Top 20 WrestleMania moments: No. 1
Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XX, 2004)
If I had compiled this list prior to the Chris Benoit tragedy last summer, this match would have been my top WrestleMania moment. And while it still is the most memorable WrestleMania moment for me, the reasons for its significance have become more complex.
First, let’s go back to 2004. Having long been an admirer of Benoit’s talent and work ethic, I was thrilled to see him in the WrestleMania main event, and I was especially excited about the fact that he was probably going to win the title from world heavyweight champion Triple H and I was going to be at Madison Square Garden to witness it live. I’m a big Michaels mark, but this clearly was Benoit’s time. The sellout crowd in New York thought so, too, as it was definitely pro-Benoit even though Michaels also was a babyface.
I have been going to live shows for more than 30 years, and this might be the best match I was ever in attendance for. The three incredibly talented veterans engaged in an action-packed match that featured a combination of wrestling and brawling. To add to the drama, Michaels’ head was busted open, and he bled a gusher. Triple H also was bleeding from the forehead. After Benoit dumped Michaels over the top rope, Triple H grabbed Benoit and attempted to execute a Pedigree. Benoit, however, reversed it into a Crippler Crossface. Triple H stayed in the hold for over a minute before finally tapping out. The crowd erupted, and Benoit immediately began crying.
Eddie Guerrero, who had made a successful WWE title defense against Kurt Angle earlier in the show, then entered the ring and celebrated with Benoit as confetti fell from the ceiling and Benoit’s theme music blasted over the sound system. The two longtime friends had both taken the road less traveled to reach the top of the wrestling world together. Next, Benoit’s family – including wife Nancy and young son Daniel – made their way into the ring, and Benoit hugged and kissed them both. I got chills watching the emotional scene unfold before my eyes.
If only the story could have ended there.
Needless to say, that scene now evokes chills of a much darker nature. Four people (including one child) who were in the ring that night are dead. For that reason, the image of Benoit and his family celebrating in the ring will forever be etched in my mind.