Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit were never supposed to be champions.
They went to Japan and became stars in New Japan’s junior heavyweight division in a time when that division was completely stacked. They went to ECW and became names in North America. When they went to WCW, they were good hands in the cruiserweight division, enough for them to branch out and win other titles in WCW. But they were never WCW championship material. Nope, those were reserved for the Hulk Hogans and the Kevin Nashes of the world, the latter referring the two as “vanilla midgets” who were never going to amount to anything in the profession, hence why they were at the place they were at in the card. Funny thing is, WCW was such a destructive environment because of the likes of Nash, that self fufilling prophecy became a reality, at least in WCW.
They left that promotion in 2000 and jumped ship to the WWE right as they were becoming white hot. And since everything was hot, they immediately became big deals. They were featured on weekly television with storylines and angles that made them memorable. Benoit became the Rabid Wolverine, Eddie Guerrero became Latino Heat. The environment was still a political one, but not as destructive as WCW’s was, so they thrived and made the most of their run. Eddie Guerrero left the promotion for a year or so to deal with personal issues, but by the time he came back in mid 2002 he was clean and ready to start fresh.
Things began to happen in 2004. Chris Benoit won the Royal Rumble, last eliminating the Big Show. He jumped ship from Smackdown to Raw the next night to challenge Triple H for his championship. Shawn Michaels, who was still embroiled in a bitter war with Hunter, interrupted the contract signing and signed his name instead. With no other alternative, it was decreed that at WrestleMania, the World Heavyweight Championship would be contended in a triple threat match, with Triple H defending against both Chris Benoit and Shawn Michaels.
On Smackdown, Eddie Guerrero did the unthinkable. He beat Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004 to win the WWE championship for the first time. The one person who didn’t like this was Kurt Angle. He blasted Eddie Guerrero, saying that someone like him didn’t deserve to be champion. At one point, when Eddie Guerrero had challenged Paul Heyman to a match, the stip was Eddie had to have his hands tied behind his back. So lo and behold, Heyman never arrived. Instead, Angle came out and freely took the opportunity to lay waste to Guerrero with chair shots, making their match at WrestleMania a personal one.
Speaking of Brock Lesnar, this was his last WrestleMania for about nine years. He decided the week of the event that he was leaving to go try out for the NFL. And with no college background, he actually got shockingly close to actually playing for the Minnesota Vikings. But, well, I’m going too far ahead here. He was leaving, and so was his opponent Bill Goldberg. Goldberg came in shortly after WrestleMania XIX to make waves on the Raw brand. And he was a pushed guy for most of that time. But it never worked, because WWE never got what made Goldberg over in WCW, which is to kill guys in short matches. They did that once in a while, but then Goldberg soon worked long matches, cut promos, and just became another guy who had matches with other guys. Oh, and he lost clean for the only time ever in his career, shockingly to Triple H. Who, in a completely unrelated matter but I’ll throw it here anyway because I dunno, had cut a scathing promo on Goldberg years earlier on Tough Enough because he didn’t think he loved the business. Funny how that worked out for him, didn’t it. But anyway, it seemed at the time that this was a right match to do. Goldberg was a big guy. Brock was a big guy. And they’d have a interesting big guy match at WrestleMania. What could go wrong?
WWE United States Championship: John Cena (c) vs. Big Show: Yup, here we are, John Cena’s WrestleMania debut. We’re now entering the current events era of today’s WWE. Prepare for this column to become way more jaded. Cena was cheered heavily as he did his rap, comparing Big Show to a gorilla. People were into him. That’s nice, people were actually into the superstars back in the day. A lot of the match was Big Show working over Cena, and it wasn’t that interesting. Cena finally got a nearfall with an FU, then uses his chain to smack Big Show and delivers another FU for the win. It wasn’t much, but it was fun seeing Madison Square Garden go electric for John Cena. I don’t think it ever happened again. *3/4
Coach, now newly heel as Eric Bischoff’s assistant, walks down the aisle and into his office, complete with Johnny Nitro, who was called hideously early from developmental for who knows what reason. Bischoff wants him to go find the Undertaker. Coach, understandably confused, says he’s on Smackdown. Eric Bischoff says he doesn’t care, he doesn’t “want to get scooped” by Smackdown. Um, what do you mean by scooped? Does he want to send Coach to steal him over to Raw or something? Coach reluctantly leaves, probably because he was given a job to just look for the Undertaker just to set up some goofy skits for later.
Randy Orton cuts a promo on Mick Foley and The Rock, on when he kicked Foley down the stairs and took him out at MSG and became the Legend Killer. Then talks about how Foley walked away from a Intercontinental title match. He then came back, wanting a rematch, but he spit in his face instead. Foleys time has passed by. The camera shots kept changing every time they cut back to footage. Orton says it’ Evolution’s time and they’ll prove that tonight. It was a clever promo.
World Tag Team Titles – La Resistance vs. Booker T and RVD (c) vs. Jindrak and Cade vs. Dudley Boyz: The match started out pretty hot, slowed down with the heels working over Booker T. Van Dam comes in and runs wild with all the heels taking bumps. D-Von shoves RVD off the top rope into the barricade which gives Dudley the opportunity for the 3D but Garrison Cade breaks it up. Conway walks in and eats a scissors kick and five star frog splash to retain the tag team championships. It was fine but absolutely nothing memorable. *3/4
Coach walks into Mean Gene and Bobby Heenan, covered in lipstick. They said they were dealing poker, but Coach doesn’t buy it. Of course, Moolah and Mae Young walk in, putting lipstick on. They’re taken back to the room they were in with Heenan saying give it a break, he hasn’t been well. Heenan always makes these kind of segments work. I wish he was still around today where they plague every show.
Chris Jericho vs. Christian: A pretty good back and forth match. These are the kind of stories that WWE really doesn’t do anymore — a long, overarching storyline that makes the show, gasp, feel episodic like they say it is on a weekly basis. Story is that they bet each other they couldn’t get into bed with their respective ladies, Trish (Chris) and Lita (Christian). Trish soon found out, wanted nothing to do with Jericho, who ended up having feelings for Trish. When Christian went too far, Jericho attacked him and now they’re here tonight. Both guys busted their ass and were having a really great match. Christian, who went a complete make over just a few months prior, now looked like a top tier star that was ready to reach the upper echelon of the Raw roster. Christian locked in a Texas Cloverleaf at one point but Jericho transitions into the walls, including putting it on him on the outside. Trish Stratus then comes to ringside. Knowing it know, I totally should have seen it coming, but back then I was STUNNED when what was about to happen occurred. Trish tried to distract Christian but he grabbed her. Jericho eliminates him and checks on Trish but she elbows him “on accident” and Christian rolls him up for the pinfall. ***3/4
Trish looks like she feels horrible about the situation, but then suddenly slaps him twice. Christian lays him out with the unprettier. They then make out on the stage as Jericho looks pissed off. This was really a well done angle.
Mick Foley is interviewed, but Rock comes in and tells Mick to let these emotions of hatred go, because everyone knows it time to kick Evolution’s ass. This included cameos by Jimmy Snuka and Don Muraco, calling back to their cage match held in MSG, as well as the crowd as they were near the infamous MSG entranceway. This was kinda nice.
The Rock ‘N Sock Connection vs. Evolution: Flair and Rock went at it and it made me realize I totally want to see a match between these too. Maybe not necessarily in 2015, but ten years ago it would have been cool. The connection did some cool tandem work that led them in control early. Batista works on Rock for a bit until Foley tags in. Batista comes back and soon all of Evolution is on him, including Foley being thrown into the stairs. Batista just beats on Foley forever and ever until Foley comes back with the mandible claw but Orton breaks it up. Rock makes the hot tag but Batista takes him down with the spinebuster. Flair motions to Batista to leave it to him and goes for the people’s elbow (Ric Flair style) but Rock gets up and takes him out and gives him his own People’s Elbow, complete with Flair theatrics. Flair gets up and tags in Orton who gets laid out, but Flair pulls out Rock, only for Rock to lay him out. Flair gets incensed and starts running around like a crazy man, and while Rock is distracted Batista lays him out with a Batista bomb for a nearfall. Foley is tagged in and goes for the mandible claw, but Orton just straight up lays him out with the RKO for the pinfall. That was anti-climatic. ***
Foley stays in the ring, looking sad. Rock arrives back in the ring. and eventually the crowd breaks out in applause.
Hall of Fame highlights: Bobby Heenan, Tito Santana, Tito Santana, Big John Studd, Harley Race, Pete Rose, Don Muraco, Greg Valentine (who got a BIG reaction for some reason), Junkyard Dog, Superstar Billy Graham, Sgt. Slaughter, and Jesse Ventura were all presented to the audience. What a gigantic list!
Playboy Evening Gown Match – Sable and Torrie Wilson vs. Stacy Keibler and Miss Jackie.: Yes, after Sable sued the WWE for millions of dollars for sexual harassment, she comes back and her new gimmick was to essentially make out with Vince McMahon as his lover. This could only happen in the WWE. Sable announced that even though this is an evening gown match, she and Torrie feel restricted, so instead they’d rather start with their gowns off. So everyone took off their clothes except Miss Jackie, who I guess wanted to adhere to the stipulations agreed to beforehand. Sable throws her in and strips her of her clothing as well. Torrie and Stacy exchanged nearfalls reminiscent of Steamboat and Savage years prior..if they were wrestling in their underwear. You know what I mean. Torrie pins Jackie after another rollup. It was short. 1/2*
Eddie and Chris Benoit are talking backstage. Eddie says no one believes that Chris will win. Chris becomes irate, saying that tonight is his night. Eddie starts laughing, which causes Chris to ask what the hell is wrong with him. Eddie says this is what he’s trying to do, get him riled up for tonight’s match.
Cruiserweight Open: Entrants are champion Chavo Guerrero, Nunzio, Jamie Noble, Tajiri, Akio, Funaki, Ultimo Dragon, Shannon Moore, Billy Kidman and Rey Mysterio. At this point the Cruiserweight title was pretty useless, only being defended in these multi man matches that had zero meaning to them. Rules are kind of like a gauntlet match except everyone’s already in the ring. Ultimo Dragon pins Shannon Moore quickly. Noble submits Dragon with a choke and floats over a Funaki crossbody to eliminate him in seconds. Noble wipes out Nunzio with a huge tope suicida to the floor that ends up getting Nunzio counted out. Kidman sends Nobe to the apron, then launches off with a springboard shooting star press that would have ended BADLY for him if it wasn’t for Noble and Nunzio catching him. He bulked up too much during this run and doing those kinds of moves weren’t healthy for anyone involved. He pins Noble with a middle rope BK bomb. Mysterio is in and they trade offense until Kidman gets pinned with a code red off the middle rope. Mysterio and Tajiri go back and forth until Tajiri accidently mists Akio, eliminating him, then rolls up Tajiri for to eliminate him as well. Tajiri jumps him after, leaving Chavo to come up from behind and pin him, but Mysterio kicks out. Chavo’s dad tries to interfere but the referee tells him not to but then does it anyway. Mysterio goes for a springboard rollup, but Chavo manages to counter then grabs the hands of his dad for leverage to steal it. Some fun stuff with solid offense throughout. ***
Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar: People have tried to defend this match as the crowd ruining it. Now, I can see why some have said this over the years. The crowd was mean from the very start, and would probably have been like that no matter what. But Goldberg and Brock Lesnar proceeded to have THE MOST BORING MATCH ON PLANET EARTH. The only thing interesting about the match was in fact the crowd completely shitting all over it. They stalled forever as people chanted the goodbye song and “You Sold Out”. They locked up forever. They broke it up, then proceeded to lock up again. Crowd booed. They challenged each other to knock them down, and they proceeded not to. A double shoulder tackle takes them both down. Then they just stared at one another again. Why wouldn’t any crowd turn on this match at this point? They finally did stuff resembling offense as Goldberg press slammed him but missed the spear, sending him into the post. Rest holds. Commentary tried to pass this off as Raw vs. Smackdown fans since this was a interpromotional bout…but the match just plain sucked. The crowd REALLY didn’t turn on this match until they did their stalling. Goldberg hits a spear, but Lesnar kicks out. Same thing with an F5, with Goldberg kicking out. Another spear and the the jackhammer mercifully ends this. Just a poorly booked match with the wrong crowd and timing circumstances. DUD
The crowd chants goodbye at Lesnar as he flips off the crowd, then Ausin. Austin replies by stunning Lesnar out of the WWE. Austin celebrates, but Goldberg comes back in. He celebrates with Austin, but clearly the crowd has turned on him too. Austin then stuns Goldberg out of the WWE too.
Vince McMahon comes out and thanks the crowd for making this all happen. He’s an enigma of a man, that’s for sure.
WWE Tag Team Championship – World’s Greatest Tag Team vs. Scotty 2 Hotty and Rikishi (c) vs. Basham Brothers vs. APA: Not much to talk about here. Everyone came in and did spots. WGTT looked good, the APA looked like the APA and the Bashams seemed devoid of charisma. Rikishi wins with the butt splash in a short, uninteresting match. *1/2
Edge return vignette. After a year off due to a neck injury (that would eventually lead to the end of his career 6 years later) Edge would return a few months later and proceeded to flounder as a babyface before finally finding his niche as a heel…but that’s for another time.
Jesse Ventura comes out, looking for an interview. He eventually decides on Donald Trump, star of The Apprentice. What a coincidence he was there in the audience! That show is still on the air, surprisingly. Donald says he’d support Jesse if he got into politics. Ventura said we might need a wrestler in the White House in 2008. We in fact did not get a wrestler in the White House in 2008, so I guess Jesse was busy or something.
Women’s Championship – Molly Holly vs. Victoria (c): Pretty sure this was only on the show because Molly offered to shave her head is she lost. Why do I say this? Because it was given about the same length of time as you’d see a women’s match on Raw. This was an okay back and forth kind of match. Lawler opted to talk about Molly Holly’s granny panties instead. Victoria went for the Widows Peak but Molly countered, only for Victoria to counter with a backslide for the pinfall. Not given a lot of time and the commentary was annoying. *
Molly runs away and Victoria runs up to her, but Molly jumps her and tries to shave off her hair. Victoria counters with hairspray in the eyes, straps her on and in face Molly proceeds to get shaved bald.
WWE Championship – Eddie Guerrero (c) vs. Kurt Angle: Slow mat wrestling to start. Angle tries to German Eddie to the floor (!) but Eddie blocks it and sends Angle to the floor. Eddie tries for something off the top rope, but crashes into the barricade instead. Angle remains in control until Eddie headbutts him off the top rope and tries for the frog splash but he misses. Eddie makes a comeback, including using the ankle lock to transition into a rollup, and gets a frog splash, but kicks out. Angle goes back to the ankle lock but Eddie uses his legs and throws Angle to the floor. Eddie undoes the boot as Angle recoils on the outside. He comes back in and grabs the leg, but Eddie takes off his boot and rolls up Angle, grabbing the ropes to win. Not a classic WrestleMania match, but still perfectly fine. ***1/2
The Undertaker vs. Kane: So this was a majorly hyped return for Undertaker. After spending a few years as The American Badass, Undertaker was buried alive by Kane because, well, because, and now he’s back to seek vengeance. Now, many people thought this would be the return of the old gear, the long hair, everything. So when the Undertaker and Paul Bearer come out and everyone freaks out, here we see American Bad Ass Undertaker with maybe shoulder length, darker hair and his old mannerisms. It was disappointing for me, at least, but the crowd here still ate it up. Kane is in sheer disbelief as he tries to touch Undertaker but he responds by beating the tar out of him. Kane avoids the Last Ride and takes out Undertaker with a badly missed slingshot and mounts him with punches. Undertaker comes back with a big boot and old school but Kane grabs his throat. Undertaker powers out, but so does Kane and he hits his own chokeslam. He laughs at Undertaker’s demise as suddenly he RISES UP. Undertaker chokeslams him then gives him the tombstone for the win. *3/4
World Heavyweight Championship – Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H (c): Remember when Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho were no longer from Canada because Vince McMahon thought people wouldn’t cheer them if they weren’t from America? I’m pretty sure you can point it to here where he started to lose it. And trust me, now that we’re past the Attitude Era there will be MANY instances of this. Benoit was instead billed from Atlanta, Georgia. Both he and Shawn jump Hunter at the bell but eventually they go at it themselves. Triple H comes back and he and Benoit go on the outside where Shawn comes off with a sweet moonsault. Everyone trades offense. Benoit clotheslines HBK to the floor as he repeatedly Germans Triple H. He goes for the crossface but HBK breaks it up. He tries to German Benoit, but he counters and hits a few of his own. Chris Benoit hits the headbutt and eventually locks in the crossface but Triple H breaks it up and takes him to the outside. He clears the announce table as Shawn comes in a bloody mess. They suplex Benoit through the other announce table, wow. Shawn motions for Triple H to come in and they go at it, with Triple H taking the Flair bump to the floor. Shawn is bleeding BIG TIME, his face a complete crimson mask. Triple H manages to cut him off and hit the pedigree, but now Triple H is busted open too. Triple H covers but Chris Benoit breaks it up. Triple H tries to pedigree him but Chris Benoit locks him the sharpshooter to a huge pop. He tries to grab the ropes but Benoit drags him in the middle. Shawn comes in out of nowhere with a superkick. Shawn tries for it again, but Benoit throws him to the floor. Triple H goes for the pedigree but Benoit locks in the crossface. Triple H valiantly tries to escape, but ultimately has to tap out as Benoit wins the championship. One of the best triple threat matches of all time. ****3/4
Chris Benoit is awarded the title as Eddie comes to the ring, applauding him. Tears streaming from both of their faces, they embrace, now champions of their respective brands after being told repeatedly they’d never be top guys in WCW. Confetti falls from the crowd as the show ends. This was such a fantastic moment, watching this live. Watching it in 2015 is pretty depressing, because you know what happened after.
The main event was awesome. Jericho/Christian was good stuff. Not much else of note otherwise, but aside from the Brock/Goldberg match nothing was terrible and the show was nicely paced, full of fun cameos and other tidbits.