I continue my look back at every WrestleMania in SoCal with a look back at WrestleMania 21 from April 3rd, 2005 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA. Featuring John Cena and Batista, Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle, the first Money In the Bank match, and more!
WrestleMania 21 week in Los Angeles was very eventful. On the Thursday afternoon before WrestleMania 21, WWE held a free event in front of the Hollywood & Highland complex. A ring had been set up on Hollywood Blvd., and fans got to witness appearances from John Cena, Ricky Steamboat, and more. Four matches took place that day. Rosey & The Hurricane defeated La Resistance (Robert Conway & Sylvain Grenier). Victoria defeated Molly Holly. In the main event, Funaki, Nunzio, and Paul London beat the team of Akio, Billy Kidman, and Spike Dudley.
Also at that event, Kurt Angle held a “Kurt Angle Invitational” open challenge match. At the time, Kurt Angle would challenge various local workers to a match and proceeded to beat them easily. One of the participants in the angle was Roderick Strong. For the Hollywood, CA edition of the Kurt Angle Invitational, local worker “Funky” Billy Kim faced Angle in a match that saw Angle defeat him quickly.
On the night before WrestleMania 21, the 2005 WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony was held at Universal Amphitheatre in Universal City, CA. That night saw Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper be inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame. It’s a shame that they tore that place down just to build a stupid Harry Potter attraction.
Along with WWE’s big events, Pro Wrestling Guerrilla held the first edition of PWG All Star Weekend. The two-night event was held at the Hollywood/Los Feliz JCC. Both nights would end up drawing the biggest crowds in the promotions’ history up to that point and featured a list of various high-profile workers from around the independent scene. Names such as A.J. Styles, Bryan Danielson, James Gibson (Jamie Noble), Samoa Joe, Chris Sabin, Alex Shelley, and more took part in what was PWG’s most star-studded event at that point.
Now, on to WrestleMania 21.
I attended WrestleMania 21. I also got the DVD release of the event. For years, I had fond memories of the show and always felt that despite the lackluster main events, it was still one of the best WrestleManias ever. I haven’t watched this show in a long time, so I was interested in seeing how this held up.
The theme of the event was “WrestleMania Goes Hollywood.” Everything about the show was presented as a movie premier. There was a red carpet in the entrance way, and the entrance stage was done up like a movie theatre with a marquee displaying the matches occurring next to it. To promote the show, WWE produced a series of movie scene parodies featuring WWE stars. If you head to YouTube and look up “WrestleMania 21 trailers” you’ll be able to check them out.
Before the show started, there was an “ Interpromotional Battle Royal” featuring Raw guys going up against SmackDown guys. It didn’t air on TV or WWE.com and isn’t on WWE Network though. But it was on the DVD release of the show.
Some notable guys in the match included Tajiri, William Regal, Akio (Jimmy Yang), Paul London, and Booker T. Eric Bischoff was at ringside representing Raw, and Teddy Long representing SmackDown. Rhyno was also in the match. He was fired a few days after this show because he got into an argument with his wife at the after party. Nothing notable happened in this match. Heidenreich did the George “The Animal” Steele spot where he ate a turnbuckle pad. Booker T ended up overcoming a 2-on-1 situation against Viscera and Chris Masters to get the win for Team SmackDown.
Okay then, now onto the actual show.
We start off with Lilian Garcia singing America the Beautiful. Then the series of movie parodies WWE produced to hype the event was played. The song Behind Those Eyes By 3 Doors was originally the soundtrack to this, but the WWE Network version has a version of the video with a generic song. Not that I’m complaining, as 3 Doors Down suck, but it always kills the mood when WWE doesn’t use the original music in promo videos. I can understand if they couldn’t get the rights to Enter Sandman by Metallica for ECW One Night Stand, but if they could afford the rights to My Way by Limp Bizkit, then I’m sure they could’ve gotten the rights to 3 Doors Down.
Once the video package ended, a new parody is played with Steve Austin doing a scene from Gladiator. After that, the opening video for the show played. Bigtime by The Soundtrack of Our Lives was the original opening song for the show, but WWE went with a generic song for the Network version. Then the fireworks went off, crowd shots were shown, we got introduced to our announce teams, blah, blah, blah. Let’s start the show!
Fun fact, if you look closely during the crowd shots, you can see an oddly held series of letters meant to be a “HULKAMANIA” sign that two guys tried to get their row to hold up. I, sadly, was right behind those people. When the two people who were sitting in front of me weren’t in their seats, the two dudes asked me and the guy next to me to help hold the “U” and “L” up during this. We were both like “naw” so they got a couple sitting near them to hold it. It ended up looking like “H KAMANIA.” While I might’ve seemed like a prick for that to some of you, I just wasn’t a fan of Hulk Hogan. Say what you want, but I’m not a hypocrite.
Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio, Jr.
At the time, Eddie and Rey were the WWE Tag Team Champions on SmackDown. One of the most memorable moments of the match was how often Rey kept adjusting his mask. Even while a spot was taking place, he kept having to hold his mask to keep it from falling off. This ended up being pretty distracting. You could probably turn this into a drinking game
The match itself was pretty solid, but also a bit of a letdown. There were a lot of high expectations for this match to be as great as their critically acclaimed Halloween Havoc match in 1997, but it never really lived up to that. Despite that, this was a good match. Rey got the win after countering a tilt-a-whirl from Eddie into a pin. The pacing was slow, but it built up to spots pretty well. They also did several nice counter-spots throughout the match.
After the match, Eddie stood in the ring visibly upset over losing but shook Rey’s hand.
Backstage, WWE Champion JBL was walking with the WWE United States Champion Orlando Jordan and The Basham Brothers. They end up walking into Triple H and Ric Flair. Triple H mocked JBL for calling himself a “wrestling god.” JBL responded by saying he never lost his belt and that Triple H should worry about Batista. They have a tense face-to-face, and Ric Flair did a “woo” to end the segment. We then see Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider sitting at ringside watching the show.
Money in the Bank Ladder Match: Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit vs. Christian w/ Tyson Tomko vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Edge vs. Kane
This match was right around the start of Edge’s run as the “Rated R Superstar.” Before that, he had been a bland babyface, but he ended up gaining a lot of moment with his character change. Oh, and there was also the whole Lita/Matt Hardy thing. I won’t get into that though. At least not right now. When I was watching this show live, I was distracted by the production crew setting up the ladders on the stage for Kane’s entrance. They ended up in flames after his pyro hit, which was pretty cool. After Kane’s entrance, I watched the production crew putting out the ladders for a few moments. I don’t know why, but I like watching that type of “behind-the-scenes” stuff at live events.
This was the first ever MITB match. I thought this was a great match at the time. It was structured pretty well and was full of awesome spots throughout the match. When I watched it again, I thought it withstood the test of time. The one performer who really stood out in this match was Shelton Benjamin. He had a really good showcase and had one of the more memorable moments in recent WrestleMania history when he ran up a ladder to deliver a clothesline on Chris Jericho. Edge ended up grabbing the briefcase for a guaranteed championship match any time, any place he wanted.
Like I said, this match was really fun. In terms of quality and entertainment value. It really holds up well. There was a lot of action from the start, and nothing really dragged. This match had plenty of spots and some good psychology throughout it. I highly recommend checking this match out if you’ve never seen it before.
Gratuitous Hulk Hogan segment
At this point in the show, Eugene wandered out to the ring. He got on the microphone and talked about King Kong Bundy beating up midgets and that “midgets are awesome.” This would not fly in 2019 on so many levels. Muhammad Hassan and Daivari interrupted him. You know, as much as people hated this act, Muhammad Hassan’s character was usually 100% right about American society.
Anyways, Hassan asked Eugene if he knew why he was angry. Eugene thought he didn’t like midgets. Yeah, he actually said that. Hassan ranted about not being on WrestleMania and how Los Angeles has a history of bigotry. Well, the LAPD does. Hassan then said he was going to make a WrestleMania moment and attacked Eugene. Hogan’s music played, and he squashed the young guys cause ‘Murcia. Brooke Hogan and David Arquette (my biggest fan) were shown at ringside during this. Hulk Hogan closed the segment by posing in front of a video of the American flag. The fans really ate this up. I hated it cause I really don’t like Hulk Hogan. Not as much as Rob Naylor does, but yeah.
Michael Cole and Tazz were shown at ringside and talked about the next match. Before the match, a hype video for Orton vs. Undertaker was played. The storyline of the match centered around Randy disrespecting Undertaker and wanting to grow his reputation as being the legend killer by ending his WrestleMania streak.
Randy Orton vs. The Undertaker
Several druids with flaming torches made their way to ringside for Undertaker’s entrance. I was able to recognize Ricky Reyes and one of the Ballard Brothers. I imagine there must’ve been a few other former UPW guys in this segment as well. Undertaker had a really stupid entrance where he “floated” to the ring. Several fans could be seen pointing out the conveyor belt hidden under the smoke that carried Undertaker. There were also several crew members seen on camera operating the thing. I will say, it was funny watching the production crew scramble to get this set up while the hype video played in the arena. Sometimes seeing that sort of stuff is the most fun part of going to WWE shows.
As for the match, I thought it was pretty good at the time it happened. I didn’t think it’d be that good, but this ended up being more fun than I expected. After re-watching it in 2019, it was still an entertaining match. It had a lot of good back-and-forth moments, and “Cowboy” Bob Orton’s run in was a fun moment. The highlight of the match was Orton countering Undertaker’s Chokeslam with an RKO. Undertaker got the win after countering Randy Orton’s Tombstone attempt with a Tombstone of his own. If you haven’t seen this match and are an Undertaker fan, check it out.
After the match, we go back to Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler for the next match.
World Women’s Championship Match: Trish Stratus (c) vs. Christy Hemme w/ Lita
Going into this match, the story was Christy, who won a beauty contest to become a WWE Diva, challenged Trish, who was a six-time champion, because Trish slut-shamed Christy for posing nude in Playboy. Christy then enlisted Lita to be her trainer for the match. Lita had been out of action for some time because of a knee injury. She was also in the middle of the entire Matt Hardy fiasco. There were even a few “WE WANT MATT!” chants in the crowd. This match was awful. Christy Hemme had no business being in the ring with Trish. Trish tried her best, but in the end, it wasn’t enough to get a watchable match out of Hemme. At least this was short though. Trish won. I lost.
Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle
When this match went down, I thought it was great. The crowd was really into this and I remember having such a great time watching it in person. It got tons of praise from fans at the time and was rated ****3/4 by Dave Meltzer. Over the years, it gained a reputation for being one of the best matches in WrestleMania history. Re-watching it in 2019, I thought it was still a great match that also held up well.
The opening portion of the match centered around Kurt and Shawn going hold-for-hold. Kurt would get the better of Shawn to start, but Shawn ended up being able to hold his own. Then Kurt began to target the back of Shawn with several hope spots sprinkled throughout, leading to Shawn mounting a comeback. There was a lot of really good counter-wrestling in this, and some creative moments from these guys. The crowd was really into the near falls. Especially when Kurt hit an Angle Slam from the top rope. They came unglued when it seemed like he had the win. Kurt eventually got the win after making Shawn tap to an Ankle Lock.
This match was really great. It was really built up and structured well. The pacing was also really good. They told a great story, and the action was thoroughly entertaining. I feel like this is a “must watch” for anyone that is a pro wrestling fan. If you’ve never seen this before, do yourself a favor and go out of your way to see it.
After the match, the fans in Staples Center gave Shawn a standing ovation. Mae Young and the Fabulous Moolah were then shown sitting at ringside. The WWE Network version of the show cut out the “Basic Instinct” parody that played at this point of the show as it was won “Favorite Punchline” in a fan vote. Either WWE thought it was too racy to be seen again, or they really wanted people not to remember Chris Benoit existed.
Roddy Piper, who was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the night before, made his way to the ring to host Piper’s Pit. His guest was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He asked the crowd if Austin was the meanest and toughest man in WWE. They cheered. When he asked the crowd who was the biggest rebel in the history of the WWE, they said Austin. Piper then said “beep.” I was very disappointed that this was censored on the WWE Network.
After his promo, Piper brought out Stone Cold and welcomed him to Piper’s Pit with a slap to the face. Austin responded by giving him one back. This caused Piper to take a liking to Austin. Piper began telling Austin about the respect he had for him for sticking up to Vince McMahon. The fans kept going “WHAT!?” during Piper’s promo, and he played up to it. Piper and Austin continued to go back-and-forth before they were interrupted by Carlito Caribbean Cool.
Carlito came out and said neither Austin or Piper was cool. He made his way into the ring and talked about how he was taking charge and asked them to leave. Carlito tried to bite his apple, but Piper took it from him and spit it in his face. Carlito then attacked Piper before Austin made the quick save and gave him a Stone Cold Stunner. Austin and Piper drank some beers together. The segment would end with Austin giving Piper a Stunner before leaving. This segment was great. If only the show ended here.
At this point in the show, the Taxi Driver parody was played as it had won “Best Trailer” in a fan vote. This was not shown on the WWE Network version of the show.
Sumo Match: Akebono vs. The Big Show
When I was at the show, I headed to the concourse on the Premier section to get a burger and fries as soon as I saw the ring crew taking down the ropes and setting up for this match. They set the ring up to have a traditional sumo wrestling layout. I don’t know anything about Sumo Wrestling, but I do know that I wish I hadn’t seen Big Show wearing a mawashi. Thankfully, this didn’t last long. Akebono won after a minute.
After the match, the two showed each other respect inside the ring.
WWE Championship Match: John Bradshaw Layfield (c) vs. John Cena
JBL’s entrance was great. He came out with a police escort while fake money with his face fell from the rafters. People might not like the guy, but I honestly felt JBL was always a really underrated performer and commentator. He had good matches and was loaded with charisma. His character was also great. The guy never gets the credit he deserves for his body of work during this time period.
By this point in the show, the fans were sorta out of it for this one. I mean, they had sat through almost three hours of this show. While JBL was really good in this era, this match didn’t really excite the crowd. JBL worked over Cena for heat. Cena got some hope spots in, but JBL was controlling things for most of the match. There were several sloppy moments in this, but nothing bad. The match came to an end after Cena hit an FU (Attitude Adjustment) to counter JBL’s Lariat and to become WWE Champion for the first time. Cena’s title win got a really nice reaction from the fans. Too bad they’d end up hating him a year later.
After the match, Cena celebrated his win.
Clips from the WWE Hall of Fame ceremony the night before at the Gibson Amphitheater that use to be at Universal Studios. After the video, “Mean” Gene Okerlund was in the ring to introduce the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2005 to the crowd. Inductees into the Hall of Fame that year included Nikolai Volkoff, Iron Sheik, “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff, “Cowboy” Bob Orton (who was selling the damage from the Undertaker/Randy Orton match), Jimmy Hart, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, and Hulk Hogan. As this segment was going on, you could see the staff setting up for Motorhead’s performance.
World Heavyweight Championship Match: Triple H w/ Ric Flair (c) vs. Batista
The story going into this match was actually great. Batista won the Royal Rumble that year, and he had a choice between facing JBL or his Evolution stablemate Triple H. When Batista heard Triple H say he was not smart enough to “know what’s good for him” in a conversation with Ric Flair, Batista made up his mind. He would end up turning on Triple H and challenged him to this match. He was also tired of being used by Triple H to keep himself in the main event. I know this era in WWE history isn’t looked upon fondly, but I thought this was a great angle.
Motorhead played Triple H’s entrance song. Say what you want about Triple H during this time, but his entrance was great. His matches would always have a “big fight” feel to it, and a lot of it has to do with this song. When I watched this in person, I thought it came off really cool. Triple H really came off like a star. There was also a guy in a PWG shirt behind Motorhead. Good times. Batista’s entrance on this show was pretty infamous. If you’ve ever seen the GIF of him moving his arms around like he’s dancing, it was from this show. It felt like he was supposed to have pyro, but didn’t get any.
At this point, the show was well over three hours long. The crowd had pretty much seen everything, so they were pretty dead for this. It also felt like they were just waiting for Batista to win. There were times where they’d rally behind Batista, but for the most part, their energy was pretty dead. It didn’t help that the pacing of the match was slow and that everything was pretty basic. Lots of heat segments from Triple H, who was in control for most of the match, and some hope spots from Batista. Triple H also get some color after he was catapulted into a ring post.
The final moments of the show saw both guys go back-and-forth trying to gain some momentum. Triple H would try to hit a Pedigree on Batista, but Batista was able to counter with an Air Raid Crash. After that, he hit a Batista Bomb to win the World Heavyweight Championship, which the crowd popped for. Following the match, Triple H was helped to the back by Ric Flair while Batista celebrated as fireworks went off in the background. The show closed with a video recap of the event.
WrestleMania 21 still holds up as a good show. While the main event matches, the sumo match, and the WWE Women’s title match weren’t great, everything else on this show was really good. Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle was one of the greatest matches ever, and Undertaker vs. Randy Orton was very good. The Money in the Bank ladder match was also fantastic. If you haven’t seen those matches, I recommend going out of your way to see it.