Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Ramblemania Rewind 20 - WWE Wrestlemania XX (2004)

Date: March 14th, 2004
Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Attendance: 20,000

Yep... we have to talk about this show... and sadly, it's not just because of C**** B*****.

Wrestlemania XX was the one show that I was least looking forward to revisiting.

There have been worse Wrestlemania cards, there have been boring Wrestlemania cards, and there's even the weird pandemic-era 36 to look towards... but those shows are what they are for better or worse. Regardless of your opinion on other Wrestlemanias, it's all subjective. We all have our favorites, we all have our bottom of the barrel shows, different strokes for different folks and all that jazz. I find myself enjoying some Wrestlemanias moreso than I did originally while others have either aged poorly or simply furthered their status as the cesspool of the Wrestlemania sewers.

Wrestlemania XX, on the other hand, is the objectively tainted show... and a large part of that taint has to do with this show's last third.

Take Undertaker vs. Kane Round 28,929,252 out of the equation because that's merely the buffer match between the two World title matches. On one end, you had reigning and defending WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero successfully fending off Kurt Angle in a superb wrestling match that featured a somewhat creative finish. On the other end, Chris Benoit would defeat reigning World Heavyweight Champion HHH and Shawn Michaels in the triple threat main event by making HHH tap out to his Crippler Crossface submission. And as Benoit raised his newly won title in triumph, he is soon joined by fellow champion and lifelong friend Eddie Guerrero, and both men stood tall in the middle of the ring as confetti rained from the rafters and the roaring New York audience showed their appreciation for this two lifelong underdogs who were deemed too small to ever main event a major wrestling show, let alone hold a major World championship.

It was one of the few moments in wrestling that actually brought a tear to my eye. I always enjoyed Chris Benoit as a wrestler; his no-nonsense intensity was something that I could appreciate. And Eddie Guerrero was a guy who developed as a personality and his antics out of the ring complimented his incredible skills inside of it. And to see these two guys make it to the top of the mountain, against all odds and expectations... it was simply a beautiful moment. A touching and emotional scene to see two guys, who had been deemed too small and too vanilla to main event, not only be in main events at the grandest stage of all, but also come out of the event as World Champions. It is an ending that speaks greatly to the hard work and effort of both men involved and it is an ending that, for the time, evoked that feel-good moment and brought more tangeable credibility to the oft-repeated cliche, "Anything can happen."

A year and a half later, Eddie Guerrero would pass away due to a heart attack brought upon by years of drug use. A year or so after that, Chris Benoit would murder his wife and son before committing suicide, tainting his legacy for future generations.

I like to think that I'm more than capable of separating the artist from the man behind the art. I find that I can watch Chris Benoit matches and segments via Youtube clips or the Network and still find some enjoyment out of them. When you're a fan of professional wrestling, there is a lot of needing to separate the artist from the individual behind it due to the individual's shady backgrounds or going ons. There a

So I can watch a Chris Benoit match and be entertained by it. I can watch a Chris Benoit segment and be entertained by it. I cannot, for the life of me, watch the last few minutes of Wrestlemania XX. I really can't.

I watch that segment nowadays and I'm not thinking about how touching and fulfilling it is to see these two guys finally making. Instead, I'm thinking of how they went from this high point to their eventual unfortunate demise. I'm thinking about the months-long period of Eddie-sploitation that took place weeks after the guy's death and capped it off with an insulting Rey Mysterio title reign where he was made to look weak at every conceivable turn. I keep thinking about the Benoit tragedies that has WWE on a quest to eliminate every piece of Benoit from their history banks to the point where most official sources deem the match between Kane and Undertaker as the main event of Wrestlemania XX when that is not even close to being the case.

Again, I'm not the overly sensitive type - I can watch a Benoit match and separate the wrestler from the man who committed these heinous acts - but I can't watch the ending of Wrestlemania XX because what was once a nice feel-good moment has become a depressing feel-bad moment because you already know what became of these guys... and it's not pretty.

And now, not only the ending of this show hard to sit through, but now the opening is also somewhat difficult. We get the usual opening montage showing past Wrestlemania moments before bleeding into the modern happenings of WWE before closing the montage with WWE owner and chairman Vince McMahon standing side by side with his son Shane and his then-newborn grandson Declan. At the time, this would've been considered a touching, wholesome moment. A rare moment where the shell of the bombastic Mr. McMahon slipped to the side and a more human side of Vince appeared before the audience, seemingly proud of his newborn grandson.

Who would have thought that twenty years after this touching moment was captured on video that the true colors of Vince McMahon would apparently be revealed and he'd be just as deprived, cruel, and monstrous as the persona he portrayed on television, if not moreso?

The rest of the show...

John Cena defeated United States Champion FUCKING BIG SHOW to win the title with the help of some knux and stuff. It wasn't a great match by any means, but when Cena got the win, the crowd popped and seemed genuinely happy for Cena to finally win a championship. A year later, he'd win the WWE Title. A year after that, people would hate his goddamned guts. Oops.

World Tag Team Title Champions Rob Van Dam and Booker T defeated La Resistance (Renee Dupree and Rob Conway), Mark Jindrak/Garrison Cade, and The Dudley Boyz (Buh-Buh Ray and D-Von Dudley) in a fatal-four way match to retain the titles.

Christian pinned Chris Jericho after Trish Stratus kicked Jericho in the Jeri-sack, thus beginning her superb heel run while also giving Captain Charisma some much needed heat that wouldn't be matched until he talked about people's dead fathers two decades later.

Evolution (Ric Flair, Batista, and Randy Orton) defeated Rock and Sock Connection (Mick Foley and The Rock) in a handicap match. Not a bad match, actually, and there were some nice moments, such as a rare encounter between Rock and Flair.

Torrie Wilson and Sable defeated Jackie Gayda and Stacy Keibler in a "Playboy Evening Gown" match... see, because all four of these women were on the cover of Playboy magazine and therefore, they'd have an evening gown match... once upon a time, teenaged me would've been all over this thing. Nowadays, there's porn on the 'Net that you can watch for free if you're saavy enough and this doesn't quite cut it for what it was aiming for. At least they all got paid.

WWE Cruiserweight Champion Chavo Guerrero defeated Ultimo Dragon, Sho Funaki, Shannon Moore, Jamie Noble, Billy Kidman, Rey Misterio, Yoshihiro Tajiri, and Nunzio in a multi-man Cruiserweight open elimination match to retain the title. Notable mostly for international legend Ultimo Dragon making his one and only Wrestlemania appearance by damn-near slipping on the stage during his entrance. That said, yeah, you could argue that this was a nice showcase for the various cruiserweights under WWE contract before they turned that whole division into a joke, but the match was too short and the eliminations went by so quickly that they ultimately meant nothing. You could have taken the dog out for a walk and come back without missing a thing. Oh well, at least they all got paid.

Bill Goldberg defeated Brock Lesnar (with Steve Austin as the special referee) in a universally reviled match that saw both men booed mercilessly by the New York audience... and this actually needs some context to paint a fuller picture.

So Goldberg signed a one-year deal with WWE and Wrestlemania XX turned out to be his last match before fucking off. So naturally, the plan was to have Brock Lesnar win the match. However, Brock Lesnar decided that he had enough of the daily WWE grind and asked for a release from his contract so he could try his hand at the NFL. And so the decision was made to have Goldberg win the match. However, news would break that both guys were leaving and so the New York crowd made no bones about giving them the cold reception as it were. The only other time that I could recall a match getting such a reception where the crowd shat on both competitors was the one match between Big Show and Batista at the Hammerstein Ballroom when both were fighting over the ECW title. Now the excuse there was that it was a traditional ECW crowd shitting on two WWE guys headlining a supposed ECW show, but you didn't have that excuse here. This was Wrestlemania, this was Madison Square Garden, this was holy ground for WWE.

They knew both guys were leaving and they didn't care. Not helping matters was the fact that the match was an absolute fucking bore of a match. There's a lot of stalling, few slams here and there, more stalling, a few more moves, and then finally, some action worth following, but the crowd doesn't care. They've tuned out, they're chanting boring, they're chanting for Austin, they're chanting for HULK HOGAN of all people, clearly nobody gives shit both in the ring and in the audience. And finally, Brock hits an F5 on Goldberg for 2, tries a spear, misses, and then Goldberg does his own spear and jackhammer to get the pinfall win, which gets a mild applause from the audience... though I'd imagine it's mostly due to the match being over rather than them being happy that Goldberg won. Brock eventually recovers, stares into the crowd as they're singing the Goodbye song, and he flips them off before moving to flip Austin off, which nets him a KICK WHAM STUNNER for his troubles and THAT'S when the crowd show genuine applauses. And even after sharing a couple brewskis with ol' Bill, Austin stuns his ass, too.

And so ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages, sizes, and sexes, the only man standing tall in this titanic encounter between Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar... is Stone Cold Steve Austin... who, by the way, would also part ways with WWE shortly thereafter and begin a career in acting for a bunch of straight-to-DVD movies. Such is life.

This match is one of the few instances where the crowd makes the match. This is not an entertaining match. This is not a good match in a technical sense. It is not a good match in the hossfight sense. But rather this is an experiment in crowd reactions. It's the type of match where the main focus has nothing to do with the action in the ring, but rather the reactions in the audience. That rare breed of wrestling match where the crowd not only refuses to play along with your predetermined wrestling match or even be so disinterested that they'd rather play with beach balls than give the competitors the time of day, but where the crowd will actively reject EVERYTHING before them and do whatever they can - short of an full-blown riot - to disrupt the match. They knew both guys were leaving and they made their feelings felt. It was one of the more incredible displays of crowd psychology that I've ever witnessed and that makes it worth revisiting every so often.

Now, of course, time heals all wounds. Brock Lesnar would eventually make his return to WWE in 2012 and be one of their biggest attractions. Four years later, Bill Goldberg would return to WWE and both he and Lesnar would eventually have another match at Wrestlemania 33 - this one being much more positively received and pretty much wiping the stain of this utter debacle... of course, Brock nowadays... eh...

WWE Tag Team Champions Rikishi and Scotty Too Hotty defeated The Basham Brothers (Doug and Danny Basham), World's Greatest Tag Team (Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas), and The APA (Farrooq and Bradshaw) in a fatal-four way match to retain the titles.

WWE Women's Champion Victoria pinned Molly Holly in a Title Vs. Hair match to retain the title, after which Molly had her hair shaved... well, at least she got paid. The match itself was short and nothing special... but again, at least they got paid.

WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero pinned Kurt Angle to retain the title. Angle had Eddie in the Ankle Lock, but he held so firmly that Eddie's loose boot slipped off, causing Angle to lose his grip and giving Eddie the advantage to get the eventual pinfall. It was a clever finish if nothing else to an otherwise fine match. Sadly, this was probably the last great match in Eddie's career, as things were start going downwards from here.

The Undertaker pinned Kane in a short, largely inoffensive match. This was Undertaker's first match since being buried alive by Kane at a prior PPV, which basically brought an end to BikerTaker's run. This would be the return of the Deadman, complete with druids and they even brought back Paul Bearer as a manager for old times' sake (though he wouldn't be around for very long). 

Chris Benoit defeated World Champ MCSON-IN-LAW and Shawn Michaels in a triple threat match via submission to win the title. And then I turn off the show. Quite frankly, I'm surprised I made it to the end of the match because this became somewhat difficult to stomach as well... yeah, I'm not looking forward to the day where I'd be revisiting the 2004 WWE PPVs... but I'd imagine that won't be for a good while.

I've said this in the original Ramblemania post for this show and it bares repeating here - the chore of watching that last third (and now the two McMahon moments as well) is compounded by the chore of sitting through a Pay-Per-View event that lasted way too long and offered very little bang for the buck. As I've said, the Brock/Goldberg match has a twisted appeal for its crowd reactions and seeing John Cena take the first step towards something resembling immortality is a noteworthy moment, but the long runtime and matches seemingly booked for the sake of giving people a Wrestlemania payday made for a dreary show. The only true highlight to be had from a purely match quality standpoint are the two World title matches, but what would transpire afterwards pretty much taints those events and this show as a whole.

In another time and another place, this would've been a fine enough show worthy of the name Wrestlemania. But nowadays... it is a black mark in a storied legacy. A black mark than can never be removed. A black mark that is permanent. A black mark that is, truly, then, now, and forever.

And I'd guess it'd be together as well...

Oh well... at least they got paid.

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