-80% done. Abso-sanely incredible. Now I know how my boss Eric Gargiulo felt when he came over to Ellis Island ninety-three years ago with nothing but three dollars in his pocket and the dreams of calling matches involving fluorescent lighting tubes. Like my good friend Eric, I can see the Island. I’m not quite there, but I’m close.
-And it’s apropos that I bring up a New York landmark, as the huddled masses of the WWE roster rolled into Madison Square Garden in New York City on March 14, 2004, which was the earliest WrestleMania to date. With 12 matches stretched over a five hour (yes, you read it right) time slot, there’s little doubt that Vince McMahon wanted this event to be completely and utterly memorable. Would it live up to the high expectations?
-Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler are providing commentary for Raw again, with Michael Cole and Tazz doing Smackdown. When there’s an inter-brand match, one team is chosen arbitrarily. In a sport where every match has a number one contendership on the line, they just hand over duties to one side without reason? Sounds fishy, and I have no idea why.
-Harlem Boys Choir kick things off and no worries, I already made my Pat Patterson joke in the last rant. I’m good for a few shows.
-The show kicks off with Big Show defending the US Title against…..John Cena. Yep, Cena opens a PPV, it happened. Cena was still a coarse rhyme-smith at this stage, wearing throwback jerseys to the ring (in this case, Patrick Ewing, though Cena has far more World Titles). Here’s an interesting theorem for you to digest: when a wrestler wears clothing that depicts a real life aspect of pop culture (Headbangers with Marilyn Manson, New Age Outlaws with South Park, John Cena with sports throwbacks), they become a cult favorite. When they eschew the attire in order to wear WWE-licensed shirts with their own logo and pictures and such, then they stop being cool. Reason one why everyone over age 20 turned on Cena.
-Show was bordering on useless at this point. Moreso than usual. Alright, it’s indistinguishable, you got me.
-Show dominates with his hoss-fense, and the crowd chants “Let’s Go Cena”. In New York City? If you played this tape at an ROH convention or at some smark rally in some loser’s basement, they’ll probably claim you doctored the tape.
-Backstage, we find three men. One of them is the Raw GM, and the other two are his two toadies. Nowadays, respectively, they are TNA’s on-air authority, an ESPNews employee, and an upper carder on Smackdown. So Jonathan Coachman’s better off than Eric Bischoff and John Morrison? I need to go soak my brain in some lemon juice.
-Meanwhile, Randy Orton has a monologue on the staircase where he kicked Mick Foley around on nine months prior, while flanked by Batista and Ric Flair. Man, if you asked me in 2004, I would have said Flair was way cooler than the other two OVW slimes. Now? He’s a distant third.
-Next we have an excuse to give eight men a payday: Rob Van Dam and Booker T will defend Raw’s Tag Team Titles against The Dudley Boyz, La Resistance (consisting of Maritimer Rene Dupree and American Rob Conway), and The Utah Jazz (Lance Cade and Mark Jindrak). If Cade and Jindrak were any whiter, Sheamus could get a gig at the Apollo just by standing next to them. “Vat eez the deal with midcarders getting titles too early? I mean, ree-lee?”.
-When you’re in a match with eight men that’s being rushed, get your moves in now. Bubba with the Dusty Rhodes elbow. Booker with the side kick. RVD with the spin kick. Dudleyz land 3D. Cade gets the….umm….did Cade even have a move? There’s nothing besides the paint-by-numbers heavyweight offense that they taught him in OVW? God, what does WWE see in him?
-To speed things along, Van Dam flattens Conway with the Five Star to keep the titles with RVD and Book. Why did Conway have to job? He actually had a personality and ability. Well, I guess they had to keep Jindrak strong for his career apex of playing Kurt Angle’s personal Stormtrooper. Match was decent.
-Backstage, Bobby Heenan and Gene Okerlund are found necking with Mae Young and Fabulous Moolah. Jonathan Coachman is horrified. He’s horrified because he forgot to ask Heenan “What am I doing wrong as a heel commentator?”. It’s just as well, since Heenan would have either said “everything” or “who the hell are you, Pez Whatley’s kid?”
-Video package to hype the Chris Jericho-Christian-Trish Stratus love triangle. Sadly, no clip of Christian telling Jericho “This is not the OC!”. If it was, Trish would need to stop eating altogether. Well, someone’s gotta play the Mischa Barton role.
-Finally acting in character for a change, Jericho just tackles Christian and hammers away. I dunno, Jericho sweating over a woman and losing his mind over her just doesn’t feel right. How can you explain this side of Jericho and his current outlook? Did Trish’s rejection turn him into a robot with abject disillusionment with the world? Makes sense to me.
-Jericho alternates between out wrestling Christian and beating the crap out of him, and Christian turns the tide with a thumb to the eye. As dumb as this storyline was in terms of two thirty year old, known-to-be-married men fighting over a starlet co-worker, at least the match is good. Kinda hard to fault these two.
-After spending a good chunk of the match reversing, countering, and answering back with moves, Christian locks Jericho in the Texas cloverleaf. Or is it the Ontario Maple leaf? That’s what RVD’s missing: the San Bernardino Hemp leaf! He can have that one for free.
-A superplex spot is blown when Christian slips, but they make up for it and do it anyway. You know, if Kevin Nash did that, two things: one is he’d be crucified for blowing the spot and, two, we’d be in disbelief that he broke his usual arsenal for one match. Let’s just move on.
-Jericho gets the Walls, but Christian nabs the ropes to escape. Trish comes bouncing out (literally) and Christian brings her in the hard way. An inadvertent elbow knocks Jericho into a Christian roll-up, giving Edge’s little brother the win. Afterward, Trish turns on Jericho with a hard smack, and Christian hits the Unprettier to give birth to “Trishtian”. Cheer up, Jericho. If you had won Trish’s heart, how would you have explained it to Jessica? Damn good match.
–The Rock gives a whacked out promo backstage to set up the greatest handicap match of all time: Rock and Mick Foley against Ric Flair, Randy Orton, and Batista. We used to argue whether Batista or Orton was the most useless guy in the match. We ain’t too bright, is we?
-Rock stealing the Flair strut = awesome.
-Match starts with a flurry, with Rock taking Flair down on the floor with a backdrop and Foley coming off with the big elbow. Crowd is in a frenzy early.
-Foley gets Orton in the ring to continue their issue, and Orton bails like a coward. Foley hammers him into the table and brings him back in for more punishment. Here’s the good thing about Mick: he sells for anyone and will put any kid over, with no politics. Except for burying Test in his book, which I still think is funny.
-Speaking of putting people over, here’s Rock to sell for Batista and Orton. I wish I had known this was his final match. I woulda painted my eyebrow on and worn my elbow pad and….well, not really, you see, I was umm….back to the match at hand here.
-Foley plays face in peril while Batista and Orton water their own learning trees with this opportunity. Within weeks, Batista and Orton would be having great tag team matches with the likes of Benoit, Edge, Benjamin, Michaels, and others. You’re seeing it now in WWE with guys like Rhodes, Dibiase, Ziggler, Kingston, and Miz all getting better through osmosis with the older names. Hey, TNA: if you use the older guys to bring the young kids up, you can weed out the has-beens and live on the kids’ newfound reputations. That’s why Batista and Orton crush Flair and Foley in the ratings. MAKE A NOTE OF THIS!
-Rock gets the hot tag and cleans house on everyone. Batista halts the rush with a spinebuster and Flair tries the Senior’s Elbow, but Rock puts an end to it. After cleaning house again, Rock lands his own People’s Elbow on Flair. Great fun.
-Orton gets tagged in and runs right into Rock Bottom. In all the confusion, Batista drops The Great One with the Batista Bomb. After Rock barely kicks out, he tags in Foley, who cleans house himself. However, after he prepares Mr. Socko, he walks into the RKO to give Orton the biggest pinfall win of his career to that point. Whew, insanely fun match with a murderer’s row of main eventers and champions. Rock consoles Mick afterward, and Mick consoles him for having to have such a crappy goatee in that equally crappy Be Cool flick. Thanks for the aweome career, Rock. Have fun with that Disney money.
-Hall of Fame recap is next, a year that saw Bobby Heenan, Tito Santana, Big John Studd, Harley Race, Pete Rose, Don Muraco, Greg Valentine, Junkyard Dog, Superstar Billy Graham, Sgt. Slaughter, and Jesse Ventura all get inducted. Say what you will about Pete Rose, but he took a stinkface from Rikishi. That alone warrants induction, I think.
-Next up, Sable and Torrie Wilson face Stacy Keibler and Miss Jackie in an evening gown match. All the participants remove their gowns to start, but Miss Jackie is stand-offish. So she can make out with some loser on Tough Enough in a hot tub, but this is too much? Interesting.
-Cole on commentary says Tazz stabbed him with his pencil, and Tazz assures him that it wasn’t his pencil. Well then.
-Torrie pins Jackie and spanks her during the roll-up. I’d have included more content, but I write enough erotic letters to Hustler each week, and this would only detract from my usual quality. So rent the DVD, pervos.
-Meanwhile, Eddie Guerrero tries to motivate Chris Benoit by using reverse psychology. Show of hands?
Who else thought of a REALLY snappy punchline to that, but felt sick for even thinking it? I did, too.
-For more filler featuring some lesser-seen talents, we move onto the Cruiserweight open, which is a ten man gauntlet with the Cruiserweight Title on the line. The order of elimination goes like so:
-Shannon Moore jobs to Ultimo Dragon, who slipped during his entrance. Being the first one gone in this match must make you feel like Marsellus Wallace when he got picked by Zed during eeny meeny miney mo. Even the odds hate you.
-Jamie Noble comes in and dominates….some midcarders. He makes Dragon tap, and then pins Funaki in negative nanoseconds, then beats his forgotten cousin Nunzio by count out. It’s this spark and sass that made Noble a dominant ROH Champion for about seven hours.
-Then Billy Kidman hits the ring and dispatches Noble. Then Kidman jobs to Rey Mysterio, who’s dressed as The Flash. Kidman’s The Flash also, except his last name is “in the Pan”.
-Akio is unable to participate due to being blinded by Tajiri, and Rey pins Tajiri to bring it down to him and champion Chavo Guerrero. After some chicanery involving Chavo’s dad, Chavo “FREAKING AWESOME” Classic, Chavito retains the gold. Man, I miss Chavo Classic. He did a good job hosting Raw recently with Tommy Chong, however.
–Stone Cold Steve Austin and his over sized four wheeler of fun are the guest enforcers. He gets the biggest cheer of the three people involved in this match. Of course, that’s like saying that Capt. Sully Sullenberger won a popularity contest over Herpes and The Syph. Are you really surprised?
-Now, I could thoroughly recap this match, or I can tell you a joke I made up. You like jokes, right? Of course you do.
-Two muscle heads walk into a bar. They each order a bottle of “Over-With-The-Crowd Lager”. The bartender informs them that he can’t serve them this beverage because they don’t plan to come back to said bar, and it’s only for long-term commitment patrons. So the two muscle heads say “Fine, we’ll just occupy space for 15 minutes and do nothing!”. So the muscle heads proceed to do just that until the 20,000 patrons of the bar scream obscenities at them, which doesn’t faze them. Finally, a bald man runs in and beats up both guys himself. The other patrons roared mightily. Then the bald guy beat up a woman at random and the patrons still cheered. One patron sat stunned and muttered “Why would they cheer a wife beater over two men who don’t wish to be regular patrons anymore?”. And then Justin said “You must not be a wrestling fan!”.
-Bad as the joke was, it was still better than the match. Goldberg wins with a Jackhammer and Austin beats both guys up. I’d add more, but the match already damaged my brain. Let’s not let it hurt my fingers too.
-Vince is here to thank the fans. For sitting through that last match? Yeah, you better thank them.
-I have about 1600 words left before I get to my personal space limit, so rather than waste time with the next pointless match, let’s get it over with: Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty retain the WWE Tag Team Titles over the APA, The Bashams, and The World’s Greatest Tag Team. Real quick, a note to Rikishi: when you’re going to give a man a stinkface and you have to arch your stomach out before doing it, because you’ve gotten so fat that to merely stand in front of him would mean that your ass would already be in his face, then it’s time to lose weight. Nothing match.
-Next up, Jesse Ventura comes out to ask Donald Trump to help him with his 2008 Presidential campaign. Well, Jesse almost got as many votes as Dennis Kucinich, so he’s clearly on the right track.
-Following that spirited jaunt, we come to a Title vs. Hair match, as Victoria defends her WWE Women’s Title against Molly Holly, who’s putting her hair on the line. Do you think George Steele and A-Train could done a back hair vs. back hair match on PPV and drawn? Me either.
-The match is technically fine, but it’s a five hour show and everyone’s just waiting for the main events, because they want to see Guerrero put Angle down, Undertaker come back, and Benoit do what he does best and that’s not disappoint. Wait….
-Victoria wins it with a backslide, and Molly tries to be a truant, but she eventually gets strapped into the chair, and Victoria shaves away with a satisfied and exhausted grin. I found this hot, I don’t know about any of you. Feel free to dislike me for it.
-Guerrero-Angle recap video to hype the WWE Title match. The only thing that could have made Eddie’s celebration at No Way Out better was if his brother Hector was in the crowd dressed as the Gobbeldy Gooker. You know that would have ruled more than anything else.
-Crowd finally comes to life during a chain wrestling sequence, as MSG has always appreciated good technical wrestling. They even do the ROH/TNA chant of “LET’S GO ANGLE/ANGLE SUCKS”, which I find amusing. It’s like an act of rebellion from the smarks: “We cheer the heel AND the face! What are YOU gonna do about it?”. And the booker says “I dunno, get laid after the show?”. The smarks then narrow their eyes and say “….you win this time.”
-After Angle counters the Three Amigos (Two Amigos in current WWE acknowledgment canon) with a German, he gets the uber-creepy German attempt on the apron that looks like something out of day three of Pat Patterson’s fundamen—alright, there’s the requisite Patterson joke. Happy now?
-After Guerrero wipes out on a plancha, Angle brings him back in for a pain session to slow things down. Good, frenetic match so far, as neither man could really have a bad match. Crowd’s warming to Eddie, who really defied the odds to become a main eventer. Hey Vince, when Guerrero does it, it’s defying the odds. When Cena does it, it’s a marketing machine clearly standing behind him. I like Cena, but let’s be realistic here.
-A fast paced sequence ends with Angle trying for the Angle Slam, but Guerrero coming out of it with an armdrag. I’m enjoying myself.
-Another Three Amigos attempt is countered on numero tres into an Ankle Lock. Guerrero fights, not wanting to give up and the fans are really awake now, identifying with the champion’s struggle. Guerrero finally kicks him away.
-After falling victim to Angle’s super belly to belly throw, Angle latches on a second ankle lock, but Guerrero cradles him for two. After countering an Angle Slam into a DDT, Guerrero lands the Frog Splash, but Angle gets the shoulder up for two. Crazy great stuff, and the fans are behind Guerrero 100%.
-As Guerrero is in disbelief, Angle tries for a third ankle lock, but Guerrero kicks him off to the floor. Guerrero unties the boot on the injured ankle, and Angle goes back in for it. With the lock applied again, Guerrero kicks off and Angle’s left holding the boot. A surprised Angle is then cradled to give Guerrero the win to retain. Great, great match. My brother had no idea why Guerrero untied his boot (to slip out of the ankle lock easier) and Michael Cole explained it perfectly. So, yeah, Cole is smarter than my brother. I don’t think Josh ever recovered.
-Undertaker-Kane highlight package. You know how it goes: boy kills brother under a ton of dirt….and that’s about all.
-Kane comes out first with a nice entrance bit where the NYC set behind him “catches fire”. The lights then go out and we hear the voice of Paul Bearer, as he leads the Druids to the ring, which leads to classic Undertaker’s entrance. Undertaker was basically still Bikertaker, except with a new hat and his old mannerisms. But still, the MSG fans are thrilled, as was my viewing party. Nothing like the Dead Man gimmick to speak to your inner child.
-What follows is the typical Taker-Kane match, with Undertaker re-establishing all of his old tricks that made him The Dead Man in the first place. I was happy because I was so tired of that annoying Southern drawl that made Taker look like an out-of-shape hybrid of Mark McGwire and Sam Elliott. He should be a zombie forever, even when he’s 70, and will then be 42-0 at WrestleMania. Fine by me.
–Undertaker sits up from a Kane choke slam, and then reciprocates it. He then follows with the Tombstone for the relatively quick win. Not a good match, but it was a fun moment to enhance the show’s appeal. You just need these moments sometimes.
-And now, the match I’d waited years for. I wasn’t alone. And now, what was once a proud cult who relished this match, it’s become a dwindling minority. Triple H defends the World Heavyweight Title against Shawn Michaels and, yes, Chris Benoit. Let’s see if my feelings change watching it.
-Hey Hunter, nice white boots. Nobody can pull of the “He-Man goes Go-Go Dancing” look like you.
-Benoit and Shawn attack Hunter from the outset, but take time to beat each other down as well. Benoit tries a Crossface, but Shawn blocks. Benoit could have won right there in under a minute, and I would have been fine with it.
-This entire opening sequence is so well choreographed, as they take turns doing one on one bits, and nobody “plays dead” for so long that it seems contrived. A testament to all three men’s abilities.
-Shawn takes down both Benoit and HHH on the floor, and then heads up top to land a moonsault onto both men. Shawn was 38 here and still doing dives like that? Hey, if he’s not going to win the match, he’s going to steal the show for himself. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
-Triple H spends the next portion of the match in control, dominating both men until Benoit comes to life and drills him with a clothesline. He gets the rolling Germans, but tries for the diving headbutt and Shawn crotches him up top. Shawn tries SCM on Hunter, but eats a DDT. I think my stomach lining was like Swiss cheese at this point.
-HHH tries the Pedigree on Benoit, but Chris counters with the Crossface, which Shawn stops. Crowd doesn’t like that. Is it blasphemous to boo Shawn?
-Rolling Germans and diving headbutt for Shawn, but Benoit gets knocked outside. Shawn hits the SCM on Hunter, but Benoit pulls the champ to ringside to keep the match alive. I couldn’t take much more of this.
-Shawn opens up a MASSIVE cut after being sling shotted into the post. If Shawn’s wrists ever bleed simultaneously, he’ll have won me over. No more Jesus jokes then.
-The big turning point comes on the floor when Shawn and Hunter team up to double suplex Benoit through a commentary table. The idea was that this was to have finished Benoit as Shawn and HHH settled their feud.
-Back inside, Shawn does manage to bust Hunter open, but HHH lands the Pedigree out of thin air. My heart was sinking until Benoit slid in and broke the pin up. Whew.
-But Hunter lurked behind Benoit, and my heart fully sank. He tried the Pedigree, but Benoit snatched the Crossface to a huge pop. With no one to save HHH, he futily tried to roll Benoit over, but The Crippler held on. Finally, Hunter tapped to finally give Benoit a World Title and cause a smarkgasm the likes of which have never been seen. Guerrero comes out to celebrate and both men tearfully parade in confetti as JR gives a great sendoff. A tremendous match, circumstances aside, and still an all time favorite of mine.
-Drowning Pool’s “Step Up” plays off the show with highlights. Underrated Mania theme.
-CYNIC SAYS: Five hours flies by when you take two days to do the show in parts. I know I glossed over a lot of stuff, but that’s because they stretched things out to get about 50 people involved in matches. Four of them are great (both World Title matches, Rock and Sock vs. Evolution, Christian/Jericho) and there was enough fun moments otherwise (Taker’s return, Cena’s win, lingerie, the Hall of Famers, Lesnar/Goldberg’s crapfest) to make the entire show worthwhile.
If you can get past the controversy behind the main event, then this is a damn fine anthology that defined this era of WWE. I highly recommend watching all five hours, even the slow parts.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
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