TJR WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches #11: Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels @ WM20

TJR Wrestling

The main event of WrestleMania 20 was a triple threat match headlined the show with the tagline: “Where it all begins…again.” It was also the first time the World Heavyweight Title was in the main event slot of a WrestleMania and the last WrestleMania that was held in Madison Square Garden.

As I noted earlier in the countdown for a Benoit featured match, it’s harder to enjoy his matches these days due to the double murder homicide he committed on his wife Nancy and son Daniel in 2007. He also killed himself after. He’s blacklisted from WWE history for obvious reasons, but I don’t want to ignore some of his work in the ring. That’s why this match is here.

If you’ve missed anything in the countdown so far, the WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.

Who: World Heavyweight Championship: Triple H vs. Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels

When: March 14, 2004

Where: Madison Square Garden in New York, New York

The Build

Chris Benoit won the 2004 Royal Rumble. He started the match at #1, lasted all the way until the end, eliminated Big Show with a headlock where he pulled him over the top to the floor and it was one of the most impressive Rumble wins ever. At the time, Benoit was a Smackdown wrestler.

Also at the 2004 Royal Rumble, Triple H (the World Champion on Raw at the time) and Michaels wrestled to a draw in a Last Man Standing match when neither man was able to answer the ten count. They actually had a Raw match in late December 2003 that was better than that one if you want to check it out.

The next night on Raw, Benoit showed up as the number one contender to the title. He had previously been on Smackdown, but there was a rule that allowed him to pick what show he could be on after winning the Rumble. Michaels, meanwhile, didn’t want to let Triple H out of his sights so he claimed that he deserved the WM shot. Following a contract signing where Michaels signed the contract after Superkicking Benoit, GM Eric Bischoff ruled that it would be a triple threat match for Triple H’s World Title. The big deal was that the World Title would be decided in the main event in a triple threat match.

The main story was that Triple H and Michaels were proven top guys while Benoit had to prove he was on their level.

What I Thought Back Then

I was pumped for this match at the time because I was a huge Benoit fan. He was a guy that I saw rise the ranks as a midcarder in WCW that deserved more than he was there. When he jumped to WWE in 2000 with Guerrero, Malenko & Saturn I was very excited. I don’t know if I ever expected him to win a Royal Rumble and headline a WrestleMania, but at that time I was happy about it. Benoit was an easy guy to root for because he’s shorter than most wrestlers, yet he was so skilled in the ring that most people were impressed by him.

Triple H didn’t have a good 2003 thanks to boring feuds with the likes of Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash and Goldberg. However, working with Michaels again re-invigorated and he was back to being awesome like he was in 2000-01. He had a lot of credibility as a long-term heel World Champion.

Michaels as the third guy in the match was fine with me because he was my favorite wrestler in the company. I don’t think anybody believed he was going to win the title. He was there because he had a long history with Triple H and doing a triple threat gave the match a different feel.

There was a lot of freshness to the match because Benoit was a Smackdown guy for the previous year and a half. He had a brief history with Triple H earlier in the 2000s and no history with Michaels, so the fact that it didn’t feel like a repeat felt like a good thing.

Here’s my full review of the match, which was written in 2012.

World Heavyweight Title (Raw): Triple H vs. Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels

We got intros for the main event. Ross pointed out that his was Michaels’ 11th WrestleMania and his 6th WrestleMania main event. Six? He wrestled in the last match at 12 and 14. At 11 he wrestled for the World Title, but it wasn’t the last match. At 10 and 19 he had two amazing matches, but they weren’t considered main events. All the other matches were when he was a midcarder or as part of The Rockers. It was a bit of a reach to say that this was his 6th main event. Sorry JR. He’s still the best announcer ever. Chris Benoit, now residing in Atlanta Georgia, was next. They said the Atlanta thing instead of Edmonton because they thought he’d be more likable if they announced him from an American city. He got a loud pop for his entrance. Triple H was next. Ross said it was his 9th WrestleMania and in the last two he was in main events where he won. The year before he was in a midcard match with Booker T for the World Title. They throw the “main event” word around too much. The top three workers in the company at the time were considered to Michaels, Benoit and Angle in some order while Hunter was very good too. Hunter was the heel while Michaels and Benoit were faces.

Loud “Let’s Go Benoit” chants before the match. They brawled at the start. Benoit went for a Crossface on Michaels, but couldn’t get it. He threw Shawn into Triple H, which sent Hunter to the floor. Benoit hit a nice Northern Lights suplex for two. Michaels hit Benoit with a clothesline and then Hunter hit one on Michaels. Benoit got dumped to the floor and then Hunter got his running high knee to the face of Michaels. Hunter kneed Benoit out to the floor. Michaels gave Hunter a baseball slide. Michaels went to the top rope and hit a moonsault onto both guys to a nice reaction. Back in the ring, Hunter wanted a Pedigree on Michaels, but Benoit destroyed Hunter with a clothesline and then he rammed Michaels shoulder first into the turnbuckle. Hunter turned Benoit upside down into the corner and then whipped Michaels into the body of Benoit. Nice spot got a two count. Michaels threw Hunter into upside down Benoit, who hit Hunter with a boot to the face. Flying forearm by Michaels to Hunter, then a kip up and then Benoit drilled him with a clothesline that sent Michaels to the floor. Benoit hit the three German Suplexes on Hunter. Michaels blocks a headbutt attempt by crotching Benoit. HHH hits a DDT on Michaels and HBK rolls to the floor. Hunter hit a superplex on Benoit for two. After a struggle, Crossface on HHH by Benoit, but that gets broken up by HBK.

Michaels hits a German Suplex, but Benoit countered for three of his own and then the top rope headbutt got two. The crowd was very supportive of Benoit while not reacting favorably to Michaels. You could tell who they wanted to win. Michaels hit a flying forearm on Benoit that knocked him to the floor. Michaels kipped up again and knocked Hunter down with clotheslines followed by a body slam. Michaels hit the Flying Elbow off the top rope. Now the crowd was getting behind him. Michaels hit the superkick. Benoit pulled Hunter out at the count of two to break the pin. That was a nice spot. Benoit and Michaels fought in the ring. Benoit gave Michaels a slingshot into the ring post. If you look for it, you could see Michaels blading himself while he was on the mat. I remember he did a similar blade job at Badd Blood 1997 in the Hell in a Cell match against Undertaker. I’m a blade job enthusiast, I guess you could say. Benoit put Michaels in the Crossface. Michaels almost tapped, but HHH blocked his hand from hitting the mat in a memorable spot. Benoit brawled with Hunter on the floor. Hunter whipped Benoit into the steel steps. They showed Michaels, who was bleeding profusely from the head. Hunter cleared off the equipment on the Smackdown announce table. Then they cleared the top of the Spanish table off where they had a fight. Michaels showed up. They picked Benoit up together and slammed him through the Smackdown table while the crowd started up a “Holy Shit!” chant. Michaels went back in the ring, pointed at Hunter and said that they had to settle it once and for all. Michaels threw Hunter into the corner so Hunter could do his bump where he flies over the corner and into the floor. Michaels threw Hunter into the ring post. Hunter came up bleeding. Michaels attacked with punches. Hunter came back with a Pedigree. It took him too long to cover and Benoit jumped back into the ring to break up the pin attempt. All three guys were down. Loud “Let’s Go Benoit” chants once again. Benoit counters a Pedigree with a Sharpshooter as the crowd went wild. Hunter almost tapped. Michaels broke it up by hitting a superkick on Benoit. That was a great spot. Michaels made the crawl to cover for a count of two. Loud “Benoit” chants. Michaels goes for another superkick, but he can’t get it due to Benoit dumping him over the top to the floor. That left just Benoit and Triple H. The Pedigree got reversed into the Crippler Crossface. Every time HHH tried to get to the ropes Benoit pulled back on it even more. The crowd was chanting for the tap out. After about two minutes in the hold, Hunter tapped out at 24:40.

Winner and New World Heavyweight Champion: Chris Benoit

Analysis: ****3/4 Awesome match. I’ve said this before, but it’s worth saying again, I’m not a huge fan of triple threat matches. I understand why they are done in the first place. I just find them to be too repetitive with the constant “hit the finisher, other guy breaks it up” stuff that happens in nearly every triple threat match. With that said, this is my favorite triple threat match ever. There’s so many things to like. They did a tremendous job of getting in believable nearfalls as well as near submissions. The fans were really into Benoit here, booing Michaels a lot of the time and of course booing HHH as well. My favorite spots were the Crossface on Michaels where HHH stopped the tap literally with his own hand. Then the other spot was that double suplex through the table because it was such a hard, emphatic bump for Benoit to take. Of course, the ending was very memorable as well with HHH tapping clean to the Crossface. I think going into the match a lot of us had the feeling that Benoit was going to win, but for it to be in a clean match with no ref bumps and HHH tapping clean made it work all that much more. If this ended on a roll up or cradle or something like that then maybe it’s not as good of a match. However, since it was a decisive ending I think it’s worthy of all the praise it receives.

To end the show, Eddie Guerrero walked out with the WWE Title. Confetti fell from the roof. He applauded his friend. They hugged in the ring. The crowd loved it. Ross called it the greatest WrestleMania of all time. I think he said that every year.

You can read my full recap of WrestleMania 20 right here.

What They Said

I’m going to leave this part empty since it’s a Benoit match and harder to reminisce about them.

What I Think Now

This is one of the best triple threat matches ever. Perhaps THE best ever. It’s up for debate for sure. They did a phenomenal of making it a one on one match at different points by sending a guy out of the ring while the other battled inside it. It makes sense for two guys to work together to isolate a third guy, so I’m glad they did that kind of spot a few times.

The crowd was hotter than I remembered. They were really behind Benoit because, as mentioned earlier, he hadn’t been at this level before, so it was easy to get behind a wrestler like that.

Give Triple H credit for tapping out clean to the Crippler Crossface. That’s the finish that should have happened, so I’m glad they went with it. If it was Michaels putting Benoit over that would have been fine too, but I prefer the champion taking the fall in a triple threat to make it more meaningful.

If you used to love Benoit and find it difficult to watch his matches then you probably shouldn’t watch it again. However, if you can appreciate the story they told then you’ll likely enjoy it.

What Happened Next

They did the match again one month later at Backlash 2004 in Benoit’s hometown of Edmonton, Alberta. It was an outstanding match as well, which was done to put over Benoit at home.

This was the only World Title win for Benoit. He was mostly used as an upper midcard face for the rest of his run over the next three years.

Triple H was right back in the same main event spot in a title match at the next two WrestleManias. He was a heel for a few more years, which was smart because that was his best role. He turned face in 2006 to re-form Degeneration X with Michaels.

Michaels was an upper midcard face that was arguably the best WWE performer of the 2000s just like he was arguably the best in the 1990s as well.

Final Thoughts

It’s a shame that WWE ignores this match from history because of what Benoit did. I don’t think they’re wrong to do that. It’s still awkward. The post match hug by Benoit and Guerrero showed how close they were. It was also difficult to watch again. I miss Eddie a lot and I wish Benoit never did what he did, obviously.

Rankings So Far

  1. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 20
  2. Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart @ WrestleMania 12
  3. Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage @ WrestleMania 7
  4. Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle @ WrestleMania 19
  5. Money in the Bank Ladder Match (won by Edge) @ WrestleMania 21
  6. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho @ WrestleMania 19
  7. The Undertaker vs. CM Punk @ WrestleMania 29
  8. Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista @ WrestleMania 30
  9. Edge vs. Mick Foley @ WrestleMania 22
  10. The Undertaker vs. Triple H @ WrestleMania 27
  11. Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair @ WrestleMania 8
  12. The Undertaker vs. Edge @ WrestleMania 24
  13. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels @ WrestleMania 23
  14. Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H @ WrestleMania 30
  15. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit @ WrestleMania 17
  16. The Rock vs. Steve Austin @ WrestleMania 19
  17. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (vs. Seth Rollins) @ WrestleMania 31
  18. Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle @ WrestleMania 20
  19. The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 18
  20. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair @ WrestleMania 24
  21. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch @ WrestleMania 32
  22. Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper @ WrestleMania 8
  23. Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan @ WrestleMania 6

WrestleMania’s Greatest Matches archives are here.

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John Canton –

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