AFTER WWE's Attitude Era came Ruthless Aggression – a new era that changed the landscape of wrestling forever.
Beginning in 2002, Ruthless Aggression saw the rise of hungry young talent that included John Cena, Brock Lesnar, Batista, Randy Orton, and Trish Stratus.
They're now all WWE legends in their own right.
A five-part documentary on Ruthless Aggression comes to DVD on November 16, looking at the story behind the era and superstars that made WWE history.
SunSport looks back at the nine greatest Ruthless Aggression moments.
John Cena's debut
SmackDown – June 27, 2002
After Mr McMahon had demanded to see more 'ruthless aggression', Kurt Angle set out to impress the boss by issuing an open challenge.
But it was newcomer John Cena who made his name that night.
Cena – still a relative unknown to most fans – answered Angle’s challenge and slapped the Olympic Hero.
When Cena growled the words 'ruthless aggression' at Angle, it summed up what the era was all about – the next generation stepping up to claim their spot and change the business.
In truth, it took Cena a change of gimmick – later becoming the Doctor of Thuganomics – to reach the top level.
But Cena took Angle to the limit in this era-defining moment.
Jeff Hardy vs Undertaker
Raw – July 1, 2002
The 'Big Evil' character was neither Taker’s most interesting or dynamic phase in the ring.
And the high-flying ladder match was never his forte.
But Taker and Jeff Hardy put on a blistering show in this ladder match for the WWE title – the kind of match that was a rarity on Raw.
Jeff was trying to make his mark as a singles star after splitting from brother Matt.
He shocked fans by looking surprisingly competitive against Taker.
Undertaker got the win but he did what every great champ should do for a rising star.
He elevated Jeff Hardy to the next rung.
Brock beats Rock
Brock Lesnar made an impact when he debuted the night after WrestleMania 18 and demolished Al Snow, Maven, and Jeff Hardy.
But Brock really changed the course for wrestling when he defeated Rock for the WWE Championship.
Rock’s Hollywood ambitions and turned fans against him. A super-hot crowd was fully behind 'The Beast' and what he represented – a new era demolishing the old guard.
The match is a classic main event and the moment that cemented the Ruthless Aggression era.
Brock and Big Show bust the ring
SmackDown – June 12, 2003
Brock Lesnar vs Big Show is an archetypal WWE match – a spectacle of two monster-sized superstars walloping each other with giant forearms and power moves.
But this was more than the usual lumbering big man match-up as Brock and Show delivered one of the all-time shock moments.
After Big Show had clambered up the turnbuckles, Brock lifted the 7-footer with a giant super-plex from the top rope – collapsing the ring as the two titans hit the mat.
WWE has repeated the spot more than once in recent years (The Fiend and Braun Strowman destroyed the ring at this year’s Payback) but it’s never had the same impact as this original moment.
Eddie Guerrero becomes WWE Champion
No Way Out – February 15, 2004
At one time Eddie Guerrero was an unlikely contender to hold WWE’s top championship.
Though brilliant in the ring – one of the greatest ever, in fact – Eddie had the size and wrestling style that WWE would often condemn to the mid-card.
But fans had a deep connection with Eddie, which made the final minutes of this match against Brock absolutely electric.
Following interference from Goldberg – who ran in to nail Brock with a spear – Eddie reversed an F-5 and hit the frog splash for the win.
The biggest feel-good moment of Ruthless Aggression.
Return of the Deadman
WrestleMania XX – March 12, 2004
After his reinvention as the 'American Badass' and 'Big Evil', Undertaker returned as the 'Deadman' for this match against his storyline brother Kane.
Kane had literally buried Taker’s biker persona at Survivor Series – but Kane was spooked by tolling bells, sudden blackouts, and supernatural antics for months afterwards.
Undertaker returned at WrestleMania, accompanied by old school manager Paul Bearer and their druids.
Ironically, going back to the past was also the next evolution of the Undertaker character.
As a renewed version of the Deadman, Taker wrestled a faster and more exciting style – kicking off the best in-ring period of his 30-year run.
Trish and Lita main event Raw
Raw – December 6, 2004
Long before the women’s evolution, Trish Stratus and Lita were making history as two of WWE’s most popular ever female superstars.
They fought hard over the women’s title – back when WWE’s women were still battling (and would be for years to come) for equal billing next to the men.
The action’s not as slick as the modern-day women’s division.
But it was leagues ahead of what passed for women’s wrestling in the Attitude Era.
The crowd were fired up for the match, which ended when Lita hit Trish with a neck breaker and moonsault to win the title.
Batista gives Triple H the thumbs down
Raw – February 21, 2005
In terms of the greatest wrestling factions, Evolution was like a perfect engine.
It was built to make main event players out of Batista and Randy Orton – by using the star power and experience of Triple H and Ric Flair. And it worked superbly.
But in the natural order of things in wrestling, Evolution was destined to destroy itself.
The slow build of tension Batista and Triple H was masterfully done – the best story in the entire Ruthless Aggression era.
Fans were desperate for Big Dave to turn on The Game.
When Batista won the Royal Rumble and gave his Evolution pals the iconic thumbs down – signalling that he would challenge Trips for the title – it was a skin-prickling moment.
Followed by a powerbomb through the table, naturally. Still one of the most satisfying turns ever.
Edge cashes in
New Year’s Revolution – January 8, 2006
When Edge won the first Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania 21, it was new and unknown territory for WWE.
When and how would the Rated-R Superstar claim his guaranteed title opportunity?
What fans didn’t expect was a surprise cash-in on John Cena – when Cena was already battered and bloodied from surviving an Elimination Chamber match.
Edge hit Cena with two spears to become WWE champ for the first time.
The surprise cash-in became a staple of WWE – one of the most popular and anticipated moments of the year.
It also turned Edge into legit main eventer and a key player in the Ruthless Aggression era.
*Ruthless Aggression is out on DVD November 16…
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