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OO PPV RECAP
WWE WrestleMania XX
March 14, 2004

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

It was a show that did not linger on the past...  and in some ways, the lack of historical perspective was a bit disappointing.  But that absence of guest stars or surprises was offset by an overall vibe that would have to give any wrestling fan a lot of confidence about the near future.

In a scene that would have been considered the most ridiculous of smark fan wet dreams four years ago -- one that would even have been deemed highly unlikely just six months ago -- Chris Benoit made Triple H tap out to win the World Title in the main event of WrestleMania XX.  And then he celebrated in the ring with WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero to close the show.

Benoit and Eddie: the two most decorated men in the business.  Who'd a thunk it?

Some may take the opportunity to gloat over their favorites finally getting their due, or some such nonsense, but the simple fact is that this is not about WWE making a move to appease some subset of its fanbase.  It's about giving the big titles to guys they believe are deserving and who they think can carry the company.  On a show like tonight's, where the focus was in the ring from bell to bell, you couldn't ask for two better guys to have carrying the load than Benoit and Guerrero.

Here's how it all went down at the just-completed WWE WrestleMania XX pay-per-view [with additional editorial thoughts tacked on in red italics]:

  • Cold open inside the arena for "America the Beautiful," as sung by the Harlem Boys' Choir.  Beats the hell out of Limp Bizkit...
  • Then the opening montage: Vince McMahon stepped into frame and introduced a series of clips that highlighted key WrestleMania moments from the past.  It kinda sounded like it was being narrated by Alec Baldwin, but that couldn't be right, could it?  When the piece concluded, we pulled back from a close up on Vince McMahon to reveal Shane McMahon standing next to him.... and his new baby boy in his arms.  Not sure what the point there was other than to get all three generations of McMahons in one shot....
  • Pyro and Welcome: we start with a howdy from Jim Ross and Tazz.  They kick it over to the Spanish Announce Team.  And they, in turn, send it over to Tazz and Michael Cole, which is fitting because we're not wasting any more time....
  • John Cena beat the Big Show to win the US Title. Prior to the match, Cena played to the crowd, and did a rap that probably won't end up on his greatest hits collection.  But the fans were still eating it up; punchline rhymed something about his "custom brass knucks" and "Big Show sucks."  Whheeee!  Back and forth to start, but Show eventually slowed things down with a cobra clutch about 3 or 4 minutes in and stayed in control for several minutes.  Pretty methodical, but in the "Good Big Show Match" kind of way.  Cena was over enough that the fans spent the entire time into it and trying to get him to fire up.  Which he did.  He Cena'ed Up, and hit an F-U... but Big Show kicked out.  Cena was not sure how to follow up, and eventually settled on grabbing his chain to use as a foreign object.  Predictably, the ref put the kibosh on that... but that was OK, because it was all just an Eddie-style ruse, anyway: while the ref was preoccupied with putting the chain away, Cena immediately turned and used one of his sets of custom knucks (see, it all fits together!) to slug Show in the head.  Then he followed up with a second F-U for the pinfall win.  Maybe 8 or 9 minutes all told.  [Nothing breathtaking here, but like I said, Cena's over enough that this formula worked great.  Outstanding choice for an opener, really.  And to be honest, the visual of Show being hoisted up for the F-U never gets old.  Damn.]
  • Backstage: Coach is prowling the hallways, and passed Teddy Long, who gets his requisite 20 seconds of TV time.  Then it's into Eric Bischoff's office.  Because Bischoff needs TV time, too, I guess.  Bischoff says his sources say the Undertaker is in the building, and even though he's a SD! guy, he wants Coach to go find him for a "RAW Exclusive" interview.  Coach is hesitant, but accepts the mission...
  • Pre-taped promo: Randy Orton, flanked by Batista and Ric Flair, talked us through the highlights of his feud with Mick Foley.  They taped the promo in the very stairwell where Orton tossed Foley down some stairs to start the feud some 9 months ago.  On a show where every match got a slick music video-type package, this is a kind of nice change of pace, to have the heels presenting the story with their voice-overs/narration.
  • Rob Van Dam and Booker T retained the World Tag Team Titles in a four-way match.  A bunch of different combinations to start the match, but one of the champs stayed in at all times (which made sense, considering the "sudden death" rules).  A few minutes in, things settled down with Booker T isolated by a constantly shifting set of opponents.  He was, maybe about 7-8 minutes in, able to get the hot tag to RVD, who came in and waited for all four heels to attack Stupid Ninja Style.  Then, that left nothing to do except for the two babyface teams to square off.  Which they did.  But before the Duds could land a 3-D, Garrison Cade broke things up, setting off a Pier Six Brawl.  In the chaos, the Duds and Cade/Jindrak powdered out, leaving RVD/Booker to deal with La Resistance.  I think it was Conway who took the scissors kick and the got Five Star Frog Splashed.  About 10 minutes.  [Seemed pretty tepid and directionless, but with eight guys to split the work, this still moved pretty quickly.  No huge complaints about the execution here.  Anything that was lacking was not due to the work done here, but to the work done in the weeks leading up to the match.]
  • Backstage: Coach is on the case, looking for the Undertaker.  He happens upon a door that is flapping spookily.  He approaches it trepidatiously... and out pops Mean Gene Okerlund.  He is disheveled and that MIGHT be lipstick on his face.  Coach, dense as he is, is actually curious about what's going on.  Moron.  But then out pops... Bobby Heenan?  Yeah, the Brain was in there, too, and he's equally disheveled.  But it's not what Coach thinks: they were, uh, just playing cards, or something.  Now Coach is more confused than curious...  and HERE's the punchline.  Out come the Fabulous Moolah and Mae Young, as horny as ever.  They drag Gene and Bobby back into their lair as the rest of us try to figure out some way to apply steel wool to our mind's eye...  cuz that four-way is one scary visual.
  • Video Package: those hijinx provide the perfect segue to a love story of another sort... the Jericho/Trish/Christian six-month-long story arc.
  • Christian beat Chris Jericho with an assist from Trish Stratus.  Quick start for Jericho, who was at his Avenging Babyface best out of the gate.  That went on for a bit, with a couple big highspots, including a springboard plancha... but Christian put an end to that by backdropping Jericho over the top rope a few minutes in.  That took the starch out of Jericho, and probably tweaked his already-bad knee.  So of course, Christian found himself a focal point for his attack.  Jericho managed a decoy comeback about 8 minutes in, hit a bunch of moves in a row, but then Christian took the edge back by blocking an attempted Lionsault.  He also went back to work on the knee, even busting out a Texas Cloverleaf at one point.  Jericho managed to power out of that, setting up his real comeback about 12 minutes in.  He built up to a Walls of Jericho, but Christian managed to get to the ropes, and then, when Jericho wouldn't release the hold, he even pulled himself outside the ring.  Jericho STILL wouldn't release the hold until the ref threatened him with a DQ.  Jericho took it back into the ring, and managed to hit a superplex.  But it took a lot out of both guys.  So as the ref administered a double count, Trish Stratus made her widely-anticipated appearance.  She promptly began cheering.  Kind of ambiguously, too; Christian managed to regain the edge, and when Jericho kicked out of a wicked DDT, she didn't cheer that, which kind of led me to fear the worst.... but then: she got up on the apron and started distracting Christian.  And Christian wound up shoving her down in a corner.  Jericho saw that, and tossed Christian from the ring, and then went up behind Trish to help her.  But she could tell who it was behind her, and she flailed with an elbow that hit Jericho in the face.  Christian was in position to take advantage: he rolled Jericho up, got a handful of tights, and scored the pin after about 15 very entertaining minutes.  
  • After the match: Trish looked really sad about causing the loss, and was pleading her case to Jericho.  Christian stood at ringside and watched the spectacle for a bit.  Jericho decided to forgive Trish and go after Christian instead....  and that's when things went south.  She tried to restrain Jericho, and then slapped him in the face when he tried to get past her to get to Christian.  Stunned, Jericho was easy pickin's for an Unprettier.  Christian and Trish left together... pausing only at the top of the ramp to make out once they were sure that Jericho was again conscious and watching.  You better believe that got some Oooohs and Aahhhhhs.  [Very good old school kind of match.  I think JR even referenced Steamboat/Savage at one point, which is no doubt the kind of fast-paced, false-finish-laden vibe they were going for for the first 14 minutes of the match.  Then the storyline kicked in.  And it was pretty well done, too.  I know I wanted the happy ending, but from the looks of things, this is a fine call: it means the feud continues, for one.  And for another, as good as Trish was at being that ridiculously sympathetic vanilla babyface, there was something pretty hot about her first display of actual personality -- an Evil Smile -- that makes me think she and Christian will click really well as heels. She'll help him more than she ever would have helped Jericho, if nothing else.]
  • Backstage: Lillian Garcia attempted to interview Mick Foley, but the segment was quickly hijacked by the Rock, who took the mic, and took us on a bit of a tour of backstage (cameos from Hurricane/Rosey, Snuka, and Don Muraco) with pretty humorous results.
  • Ric Flair, Randy Orton, and Batista beat Mick Foley and the Rock.  Jumpstart to the match, as Rock and Foley stormed the ring and cleaned house.  Then the Rock settled in for a bit, and did some cool one-ups-man-ship with Flair.  When Rock tagged in Foley, he went right after Randy Orton.  The two brawled for a few minutes (including some around ringside) before Mick decided to give Rocky another shot.  He and Flair really seemed to be clicking together, and fans were eating their exchanges up. Batista came in and took over on Rock, who eventually had to tag in Foley again... and that's when we hit a groove: of watching Foley get his ass kicked.  As always seems to be the case, moves on Mick Foley seem to be amplified by a factor of 3 or 4, just because in your head, you're thinking "Dammit, Mick, you don't have to do this anymore."  But he does it.  The coup de grace tonight was a sick looking bump into the steel ring steps.  After about 8 minutes of punishment, Foley was finally able to hot tag the Rock.  He came in and put down Orton, but then got caught from behind by Batista.  Foley came in and took care of him, while Flair saw an opening.  To a HUGE pop, Flair did a hilarious Prelude to the People's Elbow.  But at the penultimate moment, Rock nipped up and caught Flair with a quick spinebuster... which got some boos, actually.  Don't know if the fans just really wanted to see the Flair Elbow, or if maybe the MSG fans are savvy enough to be pissed off about Rocky showing up and cutting promos about being "back home" when he didn't mention wrestling a single time on the "Tonight Show" this past week...  Rock set up and delivered the People's Elbow on Flair, modified to include a little mini-Flair Strut, which again was met with a kind of mixed reaction.  WM18 all over again?  Not quite.  Sounds like 85% of fans were still WAY behind Rock...  After hitting the People's Elbow, Rock was caught by Orton with a blow, and then that opened the door for Batista to hit his powerbomb finisher.  But Rock kicked out, and managed to make a tag to Foley.  Foley came in a house afire, and once it was down to him and Orton, he yanked out Mr. Socko... but after a pair of reversals, Orton turned the attempted Mandible Sock into an RKO out of nowhere for the surprise pinfall win.  Evolution looked as stunned as anyone as they left.  Meantime, in the ring, Foley was crestfallen, and Rock appeared... frustrated by being on the losing team?  But he put it aside and raised Foley's hand as the crowd chanted for Foley to end the segment.  [Twenty minutes of EXACTLY what I wanted... at least up until the end.  I figured we'd get the Legend Killing of Mick Foley at a later point in time, in a one-on-one match against Orton.  Leaving us to do a happy ending here in what is sort of a throw-away tag match without much significance.  Oh well.  Really fun, though.  Flair, Rock, and Foley just could do no wrong with these fans, and Orton and Batista were admirably competent so they didn't drag things down at all.]
  • Video package: a recap of last night's Hall of Fame ceremony.  Most everybody got a clip, but the most touching one was Bobby Heenan breaking down and crying in the middle of his speech, saying he wished Monsoon could be there with him.
  • Hall of Fame Class of 2004: Mean Gene Okerlund MC'ed a brief introduction of the 11 men inducted into the Hall up on the stage.  Biggest pops were for Jesse Ventura, Bobby Heenan, and Sgt. Slaughter.  Huge heat on Pete Rose, which the Fed pretty much glossed over.  And of course everybody else got nice little ovations, too: Superstar Billy Graham, Tito Santana, Greg Valentine, Don Muraco, Harley Race, John Minton Jr. ("Little John Studd?" He was representing his dad, Big John Studd), and Latoya Ritter (standing for her dad Sylvester "Junkyard Dog" Ritter).  With the exception of Jesse, that was the end of the night for any legends/guests.
  • Torrie Wilson and Sable beat Stacy Keibler and Miss Jackie in an Evening Gown Match, kind of.  Before the match even started, Sable announced that her outfit was "too constricting," so she wanted to take it off.  Not wanting to be one-upped, the other girls all got nekkid, too.  Except for Miss Jackie, who apparently found Class at some point in the last week.  So Torrie and Sable yanked her in and ripped her gown off too.  OK, so now we're all starting even.  At least now I understand why they made the rules "Pinfall or Submission Only" instead of "First to get the other team naked."  So the four commence to doing actual wrestling spots in their lingerie.  There was one really lengthy series of near falls and reversals between Stacy and Torrie that was pretty memorable: if you like chain wrestling, this was quite competently done.  And if you like an endless stream of crotch- and ass-shots and girls with their faces between another woman's thighs, well, they had a little something for you, too.  Thank god they let Tazz and Cole call this one...  Lawler would have been unbearable.  After about 3 minutes of this, Torrie hit a roll-up on Jackie, maybe used a handful of lacy underthing, and got the pinfall.  [No complaints here.  Tweren't brain surgery, but it had its appeal, and it ended well before it got tedious.]
  • Backstage: Eddie Guerrero, sporting his WWE Title, walked in on Chris Benoit, who was pacing nervously before his World Title Match.  Eddie, ostensibly trying to fire Benoit up with talk about how big his match would be tonight, wound up getting on Benoit's nerves.  Benoit sensed that Eddie didn't believe in him, but that was OK, because Benoit believes in Benoit.  Eddie smiled at that point and said that's what he wanted to hear: the intensity in Benoit's voice, the confidence.  As Benoit walked away, Eddie said, "I believe, Chris.  I believe, too."
  • Chavo Guerrero survived a 10 Man Cruiserweight Open to retain his Cruiserweight Title.  Rules were two guys in the ring at all times, when one was eliminated (by pin, submission, count-out, or DQ), the next guy entered from his spot at ringside.  Order of entry was random except for Chavo, who as champ was given the last spot.  First two in were Ultimo Dragon (who almost pulled an Ottman, TWICE, during his ring entrance) and Shannon Moore.  Dragon dispatched Shannon in maybe one minute.  So that's how it's gonna be, eh?  Ultra-time-compressed, dammit.  Jamie Noble was in next, and pretty quickly managed to get Dragon to submit to a new sleeper-hold-y type thing.  Then Funaki was in, missed a move, and was immediately pinned (Cole theorized that it might have topped Bundy/Jones from WM1 in terms of quickest fall ever). Nunzio entered next and tried to play the "Hey, I think we're cousins, aren't we?" card.  But Noble had none of it.  The two went at it, and wound up having the first extended sequence of the night against each other.  They probably did 2 or 4 minutes until a trainwreck spot outside the ring (Noble plancha'ed Nunzio, I think).  Noble just barely beat the count back into the ring, but Nunzio was counted out.  Kidman was next in, and again they did a 2 minute thing: highlight of the match was here, as Nunzio tried to interfere, but he and Noble wound up getting Shooting Star Pressed from the middle of the top rope to the outside on the floor.  Holy shit, indeed.  Kidman under-rotated a bit, but the guys caught him so as to avoid anything Lesnar-esque.  Then Nunzio was gone, and Kidman went about the business of pinning Noble following a top rope BK Bomb.  We're MAYBE 7 minutes into this match... and now Rey Mysterio is in.  The Filthy Animals reunion lasts barely a minute before Rey pins Kidman.  Then, enter Tajiri, who also only got a minute before he was eliminated.  Interference went awry (Tajiri misted Akio instead of Rey, by accident), leading to Tajiri's demise.  Since Akio got the mist, he never even entered the match.  Instead, they jumped straight to Chavo entering.  And just when I was getting ready for them to at least give us an extended one-on-one to close out the match, Chavo Sr. interfered and helped give his son some leverage on a roll-up out of nowhere after barely two minutes of action.  Total match time: somewhere in the 10-12 minute range.  [Look, I know not everybody loves the cruisers as much as we internet fans do... but booking them like this is not the answer.  It upsets the pre-existing fans, and it does NOTHING to help get them over with the casual fans.  Ultra-time-condensed eliminations send the subtle message that they are easily-pinned pussies, and also doesn't give them the time to (a) hit a bunch of cool spots or (b) make the spots they do have time for mean as much.  If the format sheet read "Cruisers: 10 Minutes," then there's no good reason why they didn't just make it a straight-up Rey/Chavo match.  That would have been a billion times more useful than this infuriating, rapid-fire cock tease of a match.  Everything looked good, and it was never boring, but...  I don't know, this just wasn't the showcase it could have been.]
  • Video Package: Brock Lesnar. Bill Goldberg.  Steve Austin.  Steve Austin.  Steve Austin.  Got the (subliminal) message?
  • Bill Goldberg beat Brock Lesnar.  Austin, the special ref, came out to a huge pop.  Lesnar came out to big heat.  Goldberg came out to a mixed reaction that was maybe 60/40 in favor of cheers.  Then they did a really long opening bit where Lesnar and Goldberg let the fans have their fun.  They chanted "You Sold Out" and sang the "Na na na na hey hey hey goodbye" song.  Even Jim Ross had to acknowledge that there were "rumors" about Lesnar considering leaving wrestling for the NFL.  When Lesnar and Goldberg finally locked up in a test of strength, struggled for about 90 seconds, and then gave it up.  Fans were getting restless.  When they repeated the exact same spot twice, the fans were officially in mutiny mode, and were chanting that both guys sucked (or maybe "This Match Sucks").  They kept to the script, though, doing the "parity" gimmick that worked so well for Hogan/Warrior but which tanked badly on this night.  Fans busted out the "Boring" chant.  Finally, Lesnar settled in for some actual offense when Goldberg missed a spear following about six or seven minutes of (non-)action.  Lesnar kept it going for a few minutes, getting heat on himself the whole way.  Problem was that fans were also peppering in "Goldberg Sucks" chants, so it wasn't the kind of useful heat, the kind where fans are waiting for the comeback.  Lesnar seemed to end the torture at about the 12 minute mark, hitting an F-5.  But Goldberg kicked out.  Lesnar accused Austin of slow-counting, and that allowed Goldberg the time he needed to recover.  He went for another Spear, and this time, he hit it.  But he only got a 2-count.  He went nose-to-nose with Austin, but instead of bitching up a storm, he instead went straight to a second Spear, and then a Jackhammer.  This time, Lesnar stayed down for three.  Goldberg left to more cheers than boos, and stood in the aisle, watching as Lesnar came to and confronted Austin.  Austin wasted no time administering a Stunner to a huge pop.  Thanks for 2 years, Brock, and there's your parting gift.  Austin started tossing down some beers, when Goldberg decided he'd like to play along.  So Austin gave him two beers... and then kicked him in the gut and Stunnered him, too!  Big pop.  Play Austin's music, and let him celebrate, since he'll actually be on TV next week!  [Oddly compelling in a car wreck kind of way, but certainly not "good" on any level.  The ringwork was far from tight, the sluggishness at the start really set the tone for fans caring more about Austin and the behind-the-scenes drama than either guy in the match, and the climax with Austin "going over" both guys underscored it all.  I guess credit to all involved: this is how you do business on  your way out, and I don't think I honestly expected either guy to go down that quietly or for things to go so smoothly.]
  • Mania Administrivia: they did some outside-the-building pyro, and then did the announcement of WrestleMania 21 coming at us from the Staples Center in Los Angeles (NOT WrestleMania XXI, FYI, so the Roman Numerals things might be a thing of the past).  Then Vince came out on the stage and thanked the fans for helping him make WrestleMania what it is today.  No love for Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, Mr. T, Cyndi Lauper, or anyone else...  Just Vince and the fans made WM, I guess....
  • Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty retained the WWE Tag Team Titles in a four-way match.  This was pretty much the "reset" match, I think, starting the second half of the show before building up to the big finish.  Kish and Scotty actually didn't even get into the match until the End Game (which, opposite of the other tag match, made no sense given the Sudden Death rules), which came surprisingly quickly.  I don't even remember the particulars, but we wound up with a big Pier Sixer, and this time, it was Rikishi and one of the Bashams who were left alone in the ring at the end.  Kish squashed him with a sit-down splash, got the pin, and that was that.  Maybe 5 minutes, total.  After the match, Rikishi and Scotty danced, and god bless 'em, the MSG fans didn't really give two shits.  [Amazingly, even more forgettable than the RAW version of this match.  I would have thought that impossible.  But instead of building on any of the actual storytelling leading into this, they just went for the rush job and the champs retaining.  Not bad, mind you, but utterly unmemorable.]
  • Coming Soon: Edge.  Nice video hyping his return.
  • Like He Needs More Promotion: Donald Trump, from his ringside seat, was interviewed by Jesse Ventura.  Trump kissed Vince's ass and talked about what a great time he was having.  Jesse put himself over and hinted that the White House might need a wrestling in 2008, and he'd love to have Trump's support.  The Donald immediately pledged 100% of his backing to Jesse...  pointless fun and cheap pops, here.
  • Victoria defeated Molly Holly to retain the Women's Title and force a change of hair style for Molly.  The action was about what I would have predicted: not flashy, but exceptionally sound.  The heat, however, was not what I expected: there wasn't much.  Given the hair stip, I figured they might have been a bit keener on this than they were.  Not helping my frame of mind: Jerry Lawler went off on a mid-match tangent about panties that was so distractingly bad that even Jim Ross got caught up in it for a moment.  Oy.  Finish was a neat little sequence that started with Molly hitting a top rope sunset flip/powerbomb type move, and then finished with her trying to use Victoria's own Widow's Peak against her... but Victoria countered it into a quick roll-up to get the win after about 6 minutes.  After the match, Molly briefly gave us Shock and Confusion before moving directly into Attempt to Get Away... Victoria caught her, and the two brawled to the stage, where a barber chair was conveniently located.  Molly got the edge and almost started shaving Victoria's hair, but Victoria countered with a blast of hairspray to the eyes.  Molly was incapacitated and was strapped into the chair for her ritual humiliation.  When they briefly cut back to her after the Angle/Eddie video package, they had her down to the skull: they actually did it.  Poor Molly.  [Decent match, nice shenanigans afterwards, too.  Sort of got you worried they might puss out on the stip, then made me think maybe they'd pull a swerve where psycho Molly cut Victoria's hair.  And then the actual pay-off, which like I said Friday SHOULD have the effect of guaranteeing Molly a spot as the top women's heel for a few months.  Then, well, it'll probably be time for Heel Trish to do something other than make us all insanely jealous of Christian with games of weekly grab-ass, but till then, it's Molly's spot...]
  • Video Package: Eddie Guerrero liked drugs.  Kurt Angle does not like Eddie Guerrero.
  • Eddie Guerrero pinned Kurt Angle to retain the WWE Title.  Right out of the gate, Eddie was over huge, and Angle was getting a mixed reaction.  The guy's just that good: even when he's being a phenomenal prick, fans realize he's awesome and mostly just cheer for a good match.  Which they got.  Opening minutes were back and forth and chain-wrestling-y.  Eddie actually out-wrestled Kurt on a few exchanges.  After about 5 minutes, Angle took it down a peg, and introduced some pro-style wrestling and brawling.  Nonstop goodness for the next 15 minutes set up the finish.  After escaping the anklelock for the third time of the night, Eddie was really hurting... so he unlaced his boot to try to massage some feeling back in, or something.  Seemed odd, but sensible enough.  But it wasn't that at all!  Angle came back in, and went for the FOURTH anklelock of the match....  and in his hands, Eddie's boot came off.  A confused Kurt was quickly rolled-up -- and Eddie even used the ropes for extra leverage -- and that was that.  Pinfall for Eddie at the 22-24 minute mark.  [Really good stuff.  The ending was another Eddie Classic: crafty cheating that you almost have to tip your cap to, instead of getting upset about.  Not necessary on the Match of the Year radar, but really outstanding, with a perfect finish.]
  • Video Package: Kane buries Undertaker alive.  Undertaker returns.
  • Undertaker defeated Kane.  Story of the match was nothing special.  Taker out strong, Kane hits a move or two to briefly take control, Taker does the Zombie Sit-Up, follows up with a Tombstone, and wins via clean pinfall after maybe 5-6 minutes.  You're probably more interested in the extracurriculars and Taker's new/old look.  Paul Bearer WAS present in Taker's corner, and he was escorted to the ring by torch-carrying druids, but Taker didn't really bust out the Dead Man look.  Instead, what we got was a synthesis of the Dead Man and the BikerTaker: long leather duster and a hat.  Overall effect was more "Old West" than "Old School," if you wee-eel.  No Pete Rose, dammit.  [As glorified a squash as you could imagine.  But it was cool to see the next iteration of the Taker and fans ate it up.  I like the new look, too.  Just enough of the old Dead Man to be a bit more intimidating, but with the majority of it still being the grounded BikerTaker look, just without the stupid reliance on a motorcylce.]
  • Chris Benoit beat Triple H and Shawn Michaels to win the World Title.  Upfront: outstanding match.  Match of the Night, easily.  Probably my favorite match of the year so far.  And a strong candidate to maintain that spot come year's end, too.  Starting out, Benoit and Michaels took turns going after HHH, then pulling the other off so he could get shots in.  Finally, Michaels tossed Benoit from the ring, allowing him an extended sequence with HHH.  Then Michaels powdered out for a minute or two to allow Benoit some time.  They kind of went back and forth like that for the opening third of the match, then kicked it into another gear, with more three-way type spots.  About 9-10 minutes in, they hit the first near falls, which necessitated guys making saves and in general ramping up the feeling of uncertainty and tenuous alliances and all that good drama-y shit.  There was one cool spot where Benoit had HBK in the Crossface, and Michaels was about to tap out... but HHH reached in from outside the ring at the last second and physically blocked Michaels hand from tapping the mat.  Kinda cheesy, maybe, but somehow, it just seemed really cool in that spot.  About 12 minutes in, Benoit slingshot Michaels into the ringpost, and HBK came up sporting a wicked Crimson Mask.  A few minutes later, HHH joined the fray at ringside, setting up an awesome table spot.  HHH wanted to Pedigree Benoit on the Spanish Announce Table, but Michaels jumped in.  All three guys were brawling on the table, when HHH and HBK shared a look: they immediately teamed up and double suplexed Benoit from the Spanish Announce table through the adjacent SD! Announce Table.  "Holy Shit" #2 from the crowd.  HHH and HBK then proceeded to start brawling in earnest.  HHH went into the ringsteps and came up bleeding himself (only about 0.3 HBK, though).  HHH still came back strong, though, and at about the 20 minute mark, hit a Pedigree on Michaels... it seemed like it might be over, but Benoit had finally recovered and dove in for the save.  HBK was out after the Pedigree, and so Benoit and HHH did a couple tight minutes together, culminating in Benoit locking in a Sharpshooter to a MONSTER pop (Benoit was, from the start, the fan favorite, even over Michaels).  HHH almost tapped out.  Then he almost PASSED out.  But finally, Michaels came dashing in and pasted Benoit with a superkick.  Another lease on life for HHH.  With both his opponents down, Michaels first tried pinning Benoit.  But he kicked out.  So he gave HHH a try.  Also a kick out. Michaels tried to hit another superkick on Benoit, but Benoit ducked and tossed Michaels from the ring.  Back down the Benoit vs. HHH.  HHH had recovered, and kicked Benoit in the gut to set up the Pedigree.  But Benoit flipped out and reversed directly into a Crippler Crossface.  HHH tried to make the ropes.  Gave up.  Tried to roll over to escape the hold.  But Benoit rolled through, and kept the hold locked in tighter than ever.  And now, he was dead center of the ring.  With the crowd cheering and JR losing it on commentary, HHH finally tapped out at the 25 minute mark.  Crowd lost it, Benoit started weeping as he was handed the belt.  Eddie Guerrero came out and embraced his friend, and the two were BOTH crying by the end, as the crowd gave them a standing ovation and confetti fell from the ceiling and the whole nine.  Final shot: Eddie and Benoit raising each other's arms.  [Just an outstanding match.  And so completely satisfying, too.  This was the RIGHT finish to the show, plain and simple.  Toss in that it came as the finish to a strong Match of the Year Candidate is only that much sweeter.  You want to see this match, trust me.  Anything else I say would be superfluous.  You know what you need to know.]

The show then closed with a 4 minute video montage of the night's highlights.  

On the strength of a trio of really good matches (Jericho/Christian, Eddie/Angle, and the main event), this is a solid Thumbs Up call.  By virtue of the expectations of any WrestleMania and the heightened ones of this being the 20th one, I know I found myself waiting at times for the other shoe to drop, for some surprise to hit out of left field...  but even when it didn't come, even when this wound up being a fairly by-the-books PPV, there was still so much good and enjoyable that you'd have to be a real cynic to have not enjoyed it.

More thoughts and fall-out tomorrow in OO....

E-MAIL RICK SCAIA
BROWSE THE OO ARCHIVES

Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.


  
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