REVIEW: Royal Rumble 2003: When The Rumble Doesn’t Mean As Much

Welcome to KB’s Old School (and New School) Reviews. I’ve been reviewing wrestling shows for over ten years now and have reviewed over 5,000 shows. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I’ll be posting a new review here on, starting today. It could be anything from modern WWE to old school to indies to anything in between. Note that I rate using letters instead of stars and I don’t rate matches under three minutes as really, how good or bad can something that short be?

Royal Rumble 2003
Date: January 19, 2003
Location: Fleet Center, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 15,338
Commentators: Michael Cole, Tazz, Jim Ross, Jerry Lawler

This is a really odd entry in the series as the namesake match is being treated as secondary to almost everything else. Really, coming into this show, there’s a good argument to be made that Torrie Wilson vs. Dawn Marie is being treated as a bigger deal than the Rumble itself. Let’s get to it.

The opening video is your standard montage of wrestlers talking about what it means to go to Wrestlemania because the road starts tonight.

Big Show vs. Brock Lesnar

The winner is in the Rumble and the loser is out in the cold. They do the customary exchange of shoves to start with the fans almost entirely behind Lesnar. Brock drives him into the corner to little avail but the belly to belly works a bit better. A second works just as well but the third is countered with a scary toss over the top. Back in and we hit the choke, which you can tell is serious because Cole starts talking about Show’s shoe size.

Brock comes right back with the release German suplex but Heyman offers a distraction to break things up. A big boot and side slam drop Lesnar for all of ten seconds before he’s back up with an other belly to belly. Cue Heyman but he gets caught in an F5 attempt, only to have Show make the save with a chokeslam for two. A second attempt is countered into a sloppy F5 to send Lesnar to the Rumble.

Rating: D+. It was short (less than seven minutes) and had the only possible ending (it’s not like there are many other potential Rumble winners) so it’s hard to complain that much. The F5 didn’t look great but it was how the match should have ended. This probably needs to be about it for Big Show as a main event guy but you know that’s not going to be the case, which is part of the problem on Smackdown.

Chris Jericho is ready to win the Rumble and gets his World Title back at Wrestlemania.

Raw Tag Team Titles: Dudley Boyz vs. William Regal/Lance Storm

Regal and Storm are defending. Bubba punches Storm in the corner to start and hits something like a spinebuster. To really mix things up, Bubba grabs a leglock for a few seconds before handing it off to D-Von. Regal comes in and gets punched as well as this isn’t exactly shaking the feeling that it’s a glorified Raw match. The champs take over on D-Von with Storm drop toeholding him down into a sliding knee from Regal (nice spot).

We hit the cravate for a bit and a chinlock keeps D-Von in trouble. That doesn’t last long either though as D-Von fights up and makes the hot tag to Bubba for the house cleaning. Regal takes What’s Up but here’s Chief Morely for a distraction to prevent the 3D. It doesn’t quite work so well though as D-Von uses the distraction to grab Regal’s brass knuckles and knock Storm silly for the pin and the titles. Lawler: “I’m as confused as a baby in a topless bar.” He’s confused enough to refer to Regal as Steve.

Rating: C-. This was just a Raw match with a title change and considering Booker T. and Goldust never even got a rematch after losing the titles, I have no idea what the thinking here is. Were Booker and Goldust really that bad of a team? I know it’s a sin to get over without the company swearing off on it but it’s some of the oddest booking of the year.

House show ads. They didn’t edit this off the Network? I like having the complete versions but it’s a strange choice to keep in.

Nathan Jones vignette.

We get a long recap of the Al Wilson Saga, which still doesn’t make much sense and went on WAY too long if this is their big idea. Basically Dawn Marie decided she wanted to destroy Torrie Wilson’s life (I think?) by marrying Torrie’s father. She eventually went through with it but had so much, ahem, fun with Al on their honeymoon that he died.

Dawn blames Torrie for this and the match is on, even though it was booked before Al died. If this was all some big con by Dawn, what does she get out of it? Getting a match with Torrie? She seems upset and we haven’t gotten any scene of Dawn saying it was all made up so I guess we’re supposed to take it at face value. I know I harp on this a lot but I still don’t get how this was supposed to work.

Dawn Marie vs. Torrie Wilson

Dawn is in regular ring gear and a black veil, which makes her look more like Jimmy Jack Funk (from the neck up) than anything else. Dawn elbows her in the face at the bell but Torrie takes her down as well as these two are going to be able to do. Torrie gets caught in a Fujiwara armbar as the announcers cover the story in detail. Well the recent part at least as basically everything after Armageddon has been forgotten at this point.

Dawn stays on the arm (that’ll teach Torrie for killing Dawn’s husband) and grabs a flapjack. They collide in a bad looking spot and the boring chants begin. Dawn actually hits a decent looking middle rope spinning clothesline, only to fall victim to that horrible swinging neckbreaker to give Torrie the pin.

Rating: F. Really, what else were you expecting here? The feud was as soap opera level as you’re going to have and the wrestlers are both models and little more. Somehow that’s about as much as you could have thought these two would do and hopefully it wraps up the story for good. I know it won’t but it would be nice.

Eric Bischoff and Stephanie McMahon run into each other in the back with Stephanie being smug about Eric’s thirty days to fix Raw deal. Eric asks if her job is safe too but she doesn’t seem worried, partially because she has her own surprise for Raw. As with most cases of both GM’s on screen at once, this was a big waste of time.

Sean O’Haire tells us not to go to church.

We recap Scott Steiner vs. HHH. Steiner showed up in November and was immediately shoved into the title picture but hasn’t actually had a match yet. Instead it’s been stuff like a posedown, a bench press contest (which didn’t happen), arm wrestling and a pushup contest. The idea is that Steiner can do everything HHH can and might also be completely insane. The fact that they’ve barely been allowed to get physical should be a bit worrisome but HHH wouldn’t let us down.

Raw World Title: HHH vs. Scott Steiner

Steiner is challenging and HHH is in the ultra rare red trunks. Before the bell, Hebner holds up the title and insists that he’s the law around here no matter what. Steiner wins the early slugout and chops away in the corner, followed by the gorilla press to send HHH rolling to the floor. The champ’s back is sent into the post a few times and a hard Irish whip makes his back even worse.

We hit a Boston crab for a bit with HHH crawling to the ropes a few seconds later. That’s not very noteworthy, but Steiner falling over when the hold is broken isn’t the most encouraging sign. The facebuster is no sold and we hit a quickly broken bearhug. Steiner gets in the first belly to belly for two and Flair pulls him out to the floor.

Back in and Steiner charges into a boot to the face before being sent into the steps for good measure. HHH stomps and chokes in the corner with Flair adding choking of his own. Another neckbreaker gets two for the champ and you can see how winded Steiner already is. Flair chokes on the ropes again to fill in as much time as possible before Steiner reverses the Pedigree.

Scott catapults him into the buckle and grabs the second overhead suplex….before just collapsing next to the ropes. We’re not even nine minutes into the match and the guy can’t even stand up. Steiner picks him up for what looks like a Tombstone and you would think he was about to go into labor. HHH slips out and tries a Diamond Cutter but Steiner goes backwards with it like a regular neckbreaker. After all those years of working with Diamond Dallas Page he can’t take a standard face first bump?

You can hear the crowd losing their patience with this one. Flair plays cheerleader and the fans actually cheer for HHH, who may be boring but he’s at least looking competent here. The champ dives into another overhead suplex but Steiner still can’t follow up. Some Steiner Lines set up suplexes four, five and six, followed by a spinning version for two.

Steiner tries a tiger bomb and falls down, drawing straight up booing from the fans. The announcers are trying as hard as they can to make Steiner sound like a threat here and it’s going as badly as you would expect. HHH heads up top so it’s a superplex for two more. That’s enough to send HHH and Flair up the aisle but Steiner isn’t done yet and drags them back. As lame as an ending as that would be, it was the right call at this point.

A belt shot to HHH’s head draws some blood and they continue to stagger around ringside with no idea what to do. Another belly to belly (ninth suplex total) sends HHH outside again and they brawl into the crowd because THIS MATCH JUST CAN’T END. Back in again with Steiner doing the pushups and laboring through some right hands in the corner. Now Flair tries to get the referee to stop the match but the referee keeps going because he’s that kind of evil.

Steiner hates the match as much as everyone else does so he throws Hebner outside but THAT’S NOT A DQ EITHER. The tenth suplex gets two and you can see Steiner looking desperate. HHH gets in a low blow and rolls Steiner up for two. That’s FINALLY enough for HHH as he grabs sledgehammer and hits Scott in the ribs for the DQ, earning a chorus of boos that would make Roman Reigns proud.

Rating: N. For Not HHH’s Fault. For once, this can’t be blamed on HHH, who was just stuck in a horrible situation and couldn’t do anything with it. To be fair though, no one was going to be able to get anything passable out of this mess. Steiner wasn’t ready for this match and had no business going more than five minutes, let alone eighteen. The interesting thing here though is the first eight minutes ran more than well enough. It was a boring start but it was nowhere near a disaster or even really bad. The problem is the second half of the match where EVERYTHING falls apart.

You’ll hear a lot of comparisons between this Steiner and Brock Lesnar’s Suplex City but the key is in the delivery. Lesnar suplexes the heck out of people and then pops up to do it again. Steiner was suplexing HHH here and then taking twenty seconds to get to his feet out of pure exhaustion. When you can see wrestlers go twenty minutes without even breathing hard, there’s no excuse for a main eventer nearly passing out from exhaustion in the first ten minutes. There’s a reason this is remembered so horribly and it more than lives down to its reputation.

Post match Steiner hits him with the sledgehammer and grabs the Steiner Recliner. JR: “There’s no way out of this hold.” In other words, yes they’re actually doing a rematch. Bischoff eventually comes out and gets Steiner off of HHH as the fans are so apathetic towards any of this.

We recap Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle. Kurt won the title with help from his new agent Paul Heyman, who also represents Big Show. Benoit beat Show to become the new #1 contender and you know this is going to be a classic no matter what. That being said, there’s not much of a secret to the fact that they’re building towards Lesnar vs. Angle at this point. At least we can have an incredible match on the way there.

Smackdown World Title: Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle

Angle is defending. Benoit has to deal with Team Angle to start so that’s a double ejection. Chris tries a very quick Sharpshooter (which Tazz calls a Boston crab for some reason), sending Angle outside for a breather. Back in and another leg hold sends Angle to the ropes as it seems that they have a long time here.

Benoit easily wins a battle of the chops and gets two off a clothesline to the back of the head. A DDT onto the apron makes things even worse but Angle rolls away from the Swan Dive. The Angle Slam is reversed though and we hit the Sharpshooter. Angle grabs the ropes as well as a belly to belly (after that last match, I’m surprised those weren’t banned like bar stools on Frasier) to really take over for the first time.

We hit the chinlock with a bodyscissors on Benoit for a bit before a double clothesline puts both guys down. Back up and they trade German suplexes with Benoit getting the better of it. Chris takes too long going up top though and Angle runs the corner for the belly to belly superplex. The Crossface goes on a few seconds later with Benoit switching to the ankle lock (that’s like a Bingo space in an Angle match).

Kurt’s ankle lock is reversed into the Crossface which is reversed into a rollup which is reversed right back into the Crossface. Angle gets to his feet for an Angle Slam but there’s no cover. There go the straps though and it’s back to the ankle lock. Benoit gets two off a rollup as the announcers are losing their minds (rightfully so).

Kurt is sick of this submission stuff and tries a German suplex, only to have Benoit reverse into a release version, drawing quite the round of applause. With Angle three quarters of the way across the ring, Benoit hits the best looking Swan Dive I’ve ever seen for a delayed two. Angle grabs a powerbomb but drops Benoit face first onto the buckle, followed by another Slam for two.

We’re right back to the Crossface but Angle rolls through into the ankle lock which can’t be reversed this time. Benoit kicks him away instead, only to get caught in the ankle lock again. Chris tries to pull him into the Crossface but Angle holds on and gets the grapevine to FINALLY make Benoit tap because he was beaten and he knew it.

Rating: A+. I’ve seen this match several times now and I’m still exhausted just watching it. These guys were beating the heck out of each other with everything looking anywhere from great to unbelievable (that Swan Dive in particular). This was outstanding stuff and one of the best wrestling matches I’ve ever seen. There’s also a bit of a HHH vs. Cactus Jack vibe to it with Angle being backed into a corner and having to fight, only to prove that he is indeed the better man, at least on this night. Check this out if you haven’t seen it in awhile, or just because it’s worth seeing multiple times.

After an Anthology ad, Benoit gets the big standing ovation, which probably should have sent him to a World Title shot (at least) at Wrestlemania. Instead it was a spot in a three way for the Tag Team Titles because that’s how WWE worked in 2003.

Rob Van Dam and Kane agree that it’s every man for himself tonight.

Royal Rumble

90 second intervals (though Fink says two minutes) with Shawn Michaels at #1 and Chris Jericho at #2. If nothing else, at least Shawn is starting to look like a wrestler again instead of the tiny thing he was back at Survivor Series. Actually hang on a second as it’s Christian in Jericho’s clothes instead of Chris himself. Cue Jericho from underneath the ring to hit Shawn low. One heck of a beatdown ensues with Jericho busting Shawn open with a chair as Christopher Nowinski is in at #3. He’s willing to stay on the floor while Jericho beats on Shawn some more and easily eliminates him.

Nowinski is still on the floor as Rey Mysterio is in at #4. Rey tries to speed things up and slips out of a gorilla press, only to get punched out to the apron. As usual, Jericho celebrates early and gets dropkicked into the ropes. Nowinski FINALLY gets in and it’s Edge in at #5. Outside of Nowinski, that’s quite the first four. Spears abound as Rey gets back into it and Nowinski is sent outside but not eliminated.

Jericho is sent into the post and through the ropes to the floor. Rey and Edge shake hands and go at it with Rey hitting the 619 but he gets powerbombed to put both guys down. It’s Christian in at #6 with an offer to reform the team with Edge. That earns him a spear but here’s Nowinski to throw Edge and Mysterio to the apron. Chavo Guerrero is in at #7 as the Smackdown is strong with this Rumble.

Rey and Chavo do a quick lucha sequence with the 619 setting up a springboard seated senton. Christian eats a 619 of his own, followed by a hurricanrana to get rid of Nowinski. Jericho comes back in for a hard clothesline to get rid of Mysterio and here’s Tajiri in at #8. Things settle down a bit with Chavo choking Jericho in the corner and Tajiri not being able to eliminate Christian.

Bill DeMott is in at #9 and attacks various people in short order. The fans aren’t exactly thrilled here as we’re waiting on the big name to clean out some of these names. Tommy Dreamer is in at #10 to give us Dreamer, Jericho, Edge, Christian, Chavo, Tajiri and DeMott. Dreamer brings weapons with him and Edge knocks DeMott out with a kendo stick. Jericho and Christian hit a con-trashcanlid-o on Dreamer and get rid of him without much effort. Tajiri takes them both down with a handspring elbow but the Tarantula is easily broken up, allowing Jericho to get rid of him.

B2, still with the Cena entrance theme, is in at #11…and Edge gets rid of him in less than thirty seconds. Chavo is speared out next, followed by a bloody Jericho (from a Dreamer kendo stick shot) dumping Edge and Christian to leave himself all alone. Rob Van Dam is in at #12 because Edge/Van Dam vs. Christian/Jericho was out of the question for some reason. A superkick has Jericho in trouble and he’s catapulted all the way to the apron. Matt Hardy, who strongly dislikes mustard, is in at #13 and drops Rob with a Side Effect.

Van Dam gets double teamed for a bit until he flips over Jericho and kicks Matt in the face for good measure. The Five Star hits Jericho and it’s Eddie Guerrero in at #14. We get a rehash of Eddie vs. Van Dam from last year until Matt helps Eddie set up an ugly frog splash. That earns Eddie a Twist of Fate (Eddie is smarter than that) and it’s Jeff Hardy in at #15.

Jeff doesn’t buy the reunion idea either (like anyone would buy a Hardys reunion in 2003 or beyond) and beats Matt up, only to have Shannon Moore dive onto Matt to save him from a Swanton. That’s fine with Jeff so he crushes both of them as Rosey is in at #16. Matt gets backdropped to the apron as the eliminations have slowed WAY down. Test is in at #17 and gets to clean house a bit without eliminating anyone. You know, because Rosey needs to stick around.

A rapping John Cena is in at #18 giving reasons why he’s going to win this. The camera stays on him and for once it’s not the biggest problem as nothing is going on in the ring. Van Dam beats him up on the floor (maybe for wrestling in jeans instead of jean shorts for a change) and it’s Charlie Haas in at #19. Where are Lesnar and Undertaker to clear these people out? Jeff tries to run up the corner so Rob eliminates him, still leaving us with far too many people.

Rikishi is in at #20, giving us Rikishi, Jericho, Rob Van Dam, Matt Hardy, Eddie Guerrero, Rosey, Test, Cena and Haas. Rosey and Rikishi have a weird family reunion as Shannon comes in to protect Matt. That just earns him a double Stinkface, or at least it would have if Rosey hadn’t clotheslined Rikishi instead. Jamal is in at #21 to superkick Rikishi, who pops right back up with a Stinkface for his… I believe.

Kane is in at #22 to clean house but he brings Rico in with a chokeslam to fill the ring up even more. Rosey is tossed in a hurry and it’s a double chokeslam for Matt and Shannon. Shelton Benjamin is in at #23 as the ring is WAY too full with eleven people in there, plus Shannon and Rico at various times. They all fight near the ropes and it’s Booker T. in at #24. We go to a weird closeup for an ax kick on Kane and there’s the Spinarooni. Eddie gets backdropped out and it’s A-Train in at #25.

A good looking A-Train Bomb (chokebomb) plants Cena and another one hits Van Dam but Rikishi superkicks A-Train in the face. Jericho is sent to the apron AGAIN but here’s a bandaged Shawn to go after Jericho, allowing Test to knock him out. Shawn stays on Jericho and that’s a Wrestlemania match. Maven is in at #26 (because this match needed two Tough Enough names) and goes after Kane as things slow down again. Goldust is in at #27 and doesn’t even last a minute before Team Angle puts him out. They do the same to Booker T. a few seconds later, making sure that the Booker T./Goldust team is swiftly beaten again.

Batista is in at #28 and gets rid of Test (after EIGHTEEN MINUTES, or longer than Edge and Mysterio combined) and Rikishi. Brock Lesnar is in at #29 and becomes the most obvious winner since….well last year with HHH actually. He wastes no time in getting rid of Team Angle before throwing Matt onto both of them. Now that’s how you clear out some bodies. Undertaker is in at #30 to give us a final group of Undertaker, Van Dam, Cena, Jamal, Kane, A-Train, Maven, Batista and Lesnar. Not the worst field actually.

Undertaker dumps Cena (Which could have set up a heck of a Wrestlemania match today but we wanted a reality show moment instead. Yes you did want that and Kevin Dunn told me so.) and Jamal (Why was he still there?) before Maven hits the same dropkick as last year. This time there’s no effect though, making Maven’s celebration a bit amusing.

After Maven is launched out, A-Train hits the A-Train Bomb on Undertaker. Van Dam and Kane get rid of A-Train and we’re down to five. Kane loads up Rob in a gorilla press….and throws him out in a smart move (not a heel turn). Batista and Kane are put down with a double clothesline and it’s time for Lesnar vs. Undertaker.

That’s broken up before anything can happen though and the Brothers of Destruction start taking over. Brock takes care of Batista and Kane so we can have the Undertaker showdown. The F5 is countered and Brock takes a Tombstone, followed by Undertaker dumping Batista and Kane. Batista comes back in and eats a chair shot, leaving Brock to eliminate Undertaker for the win.

Rating: B. There was a REALLY bad dead spot in the middle and some of the choices were all over the place (Test, Jamal and Rikishi all getting over fourteen minutes while Los Guerreros, Edge and Mysterio were all afterthoughts) but the ending was the right call. The final four wasn’t a bad group at all and having Lesnar dump Undertaker to win is as good a move as they could have made.

There was VERY little build to this match and they did well enough with it while they could. It’s not a terrible Rumble but there are many better options. Fix the middle part and get rid of people at a faster clip and it’s a great one, but as it is it’s just pretty good. Then again, for this year that’s quite the compliment.

The big problem here though is how weak the midcard and lower card is. Maybe it’s just the way some of them were booked but aside from Lesnar, Undertaker and MAYBE Jericho, was anyone a real threat to win here? Having an obvious winner is fine but it would be nice to build up someone else as a possible winner.

Overall Rating: B-. The World Title matches cancel each other out and thankfully the Rumble is there to make up for a nothing lower card. Lesnar winning was the obvious ending here and that left the rest of the show to really carry things. Angle vs. Benoit is must see and Steiner vs. HHH may be as well if you’re into unintentional comedy. The rest of the show though…..egads there’s nothing to see there. It’s a perfectly good show but the problems are very big and the Rumble isn’t good enough to make it a classic.

Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books. His latest book is KB’s Complete 2004 Monday Night Raw Reviews.

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