At WrestleMania XX, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero closed the show hugging as the top champions of both RAW and SmackDown, respectively. Solidifying themselves as the faces of both brands, Guerrero and Benoit shared a WrestleMania moment to close the 20th anniversary of WrestleMania at Madison Square Garden.
On a recent episode of the Grilling JR Podcast, Jim Ross talked about the infamous WrestleMania XX moment between Guerrero and Benoit and what it meant to him personally. Ross said that it’s a highlight of his career to know he called the card and spoke about the reaction backstage after the show went off the air.
“I know it was celebratory as hell when [Jerry] Lawler and I finally got to the back,” Ross said. “A lot of tears. Not just from Eddie and Chris, a lot of tears from other guys. They were legitimately emotional and were so thankful that they saw two of their peers have career nights in the world’s most famous arena at the world’s most famous wrestling event and they were just glad they were there to witness it.
“That’s the brotherhood that’s sometimes overlooked in this business and it shouldn’t be. Everybody was happy, I can recall that the post-WrestleMania party was very festive, everybody was happy. I’m privileged to be a part of that day. It really means something to me to this very day all these years later.”
It’s been said for many years that Vince McMahon has a vision of what a WWE Champion should look like and one of the key features is their height. JR mentioned what got Vince McMahon to change his mind at the 20th anniversary of WrestleMania, and how he was convinced into trusting Eddie and Benoit with the top belts.
“The guys on the roster and a lot of us that were close to Vince kept encouraging him that were traveling in the right direction,” JR said. “These two guys would be great representatives and would ensure every time they’re in the ring they’re going to put on the best match or solid at worst. I just think it took a little bit of gentle persuasion. It took him a little bit of time, breaking old habits, breaking the mold.
“He saw that those two guys’ peers were very supportive of them and I think Hunter and Shawn looked at potential opponents going forward, how good does it get? You got Eddie and Benoit that you could be booked with. That was another reason, everyone wanted to work for Benoit or Eddie, why wouldn’t you? I think it took [Vince] a little while but it soon became evident and they had such overwhelming support from the locker room that it could not be ignored.”
The relationship between Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio has been well documented over the years. Rey dedicated his Royal Rumble win in 2006 to Guerrero after he had passed away. Mysterio wrestled in a 10-man Cruiserweight Open Challenge at WrestleMania 20. Ross admitted that they just didn’t have a great spot to put Rey in for this card because he had just recently signed with the company.
“We knew he was a star and extremely talented,” Ross said. “I don’t know if there was anything better for Rey, to do that you got to have a program and build up. He had not gained the confidence from Vince at the level he would eventually when he became the champion. It probably wasn’t the best thing, but it was the best thing available considering we didn’t have a program and something to build momentum going into this match featuring Rey.
Ross noted why Mysterio ended up taking a long time to debut with the company, stating he was receiving a big pay check from WCW that WWE couldn’t match. JR told Rey to stay home until the contract expired.
“Here’s my advice: I will hire you, you’re a great talent and you can become more famous than you are by being on this television.” Ross mentioned, referencing his conversation with Rey Mysterio before signing him. “But the smart money right now for you is to stay home, train. He’d been wrestling since he was 14, why don’t you just enjoy the money you were making, get your body to the way you exactly want it and then we’ll bring you in in January. I knew and the guys around me knew that working with Rey, the Jericho’s of the world, couldn’t say enough nice things about Rey.
“I remember talking to Vince. I said he’s coming in January, ‘Vince he’s getting big money, more than we’re going to guarantee and let’s let the guy get healthy.’ Heal, get better and save your damn money. Vince understood that logic. We know you’re going to get over, let’s take this approach and see if it works for us. I don’t think that’s the answer Rey was expecting.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Grilling JR with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.