By 2005, it was time to put some fresh faces on top of both rosters. The WCW main eventers like Scott Steiner and Goldberg came and went without much fanfare. The guy they were pushing as the next big thing opted to go to the NFL (Brock Lesnar). Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock were pretty much gone. Hogan left to do his own thing. Who should be the next top stars? Well, Triple H had two people in mind to rise to the top. He was the champion, he had the political stroke to do it, and they had the looks that Vince McMahon liked in his top guys. So it made sense that Randy Orton and Batista would be the guys to carry the promotion for the next few years.
Orton was the one pegged to headline this WrestleMania against Triple H. The Evolution stable was always meant to be a platform for Orton and Batista to launch off of, so it made sense to do the eventual breakup. But with Orton, it was completely botched. He beat Benoit at SummerSlam to win the title, then quickly feuded with Triple H instead of building steam. Triple H then beat him, effectively killing the feud. Of course, the reason given at the time was that it was better for Orton to chase the title rather than him being the one holding it. But then that raises the question of why they gave Orton the title in the first place, and soon it became a muddled mess that took Orton years to recover from before he eventually really did become one of the top WWE acts.
Enter Batista. They hadn’t done anything yet teasing a split with him until the Royal Rumble, which he won. Triple H goaded for him to move to Smackdown so that he would be champion in a brand that Triple H isn’t a part of. He overheard Triple H talking to Ric Flair how he didn’t know what was good for him. When Batista gave Hunter the thumbs down and powerbombed him into a table, it was huge. Everything clicked for Batista heading to WrestleMania, where he challenged Triple H for the World Heavyweight title. Everything that they did wrong with Orton, they did the opposite for Batista, and in the end, for a few years at least, he was way above Orton on the totem pole.
However, there was one guy that would outlast all of them, and it was someone that was pretty much written off as a flop until a chance skit that was supposed to make him look like a dork. That guy? John Cena.
If you’ve ever seen that Discovery Channel documentary about pro wrestling, and you saw the big chiseled guy with bleach blond hair buying a disgusting amount of meat, you knew that he could be something in pro wrestling. And when you saw him cutting promos in front of Rick Bassman for Ultimate Pro Wrestling you had to have guessed that he was going to be something special. WWE obviously did, signed him, and called him up a couple of years later, as a fresh rookie that nearly had Kurt Angle’s number on his first night in on the Smackdown brand. He sucked in the ring, but had potential and a look, and that could carry him for a while. Problem was, creative soon wrote him off as a failed Smackdown project and soon was feuding on Velocity with the likes of Billy Kidman, probably a month or two away from becoming cut.
But something happened — It was a Halloween edition of Smackdown, and they had a costume party. Everyone was dressed up like a dork in front of SmackDown general manager Stephanie McMahon. One person came up to her and started rapping, looking like Vanilla Ice and being cast as a complete doofus. It, of course, was John Cena. They gave him the rapper gimmick, and what do you know, it worked. People liked his rhymes. He was getting major reactions and soon was becoming a top heel on the roster, facing the likes of Brock Lesnar and Undertaker. By the end of 2003 he was a babyface, and by early 2005 it seemed very logical that he was the guy to beat JBL (wh0 had a near year long reign with the WWE title after beating Eddie Guerrero a few months after WrestleMania). He won a tournament to face him, and soon enough it was a battle of cultures, a high society versus urban lifestyle sort of deal, that seemed to work, at least heading into this event.
What’s funny is that on this night, Batista was slotted to be the top guy in the company. He beat Triple H, was in the main event of WrestleMania, and had the big celebration at the end. John Cena won the WWE title in a very anti-climatic manner that did not get people excited for his run on top. But by the end of 2005, fortunes changed. Batista was still a top guy, but he was on Smackdown, and would be for some time. As for Cena, he thrived on Raw, and would soon be the top star of the promotion up to, well, today!
Lilian Garcia sings America the Beautiful. As usual, awesome!
They show a montage of all the Hollywood vignettes they aired leading up to WrestleMania 21. The finale is Stone Cold Steve Austin, a scene inspired from Gladiator.
Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero: The story is that despite being tag team champions, Eddie Guerrero wanted a match against Rey to prove he can pick up a win as a singles. Rey kept fidgeting with his mask repeatedly during the match. Dude should have made sure he was comfortable wrestling with it beforehand. It got to be pretty annoying as he did this repeatedly throughout the match. Eddie played the subtle heel as they did a ton of fun looking lucha spots. Eddie even busted out a tope, wiping out Mysterio on the outside. Rey responds with a corkscrew plancha. Eddie comes back and hits the frog splash, but Mysterio dodges at the last minute. Mysterio goes for a la magistral cradle but Eddie reverses it for a nearfall. Mysterio gets the win out of nowhere with a hurricanrana rollup. Super fun opener. ***3/4
Mysterio looks to shake hands with Guerrero after the match. Eddie obliges, but looks disappointed in himself.
Backstage, JBL, the WWE champion, is talking to UNITED STATES CHAMPION ORLANDO JORDAN (I COMPLETELY FORGOT ABOUT THIS EVER HAPPENING) when he bumps into World Heavyweight champion Triple H and Flair. Triple H buries JBL for his “Wrestling God” gimmick. JBL says he’s the only champion here who’s never lost and tonight he’ll prove that against Cena. Triple H says keep saying you’re great, maybe someone will eventually believe him. JBL says that he is that great. Triple H says we’ll see who’s left standing tonight.
Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Ah, the initial “let’s get everyone on the card who’s kinda over but not enough over to have an actual match” match! Participants are Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Christian, Shelton Benjamin, Edge and Kane. Kane, since he is a monster, proceeded to blast through everyone to get to a ladder, then proceeds to get jumped by everyone. Everyone does a high spot off the top rope, even Kane who flies into everyone on the outside. Benoit has Edge in the crossface but Kane uses the ladder and smashes Benoit’s arm into the ladder repeatedly. Fun! Edge and Christian, in a callback to years prior, uses a conchairto to take out Kane. Benjamin manages to climb the ladder but soon everyone’s back to start climbing. Benoit and Christian crashed and burned, then Jericho, then Benjamin takes out Edge with the t-bone suplex. Jericho gets up and manages to climb, but somehow Benjamin manages to run up a ladder and takes out Jericho with a clothesline. Holy shit I forgot about this spot. Whatever happened to this Shelton Benjamin? Kane gets up and wipes out Benjamin, whose foot gets stuck in the ropes as he helps Christian climb the ladder. Kane grabs them and lays waste to them. Benoit takes out Kane, climbs to the top of a ladder and headbutts him. Benoit climbs the ladder but Edge comes in and whacks Benoit on his bum arm, climbs the ladder and grabs the briefcase to win. A crazy match with some equally crazy spots. ****1/2
Suddenly, Eugene arrives and points to the sign. He’s at WrestleMania, he says! He talks about WrestleMania 3 when all the midgets attacked King Kong Bundy. I don’t remember it like that, but okay. Muhammad Hassan interrupted this. Neither of these gimmicks would fly ten years later, it’s so funny. In fact, the Hassan gimmick didn’t even fly in 05 because he would be gone in a few months. Anyway, Hassan did not like being left out of WrestleMania. He got what’d. He says Hollywood is full of prejudice and bigotry. Well, yeah. He whines and whines and whines until he and Daivari lay out Eugene, leading to Hulk Hogan coming out to make the save. Hogan gets jumped, but no sells it as he destroys Hassan and, when jumped from behind by Daivari with a steel chair, destroys him too.
Normally don’t talk about vignettes, but I’m pretty sure we can mark Undertaker vs. Orton as the first match where they really put over the streak as something that needed to be beaten.
Randy Orton vs. The Undertaker: Orton starts by slapping Taker and that gets him ready to fight, kicking Orton ass from the ring to the outside. Orton cuts him off and dropkicks him of the apron and to the barricade. Undertaker comes back and hits the snake eyes but Orton comes back with a forearm smash. Undertaker counters with a dragon sleeper, perhaps channeling Tatsumi Fujinami, but Orton counters with a DDT. Orton goes for punches on the corner but Undertaker counters with the last ride, only for Orton to slide off and go for an RKO. It fails, however, and instead ends up with a ref bump. This is where Cowboy Bob Orton comes in and whacks Undertaker with his cast. That arm never healed right, I guess. Undertaker kicks out, however. He goes for another shot on the apron, but Undertaker wipes him out with a big boot. He goes to chokeslam Orton but it’s countered into an RKO OUTTA NOWHERE for a nearfall. That was a cool spot. Orton does Undertaker’s throat motion and goes for the tombstone, but Undertaker counters and hits it for the victory. Very good match. ***3/4
WWE Women’s Championship – Trish Stratus (c) vs. Christy Hemme: Upon reflection, I understand why they went in this direction. Hemme was someone they wanted to push, she was on the cover of Playboy, that’s the kind of thing they were going for at the time. But still, doing a competitive match with Hemme’s wrestling experience at this stage of the game…just not a good idea. Trish threw down Christy and took her to the outside, where she shoved Hemme into the steps…and Hemme kind of ran into them, maybe. That didn’t look good. Trish went for the chick kick but while Lita (who’s here because the story is Lita trained her, and think about that one) distracted the ref Hemme opted to kick Trish straight up in the vagaina for a nearfall. Hemme kicks Trish repeatedly and hits the twist of fate but only gets a nearfall. After a pinfall reversal, Trish smacks her with a chick kick and that’s it. Time’s been kinder to this but it’s still not that good. 3/4*
They showed a number of celebrities in attendance. And by celebrities, I mean one of the ZZ Top guys and someone from CSI.
Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels: HBK slaps Angle to start things off, and Angle responds by taking him down repeatedly. “You Screwed Bret” chants. In 2005. Shawn counters and locks in a short arm scissors that keeps Angle at bay until Angle lifts him up, but Shawn turns it into a rollup. The mat wrestling soon transitions into a brawl as Angle starts punching HBK. He gets the ankle lock but Shawn powers out and they wind up on the outside where a table is cleared. Angle gets the heat after ramming Shawn’s back into the ring post. Shawn makes a comeback, but misses the elbow. Angle goes for the Angle slam but Shawn counters with an arm drag (!) and throws him to the floor. Shawn flies with a crossbody. Angle gets back up and tries to German Shawn into the table but Shawn fights him off. Angle lands on the table and Shawn springboards off the middle rope and splashes him but the table does not break. Oops. Angle is bleeding big time from the mouth. Shawn hits the elbow and goes for the sweet chin music but of course Angle grabs it and switches to the Angle lock. Michaels escapes. Shawn takes him down at one point but Angle hops to the top rope with him and hits the Angle slam for a nearfall. Angle, irate, yells at Shawn to submit, but Shawn responds by super kicking to death. He slowly makes his way to Angle and covers him for a nearfall. Angle grabs him and locks in the ankle lock. Shawn valiantly tries for escape for the longest time, but finally Shawn can’t stand the pain anymore and taps out. Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic. ****3/4
Roddy Piper comes out for Piper’s Pit. He draws comparisons between himself and his guest, Stone Cold Steve Austin. He brings out Austin, and they have a staredown. Piper welcomes Austin by slapping him. Austin thanks him by doing the same. Piper says he respects him, but if anyone’s a rebel around these parts, it’s him. He’s been here since WrestleMania 1, and he was pissing off Vince McMahon before the red on his neck was diaper rash. Austin disagrees, and it looks like they’re about to go at it when CARLITO comes out. He says he’s taking over, so you two can beat it. But if they have a problem with that, well…he takes out the apple, but Piper grabs it, eats the apple then spits it back in his face. Carlito responds by jumping Piper, and Austin lets him beat him up a bit before grabbing him, stomping a mudhole in him then giving him a stunner. Austin and Piper celebrate with a beer bath, but then Austin stuns Piper, because DTA, you know? This was fine for what it was.
Sumo Match – Akebono vs. The Big Show: I don’t know why this match happened. From what I hear was it has something to do with WWE interested in the Japanese market at the time, wanted a draw, so they brought in Akebono. Even so, I don’t know why we needed to see them wear wawashis. I also don’t know why they had Akebono win and completely make Big Show look ineffective if they never signed him or did anything with him after. Let’s just move on. LET’S JUST MOVE ON.
Also, and this is hilarious, when they wanted to break into the Japanese market their idea of a big signing from Japan was KENZO SUZUKI. Man, did the Johnny Ace era of talent relations completely suck.
WWE Championship – John Bradshaw Layfield (c) vs. John Cena: JBL was the first to come out because, you know, Cena. JBL started off on offense for the first part of the match, and it was…there. Not bad. Not much heat, either. John Cena then simply cut him off, avoided a clothesline from hell attempt, hit the FU and pinned JBL, ending a nearly year long title reign. All of it felt completely anticlimatic. Even people who were into Cena didn’t know how to feel about this one. It would be the start of a run that, well, hey. A lot of kids bought his merchandise. So he was a success. *1/2
Seven more Hall of Fame inductees this year. Nikolai Volkoff, Iron Sheik, Paul Orndorff, Cowboy Bob Orton, Jimmy Hart, Roddy Piper and Hulk Hogan all came out in front of the crowd and waved.
World Heavyweight Championship – Triple H (c) vs. Batista: They had a long staredown before it started to become a back and forth affair. What’s funny here is that this has a far bigger main event presence than Smackdown’s main event, but as it turns out Cena went to Raw and became the top star, while Batista went to Smackdown and ended up being one tier below that. Batista didn’t look that great, but then again neither did Cena here at this point. Triple H was the ring general and gained control after Flair interfered. A few minutes later, they do they same exact spot. That was weird. Triple H goes to the top rope but Batista comes back with a clothesline. Triple H actually took a fantastic bump as Batista irish whipped him and he bumped all the way outside of the ring to the floor. Triple H gains momentum for a bit, but Batista counters with a slingshot into the steel post that busts Triple H open. Actually, Triple H was bleeding buckets, looked nasty. Batista is distracted long enough by Flair that enables Triple H to get a chair, but the ref grabs it. Batista takes him to the ring, but Flair interferes with the belt. Batista takes him out, but again is distracted long enough to get hit with the belt, but he kicks out. He comes back and hits a spinebuster, but Triple H cuts him off with a low blow and tries for a pedigree, but Batista won’t budge. He gives him a reverse side slam then hits the Batista bomb to win the title. Well booked match with a good finish, but pretty dull at parts, primarily the beginning. **3/4
Triple H gets up soon after the bell ring and stares coldly at Batista. He responds by roaring as Triple H makes his exit. Pyro ahoy as Batista celebrates with the World Heavyweight championship to close out the show.
Angle/HBK and the Money in the Bank Ladder matches were AWESOME, so with two of those kind of matches on the card this can not be labeled a bad show by any means. The top two title matches not living up to expectations dampened the show a bit, but at the end of the day it was a big deal seeing two new guys win the top two titles, so at least this came off like a big, historical show.