Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Opinion: Brand Wars - The Best Brand-Exclusive Pay Per Views of 2003-2007

Last month, Raw and Smackdown purported to celebrate their first brand exclusive Pay per Views, with this development personifying the continuation of the WWE’s New Era gimmick. Truthfully both the red and blue brands have had plenty of previous form for presenting their own unique content. When the company first made the decision to split their roster into two, way back in April 2002, they originally decided on dual Raw and Smackdown PPVs, seemingly believing that the paying public would not commit to purchasing shows deprived of several key performers. It wasn’t until over a year later, in June 2003, that Raw hosted it's own special event in the form of the forgettable Bad Blood; Smackdown followed suit with the far superior Vengeance in July. Whilst the brands continued to share ownership of the traditional big four shows (Royal Rumble, Wrestlemania, Summerslam and Survivor Series), all other events were brand specific, with Raw and Smackdown taking alternate months to present their stars and storylines. This pattern lasted until February 2007, with the Smackdown exclusive No Way Out ending the experiment; over the next few years Raw and Smackdown shared the spotlight until the initial brand split was quietly dropped in 2011. From 2005-2009, the third brand, ECW, was also a part of the mix, hosting three of its own distinct PPVs and contributing talent to the collaborative shows between 2007-10.

This particular era of brand exclusive Pay per Views isn’t especially celebrated by modern fans. It doesn’t yet command the nostalgic appeal of the Attitude era and, bell to bell, the standard of wrestling was not as consistent as it is today. However, 2003-2007 remains a fascinating period in WWE history: each PPV was TV 14, allowing for a mature, at times shocking, presentation of the form; notable young performers rose to prominence and classic matches were crafted. Indeed, several of the shows are very good indeed, with the best of the bunch listed below.

ECW's One Night Stand 2005

This show, from New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, was a legitimate representation of the ECW product, reflecting the styling and  ethos of Paul Heyman and not Vince McMahon. ECW or WWE, undoubtedly this is one of the best PPVs of all time, overshadowing many a Wrestlemania. The crowd is red hot, the commentary is passionate and the action is insane. Mike Awesome vs Masato Tanaka is simply breath-taking.

RAW's Vengeance 2005

This is the best Raw exclusive show, and was also the best performing of all of the brand exclusive PPVs, drawing a total of 420,000 buys. The card was deep, mostly due to the fact it took place during the middle of a month long draft, meaning that Raw found itself in possession of both the WWE and World titles. As a result this show delivered an early John Cena title defence against Christian and Chris Jericho (this marked one of the first occasions of the crowd turning on the babyface champ) and the best ever contest between HHH and Batista. The mid-card featured an instant classic between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels and a very decent match between Kane and Edge.

Smackdown's  Vengeance 2003

The Smackdown PPV era began with a US title match between Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit; many might have seen this as an indicator of a serious, scientific wrestling product but later in the show Vince McMahon pulled a gruesome juice job in a vicious match with Zach Gowen. The main event between Angle, Big Show and Brock Lesnar was as an excellent example of the triple threat format.

RAW's Backlash 2004

The undercard was far from gripping but the big two fights delivered in a huge way: Randy Orton vs Mick Foley was a bona fide hardcore classic, easily in the top three bouts of each man’s career. The sight of Orton’s back, lanced with dozens of thumb tacks lingered in the memory and the decisive win he secured set him on the way to the main event scene. The Wrestlemania 20 rematch between Benoit, Triple H and Shawn Micheals was a shade below the original but still delivered action aplenty as Benoit won before a hometown crowd.

RAW's Unforgiven 2006

Speaking of hometown crowds…live from Toronto, this event was largely sold on two big matches: the first was a spectacular TLC stunt-fest where the champion Edge (who, despite being the heel, is moved to tears during his rapturous ring introduction) squared off with arch rival John Cena; the second was a Hell in a Cell match in which D-Generation X faced the McMahons and the Big Show. This match was not a purist classic in any sense but showcased a memorable spot whereby Vince got up close and personal with the Big Show. Vince’s special club was very much a product of this era…

RAW's Vengeance 2006

This event didn’t feature the best wrestling but the roster was so eclectic that it made for absorbing viewing. The return of DX was the headline attraction here as HHH and HBK lined up against all 5 members of the Spirit Squad but this was a card that featured Flair vs Foley, Cena vs Sabu and RVD vs Edge. The opener between Randy Orton and Kurt Angle was an excellent start to the show.

Smackdown's No Mercy 2003

Largely forgotten, this was a very enjoyable show. The battle between Vince and Stephanie McMahon was initially engaging before morphing into some ultimately uncomfortable viewing but there was plenty to enjoy on the card: Brock and Undertaker competed in a spirited main event, Rey Mysterio and Tajiri battled over the first incarnation of the Crusierweight title and Cena entered a, then, career best performance in the match of the night with Kurt Angle.

There you go: seven shows that celebrate the work of departed legends, showcase the early years of current stars and present a more bloody, controversial style of wrestling. Maybe you’ve never seen the aforementioned events; maybe you haven’t re-watched them since they first aired: regardless, it may be time to fire up the WWE Network and appreciate what the original brand wars contributed to the history of the business.

Editor - Arguably the Top 4 performers of this period, but that's another article for another day....

Words - Sean Taylor-Richardson
Images - James Marston
Editor - James Marston 

All images remain the property of their respective owners.

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