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Retro Wrestlemania Moment: 2004's WrestleMania 20

2004's Wrestlemania 20 was the first Pay-Per-View event I ever paid for with my own money.  My parents had mostly refused to pay the $40 price tag during the Attitude Era but would occasionally graciously agree to pay for the most significant events of the year.  I don't mean for that to come off as ungrateful, I have ZERO complaints about my childhood, and I was happy to be able to pay in 2004 for a PPV such as Wrestlemania myself.

Between 2000 and 2004, I had largely given up on wrestling.  During the boom period of the 90s, there was no bigger fan than myself, but by the time WCW began to die, I had nearly stopped watching altogether.  Things like graduating high school and just regular teenage life got in the way of watching shows that had stopped being good anyway.  By the start of 2004, though, I had gotten back into wrestling in a big way.  For whatever reason, I had seen an advertisement for the new RAW vs. Smackdown Playstation game, and something told me I had to have it.  So, one day after class, I took a ride to go buy it with my best friend and a girl that I had pretty much just met.  That girl became my wife years later!  Anyway, as far as the game goes... the guys in my dorm and I suddenly became big fans.  We played that game for hours and we eventually started watching wrestling again.

Wrestlemania 20 is probably most memorable to most fans for seeing the underdog finally get its day.  For many fans, seeing Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit finally get their moment in the sun was almost like Vince McMahon and the company not only acknowledged these two and their amazing ability... but they were acknowledging US for supporting them.

Wrestlemania 20 aired live on March 14, 2004, from the "world's most famous arena," Madison Square Garden, in my hometown New York City.  The show was centered around two main storylines for the top two titles in the company.  The RAW brand match featured a Triple Threat for the World Heavyweight Title (The Big Gold) with champion Triple H against Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit.  On the Smackdown! side, Kurt Angle faced Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Championship.  Other notables include Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar as well as John Cena's Wrestlemania debut in the United States Championship match.

The opening match of the night was a singles match between Big Show and John Cena for Show's United States Championship.  Cena is making his Wrestlemania debut here and, at the time, was using his rapper "Thug Life" gimmick.  During the match, Show used his size to beat down Cena while Cena repeatedly tried to use his chain link/bike lock necklace to even the odds.  The referee eventually saw the chain and confiscated it, which lead to a few moments of "referee distraction."  Cena used this opportunity to use another illegal weapon (brass knuckles) before hitting the "F.U." (now called the Attitude Adjustment in the PG Era) to win his first Championship Title in the WWE.

There was another match that, a few years prior, would have certainly been a show-stealer when Undertaker continued his Wrestlemania streak by defeating Kane.  The storyline writing leading up to this match highlighted the history among the two, using Paul Bearer, Druids, and the infamous urn.  The bout itself was quite lackluster, though.  Undertaker used his "supernatural powers" and special effects during the ring entrance to distract Kane.  After staring at each other for a few minutes, they brawled for a short while before Kane hit 'Taker with a Choke Slam.  While Paul Bearer distracted Kane, Undertaker "sat up" and proceeded to end the match quickly with a Tombstone piledriver to continue that winning streak to 12 and 0.

Probably the most memorable event for me, even counting the two title matches, was the Golberg and Brock Lesnar confrontation.  It was also the biggest letdown, but my fellow New Yorkers did disappoint me.  Goldberg, a WCW mainstay, finally made his way to the WWE in 2003 and had a less-than-stellar run.  He just didn't fit in, and it seemed that Vince McMahon punished him for being a former WCW guy by the way he was booked.  Brock Lesnar needs no introduction, but he was a much better in-ring talent back then than he is these days.  He wrestled a more collegiate wrestling style than the two or three move behemoth he has become in 2020.

Word leaked before the show that both guys had put in their notice to leave WWE and that this match would be their last.  The two were put together after Lesnar interfered in the Royal Rumble and hit an F-5 on Goldberg, allowing Kurt Angle to eliminate him.  Stone Cold Steve Austin, retired from the in-ring competition, was using the "Sheriff Austin" gimmick at the time and gave Goldberg a front-row ticket to the No Way Out pay per view where Goldberg hopped the barricade and interfered with Lesnar's match costing him the WWE Title to Eddie Guerrero.  Mr. McMahon declares the two would face each other at Wrestlemania 20 with Sheriff Steve Austin as the guest "enforcer" referee.

Anyone who grew up in the '90s had wanted to see Goldberg face-off with Stone Cold, and unfortunately, due to timing and injury issues, this would be the best we ever got.  The match itself was a stinker as both were clearly shaken by the reaction of the fans in New York.  The two circled and jaw jacked back and forth for several minutes while the fans chanted everything from "You sold out" to "Boring" and "This match sucks."  The fans that night in New York were displeased that these guys were both jumping off the WWE train and they let it show without hesitation.  When the two finally did make physical contact, there were several botched moves that looked sloppy and painfully obvious to even the untrained eye.  Mercifully, Goldberg finally hit a Spear and Jackhammer for the victory.  The crowd rained down boos and garbage on the ring until Stone Cold saved the day by, in what today is still disputed as an "in-ring audible," giving both competitors Stunners and celebrating in the ring with beer.

The co-main event featured the legendary Eddie Guerrero defending his WWE Championship against Olympic Gold Medal winner Kurt Angle.  Eddie Guerrero is truly one of the top 5 wrestlers ever to lace up a pair of boots, and honestly, if you told me he was number one, I'd have a hard time arguing with you.  Eddie, by all accounts from people in-and-out of the business, was just on another level.  But, I'm not here to sell you on the amazing skills of Eddie Guerrero.  The match focused on both men were masters of the mat, each trying to outdo the other with amazing technical abilities.  Guerrero hit his famous Frog Splash, but Angle recovered and applied the ankle lock.  Guerrero rolled through, throwing Kurt to the floor in the process.  While Angle climbed back in the ring, Guerrero loosened his ring boot, acting as if his ankle was broken.  Kurt once again tried to apply the ankle lock finishing maneuver, only to have Guerrero kick off his loose boot.  Eddie, true to his "Lie-Cheat-Steal" Latino Heat character, rolled up the confused Angle to retain his WWE Championship on the grandest stage of them all.

Finally, to close out the night, the Main Event featured World Heavyweight Champion Triple H defend his title in a Triple Threat against his best friend Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit.  Benoit earned his Title shot by winning the Royal Rumble just months earlier, but HBK was thrown in *supposedly* because Vince McMahon and Triple H behind the scenes didn't think the match would sell well without HBK's big name.  Storyline wise, Chris Benoit was a Smackdown superstar but used a never-before-used loophole that allowed him to chose whichever title he preferred.  So he jumped to RAW and challenged Hunter.  At the contract signing, HBK came out and demanded this was unfair since he was owed a rematch, and, through the magic of wrestling, was quickly inserted into the Wrestlemania match.

This match is often referred to as "the perfect Triple Threat" match.  With near-constant action amongst the three wrestlers, it stands in stark contrast to the modern style where one plays dead on the outside, and it basically becomes a singles match until it's time to switch places.  The match started with Benoit and Michaels going after Triple H.  They would then go back and forth with each other before Triple H intervened.  Pedigree to HBK but Benoit breaks up the pin.  Michaels attempts Sweet Chin Music to Benoit, but he ducks and tosses HBK out of the ring.  Triple H tried to hit his Pedigree again, but Benoit reversed the maneuver into his own finisher, the Crippler Crossface.  After a brief struggle Triple H submitted in the middle of the ring, making Chris Benoit the WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

Confetti rained down as the match ended and Benoit cried tears of joy in the ring as he knelt clutching his new prize.  Eddie Guerrero made his way down out from the locker room to celebrate with his fellow "Radical" and good friend as the show went off the air.

Earlier in the night, you would have seen other fairly forgettable matches that included Booker T and RVD defending the Tag Titles in a Fatal 4 Way against the Dudley Boyz (Bubba Ray and D-Von), Garrison Cade and Mark Jindrak, and La Resistance (Rene Dupree and Rob Conway).  Christian defeated Chris Jericho, while Batista, Randy Orton, and Ric Flair defeated Mick Foley and the Rock.  Torrie Wilson and Sable "earned" the right to pose in Playboy Magazine by defeating Miss Jackie and Stacy Keibler.  Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty defeated the APA (Bradshaw and Farooq), The Basham Brothers (Doug and Danny Basham), and the Worlds Greatest Tag Team (Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin) in another tag team Fatal 4 Way.  Molly Holly also got her head shaved when she was defeated by Victoria in a Hair vs. Title match.

One other match of note was the Cruiser Weight Open Challenge.  It basically was a Battle Royal match to any cruiserweight in the company.  The ten competitors were Chavo Guerrero, Rey Mysterio, Tajiri, Jamie Noble, Ultimo Dragon, Billy Kidman, Akio, Nunzio, Shannon Moore, and Funaki.  I was a HUGE Nunzio/Little Guido fan and was thrilled he got his Wrestlemania moment, especially in his hometown, even if it was a losing one.  I was also happy to see Ultimo Dragon get a chance at Wrestlemania, even if he did fall flat on his face during his entrance.

Following Wrestlemania, the rides at the top for Benoit and Guerrero would be relatively short-lived.  Benoit went on to hold the title until August, where he lost to the rising star of Randy Orton.  Eddie Guerrero held the title until early summer at Great American Bash, where he lost, ending a feud with the newly created "J.B.L." character for Layfield.  Unfortunately, we all know what would happen to Eddie and what Benoit did shortly thereafter.

All in all, WM20 was successful as the third Wrestlemania at Madison Square Garden, following 1 and 10.  Based on current trends, it was probably also the last Wrestlemania at Madison Square Garden.  At the time, though, it was the highest-grossing event ever for WWE at MSG with $2.4 million in ticket sales.

This event will always hold a special place in my heart.  Not just because it was the first Pay-Per-View event I bought for myself, but when it also makes me think about it that time period when I was in college.  That hits me right in the "feels" (as the kids say), and that's what we're all here for on the retro blogging sphere, isn't it?

Wrestlemania 20 is in the books as the second stop on our Retro Wrestlemania Moment tour.  Where will we find ourselves next?  

Let's jump back in time to 1989 as The Mega-Powers EXPLODE... LIVE from Trump Plaza at Wrestlemania 5!