WrestleMania 21 from April 3, 2005, at the Staples Center in front of 20,193 in LA
WrestleMania 21 is a personally impactful show to me, as it's the one that got me fully back into the thick of things after a two-year hiatus from the product for good. The show took place April 3, 2005, in front of an announced 20,193 from the Staples Center in Los Angeles as "WrestleMania goes Hollywood."
I took a break from wrestling shortly after Survivor Series 2002 when Shawn Michaels won the World Heavyweight Championship in the first-ever Elimination Chamber match. There wasn't really a main reason other than the fact that it was in the middle of sweeping changes in the industry and I wasn't a fan of the brand split, the moving on from Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock and I think I just got busy as it was as I was heading into the eighth grade and started playing sports and actually hanging out with people other than dudes, if you know what I'm screaming.
I remember it vividly, I had just gotten my driver's license and took a trip to Best Buy to walk around and check things out just because I could. I found myself in the wrestling aisle of Best Buy looking at the cases to WrestleMania 21, TNA Victory Road 2004 and the Rise and Fall of ECW in confusion. There was so much on the WrestleMania 21 card that I didn't understand after going dark for about two years, and it appeared that Jeff Jarrett was running a super interesting promotion with a combination of old WCW, WWF/E names and some young talent. Another time for the TNA story, but I bought the three-disc set to WrestleMania 21 and was hooked again after my first viewing. This show does a fantastic job at making you care about these hot newcomers in Batista, John Cena and Randy Orton, and rediscovering the Undertaker as the last time I saw him his gimmick was 6-foot-11 Kid Rock. It's fantastic stuff, and not to mention the fact that Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle faced off in possibly the most underrated WrestleMania match of all time on possibly the most underrated WrestleMania of all time. We see the return of Hulk Hogan to set up a late-summer feud with Shawn Michaels at SummerSlam -- the first PPV I bought live since Survivor Series 2002 -- and Rey and Eddie would kick off a months-long feud that I love to this very day.
Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero, the SmackDown Tag Team Champions at the time, opened the show facing off against each other in one hell of an opening match. Edge, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Christian, Kane and Shelton Benjamin tore the house down in the first-ever Money in the Bank match. The Undertaker and Randy Orton met in a super fun generational matchup, that would also set up a months- on months-long feud. Trish Stratus and Christy Hemme … that's all I'll say. Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels *Italian chef kisses finger gif*. Akebono and Big Show did a F****** sumo match for some reason. WHEW, and finally John Cena and JBL faced off for the WWE Championship, and HHH and Batista finally blew up Evolution in a match for the World Heavyweight Championship. These two matches represented the dawning of a new era with John Cena and Batista taking the crown on Raw and SmackDown. For a little brief history lesson, after they each defended their titles once they switched brands and started new lives on Raw and SmackDown. Absolutely brilliant, and I love this show for bringing me back into this world.
Favorite moments and matches
WrestleMania 21 represents everything I want in a WrestleMania in the fact that it sets up the "new season" with new faces moving up the ladder, featuring enough shenanigans in Piper's Pit/Stone Cold/Hulk, and enough time dedicated to each match. This show represents the best-timed WrestleMania of all-time, in my opinion. I loved that being out of the loop the first time I watched this show, I had no idea who John Cena was, I had never seen Randy Orton work, I had never seen Batista outside of being with D-Von, but by the end of the show I knew who each of these guys was and what their characters were about. The stories told on this show were clear and focused, which naturally makes it an easier story to follow. Rey and Eddie are tag team champs with something to prove to themselves, Edge is on the cusp of main eventing, Benoit wants to get back on top, Kurt and HBK want to prove who the better athlete is, Orton wants to kill the biggest Legend in the Undertaker and his stream, Batista wanted to crush HHH and steal his title after holding him back.
Bravo to creative, and bravo to the talent for delivering. Hell of a WrestleMania.
Rey and Eddie opened the show and got the crowd into the thing right from the get-go in a back and forth 12-minute match between the tag team champions. Besides Rey fixing his mask the entire time, the match was a hotly-contested match that was booked very smartly. These two went at full speed the entire match, and the heel started to creep out of Eddie Guerrero after every near-fall (and considering the fact he was the champion at last year's show). This would-be Eddie's last WrestleMania as he would be found dead in his hotel room before that year's Survivor Series.
The first Money in the Bank ladder match got 15 minutes and was the perfect mix of guys in Edge, Jericho, Benoit, Christian, Kane and Shelton Benjamin. There are little cool things that stick out like the ladder's being lit on fire during Kane's entrance, Edge and Christian briefly reuniting to big spots like Shelton Benjamin's T-Bone off the top of the ladder. Seeing Edge finally win a big one on his own that grants him a future world championship match sucked me back into the WWE so damn hard. This was a guy that I was a fan in for so long during his tag team days with Christian, and the brief flashes of singles pushes throughout his career. Awesome match, awesome result. Edge's win also sets up the amazing feud with John Cena after he would cash in at New Year's Revolution after Cena defended in the EC match. It made a big-time heel, and can be traced to creating one of this era's best rivalries.
One backstage segment I want to point out is the awesome meet-up between then-champions HHH and JBL backstage. They are both cocky assholes, and it leads people to believe that the two brand's champions could have a feud in the future. They would both be at rock bottom later in the night, so it's a cool little segment to look back on. "I guess we'll have to wait until the end of the night to see who's still champion."
Mmmmm, another tasty treat is the special "Legend vs Legend Killer" match between the Undertaker and Randy Orton. Undertaker's WrestleMania undefeated streak is finally super pushed as not only a real thing, but a thing that could be broken with Orton's beloved "Legend Killer" gimmick. The Undertaker slides to the ring with a goofy-ass entrance and, oh man, I forgot about Randy's borderline-emo original entrance music. As for the match, I thought it was absolute gold and, at this point in time in 2005, Undertaker's best-career WrestleMania matches. These two had chemistry from the get-go and got enough time with nearly 15 minutes.
Randy Orton beating Undertaker at this point was very believable, and this match is just so underrated as is the entire card. There is a really awesome RKO counter out of the chokeslam that creates a dramatic near-fall and later on, his dad, Cowboy Bob Orton, clocks Taker with his infamous cast for another one. I remember watching this match -- I did not look up results before popping the DVD into my PS2 -- and thought it was over after the RKO-Chokeslam counter. Two fantastic nearfalls that build this match to another level because these aren't just nearfalls, these are "oh shit oh shit oh shit it's actually over" nearfalls.
This was a match that both super sold me on Randy Orton and the importance of the Undertaker's streak. Awesome stuff, and a match worth watching for those who don't "get" Orton's following. This match would go on to set up a feud between Undertaker and Orton that would take place at SummerSlam, a No Mercy casket match, and finally a Hell in a Cell match at Armageddon.
Speaking of underrated, ho boy, that Shawn Michaels vs Kurt Angle match. I loved the storyline of Kurt Angle winning the Gold Medal in 1996 and being jealous of the attention paid to this "wrestler" beating Bret Hart in the main event of WrestleMania. Really good, borderline real-life-kayfabe stuff going on here. The match starts off on the mat for a while, but really hits another gear when Kurt clocks Shawn from behind and locks the Ankle Lock for a bit early on. Between great spots like the Angle Slam into the ring post, to the top-rope Angle Slam, to Shawn's Moonsault to the outside table and cross-body off the top rope to the outside, this match literally had something for everyone.
Shawn was nailing Sweet Chin Music superkicks out of nowhere like crazy, but ultimately fell to the Ankle Lock after being locked in for a dramatic ass long time. He sold the crap out of that submission and had the audience believing he wouldn’t tap right up to the second where he eventually would. It got nearly 28 minutes, and is a must-watch match. Kurt would be drafted to Raw in the summer and these two would have a rematch at one of my favorite PPVs of all time, Vengeance 2005. One of the better submission finishes in history, please check it out.
Triple H and Batista had a violent, hard-hitting match that was compounded by one hell of a story with the complete implosion of Evolution. Batista won the Royal Rumble, and in memorable fashion, decided to stay on Raw and battle his former mentor HHH. WWE did a great job teasing tension from the Royal Rumble to the Elimination Chamber Match at New Year's Revolution and finally kicked it into full gear once Batista made his decision. The match sets up a summer-long feud between the two that dips into Backlash and finally inside the Hell in a Cell at Vengeance before Batista went to SmackDown. Ric Flair's involvement level was perfect, HHH's near-falls were the drama the match needed, and Batista did a great job in bursting on the scene as the next big babyface.
A great story with a solid, violent and bloody torch-passing match. Feels like a solid WrestleMania main event every time I watch it.
Least favorite moments and matches
I had completely forgotten about the WWE Women's Championship match between Trish Stratus and Christy Hemme to push the latter's Playboy appearance. That's right, in 2005, WWE had Trish Stratus spray-painting "SLUT" onto Christy Hemme's back and then having to work a WrestleMania match with her. Trish deserves way more credit than she gets.
Dang, Eugene, WWE's mentally retarded (LITERALLY, NOT MY PERSONAL OPINION. THAT WAS HIS CHARACTER/GIMMICK) character, says the word "midget" about 30 times in less than 60 seconds. Then WWE's controversial Muhammad Hassan characters comes out, then Hulk freaking Hogan comes out. What in the hell, 2005. What in the hell.
The sumo match between Akebono and Big Show, yeah, we, they, the fans, or anyone didn't really need that one. In 2005, Big Show could have been doing something else. Seems weird, but, he was a BIG, BIG BOY at this point.
Outside of that, the JBL and John Cena match for the WWE Championship just has zero punch to it. The crowd isn't fully behind Cena yet, they're definitely not into JBL and they feel a little tired after Angle-HBK and then the boring Sumo affair. It's a nothing match that goes a little longer than 10 minutes, in which John Cena wins his first world championship. I loved that Cena had to win a tournament to qualify for the match, but hated the storyline of JBL treating the rapper like he's a "common street thug." Cena hits a nice counter powerslam, and counters the Clothesline from Hell into the Fireman's Carry … I mean F-U … I mean AA. This could have been a spot to force Big Show, because this match needed a little life and there surprisingly wasn't a triple threat on the card.
How does it hold up?
Hell yeah this holds up, good buddies. It's one of the smartest booked, best timed, and consistent WrestleManias of all time. So damn underrated. Fans of the current era should check this one out, as it kind of represents those passing of the torch moments of the past theoretically.