Ten Years After: WWE WrestleMania 21

WrestleMania XX was supposed to be where it all began… again. The show where WWE moved past the Attitude Era into a new era. An era that acknowledged the past (Ric Flair, The Rock N Sock Connection, Shawn Michaels) and the future (Randy Orton, Batista, John Cena) while emphasizing the hard working, long term vets as the stars of the brand (Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Kurt Angle). It was one of the best WrestleManias ever and it pretty much had no long term positive effect on the company (Hey, that sounds familiar. Didn’t we go through something similar recently?)

Daniel Bry—er Chris Benoit was stuck in secondary feuds even after winning the World Title, with the never ending Shawn Michaels-Triple H feud getting most of the focus. Yeah, he got victories over both but it seemed just like background noise for the long overdue “DX Explodes” angle. Meanwhile, Eddie Guerrero’s WWE Title run ended up being a bomb despite Eddie’s work. He was unfortunately part of the Smackdown! roster during a time of turmoil. It would’ve been excellent to see some rematches between Guerrero and Brock Lesnar but Lesnar decided to part ways with WWE right before WrestleMania and was headed to try his luck at NFL stardom after the show. It would’ve been obvious for Eddie to have some rematches with his WrestleMania XX opponent Kurt Angle except Angle was sidelined with neck injuries immediately after the show.  Guerrero was stuck feuding with John Bradshaw Layfield, who would eventually become one of the top heels of the era but at that point was just a long time tag team/undercard wrestler being hot shotted into the main event.

So one year after the WrestleMania where it all began again, WWE started all over again again. Instead of long term workhorse, WWE looked to a pair of young phenoms to take WWE through the second half of the decade. John Cena and Batista both had inauspicious debuts in the company in the Summer of ’02 but quickly established themselves as two of the hottest prospects in WWE. Would WWE’s second “new beginning” in a row work better than the first? Well, let’s read and find out.

WWE WrestleMania 21

April 3rd, 2005

Live from Staples Center in Los Angeles, California

Announcers: Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler (RAW), Michael Cole & Tazz (Smackdown!)

Lillian Garcia sings “America The Beautiful”. This was around the time that Lillian was starting to record her first album so I guess that’s why she got the nod. Random fact: Lillian Garcia is the only singer to sing “America The Beautiful” at three different WrestleManias. Take that, Aretha Franklin.

We get a compilation of clips from the movie parody ads that they did to advertise this show.

Then we get a Gladiator parody with Steve Austin in the Russell Crowe role. This definitely feels like a lackluster way to start a WrestleMania. Usually, a WM opening video package lets everyone know the magnitude of the event and maybe a brief rundown of some of the major feuds. Here we just get WWE stars hamming it up in wigs.

Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler welcome us to WrestleMania. Hollywood’s all about blockbusters but they’ve never seen anything like WrestleMania. We say HOLA to Carlos & Hugo at the Spanish announce table. Michael Cole & Tazz are ready for Mania and ready for our opening contest.

Rey Mysterio Vs Eddie Guerrero

This is the first time that Tag Team Champions would face each other at WrestleMania but surprisingly, not the last (Shawn Michaels and John Cena were World Tag Team Champions when they faced each other in the main event of WrestleMania 23). Surprisingly, both instances were long after Vince Russo left. The storyline here is that Guerrero was bummed out that he had fallen down the card since WrestleMania XX and decided to challenge his pal (and former rival) Rey Mysterio to a match to foreshadow a heel turn bring down the house. WWE sort of backed the,mselves into a corner here by al but guaranteeing a classic match, on the level of these two’s unforgettable matches a decade earlier in WCW.  Eddie & Rey are two of the all time greats but even then, it’s hard to follow up one of the greatest matches of all time (their encounter at Halloween Havoc ’97) especially when it’s ten years later.

This match has an off kilter nervous energy to it. These guys are bringing their A game but almost over thinking it. It’s not helped by the fact that Rey Mysterio’s having problems with his mask and is adjusting it throughout. Don’t get me wrong. This is still better than 90% of matches but when you promise a match that’s gonna bring down the house at WrestleMania, you got Andre sized boots to fill.

I do like the long term storyline of Eddie trying to recapture his mojo while struggling with the question of whether or not to resort to his old ways to do so. It’s too bad that we never got to see the payoff. And we got some unnecessary sidebars but we’ll get to that when I cover the Summer ’05 pay per views. Mysterio reverses a backbreaker attempt into the West Coast Pop. Eddie Guerrero’s losing streak continues. Eddie is disappointed but decides to shake his tag team partner’s hand. ***1/2 Too bad this would be Eddie’s last WrestleMania moment.

Backstage, we get an Anchorman-esque showdown between WWE Champion JBL and his Cabinet and World Champion Triple H & Ric Flair. They engage in some heated trash talk. We’ll see which one of them is still champ at the end of the night. Ric Flair WOOs in the face of JBL’s lackeys.

Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider are in the house! They’re promoting the remake of The Longest Yard, which included appearances from Steve Austin, Goldberg, Kevin Nash, and a young Great Khali. Seated right behind the SNL Alums is Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas! 2005!

Money in the Bank Ladder Match to earn a guaranteed shot at a World Title in the next 365 Days. Featuring; Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Edge, Christian (with Tyson Tomko), Kane, and Shelton Benjamin 

This is the very first Money in the Bank match. Originally, this was pitched by Chris Jericho as a Hollywood Dreams match where the winner would get one of their dreams to come true (for example, RVD’s would be to bring back ECW). Luckily, that abstract idea is modified into what has become the best gimmick match since Hell in a Cell.

Damn. I love JR’s commentary. He really builds up everyone’s motivation for needing this win very succinctly. Edge, Christian, and Shelton Benjamin are looking for their first World Titles while Kane, Chris Benoit, and Chris Jericho have had cups of coffee with the belt and are looking to get back to the mountain top. Kane’s entrance is spectacular with him setting all of the ladders on the entrance set on fire. The set in general is a classic. Sleek and understated.

Smartly everyone attacks the big galoot Kane during his entrance. Money in the Bank is a genius concept because the number of participants allows for a non-stop spot fest with little lull times. Just too many classic spots to describe.  I like this better than a lot of the later editions of the match because there aren’t TOO many participants. Everyone’s bringing their A game and playing their characters to a T.

I’m not exactly sure where Shelton Benjamin went from potential future main eventer to extremely talented but flawed midcarder but it’s sometime between here and WrestleMania 22. I guess we’ll find out. Guessing sometime around the time they decided to knockoff the Campbell Chunky Soup ads with Donovan McNabb & his Mama  with Shelton in the McNabb role…

You can tell this is the first Money in the Bank match because the briefcase is just a generic leather briefcase. Benjamin’s a guy who was born for this match. He ended up in pretty much every MitB match after this until he left the company, I think.

Got to say Chris Benoit screaming like a wounded animal, selling his injuries is kind of awkward. Edge gets the win and his first WrestleMania moment as a singles wrestler by blasting Benoit’s injured arm with a steel chair. Really great match and to this day, one of if not the best Money in the Bank matches ever. All six of the participants got the concept right away and ended up transforming what could have been cluster into a show stealer. *****

JR and Lawler  talk about what we’ve just seen. They’re interrupted by Eugene. Eugene says appearing at his first WrestleMania is his second favorite WrestleMania moment behind the mixed tag team match at WrestleMania III where King Kong Bundy attacked a midget and was subsequently attacked by a bunch of angry midgets. He’s interrupted by Muhammad Hassan & Daivari. It’s the Clash of the Offensive Gimmicks. JR doesn’t think Hassan deserves to be here! Hassan is pissed he was excluded from WrestleMania and is angry that Hollywood is prejudiced against the Arab people. Hassan says he’s gonna create his own WrestleMania moment. One of the heroes of WrestleMania III,  Hillbilly Jim Hulk Hogan runs in for the save. This is Hogan’s first appearance in almost two years. Hogan fights off Muhammad and drops the leg on Daivari, brother.

Brooke Hogan cheers on her dad at ringside. David Arquette’s next to her but thankfully, they don’t mention his WCW World Title run this time.

The Undertaker Vs Randy Orton gets our first pre-match hype video package. The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania  had been mentioned many times  before but this was the first time that it was the focal point of a storyline. And really what great timing since Orton had been establishing himself in the main event for the past year with the “Legend Killer” character.

The Undertaker Vs Randy Orton (with “Cowboy” Bob Orton)

The Undertaker gets the Druids entrance for the second year in a row. Shockingly, he gets the first entrance (usually reserved for the lesser star). Undertaker is 12-0 at WrestleMania at this point. Orton is so serious about beating The Undertaker at WrestleMania that he RKO’d his own girlfriend Stacy Keibler to show that he wasn’t messing around. As I said, this was really the start of The Undertaker’s winning streak being one of the main focuses of WrestleMania. I think if anybody should have ended Undertaker’s streak before the actual streak ended nine years later, I think it should have been Orton. He was just credible enough so a victory over The Undertaker would have been believable but young enough that a victory would have been a huge upset (and established Orton as a bonafide main eventer). This match is decent but Orton’s still a bit green around the edges. Would have liked to see these two against each other three or four years later after Orton had really established himself as a ring general. This one’s a little too resthold heavy. It does establish the modern Taker Mania match formula with all of the reversals and/or kicking out of finishers. I really appreciate the run in by “Cowboy” Bob Orton with his cast. Finish comes when Randy Orton acts like a stereotypical dumbass arrogant heel after he hits the rKo and tries to use the Undertaker’s finisher. The Undertaker obviously blocks it and hits a Tombstone of his own for the win.  The Undertaker goes 13-0 at WrestleMania. They did the obvious, safe finish here. At the time, I’m sure it was frustrating to see Orton job in kind of stupid fashion but really if Orton had ended the streak here, it would have undercut The Undertaker’s epic matches from 23 onward (his match with Mark Henry next year at 22 is kind of an anomaly in that it’s the one later Taker WM match that kind of sucks but we’ll get to it later). And it’s not like Orton’s career was hurt at all by this match. If anything it only added more rocket fuel to the spaceship. ***

Jim Ross tells us it’s time for our first title match—the Women’s Title Match between Trish Stratus & Christy Hemme. This was originally supposed to be Trish Stratus Vs Lita but Lita got injured at New Year’s Revolution so future Impact Wrestling announcer Christy Hemme got her WrestleMania moment.

WWE Women’s Title Match: Trish Stratus (c) Vs Christy Hemme (with Lita) 

This was the beginning of a lowpoint in the Divas division when the company was hiring women again on the basis of whether or not they’d agree to appear in Playboy rather than their in-ring ability. In fact, this match is built around veteran heel Trish Stratus being mad Christy Hemme is appearing in Playboy. Although it’s easy to forget Trish Stratus was hired as eye candy before becoming one of the greatest Women’s Champions in WWE history. This match is basically an extended squash with Trish bullying the rookie Hemme with Hemme getting the occasional hope spot. A small “We Want Matt” chant is heard during this match. I guess this was around the time that the internet found out about Lita cheating on Matt Hardy. Matt had been out for the last seven months with an injury and would get released a week after this show. We’ll talk more about that story later in the year. Anyway, Trish gets the win with the Chick Kick. * Not really sure the point of that. Was Hemme the best replacement they could find for Lita? I guess they had to sell magazines. There’s a reason why Hemme’s known best as an out of the ring character.

Opening video package for Kurt Angle Vs Shawn Michaels. I think the storyline of one of the greatest amateur wrestlers taking on the one of the greatest professional wrestlers is a great one. However, he notion of Angle being enraged because his Gold Medal win at the ’96 Summer Olympics was tarnished because people’s attention was being taken away by Shawn Michaels winning the Iron Man Match at WrestleMania XII cracks me up.

ZZ Top frontman Billy Gibbons is in the house! He’s a legit longtime wrestling fan and I think he’s friends with good ol JR and some of the other guys. Marg Helgenberg from CSI is also in the house!

Shawn Michaels Vs Kurt Angle 

I should point that this is our second interpromotional match of the evening (Orton-Taker was the first). This was a big deal in the brand split era. WrestleMania XX, while it was a great pay per view, was also overstuffed with multi man matches featuring undercard wrestlers. They sort of addressed this criticism by having a bunch of dream matches here; Angle-Michaels, Orton-Taker, Guerrero-Rey Mysterio Redux, Big Show-Akebono…

I really, really like this match but one thing that keeps it just a smidge below being perfect is the segments where Shawn Michaels outsmarts Angle with chain wrestling. I guess you can play it off as Angle didn’t expect Shawn Michaels to be good at the thing that Angle’s an expert at but it just seems kind of silly. Otherwise, this is easily one of my Top 10 favorite WrestleMania matches ever. Two of my favorite wrestlers at their best working a smart and well worked match. Kudos to Shawn Michaels for putting Angle so strongly as a methodical, ruthless dickhead. And HBK is awesome at playing the role of plucky babyface. Their characters really interact with each other well Considering both guys’ injury history, the table spot with Shawn Michaels moonsaulting Angle on the announce table and the table not budging is kind of cringeworthy. Lawler covers by saying that so many people have crashed through tables that they’ve reinforced them with steel! That actually makes sense storyline wise. Why has WWE gotten such chintzy tables through the years!? Angle blocking the Sweet Chin Music and putting Michalels in the Angle Lock is one of my favorite spots ever. So is Angle screaming in Michaels face like a maniac than Michaels just drilling him with a Sweet Chin Music outta nowhere. So many money moments in this match.  Angle finally gets Shawn Michaels to tap out with a second Angle Lock. ****1/2 Michaels gets a standing ovation as he heads to the back and blows a kiss to somebody in the crowd.

We see Mae Young & The Fabulous Moolah in the crowd. Maybe that’s who HBK was blowing a kiss too.

Bagpipes bring out “Rowdy” Roddy Piper for a special WrestleMania edition of Piper’s Pit. Piper was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame last night and now he’s going face to face with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin! It’s the Baddest Man of the ’80s facing off with the Baddest Man of the ’90s!

Piper saying “bullshit” gets bleeped out for some reason. I paid $9.99 a month for this!? Piper immediately slaps Steve Austin and Austin slaps him back. Piper says he was pissing off Vince McMahon when the red on the back of Austin’s neck was diaper rash, brother. Austin and James Dean have nothin’ on Piper when it comes to being a rebel. Austin’s not scared of that dress wearin’ geezer Piper. They’re interrupted by Carlito. It’s three generations of WWE Rebels. Piper steals Carlito’s apple and spits in his face. Carlito jumps the geezer. Austin makes the save. STUNNER! STUNNER! STUNNER! Piper tosses Carlito from the ring. This is the second segment of the night where a promising midcarder was beaten up by a retired wrestler. Piper and Austin have a beer bash. No, wait, Austin stunners Piper! Pretty mediocre edition of Piper’s Pit, just like the other time they did it at WrestleMania way back in ’89. At least, that one ended with Piper unloading a fire extinguisher in the face of noted scumbucket Morton Downey Jr (RIP?).

Michael Cole & Tazz talk about how we’re going to see the first ever Sumo Match at WrestleMania next. Hey Anthony Kiedis from Red Hot Chili Peppers is seated right behind the announce table.

Sumo Match: Akebono Vs The Big Show

I guess this match is here to play up Los Angeles’s huge Japanese population. It seems like it’s always a bad idea when WWE tries to put one of their guys in legitimate athletic competition. I think WWE might have been thinking of signing Akebono long term as he made his Japanese pro wrestling debut only  afew months after this. Anyway, fans aren’t really appreciating the headgames of Japanese sumo wrestling. Akebono tosses Big Show out of the ring after a minute or so of action. Can’t rate this since it was short and not really wrestling. This was probably the most embarrassing moment of Big Show’s not particularly memorable WrestleMania career. Big Show and Akebono shake hands.

Video package for JBL Vs John Cena. Is there ever going to be a time where John Cena is a World Champion!? Funny to see now Cena’s character being a rebellious asskicker instead of a goody two shoes. JBL went too far when he insulted Cena’s mama.

WWE Championship Match: John Bradshaw Layfield (c) Vs John Cena

JBL gets a police escort for his WrestleMania entrance and he drops JBL bucks from the ceiling. Great entrance. John Cena just has a normal entrance. Energy of this match just feels way too low key. It should have been an all out goofy Attitude era brawl with Cena kicking JBL’s ass all over the arena but instead we get a match that just seems like a house show main event. It’s too bad that both of these guys laid down a turd because they were both in the midst of hot streaks at this point. They did have a great match at Judgment Day ’05. Maybe I’m off but it seems like there were a lot of WrestleMania main events in the ’00s that had better rematches at post WM PPVs. John Cena wins after ducking the Clothesline From Hell and hitting the FU on JBL. * After the match, Cena celebrates with the fan who would go on to become the “We Hate Cena Guy”. Cena’s time is now but who knows how long he’ll be in the main event!

Montage highlighting the WWE Hall of Fame Class of ’05. “Cowboy” Bob Orton Jr, Nikolai Volkoff, Iron Sheik (Sheiky Baby!), Paul Orndorff, Jimmy Hart, Roddy Piper, and Hulk Hogan. What a loaded class.

All of the old timers come out to wave to the crowd.

Video package for Batista Vs Triple H.

World Heavyweight Championship Match: Triple H (c) (With Ric Flair) Vs Batista

Motorhead plays  Triple H to the ring. Lemmy doesn’t know most of the words to “The Game” but it’s still kind of cool to have them there. It’s not like most people would have been able to understand Lemmy even if he’d gotten them right. Batista’s entrance can’t help but fall flat afterward. Hell, the same thing happened the last match. Heel had a spectacular entrance and face just walked to the ring like a ponce.

A lot of these mid ’00s WrestleManias just feel poorly paced. There’s so many big matches one after the other that the crowd feels fatigued by the main event. This match isn’t as bad as its reputation but it fefinitely kind of feels flat after some of the undercard matches. Like the last match, they botched the booking on this one. It should’ve been Batista kicking Triple H’s ass six ways to Sunday. Instead, it’s just Triple H slowly, methodically working over Batista.

Batista does a surprisingly pretty good sell of a lowblow after Triple H whacks him in the nuts to block a Batista Bomb. Triple H goes for the Pedigree. Nope! Batista powers out of it by slamming him down. Ropes shake. Thumbs Down. Batista Bomb and Batista is the NEW World Heavyweight Champion. Crowd wakes up to celebrate Triple H’s reign of terror ending. **1/2 After the match, Triple H stumbles out of the ring and Ric Flair helps him to the back. This is really the end of Triple H’s run as a dominant heel champion from ’02 to ’05. He wouldn’t get the World Title after this until he turned babyface.

We must have some time to fill as we get a long highlight package of the show.

This is a very good WrestleMania but it doesn’t quite rise to the level of great because of a poor card layout. As I said earlier, the undercard is almost too good. Cena and Batista would have probably had a lot of jitters main eventing their first WrestleMania regardless of what the rest of the show looked like but having to follow up Rey/Eddie, Undertaker/Orton, Money in the Bank, and Angle/Michaels doomed them from the start. I like their opponents but JBL and Triple H are the kind of workers who rise or fall with the level of the worker they’re against. The main events definitely felt like a ho hum afterthought after such a loaded undercard. It’s impossible to give anything but a strong thumbs up to a show with two ****+ matches but WrestleManias are ultimately remembered by their main events and the main events of WrestleMania 21 were neither good or particularly memorable. It was kind of the opposite of the previous year’s WrestleMania which had an excellent pair of main events and a cluttered, hit or miss undercard. We’ll see if they’re able to follow up 21 better than they did 20 in the coming weeks and months.

Next on Ten Years After…We take a look back at Backlash 2005…Hulk Hogan makes his return to a WWE ring after a two year absence to team up with “The Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels against the villainous duo of Muhammad Hassan and Daivari! Plus in a rematch of WrestleMania 21’s main event, Batista defends the World Heavyweight Title against Triple H. 

Written by Connor McGrath

Connor McGrath is a public access television show host and part-time amateur comedian, who resides in Portland, Maine. He contributes reviews of Northeast independent wrestling promotion, NWA On Fire along with occasional guest articles.

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