Something to Wrestle – Royal Rumble 2004
Release Date: January 18, 2019
Recap by: Caitlin Lavelle
Chris Benoit and a ‘Changing of the Guard’
Bruce says that when he thinks of the 2004 Royal Rumble, it signifies, “a changing of the guard, and a changing of the way we (the WWE) were writing TV and doing business,” as this was the time that the company decided to push Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit into top spots.
Bruce says that while there were questions from some people in power at WWE as to whether Chris Benoit’s lack of verbal skills would hold him back from connecting with the audience, his in-ring work set him apart and earned everyone’s respect. The WWE ultimately decided to, “Let Chris be Chris,” and leave his character alone, opting not to make him deliver promos or to give him a mouthpiece.
Bruce also says that the creative team was more apprehensive about pushing Eddie Guerrero, as he was even smaller than Benoit, and that it took some time for the creative team to get behind Guerrero unanimously.
Goldberg’s Armageddon 2003 Tantrum
Bruce and Conrad’s discussion of the lead up to the 2004 Royal Rumble begins with the 2003 Armageddon pay-per-view, where Bruce remembers Goldberg throwing a temper tantrum following his, “so-so match,” with Triple H.
Bruce says Goldberg was throwing chairs and yelling backstage at Armageddon because he was so upset with the match, but that he immediately stopped when Triple H came into the room to ask if there was a problem. Bruce says Goldberg told Triple H there was no issue, shook his hand and thanked him for the match.
Tribute to the Troops
Bruce and Conrad discuss the first taped Tribute to the Troops, which was taped on December 20, 2003 from Baghdad, Iraq. Conrad alleges that Vince McMahon stayed in one of Saddam Hussein’s unfurnished palaces during the trip. Bruce says that while he always volunteered to go overseas for Tribute to the Troops, he was never selected to go.
Bruce and Conrad talk about the talent flying overseas to Tribute to the Troops on cargo planes. Bruce says some wrestlers would bring hammocks or air mattresses on the plane to sleep on, and that many would also bring water bottles filled with alcohol, since there would be no alcohol served on these flights, but that the wrestlers would have to finish all of the alcohol before the plane landed. Bruce calls Tribute to the Troops grueling, but rewarding for the talent who got to go.
Bruce also explains that Tribute to the Troops was actually created by JBL. He says Layfield met with the, “Sergeant major general,” and asked how WWE could help the military. Bruce says the Sergeant major told JBL that the people fighting in the front lines often feel forgotten by the people fighting back home, so JBL worked with the Sergeant major, Vince McMahon and Kevin Dunn to bring a show to the combat zone.
Stone Cold Steve Austin: a New Sheriff in Town
Bruce and Conrad discuss Stone Cold Steve Austin returning to WWE television on the December 29, 2003 episode of RAW as ‘Sheriff Austin,’ in an on-screen leadership role.
Bruce says it was Vince McMahon’s idea to utilize the Stone Cold character in this way, since Austin was unable to compete in-ring. Bruce calls working with Austin during this time some of the most fun Bruce had during his WWE tenure, and remembers that Austin always preferred shooting segments live instead of pre-taping them, and that some of Austin’s best lines were off the cuff. Bruce says Vince would praise Austin when live segments went well, and would blame Bruce when they didn’t.
Chris Benoit, Shawn Michaels and Triple H
Bruce talks about the Shawn Michaels & Triple H feud at this time, calling their matches some of the best ever and saying that the two had, “great chemistry and told great stories.”
At the same time, because WWE knew Goldberg was on his way out of the company, the seeds were being planted to establish a new top guy in WWE. While Bruce says John Cena and Eddie Guerrero were considered to fill this spot, Chris Benoit was ultimately selected and was announced as the #1 entrant in the 2004 Royal Rumble match.
Bruce says that it was ultimately decided that they would go with a triple threat between Chris Benoit, Shawn Michaels and Triple H for the 2004 WrestleMania main event, because they thought beating both Michaels and Hunter would be the best way for Benoit to get over with the audience.
Coachman Picks on Jim Ross
Conrad asks Bruce about Coach needling JR on commentary. Bruce explains that Vince McMahon was coaching Jonathan Coachman to be a, “nasty heel,” and that going after the company’s most beloved talent, Jim Ross, was an effective way to do that.
Bruce says McMahon would definitely, “get his jollies,” by picking on JR, but wouldn’t do so at the expense of the product. On the contrary, Bruce says this emphasized and enhanced JR’s babyface character, but he admits that Ross did take this personally, because, “Jim is an emotional guy.” Conrad says Coach picking on Jim Ross always felt mean-spirited to him.
Teddy Long, Kevin Nash & Hulk Hogan
Bruce and Conrad discuss Teddy Long coming out as the one-night-only GM at the January 5, 2004 episode of RAW, Long, “calling all white men racist,” Lawler taking exception, and Batista power bombing Long. Bruce says 2004 was a different time and place, and that he doesn’t think this segment would unfold in the same way today.
They also discuss Kevin Nash leaving WWE. Bruce says Nash couldn’t even fulfill his initial 2-year commitment to the company, and that because of this there was never an offer to extend Nash’s contract. Bruce suggests that Kevin was trying to, “save face,” by saying he turned down a WWE contract, but also admits that Nash had other opportunities in Hollywood where he would have to leave the house as often or take bumps.
Bruce and Conrad talk about an appearance Hulk Hogan made during this time on Jimmy Kimmel Live, including comments Hogan made about Vince McMahon. Bruce describes McMahon and Hogan as having a, “love-hate relationship, and says the two had been sporadically on-and-off of the same page since 1987.
Vince’s Talent Meetings
Bruce and Conrad talk about all-hands talent meetings that Vince McMahon was calling during this time in WWE to rally the roster and get everyone on the same page. Bruce says the goal was to, “put the ball in the hands of talent.” Vince was reportedly asking wrestlers to put more of an effort into re-establishing kayfabe by not traveling or eating with someone they were feuding with, to slow down their work-rate, and to stop leaking information to dirt sheets.
Conrad asks Bruce about a PWTorch report that Trish Stratus was mocked during one of these meetings for suggesting that more TV matched build towards house show matches. Bruce remembers the incident and says Trish’s question could have been asked at a different time, although he admits that it wasn’t actually a bad question. Bruce says he doesn’t think Vince McMahon mocked Trish, but that the agents and other wrestlers probably did.
Brian Kendrick and Being Granted a WWE Release
Bruce and Conrad talk about Brian Kendrick, who asked for and was granted his WWE release at this time. Bruce says Kendrick, “wanted to go and see what was out there,” and that there were no hard feelings between Brian and WWE. Bruce says he’s always had respect for Kendrick, who he calls a tremendous trainer and a, “small guy who made it in a big guy’s business.”
Given the reported AEW fallout this week, where several WWE talent was said to ask for their release backstage, Conrad asks why Vince McMahon agrees to grant some releases but fights to keep others at WWE. Bruce says it depends on a talent’s relationship with Vince, how they’ve conducted themselves, how they ask, when they ask, who they ask, and what’s currently in the works for a talent. Bruce says it can even depend on Vince’s mood.
2004 Royal Rumble
Bruce and Conrad Discuss Ric Flair and Batista defeating the Dudley Boys, saying it, “didn’t feel like Flair,” watching him make an entrance without a robe, and that Flair looked better in 2004 than he did in 1999.
Bruce remembers that Jim Ross hating calling matches from the platform at the top of the stage and preferred to be ringside. Bruce laughs at Josh Matthew’s hair and admires Cena’s rapped backstage promo.
They discuss Rey Mysterio and Jamie Noble’s Cruiserweight Championship match, including Nidia’s involvement costing Noble the match.
Bruce says watching Eddie Guerrero and Chavo Guerrero’s match on this card made him cry and miss Eddie, and that he texted Chavo to reminisce.
Bruce says he thinks that the Brock Lesnar and Bob Holly match was, “different,” and, “unlike anything else on the card,” and that the two, “told a good story.”
Bruce and Conrad discuss Triple H and Shawn Michaels last man standing match, where Triple H would ultimately retain his title via a double count. Bruce says everyone knew going in to the match that the finish would not be well-received, especially in Philadelphia, but that they wanted to tell the story anyway, especially because this match wouldn’t be going on last due to the Royal Rumble match.
After a promo spot between Steve Austin, Eric Bischoff and Paul Heyman, the Royal Rumble match began. Bruce and Conrad dissect this match, which Bruce says was laid out by himself, Pat Paterson, Shane McMahon and JBL. Bruce remarks on Hurricane Helm’s impressive pop, and the fact that a chokeslam on the entrance ramp prevented Spike Dudley from officially being eliminated from the Rumble, leading to an argument that perhaps Spike should be the rightful Royal Rumble winner (due to the Benoit ‘asterisk’ controversy).
Bruce was also impressed by Kurt Angle’s big crowd reaction, as well as Mick Foley’s reaction, as Foley was named by Steve Austin as a replacement entrant after Austin found Test laid out backstage. Bruce talks about Mick Foley brawling outside of the ring with Randy Orton (with the help of Mr. Socko).
Bruce remembers Cena tweaking his knee upon his elimination, and Benoit winning the match by eliminating the Big Show. He and Conrad say Benoit almost beat Flair’s 1992 record for most time in the Rumble, that Benoit was only the second person to win the Royal Rumble from the #1 spot, and that he lasted 61 minutes and 31 seconds in the match.
Bruce says Benoit was ecstatic to win the Royal Rumble, and that he felt it was a big deal to be considered for the championship. Overall, Bruce says it was a great night without any bad matched, and that you could, “get lost in the story of the Rumble,” with a feel good ending.
Bruce also says he understands why WWE won’t talk about this show, likening this to R Kelly’s position in the music industry, but says this wasn’t just Benoit’s show, it was the whole Rumble.
In the Q&A portion, Bruce says John Stud was probably the least-over wrestler to ever win a Royal Rumble.
Next week, Bruce & Conrad will be discussing Phycho Sid.
This was a nice, (relatively) quick episode of Something to Wrestle about a memorable pay-per-view that isn’t often discussed.
Caitlin is a wrestling fan who hopes to one day discover that she is the illegitimate daughter of Vincent Kennedy McMahon and the rightful Anonymous RAW General Manager. Until then, she’ll keep on living in Orlando, Florida with her husband and son.