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Notes on the Ruthless Aggression Panel at Starrcast (12/04/2024)

By Mick Robson

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I attended the Ruthless Aggression panel at Starrcast in Ballarat last Friday as part of the Starrcast Downunder festivities. The panel featured stars of the Ruthless Aggression era (generally considered the time period between 2002-2008), Chris Masters and Shelton Benjamin. The following is derived from notes taken on what Masters and Benjamin had to say:

  • Neither man thought of "Ruthless Aggression" as an era at the time. It was something they realised after, especially when comparing to the later "PG Era".

  • Shelton- talks about the famed OVW Class of 2002 (Cena, Orton, Lesnar & Batista). He was part of that class. When the host, Bharat Sundaresen, mentions it being "4 Hall of Famers", Shelton corrects him by saying "5 Hall of Famers" with a laugh.

  • Masters- his OVW class wasn't quite as star-studded, with many names not making it or no longer being in the business. Notable names from his class included Carlito, Mickie James, Muhammed Hassan & Matt Morgan.

  • Masters- his early experience was rough, as a man in his early 20s. He didn't know the locker room etiquette and came across as intimidating to people. Had locker room heat as a result. However, it was still a dream come true.

  • Shelton- his first impression of Masters was that "he looked like a Greek god". He had also told Masters, "wait until you get on the road". There was talk about the "developmental physique"- lots of wrestlers in developmental had great physiques because they were living in one place and didn't have the grind of the travel and the schedule.

  • Shelton- is asked how he feels like Kurt Angle and the influence Angle had on him. Shelton says "it was follow big brother", as Kurt was the first to make such a successful transition from amateur to pro.

  • Masters adds that there was a level of acceptance from the locker room for wrestlers who came from an amateur background, they had respect due to their legitimate skills.

  • Shelton- loved to test himself in shoot wrestling matches, especially against the big guys. He loved to stretch people, but eventually stopped after he gave an extra (enhancement talent) a concussion.

  • Shelton- "Billy Gunn is the greatest athlete in WWE history, without a doubt".

  • Both Masters and Benjamin appreciated the realism of the Ruthless Aggression era, using real or realistic names. Masters felt like he was a happy medium between a "regular person" gimmick and kiddie stuff like TL Hopper. Shelton backs that up, saying it was less about "comic book superheroes" and more about relatable "tough badasses". He cites Kevin Owens as a current example of that.

  • Shelton- "Nick Khan is doing a phenomenal job boosting the company". Mentions that the bigger paydays, the bigger TV deals currently seen in WWE elevates the industry as a whole.

  • Masters- thinks it's great that The Rock has come back. "Wrestling is in again". It's pop culture, which lends itself to sponsorships and greater profits and growth.

  • Shelton- was one of the only amateur wrestlers that loved pro wrestling. When he tried out for amateur wrestling, he turned up and said, "where's the ring?"

  • Shelton- talks about mostly being himself as a character- the Gold Standard was the closest to the aggressive, confident side of him, while the Momma's Boy arc was the time he was "playing the biggest character".

  • Masters- felt insecurities playing the Masterpiece character. Never set out to be a "body guy", he just started lifting to be a wrestler.

  • Masters- had to learn to work and not be too stiff. Was taught the importance of "working Shakespeare"- exaggerating things and being dramatic to make things appear like they hurt instead of actually hurting people.

  • Shelton- spent 17 out of 24 years in wrestling in WWE. Worked basically everyone apart from The Rock and Sting. Regrets that he'll never get the chance because of Sting's recent retirement. He also notes that Eddie Guerrero was a mentor to him.

We get a couple of questions in a fan Q&A:

  • Favourite wrestling theme- Shelton picks the Undertaker (Deadman theme), and Masters answers by singing Shawn Michaels' theme song.

  • Favourite moments- Shelton singles out the first MITB match at WrestleMania 21, and defending the WWE Tag Team Championship with Charlie Haas at WrestleMania XIX. Masters picks Tribute To The Troops, and both men discuss in detail how tough but rewarding that trip was, to meet all the soldiers and bring smiles to their faces in the middle of an active war zone, where they could hear bombs go off near where they were staying.

We'll be back on here in the coming days with reports on the rest of the panels, including lengthy discussions with Eric Bischoff and Bret Hart!


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Image of Mick Robson, founder of The Arena Media

Mick Robson is a freelance writer from Australia. A lifelong fan of pro wrestling and MMA, he endeavours to bring that passion through his coverage in news, reviews and opinion pieces.

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