10 Most Infamous WWE Ruthless Aggression Era Controversies

Undertaker and Triple H perform vile material on TV that has nothing on the reality of the 2000s.

Undertaker Terrorist

'Ruthless Aggression' is such a strange name for the time period between 2002 and 2008.

It is something that Vince McMahon said out loud when b*llocking his roster - to their faces - for failing to get over. Deflecting his own failings as a promoter, in a childish rant - was it the fault of the roster that he had failed miserably to do anything of lasting importance with Hulk Hogan, the WCW IP, or a white-hot Rob Van Dam? - he challenged them to showcase "ruthless aggression".

John Cena echoed this line in a memorable debut showing opposite Kurt Angle, but faded badly after that. The poster boy for the "era" was almost fired just a few months into it; it was only when freestyling on a tour bus in earshot of Stephanie McMahon did WWE realise that he had something beyond good looks and a great physique.

Perhaps the reason why the 'Ruthless Aggression' tag persists is that WWE experienced an identity crisis for much of the 2000s, and there's no better designation. WWE couldn't decide whether to focus on the teenage males, young children, or the hardcore workrate snobs. Within a year, technical darlings Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero made way for edgy rapper John Cena who within one more year was promoted as the next Hulk Hogan.

In reality, 'Ruthless Aggression' was simply the Attitude Era again, between the authority figures, rancid material, and dumb skits - and the controversy, of course...

10. The Billy & Chuck 'Wedding'

Undertaker Terrorist

WWE was so rotten and desperate, as the Attitude Era box office waned, that it was as if Vince McMahon created a dartboard on which every possible controversial subject matter was written down - necrophilia, sexual assault, blasphemy - and threw an arrow at it.

If one increasingly bleak crack at popping the teenage edgelords didn't work, why, just try another. For much of the early 'Ruthless Aggression' era, WWE's standard operating procedure was to be awful and expect the profits to roll in.

In one of many such developments, Billy Gunn and Chuck Palumbo were heavily insinuated to be a romantically entangled same-sex couple. This was never expressly stated, but it was all but clear - and WWE even reached out to GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) to consult on the storyline and ensure positive press coverage. GLAAD revealed that WWE had promised to air an onscreen wedding, but this of course didn't happen. It was revealed to be a "publicity stunt" after Billy's character was scripted to say, in no uncertain terms - his tone was almost repulsed - "We're not gay".

This was abhorrent, but again, that was WWE's business plan at the time. The man who secretly "officiated" the ceremony, Eric Bischoff, is fond of remarking that "controversy creates cash".

In 2002, WWE revenues dropped 13.09%.


Michael Sidgwick is an editor, writer and podcaster for WhatCulture Wrestling. With over seven years of experience in wrestling analysis, Michael was published in the influential institution that was Power Slam magazine, and specialises in providing insights into All Elite Wrestling - so much so that he wrote a book about the subject. You can order Becoming All Elite: The Rise Of AEW on Amazon. Possessing a deep knowledge also of WWE, WCW, ECW and New Japan Pro Wrestling, Michael’s work has been publicly praised by former AEW World Champions Kenny Omega and MJF, and current Undisputed WWE Champion Cody Rhodes. When he isn’t putting your finger on why things are the way they are in the endlessly fascinating world of professional wrestling, Michael wraps his own around a hand grinder to explore the world of specialty coffee. Follow Michael on X (formerly known as Twitter) @MSidgwick for more!