wrestling / Columns

Great American Bash 2004: Was It Really That Bad?

November 13, 2019 | Posted by Justin Watry
Great American Bash 2004 JBL

Sometimes in wrestling, it is difficult to see the forest from the trees. What may seem pointless, horrible, laughable or bad story telling like The Firefly Funhouse promos debuting could turn into The Fiend Bray Wyatt as WWE Champion. Just as giving creative geniuses like Paul Heyman the head of a company could result in financial disaster and bankruptcy like ECW in 2001. We can’t use 20/20 hindsight in that very moment. However, looking back on things, it gives a little bit of perspective.

That brings us to my new column series. Tell me what you think…

The Great American Bash 2004: Was It Really That Bad?

INTRODUCTION: A quick Google search will tell you this is ranked as one of the worst pay-per-view events in WWE history. A brand exclusive for Smackdown that pretty much failed in the live attendance game and buys from home. A card rounded out with lots of filler and a weak roster had to suck, right? Let’s re-visit June 27, 2004.

Fatal Four Way Elimination United States Championship Match – John Cena was the U.S. Title holder and entered first to a good crowd reaction in Norfolk, Virginia. I miss 2004 Cena. You knew he was going to be rising up to the main event scene in short order. In a lot of ways, he reminds me of 2003 Eddie Guerrero where it felt like the company was just biding their time. He was already a star but not THE star. One great free style rap later and out came his three challengers: Rob Van Dam, Booker T, and Rene Dupree. All three men from the Raw mid-card that had been sent over to the blue brand in the WWE Draft. RVD and Booker in the infamous Triple H trade and Dupree as the young gun ready to be on his own, away from La Resistance. I actually loved RVD and Booker going to Smackdown at the time. HHH was absolutely 100% a Raw guy, and I still wonder why they even gave thought to the idea of moving him. Dupree was worth a shot at such a young age, so why not enter the United States Title picture?

Despite the bad reports from this PPV, the opener was pretty hot. RVD was eliminated first, which was a surprise. Cena was the one to actually pin him. Why he would want to go up against two heels in beyond me, but it worked. Fans loved the Doctor Of Thuganomics in 2004. Van Dan would get his moment in the sun two years later. A lot of fans felt he was ‘ready’ to be a top champion in 2002. I disagreed then, and I still disagree. In 2006, he was ‘ready.’ Not in 2002. Sadly, we saw what happened when he was finally given the ball. His fault, not WWE’s. Sorry. Once it was down to Booker, Dupree, and Cena, things were predictable. Booker pinned Dupree, and then Cena fought back to defeat Booker. Lots of good action, and the Cena/Booker feud was one of the hidden gems of 2004. Their big clash at No Mercy in October is VERY entertaining and was treated as a main event level showdown. Go back and find that specific match. Cena spending much of 2004 in the U.S. Title picture was such a smart move for his long-term future.

Hot Tub Fun – Okay, the divas (women) were in a hot tub backstage all night in bikinis. The point was to interview different wrestlers throughout the night. Basically an excuse to see beautiful girls in skimpy clothing. There were a few funny one liners. Plus, anytime Nunzio pops up to hit on Dawn Marie is good stuff.

Luther Reigns VS Charlie Haas – Filler on the surface but had some build. Smackdown General Manager Kurt Angle had been disappointed in Charlie Haas becoming such a dud as of late. Paying too much attention to Miss Jackie and the like. Where was the guy who Angle mentored? Where was THAT Charlie Haas? Well, Angle had a new protégé: Luther Reigns. In the long run, Luther Reigns ended up being a dud of himself. However, he will always have a pay-per-view match against The Undertaker on his record, as well as an amazing promo from a Smackdown episode before No Way Out 2005. In this instance though, Angle watched from his wheelchair ringside while Reigns decimated Haas. Simple yet effective.

JBL Promo – Still new to the main event scene, 2004 JBL caught a lot of flack. Like, a TON OF FLACK! He was bashed non-stop and ridiculed like no other. As mentioned in my opening, it is often times funny how history tells a different story then what is happening in present day. Now fifteen years later, you see just how good of a heel JBL was. During this quick two minute promo backstage, JBL guaranteed he would walk out as the new WWE Champion. His guarantees had delivered, so it was a scary thought Eddie Guerrero was about to lose his first (and only) WWE Title…

Cruiserweight Championship – Rey Msyterio was the champion here. Chavo Guerrero was the challenger. At Great American Bash, there were obviously some WCW flashbacks. What was really cool about Smackdown in 2002 through late 2004 was that the Cruiserweight Title was one of the main selling points for the blue brand. It was totally exclusive to Smackdown, and they used it to their advantage. With Rey Mysterio coming and going from the division, it always gave them a high profile spot. Nearly the longest match of the evening, we got exactly as was advertised: Rey Mysterio vs. Chavo Guerrero…and it was great. These two had fought a million times, and they never failed to get the crowd amped up. I loved the story of Chavo working over the knee of Rey for most of the match and then getting caught for a quick roll up. The fans in Norfolk at this all up. Amazing how excited they were over a Cruiserweight Title bout. See what happens when you have two guys that can wrestle, have established heels and faces and can work a crowd?

Kenzo Suzuki VS Billy Gunn – Um, yeah. I will say this. Kenzo had a sweet entrance. He also had a great valet named Hiroko. Those poor dudes that had to carry him to the ring, a moment of silence for them. Billy Gunn was clearly on the downswing of his in-ring career, and Smackdown had often worked hard to find things for him to do. Remember that pairing with Torrie Wilson? Exactly. He always seemed to pop up when you least suspect him. In 2004 though, Gunn did just as he should – put over the younger talent. The veteran was always in great shape and will to do his best. This match was harmless. WWE had big plans for Kenzo, so the idea was right. Like a lot of guys in this era though, it just didn’t work out.

Paul Heyman Promo – This was intriguing to me. During the build up to the big Undertaker vs. Dudleyz main event, Paul Heyman kept promising that if The Undertaker didn’t “do the right thing,” concrete would fill a crypt with Paul Bearer inside. Pretty much threatening to murder Bearer. I had no idea what the “right thing” was, but it was a hook for the pay-per-view. I will give WWE that much. They created a scenario where you didn’t know what the heck was going to happen and had to watch. How would The Undertaker vs. Dudleyz go with the cement mixer literally right up on the stage ready to go? We would certainly see later.

Sable VS Torrie Wilson – At this point, it hit me: Tazz and Michael Cole had great chemistry. I think Tazz slowly started to fall into a rut during his Impact Wrestling days and stopped caring. However, for the most of his Smackdown run, he was great. Cole was also very good. He knew how to commentate and not rely on catchphrases to get his point across. Go back and watch a few old Smackdown episodes. The commentary was one of the bright spots, usually better than the tired Jerry Lawler/Jim Ross (with The Coach thrown in there at times) pairing over on Raw. Nobody is ever going to confuse Torrie Wilson vs. Sable for Lita vs. Trish Stratus, so the quality was not the point here. It was about Torrie and Sable getting in the squared circle wearing next to nothing as the military fanbase watched on. Funky finish aside with Sable winning via pulling the tights, this was fine.

Mordecai VS Hardcore Holly – Guilty pleasure time. Confession: I dug the entire Mordecai gimmick. Some of us just happen to like certain acts that go down in history as big jokes. This was mine. I thought Mordecai was pretty darn cool. He was called the pale rider, had a unique look, delivered a nice looking Crucifix Bomb finisher and was the focal point of a couple cool vignettes. The potential was there. Beating Hardcore Holly in 2004 may not have meant much, but it was a start. To work with a veteran in the company and win clean was a good launch pad. Similar to Kenzo, Luther and many others from 2004 (on both brands), the motivation from WWE was correct. The execution, not so much. Wow, what would have been if he did feud with The Undertaker?

Texas Bull Rope WWE Championship Match – Eddie Guerrero was walking into Norfolk as the WWE Champion. JBL was walking into the arena as the challenger. These two had a wild, bloody brawl a month earlier at Judgment Day but ended in a disqualification. Since the DV victory technically went to JBL, we was owed a rematch and was allowed to pick the stipulation. Of course he would go with the Texas Bullrope gimmick. It made sense and could allow the beloved fan favorite to lose the title without actually losing clean. This reeked from the start of a BS ending…and that is precisely what we were given. JBL won after a close, down to the wire finish that saw the referee originally give Eddie the win before GM Angle reversed the decision. I have a few points on this entire scene:

1. This was another good brawl with Eddie and JBL beating the crap out of each other. In term of under rated or forgotten WWE Title change, this makes my list. Was it as good as their memorable Judgment Day 2004 main event? No. Was it as intense as their steel cage bout on Smackdown a few weeks later? Also no…but still, this was historic for a couple of reasons and was quality bell to bell.

2. JBL may have been tossed into the main event scene without much rhyme or reason, but he delivered in those two months. JBL was a loyal soldier on the roster, a good worker, a trusted member of blue brand, a hard worker, a solid face or heel and with his new gimmick, he was next in line to get a chance to succeed. Mick Foley was gone. The Rock was gone. Brock Lesnar just walked out. Stone Cole was officially officially gone for good this time. Bill Goldberg had just left after only a year in the company. Big Show was out injured. Kurt Angle was on the shelf as well. WWE needed a new main event act and went with one of their better mid-card guys they knew they could trust. Again folks, what seemed ridiculous at the time made a lot more sense down the road.

3. What meant even more than the title change to me was Eddie Guerrero losing. I was a fan of JBL, but this was devastating in 2004 and just as crushing to look at 15 years later. His first and only run as WWE Champion cut far too short. It is nice that he basically did this all as a favor to his friend JBL and stuff, but man, it sucks. I mentioned this on the 411 Foresight Wrestling Podcast a few months ago, but I don’t think the wrestling industry has recovered from Eddie’s death. Even in 2019, his heart and soul is missing from the business. His demeanor, his FUN free spirit we saw on television each week, his antics, his facial expressions, etc. Of all the celebrity deaths in my lifetime, Eddie Guerrero’s is still the one that gets to me the most. Watching him lose here is just heartbreaking.

JBL guaranteed he would leave as the new WWE Champion, and he did.

Concrete Crypt Match – The Undertaker vs. The Dudley Boyz main evented a pay-per-view in 2004. It was a handicap match which centered around Paul Heyman and Paul Bearer. Very strange story but as I noted above, it was interesting. I had no idea where this was going. I loved the cryptic little teases that something big was going to happen. The bout started out with Heyman slowly but surely filling up the crypt with cement as Bearer sat there helpless. Taker was told to lay down, which was apparently the “right thing” that was hinted at. Well, Taker is not going to lay down for anybody, so he just decided to defeat The Dudleyz all by himself. Screw the threats! As the match progressed, Heyman kept on filling up the crypt. By the time it ended, Bearer was about neck high in cement about to suffocate him, when Taker sent a lightning bolt to scare off Heyman and save his trusted conscience inside the glass case…

…except he didn’t. The Undertaker pulled the level himself, completely covering the entire body of Paul Bearer with cement as the show went off the air. Yes, it was basically a televised murder. Live on PPV. This has been debated for years, but it sure felt like a heel turn by The Undertaker that would lead to an alliance with Paul Heyman as Bear would be written off. I don’t know. The live crowd was DEAD silent for this all, not knowing how to react. Do they boo Taker? Do they cry for Bearer’s lifeless body inside that crypt? Do they head for the nearest exit? This matchup was surprisingly built up so well this the payoff felt like a swerve BLAH ending. WWE abandoned ship, and Taker entered a Summerslam WWE Title feud with JBL a few weeks later.

SUMMARY: Look, I doubt anybody is going to call this an all-time great wrestling pay-per-view. At the same time, it has indeed gotten a bad rap. We had a big fatal four way elimination match with ultra popular John Cena to open, a couple matches to showcase new stars, Chavo and Rey having their usual classic, a new WWE Champion crowned and a very, very bizarre main event with The Undertaker. I’d say The Great American Bash 2004 was pretty entertaining. What say you? Was it really that bad?