FearlessRiOT Retro Review: WWE WrestleMania 21

In 2006, WWE launched their movie division, WWE Films, kicking off an entire legacy of cinematic mediocrity. Maybe one day, I’ll get around to reviewing every movie WWE has released under this banner, but today, I’m looking at a year earlier when WrestleMania went to Hollywood for a completely different reason. Less than two months after artists like Ray Charles and Maroon 5 took home Album and New Artist honors at the Grammy Awards, arguably music’s biggest night, the Staples Center also hosted pro wrestling’s biggest night, WrestleMania. And you know what, I think this is one time I won’t waste your time with an intro. Let’s just dive right into it: WrestleMania 21…..

Actually, let’s not get to the event so fast, because there’s something else I need to discuss first: the promotional campaign. I don’t think WWE will ever come up with a marketing campaign this funny again. The Superstars and Divas filmed parody trailers for some of the biggest movies in cinema history. What if John Cena and JBL were A Few Good Men? What if Stacy Keibler was responsible for the biggest leg-crossing in film instead of Sharon Stone? What if the army in Braveheart went into battle in defense of Triple H‘s World Title? What if wrestling badass Booker T took the place of acting badass  Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction? What if Linda McMahon wanted whatever made Christy Hemme orgasm instead of Sally? Did Undertaker fire six shots or was it only five? …..OK, that last one was kind of weird because seeing the Deadman in a silly wig acting in a semi-comedic commercial seemed so out-of-character for the guy. But generally, these commercials were highly amusing; the best of the bunch in my opinion was easily their take on Taxi Driver. I know it’s hard to get most wrestling fans to laugh these days, but even the most resistant smark would be cracking up at that commercial. Going Hollywood was one of the best ideas for WrestleMania thanks to the commercials alone. It also payed off with the stage design, which was decked out with a screen like at a theater, as well as a “Now Playing” theater board on one side and “WrestleMania Goes Hollywood” positioned like the Hollywood sign on the other. They really went all out in giving this event the right amount of style. But what about the content of the show itself? Well, let’s find out.

Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie GuerreroWM21_04032005dog_0220_vtrix
Here, we have a match pitting Tag Team Championship-holding partners against one another. It’s also one of the many rivalries in this show that lasted for months after the show ended instead of being the endgame. At the time, Rey and Eddie were BFF’s and tag team partners, but by the time Judgment Day came around, they were bitter blood rivals who would eventually find themselves fighting for the custody of a child in a ladder match. But I digress; let’s talk about this match, which is another one that opened WrestleMania right. Even though it was a friendly competition match, the chemistry between the two was always sure to bring out something good. Eddie lost what would end up being his final WrestleMania bout before his untimely death the following November.

The O.G. Money in the Bank Ladder Match

WM_04032005_JG_197_vtrixAfter we get a shot of celebrities Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider, and Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas sitting at ringside, it’s time for the first-ever Money in the Bank Ladder Match. On-screen, the Money in the Bank Ladder Match was the brain-child of Chris Jericho, Inventor of Everything That Has Ever Existed. Since Ladder Matches at WrestleMania have always been exciting, there was no way this particular match would fail. That would especially be the case looking at who took part in the inaugural bout. Jericho was joined by pre-Rated R Superstar Edge, rising star Shelton Benjamin, Captain Charisma Christian (in his final WrestleMania before heading to TNA for a few years), token monster Kane, and the wolverine who won the WrestleMania main event the previous year, Chris Benoit.

If there was ever a way to introduce an exciting match type, this was the match to did it. It was a genuinely fun car crash of a match, which saw almost everyone out their body on the line. From Shelton Benjamin wowing everyone with multiple impressive feats of athleticism to Chris Benoit hitting the diving head butt off the ladder…..hey, it may have cost him some brain cells, but it was a nice visual. Even Christian’s problem solver Tomko (Remember him?) got involved, helping a weakened Christian climb the ladder at one point. It was pretty amusing. But this match is best remembered for the outcome: Edge securing the contract and going in to cash-in for his first ever World Title and kicking off a legacy. I’d argue there will be better Money in the Bank matches in the future, definitely give credit to the original.

Eugene Gets Saved
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Neither Eugene nor Muhammad Hassan had been booked on WrestleMania that year despite the TV time they’d both gotten in the months leading in. Eugene wasn’t booked likely because he got injured at New Year’s Revolution a couple of months prior. Hassan wasn’t booked likely just so he can appear in the show and complain about it in a promo. I’m not gonna get into the entire Muhammad Hassan controversy and how problematic his entire angle was and ultimately how his career came to an end. YouTube already has a video for that. I’m not even gonna talk about how problematic Eugene‘s character was; WhatCulture has you more covered than I ever could on that. No, let’s just talk about this segment where Eugene stumbles out and talks about how awesome it is to be at WrestleMania before Muhammad Hassan and Daivari come out to spoil the party.

Hassan complains about being left off the show despite being undefeated at that point, claiming there were ethnic prejudices at play. Before he and Daivari launch an assault on Eugene. Luckily for Eugene, a man named Hulk Hogan (who was inducted into the Hall of Fame the previous night) was in attendance and made the save. He didn’t drop a leg on anyone, likely cause his legs were getting as fragile as an iPod screen, but was successful in fighting off the villains and received a thunderous ovation from the crowd. WWE even made sure to get a shot of Hogan’s family at ringside, especially Brooke, who was only one year away from getting the one and only hit song of her entire pop music career. (I don’t know about where y’all live, but the radio stations in Chicago played “About Us” the hell out in 2006.) 2005 as a a pretty good year for Hogan, between the Hall of Fame induction, his surprisingly funny VH1 reality show, and this moment right here. I’m sure current Hogan wishes his 2016 was that good.

Undertaker vs. Randy Orton
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For the longest time, this was my favorite match on this entire pay-per-view. I got this special on DVD and watched this match over and over again; I thought it was that damn good. These days, however, I really don’t watch it as much. It’s not that I find it bad now; that’s certainly not the case. But after years of other streak matches that were far superior, this one seems average by comparison now. So the story is that Randy Orton, after his super-failed face turn, goes heel again and decides to return to killing legends. He challenges the Undertaker and does whatever he can to send a message to the Deadman, whether it be RKO-ing his then on-screen girlfriend Stacy Keibler or dragging his Cowboy dad (who was also inducted into the Hall of Fame the previous night) into the picture.

His tactics, however, kind of remind me of that one Arby’s commercial current in TV; you know, the one that goes: “What part of Arby’s didn’t you understand, Giuseppe?” Only here, it’s “What part of ‘Don’t awaken the beast’ didn’t you understand, Randy?” As you probably already know by now, Randy Orton did indeed lose. Not that he didn’t try; he certainly did. He managed to reverse a Chokeslam into an RKO, for crying out loud. But let’s just say that if your father hitting him in the face with his cast wouldn’t put the Deadman away, it’s doubtful that anything else in your Arsenal will. So Orton became just another victim of the streak; and even though my adoration for this match has shrunken a little bit, I still think the match is pretty good and so was the feud the two would continue to have til the end of the year.

Trish Stratus vs. Christy Hemme
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At WrestleMania XIX, WWE promoted Torrie Wilson‘s Playboy cover by putting her in a pillow fight with Stacy and the Miller Lite Catfight Girls. At WrestleMania XX, they promoted Torrie’s joint Playboy cover with Sable by putting them in an Evening Gown Match that ended up being an Underwear Match. Well, at WrestleMania 21, they decided to promote Christy Hemme‘s Playboy cover by giving her a Women’s Title opportunity. You bet your ass that escalated quickly.

The thing about the WWE Diva Search is that in the early days, WWE loved forcing the winners to start wresting on TV fast with little to no training. You ever wonder why Ashley had such shoddy ring work, but Eve and Layla were able to transform into credible wrestlers? It’s because the latter two at least got some time for off-screen training. Maybe Christy’s case isn’t quite as sever despite being the first winner, but it was still questionable whether or not she and Trish Stratus could have a good match or not. Turns out, Trish was actually able to get a decent match out of the inexperienced rookie. I read it was supposed to be Lita vs. Trish, but Lita went down with an unfortunate knee injury and Christy was given her spot. This was more of a training wheels match for Christy, and even though she didn’t win the title, at least she didn’t stink the joint out. And hell, she almost won the Knockouts Title once, just in case you’re curious about if she ever made any progress.

Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels
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Big first time ever matches on pay-per-views are hard to come by these days. Since there’s no brand split and TV ratings suck so bad, WWE are forced to constantly put big matches on free TV to pop ratings, these affairs are few and far between on television. Even WWE just tossed AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens on a random Smackdown last week. But in 2005, these kinds of matches were still possible, which is what made Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels so big. The Olympian from Smackdown vs. The Showstopper from RAW, a match that started its build at the Royal Rumble and saw Kurt Angle decimate Sensational Sherri, Marty Jannetty, and Josh Matthews (in a segment I couldn’t find online, but remember happening) along the way to send a message. Folks, this was gonna be big. And big it was as it was praised as the best match of the night. When I was younger, I knew this match was good, but I was still stuck in the mindset that Orton vs. Undertaker was better. Now that I’m older, I think I’m veering more toward this match. Both matches still have their moments, but this one felt just a bit more special. Angle made HBK tap out, doubling up on Smackdown’s victories against RAW that night. They would have a rematch months later at Vengeance, but I think in this case, the original remains the most memorable.

Piper’s Pit with Steve Austin
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“Rowdy” Roddy Piper was a rebel in the World Wrestling Federation in the 80s. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was a rebel in the World Wrestling Federation in the 90s. So WWE ensured that when the two stood toe-to-toe in the same ring together, sparks would fly and all hell would break loose. And when the day came for the two to finally share the ring…..maybe a spark or two did go off. Piper’s Pit was a talk show that earned a reputation for never playing by the rules; that’s what earned Piper his lifelong membership to the Wrestling Rebels club. But this segment we clearly not gonna be like the time he shaved Haiti Kid, or when he insulted Andre The Giant‘s intelligence, or when Snuka took the coconut to the dome. Basically, this segment saw Austin and Piper argue over who was the bigger rebel. A couple of interesting moments occurred [“Thank you very much for having me, you little son of a bitch!” (slap)], but barely any ingredients for an explosion could be found. Then Carlito came; Piper claimed he looked like Alfalfa for some reason. I guess whoever wrote the line thought it sounded clever, but didn’t actually watch The Little Rascals for authenticity. Carlito then found himself in a role reversal as Piper spat an apple in his face. After Carlito beats down Piper, the two legends whoop his ass, drink some beer, and then Austin stuns Piper. This is another segment I enjoyed more when I was younger, but as I get older, it slips down the ladder of memorable wrestling moments.

The Sumo Match You Should Totally Skip
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Things are about to get ugly, ladies and gentlemen. Don’t say I didn’t warn you; I put “you should totally skip” in the title for a reason. Unless you want to see two big beyond husky fellows grapple for a minute-and-half in giant diapers (technically referred to as “mawashis”) then you can just skip it. In fact, I wouldn’t be shocked if you just skipped this part of the post. How can I possibly explain this? It’s another in Big Show‘s long Hall of WrestleMania Shame. He lost to a professional sumo wrestler in a short sumo match and became even more of a punchline in the process. I remember they were hyping this up as a big deal because it was the first ever Sumo Match in WrestleMania history. That’s like hyping up the first country performance in the history of the BET Awards: sure it’s historic, but did the intended audience want to see it?

John Cena vs. JBL
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Its the moment that kicked off a legacy of Hustle, Loyalty, and Respect. And ended a reign of misery, woe, and aggravation. JBL had been WWE Champion for months and I was waiting for someone to finally come along and swipe that belt from his arrgoant grasp; he’d gotten lucky one too many times against the Guerreros, Booker T’s, and Undertakers of Smackdown. However, he had yet to face the almighty pre-Superman John Cena, who back then was still beloved by most of the WWE Universe. And admittedly, John Cena had a pretty good 2005. His rap album (which I hope to get around to reviewing soon) peaked at #15 on the Billboard 200 chart and he started to become more recognized outside the ring to the point of even presenting on the Teen Choice Awards and hosting the VH1 Top 20 Countdon with Hulk Hogan, which I wish I had a clip to show you. and of course he entered his first WWE Championship match on a WrestleMania.

The match was a disappointment, which is kind of sad seeing as the buildup seemed perfect. Sure, John Cena did a ton of things to JBL that many Internet writers would call him a “bad face” for doing; but when a rule is thrown in that Cena loses his title shot if he touches JBL before WrestleMania and JBL tries doing whatever he can to piss the chalenger off from (kind of) property damage to insults to arrest, why not fight fire with fire? So you’d think the match would show a fired-up John Cena just waiting to destory JBL. Instead, Cena wa the one who was destroyed as he got beat down for 90% of the match, only to come back, hit the Cena Sequence, and get the victory. Wow, this really kick-started the whole “SuperCena/Five Moves of Doom” thing, huh? Also, a short time later, Cena introduced the Spinner Title that everyone loves to hate; personally, I prefer the Spinner over the bland, boring, unimaginative current WWE Title design, but I’m likely in the minority there. The point is the match could have been way better (and at Judgment Day, they really went all out), but it rang in a new posterboy, like it was supposed to do. And on this night, we’d also ring in an alternate posterboy.
Batista vs. Triple H
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First of all, MOTÖRHEAD! While I admit I’m not a hardcore fan of the fan, I always loved when Motörhead popped up on WWE television to perform for Triple H. I accidentally left their performance from X-Seven out of the review of that show, but I’m not gonna forget it here. While I’m sure Lemmy totally forgot some of the lyrics to the song, the late metal vocalist still helped in making Triple H seem like an important, intimidating wrestler. When Triple H referred to Motörhead’s sound as a gift at Lemmy’s funeral, he was not lying. But I do also have a match to talk about and it is a match that I mostly admire the closing moments of. There’s no way around it, for a match built on lies and betrayal, this match sure was slow. Without the closing moments where Batista overcame a bloody Triple H, I would have recommended you just skip from the Motörhead performance straight to Batista holding up the title. But they went in on a mission: cement Batista as a star in the company, and giving him the World Title was a successful step one. After a couple more bloody, vicious bouts with Triple H in the following months, Batista was officially one of the big boys….not just physically, but as far as status on the food chain, too.

I feel like this WrestleMania kind of went in reverse with the best matches happening early on and in the middle of the show and the final two matches being the non-showstoppers apart from the outcomes. This is another WrestleMania I’d rank in the middle as far as all-time favorites go. But I respect it’s place in history as without those main events, this era might be left without a definitive posterboy and Guardians of the Galaxy (still my favorite Marvel movie) would have had a different, less amusing Drax. Plus, who would they have given that spotlight to in 2010? But after WrestleMania left the big time of Hollywood, they packed up the next year and headed to the mean streets of my passionate hometown. Let’s hope they didn’t completely disgrace us with a crap show.

Coming tomorrow: WrestleMania 22.

 

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