Counting down the greatest WrestleManias of all-time: WrestleMania 21 (#4)

Essentially, the springboard to elevate two new Superstars to spearhead the next generation, WrestleMania 21, was an installment of the famed extravaganza that had both eyes on the future instead of nodding toward the past.

Staged in Los Angles, WWE unsurprisingly attached a series of well-received movie vignettes to it, but the priority was undoubtedly pushing Dave Batista following the retirement of Steve Austin, the walkout of Brock Lesnar, and The Rock’s hiatus to Hollywood of all places. WWE desperately needed new talent to replace old stock and tonight was the night they went all in.

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Starting with Batista, his slow transformation from D-Von Dudley’s muscle to Evolution enforcer was never intended to place him in the main event of WrestleMania against faction leader, Triple H. Randy Orton, a complete worker in front of the crowd but a troubled soul behind the scenes, was the preferred choice to overturn “The Game’s” dictatorship, but those plans were hastily changed when Orton was rushed to defeat Chris Benoit at SummerSlam 2004 and his first title reign was something of a flop.

WWE, like it often does, switched direction swiftly and started building Batista to be the man to destroy HHH, who had since become world champion again. Winning the 2005 Royal Rumble following a botched finish with Cena, Batista could’ve easily faced “SmackDown’s” JBL for the WWE championship, but a face turn on “Raw” — weeks before Mania was about to commence — planted the seeds for this intriguing title match. At the event, HHH, who had been nothing short of immense in preparing Batista for his push, stared at the ceiling in a decent main event as Batista closed the show fully focused on ushering in new era.

Underneath this was Cena ending the lengthy reign of the aforementioned JBL ,whose role as the face of “SmackDown” received mixed reviews. Three years earlier, Cena had been introduced to WWE television as a floppy-haired rookie in a memorable segment alongside Kurt Angle. Along with Batista, Lesnar, and Randy Orton, Cena was part of an elite class in developmental league, Ohio Valley Wrestling, and his transfer to the main roster was intended to bring immediate success.

That didn’t happen as his bland personality and limited skillset consigned him to obscurity away from his fellow students, but all hope was not lost as a major reinvention of his character quickly brought audiences back onside.

A lifelong hip-hop fan, Cena began freestyling en-route to the ring and he also donned relevant sporting apparel depending on the region he was performing in. Comedic lyrics, sometimes homophobic and often offensive, resonated with audiences still hungover from the vulgarity of The Attitude Era, and Vince McMahon knew it as Cena quickly became the center of everything significant on the blue brand. His short feud with JBL culminated quickly with a poor match at WrestleMania 21, but the quality of the contest wasn’t the priority, getting Cena in the driving seat was.

Elsewhere on the card, Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle delivered arguably the finest WrestleMania match of them all as their mat classic had the capacity crowd on the edge of their feet. If anyone requires any proof why these two superstars are correctly considered two of the finest wrestlers of all time, then locate this match and enjoy two veterans competing like their lives depended on it. Michaels’ selling in the closing sequence before tapping out to Angle’s Ankle Lock is some of the most convincing work of his entire career, and it lay the foundations for the red-hot feud to continue throughout the year.

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The Undertaker had his finest WrestleMania match up to this point when he was paired with Orton. His infamous streak was focused on heavily for the first time as he went up against the hungry youngster who was a revelation in his “Legend Killer” gimmick. With a WrestleMania body of work that included Giant Gonzalez, King Kong Bundy and Jimmy Snuka, Taker was allowed to work at a fast pace alongside Orton and the chemistry between the pair worked from the opening bell. Despite regular interference from Randy’s father, Bob, Taker was able to land the Tombstone to take his record at the PPV to 13-0.

Overall, WrestleMania 21 will be never be looked at as a three-hour classic that delivered quality matches throughout. WWE took a gamble in highlighting two superstars that they believed would carry the company forward, and it was a bet that paid off. Each man would go on to headline several WrestleManias, and in the case of Cena, his popularity soared with everyone viewing WWE’s product holding some sort of opinion on him. WWE rolled the dice in the spring of 2005 and the significant impact caused by hitting a six with the monumental success of Cena ensures that WrestleMania 21 takes fourth place on this list.

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