2004 was meant to be the year where it all began again for WWE. Unfortunately, it’s where it almost all ended…
2004 was deemed another transitional period for WWE. When in reality they were just creatively bankrupt and reeling from losing several of its biggest stars in quick succession. Despite no longer having the services of The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Goldberg, and Brock Lesnar, the roster still featured some headline acts including Undertaker, Kurt Angle, Triple H, Eddie Guerrero, Shawn Michaels and rising stars such as Edge, John Cena, Batista, and Randy Orton.
Unfortunately, the writing teams just could not get it together, and almost crumbled the entire empire with ridiculous angles and new characters such as Eugene, Gene Snitsky, and Heidenrich. For those who don’t know, or have blocked them out of their memory, these characters included an inadvertent baby killer and a poetry fan who enjoyed emasculating Michael Cole.
The feel-good story of the entire year was Eddie Guerrero finally capturing the WWE Championship, dethroning Brock Lesnar in the main event of No Way Out in one of the best moments in history. Sadly, that’s as good as it would get for both Latino Heat and WWE.
Eddie would clash with Kurt Angle at WrestleMania in a good match, but one that failed to live up to the hype, and both men were openly frustrated about it afterwards. Angle wrestled the bout with tingling sensations down his arms, feeling the effects of his surgically repaired neck once again. This would be his last match until SummerSlam.
Judgment Day – headlined by Guerrero against JBL for the title – was the lowest bought PPV of 2004 with less than 200,000 buys. Eddie took this personally and started to get heavily stressed with the demands of leading Smackdown with ratings and live attendances dwindling. In reality, it wasn’t his fault at all. He was a terrific Champion and one that fans wholly embraced. It was the rest of the roster that was somewhat to blame. WWE hadn’t replaced Lesnar and instead attempted to force JBL into the main event spot.
Credit to JBL, he did tremendously well in the role, but the fans just weren’t buying it. Literally. Perhaps, WWE would’ve been better invested by either switching the red hot Randy Orton to the blue brand or promoting John Cena to the headline spot one year early.
Return wise, Undertaker helped Smackdown by coming back at WrestleMania to topple his brother Kane and resurrect his old Deadman gimmick. Unfortunately, something seemed off. Undertaker did not seem himself. He was a step behind in the ring and looked a little lost. He wouldn’t find his mojo for another year.
The Phenom wasn’t exactly helped with the dire material he was handed to work with. A lacklustre handicap outing opposite The Dudley Boyz which resulted in Undertaker burying Paul Heyman in a crypt full of cement was embarrassing stuff. A shocking summer and autumn feud with JBL over the WWE Championship was a cure for insomnia. Then came his battles with the criminally unprepared Heidenrich. Even the presence of Paul Heyman couldn’t save this one.
Sable returned to television for the first time since her other half, Brock Lesnar, unceremoniously left the company after his diabolical effort opposite Goldberg on the Grandest Stage Of Them All. She added nothing to the product and was gone before the year was out.
Things weren’t any better on the Raw side of things. Triple H was still running wild on top of the card, while WWE was attempting to promote from their developmental territory in the form of Gene Snitsky and Eugene. Snitsky had a messy feud with Kane after inadvertently causing his wife at the time, Lita to have a miscarriage. This led to Snitsky booting baby dolls into the crowd and screaming “It Wasn’t My Fault” at every opportunity. Snitsky would not have another singles rivalry in WWE. Says all you need to know for how well this angle went.
As for Eugene, the character was played by the exceptionally gifted Nick Dinsmore, who portrayed a fan with special needs that loved professional wrestling and emulated his favourite wrestlers’ moves. He was also the on-screen nephew of Eric Bischoff, who was embarrassed by his presence and wanted him removed from WWE, which ultimately involved Triple H manipulating Eugene and putting him on the shelf. How dare someone else gets over on The Game’s watch.
Speaking of Triple H, he and Shawn Michaels competed in the longest – to date – Hell In A Cell Match, clocking in at over 48 minutes. Most of the action was sluggish and slow, but there were great moments of selling and the near falls were nicely done. It was built as the final chapter in their rivalry, but they would compete on PPV with each other again just four months later for Taboo Tuesday.
Taboo Tuesday was a Raw exclusive PPV event which put the power in the hands of the fans as they would get to choose opponents, stipulations and matches in a revolutionary concept. A little ahead of its time, and it’s something that amazes me they haven’t revisited, especially in the era of the Network.
Randy Orton was the rising star on Monday Night Raw, becoming the youngest World Heavyweight Champion in history at SummerSlam in what was designed as a roundabout way of saying FU to the departed Brock Lesnar. Orton was miscast as a babyface, however, getting shunted from Evolution before dropping the title to Triple H a month later at Unforgiven in an overly booked main event. The Randy experiment was over before it really ever began. Despite being regarded as one of the greatest of all time, one has to wonder what would’ve been had Orton remained a heel during that period.
Did 2004 give us any good things to remember? Of course, it did. A thrilling Royal Rumble Match, a tremendous WrestleMania, a feel-good title win for Eddie Guerrero, the slow rise of Batista, Mick Foley having his career-best showing opposite Randy Orton, and a heel version of Trish Stratus. However, it was mostly bad, and a year that isn’t remembered fondly. Fortunately, 2005 was a lot better and saw WWE return to former glories. They would ride this wave of momentum until the disastrous series of devastating circumstances that shook the world in 2007…