WrestleMania 20: Where it all begins again. The show serves as much of a celebration of the event itself that a major show in itself, the history of WrestleMania predominating as the event reaches 20 editions.
We’re back at Madison Square Garden for this years show. Jim Ross & Jerry Lawler are on commentary for Raw, Michael Cole & Tazz for SmackDown. The Boys Choir of Harlem open the show with ‘America the Beautiful’. A nice break from the heavily nu metal musical vibes of the previous year. A deeply emotive video package, talking about Vince McMahon in glowing terms and featuring sappy comments from some of the talent. It all gets a bit more intense before ending with the visual of McMahon with his son Shane, and one of his grandsons.
WrestleMania 20: Big Show vs John Cena – WWE United States Championship
Opening with the first WrestleMania match in the storied career of John Cena. He’s still in his early, universally popular, incarnation. He rhymes about the Big Show a bit, some of it is pretty witty, some just weird. This is also the first time the United States has been involved on a Mania card, making its way to the ring looking miniscule on the shoulder of Big Show.
Big Show is physically dominant, as you might expect, the crowd firmly behind Cena. A lot of slow plodding offense from Show, old fashioned big man stuff in the main. It’s strange from a 2023 perspective to see Cena so outmatched for long portions of the match. There are some brief flurries of a comeback from Cena, which pick the pace up, but it’s very Big Show heavy for a while.
Strong comeback from Cena which peaks in a great visual, Cena picking up Show for the ‘FU’, a double punch of emotion as Show then kicks out, allegedly the first time anyone had done so. Cena goes to hit Show with his chain, but the referee intervenes, Cena throws the chain away and uses the distraction to hit Show with some hidden brass knuckles. Another ‘FU’ and Cena wins the first of what would be many singles titles in his career.
Jonathan Coachman is wandering backstage, before heading to Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff’s office. Apparently, The Undertaker is in the arena and Bischoff sends Coachman to look for him. We then cut to Randy Orton, with Batista and Ric Flair. He narrates the story of the feud between he and Mick Foley so far. It’s a touch overlong but it’s a good precis of the feud.
WrestleMania 20: Rob Van Dam & Booker T vs Garrison Cade & Mark Jindrak vs The Dudley Boyz vs La Resistance
The first of two four way matches for the two sets of tag team championships. The fact that neither brand had anything more interesting going on for their tag team divisions is a bit of indictment of the companies creative at the time. The Dudley Boyz are announced as being from New York (rather than Dudleyville), Bubba still in the shorts he wore during his brief singles run.
We cycle through all the teams, Booker T spending a lot of time in the ring. This gives Lawler a chance to throw back to his negative comments about Booker the previous year. La Resistance get some cheap heat from the crowd by shouting things like ‘USA, my Ass’. And mixing that with slow and dull ring work.
It picks up once Rob Van Dam gets involved, finally a bit of dynamism on show. This leads into a big run for everyone to hit (or try to hit) big moves. It culminates with Booker T hitting an axe kick and RVD following up with a Five Star Frog Splash to retain their titles. It’s a bit of filler, probably designed to just get as many people on the show as possible. Nothing bad, it’s just a bit meaningless.
Coachman is looking for Undertaker some more and comes across Gene Okerlund, who was hiding in a cupboard. Turns out he’s with Bobby Heenan, both men have lipstick on their faces. Turns out they’ve been fooling around with Mae Young and the Fabulous Moolah. Lightweight, silly fun. And a very rare chance to see Okerlund and Heenan together at this point in their lives.
WrestleMania 20: Christian vs Chris Jericho
A friendship torn apart by romance. After Jericho and Christian made a bet about sleeping with Lita or Trish Stratus, Jericho has fallen for Trish for real. This has left Christian feeling left out and angry at his friend. It’s a tangled soap opera web, one that’s quite well laid out in a pre-match video package.
A stare down before they lock up, good physical stuff. Neither man in control until Jericho takes the match to the floor and takes over. Commentary reference Jericho’s family connection to Madison Square Garden (his father played Ice Hockey there for the New York Rangers) but not that Jericho himself was born on Long Island not far away.
Christian takes back over, almost identically to how Jericho took over, by throwing Jericho to the floor and then into the steel steps. Enjoyably prickish work from Christian, Jericho with some good comebacks mixed in. Both men get knocked down by a clash of heads before taking it up another notch. A running theme is Jericho calling Christian ‘CLB’ (short for creepy little bastard), thankfully not a nickname that stuck around. Some pinfall attempts exchanged in a smooth little sequence. Christian goes for a top rope dive, but Jericho rolls it through into a pinfall and almost gets the victory. The two men they trade attempts at the ‘Walls of Jericho’, Christian pulling them both to the floor whilst still in the hold.
Trish runs down to ringside, Lawler immediately distracted by this turn of events. Jericho kicks out of a very high angle DDT before Christian gets distracted by putting his hands on Trish. With Stratus down, Jericho goes to check on her and she accidentally elbows him right in the face, presumably thinking it was Christian. Christian takes advantage and pins Jericho to win.
Trish looks to be apologising to Jericho but she turns on him, slapping him and letting Christian come back to the ring to hit the ‘Killswitch’. Trish and Christian kiss on the stage to affirm their new partnership. Fun match that packed in enough wrestling to balance out the soapy storyline.
Mick Foley is backstage talking about his upcoming match. Good stuff from him before The Rock comes in and riffs for a while, just wandering around backstage, trying to hype Foley up. Their chemistry is clear, there’s a gleam in Foley’s eyes as he watches Rock.
WrestleMania 20: Evolution (Batista, Randy Orton & Ric Flair) vs The Rock n Sock Connection (The Rock & Mick Foley) – 3-on-2 handicap match
An extension of the Randy Orton vs Mick Foley feud that would ultimately do a great job of elevating the future multi time world champion Orton. It also marks the only time The Rock would stand across the ring from Batista & Orton, as well as one of only two times for he and Flair.
We get some of those dream combinations early on, The Rock and Ric Flair starting off the match proper together. Once Orton comes in, Foley tags in and has to chase Orton out of the ring in order to get his hands on him. There’s a lot of cheap tactics from the Evolution trio, even though they have the numbers advantage, they must take the low road to get the momentum. A lot of everyone’s classic offense on show, and classic painful looking bumps for Flair and Foley.
Foley is well protected in his sequences, this was his first match in four years after all and there were four other men to help share the load. He still takes a hell of a beating at times as he was always wont to do, showing plenty of fire to stay in the match. There are some nice nods on commentary to Foley’s childhood in the area and his personal history with Madison Square Garden.
The action is almost all well executed but the match is mostly about the star power involved and the historical novelty of seeing these five men in the ring at the same time. It starts to get a little bit long and self-indulgent at times. The pace started out hot but it dips a bit once Foley gets an extended beating for a little bit too long in the middle of the match, finally picking up when The Rock comes back in. Flair takes too long shucking and jiving whilst going for a mocking ‘People’s Elbow’ on the man himself. The Rock hits the move right back and Flair shockingly kicks out, a rare moment.
Rock and Orton trade some moves before a ‘Rock Bottom’ is broken by Flair. A Flair distraction leads to a ‘Batista Bomb’ to Rock, but he kicks out in another surprise. Foley gets back in and finally goes for his Mr Socko assisted Mandible Claw but walks right into an ‘RKO’ from Orton, who gets the win.
A historically interesting match that was a touch long at times. It’s exciting purely for the involvement of so many future Hall of Famers all at once. It also had the added factor of helping to further raise the stock of Orton in particular, building his feud with Foley that would help solidify his main event status. This was The Rock’s final match until his 2011 return to build to his match with John Cena.
We move to a look at the previous night’s WWE Hall of Fame event. This was that ceremonies first appearance on WrestleMania weekend and the first time it had been held full stop since 1996. The moment where Bobby Heenan pays tribute to his old colleague Gorilla Monsoon is a tearjerker even in it’s brevity. It’s a stacked class, and they all get their moment on stage, with introductions from Gene Okerlund. They’d cut this segment down in future years but it’s touching stuff in the moment.
WrestleMania 20: Torrie Wilson & Sable vs Miss Jackie & Stacy Keibler – Playboy Evening Gown Match
From the beautiful and emotional to the ridiculous. Thankfully it’s not the only women’s match on the card. But it is a Playboy Evening Gown Match, which entails four not particularly well-trained women struggling to work, with pinfalls or submissions being the way to win and the evening gown’s coming off before the bell rings.
The best thing about the match is that Jerry Lawler isn’t commentating, Tazz & Michael Cole aren’t quite as bad as he would have inevitably been. Oh, and it finishes eventually. And Miss Jackie’s entrance music is better than it has any right to be. It’s pointlessly lecherous titillating nonsense that thankfully we’ve moved on from. Torrie and Sable win, but who really cares.
We hear from a lot of fans who have travelled, most of whom seem to be British or Irish for somehow. Then it’s backstage to Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, Guerrero trying to hype up Benoit, Benoit seeming frustrated by Guerrero’s relative negativity. It’s funny stuff, and gives extra context to something that will happen later in the night.
WrestleMania 20: Cruiserweight Open for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
A way for a bunch of the Cruiserweight’s to get on the show. It’s essentially a gauntlet match, a series of short encounters with ‘winner stays on’ rules. Chavo Guerrero will enter last as the defending champion. The wrestlers who are yet to enter are hanging around at ringside, everyone gets an abbreviated entrance at the beginning.
There’s plenty of talent involved, some of the most exciting workers of the day. Including the only WWE pay-per-view appearance for Ultimo Dragon. Nunzio being announced as weighing 201 and one quarter pounds is a funny hidden detail. Rey Mysterio is last out (dressed as the Flash) but it’s Shannon Moore and Ultimo Dragon who kick things off. Dragon eliminates Moore and it’s Jamie Noble in next. Dragon looks good but Noble forces him to tap out, ending his one and only WrestleMania in a few minutes. Funaki is in and out in seconds before Nunzio enters for some work opposite Noble. A dive to the floor from Noble and a bit of brawling leads to Nunzio being counted out and eliminated. Billy Kidman joins the match. Nunzio may have been eliminated but he hangs around and he and Noble are knocked down by a ‘Shooting Star Press’ to the floor from Kidman. Back in the ring and Kidman eliminates Noble, Mysterio is in next. Some quick work between Mysterio and Kidman, showing the chemistry they built up in WCW. Mysterio eliminates Kidman and faces off with Tajiri next.
A ‘619’ from Mysterio before Tajiri hits his own teammate Akio with the green mist. Mysterio eliminates Tajiri. Akio is supposed to be next but the mist has forced him out. The Champion Guerrero enters last, he’s been feuding with Mysterio so this final two makes the most sense. More good chemistry on show from the long term rivals. Mysterio dives to the outside, over the referee, to take out Chavo Sr. who has been at ringside. Guerrero manages to get a sneaky pin on Mysterio, with an assist from his father, to win the match and retain the title.
It’s a very abbreviated, rushed match. There are some interesting sequences but ultimately, it’s hurt by its brevity.
WrestleMania 20: Goldberg vs Brock – Stone Cold Steve Austin as Special Guest Referee
Oh boy. The battle of two men who were on the way out of the company. They’d been at each other’s throats since the Royal Rumble when Lesnar attacked Goldberg and caused his elimination. Goldberg got his own back by costing Brock Lesnar his world title against Eddie Guerrero, with an assist from Steve Austin who gave him the ticket. A lot of the build up has revolved around Lesnar and his issues with Austin, the only times the two men every got physical with one another.
As mentioned, both Goldberg and Lesnar were leaving the company after this match for different reasons, something that was well known to the crowd at the time. This means neither man gets a particularly major reaction. Except a negative one. ‘You Sold Out’ chants ring round the arena, not strictly true but telling.
Instead of starting out with explosive action, it starts out with a long stare down, neither man moving towards the other. The ‘Hey hey hey goodbye’ song is sung. Lesnar calls Goldberg a ‘motherfucker’. Austin smirks when the crowd chants for him. 2 minutes and 46 seconds pass before the two men touch. Oh, it’s not good folks. Two giant, athletic freaks, doing nothing but lock out over and over again for minutes at a time. They do mix it up with a headlock and by running into each other a few times. A military press and a slam finally get a reaction from the crowd, finally a bit of explosion from someone.
When people tell you this match is boring, believe them. Goldberg getting in Austin’s face after a Lesnar kick out is the most interesting moment. Goldberg kicks out of an ‘F5’, which makes Lesnar get in Austin’s face. A spear and a ‘jackhammer’ and Goldberg wins.
For the talents of the two men involved, the worst match in Mania history. They made no effort to try and bring the crowd back on side, even without the crowd reaction they wrestled a dull plodding match. The least they could have done would have been to show off the explosiveness and athleticism that made them both famous. The best thing that ever happened for both men is that they were able to run this match back in late 2016/early 2017. Two matches that added up to about half the length of this one were both far better than this was, and an example of how best to book a match between two men like this.
Vince McMahon comes out next to try and right this ship. He does so by thanking the crowd for their support.
WrestleMania 20: Too Cool (Rikishi & Scotty 2 Hotty) vs The World’s Greatest Tag Team (Shelton Benjamin & Charlie Haas) vs The Basham Brothers (Doug & Danny) vs The APA (Faarooq & Bradshaw)
It’s the second four-way tag team match on the night, this time for the SmackDown versions of the titles. Benjamin and Bradshaw start things out in a brief styles clash before The Basham brothers come in. The action ebbs and flows depending largely on who is involved, there’s plenty of alright workers in the match, but there are the Basham’s as well.
Scotty spends some of his time in the ring doing his typical messing around and dancing. When Haas & Benjamin are involved, the action generally picks up. Faarooq becomes the last man to get physically involved, although he doesn’t become a legal participant at any point in the match. A good show of power from Bradshaw to throw one of the Basham’s onto Haas & Benjamin. Rikishi wins the match with his ‘big sit’ onto the other Basham. Much like the previous identical match, this was a waste of the four teams. Was there nothing better for the tag team titles than two paint by numbers elimination matches. At least Too Cool get to dance for a bit.
We get a brief video package for Edge, who was out with injury at the time. Then Jesse Ventura comes down to the ring to interview Donald Trump at ringside. A bit of nothing filler.
WrestleMania 20: Victoria vs Molly Holly – Hair vs Title for the WWE Women’s Championship
A match that apparently only happened because Molly Holly came up with the stipulation that she would have her head shaved if she lost. She is here challenging Victoria, who is in her second reign, and second consecutive Mania walking in as the champion.
These two are amongst the better in ring workers of the era so the match actually resembles a match, which is a nice change of pace from the Evening Gown nonsense earlier.. It’s not brilliant but it’s actual wrestling. Victoria is pretty athletic in her moments, Holly showing some submission work to counter. Unfortunately the crowd are largely tuned out, and commentary are occasionally distracted by talking about ‘panties’, Lawler is involved after all. Holly hits a kneeling powerbomb out of the corner that looks partly like a botch, partly like a clever execution. Victoria gets a surprise backslide pin and wins to retain.
A shame that this was the best anyone could think of for the most prestigious title for the companies women. Molly tries to run away from the hair cutting but Victoria chases her and attacks. Holly manages to put Victoria in the barbers chair but Victoria fights back and the shaving begins. Kudos to Molly Holly for suggesting the idea, sad that she had to.
WrestleMania 20: Eddie Guerrero vs Kurt Angle – WWE Championship
Two of the most technically sound, indeed beautiful, wrestlers in history collide. Guerrero had become champion at No Way Out by beating Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle has been at his throat since. In retrospect Angle’s anger at Eddie Guerrero’s past drug use comes across as hypocritical given where Angle’s life would go in the future. In context though it’s intense, angry stuff from Angle, and Paul Heyman who has been on his side. It also makes Guerrero look immensely sympathetic even as he remains perfectly happy to ‘lie cheat and steal’ when needed.
Guerrero gets a fittingly major entrance for a champion, riding into the arena in a custom lowrider pick up truck and wearing his now iconic ‘Latino Heat’ t-shirt. An slow but intense beginning, the exact opposite of the opening to Goldberg/Lesnar, which was just slow. A lot of mat wrestling early on, silky smooth exchanges. It’s slow going at first but the execution is so spot on that it’s not a boring kind of slow. Tazz is brilliant on commentary, doing a great job of explaining the various holds and the reasons for them.
Guerrero shows flashes of his speed in amongst mixing it up with Angle in the submissions. They ramp up the speed slowly and exponentially before Angle teases a German Suplex off the apron. He doesn’t hit it but it leaves him open for Guerrero to dive towards him, Guerrero misses and hits the ringside barrier. They keep returning to the mat wrestling, but that exponential growth applies to the intensity as well. Everything they do is setting the stage for something later on. When the two men finally start throwing fists and other strikes it feels genuinely earned, a culmination of the pressure they’re both under.
There are some brilliant counters from both men to fight out of and away from the other’s offense, an ‘Angle Slam’ into an arm drag a standout. Angle turning an attempt at the ‘three amigos’ suplexes into an ankle lock straight after is another. As mentioned, all of the bigger moves being pulled out feel like they’ve been fought for and won, rather than simply being hit. Angle’s straps come down and he goes for another ankle lock, which Guerrero again reverses. After trying it twice earlier in the match, Guerrero finally hits his ‘Frog Splash’. He goes for the pin and Angle kicks out so close to the count of three that the crowd is already halfway through shouting ‘Three’, brilliantly executed
Angle gets his third ankle lock locked in and Guerrero again manages to fight out of it, Angle spilling to the outside in the process. Guerrero’s ankle is hurt and he starts to undo his boot. Angle notices, Guerrero responding with a visible cry of ‘oh shit’ and Angle goes for the ankle lock again. Guerrero’s boot slips off in the process and Guerrero rolls Angle up into a pinfall to win and retain. A very clever finish to a brilliantly put together match. Guerrero may have sneaked it but that suits him down to the ground.
WrestleMania 20: The Undertaker vs Kane
Where to begin? The Undertaker hasn’t been seen since the ‘American Bad Ass’ was buried at Survivor Series the previous year, with the assistance of Kane. Kane has been mocking Undertaker ever since in his absence but has been increasingly haunted by visions of Taker since the Royal Rumble. Some of it is genuinely spooky stuff. During Kane’s entrance the cityscape on the stage is in flames, a nice piece of contextually appropriate set design.
Up until this point the Undertaker hadn’t actually appeared, he was represented by a tombstone in the match graphics. So his appearance, indeed the form he would take, were a mystery. It what was a genuine surprise, we are greeted by the voice and appearance of Paul Bearer, who hadn’t been seen on screen in the company in 4 years. He brings out Undertakers urn and 10 druids, who light the entrance ramp. And the Undertaker himself appears. Clad in an updated version of his classic ‘Deadman’ look, the one he would largely sport for the rest of his career. Kane’s manic reactions to the site of the man he thought he buried are brilliantly opposed by Undertaker’s complete stoicism.
It doesn’t really matter what the match itself is actually like, this is all about the return and the pageantry. As soon as the action starts it is clear that even though this is ‘Deadman’ Undertaker, he’s not wrestling the slow pace that he used to in his earlier incarnation. It’s his surprising agility and athleticism that made him an intriguing athlete to watch and they are on show here. Kane does get some shots in but it’s largely Undertaker in control. Taker hits his ‘Old School’ rope walk but gets caught in the chokeslam position. Kane manage to hit the chokeslam but turns his back on Undertaker, who sits up. Undertaker hits his own chokeslam to Kane, followed up with the ‘Tombstone Piledriver’ for the win. Undertaker is now 12-0 at WrestleMania.
The match itself doesn’t really matter, it’s about the return and the moment.
WrestleMania 20: Triple H vs Chris Benoit vs Shawn Michaels
World Heavyweight Championship
The Royal Rumble winner challenges the World Champion. And Shawn Michaels is there too. That’s facetious. Benoit crossed over from SmackDown to Raw to claim this match. Michaels was granted his place in this match through attacking Benoit, it being Eric Bischoff’s decision as General Manager to make it the first ever triple threat for a World Title at Mania.
A George Hackenschmidt reference on commentary as Jim Ross talks about the history of wrestling at Madison Square Garden during Triple H’s entrance. Benoit and Michaels fight at the bell over who can attack Triple H first before turning on each other. HHH is on the floor early and Michaels/Benoit get a chance to exchange some mat wrestling and holds. It falls fairly quickly into the pattern that a lot of triple threats do; a series of smaller singles matches whilst one man is on the outside. There are flashes of all three men interacting though, Michaels with a moonsault to the floor on both opponents.
There is plenty of rotation between the three participants, no one combination fighting for too long in one go. Michaels gets his chance to show off with his always perfect nip-up but gets knocked out of the ring straight away by Benoit in a fun piece of comeuppance for his cockiness. Not long after Benoit almost manages to almost lock in his ‘crippler crossface’ hold on HHH but Michaels breaks it up. Benoit then hits Michaels with his triple German suplexes and his signature diving headbutt, Michaels surprisingly kicking out twice in a row.
Michaels hits a diving elbow and ‘Sweet Chin Music’, Benoit returning the favour from earlier by pulling Triple H out of the pinfall. Benoit manages to throw Michaels into the ring post and Michaels is immediately disgustingly bloody. Benoit gets the ‘crossface’ back in but Triple H catches Michaels’ hand before he can tap out, Michaels’ blood already all over Benoit.
Triple H and Benoit fight to the floor and HHH starts to clear one of the announce tables. They brawl for moment, Benoit getting some advantage but is cut off whilst stood on the Spanish announce table. A bit of teasing before a miniature DX reunion sees Michaels and Triple H suplex Benoit through one of the tables. It looks like it’s down to Michaels and HHH and they brawl in and around the ring, Michaels looking like he just stepped out of the movie ‘Carrie’.
Triple H hits the ‘Pedigree’, a near certain match ender. Out of nowhere comes Benoit to break up the pin, even after all the punishment he’s taken he’s the only man not bleeding by this point. Benoit manages to get a ‘Sharpshooter’ locked on Triple H but Michaels eventually breaks it up with a superkick. Another attempted ‘Sweet Chin Music’ from Michaels to Benoit ends with Michaels getting thrown to the floor. Triple H tries to take advantage with a ‘Pedigree’ to Benoit, but Benoit reverses it into a ‘Crippler Crossface’. After an agonising period, Triple H taps out.
Benoit wins the match and becomes World Heavyweight Champion. He also becomes the first person to win a Mania main event via submission…
From the moment Michaels is busted open, the match reaches another level, the real drama comes from then on. It’s a bit slow before that point but the second half saves it. Watching Benoit become visibly emotional upon winning the title, and then being joined by his real-life close friend Eddie Guerrero is deeply bittersweet in retrospect.
It is very difficult to talk about Benoit given his actions in the last 48 hours of his life but to forget about this moment is to do a disservice to Eddie Guerrero, and his legacy.
A bit of a step down from previous years. It’s bloated and overlong and feels like a dry run for the overlong Mania’s the company would put on in the latter half of the 2010s. It particularly sages in the middle, and features what might be the most underwhelming match in Mania history. Others might be technically worse, or more pointless, than Goldberg vs Lesnar, but with the talent involved and the level of performance they ended up putting on it’s definitely the most underperforming match.
Thankfully the closing stretch provides some relief. Angle/Guerrero and the Main Event both see crowning achievements for two men who had been held down for years in WCW, it’s incredibly bittersweet in retrospect of course. A very inconsistent show in all then.