The Voice Of Reason 03.15.04: Wrestlemania XX Live Report


It’s about 1:20AM as I begin to write this special VOR WM reactions post. I figure the sooner I get my feelings down, the less tainted I’ll be by all the online reports, emails and forums I’ll end up reading at work tomorrow.

I’ll preface this by saying that I am not a big fan of seeing WWE events live, and the last event I attended was Royal Rumble 2000, with HHH/Foley, Dudleyz/Hardyz and the MSG debut of Tazz (where he squashed Kurt Angle).

In addition, my tickets weren’t really what you’d expect from the webmaster of the internet’s largest independent pro-wrestling website. Up in section 328, I got a very unique view of the action, pretty far away but still with a clear sight line to the ring.

I haven’t really sat and watched a PPV just to observe the ringwork and crowd reactions before, and it changes the way you see things. Unlike a Raw or Smackdown, PPVs tend to have more and longer matches, and it’s a more pure way of seeing how crowds react to wrestlers and how they are in general of working the crowd during the match. For example, the crowd reacted tepidly to Benoit on his entrance, but because of how the match was built and executed, the crowd was rapid for his win by the end.

Before I go match by match through Wrestlemania XX, discussing the crowd reactions, angle developments and workrate, I’ll say that I think WMXX was a fantastic show. From top to bottom, the ring work was strong and all the matches (save one) delivered at or above the level I was expecting.

As the “Super Bowl” of WWE, it also delivered in a major way. Unlike prior Wrestlemanias that might have relied on shocking returns or tons of celebrity glitz, this year’s Wrestlemania instead put the wrestlers first, for perhaps the first time ever. Even last year’s event had some of those ringwork-optional old man matches. WMXX has none of that. As I spoke to my friends who I went to the event with, I was noting how I’d like to see Sean O’Haire get a push. And then thinking back, at the time O’Haire was on Smackdown, the top card of Smackdown consisted of Mr. America, Vince McMahon, Roddy Piper and the one-legged wrestler Zach Gowen. Think about how much has changed in less than a year, and then you can begin to truly appreciate how awesome this year’s Wrestlemania was.

If you didn’t enjoy this show, I think you’ve lost sight of the big picture. Vince McMahon and his writing staff have taken all of our suggestions to heart! They have gone and over the last 6 months, overhauled the booking of the entire promotion and reformed it with many of the things the internet has groaned about for years.

Here are just a few:

Old guys are no longer pushed as main eventers.
No Hogan! No Piper! No Sting or Luger signed for another wacky run! No Nash! And so on Say what you want about the Undertaker or Triple H, they are never an embarrassment in the ring. Triple H in particular, except when against a total stiff, puts on a good match. WWE has systematically weeded out all the over-the-hill non-drawing old timers.

No More McMahons
The occasional appearance by Vince to make a major announcement aside, the McMahons have vanished from WWE programming. After all the reports that Stephanie would return as Smackdown GM in a month, she has been gone for 5 months and counting. Even if she returns, at least we got a long break. After booking himself in many high profile matches, it seems as if Vince might be done in the main event too.

Heat and focus is back on in-ring wrestlers
For the most part, WWE has taken the attention off of non-wrestling figures and transferred the heat back onto the wrestlers. Both GMs are still factors on the show, but neither is the top heel and both do a lot to put the heat on the match or wrestler wherever possible. Austin is an exception, but since he is so over and does go on the road, he is a worthy exception.

WWE pushed guys we like
How can anyone be upset when Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit are the promotion’s two World Champs?

Woman’s, Cruiserweight Titles featured
They will never be the top divisions, but they both have about 10 person divisions with tons of title contenders and always a solid match. The woman’s division in particular is a real change from earlier, and the cruiserweight division’s top two wrestlers would be legimiate heavyweight challengers too.

Titles have more meaning
The titles have once again become the centerpiece of the promotion, with both World title feuds essentially over the title itself, and many of the secondary titles as well.

It’s tough to turn off the constant negativity and nit picking on these subjects because they were being handled so poorly for so long. But most of them are being handled pretty damned well right now, and this show proved it. I’m not saying there isn’t room for improvement and constructive criticism, but it’s almost important to step back and take account of what is going in the right direction.


We arrived at the arena at around 6:15PM, and it took a very long time to get to our seats. There was almost no security for me going into the arena, which was a bit of a surprise given the current climate of the country, but it was also a refreshing change. If someone is targeting Wrestlemania for a terrorist attack, then I don’t think they fully understand our country.

There was nothing on in the arena before 7PM. There was no Heat airing on the big screens and no audio of interviews or video packages or anything. They did an entrance for the Spanish Announcers, then for Tazz and Cole using Tazz’s music (big pop), then JR then the King, who got a loud “Jer-ry” chant.

The Harlem Boys choir came out and the crowd was raucous in their support for the songs and the country.

Note: The order of some stuff might be off. It’s late and whatever.

John Cena vs. The Big Show
It was a great idea to start the live crowd off with John Cena, because he got a gigantic reaction from the New York crowd. Everything in his repertoire was over, and he even got a large amount of anti-Big Show chants going throughout the match. Show got almost no negative reaction on entrance, but that would become a regular theme with heels at MSG tonight. Cena sold the Big Show’s offense very effectively, and did a few very over-the-top but still believeable bumps. He also does a lot during the match to engage the crowd, and when he finished off Show, the crowd popped big.

Coach was in a tux being all cool backstage until he went to Bischoff who told him to go find the Undertaker. Johnny Spade was with Bischoff, and he has a chance to be a star I think he has a good presence next to Bischoff. The Coach thing leads to him later finding Mean Gene in a closet with Bobby the Brian, both getting dressed. This was a cute segment with some gay jokes then revealing that it was May and Moolah with them in the closet.

Raw Tag Match
Crowd popped nicely for the Dudleyz and didn’t react much to Booker T and RVD at all. I blame the new music, which is just awful. RVD’s music after the pinfall was way over with the crowd. It’s amazing to see how much entrance music affects the entrance pop. Why does Christian still have that awful music? Anyway, RVD did a lot during the match to start chants and get the crowd rallying behind his team. It was remarkable to see him win over the crowd after such a tepid reaction and a bunch of dud teams to work with. The frog splash got a huge pop.

Smackdown Tag Match
Deadest match of the card. Rikishi and Scotty were not over in the slightest, and their dance went over with a rousing bit of apathy in MSG. In a lot of ways this crowd was brutal. The crazy Bristish guys in front of me LOVED the BAshams, which also made this match entertaining, as these drunken dudes were just popping for anything Basham-related. I was genuinely surprised by the ending, and I was also surprised there was nothing done to further the storyline between TGWTT and the APA.

Christian vs. Chris Jericho
This match was a little faster paced than almost any other match on the card. It made the intensity of this match stand out, because of the personal issue between former best friends torn up over a girl. The crowd popped big for Trish’s run-in, and then was shocked when she pulled the turn. It was interesting to see that Jericho was not as over as you’d expect at MSG, and Christian wasn’t over at all.

I really liked the Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero backstage confrontation. It also provided some foreshadowing in retrospect, which is a nice touch. Both shined on the mic.

Wrestlemania 21 was announced for the LA Forum which got boos from the crowd. Selfish New Yorkers!

Cruiserweight Open
I guess this was a bit of a disappointment, but I’m glad Chavo retained. Ultimo was well over with the crowd, and it deflated everyone when he was quickly eliminated by what looked like his own move (Dragon sleeper?). I think the match could have benefited from announcing each fall.

Rock and Sock vs. Evolution
I thought Randy Orton’s promo with the video clips was just brilliant, and he got the second most heel heat of anyone all night. The Rock’s mic work was awesome as well, and that kind of mic work makes Randy’s win so much bigger. Rock and Sock seemed like stars tonight, and Evolution talked like stars in their promo, and then backed it up in the ring. Foley’s reaction after the match was really great as well. He got a nice hand from the crowd, I’m not sure if that would be aired on the PPV. Rock and Foley both got great pops, with Rock’s clearly larger than Foley’s. Orton was also doing a great job of selling in this match. Interestingly, Flair was way over as a face in the match, and the crowd loudly booed the Rock at times in exchanges with Flair. This match had the most fun spots of the night, with Flair’s mock people’s elbow and all his signature spots, as well as Foley doing some signature bumps and spots. The finish was great and seemed to really be credible, and Orton came off HUGE. It was also good to see everyone working the crowd throughout for chants and pops. Even Batista’s power moves came across well. Overall a smashing achievement by Foley and the creative staff.

Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg
I’m not sure how it came across on TV, and I’m interested to see how JR will spin it, but the crowd 100% turned on this match the moment Lesnar’s music hit. Lesnar’s entrance was met with massive boos, turning into chants of “you sold out” and “”. Goldberg was met with an overall more favorable reaction, as he did get some pops and some massive Goldberg chants before the actual match began. Austin was extremely over with the crowd. The three men paced in the ring, and were just barraged by the hostile crowd, chanting “sha na na na” etc to Lesnar several times, and chants of “boring”, “this match sucks”, “stun them both” and more. I’m not sure how much it spread throughout the arena, but there were people dressed up as Hogan and Savage nearby that caused a scene and loud crowd reactions in the upper deck. The crowd brutally turned on Goldberg after the finish, with loud boos on his beer celebration leading to a big pop for the Austin stunner.

Hall of Fame/Playboy Match
This was my bathroom break. Seemed good, whatever. I popped when Tito said “ARIBA!” in the video earlier.

Victoria vs. Molly Holly
I really enjoyed this match, and it’s a credit to the women because they weren’t that over. Victoria got a surprisingly nice pop on her entrance though. The stuff with Molly getting shaved was priceless, and I bet that’s one of the moments that will go down as memorable from this year’s show.

Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle
This match sealed the deal on my theory that MSG is becoming a Raw venue. The Raw roster was simply more over and this is a good example. The crowd had a loud “You Suck” chant for Angle, but not much more. The pop for Eddie’s entrance was tepid at best, not even in the top five of the evening. The match, however, won the crowd over. Kurt never really got a ton of heel heat, but actually had a lot of support when on offense. The support shifted back to Eddie when he got control, and it almost seemed as if t he crowd was rooting for a great match no matter who won. The ending was really creative and Angle’s reactions and facials selling the loss were great. I’m not sure how long it was or how it came across on TV, but I really enjoyed this match.

The Undertaker vs. Kane
I wonder if in a few years there will be a buildup to a return of the old Kane. I digress. The entrance of the Undertaker was far and away the most over event of the evening, with a long sustained pop that continued into the match. The match itself was better than I expected, and didn’t seem to slow down much at all. It was a nice touch to do the old style pin and Paul Bearer added something too. It will be interesting to see how they further evolve the Undertaker character to fit into the 2004 Smackdown framework.

Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels
Michaels got a surprisingly big pop with a smattering of boos when his music played. Benoit didn’t get a big reaction. Triple H got a big, mixed reaction. I thought this was the best match of the night, and the booking was magnificent. I was at MSG for Survivor Series ’96 when they turned on HBK against Sid, and they seemed to do it a lot tonight too, as HBK got more and more heel reactions as the match progressed. Everything built so well to Benoit getting the win, with a ton of close falls. When he had Hunter in the submission and HBK got the sweet chin music, that seemed like it could have been the end. Benoit finally making Hunter tap after such a long fight was really awesome. Ending the event with Benoit and Guerrero celebrating their World titles was truly amazing.

So there’s my Wrestlemania review, having just seen the event live and then come to write this report (well I watched the Sorpanos on tivo too). I think it was exactly what I wanted to see at Wrestlemania, with rewarding storyline conclusions, great matches, some cool effects and a new direction that is everything we could want as “smarks”.

Kudos to Vince and the crew.

Jonathan Widro is the owner and founder of Inside Pulse. Over a decade ago he burst onto the scene with a pro-WCW reporting style that earned him the nickname WCWidro. Check him out on Twitter for mostly inane non sequiturs