When you talk about the best era in WWE history, you will get a couple of answers.
Some will say the glory days of the 1980s with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage on top, but the most common answer you will hear is the Attitude Era and for good reason. The Attitude Era changed wrestling forever with the introduction of reality-based characters, authority figures and Jerry Springer-esque antics.
While these two eras were great, I don’t think it gets any better than the Ruthless Aggression Era.
The Ruthless Aggression era combined the best of the Attitude Era with the revered elements of the glory days. On one segment of a show, John Cena would be talking about STDs and later that same night, you’d see Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle face off in a tremendous match. There was something for everybody, including excellent storytelling, especially from Paul Heyman’s SmackDown.
Over the course of time, the matches of this era, more than others of recent memory, have gone largely unremembered.
From the rise of Evolution to the dominance of The Big Show, there are many memories, matches, and wrestlers that have simply gotten lost in today’s landscape. In this series, I’ll take a journey with me to enjoy the greatness that was Ruthless Aggression. To get us prepared for the featured match in Part 1 of this series, we need to go back to a match recently referenced in WrestleMania’s Firefly Funhouse match, the match that kickstarted the WWE career of John Cena.
On that fateful day in 2002, John Cena came out and challenged Kurt Angle saying only 5 words: “I’m John Cena” and “Ruthless Aggression” followed by a massive slap to the face of Kurt Angle. They had a nice little TV match where Cena held his own with Angle, but as the savvy veteran often does, they find a way to win it in the end. That 15-minute segment set the tone for the next 4-5 years.
Two and a half years later, John Cena would begin his first WWE title reign after defeating JBL at WrestleMania 21. Throughout the course of the next two months, tensions rose drastically between the two with Cena introducing the controversial spinner belt (sidenote: I loved the spinner belt). At the time, JBL had a historic title reign, totaling 280 days and billed as the longest-reigning champion in SmackDown history. JBL beat the late Eddie Guererro for the championship in a Texas Bullrope match and successfully defended it against Guererro, Kurt Angle, Booker T, and even beat The Big Show in a barbed wire steel cage match. The JBL character was one of the most hated heels of the era, leaning in hard into his real-life persona as an NYSE analyst for Fox News.
The following month, JBL would get a rematch with John Cena at WWE’s Judgement Day 2005 PPV. The stipulation: I Quit. This was Cena’s first test as champion and JBL’s chance to get back the title he had held for nearly a year prior.
The entrances for this match were excellent. JBL comes out in his standard white limo while Cena comes out on a flatbed trailer with a DJ remixing his theme song.
At this time, Cena’s rap album (You Can’t See Me) had just dropped and was being heavily promoted by WWE. Cena was emphatically cheered by the Minneapolis crowd at the Target Center and the stage was set for this WWE Championship match.
The match itself was the essence of brutality.
The I Quit match started by them locking up but that didn’t last long. The two men started brawling and things really got going when JBL smashed a chair over the head of Cena. Blood began gushing from Cena’s forehead, so much so even The Great Muta was beaming with pride.
After a few minutes in the ring back in the ring, the two move towards the stage entrance where there are all kinds of weapons for these two to utilize. JBL’s limo gets brutalized as he gets slammed onto the roof, the hood and the doors.
After Cena throws JBL through a TV, he joins Cena and begins bleeding himself. They brawl for a while and ended up onto the flatbed trailer that Cena came out to the ring with. They exchanged blows on top of the platform and JBL was knocked down through a table. After JBL cowers down from the truck, Cena rips off the semi that was pulling the flatbed and went to hit JBL with it and he quits giving Cena the win.
As is often the case, Cena hits him anyway and throws him through the glass on the set.
This match was excellent. We’re currently in an era where gimmick matches seemingly happen for no reason or happen so often they are watered down but not here. The I Quit gimmick wasn’t forced and it fits really well, propelling Cena firmly into the main event scene for good and giving Cena both storyline and real-life credibility.