It always seemed to me that the perfect place to have the 20th WrestleMania was in New York City at Madison Square Garden, where it all started. For a broadcaster and lifelong wrestling fan, being a part of this event at ringside was a bucket-lister.
The event seems like yesterday, but so much has changed in all our lives since that day in the World's Most Famous Arena. As is always the case, some fans embraced the inner story of WM XX, while others seemingly gain pleasure in critiquing many aspects of the event.
The closing visual of WM XX, where champions Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit embraced with confetti raining down will remain with me forever. It culminated a career-long journey for the two talented in-ring performers, who would both leave us too young and with their deaths mired in varying degrees of controversy.
Eddie Guerrero successfully defended the WWE title at WM XX against the amazing Kurt Angle in a match highlighted by Eddie's "Lie, Cheat and Steal" TV persona.
HHH, who has had immense success and memorable moments in the Garden, entered MSG as the world champion to face both Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit in a Triple Threat Match for the championship. I don't think many fans thought that Edmonton native Benoit would win the co-main event and show-closer, much less by making HHH submit … but Benoit did before a sell-out crowd of 18,000-plus.
Both main events were classic wrestling matches with their own unique presentations and capped a night that was memorable on many fronts.
By Guerrero and Benoit holding the WWE's two primary titles, it gave the look at the top of the cards a freshness and featured two sub six-foot talents who could have a great match with anyone on the roster. It also served as a reminder that if someone is truly talented enough, no matter their size, and if they connect with the audience, great things can happen. (See, Daniel Bryan)
Tragically, Eddie passed away of heart issues approximately a year after WM XX, a loss from which Chris never fully recovered as the two were like brothers.
Two years after Eddie's shocking death, Benoit would go on a rampage, killing his family and committing suicide.
In what at one time would have been considered a dream match, Brock Lesnar squared off against Goldberg with Stone Cold Steve Austin as the special referee. Because it became common knowledge to the majority of the fans – or so it felt like sitting at ringside commentating on the bout – that both men were leaving WWE right after their last booking, which was at WM XX, the fans did not pretend to like anything about the match.
Austin got a positive reaction by delivering a “Stunner” to both wrestlers after the final bell, which could come none too soon. Under different circumstances, this could have been a historic bout between two of the business’ great athletes and personalities.
Instead, it was a train wreck.
Other memorable moments included:
John Cena making his WrestleMania debut by winning the United States title after lifting the near 500-pound Big Show onto his shoulders to deliver the FU. It was an amazing feat of raw strength for the former college football center from Springfield College. Great days lay ahead for Cena, including becoming the face of WWE.
The Rock returned at WM XX to reunite the Rock 'n Sock Connection with Mick Foley in a uniquely booked two vs. three tag match against “Evolution,” consisting of Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Batista.
“My career is filled with several WM disappointments, but the largest was WrestleMania XX, my first match back after four years in retirement,” Foley said recently. “It was a good match ... maybe even very good, but it was also the first time I accepted that ‘good enough was good enough’ - and that's not the type of philosophy that gets you into the WWE Hall of Fame.” There were two Fatal Four-Way tag-team bouts on the whopping 12- match card that proved one too many.
Torrie Wilson, baseball star Alex Rodriguez’s lady friend at the time, and Sable, now Mrs. Brock Lesnar, were fresh off a big-selling Playboy Magazine cover, teamed to defeat George Clooney's ex and now newly married Stacy Keibler and Jackie Gayda, married to former WWE tag-team star Charlie Haas, in Jerry “The King” Lawler's favorite WM XX performance, a Playboy Evening Gown match.
Two future WWE Hall of Fame divas, Victoria and Molly Holly, met in a match where Molly's hair was on the line vs. Victoria's women's title. Molly lost her hair in this one, much to the crowd's delight. These ladies adapted like true pros to their time being shortened for their match and made the best out of a challenging situation.
The Undertaker renewed his rivalry with his “brother” Kane and remained undefeated, thus extending “The Streak” to 12-0.
This was the second time that two English speaking announcing teams, Michael Cole & Taz repping SmackDown and King and myself repping Raw, were utilized and the concept worked, giving the broadcast a different texture and sound over the four-hour show. Hearing the same voices for a talk-heavy, four-hour program can be challenging no matter who the voices are.
For some strange reason, WM XX will always stand out to me as being one of the most memorable WWE events that I ever broadcast. Someday I may be able to wrap my head around just exactly why I think that but until then I will continue to enjoy the memories of Madison Square Garden and the confetti falling from the ceiling of the World's Most Famous Arena as we left the air.
Next stop … WrestleMania XXI goes Hollywood.