Show. Tonight, his path back to the title would begin. He would face Big Show on the undercard to qualify for the Royal Rumble. And god have mercy on the men standing between him and his Wrestlemania title shot.
The Rest of the Card:
-Brock Lesnar defeated Big Show to win a spot in the Royal Rumble
-The Dudley Boyz defeated William Regal and Lance Storm to win the World Tag Team Championship
-Torrie Wilson defeated Dawn Marie
-Scott Steiner defeated Triple H by disqualification (Triple H retained the World Heavyweight Championship)
-Kurt Angle defeated Chris Benoit (Angle retained the WWE Championship)
Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are on commentary. No Smackdown commentators for this one.
Entrant #1 is Shawn Michaels. He’s about six months into his second run here and coming off losing the World Heavyweight Championship to Triple H at Armageddon. He actually took the #1 spot by choice, he won a match where the winner would get to pick their spot in the Rumble. The assumption was that this would mean the winner would be #30, but HBK swerved everyone and said he wanted to steal the show. The #2 entrant is Chris Jericho, who wanted #1 to prove he was better than Shawn but has to settle for the second entry.
Jericho’s intro plays and there’s a blonde man at the top of the ramp, but it turns out to be Christian. Jericho sneaks in from behind and jumps Michaels. Jericho proceeds to destroy HBK and eliminate him in less than two minutes. Huge shocker and perfect set-up to their match at Wrestlemania.
Chris Nowinski is #3, he lets Jericho finish his business with Michaels before entering. #4 is Rey Mysterio, making his Rumble debut. Nowinski sneaks in and he and Jericho double team Rey. Edge is out #5 to a pretty mild reaction. He’s Rey’s tag team partner, they had been involved in a classic series of matches with Los Guerreros and the Kurt Angle/Chris Benoit team.
#6 is Christian. He tries and fails to get Edge to work with him. Edge and Mysterio botch a Double Missile Dropkick and Edge lands right on Nowinski’s face. Chavo Guerrero is #7. He’s a co-WWE Tag Team Champion with his uncle Eddie. Rey eliminates Nowinski shortly thereafter with a Hurricanrana. Jericho sneaks up behind Rey and eliminates him. Tajiri is #8 with music that’s more stereotypically Indian than Japanese.
#9 is Bill DeMott. JR calls him a “disturbed and dangerous human being.” Not wong, based on the reports from the Performance Center. Tommy Dreamer is #10 and he’s got weapons with him. Edge eliminates DeMott with a shot from a kendo stick. Dreamer is gone soon after courtesy of Christian and Jericho. Tajiri goes for The Tarantula on Jericho and gets dumped as a result.
#11 is B2. He’s already been fired by John Cena at this point. He’s gone in about 10 seconds. No complaints about that. Chavo is Speared off the apron right after. Jericho skins the cat back in and dumps both Edge and Christian, leaving the ring cleared. Rob Van Dam is #12. Matt Hardy Version 1.0 is #13. He’s got his Mattitude Follower Shannon Moore with him. This was the best Matt Hardy before Broken Matt Hardy. Eddie Guerrero is #14.
#15 is Jeff Hardy. He nearly eliminates Matt but Shannon Moore lays down to prevent Matt’s feet from touching the ground. He lays down on Matt to protect him and ends up taking a Swanton Bomb for it. #16 is Rosey of 3 Minute Warning, accompanied by Rico. This is the one who wasn’t Umaga. #17 is Test, who has Stacey Kiebler with him. One of the all-time examples where the valet was way more over than the guy she was managing.
#18 is John Cena before he was cool. He’s got the rapper gimmick here but it hasn’t hit yet. Charlie Haas is #19. He’s part of Kurt Angle’s Team Angle stable at this point along with Shelton Benjamin. Jeff goes to the top and gets shoved off to the floor by Van Dam, first elimination in awhile. Rikishi is #20. JR mentions he’s been the most Rumbles of anyone in history. Him and Rosey stare down to no reaction.
#21 is Jamal of 3 Minute Warning. #22 is Kane, just as the ring has gotten full and needs to be cleared out. Rosey is gone first. #23 is Shelton Benjamin. I was really expecting more eliminations from Kane. #24 is Booker T. He Back Drops Eddie out. I heard a bell and was expecting JBL at #25 but it turns out to be Albert rebranded as “A-Train.” Shawn Michaels returns and causes Jericho to be eliminated by Test. Jericho lasted a long time, close to 50 minutes.
#26 is Maven to no reaction at all. Even after Jericho’s elimination, there are 12 men in the ring. Just begging for Brock to show up and toss them all. #27 is Goldust. He’s gone after less than a minute courtesy of Charlie Haas. Booker T is dumped by Haas and Benjamin right after. #28 is Batista. He eliminates Test after ducking a Big Boot. He follows up by dumping Rikishi.
#29 is Brock Lesnar. He tosses both members of Team Angle. He F5s Matt Hardy out of the ring! #30 is Undertaker. Big dogs in the yard now. He’s now “The Conscience of the WWE.” I don’t think we ever got a “Booger Red” from Jim Ross at the Rumble. There were rumors at this time that he would be returning as The Deadman here but it didn’t come to pass. They did video packages of the Ministry Taker persona, but he’s back as the biker here.
Taker dumps Cena and Jamal. Then Maven tries the sneaky Dropkick that eliminated Taker last year. Doesn’t work this time, Maven is gone. Kane eliminates RVD. We’re down to four: Lesnar, Taker, Kane, and Batista. Four hosses. Lesnar with the F5 on Kane. F5 on Taker is reversed into a Tombstone. Taker eliminates Batista. Taker and Kane seem to reach an understanding, but Taker doublecrosses his brother. Baista comes back in with a chair but ends up getting hit with it by Taker.
Brock sneaks up behind Taker to eliminate him and win the match. This moment ends up being all about Taker, as the camera lingers on him and then he gets back into the ring to shake Lesnar’s hand. Not needed, didn’t click.
Rating: ***. Okay Rumble. The beginning was better than the end. Jericho, Michaels, Mysterio, RVD, and the rest did great work. The ring got really full towards the end and I was expecting Lesnar to clear it but that didn’t really happen. And Lesnar winning with a sneaky elimination on Taker was a really weird way to go.
For once, it was pretty straightforward. Except it almost wasn’t. Lesnar went to Wrestlemania and beat Kurt Angle to win the WWE Championship. Angle nearly pulled out of the match with a neck injury but ended up going through with it. The rumors of the time suggested that if Kurt hadn’t been able to go Chris Benoit would have stepped into his spot in the match.
On the Raw side, Booker T won a battle royal to become the #1 contender. This would result in the infamous feud where Triple H made racist comments to Booker and then beat him in the middle of the ring at Wrestlemania. Heckuva job on that one, creative team.