The WWE Network’s newest series, Ruthless Aggression, is a shockingly informative peak behind the curtain and into the tumultuous backstage.
The series is narrated by Michael Rappaport, and is a fascinating documentary-style look at the era that proceeded the post-Monday Night War lull that left WWE in a creative nadir after Vince McMahon had bought WCW in early 2001.
In an era where kayfabe is all but dead (The freakin Undertaker recently tweeted at the WWE account for not including his shoot wife Michelle McCool on a recent list of Women’s Champions), the perspective that the series offers is a surprisingly unfiltered and, frankly, somewhat unglamourous look at some of the company’s biggest stars.
The first episode, “It’s Time to Shake Things Up” picks relevantly right where the Monday Night War series finished off, documenting McMahon’s purchase of the WCW roster, the failure of the subsequent Invasion storyline, and the creative drought that the company found itself in without fierce competition for the first time in nearly half a decade. It details McMahon’s effort to create a renewed sense of creative urgency, and the need to build new stars following the exits of The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, by spurring internal competition and uttering the words that would give the series its namesake.
Episode two, “Enter John Cena,” gets into the actual character profiling and appropriately first covers the man who seemingly willed the concept of “Ruthless Aggression” into the ring after he famously grappled with Kurt Angle after uttering the words. The episode takes a fascinating look at the perceived early success and quick failure of Cena’s initial push, the inspiration for his “Doctor of Thuganomics” character, and his decision to abandon it for the (quickly despised) more kid-friendly version that we know today.
The third episode, “Evolution,” might be the best of the four as it gets perspectives from all the principle characters– Triple H, Ric Flair, Randy Orton, and Batista– from Triple H’s initial conception of the group and his efforts to create it, and the reasons for choosing the other three members. But this episode is enthralling as it gets honest candour from its subjects, from Flair’s insecurity at that point in his career, Orton’s self-destructive ego and arrogance, and Batista’s consecutive major injuries that nearly cost him his spot in the group.
The latest episode, “The Next Big Thing,” definitely the weakest, and slightly pre-dates the actual “Ruthless Aggression” Era. It chronicles his impressive rise from collegiate wrestling, to OVW, to his debut on Monday Night RAW, his pairing with Paul Heyman, his first major rivalry with Hulk Hogan, and winning the Undisputed Championship from The Rock at SummerSlam 2002. But they completely skip over the planned King of the Ring Qualification match on RAW that led to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s walkout, and unlike the focused-on wrestlers of the previous two episodes, there are no contemporary interviews with Lesnar, so we’re left without his reflective storytelling. Though, it is worth noting that currently AEW commentator Jim Ross is featured and there is a pretty unflattering look at the infamously trashed match with Goldberg at WrestleMania XX.
It’s interesting that the series looks back upon this time in WWE’s history so fondly, almost reverently, when there is both a desire for WWE fans to see a similar edge re-injected into the current product, and the fact that AEW is arguably replicating the same thing on Dynamite right now.
Either way, the series is a must watch if you’re the type of fan who takes an interest in the booking history of the business, so catch it on the WWE Network, with new episodes premiering after RAW every week.