MAKING A STAR BECAUSE YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO
(THE ONE WHERE BATISTA DIDN'T SUCK AS BAD AS HE'S GOING TO AT WRESTLEMANIA 30)
The year was 2004. Randy Orton had just become the youngest world champion in WWE history. It was a torch bestowed upon him so that they wouldn't have to acknowledge Brock Lesnar as the youngest world champion in history. It was also a torch passed to him by Chris Benoit.
So...yeah. Hindsight and all that.
On that same night, SummerSlam 2004, John Cena and Batista competed in matches for the United States and Intercontinental championship titles.
Who would have thought they would be headlining WrestleMania 21 for the two world titles just seven months later?
Cena's rise to the top, looking back, seemed obvious. He had the look, the charisma, was hot with the crowds. He had all the trimmings of a franchise player, which WWE needed in the wake of Lesnar's departure.
So did Orton, but whereas Cena's rise felt more organic (likely on account of it happening on the far superior B-show), Orton's jump to the main event felt forced. He won the belt at SummerSlam as a heel (though there were hints of a turn coming that night) but turned babyface the next night on Raw.
Of course you probably know what happened next. Triple H and Evolution turned on Orton, and became his first big obstacle in what you would think would be a long and fruitful...aaaand he lost the title.
It's funny how it's become conventional wisdom to accept the idea that Orton flopped as a babyface champion, as though dropping the title in his first PPV defense had nothing to do with it. Certainly the young blue chipper struggled in his short stint as a good guy, but he could have potentially grown into it.
Though they tried to keep his babyface push going, they never treated him like a serious contender for the top belt and his heat faded fast.
I don't know what the plan was for WrestleMania 21, but it's possible that a Triple H/Orton rematch was in the cards before Orton "flopped" and set his sights on Undertaker. Whatever the plan was, it obviously was going to involve Triple H as the champion defending the world heavyweight championship he'd had a hold of for 600 of the last 900 days.
RAW's ratings were not good during most of Triple H's so-called "Reign of Terror". I get what they were trying to do. They wanted Triple H to be this generation's Ric Flair, with a stranglehold on Big Gold and only yielding it for a short bursts to babyface challengers. The problem with that is this was 2005; crowds were not as patient, nor as limited by entertainment options as they were in 1985. Not to mention, and even the most die hard Triple H marks will agree, Ric Flair is not a personality that is easily duplicated.
WWE was in need of a face, a standard bearer, an on-TV spokesman for the product. Triple H doing a riff on Ric Flair was not it. Randy Orton was clearly not going to be it, either.
And, again, you'd be hard pressed to find anyone willing to put money on Batista winning the 2005 Royal Rumble and becoming the man.
The finish to the Rumble match is memorable for numerous reasons. For one thing, the final two combatants were fresh faces to the main event scene. In fact, neither man was a "main eventer" at all. Batista had done a few multi-man matches at the top of a pay-per-view (PPV) card; Cena had that one-off main event against Brock Lesnar, but mostly these were guys seen as "the future" not "the present."
Also, the match was memorable in that both men "won" the match. I've heard both sides to what happened, with some saying it was a planned double-elimination and others saying it was a botch. Having watched it multiple times, I don't see how it was a botch. It sure looked like they were both supposed to go over. Instead of 1994 with Bret and Lex both "winning," Vince McMahon declared both of them "losers" of the match and ordered a restart.
After he no sold a quad injury that would have brought mortal men to fits of weeping.
After a short skirmish, Batista won the match and headed to WrestleMania 21 as number one contender. "The Animal" was then given the spotlight on Raw and his babyface turn was handled with much better aplomb than Orton's was. Whereas Orton was yanked from bad guy to good and then beaten by Triple H right off the bat, Batista was presented as a dominate beast that Triple H was afraid to face. The slow burn lasted for several weeks until Batista finally, officially, chose to face Triple H and powerbombed him through a table.
This feud building up to the main event was so money. The first half was Triple H and Flair trying everything to get Batista to sign with SmackDown to face JBL. The second half featured the standard Triple H posturing and intimidation game, only this time the challenger was not scared and got the better of him more often than not. By the time the match started the crowd was more than ready to see Batista win the title.
Mind you, John Cena's title win happened just prior to this bout. That was a butt ugly 10-minute affair cut short as a result of Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle stealing the show about seven minutes longer than they were supposed to.
Cena's title win kicked off his dominant run in decidedly "meh" fashion, with most of the crowd surprised and seemingly-underwhelmed by it.
Batista's win was a much bigger deal, and it was clear he was being positioned as the next "face" of the company. He even looked like Brock Lesnar (the last guy appointed "the next face of the company") in terms of his frame. It is ironic to consider Cena and Batista at WrestleMania 21, considering the direction the two guys would go. Though Batista was put over three straight times by Triple H, Cena's star and marketability could not be ignored. Within a few months of WrestleMania 21, Batista was essentially traded for Cena, and the latter would go on to either main event or be featured in a title match in every WrestleMania from then on. Batista would compete in only two more title matches in his first run (one of which would be a loss to Cena), never again main event, and would leave in 2010 as, at best, the number two guy to Cena's number one.
Nevertheless, on this night Batista was the bigger deal and he measured up to the moment. The match wasn't the best they would have (the Hell in a Cell blow off was their best), and that is mostly why this main event is knocked down a bit on the countdown, but the electricity of the feud going in, the great commentating by Jim Ross and the feeling of a "changing of the guard" from Triple H to Batista made this a great main event.
Sound off, Cagesiders. What's your take on this main event? It wasn't the best match on the countdown, but it wasn't anywhere near the worst. Same with the crowd response, same with the feud building to the moment, same with the future impact of it all.
It's not the best, but it's certainly not the worst. Let's call it 15 out of 29.
Tomorrow's main event is a real changing of the guard that launched a new era. See you then!
- Ranking Mania main events #16: Mick Foley vs. The Rock vs. Triple H vs. Big Show
- Ranking Mania main events #17: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna II
- Ranking Mania main events #18: John Cena vs. The Rock II
- Ranking Mania main events #19: Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase
- Ranking Mania main events #20: Hogan & Mr. T vs. Piper & Orndorff
- Ranking Mania main events #21: Triple H vs. Chris Jericho
- Ranking Mania main events #22: Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy
- Ranking Mania main events #23: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
- Ranking Mania main events #24: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice
- Ranking Mania main events #25: John Cena vs. The Miz
- Ranking Mania main events #26: Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid
- Ranking Mania main events #27: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
- Ranking Mania main events #28: Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna
- Ranking Mania main events #29: Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow