Twice in a Lifetime: The Best and Worst WrestleMania Rematches

Remember when wrestling promises meant something? No, us neither. It’s a rare thing indeed for a wrestling company to put on a successful money making match and never repeat it. At WrestleMania XXIX, John Cena will face The Rock for a second time, a rematch of their meeting last year at WrestleMania XXVIII, a match advertised as “once in a lifetime”. Their clash will represent just the latest chapter in the long tradition of WrestleMania rematches, and, in this article, we celebrate the four best, and condemn the four worst, rematches in WrestleMania history.

The Best

 The Rock vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin

WrestleMania XV

This match was a culmination of a year long feud between Steve Austin and Vince McMahon. Starting with Austin’s victory over Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV, the feud centred on McMahon’s attempts to replace Austin as the main face of the company with someone more respectable and easy to control. In late 1998, McMahon found his Corporate Champion, stripping Austin of his title, and then fixing the Survivor Series tournament to allow his chosen one, The Rock, to win the vacated bely in one of the greatest twist endings of any show in wrestling history. Austin won the chance to get his belt back by defeating McMahon in a cage match, winning his boss’s illicitly won Royal Rumble title-shot.

A match early that same WrestleMania was supposed to decide a special referee for the match, with Mankind as Austin’s choice, and The Big Show as McMahon’s. The match ended, however, with no clear result. The Big Show was disqualified for using an illegal weapon but, in doing so, injured Mankind so badly that he was taken from the arena to be treated for his injuries at a local hospital, causing the special referee stipulation to be cancelled. McMahon tried to manipulate the situation by declaring himself special referee, but was blocked by WWF Commissioner, and Austin’s old enemy, Shawn Michaels.

In true Attitude Era style, the rules of the match, specifically ring outs and disqualifications, were loosely enforced. Austin put The Rock through the Spanish announcer’s table, but then accidentally knocked out referee Mike Chioda, forcing Tim White to step in in his place, but only after The Rock had taken advantage of the lack of a referee by using a chair on Austin. Soon White was also out of action, when The Rock attacked him for not counting a pin-fall fast enough. The third referee was Earl Hebner, but, again, he didn’t last long, and was knocked out by an interfering Mr. McMahon himself. With McMahon and The Rock teaming up on Austin, it was up to Mankind to make his heroic return, throwing Vince out of the ring, and using his powers as official special guest referee to count the pin-fall and announce Austin to be the new WWF Champion.

Despite the enormous success of the match in terms of mainstream popularity, reviews from the wrestling media were mixed. The Canadian Online Explorer gave the event a 5 out of 10 rating, but gave this match an 8 out of 10, ranking it as the best match of the night. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter agreed, giving no other match an above average ranking, and going as far to give The Undertaker vs. The Big Boss Man a rare 0 out of 10, but labelling Austin vs. The Rock as the match of the night and awarding it 3.5 out of 5.

WrestleMania X-Seven

Unlike their former meeting, this time Austin and The Rock clashed as the two most popular baby faces in the wrestling world. Steve Austin earned his title shot with a record breaking third Royal Rumble victory, whilst The Rock had become WWF Champion just one month before the event, defeating Kurt Angle at Now Way Out. The main story of the match revolved at first around the decision by Vince McMahon to make Debra, Steve Austin’s real and on-screen wife, The Rock’s manager. Playing the protective husband, Austin criticised The Rock for failing to keep Debra out of harm’s way.

The match itself was a hardcore match, and so much of the contest took place outside the ring, and involved numerous foreign objects. Both superstars referenced their earlier careers; Austin honouring his first WWF manager, Ted DiBiase, by putting The Rock in the Million Dollar Dream, whilst The Rock honoured his former Nation of Domination teammate Owen Hart with the Sharpshooter. Just like their last meeting, Vince himself soon became involved although, this time, he had no clear allegiance. The Rock and Austin swapped finishing moves, with Austin hitting the Rock Bottom, and The Rock replying with the Stone Cold Stunner. Toward the end of the match, McMahon finally played his hand, revealing himself as an ally of the now heel Steve Austin, starting the faction that would become known as the Two-Man Power Trip with the inclusion of the Triple H the following night.

As a show, WrestleMania X-Seven received much higher critical praise than WrestleMania 15. The event was voted Best Major Show of the Year in the 2001 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards, and the event received a 10 out of 10 rating form the Canadian Online Explorer. The match itself received equally high praise. The Canadian Online Explorer gave it a 9 out of 10, ranking it the second best match of the night behind the now legendary TLC II, and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter gave the contest 4.5 out of 5, also labeling it the second best match of the night.

Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker

WrestleMania XXV

Texan native vs. Texan native, this match-up was the re-coming together of the two men who had represented professional wrestling for almost twenty years. A dream match for many, the two had wrestled countless times before (perhaps most memorably at the first ever Hell in a Cell match), but this time, there was no real angle or obvious storyline. Both were presented as baby faces, and both went into the match representing their home state. A subtle dynamic of Michaels’ messiah battling Undertaker’s demon was played out, but mostly in the background, with the most overt reference being HBK’s evangelical arrival to the ring, a counter point to the Undertaker’s traditional Satanism-referencing yearly revelation, with Michaels descending from the heavens in a bright white light, and ‘Taker rising from the underworld surrounded by smoke, darkness, and fire.

The story of the match was simple yet effective, as both men threw their arsenal of classic moves and spots at each other in a wild game of oneupmanship. ‘Taker’s Chokeslam and Tombstone Piledriver and Michaels’ Sweet Chin Music were constantly teased, but denied and reversed time and again. A moonsault from Michaels, followed by a suicide dive from the Undertaker teased a cheap count out finish to the match, but the war continued, ending only after a second Tombstone Piledriver from the Undertaker after 30 gruelling, end of the seat minutes.

Although WrestleMania XXV itself received a tepid reaction from critics, this match stood out head and shoulders above the rest. The Canadian Online Explorer gave the match the full 10 out of 10, whilst the Pro-Wrestling Torch Newsletter called in the show’s unofficial main-event. IGN praised the match, particularly the performance of Shawn Michaels, and the notoriously hard to please Wrestling Observer Newsletter gave the contest a pedantic 4.75 out of 5, marking it as near-perfect, and, by far, the strongest match of the night, eventually announcing it to be their choice for the best match of the year.

WrestleMania XXVI

The build to the rematch stemmed entirely from the original. Shawn Michaels was willing to put his career on the line for a chance to avenge his most personal and career defining loss, whilst, in real life, WWE was eager to capitalise on the universal acclaim for their previous match, guaranteeing fans at least one bankable match on a show that was becoming increasingly less sport and more entertainment. The build concentrated on Michaels’ own personal demons, and his internal insecurities about the strength of his legacy. Aware that he was approaching the end of his career, Michaels was shown to be emotionally torn apart by the loss, obsessed with a re-match to such an extent that he intentionally cost the Undertaker his World Championship, and eliminated his own tag partner and best friend, Triple H, from the Royal Rumble. Eventually, having lost his title, ‘Taker relented, offering Michaels the rematch of his dreams, but forcing HBK to put his career on the line as payment.

Unlike the previous year, this time, Michaels vs. Undertaker was the official main event, closing the show. Both men quickly erupted into a chain for signature moves, before the Undertaker injured his leg, handing Michaels an early advantage. The two exchanged submission holds and finishing moves, with Michaels kicking out of the Tombstone Piledriver, the Chokeslam and the Last Ride, and the Undertaker kicking out of the Sweet Chin Music (an almost ridiculous three times), and escaping the Figure Four Leglock and the Ankle Lock. Eventually, it took three Tombstone Piledrivers, two of them consecutively, to keep Michaels down for the three-count.

As a show, WrestleMania XXVI was received more positively then it’s predecessor. The Canadian Online Explorer again gave the match 10 out of 10, whilst the Wrestling Observer Newsletter also matched it’s previous judgement with a second 4.75 out of 5 rating. The match completed a trilogy of like-for-like awards with it’s prequel by being voted the best match of 2010 in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Awards.

Triple H vs. The Undertaker

WrestleMania X-Seven

Leading into WrestleMania X-Seven, the Brothers of Destruction, Kane and the Undertaker, had been on an absolute tare. By the start of 2001, the Undertaker had a legitimate claim to be the number one contender-elect due to his victories over virtually everyone else on the roster. The one man who disagreed with him was Triple H, who was also pushing himself as the next in line for a title shot. Triple H had an equally valid claim to the number one contendership having defeated Royal Rumble winner Steve Austin a month earlier at No Way Out. With the help of hired gun The Big Show, Triple H began tormenting ‘Taker and his brother, Kane, trying to prove himself to the clear choice to face the winner of The Rock vs. Steve Austin. The Undertaker took his revenge by having Kane kidnap Triple H’s wife, Stephanie McMahon, and hold her ransom until Hunter agreed to face him at WrestleMania.

As was traditional at the time, the match was full of hardcore spots and ref bumps. Triple H was put through the Spanish announcer’s table (the second time the table had been broken that night), and referee Mike Chioda was knocked out twice. Without a referee, the match went fully hardcore, with Triple H attacking ‘Taker with the ring steps and his trademark sledgehammer, and The Undertaker replying by Chokeslamming Hunter off the stage. Eventually, The Undertaker was able to hit his finishing move at the time, the Last Ride, and win Triple H, taking the as yet un-flaunted WrestleMania winning streak to 9-0.

The Canadian Online Explorer gave the match 9 out of 10, and the Wrestling Observer Newsletter gave it 3.5 out of 5, with both reviewers agreeing that it was the fourth best match of the night on an extremely strong card. The show itself received a 10 out of 10 rating from the Canadian Online Explorer and the Major Show of the Year Award from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

WrestleMania XXVIII

Like Austin vs. Rock before it, in this rematch (which was actually the third WrestleMania match between the two), there was no clear face/heel dynamic. The motivation for the match came out of the The Undertaker’s two WrestleMania victories over Triple H’s former partner Shawn Michaels. Not only did Triple H want to avenge the loss that cost Michaels his career, but he also wanted to prove that he was better than Michaels by achieving what HBK never could; beating The Undertaker at WrestleMania. In there meeting at WrestleMania XXVII, The Undertaker was victorious, but at a price, as he had to be taken from the ringside area in a stretcher. Embarrassed to have been seen in such a state, The Undertaker returned, saying he wanted a rematch to prove he still had it, and to wash away memories of him being a broken man. The Undertaker only secured the rematch after taunting Triple H, calling him a coward, and reminding Hunter how he’d retired his best friend. Upon accepting the challenge, Hunter added that the contest should be a Hell in a Cell match, The Undertaker’s signature match. As an added reference to the HBK/Taker series that began three years earlier, Shawn Michaels was also added as special guest referee.

The match was simple, but brutal. After a short time exchanging moves, Triple H and Shawn Michaels teamed up on The Undertaker, hitting him with multiple weapons and each of their finishing moves. As Triple H savagely and repeatedly beat The Undertaker with a steal chair, Michaels teased that he would end the match for The Undertaker’s own safety, but ‘Taker fought back, eventually hitting Triple H with two Tombstone Piledrivers before making the pin and winning the match.

Whilst WrestleMania XXVIII as a whole received only mildly positive reviews (with critics especially harsh on it’s undercard), this match received universal praise. The Canadian Online Explorer gave the whole show a rating of just 6.5 out of 10, but gave ‘Taker vs. Hunter a full 10 out of 10. The Wrestling Observer Newsletter was of a similar opinion, giving the show, as a whole, 2.25 out of 5, but giving this match an almost perfect 4.75 out of 5. Along with the Canadian Online Explorer and The Wrestling Observer Newsletter, IGN, Yahoo Sports, The Baltimore Sun, The Huffington Post and Examiner.com labeled The Undertaker vs. Triple H III the best match of the night.

Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boys

WrestleMania 2000

Strangely, for a three-way, the build to this match consisted of a respectful feud almost entirely between The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boys, with Edge & Christian barely involved. The friendly rivalry between the division’s two most hardcore teams peaked at the 2000 Royal Rumble, when the Hardys defeated the Dudleys in a tag team Tables Match, which was billed as the Dudleys’ signature match type. This violent feud was littered with the occasional show of respect, like the Dudley helping the Hardys to defeat the New Age Outlaws and become Tag Team Champions. As a thank you, the Hardys offered the Dudleys the first title shot, an offer they accepted. The friend vs. friend, face vs. face dynamic was overturned by the arrival of Edge & Christian, the clear heel team of the three. As the Hardys had fought the Dudleys in their match, a Tables Match, now it was the Hardys’ turn to have their signature match; a Ladder Match.

The match was a high-risk spot fest from start to end, with the Hardys using the ladders to accentuate their high flying moves, whilst The Dudley Boys used wooden tables to add their own trademark ECW style to the carnage. Both Hardys and Bubba-Ray Dudley himself ended up going through tables, Edge speared Jeff Hardy off the side of a ladder, and both Edge and Christian received 3-Ds. In the grand finale of the match, Matt Hardy was thrown off the top of a ladder by both members of E+C, allowing the Canadians to win their first ever WWF Tag Team Championship.

On a show that received mostly negative reviews, the match was a resounding success, seen by many as the start of a new interest in tag team wrestling. The Canadian Online Explorer gave the match 10 out of 10, whilst the Wrestling Observer Newsletter gave the contest a rating of 4 out of 5.

WrestleMania X-Seven

This time around, it was the match type that was more the selling point than any feud or storyline. The Tables, Ladders and Chairs match had been invented at SummerSlam 2000, and was a match solely created for these three competitors. The tables represented The Dudley Boys’ gimmick of power bombing people, usually woman, through tables, the ladder represented The Hardy Boyz and their heart-in-mouth high flying style, and the chairs represented E+C, who used the weapons in their tag team finishing move, the Con-Chair-To. At SummerSlam, TLC I, as it came to be known, had been a hit, and WrestleMania X-Seven was chosen as the event to bring the format back and to truly test the limits of what a spot-orientated tag-team match could be.

Along with the official competitors, each team bought along a third representative to take advantage of the match’s hardcore rules; Spike Dudley for the Dudley Boys, Rhyno for Edge & Christian and Lita for the Hardy Boyz. Some of the more memorable spots included Jeff Hardy’s Swanton Bomb from an extra-tall ladder to the outside, Edge spearing Jeff whilst he whilst dangling from the title belts, and Bubba and Jeff being pushed from the top of a ladder to the outside by Rhyno. In the end, it was this interference from Rhyno that allowed Edge & Christian to win for the second time in two years.

Even on a strongly reviewed show, TLC II was far and away seen as the match of the night. The match received a 10 out of 10 from the Canadian Online Explorer, and a 4.75 out of 5 from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Six years later, in 2007, the match would still be remembered fondly, with IGN voting it the fifth best match in WrestleMania history.

View the worst rematches on page 2…

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