WrestleMania 21: WrestleMania goes Hollywood. It also crowns the next generation of top stars and sees the birth of a mainstay in the Money in the Bank concept and features some classic matches, both good and bad.
Lillian Garcia sings ‘America the Beautiful’ to kick the show off, the first person to do this role twice. A lot of shots of the military in the accompanying video package. We’re at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, so the theme is Hollywood. The build up has been full of movie parodies from various wrestlers, we get some clips before a final video plays of Steve Austin in ‘Gladiator’. It’s one of the most interesting marketing campaigns for WrestleMania the company ever did. Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler are on commentary for Raw, Michael Cole & Tazz for SmackDown.
WrestleMania 21: Rey Mysterio vs Eddie Guerrero
The two co-holders of one set of Tag Team Championships collide in another chapter of their long running, occasionally friendly, rivalry. At this point they’re in a friendly stage, but Guerrero has pushed for this match to try and prove himself against his partner. Mysterio is wearing a different version of his usual WrestleMania attire, it’s normally comic book inspired, here it is a hybrid of the US and Mexican flags.
An immense amount of chemistry on show right from the off. Some brilliant technical exchanges of holds mixed with some speed and high flying. It’s a rarity to see Guerrero even at this point in his career with such a size advantage and he plays the role well. Against most opponents Guerrero would be the one trying to up the pace, here against Mysterio he’s trying to slow it down more often than not.
That slower pace works for Guerrero as he takes over with a series of different submission holds, moving from body part to body part. Mysterio manages to get some separation and hits a ‘corkscrew plancha’ to the floor. The two men trade attempts at the ‘three amigos’ suplexes before Mysterio misses a ‘619’. Guerrero then manages to hit the ‘amigos’ but misses with a ‘frog splash’. A further trading of finisher attempts before Mysterio manages to surprise Guerrero with a roll up to pin and win.
The two would lose their tag titles within the next two weeks. They would have five more matches as their feud became deeply personal, including the custody of Rey’s son Dominik. Mysterio would win all of those matches except the last before Guerrero died in November of 2005, aged just 38.
JBL and Triple H bump into one another backstage and share some tense words as their two brand’s respective top champions. And Ric Flair gets a ‘woo’ in there.
WrestleMania 21: Money in the Bank Ladder Match
Edge vs Chris Jericho vs Shelton Benjamin vs Chris Benoit vs Christian vs Kane
The first in a long line of Money In The Bank matches, a concept that shaped the way the company worked for a long time. Not only does the winner become (theoretically) instantly a much bigger threat to the main event, but the match being on WrestleMania gave the company a way to feature more talent in a meaningful match setting. It’s a stacked line up for the first ever edition, everyone in the match being a current, former or future champion. For Kane’s entrance a set of ladders on the stage are set on fire.
Immediate chaos as the participants who aren’t Kane all team up to try and beat down Kane. You can already tell that it’s going to be a wild and crazy match. There’s a sequence early on where most of the wrestlers (including Kane) dive to the outside onto a growing mass of people. A classic of multi person matches to this day. With this being the inaugural edition, spots that might become passe in later years still have their novelty. There’s a cool little moment where Edge & Christian reunite briefly to take Kane down.
As is the norm in these sorts of match, everyone gets their chance to shine. Shelton Benjamin looks a potential world champion in his run, strange to think he’s the only man in the match to never reach that pinnacle. Everyone bar Kane climbs ladders in the ladder but then is either falls off or is knocked down. Edge takes a ‘T-Bone suplex’ from Benjamin off the ladder, small margin of error and well executed. In an iconic moment, Benjamin runs up a diagonal ladder and clotheslines Jericho from the top, that will be replayed in his highlight reel for all time.
Christian’s running buddy, his ‘Problem-Solver’, comes in and gives Christian a ride on his shoulders to try and reach the briefcase. A brief call-back to the time Rhyno did the same for Christian that is cut off by Kane, who pushes the ladder over. Benoit hits a diving headbutt off a ladder onto Kane and busts himself open. It looks like Benoit might get the victory but he is knocked from the ladder by Edge, who climbs and wins.
It’s a bit sloppy at times, the style has yet to be defined and they’re clearing trying all sorts of ideas. But it’s still compelling car crash entertainment that gives everyone involved a spotlight. Given the concept has lasted until the present day, this was clearly a very influential match, it would get more refined with time. Edge held onto the briefcase until 6th January 2008 when he cashed in to become WWE Champion.
Unfortunate historical oddity Eugene appears and walks down to the ring. He says some words. It’s not aged particularly well. Speaking of which, he’s interrupted by Muhammad Hassan. The angry Arab-American played by an Italian-American berates the crowd and Eugene. He and Daivari start to beat up Eugene before Hulk Hogan makes the save. To a loud ovation Hogan beats up both Daivari and Hassan and poses. It was certainly something that happened, a way to get Hogan on the show after his Hall of Fame induction at least.
WrestleMania 21: The Undertaker vs Randy Orton
The Streak is under serious threat for the first time since it’s acknowledgement as The Undertaker takes on ‘The Legend Killer’ Randy Orton. The feud has got personal, including Randy’s father Bob Orton Jr. A solid video package outlining this leads into the Undertaker’s entrance, flanked by flaming torch carrying Druids. It’s a spectacular entrance, strange to see him come out before Orton but it works.
Randy starts off evasive, trying to keep the distance between him and Undertaker. Nice, even opening with both men showing their athleticism, until Undertaker slows the pace with some big strikes. This puts Undertaker in control, enjoying the benefits of his size and power advantage with some of his ‘vintage’ offense. Orton takes control himself after Taker misses a big boot into the corner and takes a spill to the outside. They trade some offense, and some pinfall attempts before Taker takes charge yet again.
Orton gets a few moments of hope but can’t hit any of his major offense, just managing to stay alive through a ‘Dragon Sleeper’ and going for some desperate pinfalls. Orton’s desperation works well, he knows he’s outmatched in power so fights from underneath very well. He shows his inexperience though by taunting Undertaker whilst on top. The referee gets knocked down and Bob Orton Jr. interjects himself with his famous cast, The Undertaker kicking out at two after Orton revives the referee.
Undertaker dispatches of Bob Orton but gets caught with an ‘RKO’ out of a Chokeslam attempt, for a very close near fall. Even in 2005 seeing the innumerable ways that Randy could hit the ‘RKO’ is always interesting. Orton gets cocky though and tries to hit his own ‘Tombstone Piledriver’ but Undertaker reverses it into one of his own and wins to continue the Streak.
The first true classic of The Undertaker’s Mania Streak, there was a real feeling that Orton could win at any point, and he put in a great performance to make it feel possible. The feud would continue for the rest of the year, Orton winning at SummerSlam before Undertaker won the feud inside Hell in a Cell in December.
WrestleMania 21: Trish Stratus vs Christy Hemme – WWE Women’s Championship
Hemme had won the first real Diva Search the previous year and used that opportunity to challenge Trish Stratus for the Women’s Title. The added presence of Trish’s rival Lita in Hemme’s corner seemingly adds some tension but she doesn’t get properly involved despite being at ringside.
Unfortunately, we’ve got Jerry Lawler on commentary, so it’s not going to be commentated on with any seriousness.
Trish is disrespectful early on, lying down and taunting Hemme, who was competing in her first singles match that wasn’t a ‘lingerie pillow fight’. Hemme gets some offense in but it’s almost entirely Stratus. Lita’s one involvement, helping Hemme to her feet on the outside, ends with her getting pushed away. Hemme looks exactly like someone who is barely trained. The ‘Chick Kick’ from Stratus and retains her title. It’s not as pants as some previous Women’s title matches but there’s still plenty of a way to go before it’s presented as more than just titillating distraction.
WrestleMania 21: Kurt Angle vs Shawn Michaels
A deeply personal feud that’s built ever since Michaels eliminated Angle at the Royal Rumble. It has become an issue over who the best ‘wrestler’ in the company is between two men with a distinct legitimate claim to that title. This is the feud that gave us the classic ‘Sexy Kurt’ performance from Angle, one that is well worth checking out.
Michaels starts the match off by simply slapping Angle in the face, riling up Angle straight away. Angle has the obvious mat wrestling advantage, but Michaels show he’s no slouch in that department by willingly getting involved in grappling exchanges. He even gains dominance at times. Commentary is amazed at Michaels’ tactics and how impressive he’s looking.
Angle gets some separation with some strikes and Michaels immediately gets frustrated, starting to clear an announce table and take the match to the outside. Michaels looks like he’s about to put Angle through the table but Angle recovers by running Michaels’ back first into the ring post. This puts Angle back in charge briefly as the physicality of the match starts to ramp up. Michaels’ back becomes Angle’s focus as it becomes more of a fight, plenty of striking in comparison to the opening period.
Angle brings his straps down but gets dumped to the outside hard, Michaels following him out with a ‘crossbody’ dive to the floor. Angle does manage to get back in position to tease a German Suplex from the apron to the floor, even if he never hit it ,it always looked terrifying. With Angle behind him, and the referee unsighted, Michaels hits a low blow followed by a springboard dive to Angle on the table. Back in the ring and the action is fairly even handed again, Angle bleeding from the mouth from something. Michaels hits some of his signature offense and sets up for the ‘Sweet Chin Music’, Angle catching the move into a ‘ankle lock’. After an agonisingly long hold Michaels just about reaches the ropes. A great sequence follows where both men try for those moves again, Angle resorting to a simple pin at one point but getting a kick out.
Angle goes for a ‘moonsault’ but misses it, Michaels rolling into the corner to evade it. Michaels goes for a diving elbow but takes a second rope ‘Angle Slam’ instead. Angle gets right in Michaels face with some trash talk and gets his by a surprise ‘Sweet Chin Music’, really well executed in such close quarters. A very close kick out. Michaels stalls thinking about his next move and gets caught in the ‘ankle lock’ again, a great example of how to fight the hold as Angle clings on to the ankle for dear life. It’s another agonisingly long hold, Michaels eventually tapping out.
A brilliant match, a great merging of styles and an example of how to cycle through various styles within a single match. Great stuff as both men showed their versatility and amazing chemistry. The two would continue to feud until Angle left WWE in 2006.
WrestleMania 21: Piper’s Pit – WrestleMania Edition
Newly minted Hall of Famer Roddy Piper is here to host a special WrestleMania edition of Piper’s Pit. Piper intros his guest Steve Austin and manages to swear in the process. Austin hadn’t been seen since the previous years Mania so the ovation he gets is huge. Piper seems offended by Austin’s branding as a ‘rebel’ and slaps him the face right away, Austin returns one. Piper then turns it on its head and shows some respect. He also engages with the ‘What’ chants and talks back to them. It’s an entertaining back and forth, the ‘What’ chants don’t break the flow up too much but they are dumb. They’re interrupted properly by Carlito Caribbean Cool, who mocks them for not being ‘cool’. Carlito holds his own with the two legends when he makes it to the ring. Piper steals Carlito’s apple and spits it in his face, causing Carlito to attack him. Austin watches a second before making the save for Piper, the two men working together to beat up Carlito and throw him out of the ring. They share some beers before Austin hits a ‘Stunner’ on Piper.
Yeah, it’s a segment where a legend comes back and beats up one of the current wrestlers, but it’s one of the more interesting versions of this trope. Carlito at least gets come verbal digs in before he gets beaten up. A pretty savage edit leads us into the next segment.
WrestleMania 21: Akebono vs Big Show – Sumo Match
That edit was covering up for the set up for the following ‘Celebrity’ match. A sumo match between Akebono, the first ever foreign-born Sumo to reach the rank of ‘Yokozuna’. The ring has been laid out like a sumo ring, with no ropes and a new mat. Both men are also wearing traditional garb.
It’s a worked Sumo match, a shoot fight would have ended in seconds. It lasts a minute.
If you’re interested in large men slamming into one another, you’ll probably have a great time, but that’s all there is to it. A strange diversion for the only major celebrity involvement on a Los Angeles WrestleMania.
WrestleMania 21: John Bradshaw Layfield vs John Cena – WWE Championship
JBL had been transformed from his former life as a career tag team wrestler not long after Mania XX and had been champion for 280 days since beating Eddie Guerrero. This was the longest such reign since Diesel in 1994/95. In the build up this became a battle of the streets against the boardroom, John Cena still having a bit of edge to him at this point. JBL had cost Cena his United States Championship and the two had spent weeks antagonising one another.
JBL enters first, in a limousine with a police escort. $100 dollars with JBL’s face on pour down from the ceiling. John Cena comes out to his brand new ‘The Time is Now’ track (that would soundtrack the rest of his career).
Not a tonne of finesse early on, it’s striking and power moves rather than technical exchanges. Commentary big up Layfield’s American Football career, making it sound more successful than it really was. Champion JBL dominates with his relative size advantage and edge in experience. Its not all that interesting, a lot of fairly plodding and basic offense from JBL, Cena getting only momentary shine.
Even when the action spills briefly to the floor it doesn’t really pick up at all, it’s all relatively bland power work by JBL. Eventually Cena gets an extended comeback run. His offense isn’t much more exciting, but it’s at least charismatically executed. JBL tries and misses the ‘clothesline from hell’ and Cena catches him with an ‘FU’. Cena pins and wins for the first of what would eventually become 16 reigns as World Champion. That alone makes it a piece of history but the match itself is disappointing. It’s too one sided to be genuinely interesting.
A glimpse back at the previous evening’s Hall of Fame ceremony, headlined by Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper amongst others. Gene Okerlund enters the ring to introduce the class of 2004 to the Staples Center crowd in person.
WrestleMania 21: Triple H vs Batista – World Heavyweight Championship
A match that’s been coming ever since the formation of Evolution. The first to break away from that group was Randy Orton but his feud with Triple H had fizzled out long before it reached Mania. Up stepped Batista, who won the Royal Rumble in January and shockingly turned on Triple H to take his shot at the World Heavyweight Championship. A pretty good video package really underscores the stakes and the history at stake.
Triple H is the second World Champion in a row to enter for their match first. He’s soundtracked by Motorhead, playing on stage (unintelligibly). Ric Flair joins him at ringside once HHH makes it there.
A lot of facing off and staring early on, a slow tentative start. They lock up for a long time, jostling and trying to overpower each other. A lot of power moves and posing, Batista with the slight advantage in both areas. Batista gets a big run early on, showing off his size advantage, before a Triple H knee forces him to the outside. It’s HHH’s turn to take over for a while.
Flair takes advantage of a distracted referee to choke Batista on the apron for a moment, Triple H now firmly in control. It’s not monumentally exciting stuff, it has that distinct air of Triple H forced epic-ness that just makes things slow and overly methodical. The most dynamic moments during HHH’s dominant portions are the interventions of Flair from the outside.
The crowd are much more awake when Batista gets his rare moments to shine, Triple H cutting them off a bit too readily and they don’t often get to breathe or really have any impact. HHH seems to temporarily forget that he is, in fact, Triple H and goes to the top rope. Batista knocks him out of the air with a clothesline and the challenger looks like he might get a chance to come back. It doesn’t last. More teased Batista comebacks don’t stick, Batista getting thrown into the steel steps before catapulting Triple H into the ring post. Triple H is bleeding, and stumbles around ringside in an unintentionally comical visual.
This finally gives Batista a proper run for the first time since the early stages of the match. The blood now pouring off Triple H’s forehead as Batista physically bullies him has a strange effect of making the champion look somewhat sympathetic. Ric Flair gets involved with the referee indisposed but takes a ‘Spinebuster’ for his trouble. With the referee dealing with Flair Triple H uses a sledgehammer on Batista, who kicks out. ‘Spinebuster’ to Triple H, who fights out of a ‘Batista Bomb’ attempt to deliver a low blow. A ‘Pedigree’ attempt is countered by Batista, who manages to hit the ‘Batista Bomb’ to pin and win. Batista wins his first World Championship.
Slightly better than the previous World Title match but it’s still an underwhelming match that is more historically important than it is good. It’s worth watching as a moment in time but it’s not a particularly interesting match.
A solid enjoyable show. After the overstuffed and very uneven Mania XX the company retreated a little and focused up. The two main event World Title matches aren’t brilliant as matches, what they are are important moments for the direction the company was going to take for the best part of the next decade. The introduction of the Money in the Bank concept would end up being a huge part of WWE storytelling right to the present day. And the Undertaker’s Streak becoming a major part of WrestleMania allure would last for another 9 years.