In the world of professional wrestling, not much surpasses the main event of WrestleMania in terms of reaching the pinnacle of the profession.
A main event of WrestleMania should have a bit of everything: star power, a solid backstory, emotion, athleticism, showmanship, and a memorable closing moment we can all look back on.
16 years ago the main event of WrestleMania had all of this and much more. It was a gripping triple threat match that culminated a long story of triumph over adversity which ended with a moment that would be replayed for years to come: two friends, both world champions of WWE, both overcome with emotion and embracing in the middle of the ring. The apex of a life long struggle and a long hard road of dedication to be finally recognised as two of the best.
As powerful as this moment was, this picture is what is resoundingly remembered from that night. Future events in the years that followed would tarnish this special moment due to those involved and the moment’s strong association with the show. And because of this, WrestleMania 20 still leaves a lot of people feeling uneasy due to those involved in the show-closing moment, and the actions of one of them a few years later. Even though legends had returned to the ring, titles had changed hands and “WrestleMania moments” had happened all through the four and a half-hour show- this one shot at the end of the broadcast is what is etched in a lot of our minds when we think back to that event.
But surely, I hear you cry, there must have been other memorable moments that night, right? 16 years is not THAT long ago to forget that Mark Jindrak and Garrison Cade were a thing back in 2004. As Mick Foley said in his promo that night, “its Wrestlemania, its Madison Square Garden, its the biggest night in the history of our sport, and fans have flocked from around the world to be here”, so let’s go and have a look back at other memorable moments from WrestleMania 20, where it all began again… apparently.
Cena wins his first title
It is quite unimaginable to think there was actually a time where John Cena had not held a WWE title of any sorts. As the recent Ruthless Aggression documentaries have highlighted: Cena was close to the chopping block before he freestyle rapped in front of Stephanie McMahon and soon became the Doctor of Thugonomics. Cena now had the gimmick to match the look and his path to superstardom was set.
Everyone remembers their first, and so should Cena. After hoisting up the humongous 500lbs Big Show twice in quick succession with two heroic feats of strength, Cena F-U’ed Show and captured the WWE United States title. This match opened the show that night but it also opened the floodgates of WrestleMania moments for one of the most decorated superstars in WWE history. Yes, the Big Show would go onto face the likes of Akebono at future ‘Mania events, but I am talking about John Cena.
Cena is still going strong today, although he isn’t around on a full-time schedule and titles are maybe not in his immediate future, Cena always seems to bring his A-game when it comes time for WrestleMania. He brought it here against Big Show in his first appearance at the granddaddy of them all, he has continued to bring it throughout the years, and he will bring it again this year when he steps inside the ring against The Fiend Bray Wyatt.
Molly Holly gets shaved bald
Head shavings have been used in wrestling for a long time. Hair vs Mask matches are famous in Mexico and are usually used as a blow-off to a major feud. However in WWE they are more used in comedic circumstances: Big Show, Kurt Angle, CM Punk, Eric Bischoff and even Vince McMahon have all been shaved to the scalp live for our viewing pleasure. So when WrestleMania 20 rolled around with a head-shaving stipulation attached to Molly Holly if she was unsuccessful in regaining the Women’s Championship from then-champion Victoria, you knew a WrestleMania sized humiliation was on the cards.
Of course, they wouldn’t set the theatrical barber’s chair complete with red and white spiralled poles, a barrage of shaving cream, mirrors and clippers on the stage without giving everyone the pay-off, so of course, Molly lost and was sentenced to be shaved bald.
They had to go through a video package for the next match before Victoria had finished the job, but she did it. And Molly certainly gave us a memorable picture some of us will never forget.
Wrestling returns are always great. Even if the returning wrestler isn’t that great, the fact that they have been gone a while makes his or her return something new and different and out of the ordinary.
But when a major star returns after a hiatus, they tend to stick out more memorably. Not only do they get the returning excitement and pop from the crowd, their appearance alone instantly reminds us of why we liked them so before they were gone.
So could you imagine any bigger return than the Undertaker as the Deadman at WrestleMania? And while we are at it- chuck in Paul Bearer too who had been gone for two years himself. But it wasn’t a surprise return, the Deadman’s match against Kane was booked well in advance, even if Kane was trying his hardest to convince us otherwise in the build-up.
The story was quite simple. In 2000 when The Undertaker made his last big return, he came back as a more humanly figure: riding a motorbike, wearing normal(ish) clothes, talking freely, and chewing Tabacco. He was still the Undertaker, but this was a fresh take on the undead zombie mortician character we had seen since 1990. But Kane had taken offence at this change of heart, but took his time exacting his revenge as it was not until Survivor Series 2003 where he helped bury the Undertaker alive and put an end to the American Badass.
But in the weeks and months leading up to ‘Mania, the Undertaker started playing mind games with Kane: his gong would go off, lights would dim, video packages would show flashes of the old Undertaker, and his original funeral parlour music would tease starting back up. Kane would deny it all, saying that he buried his brother and he was not coming back, but he was wrong. It was soon confirmed that the Deadman was coming back. And where else would be better than WrestleMania 20?
Heenan and Okerlund One Last Time
A short but sweet moment happened when the Coach bumped into Mean Gene Okerlund, Bobby the Brain Heenan, and a few moments later- Mae Young and the Fabulous Moolah. They hinted that the four of them were up to no good in a janitor’s closet backstage, but whatever story they were portraying was overshadowed by the excellence of Okerlund and Heenan’s performance. Their comedy timing and facial expressions during this minute-long skit put a smile on my face and gave truth to the saying that you don’t know how good you have something until it is gone. Unfortunately, all four of these stars are no longer with us, but go back and give this a watch and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t put a smile on your face too. Heenan and Okerlund were two of the best.
A Dream Tag Team Match
The Ruthless Aggression era brought with it a lot of new fresh faces in the WWE. Three of which starred in Evolution: Randy Orton, Batista and Ric Flair.
Flair, fresh face? Well, he had not been seen in the WWE since early 1993, so his return in late 2001 made his presence fresh to this new generation. Orton and Batista both graduated from WWE’s developmental territory and were given golden opportunities when they were grouped with Flair and Triple H to form Raw’s newest heel faction.
So at WrestleMania 20, while feuding with Mick Foley, Evolution seemed to have the upper hand until Foley turned to his old friend Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and re-formed the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection one last time. So the stage was set and the 3-on-2 handicap match took place at Mania, with Orton continuing his streak of being a “Legend Killer” by putting Foley away with an RKO.
But what we saw that night back in 2004 were combinations of potential dream matches that never happened. When WWE purchased WCW, it sent fans into overdrive about potential match-ups like Austin vs Goldberg, Sting vs Undertaker, and a lot of people wanted Rock vs Ric Flair too. At Mania’ Rock and Flair met in the ring, but frustratingly for some fans, this was the last they would see of each other inside the squared circle.
The same goes for Orton and Batista. Both would go on to have fantastic career’s in WWE (Orton is still going), but they have never again been inside the ring facing off with the Rock. This one night in 2004 is the only time the Rock and Flair, Rock and Orton, and Rock and Batista met. They probably tried for singles matches throughout the years, but the Rock’s Hollywood schedule, Flair’s age, combined with Orton and Batista’s injuries early in their career maybe made any potential planned matches harder to fit in.
So for the brief few minutes they were in the ring together and for the high spots they ran that night, cherish them, enjoy them, sit back and think “what if”? Because that is seemingly all we are going to get out of these potential dream matches.
Trish Stratus Turns Heel
A love triangle between Trish Stratus, Chris Jericho and Christian culminated in a match between Captain Charisma and Jericho at Mania’ 20, and of course being a love triangle, Trish had to get involved, didn’t she?
Towards the end of the match, the babyface Trish ran to ringside to seemingly encourage fellow fan favourite Jericho to rally up and beat the dastardly heel Christian. As the closing moments of the match unravelled, Trish got shoved to the ground by Christian. After momentarily chasing him off, Jericho went to check on his love interest in the corner, but Trish “unknowingly” back elbowed Jericho, making us believe that she mistakenly thought it was Christian coming at her again.
With Jericho dazed, Christian rolled up Y2J and picked up the win. But the worst was yet to come for the future “Le Champion”. As Trish tried to “apologise” to Jericho, she ended up blindsiding him with a group of hard, deliberate slaps across his face, and Christian put him down with an Unprettier.
Trish and Christian left the ring together having been in cahoots the whole time. And to top things off, at the top of the entrance stage they stopped, smirked back at the ring where a broken-hearted Jericho could only watch on as they planted a big, long, sloppy kiss on each other in another shocking WrestleMania moment.
Goldberg and Lesnar Notorious Farewell
13 years before they put on one of the best 5 minute WrestleMania matches of all time, Bill Goldberg and Brock Lesnar put on one of the worst at ‘Mania 20. They stalled, they brawled (slowly) around the ring, they ran shoulder block spots where neither budged, they had double-downs (colliding mid-ring and both falling) and apart from Goldberg running for his spear, they never got out of first gear. It seemed to take an eternity to finally touch and start things off, but by that point, they had lost the crowd and would not get them back. In no particular order the crowd chanted “boring”, “Na na na na hey-hey-hey goodbye”, “Goldberg sucks”, “Lesnar sucks”, “THIS MATCH sucks”, “Austin”(the referee), “bullsh*t” and “we want Hogan”(to a fan cosplaying in the upper tier). The NYC crowd knew they were both leaving and this was their last nights in the company so the outcome of the match really made no difference, so their interest quickly plummeted along with the work rate.
This was, unfortunately, the period where the WWE tried to make Goldberg have actual competitive long(ish) matches, not the 100mph extremely short car crash sprints that we saw in his WCW days and more recent years in WWE. Thank god Steve Austin was there to give the fans something positive to cheer for as without him this could have killed the crowd completely, and possibly the whole show. Austin saved what he could of the match by giving both a stunner after the bell. But my goodness, this was a tough struggle to get through. Go watch their WM 33 match instead, that was 10x better.
Poor Ultimo Dragon
Ultimo Dragon is one of the most decorated stars in the world of professional wrestling. He has won titles, honours and accolades throughout the world, once upon a time holding the coveted J-Crown plus the NWA world middleweight and WCW cruiserweight titles giving him a total of 10 world championships at the same time. He has had success in Mexico, Japan and with WCW in North America, however, his WWE run was less than impactful.
An uneventful WWE run came to a crashing halt at WrestleMania 20, whereupon making his entrance for the WWE Cruiserweight title “open”, he slipped on the entrance stage seconds after emerging through the curtain. To make matters worse once he got to the ring- he did it again. While climbing the ropes to pose in one of the corners of the ring, his foot got stuck in his cape he was wearing and he sheepishly and clumsily came back down. His performance in the match itself was good, Dragon has always been one of the best in-ring workers of all time in his division so it is a real shame that this is what he is most known for in his short 22-month run. WWE tried their best to edit the slips and stumbles from the DVD and Network versions of the show, but the footage is still out there deep in the pro wrestling bloopers section of the internet.
A Hall Of Fame Class Like No Other
The WWE Hall of Fame took a hiatus between 1996 and 2004, and it came back with a bang with a huge class (compared to modern days) that stands up to any in recent memory. All inductees were connected by either New York, MSG or WrestleMania and the list really speaks for itself.
As a fan of the older WWF era, I only need to mention the names to show what a monumental class this really was. And I can think of no better way than to end this article than having the Hall of Fame class from 2004 take centre stage once more:
- Greg “The Hammer” Valentine
- “Magnificent” Don Muraco
- Big John Studd
- Junkyard Dog
- “Superstar” Billy Graham
- Pete Rose
- Sgt. Slaughter
- Tito Santana
- Harley Race
- Jesse “The Body” Ventura
- Bobby “The Brain” Heenan
You can find the author of this article on Twitter @oli_iai. Thanks for reading!