November 30, 2009
Matt Peddycord, Scott Criscuolo, & Justin Rozzero

The 100 Greatest WWE Matches of the Decade: 2004

The Rumble Match – (Royal Rumble 2004)

Matt: The ‘Road to WrestleMania’ had never been so sweet as it was in 2004 for Chris Benoit fans. At the time, it was one of those moments where your mind did a double-take because you couldn’t believe that after all these years, Benoit was finally getting a chance to be the top star he deserved. One interesting part of the match that I noticed was Benoit and Orton drew #1 and #2. Throughout the match, Benoit and Orton would end up being the only two in the ring for about half way through when everybody else had been cleared out – that is until Mick Foley came out and clotheslined Orton out so they could violently beat the CRAP out of each other at ringside. Also at the end of Benoit’s title reign, Randy Orton was the one who ended the whole thing. Just a little something I noticed that I thought was interesting. But back to the match, Big Show put on a great performance by just being who he is – the biggest dude in the ring. Has anybody else been the last guy to be eliminated and never won the Royal Rumble more than Big Show?

Justin: When people talk about the best Rumble matches of all time. there are generally three that come up in discussion: 1992, 2005 and the 2004 edition, which saw the epic story of Chris Benoit’s rise through the glass ceiling. Paul Heyman had deemed that Benoit would be the first entrant if he wanted to realize his dream of challenging for the Heavyweight Title at WrestleMania. The entire match was electric and you could feel the passion as Benoit hung on the whole way, finally dragging Big Show over the top rope for the win. The Rumble featured some great action and also had some memorable moments, which included a great Lesnar/Goldberg showdown, a tease of Undertaker’s Dead Man return and Mick Foley stealing a spot and going ballistic on Randy Orton. Epic Rumble and easily one of the top three ever.

Scott: Pretty solid Rumble that saw a lot of drama as everyone was hoping that Chris Benoit would take this and head to WrestleMania. Multiple storylines dominated here, as Kane was waiting to see if his brother the Undertaker was returning, as well as the growing war between Gold berg and Brock Lesnar. In the end, we would be waiting minutes for Benoit to eliminate Big Show and get his deserved WrestleMania title shot. A great match remembered for the drama as much as the action.

WWE Champion Brock Lesnar vs. Eddie Guerrero – (No Way Out 2004)

Matt: Another match that just makes you happy to be a wrestling fan. This monster Brock Lesnar destroyed Eddie the entire match until Goldberg interfered with the spear. I was so glad that didn’t end the match, as Eddie managed to nail Brock with the Frog Splash for the win. Most babyface wrestlers hit their peak when they achieve their goal because the allure of the character was in the chase, but as always it’s a gratifying moment while it lasted.

Justin: Since mid 2003, Eddie Guerrero had arguably been the most over wrestler in the company. The fans were rabid for him as he delivered tremendous matches and entertaining storylines. Eddie earned a title shot against Brock Lesnar and finally won the big gold in an epic confrontation. Watching this match is always great as you can feel the pure joy and emotion of the hot San Francisco crowd when Eddie picks up the win. These two delivered a classic and Brock should get props too for going out and putting over Eddie big time. One of the greatest moments you will ever see.

Scott: As much as the moment is memorable, the match itself should be given some credit as well. Eddie Guerrero put on one of his greatest performances and even better was the performance of Brock Lesnar. Being an arrogant heel and making fun of Eddie’s heritage was classic, to the brutal beating he gave Eddie during the match. Never mind the Goldberg run-in, which thank god didn’t affect the outcome, but overall the match will be remembered for not only Eddie’s crowning moment, but for 35 minutes of great matches.

Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels – (Raw, 2/16/04)

Matt: It was always a dream match for me that I thought would never happen since everybody thought Shawn’s career was over in 1998. Even in 2002 when he returned, you thought this match could never happen. It just didn’t seem to be in the cards and the planets just won’t align for this to ever really happen. And then Benoit wins the Royal Rumble. And then Benoit moves over from Smackdown to Raw. And since Benoit’s getting a title shot at WrestleMania, which is something Shawn Michaels wants too, so it’s only probable that Benoit would wrestle HBK at some point in time. With very little advertising, it happens. Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels on RAW! I thought a 1-on-1 meeting deserved to be on a PPV, but whatever. It was 20 minutes of good solid wrestling with both guys working over each other’s well-known injuries. After Benoit had Shawn clawing for the ropes in the Sharpshooter, HHH comes out and distracts Benoit into some Sweet Chin Music to give Shawn the win. The mark in me wanted to see Benoit win, but the guy can’t win ALL the time. Afterwards, the “sheriff of Raw” Stone Cold Steve Austin rides out on his four wheeler to announce the WrestleMania main event: Triple H vs. Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels. WHAT.

Justin: In their highly anticipated first ever encounter and a preview of the WrestleMania three way, Michaels and Benoit squared off on Raw. The match was as good as hyped and really delivered a quality wrestling match on Raw, setting the trend for the next six months.

Scott: This was the first known meeting between these two and it was the pretty good. The pace was good and their styles meshed well. Sure Triple H ran in and Benoit jobbed which probably pissed a lot of people off but regardless it’s a 4-star match that gave us a prelude of WrestleMania.

WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle – (WrestleMania XX)

Matt: If there could be a pairing fit for WrestleMania, this was it. This was just a tremendous bout with two guys who could GO. The ending was spectacular and worked great with Eddie’s character. Angle wouldn’t lay off the Anklelock, so Eddie unties his boot, kicks Angle away, and catches him running with a small package. Like Justin said, an overlooked WrestleMania classic.

Justin: Due to the matches that followed it, this one is often overlooked when WMXX is discussed. Eddie had already reached his dream of winning the WWE Championship, but his first feud was an epic one. Just weeks after winning the title at NWO, Eddie was decimated by a psychotic and enraged Kurt Angle, who turned heel during the brutal assault. Their ensuing match was tremendous and nonstop and ended when Eddie was able to outsmart Angle. Great stuff all around.

Scott: The first of XX’s two title matches was a wrestling exhibition between two of the greatest. We knew Kurt Angle was a mat technician, but it was Eddie Guerrero that was the surprise. He meshed perfectly into the main event scene like a glove. I think many people thought that Eddie’s “Lying, Cheating, Stealing” tricks wouldn’t work on the main event stage, but actually it enhanced the top of the card and made him even more beloved as a superstar. Angle did his best to piss people off as usual, but in the end, Eddie stole the match and retained his title in a classic.

World Heavyweight Champion Triple H vs. Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels – (WrestleMania XX)

Matt: I hate to even mention this next part, but before the double murder-suicide in 2007 that changed everything, Chris Benoit was in my opinion the epitome of a wrestling hero. He had that ‘never say die’ attitude, never resorted to cheap tactics, and always put on an incredible match. For everyone who was ever a fan of Chris Benoit, this was the culmination of all those years where you wanted to see him on top of the world and never thought it would happen. That’s sums up what 2004 was for me – at least for the better part of it – it was the year you thought would never happen.

Justin: I think this one is self explanatory. I was there live and the crowd was just entranced throughout the whole match. You could feel the tension whenever Hunter was in control as the crowd gasped…wondering if he would actually put Benoit over. After an epic battle between three greats, the battle between the Crossface and the Pedigree and the ensuing fight by Hunter while trapped was just tremendous booking. The crowd just screamed “TAP” the whole time and Hunter finally did just that, finally giving Benoit the elusive run at the top he always dreamed of. Despite all the tragedy that happened later in the decade, this was still as emotional of a moment that exists in wrestling history.

Scott: Our second title match at the Garden was a physical, violent affair that washed away all the bad press and rumors. Many thought that the addition of Shawn Michaels into the match would ruin things and that Benoit would get screwed out of the title since the next PPV was in his hometown. The match was brutal and Shawn’s addition to the match actually enhanced the brutality and the excitement, on top of the fact that it’s a hot Garden crowd.

Triple H vs. Shelton Benjamin – (Raw, 3/29/04)

Matt: 2004 was also a year of missed opportunities. With the heel foursome known as Evolution, you also had four good guys for them to go up against in what could have been the most obvious return of the most awesome gimmick match ever: WARGAMES! You had Benoit, Jericho, Edge, and now…Shelton Benjamin. On this night, Shelton Benjamin got the rub from Triple H who put Shelton over clean. No crazy major overbooked interferences (although Triple H was a little distracted by Flair and Benoit on the floor), no sledgehammers or title belts involved – just a Stinger Splash and a rollup got the win on the former champ. Very awesome in its day, because you thought you were seeing the start of a major superstar who winds up being the most underrated and underused WWE wrestler of the decade.

Justin: Just weeks after putting Chris Benoit over clean at MSG, Triple H came out and dropped a surprising match to the newly drafted face Shelton Benjamin. I can’t say the end result went quite as they wanted and it wasn’t exactly a clean win, but it was still a big time shock and it put Shelton on the map as a future star. Plus the match itself was super fun.

Scott: To be honest I think this match is more memorable because a newly created mid-carded defeated the all powerful Game on Raw. The match in general I thought was pretty pedestrian, but the ending was shocking as Triple H was rolled up and shocked.

WWE Intercontinental Champion Randy Orton vs. Mick Foley – Hardcore Match (Backlash 2004)

Matt: Orton was all about wanting to be the Legend Killer and when he went after Mick Foley, apparently he had no idea of the repercussions. This was Foley getting his revenge in the most violent way he knows how. The only way it could have been more violent were if Foley had wanted a Japanese death match with C4 explosives and barbed wire ropes. Also, this was before TNA completely overused thumbtacks in practically every Abyss match on PPV, so seeing Orton at the time get his RKO shoved off into thumbtacks was pretty sick but in an awesome way. On the other hand, it was the first match I had seen of Randy Orton that made me believe that this man could be a big star in the future – all thanks to Mick Foley.

Justin: Many people argue that this was the match of the year and maybe even of the decade. Mick Foley was always known for being a star maker and he set his sights on helping Randy Orton succeed. The seeds for this feud were planted in June and then cultivated in December when Orton humiliated Foley and spat in his face. Foley came back in January with a vengeance, but suffered a tough loss at WM. So, he dug down deep and brought back the ghost of Cactus Jack as he looked for one more chance at revenge. It was expected that Foley would bump like crazy and take some stiff shots, but nobody expected Orton to deliver the insanity that he brought. Orton’s popularity was growing by the day and this match escalated that process as he earned a lot of respect for doing anything it took to deliver a great performance. This was tremendously brutal and some epic storytelling as well.

Scott: This match made Randy Orton a star. Once again Mick Foley took someone who needed a rub and gave it to him. Just like Steve Austin in 1998, the Rock in 1999 and Triple H in 2000 Mick Foley compromised his health for the sake of the business. Orton sold the thumb tacks like they really hurt. Oh wait…they did really hurt.

WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero vs. JBL – (Judgment Day 2004)

Matt: At the time, everybody was wondering what the heck happened to Bradshaw. Why is he wearing a cowboy hat and acting like he’s better than me? Nevertheless, he went right after Eddie Guerrero and became the new Stan Hansen by giving Eddie the brawl of his life. The chairshot at the end just makes the whole thing as Eddie gets busted open as bad as anybody I have seen in a LONG time. While JBL didn’t walk out with the belt on that night, he got put over HUGE as the biggest threat to Eddie’s WWE title.

Justin: A bloody war in which Eddie did his best to elevate the freshly minted JBL. It was an epic task as JBL had been nothing more than a tag and lower mid card star, but all of a sudden he was thrust into a major feud and title shot. These two pounded relentless on each other and both did nasty blade jobs to really drive the point home. While JBL’s was gory, Eddie’s was downright scary. The match would end in a schmozz to setup a rematch the next month. These two had really good chemistry and it showed here in their first big time encounter.

Scott: JBL’s first title shot is a bloody war that would be trumped at the Great American Bash. The visual of Eddie bleeding profusely after the match is unforgettable. The match itself wasn’t bad but their rematches would be better.

World Heavyweight Champion Chris Benoit vs. Triple H – 60-Minute Ironman Match (Raw, 7/26/04)

Matt: This was a match that, as a Benoit fan, had me worried whether or not Benoit’s time as champion had come and would now be put to death by Triple H. Since the Angle/Lesnar ironman match went over so well and while these two had the chance of putting on a great ironman match, it was strictly average in the execution, but the ride along the way was filled with some excellent drama towards the end. There hasn’t been an ironman match on cable TV since then, but it was pretty awesome to see Benoit get the chance to wrestle somebody – anybody – as champion for an entire hour and leave still holding onto the gold.

Justin: For the second year in a row, WWE delivered a televised ironman match. With the in ring chemistry between these two, many thought this could be the best WWE ironman yet. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite live up to standard, but it was still high level stuff. The main complaint is the usage of Eugene, as he was involved in a weird little angle with Triple H. The breaks didn’t help either, but these two still worked around the constraints and put on a great TV war to add to their catalogue of great matches.

Scott: The last full hour-long Iron Man match on Raw is a solid one that sees the World Champion come back from a 3-1 deficit to retain his title. The pacing was solid and the crowd was rabid as they were fervently behind Benoit. The Eugene crap at the end sort of ruined the ending but they did it to set up the HHH/Eugene match at SummerSlam. Great title match and a big win for Benoit.

World Heavyweight Champion Chris Benoit vs. Randy Orton – (SummerSlam 2004)

Matt: Solid match, but I remember it more for being a huge turning point in WWE. Orton was the first guy from the class of 2002 to capture the big gold belt. They had HUGE WrestleMania plans at the time for him to face HHH, but it turned out that everybody seemed to like Orton more for being a heel than a pretty boy babyface they were going to turn him into after the PPV. As much as I liked Benoit being the champ and wished he would have never lost, no one can deny he helped further a superstar’s career that night and Orton should never forget that.

Justin: The Age of Orton officially kicks off as he walks into SummerSlam for the biggest match of his career and walks out as the youngest World Champion in WWE history. The groundswell for Orton started earlier in the year and the momentum led to this title change. Benoit was a pro as always and lays down for the young star. Their match the next night was equally as good and Benoit’s job was complete. Orton was now a major player.

Scott: For some reason I personally don’t have fond memories of this match. Maybe because I didn’t really think Orton was quite ready for that shot, but the writers were trying something different and then putting someone new over. The problem was the cheers for Orton were short lived and he lost the title the following month. Overall the match wasn’t terrible but there were a few better matches that year that were better than this one.

And that does it for 2004! Until next week, let us know what you think and give us some of your choices that we might have missed!

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