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As the Road to WrestleMania rolled towards the twentieth anniversary of WrestleMania, Triple H found himself facing two determined opponents. One was Chris Benoit, the undeniably talented Canadian grappler who had never been able to get to the big dance. The other was Shawn Michaels, Triple H’s one-time mentor and former best friend turned bitterest of rivals.

At WrestleMania 21, Triple H would again face a former friend turned determined rival in Batista, who had long denied himself opportunities at the World Title in the name of friendship.

In these years, Triple H would find himself facing people he’d once called friends and fight harder to remain on top.

Of Heartbreak and WrestleMania Moments: Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit – WrestleMania XX

This was a strange build for a WrestleMania match. Chris Benoit had won the 2004 Royal Rumble, becoming only the second man to enter and #1 and win it. However, instead of challenging Brock Lesnar for the WWE Undisputed Championship, Benoit chose to exploit a loophole in the Royal Rumble stipulation and challenged Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship, which Stone Cold Steve Austin, the co-General Manager of RAW, accepted. There was just one little problem: Shawn Michaels.

See, Triple H and Shawn Michaels had been fighting like rats in a barrel since Shawn Michaels return from a back injury in 2002, and the feud over the World Heavyweight Championship had lead to a Last Man Standing at the Royal Rumble that ended in a draw. So, Shawn Michaels saw no reason why he should be shunted aside in the World Heavyweight Championship picture for a Smackdown superstar and used every trick to get the match for himself. However, Sheriff Austin would not tolerate such tomfoolery, and made the match a Triple Threat: Triple H vs Shawn Michaels vs Chris Benoit.

The Match

HBK is out first. I’m not sure why it sounds like he’s not getting much of a pop. I know I wasn’t really happy with him because of how he tried to screw Benoit out of his title match, but Michaels was always over with the crowd. Benoit is out next, and he gets a slightly better pop, but it could be either the notoriously tough New York crowd, or the crowd being tired from the return of the Undertaker in the previous match. Triple H is, of course, the last to come out, and Ric Flair, who had been involved in a handicap tag match earlier, is not with him.

This match is hard for me to cover. I was such a Benoit fan back in 2004 and I was so happy for him to get a chance at the title at WrestleMania, but the end of Chris Benoit was so horrible and tragic, that it’s kind of hard to remember how excited I was for him. Plus, the story of HBK trying to steal the title opportunity from Benoit left a bad taste in my mouth.

All that aside, this was SUCH a good match. All three men seemed determined to make this WrestleMania main event one to remember on the twentieth anniversary of the Granddaddy of Them All.

I did enjoy how HBK seemed to have been talking out both sides of his mouth. He seemed to have made a pact with Benoit to keep Triple H from leaving MSG with the World Heavyweight Championship, but there also seemed to have been a pact between HBK and Triple H to get rid of Benoit so their feud could be settled under the brightest lights.

I forgot how bloody this match was. WWE has been in the PG/no blood era for so long, I’d almost forgotten how bloody these big matches could get.

It’s so hard to watch Benoit now, but I still remember how happy I was for him and how much I loved watching him wrestle. The diving headbutt just makes me CRINGE, knowing what kind of damage Benoit was doing to himself.

The crowd was definitely behind Benoit in this match, I loved the chants. Nothing beats the sound of a NYC crowd in MSG cheering for wrestling.

To the delight and surprise of everyone at MSG, and yours truly, Chris Benoit was able to make Triple H tap to the Crippler Crossface. After 18 years of fighting, the Rabid Wolverine was FINALLY World Heavyweight Champion. As Benoit celebrated, Eddie Guerrero, Benoit’s best friend, who had retained the WWE Undisputed Championship in a grueling match with Kurt Angle earlier in the evening, joined him. In a moment that will always be one of my favorite memories of either man, the two friends hugged and celebrated FINALLY ascending the mountain together.

The Winner: Chris Benoit by submission.

Comment: I really enjoyed this match, even knowing what would happen to Benoit. The moment in the ring with Eddie still makes me cry.

Fighting the Animal: Batista – WrestleMania 21

If there was one thing you could count on with Triple H, it’s that he would not hesitate to turn on a friend if that meant keeping a title belt or getting it. He’d done it to DX, he’d done it to Shawn Michaels, and to Randy Orton. In 2005, Batista found himself in that unenviable position. Despite being loyal to Evolution, even helping Triple H retain the title against a VERY determined Edge, Batista discovered that loyalty meant nothing to Triple H, or Ric Flair, when gold was on the line. When Batista discovered that Triple H and Ric Flair had framed WWE Champion John Bradshaw Layfield for a limo attack, meant to get Batista to challenge Layfield for the WWE Championship, it was another friendship out the window and the battle for the Big Gold Belt was on.

The Match

Triple H is sung to the ring by Motorhead. I guess having a live band means you go first. Ric Flair is there, as to be expected. Batista comes out looking pissed. God, Batista was jacked.

I’m gonna be real, here, I wasn’t watching RAW that much in 2005, SmackDown was what I watched when I watched wrestling because of John Cena and the Undertaker, I really wasn’t all that invested in this match.

That said, this was SUCH a good match considering how quickly the turn of Batista went. Both guys were evenly matched in terms of size, Triple H was the veteran and the more technical wrestler and Batista was younger and the more power based wrestler. Add in the storyline and it was a great match.

Good Lord, why were so many big title matches bloody? No wonder WWE did away with this.

I laugh a lot at HBK and Ric Flair’s overselling, but Triple H’s selling is pretty funny too.

This thing was BRUTAL. The sight of Batista just driving his forearm into Triple H’s bloody head was horrifying. I mean, I get WHY, in the context of the story, but it was not pretty to look at.

One thing that surprised me was how little Ric Flair got involved in this match. Given that he’s the vaunted ‘Dirtiest Player in the Game’ and given how often he’d interfered in Triple H’s matches, I would’ve thought Flair would’ve gotten more involved.

The ending of this was not really surprising given the story and Triple H’s selling, but it would take a Batista bomb to put the Game away and we have a new World Heavyweight Champion.

The Winner: Batista by pinfall, after a Batista Bomb.

Comment: I enjoyed this match, I kind of wish it had taken more to put Triple H away, but I’m not mad at the decision. 

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