WWE Judgment Day 2004
Although ratings were still in decline and big names were leaving rather frequently, WWE had started 2004 on Pay-Per-View fairly well, and the same applied to SmackDown-only supercards, with Vengeance 2003, No Mercy 2003 and No Way Out 2004 having all been worthwhile. But then came this event. Held at what would be the home of WrestleMania 21 (the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California), WWE Judgment Day 2004 was a truly terrible show, and it’s just as bad when reliving it 16 years later.
Rob Van Dam & Rey Mysterio vs. The Dudley Boyz
At least it started off well. The Dudleyz had turned heel on RVD and sided with Paul Heyman a few weeks earlier, and Van Dam had recruited another ex-ECW alumni in Rey Mysterio to team with him here as part of a quest for revenge. This was a good doubles match for the era as The Dudleyz still had it as a duo, and it was also fun to see RVD and Rey teaming up due to their similar yet varied aerial styles, plus Mysterio was still mostly used as a cruiserweight at that point, making this a somewhat high-profile opportunity for him. In a slightly surprising outcome, the babyfaces defeated the established team, as Rey hit a double 619 on both Bubba Ray and D-Von, leading to the match-winning Five Star Frog Splash from RVD. Van Dam and Mysterio would later team up again at No Mercy, before winning the WWE Tag Team Titles just prior to Armageddon.
Torrie Wilson vs. Dawn Marie
A good opening, then, but things were about to go downhill. Kurt Angle, the then-wheelchair bound General Manager of SmackDown, came out to deride the city of Los Angeles, before playing Torrie Wilson in a match against Dawn Marie, presumably as a punishment for her being involved in the incident that caused Angle to end up incapable of using his legs in the first place. The resultant bout was pretty poor, though thankfully Michael Cole and Tazz chose not to bring up the Al Wilson storyline that led to their previous PPV bout at Royal Rumble 2003, which was one of the worst in company history. Torrie scored the pin, which at least meant that fans would react positively to the outcome.
Mordecai vs. Scotty Too Hotty
Mordecai made his, erm, long-awaited debut here, after weeks of creepy vignettes. He was essentially a dark character, albeit one who embraced the colour white, making him an anti-Undertaker of sorts. He had a decent entrance and a memorable entrance theme, but that’s as interesting as Mordecai got. His match here with Scotty Too Hotty was SmackDown-level stuff, and not something which should have been booked on a PPV. Consider this the match where the LA fans began to really lose interest in the evening’s – ahem! – entertainment. Mordecai got the win, and less than two months later, he would be sent back to Ohio Valley Wrestling, eventually resurfacing as Kevin Thorn on WWE’s ECW brand in 2006.
WWE Tag Team Championship Match
Rico & Charlie Haas (C) vs. Billy Gunn & Hardcore Holly
Standards had dropped massively on SmackDown in record time considering that this was the third consecutive worthless match, and it wouldn’t be the last. Gunn and Holly were competent enough but totally stale by this point, while Rico and Haas were a comedy team whose style of humour wasn’t exactly side-splitting in 2004. The upshot is that a technically-proficient doubles bout with no heat only reduced the quality of an already-flagging show. At one point, Holly hit a standing dropkick and waited long and desperately for what ended up being a golf clap at best. In the end, Haas pinned Holly to retain the belts (ironically, Haas and Holly would team up at Judgment Day 2005 to try and win the same titles), and the “hilarious” title run for Rico and Charlie would thankfully end a few weeks later at the hands of The Dudley Boyz.
WWE Cruiserweight Championship Match
Jacqueline (C) vs. Chavo Guerrero
Oh, come on. This reads like an attempt to put on an intentionally bad PPV, because after a lacklustre women’s contest, a boring squash and an irrelevant Tag Team Title clash, we then get this? The story was that Jacqueline had answered an open challenge of sorts from Chavo Guerrero and captured his Cruiserweight Title, meaning that this was essentially a second comedy storyline relating to a belt (and I enjoy wrestling comedy if it’s done well, but this was horrid). The stipulation here was that Chavo, the heel of course, had his arm tied behind his back, but after several minutes of piss-poor action and a distraction from his dad Chavo Guerrero Sr/Chavo Classic, Chavo Jr untied his arm to hit Jackie with the match- and title-winning Gory Bomb. Just terrible all around, and possibly the rock bottom moment of a dire event.
WWE United States Championship Match
John Cena (C) vs. Rene Dupree
At last, someone who belonged on PPV! And I don’t mean Rene Dupree. The quality-metre finally took an upswing again here, but not by much as Rene was quite inexperienced and seemed to be fast-tracked into this singles push, though at least he was an effective anti-American heel with youth on his side. Cena was massively over here, and there’s an argument to be made that he should have already reached the status of WWE Champion by this point. As it turned out, Cena’s next PPV trek to Staples Center for WM 21 would finally land him that honour, but here he was defending the US Title which he had won from Big Show at WrestleMania XX. This was a decent match; nothing special by any means, but it served a purpose and held the fans’ interest throughout, and compared to the sludge of the previous four contests, this felt like a five-star outing. Those who were supporting Dupree (i.e. the French) would be disappointed as Cena hit the FU to retain. Johnny boy would retain the gold again opposite Rene in a Lumberjack bout a few weeks later.
The Undertaker vs. Booker T
The Undertaker had revived his old-school Dead Man character at WM XX, so this bout at Judgment Day 2004 marked the first PPV match of his “last run” (yes, people thought that UT was winding down in 2004; as I write this, a WWE Network documentary has just premiered talking about Taker still trying to find a suitable match to retire upon). Booker T had not long turned heel, and he wasn’t exactly delivering his best in-ring work at this point. For whatever reason, Booker wasn’t clicking in this role, and Taker was still adjusting into his hybrid of personas (there were still elements of his biker gimmick within his act at this stage), which made this a dull match, and a let-down considering that this really should have been one of the stronger outings of the night. They had a much better showdown a few years earlier at No Mercy 2001, where Taker – as the American Bad Ass – came out on top. And he won again here, hitting Booker with a Tombstone Piledriver to claim victory in a bout which should have been far better than it was. No matter how bad the rest of this event was, at least with many of the bouts, you knew that they would suck beforehand, whereas this one was a disappointment overall. Incidentally, it’s been suggested that Brock Lesnar would have squared off against Taker here instead of Booker, had he not abruptly left the company in March.
WWE Championship Match
Eddie Guerrero (C) vs. John Bradshaw Layfield
If Kurt Angle hadn’t suffered a recurrence of his long-standing neck issues at WM XX, chances are that he would have challenged Latino Heat here in what could have been a great match, and a way to salvage this awful event. But with Angle sidelined for the time being, and with Lesnar gone, and with WWE determining that Booker should be kept away from Eddie for some reason, it was decided that Bradshaw of the APA should be repackaged as JBL and suddenly elevated into the top heel role to face Eddie. There’s a reason that Jinder Mahal received comparisons with JBL upon his headline push in 2017, because fans weren’t conditioned nor willing to accept Bradshaw in this position, and it only emphasised what I stated earlier about the standards having taken a plunge on the blue brand within a matter of weeks. There was a memorable angle shot at a house show in Eddie’s hometown of El Paso, Texas where Bradshaw caused his mother to have a heart attack (with the work ultimately becoming a shoot in one of those only-in-wrestling moments), and the JBL persona was something different, but it just felt totally secondary, and that was before this match, where many assumed that Eddie would win decisively and move on to face a more worthy opponent.
This main event of Judgment Day 2004 was a match of two halves. The first half was pretty slow and by-the-numbers wrestling, with JBL relying on typical heel tactics as opposed to skill or excitement as a way to complement Eddie’s faster and more eye-catching offence. Then came the turning point which led to the second half, and a notorious incident. With the referee down, JBL smashed – and I mean he twatted – Eddie in the skull with a steel chair. As was the norm at this point, Eddie came out of that spot busted open, but having cut himself too deeply, Latino Heat’s head was pouring with blood. Literally his entire upper body was covered in claret within seconds of the camera catching the grisly sight. The match continued, though, and somehow the official (from a kayfabe standpoint) didn’t wonder aloud how Eddie’s face had turned into an exploded tomato. Eddie kicked out of the Clothesline From Hell, but after missing a Frog Splash, he avoided a shot with the title belt and struck JBL with one of his own, causing a DQ finish. Yes, JBL had won; not the WWE Title mind you, but he still won the match, meaning their feud was bound to continue, keeping Bradshaw in the title mix for even longer. Argh!
Still, we weren’t done yet. After the bout, the fight rolled on, and Eddie nailed JBL with a stiff chairshot of his own, causing him to also bleed profusely. Eddie celebrated in the ring to end the show, albeit while covered in an obscene amount of blood. I will give them this: while the levels of blood loss weren’t planned and caused Eddie to go into shock after the event ended, this shocking visual did add plenty of drama and crowd noise to the match, and it made an otherwise forgettable contest stand out in one’s memory. Even so, it was still an inferior headline attraction overall, and while some would say that this spectacle helped to legitimise JBL in the fan’s eyes, it shouldn’t have required such a deep amount of bloodshed (which incidentally has caused this card to receive a TV-MA/18 rating on the WWE Network) to do that. The punchline for fans at the time is that JBL ended up winning the WWE Title at The Great American Bash 2004 and holding it for nine months, before finally losing it to John Cena in this very building at WM 21.
So, yeah, WWE Judgment Day 2004 is one of the worst WWF/WWE supershows of all-time. The opener is alright, and the main event is memorable if nothing else. But matches two to five are rotten, while match six was better yet basic, match seven was not as good as what fans had hoped, and even the last match would have flatlined if not for Eddie losing so much blood. I personally feel that The Great American Bash the following month was even worse, but take it from me: even in lockdown, don’t go out of your way to rewatch Judgment Day 2004, because you’d just be wasting your time (unless you want to see Eddie Guerrero losing an insane amount of his own blood).