With this year’s Backlash upon us, Matthew Roberts takes another journey back in time in his Retro Review time machine to look at the Backlash event from fifteen years ago.
Backlash 2003 was coming hot on the heels of one of the greatest in-ring WrestleMania’s of all time, the exemplary XIX. I’m not just being biased because I was sat there in Seattle, albeit at the back of the floor seats not being able to see all that well. One of the big memories of that show was the video package that announced Goldberg was on his way to the WWE and the realisation between me and my friends at the show that we were going to witness history the next night and see Bill’s debut on WWE TV. With the exception of everything in the SummerSlam 2003 Elimination Chamber match bad the last minute (and don’t get me started on that – that’s more of a retro RANT than a retro review) that was arguably as good as it got for Bill.
His in-ring debut in WWE took place at Backlash 2003 and on paper it was something of a dream match as Bill went up against the WWE’s biggest star at that time The Rock. Of course hindsight proves that even with The Rock on the verge of a hiatus that would keep him off WWE screens for nearly a year (and he would never return to a full-time schedule) the match was never likely to deliver. Goldberg’s success in WCW was based around his almost total dominance over his opponents. He was never likely to start off against The Rock in this manner and so it proved. Rock tried his best (this was no Hogan style Machiavellian plot to derail WCW’s franchise player, at least on his part) but fans wanted to cheer him over the WCW interloper and he was so damn entertaining that that’s what they did. The match was average at best, played to none of Bill’s strengths and should have been taken as an indication that Bill’s place in WWE was destined to showcase that he’d never been that good in WCW anyway. At least in the mind of Vince McMahon. But he’s probably lost more money down the back of his sofa than I’ve been paid in wages so why should my opinion that petty WWE politics threw away a potential megastar. And of course, the irony is that in 2016/17, WWE booked him like the dominant force he was in WCW far past a time it could possibly have made any difference to the company.
It’s not as if the undercard made up for the mediocre main event. The WWE Heavyweight Title match between John Cena and Brock Lesnar came from a time when both were green, inexperienced guys and were not the rounded superstars they are today (insert your own joke here, if you feel like it). Their match was decent enough but never really got going and was probably able to exist on a WWE PPV as a title match simply because Rock Vs Goldberg was seen as big enough to carry the buy-rate. A six-man tag pitting Booker T, Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash against Triple H, Ric Flair and Chris Jericho comes off more as something that would headline a House Show in the “taking it easy” category than a vital PPV match though maybe my opinion of it is hurt by my lingering resentment of the 37 minutes it took HHH to crawl over to Booker T at WrestleMania XIX to make the pin a month earlier. It’s also doubtful what the WWE Champion pinning his future opponent in a six man does for building up any future feud, regardless of any shenanigans. Plus it’s 2003 and Nash is working a match.
The Big Show against Rey Mysterio is a nothing match, more memorable for the idiotic angle afterwards when Show straps Rey to a stretcher then recklessly tosses him into a ring post. At least Rey was ok. A World Tag Team Titles match pitting Rob Van Dam and Kane against the challengers The Dudley Boyz is passable, even with Chief “Val Venis” Morley as guest referee. Similarly the Women’s Title match pitting Jazz against Trish Stratus is passable and packs as much as you could expect into a five minute match without ever being something you would ever willingly go back to watch for a second time. Those two matches are about twenty-seven times better than an interminable Sean O’Haire versus Rikishi match that seems to last five hours rather than the five minutes it does. Whatever the rumours behind his demise in the WWE, as soon as they decided that his WCW style was too flashy and he had to be re-programmed as a WWE big guy (i.e punches and kicks) it was over for him. By the time some promising vignettes as a character (“I’m only telling you what you already know”) had been jettisoned for him being Roddy Piper’s sidekick as he was here you knew it was over.
The only real bright spot on the undercard then was the opener, as Team Angle (Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin) defend their WWE Tag Team Titles against Los Guerreros. Admittedly by some respects it was your standard tag-team encounter but it was carried out with such finesse and with such talented guys in there that it would have been difficult not to get wrapped up and invested in it. Sadly two and a half hours later this kind of action has long since been largely forgotten after sitting through what follows.
Whilst by no means a terrible show, Backlash 2003 ultimately is a very disappointing experience. And if WrestleMania XIX could be used as an example of a lot of what was right in 2003’s WWE, Backlash could well be used as an example, with a few exceptions, of what was wrong with 2003’s WWE.