In 2004, Vince McMahon gave die-hard wrestling fans their wish. Undervalued wrestlers Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit were at the top of the mountain and fans were happy.
But soon there after, both men became beltless.
Guerrero lost the WWE Championship to JBL, who was a good character, but not a wrestler of Guerrero’s caliber. Benoit eventually lost his World Heavyweight Championship to Randy Orton in August of 2004.
According to Guerrero, he wasn’t ready to handle the responsibility of being in the main event every week and being the most important wrestler on the Smackdown brand.
Benoit’s reason for losing was a little different. McMahon wanted to capitalize on a hot Orton, even though it killed Orton in the process.
As WrestleMania 21 neared, Triple H from the Raw brand and JBL from the Smackdown brand held the titles, McMahon was ready to turn younger wrestlers into headlining superstars.
Enter Dave Batista and John Cena.
These men weren’t undervalued ring generals like Guerrero and Benoit. You could actually make a case that they were overvalued and overrated.
But one thing was certain: Both were over with the fans.
Batista wasn’t supposed to be the guy in the role of future champion. That was supposed to be Orton. But when Orton beat Benoit for the belt at SummerSlam, he was subsequently turned face.
Triple H immediately came in, killed him dead, and took the championship back in the process.
When Orton was floundering after his pointless face turn, Batista became the cool member of Evolution.
He started getting booked in Orton’s spot as the cool heel and his angle with Triple H becaming a huge box office draw.
Batista was on his way. But was he ready to take the strap at WrestleMania?
Cena had been a very good character for WWE. While not always in the main event picture, he’d done well for himself with his rapping gimmick.
Near the tail end of 2004, his first finished up his first movie before dropping his rap album in '05
It was obvious at the Royal Rumble pay-per-view in Fresno that WWE considered Batista and Cena to be its next superstars when they were the last two men left in the ring during the Rumble.
McMahon saw big things in both men and put them in contention to win the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships.
What else did Vince McMahon have up his sleeve at WrestleMania? Well, what he didn’t have up his sleeve was almost as important as what he did.
Since Wrestlemania 21 was in Hollywood, one would think that The Rock would be involved somehow. But he wasn’t.
And who didn’t want to see Mick Foley involved someway? He wasn’t there either.
So McMahon went back to the well with three guys he always falls back on: Stone Cold Steve Austin, Rowdy Roddy Piper, and Hulk Hogan.
Austin and Piper were involved in a Piper’s Pit segment, and Piper and Hogan were apart of the Hall Of Fame ceremony the previous night. Hogan later got involved with Muhammed Hassan and Kosrow Daivari when they attacked Eugene.
During the Piper's Pit segment, Austin went toe-to-toe verbally with Piper, who was the first guy I've ever seen to quiet the “What!” crowd chants.
Carlito soon came out and Austin gave him a stunner right before giving Piper one.
The two hours of this show might’ve been the greatest in Wrestlemania history.
The show opened with Rey Mysterio wrestling Eddie Guerrero in a match that saw the Smackdown Tag Team Champions battling each other. It was the old “who is better” match, and while it was slightly unfulfilling, it was still a good wrestling match.
Mysterio won a back-and-forth match that led to their summer-long, soap opera-type feud.
Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Christian, Edge, Shelton Benjamin, and Kane originally had nothing to do for this show. So someone (Jericho) said, let’s throw these guys in a match together and put a ladder in.
The winner would get a future shot at a championship by climbing the ladder and grabbing a briefcase containing a match contract suspended high above the ring.
The match was full of great high spots. Benoit schooled the rest of the group, but Edge won the match.
This really got the show going.
Whenever someone wrestles the Undertaker at WrestleMania, you pencil them in for a loss.
The Undertaker just never loses at Wrestlemania, and that year, Orton was the one left staring at the lights by the time the match was over.
However, it was a strong match. Old school fans were happy to see Cowboy Bob Orton come in and interfere, cast and all.
Cowboy Bob was inducted into the Hall of Fame the night before alongside Hogan, Piper, Paul Orndorff, the Iron Sheik, Nikolai Volkoff, and Jimmy Hart.
While The Undertaker won the match, he made Orton look good and didn’t maim him like everyone initially thought he would.
Three matches in and all were good.
Of course, with Trish Stratus vs. Christy Hemme coming up next, you figured the entertaining matches were going to end. But if you were male watching this, you were entertained in a different way.
Stratus is an amazingly talented woman and she made the match not only interesting, but also entertaining in its own right. While it wasn’t a good matchHemme can't wrestle to save her life Stratus is just so damn good in her character that I couldn’t hate it.
She also looked spectacular, as she always does. Stratus could be dressed as a lumberjack and still look fine.
Most die-hard wrestling fans were looking forward to WrestleMania for one reason: HBK Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle.
It was a dream match that hadn’t yet happened and was one for the ages. Both guys were on their game and they put on a show.
The match was fantastic, with back-and-forth action and what might be the greatest submission spot this side of Stone Cold Steve Austin bleeding profusely in Bret Hart's sharpshooter.
Angle put his signature ankle lock on HBK, who fought for what seemed like minutes until he finally tapped out. It was a great overall match and one that you need to go out of your way to see, if you haven’t already.
While there was a “match” with Big Show and sumo wrestler Akebono, it was just there to give the crowd something to be quiet about.
Unless your one goal in life was to see Big Show’s butt cheeks, you have to go out of your way to avoid this.
The two title matches were similar in how each was booked. Heels beat on the faces until the big comeback when the faces won the match.
But the way in which the matches ended were pretty anticlimactic.
Cena was taking a beating from JBL for the entire match, and then made his one big comeback, hit the FU, and the match was over.
The end came much too quickly for a former champion, whose claim to fame was that he hadn’t been beaten in almost a year.
JBL’s gimmick was that he seemed like he was going to lose, and then pull out the match and keep his belt by the skin of his teeth. Here, Cena hit his one big move, and the match was over.
While Cena tried his best, this match didn’t seem all that important for the co-main event.
But Batista’s did.
Interestingly enough, Triple H decided to work a decent wrestling match, though he might’ve beat up on Batista longer than the crowd had wanted him to.
Batista is an interesting character in that he has this cool persona with his huge ripped up physique. Wrestling long matches, however, is definitely not his forte.
But since it was the main event at WrestleMania, Triple H made sure we saw an actual wrestling match, rather than Batista running over him like much of the crowd probably wanted.
Batista sold for much of the match before winning with the Demon Bomb.
A new generation of was born as Cena and Batista were crowned new champions at the end of the show, and while McMahon gave us some old legends to remember, he also gave us two new stars to look forward to.
Whether or not you’re going to remember Cena and Batista in the same light as Hogan, Austin, and Piper is the question.
World Heavyweight Championship: Batista def. Triple H
WWE Championship: John Cena def. JBL
Sumo Match: Akebono def. Big Show
Kurt Angle def. Shawn Michaels
Women’s Championship: Trish def. Christy
Undertaker def. Randy Orton
Money-In-The-Bank Ladder Match: Edge def. the crowd
Rey Mysterio def. Eddie Guerrero
Photo of Batista shared by Wikipedia under fair use rules