Welcome to WRESTLEVERSARIES, where we take a look at a wrestling show from 5, 10, 15, 20, 25 or 30 years ago and discuss the good, the bad and whether any of it still holds up!
Our second entry today is from 2004 in Hartford, Conn. It’s the final show before that year’s SummerSlam, and the former World Heavyweight Champion finally gets his one-on-one rematch with the new guy on top. But almost everyone is an afterthought to the men in Evolution and how they deal with a poor sap named Eugene.
We start the show with a soliloquy from Triple H about his rematch against Chris Benoit for the World Heavyweight Championship. Man, Trips even got the voice over guy booted for a show, he really was in the midst of a reign of terror in the early 2000s.
Jonathan Coachman and Garrison Cade vs. Tajiri and Rhyno – A match made just before the show started, this feels so random. Probably because it is. There’s never anything good about any match with the Coach, but he’s a heat magnet who fans love to see beat up. And Tajiri with his mist always seems to get a good pop. He does, in fact hit the mist on Cade and then kicks Coach’s head off to get the win for his team.
Voice Over Guy Triple H and Evolution argue over whose turn it is to watch Eugene today. What an odd angle for the new voice over guy to be involved in.
Chris Jericho vs. Batista – As WWE prepares to give Batista the rocket push, putting him in the ring with a guy like Jericho is maybe the best thing for the company to do. If you’re going to put the onus on a guy to carry the company on his back, he should be comfortable working with anyone, and Jericho is probably one of the best teachers WWE had at the time. Jericho makes Batista look like a million bucks. Batista hits a Batista Bomb and covers Jericho, who gets his foot on the rope. But the referee doesn’t see it and counts the three anyway to give a win to Batista.
The voice over guy bucks up Eugene, who’s upset over the bad things World Heavyweight Champion Chris Benoit said about the head of Evolution.
World Tag Team Championship Match: La Resistance (c) vs. “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and Eugene – WWE put one of the greatest wrestlers of all time in a tag team with a goof as a goof to help advance the angle with Eugene being manipulated by Triple H. Fifteen years later, this all still seems silly. Eugene was a fun character that had more potential than he ever actually tapped into, but as he was presented, Eugene was never more than a midcard comedy act. That he managed to parlay the idiot savant character into an angle with the company’s biggest heels is impressive. The story of the match is Flair being annoyed with having Eugene foisted on him as a tag team partner. Champions Sylvain Grenier and Rob Conway are afterthoughts in the match. It could’ve been anyone in the ring with Flair and Eugene here. Eventually, Eugene snaps and pushes the referee down, causing the challengers to be disqualified. Fine for what it was, but definitely better in the moment of the story.
No Disqualification: Kane vs. Matt Hardy – Kane had a lot of tasteless angles in the early part of the 21st Century. The story of the match – that Kane forced himself on Matt Hardy’s girlfriend Lita and may have impregnated her – isn’t as cringeworthy as the Katie Vick story from 2003, but it is problematic for its own reasons. The match is a car wreck as Kane and Hardy beat the hell out of each other, but the “pregnant” Lita comes down to beg Kane for mercy, and it leads to Kane getting knocked out by a chair into the steel steps he was carrying and Hardy gets the win. Much more fun than it had any right to be. But Lita’s supposed infidelity in this angle may have been a harbinger for what was to come for Matt Hardy. Speaking of which…
Intercontinental Championship Match: Randy Orton (c) vs. Edge – 2004 is such a great year for WWE talent. The near-future of the WWE is on full display. Within two years, both of these guys will be former world champions. WWE clearly already faith in these two guys, giving them close to a half an hour for their match. From bell to bell, these guys proved themselves capable of telling a great story inside the ring, and the crowd was invested in every near fall. Chekov’s gun… er, turnbuckle… does Orton in, as he gets hit with the corner post he exposed earlier in the match to give Edge the win and his fifth Intercontinental Championship. Outside of Big Dave, Evolution isn’t having a very good night.
Molly Holly vs. Victoria – This is a number one contender match for the women’s championship, held by Trish Stratus. Molly Holly is still wearing a wig after her head was shaved after losing to Victoria at WrestleMania a few months prior. You’d think her hair would have grown to an acceptable length at this point. This era doesn’t get enough credit for the quality women’s wrestling. Victoria and Molly had a great match at WrestleMania and they have another fun match here. The result is the same, with Victoria winning again. At least Molly doesn’t get her head shaved again.
World Heavyweight Championship Match: Chris Benoit (c) vs. Triple H – It’s still amazing to me, 15 years later, that WWE put one of its world titles on Benoit, even if it was just for a short time. And while I was excited to see Benoit win the belt at the time, it’s easy to look back now and see how it didn’t really move the needle. Despite some big wins from January to July of 2004, once the belt was off Benoit, he didn’t stay elevated as a top guy. He dropped down to a gatekeeper status at best. At the very least, WWE put him over Triple H a few times, and put him over strong. But it says a lot about Benoit’s weaknesses as an overall performer – namely, his problems with promos – that he didn’t manage to work his way back up to world title status at all.
The match here is a great WWE main event style match. Many will credit Benoit’s skills as the reason for that, but Triple H was no slouch in the ring at this point, either. Everything is going along nicely until Eugene comes along after the referee goes down, leading to a little bit of main event stupidity and the voice over guy hitting Benoit with the Pedigree, and then Eugene deciding that Triple H having a chair is a bad idea. Benoit clears Ric Flair and Batista with the chair, but the most effective move the whole time the chair is in the ring is the low blow.
You’ve gotta feel kind of bad for Eugene. The guy just wants to have his favorite wrestlers like him. Accidentally hitting Triple H – his favorite wrestler – in the head with a chair probably didn’t help his self-esteem. The guy was literally crying on the outside of the ring after the chair shot. Nick Dinsmore played this character so well. With all the gaga, Benoit rolls Triple H up for the pin to retain the title.
Final Thoughts: The whole show was about building to the main event, as Evolution sought to dominate the Raw title scene, and the story delivered. Nothing special, but a fun way to spend a couple of hours.