Oxford defines an era as: “A long and distinct period of history with a particular feature or characteristic.” And the Ruthless Aggression era was indeed a period in which certain characteristics shone through. It was an offshoot of previous eras and was one that would launch the careers of many legends in the business. Today, we’ll be taking a closer look at the Ruthless Aggression Era.
The moments in history of professional wrestling are usually looked at in terms of their eras…periods of time in which a global or collective message was sent out to the fan base. For the most part this is in reference to WWE, but it can be argued that back in the nineties—mid to late—WCW got the ball rolling in terms of a new ‘attitude’ in professional wrestling with the formation of the nWo. But we’ll get to that another time.
Today I’d like to focus specifically on an era that dawned this new and current generation in professional wrestling. It started pretty soon after WCW had fallen; the stars of the previous era were on their way out, and the WWE was in desperate need of new stars to step up…which they eventually did, big time.
A reason for a new beginning
It would be in 2002 that stars like The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin would eventually be heading out of the business. Steve Austin actually walked out of the business in 2002 for a brief time because of a conflict about his creative direction between he and the company. He would return, but his last run wouldn’t last long as an active competitor.
He would have his last match with The Rock at WrestleMania 19 in 2003, Austin having to retire due to injuries sustained in the ring years before in a match with Owen Hart. The Rock was soon to follow through those turnstiles leading out the door of full time in-ring work, as Hollywood was beckoning the charismatic young star and beckoning quite loudly.
As we speak, or rather as of this writing, he has the number one movie in the world—Black Adam—and a hit TV show on TV—Young Rock; he has the XFL starting in 2023, and has a business empire that will one day rival that of John D. Rockefeller, and for you kids out there, he’s got an empire that can one day rival that of Jeff Bezos’. So he made the right decision many would say.
Regardless, there was a need for new stars, and main event stars at that, to make their way to the forefront of the company.
Ohio Valley Wrestling
Without this promotion it can be argued that the Ruthless Aggression Era never happens. The stars that came out of a specific graduating class made the era what it was. Of course they all had help along the way, but when we look back now, talk about a bunch of men that revolutionized the business and turned it on its head when so many skeptics at the time never believed that Austin’s boots, or even The Rock’s boots, could ever be foiled.
To be fair, those same skeptics or at least earlier ones, said the same thing about the mighty boots of Hulk Hogan, and Steve and Dwayne did just fine filling them in many would say.
Ohio Valley Wrestling was of course the developmental territory for WWE at the time. It would be followed by FCW (Florida Championship Wrestling) and of course NXT.
Enter this man right here. He would end up being the face of the entire era (and following eras as well), much as Austin was for the previous era known as the Attitude Era. John Cena in terms of merchandising, character development, matches, title reigns and promo ability was on the exact same level as Bruno Sammartino, Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin. For me, John Cena is that fourth face on the Mount Rushmore of professional wrestling and he deserves respect. Talk about putting respect on a name.
The wrestling business owes this man a debt of gratitude, because the interest he brought into the sport, and the specific demographic of children that he brought in when he brought them in, is why the business has so many young eyes on it today.
Dave Batista & Randy Orton
Both these men were in the same aforementioned class with John Cena at Ohio Valley Wrestling specified above, and really I can’t go on about these two more. They were chosen to be a part of Evolution with Triple H and Ric Flair, and as John Cena himself once stated, they were the ‘chosen ones’ of his era, not him.
Sadly, despite their run in Evolution, both men would fail at being able to steer he ship of WWE as well as Cena would down the line once he was given those reins, but they each had incredible careers regardless, coming into their own and taking for themselves a couple of spots at the top of the industry. Legends for sure.
Brock Lesnar & Shelton Benjamin
Two more classmates from that aforementioned class at OVW. In Brock, WWE saw “the next big thing,” and he really was for a while there. But like the two men above, he too would fall, not necessarily living up to expectations at the time; he would eventually leave WWE only two years after his debut, not really taking to the grueling schedule.
But what a two years they were…and he did return after conquering the world of MMA, and he is enjoying quite the run now, albeit part time, he still brings in massive numbers and is most definitely a draw.
Shelton Benjamin was that standout guy that can in turn be called a precursor to what was happening in the world of professional wrestling, bringing to WWE and OVW a physical, acrobatic and controlled style of pro wrestling that was happening on the indie scene…Bryan Danielson, CM Punk and so many stars that would share that style, have Shelton to thank for bringing that in, merging of course epic technical matt skills…complimenting previous stars like Kurt Angle perfectly, meshing eras beautifully.
Quite the introduction for a new era
And it was Kurt Angle that would help usher in the new era believe it or not. After a speech given by Vince McMahon in which he essentially asked the entirety of the WWE locker room, who had that grit necessary to make it in the business…that ruthless aggression so to speak, to make it to the top (and he did this on live TV, the company in desperate need quite obviously of new stars)…
Well, Kurt Angle would later take to the microphone and call out someone from the locker room and who would answer to the legend’s call? None other than John Cena of course, and what would happen when Angle on the microphone would ask him just what Cena thought he “possessed that could make him think he could possibly ever go up against the very best in the business?”
“RUTHLESS AGRESSION,” Cena would respond, the muscles on his neck taught and bulging, and he would proceed to slap Angle across to the face. The term ‘off to the races’ certainly comes to mind, dear readers.
What was the Ruthless Aggression Era?
And finally, the $64,000 question, folks. Answered quite simply enough, it ran from 2002 until 2008, and really it was the launching pad for this era we currently enjoy and the eras in between.
It taught the WWE how to shift with the times, and although it sometimes take the WWE a while to catch up to what works, they eventually get there, the Ruthless Aggression era proving just that, and it gave us one of the absolute best in the business to ever lace up a pair of boots as well, as well as a plethora of other epic storylines, stars and memories.