When you think of Wrestlemania, it’s easy to look at the earlier years. And with good reason, because the likes of Hulk Hogan, Andre The Giant, Randy Savage and Ultimate Warrior gave us some classic moments and formed the very foundation for the future of the event which would become an annual phenomenon.
If you’ve ever had the privilege of attending a Wrestlemania yourself, you’ll no doubt appreciate the grandeur, the atmosphere, the pilgrimage that makes it so unique. I was lucky enough to finally attend my first Wrestlemania in 2011, and while admittedly it wasn’t the best of shows, the whole atmosphere and fun to be had on Wrestlemania weekend is quite brilliant.
Whilst the early years of Wrestlemania will live long in the memory, I don’t think the more recent editions of the event have been given nearly enough kudos. The likes of Shawn Michaels, The Rock, Triple H, Undertaker, Ric Flair and John Cena to name a few have busted a gut to make sure the Grandaddy of ’em all keeps standing out as the biggest and best event on not just the wrestling calendar, but one of the biggest events on the entertainment calendar altogether.
The following top ten list is entirely subjective, and as is usually the case with these kind of entries it could ruffle one or two feathers. Still, here’s my top ten bouts, all must-see’s if you can track them down.
10. Money In The Bank- Edge vs Christian vs Chris Jericho vs Chris Benoit vs Shelton Benjamin vs Kane – WWE Wrestlemania 21
Prior to this match, the previously unmissable ladder match stipulation had lost some it’s spark. It was in desperate need of some re-invigoration, and there was no better stage on which to give it a shot in the arm than Wrestlemania.
All six men deserve immense credit for providing us with such a brilliant ladder match. Chris Jericho was his usual excellent and dependable self. Chris Benoit sold the brutality of the contest like an artist. Christian showed why he’d made a name for himself in ladder bouts in years prior. Kane, despite being somewhat out of his comfort zone, adapted very well.
Shelton Benjamin was unquestionably the MVP and his unique usage of the ladder was just the type of fresh creativity this match type had been lacking. As for Edge, his performance and ultimately his victory here would finally propel him into the upper echelons of the WWE, setting him on the road to numerous World titles and fantastic main events.
Everything came together brilliantly here, and for me this match steals the show even despite Batista and John Cena winning their first World titles on the same night.
9. The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin III – WWE Wrestlemania 19
The final chapter of one of WWE’s most epic rivalries. The actual legacy of this match didn’t become as significant until the days, months and years following it. At the time, it was rightly hailed as just a fantastic match between two of the best to ever lace up the boots.
Later however, we begin to appreciate the match and the effort of the performers more. Austin had returned to the company after a falling out in 2002, but his body was causing him big problems. The night before the show, Austin was in hospital.
It was also one of The Rock’s last matches, or at least one of the last matches whilst he had enjoyed a full-time spell on the road with the WWE. His Hollywood career was taking off, so as a result he had more time off of the WWE’s broadcasts. On the plus side, this led to his heel “Hollywood Rock” persona which gave us some memorable moments, least of all this match.
The match itself was typical Rock/Austin goodness: Back and forth, full of piss and vinegar and with a gripping finale. Austin bows out of the ring with one great last match and The Rock goes on to evolve outside of the ring. It closes one career and signals a change in career direction for another. A fitting end to an iconic rivalry.
8. WWE title- John Cena © vs Shawn Michaels – WWE Wrestlemania 23
Surprisingly, this is John Cena’s only entry on my top ten countdown. Not surprisingly, this isn’t the last we’ll see of Shawn Michaels.
Cena’s momentum at this point was in full swing. He’d already been WWE’s new poster boy for some time. The split crowds were heavily talked about, but to his eternal credit he was putting in consistently brilliant bouts. You could argue he was at the top of his game.
HBK had enjoyed a profitable 2006 after he reunited with Triple H. DX were a force to be reckoned with throughout the year, but had suffered a setback at the start of ’07 when HHH wound up on the treatment table.
Originally, HHH was supposedly slotted in to take on Cena again, a rematch from their bout at last year’s event. Who should replace him but his own partner, Mr.Wrestlemania himself.
This match proved two things. One, it proved that John Cena was unquestionably the man. It’s a torch he still holds today, virtually untouchable in the industry as it’s top dog. Two, it proved that Shawn Michaels is without a doubt one of the greatest, if not THE greatest performers of all time. The match itself is fantastic, more than worthy of headlining a Wrestlemania. Plenty of good back and forth action with some brilliant false finishes. You genuinely believed that HBK could take the title. The result in the end was the right one however, and Cena would go on to hold the title until later that winter before finally surrendering it, having held it for nearly 13 months.
7. Shawn Michaels vs Undertaker I – WWE Wrestlemania 25
Another Michaels epic. This rivalry mainly started around 2007, when these two found themselves duking it out as the last two in the Royal Rumble match. At least that’s when fans first started clamouring for a match between the two. There could only be one place for such an occasion, and sure enough it was Wrestlemania’s 25th anniversary.
I think it’s fair to say that as great as Undertaker’s effort was, that Shawn stole this match. His selling and the way he gave every ounce of energy his body had were just fantastic. As streak matches go, you genuinely got sucked into believing he had a chance of stopping it.
Michaels’ athleticism combined brilliantly with Undertaker’s raw power, making for what both men could call their finest WWE outing and not be questioned if they chose to do so. Utterly gripping match, and the precursor for arguably the best rematch/sequel ever.
6. World title triple threat- Triple H vs Shawn Michaels vs Chris Benoit – WWE Wrestlemania XX
The match that WWE want to deny ever existed. Chris Benoit will now, sadly, be remembered for totally the wrong reasons. But here was the Benoit that most people knew, the supremely talented wrestler who was technically the most gifted of his generation. Triple H and Shawn Michaels had their own storied rivalry at this point, so this was as much a culmination of their feud as it Benoit’s moment in the sun.
Triple threat matches are often hard to get right. Getting all three performers to click and gel together to produce a classic is no mean feat. As good as Benoit was, he’d never headlined an event on this type of scale before. Triple H wasn’t exactly on his best form, past injuries looking like they were taking their toll. HBK was barely getting back into a full-time wrestling schedule again after returning from back surgery. Would his body hold up for another Wrestlemania main event?
Needless to say, it’s a fantastic triple threat match. It signalled a changing of the guard too, as WWE decided to go against type and give Benoit a shot on top. Ditto Eddie Geurrero, who’d retained his WWE title earlier in the night against Kurt Angle.
HHH proved he was still one of the best. HBK proved he’d gotten over his injury and was back on top form. Benoit proved he could cut it in the WWE’s main event scene. All three proved that triple threat matches, when done right, can be tremendous.
5. Triangle Ladder Match, Edge & Christian vs The Hardyz vs The Dudleyz – WWE Wrestlemania 2000 (16)
Not long prior to this contest, The New Age Outlaws were top of the pile in the tag division. These three teams had a healthy rivalry, but not for the gold. That is until The Dudleyz took the tag crowns from the Outlaws in the Wrestlemania run up.
The Hardyz and The Dudleyz had already discovered that putting an enemy through a table was quite a sound tactic when you’re at war with somebody, and this added another ingredient to a match that, quite simply, defined one of the core aspects of what made the Attitude era so eye-catching.
This was basically a TLC match, or at least the precursor to them. Many argue their match a year later at Wrestlemania 17 was better, but I still tip this one because of how revolutionary it was. These six men raised the bar so high that it was always going to be a struggle to repeat in terms of quality and violence.
Whilst the main event of the show wasn’t bad, this unquestionably is the match people remember when talking about this event. And rightly so, because it’s a belter. All six would be set for life after this, and while they’ve all taken different paths they at least enjoyed varying degrees of success from it, with three of them going on to lift World titles and/or enjoy high profile feuds and matches.
4. The Rock vs Hulk Hogan – WWE Wrestlemania 18
I think this quote from Jerry Lawler at the start of the bout sums things up nicely, as does the “Icon vs Icon” tagline given to the match:
“We’ll never see Tyson vs Ali, we’ll never see Babe Ruth vs Barry Bonds, but we ARE going to get to witness The Rock and The Hulk!”
Nevermind Cena vs The Rock, this is the ultimate case of wrestling generations colliding. It was also the first time Hogan had appeared in front of a partisan WWF crowd at Wrestlemania in several years. Incredibly, the Toronto crowd were fully behind Hogan.
The match itself would never have been a technical classic, nor should it have been. It’s still a decent brawl in its own right, but this match is all about the crowd and how they were whipped up into a frenzy I’m not sure we’ve ever really seen since. From Hogan’s first movements, throwing Rock across the ring and posing just like his early red and yellow days, from kicking out of a Rock Bottom and actually Hulking up again for the first time in a while, the nostalgia levels were through the roof and you couldn’t help but get sucked in.
For Hogan, it’s arguably his last great match. He’d keep wrestling after this and enjoyed a memorable run with the company, even winning the WWE title, but never again would he wrestle a match with as much energy as this. It’s an epic match, a real moment in time if you like, and yet another example of why Wrestlemania is truly wrestling’s greatest showcase when booked compellingly and properly.
3. Shawn Micheals vs Ric Flair – WWE Wrestlemania 24
Another HBK entry, another emotionally gripping and completely awe-inspiring match.
Ric Flair’s career was slowly but surely coming to an end. In the storyline, Mr.McMahon had decreed that the next time Flair loses, he retires. After HBK announced that Flair was the first inductee into the Hall of Fame that year, Flair then challenged HBK to a match at Wrestlemania, because he wanted to have one great last match. “If I cant compete with the best, I don’t want to continue.”
HBK went from being the supportive friend, to being the man who was going to put “Old Yella” out of his misery. Shawn, as per usual at Wrestlemania, produced a bona-fide classic. Credit too must go to Flair, who, frankly, wrestled like it was the last time he’d ever step foot in the ring.
You could argue Flair’s subsequent TNA appearances diminished the legacy of this match somewhat, but purely because of the performances of both men I really don’t think you can. HBK literally broke a rib in trying to make this match as great as possible and send Ric out in style. Ric himself really stepped it up a gear and put in a strong performance akin to that of his prime years.
Watching live back in 2008, you couldn’t help but cringe over every pinfall, every submission, every moment where it looked like Flair would lose. Live, it was an emotional rollercoaster, and its a testament to both men that it’s still an emotional watch. Wrestling at it’s best.
2. WWF title-The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin II – WWE Wrestlemania 17
The second Rock/Austin match on our countdown, and the match that defined the WWE’s greatest ever card, Wrestlemania 17.
The match marked Austin’s return to the Wrestlemania main event scene after several months out on the sidelines and his subsequent rise back up the card. The pre-match interview segment saw Austin say to his foe “I NEED to beat you Rock. I need it more than you could ever imagine.”
He’d go on to prove this, growing increasingly frustrated by Rock’s refusal to lay down and die. Austin even turned his to oldest rival, Mr.McMahon to help him get the job done.
It’s the epitome of an epic back and forth contest befitting two of the absolute best ever, let alone the best two wrestlers of that time period. An absolutely incredible story, with a red hot crowd, a much talked about ending and arguably the match that waved goodbye to WWF’s glorious attitude era.
Again, not a technical classic, but a wild brawl in which Rock in particular took a crazy beating. For Austin, it was a fitting change for his character ark. No longer could he be as dominant as he was in years prior, injuries had taken care of this. Knowing full well that he wouldn’t be able to finish off Rock lightly, he had to take every step he could to regain the WWF title, even if it meant alienating his loyal fanbase. It’s little touches like this that add to the theme and help make a classic. Great card, great main event.
1. Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels II – WWE Wrestlemania 26
Two men who totally epitomise all that is wonderful about Wrestlemania, especially post-2000, fittingly close the countdown. HBK’s final match, and by far one of his very best.
It’s also arguably Undertaker’s finest ever Wrestlemania outing. The beauty of streak matches, especially in recent years, has been the ability of the performers to make the audience second guess themselves. In the build-up, you just KNOW Undertaker isn’t losing. You KNOW he’s chalking up another win. There’s no way they’ll let (Insert worker here) end the streak…right?
Then the match gets going, and suddenly you don’t know what to think. As the match progresses, the false finishes make you lose any kind of pre-conceptions you had going into it. The beauty of this match though was that not only was the streak on the line, but so too was HBK’s career, therefore both men had the crowd in absolute agony, the good kind, throughout. On the one hand you didn’t really want to see the biblical and prestigious streak end, but who in their right mind wanted to see a performer of Michaels’ calibre have his career ended?
The drama was off the charts. As with their bout a year prior, they tore the house down, proving their worth as two of WWE’s most valuable commodities. As emotional contests go, you’d be hard-pressed to top this. It evoked all of the elements that make the WWE the world’s greatest promotion on it’s day- The match itself, the red-hot crowd, the story culmination, everything. It’s a perfect match, bringing the curtain down on one of the most storied careers in the industry.
And there’s my top ten. There are numerous other contenders that you may well feel should’ve made the grade. Undertaker only has two matches on the list, but none against anybody other than Shawn Michaels. John Cena only features once, Stone Cold only features twice, both against The Rock. Should TLC II at Wrestlemania 17 have made the grade? How about Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle’s Wrestlemania 19 main event in Seattle? Perhaps you think Triple H should’ve gotten the nod for one or two of his matches?
Do share with us your thoughts and opinions below. In the mean time, here’s to Wrestlemania 28, which looks set to be an epic show. Will Rock/Cena and Triple H/Undertaker II make the grade next year?