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WrestleMania XXI: Of Thugs And Demons

-Thanks to a slickly produced “WrestleMania Goes Hollywood” campaign, which presented itself with faux movie trailers featuring WWE talents, this was a show that was looked forward to by many, myself included. And so on April 3, 2005, WrestleMania XXI came to us from the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA.

-The commentary teams are the same for the third year in a row, although there are two inter-brand matches, with Michael Cole and Tazz of Smackdown covering one and Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler of Raw covering the other. That’s why interbrand stuff annoys me the rest of the year: it feels like it means more come WrestleMania time. And really, how many times can you hear Cole or JR say “Hey wait a minute, he’s not on this show; what is he DOING here?” without ruining the freshness of the invasion? If there’s ever a company that can botch invasions, it’s WWE.

-Lillian Garcia performs America the Beautiful before the action starts, and beautiful it is. The song was pretty fetching as well. The set for the event may be the best WrestleMania set-up ever, with a giant marquee next to the titan tron to advertise the match that’s next, and a red carpet leading to the ring. It’s like a Hollywood premiere, without the Rivers women asking dumb questions. Though Melissa asking Giant Gonzalez “WHO YA WEAR-ING?” would be a highlight to say the least.

-The final movie trailer airs to open the show, with Steve Austin playing Gladiator. They couldn’t get Bischoff to play Commodus?

-Quick shout out to reader Cole Yeager, who I neglected to mention in my WrestleMania XX rant, even though he appeared on camera and I promised him a mention. So Cole, here ya go brother. Thanks for the support.

-Also of note, before the show, Booker T won a 28 man battle royal as consolation for not giving him an actual PPV match. I’m sure whoever explained to him that he’d been bumped for semi-known sumo wrestler had their work cut out for him.

-Up first, Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero square off, even though they’re the reigning WWE Tag Team Champions. That’s promising. “We have no teams on the horizon worth facing you, so you’ll just face each other”. That’s only slightly more promising than World Tag Team Champions William Regal and Tajiri being relegated to the pre-show battle royal. This is the kind of stuff that drives a man like Jim Cornette nuts. That, and things that are trendy.

-The two begin, as one would suspect, with their usual cirque de soilei routine, which the highlight of it is Rey landing a sunset flip out of a mercy lock, and Eddie rolling through to do a slingshot which sends Rey to the outside. This leads to a cat and mouse chase where Rey tries to lure Eddie into a 619, but Guerrero avoids it. About what you’d expect from these two.

-The match keeps progressing swimmingly, but on at least two occasions, the momentum is halted when Rey’s mask, which is slitted apart in the back for style reasons, keeps coming loose, prompting him to re-adjust it and slightly break character. After Guerrero spent their entire Halloween Havoc match trying to rip it off, it’s weird to see him slow down to let Rey fix it. Weird indeed.

-Guerrero slows it down with an STF and a hammerlock, and was probably telling Rey “If you can’t keep your mask on straight, you’ll never be a World Champion like me!” and Rey’s probably all “Don’t worry, I’ll be a World Champion BECAUSE of you”. I’m sure Guerrero didn’t think twice about that, and it’s probably for the best. By the way, the joke was not meant to mock death, but rather exploitation, which deserves mockery. Especially in this case.

-After countering the three amigos with a rana, Rey tries the 619, but Guerrero counters with a tilt a whirl backbreaker. I think that was Eddie’s best move, personally.

-Rey manages to hit the 619 for real, but the Dime Drop goes badly as Eddie lands a powerbomb for 2. Rey finally comes back and gets a twirling rana and double leg hook for the win. Awkward moments aside, this was a tremendous way to open the show, especially in front of a crowd that’s generally known for being quiet. The two shake hands afterward, but they’d eventually feud through the summer. Guerrero, of course, passed away just seven months later, and is definitely missed by all. As it is, it’s a damn good final WrestleMania match for him.

-Meanwhile, HHH and Ric Flair confront JBL and his Cabinet of Orlando Jordan and The Bashams. If Evolution was the Lakers (wrought with egos, despite their star power) then the Cabinet would have to be the 1991 UNLV team that won the National Title, except they’re no pros. Sure, JBL may be Larry Johnson, but OJ and the Bashams are definitely Anderson Hunt, Stacey Augmon, and George Ackles. For the six of you who get that joke, you’re welcome.

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-Next up, the first ever Money in the Bank match, which was a Raw affair. As opposed to a raw affair, which is what Edge and Lita were having. Speaking of Edge, it’s him, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Christian, Kane, and IC Champion Shelton Benjamin vying for the Marsellus Wallace briefcase. I always thought it was funny, since in canon, Jericho’s the one who pitched the match concept to GM Eric Bischoff, and Bischoff approved. So that’s the first idea of Jericho’s that Bischoff went with since….well, ever.

-The workrate five try to fight Kane in the aisleway during his entrance, but all get beaten down briskly. This is the kind of stuff that drives a man like Wade Keller nuts.

-After a plancha parade, Kane is the first one to gain access to a ladder and he bashes on-comers, but Jericho lands a missle dropkick to take him down.

-Benoit’s the first climb attempter, but Kane clasps him for a chokeslam attempt, which is countered into a Crossface. Edge saves for some reason, so he gets a Crossface. Well, that’s Benoit’s MO; as he’s not going to stop until everybody stops moving. Ahem.

-Now for the first, and last, bit of MITB psychology, as Kane smashes Benoit’s arm inside a ladder, an injury that Benoit would sell until the end of the match. It’s those little things that add to the whole.

-Edge and Christian get Kane with a con-ladder-to. FIVE SECOND POSE TIME! Or not. Curses!

-Benjamin entrenches himself as a name value wrestler by hitting the T-Bone onto Edge off of the ladder. And everybody wonders why every three months, Edge suffers an injury that sidelines him through the forthcoming midterms.

-Shelton tops himself by running up a sloped ladder and leaping off to clothesline a climbing Jericho. Truly breathtaking, but you’ll notice Christian holding the ladder steady so that Benjamin didn’t slip. That’s not a criticism, that’s WWE making sure that the spot doesn’t fail by using subtle help techniques. That’s why Botchamania’s littered with complicated moves from TNA and ROH. Sure, WWE has their share, but at least they think outside the box and make things as fail-safe as possible. I like that.

-Tomko tries to aid Christian by doing the electric chair walk up the ladder, but Kane puts a stop to that. With that, Tomko gets more WrestleMania screen time than most. This is the kind of stuff that drives a man like Lance Storm nuts.

-It comes down to Benoit climbing after taking Kane out with a diving headbutt, but Edge runs in and bashes The Crippler’s arm with a chair, allowing himself to make the unimpeded climb up to claim the briefcase. I should also note that Edge’s heel heat was unlike any he’d had before, due to the Lita affair. Great match, and it proved that you can do a stuntshow without tables and chairs (well, except for the final spot). Edge, of course, would cash in his shot nine months later against John Cena to ingrain himself as a main eventer. Edge may even be the most complete wrestler ever, next to Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels, Steve Austin, and Chris Jericho, in terms of having no flaws as a performer. Of course, that’s subjective.

-To waste a little time, Eugene comes out to just ramble, but is interrupted by Muhammad Hassan and Daivari. Apparently, the mentally handicapped are frowned upon by wannabe foreigners, because they attack Eugene, and then lock him in a hold that reminds you to visit camelclutchblog.com for the lastest in sports, wrestling, and even American Idol!

-Then, just to pop the crowd, “Real American” hits to bring out the Hulkster, as the crowd goes NUCLEAR. Bad word choice, given the gimmicks on display, I know. Hogan clears the ring of the faux-reigners, and then poses alone. He’s not gonna help Eugene up and pose with him? Apparently, the mentally handicapped are frowned upon by real Americans, brother.

-Highlight package for Undertaker-Orton. It was only in the weeks before the event did Orton officially turn heel. Up until then, he was a plucky jock babyface who got to kiss Stacy Keibler regularly. In order to effectively turn someone heel, we’d have to want to boo him. Well, mission accomplished.

-Undertaker makes his entrance on a magical skateboard, which I hereby declare to be way cooler than his various motorcycles. Remember, kids: motorcycles are for people who never learned how to pedal.

-Orton tries to outwrestle Taker in the early going, and I’m amazed by Orton’s growth as a performer. He could never make it as a babyface, so they turned him heel. Once heel, the fans hated for reasons other than his character (his real life bad attitude, the fact that he was pushed too hard, etc), but they kept pushing him. Sure enough, he finally got over by….beating faces like John Cena and Triple H, who are also ones who don’t get the crowd reactions needed to match their giant pushes. So thus they turn Orton face by having him destroy Legacy and, thus, he becomes the babyface they wanted all along. See? The fans ARE breakable.

-Taker catches Orton with Old School in the early going. When someone hits one of their big moves early, it means one of two things: either there’s big stuff planned for later and they’re just getting this out of the way, or that the person who hit it doesn’t own a watch. There’s no middle ground.

-Every time Undertaker hits Snake Eyes while wearing a singlet and leather pants, why do I think of Kevin Nash at a doomer’s rave?

-Orton hammers with ten punches in the corner, but stops on nine to pose, and finds himself in a Last Ride attempt, because Orton, you know, had never seen Taker wrestle before. He drops out of the Ride and tries the RKO, but Taker shoves him off into the ref. Ruh-roh!

-The lack of a referee means Cowboy Bob Orton can run in and hit Taker with his old and possibly disgusting cast. Randy makes the cover and only gets two (Bob: “WHAT THE F—“). Taker lays out Bob again and tries a chokeslam on Randy, who counters with the RKO! We all figured that Orton had the streak ended, but Taker managed to kick out.

-Finally Orton tries a Tombstone, but Taker reverses into his own (really spiking Randy’s head) for the win to move to 13-0. Really good match…..when’s the last time WrestleMania opened with three good to great matches? This has to be some sort of record.

-Trish-Christy highlights. And the streak ends at 3.

-Trish Stratus is here to defend the WWE Women’s Title against Christy Hemme, who is seconded by an injured (and Pariahed) Lita. Let’s just say the match is four minutes of Christy doing the most basic of moves, only to have Trish repeatedly mock her, basically carry her, and then easily pin her with the Chick Kick. And to think, Christy carried that pillow fight with Carmella.

-WWE knew by year’s end that Christy was mostly useless and released her. Christy also is going on four years employment in TNA. There’s a lesson in there, and it’s that performers who aren’t ready shouldn’t be out there wrestling. This is the kind of stuff that drives a woman like Lacey Von Erich nuts.

-Highlights of Kurt Angle/Shawn Michaels air. Which was cooler: The Rockers reuniting for one night, complete with old music, or Angle and Sherri doing their version of Michaels’ theme for Kurt? I’m going with Kurt’s, because Shawn wore his HBK attire for the Rocker reunion and ruined the whole effect. Way to ruin the whole effect, Shawn!

-You’d be tempted to just slap a ***** rating on there automatically, but let’s watch it since, you know, it’s excellent. The now standard one-upsmanship wrestling sequence opens it. Anyone else a sucker for t he arm scissors-turned Backlund lift-turned reversal into a pin sequence that Michaels and Angle just executed? Or do you have no idea what the hell I’m talking about?

-After clotheslining Angle to the floor, Shawn begins to clean off a table. Why? I love it when a wrestler is about to use a commentary desk as a weapon and he meticulously removes the monitors because “Gosh, they may hurt someone!”. Of all people, it was Kevin Nash who simply powerbombed Shawn onto one and the monitors landed on Shawn’s torso, and it looked PAINFUL. And awesome too. When Nash is the height of manliness, there’s a problem.

-After Shawn breaks the count, Angle hammers away to come back, and then winds up slamming Michaels into the post with the Angle Slam. Well, if you’re going to injure another man, at least be creative doing it, I guess.

-Angle continues to punish with wear down submissions and belly to bellies inside. But what about the table? Man, you can’t just tease us like that!

-Crap, Angle’s doing the sodomizer suplex on the apron again. I’m done with the Patterson jokes for these rants, just let me be.

-Michaels ends up kicking Angle off and into the Smackdown table, just so Shawn can do a sweet reverse crossbody onto Angle, and the table doesn’t break. Um. Ouch.

-Shawn’s Sweet Chin Music attempt is caught in an ankle lock, but after much squirming, he gets to the ropes. Angle tries for his Slam, but Shawn sunsets his way out of it. Shawn tries the SCM again, but spins free of an ankle lock attempt, only to be hit by an Angle Slam for 2. Angle then gets desperate and tries a moonsault, but there’s no water in the pool. Shawn heads up top himself, but Angle springs to life and gets a running leaping Angle Slam for 2! I’m out of breath now. I need a nap badly.

-During this sequence, Angle pulled his singlet straps back up just so he could pull them down again, which is remarkably awesome for reasons that I cannot humanly describe.

-So, yeah, Angle’s pissed that Shawn won’t stay down, and then he screams in his face while picking him up (“WHERE IS HE?!!?!?!?”, oh wait), but Shawn catches the SCM out of nowhere. Shawn gets the arm across for 2, but Angle gets the shoulder up at the last second. A disoriented Shawn gets up, but Angle takes him down with yet another ankle lock and, this time, as Angle sinks it in, Shawn taps out after a struggle to give Angle the win. Wow. Just an incredible match all around from two of the best pros ever, and it led to bigger things for both. Namely, Shawn playing Beefcake 2.0 to Hulk Hogan’s return, and Angle threatening to engage in barnyard copulation with Sharmell. Well, they can’t ALL be great ideas.

-For the faux trailers, the award for “Best Punch Line” went to Christian’s “I Love You” in the Basic Instinct trailer. Not only was that trailer fun because of Stacy in the Sharon Stone role, but for Chris Jericho as Michael Douglas’ character, looking oddly like him. Which Douglas movie would you like to see Jericho try: Falling Down or Wall Street? I think either would rule.

-To waste some time, we get a Piper’s Pit segment where Rowdy Roddy Piper and Stone Cold Steve Austin have a verbal discourse, but Carlito interrupts and gets beaten up. Then Austin beats up Piper. I guess it was alright, but Piper was less angry and incoherent than usual, so I can’t really go the full gore on it.

-Best Trailer goes to the Taxi Driver takeoff, which included Snitsky. Well, I can see why it won.

-Sumo match. Big Show. Akebono. THONGS. GOOD GOD!

-Akebono wins, due to the little known clause that states in part: “Big Show must always lose at WrestleMania”. Fortunately, Vince was too busy preparing for his match the following year and Show was able to sneak in a victory. Good on you, Paul. Two big men in thongs was still a poor use of WrestleMania time. This is the kind of stuff that drives a man like Pat Patterson nuts. In an elated way. Yeah yeah, had to get one more in….

-JBL-Cena video package. Once upon a time, we were all rooting for John Cena to win his first world title. I can’t BELIEVE that this was 2005.

-JBL gets a lavish entrance, complete with police motorcade for his limousine, and money depicting his face falling from the ceiling. So in other words, Pacman Jones ripped off JBL. Now we know.

-Quick tangent: I honestly find JBL to be one of the most refreshing and interesting champions in recent memory, despite what the ratings and buyrates say. I was tired of main events where the heels were so cool that you couldn’t help but cheer them. The whole thing felt like a Bond movie, where the hero and the villain are both so innately talented and charismatic that you cheer both. The world needed a heel was cowardly, unlikeable, boisterous, and someone who the marks would loathe. Enter JBL, who did his job to a tee. He never would have become champion if the smarks and CNBC hadn’t freaked out over the Munich incident. If you show any heel wrestler utter disdain, even if it’s real, then he’ll get a push. If you cheer a heel, he’s turned face. If you don’t wanna see the likes of JBL as champion, then ignore him, don’t get mad. Simple as that.

-So Cena gets mostly dominated, and already us fans have figured out the story in our heads. JBL dominates, Cena struggles to come back, finally turns the tide, finishers are exchanged, Cena wards off interference from the Cabinet, lands one final FU, and wins the title to overcome the odds that he’s so known for overcoming.

-JBL lands a couple of swinging neckbreakers without any heat. Pace should be quickening any minute now.

-Cena tries to turn the tide, but eats a spinebuster and another neckbreaker. Yep, any minute now.

-JBL with a sleeper. I guess….this….is the heat segment? Yep, we’re getting closer! I can almost see Orlando Jordan, Doug Basham, and Danny Basham getting cued to run interference when Cena’s in control. Just a matter of waiting. Any minute now.

-JBL lands another neckbreaker on the floor. Ooh, we must be extending things to give Cena a more triumphant and emphatic comeback. Any minute now.

-Big Cena comeback sequence! Fisherman’s suplex! Shoulderblocks! Spin-out powerbomb! Five Knuckle Shuffle! Get ready, here comes the flurry of interference!

-JBL misses the Clothesline from Hell, Cena with the FU! Here comes the kicko—err, Cena wins? Really? Well then, how about that. Match was merely okay, but is that the best way to begin Cena’s first reign as champion? I remember the viewing party was stunned that it was over so fast, given that JBL’s character was a sniveling coward and he got 75% of the offense. But hey, I liked Cena a lot at this point and I was happy to see him as champion. So great.

-Howard Finkel (#21!) introduces Mean Gene, who introduces the 2005 HOF Class. Each inductee is escorted by a diva that befits his personality: Nikolai Volkoff (w/ Michelle McCool, who is just as boring), Iron Sheik (w/ Candice Michelle, who is just as crippled), Paul Orndorff (w/ Miss Jackie, who squints a lot), Bob Orton (w/ Maria, who was also fired from WWE for stupid reasons), Jimmy Hart (w/ the underrated Joy Giovanni, who is the same height), Roddy Piper (w/ Torrie Wilson, who flounded in WCW), and Hulk Hogan (w/ Stacy Keibler, who can’t act either). All things considered, maybe my favorite HOF class.

-HHH-Batista recap. It was a rare time when someone was allowed to outsmart HHH at every turn. No wonder the fans fell in love with Batista.

-Motorhead plays HHH out, and the rendition is better than the WMX7 version, especially when Hunter rises like Gangrel through the stage. Good stuff. This is, of course, for the World Heavyweight Title, and it’s Batista’s chance to win his first major singles belt.

-Good power stuff early on, with each man countering each other at every turn. If I live to be 100, I’ll never get tired of seeing Triple H get press slammed.

-Much like the last match, this one was affected by weird booking. If Batista is your monster babyface of the future, it’d make sense to have him be a little more dominant. Here’s Trips slowing things down with an extended heat segment, which I usually have no problem with, but Batista’s supposed to be this savage monster who cannot be quelled. Granted, HHH was a “mentor” for Big Dave and should be able to outsmart him in some ways, but the booking for the match saw Batista outsmarting HIM. Odd.

-After a good 8-10 minutes of HHH dominating, Batista backdrops himself out of a Pedigree attempt. Thank God. This was turning into the slowest emasculation since the life of Ottis Toole.

-Finally, the match spills to the floor to give it a chance to get exciting. And it does, when Batista slingshots Hunter into the post, busting him open. And it’s a gusher, too.

-Batista pounds away at the open wound in a fashion that would make ECW fans happier than happy. He’s like Axl Rotten, but with six abs instead of one.

-Just because he’s out there, Ric Flair is contractually obligated to get beaten up. So he attacks Batista and gets slammed hard on the concrete. Attaboy Naitch.

-Back inside, after a ref bump, Flair tries again to interfere, but eats a spinebuster. Batista eats the belt (not literally, but that would be awesome), but kicks out on 2. After a spinebuster, Hunter low blows out of the Batista Bomb. He tries the Pedigree, but Big Dave blocks the jump, breaks the hands apart, and then drops Hunter with a modified Emerald Fusion. Great sequence.

-After the thumbs down, Batista slams HHH down with the Batista Bomb for his first career World Title. Weird match that was boring in parts, but felt epic in others. The need for Batista to have to fight from underneath didn’t seem to fit things, especially when he proved to be smarter than Hunter in the weeks and months leading to the event. Maybe the match just felt blasé because of the great action earlier in the night, but it was still a satisfying conclusion.

-Highlight package to end things. Were royalties for “Bigtime” by Soundtrack of Our Lives that high that we get a generic song?

-CYNIC SAYS: It’s a very agreeable show, in that the matches were satisfying and there was a minimum of no names. I like it when you get mostly cream-of-the-crop performers on the biggest show of the year. Can’t really complain about that.

But in the end, the right people won, and the booking was about 90% solid. What more can you ask for?

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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Justin Henry

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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