With the 30th anniversary of the Show of Shows less than two days away, and an extremely unique and volatile WWE World Heavyweight Title showdown looming, it only seemed appropriate to take a look back at each and every WWE Championship clash at WrestleMania. From II to XXIX, this is a comprehensive look back at the bouts that were the centerpiece of the big event, whether they went on last or not. The WWE Title match has completely stolen the show at some Manias and been like a railroad spike to the head in others. Good or bad, as fans we anticipate the strap or straps being put up for grabs. It is originally what the focus of the business was. Nowadays, the names have become bigger than the belt. However, that could change on April 6th in New Orleans. The title match will undoubtedly close the show and for the first time since SummerSlam of last year, the title truly feels important again. Where that match will rank after all is said and done is anyone’s guess, but for now let’s chase the gold.
28. Undertaker vs Sycho Sid – WrestleMania XIII (1997)
This bout was ultimately a poorly executed alternate for what was supposed to be the rematch between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Unfortunately, Shawn lost his smile, Bret lost a degree of respect for Shawn and that takes us down a completely different road. Let’s focus on a match that had a decent degree of potential, but fell flat due to poor booking and for having the misfortune of following Bret Hart and Steve Austin’s opus of carnage and catharsis. Undertaker was arguably already a legend at this point in his career, and a title run at Mania seemed imminent. This was before “The Streak” was even acknowledged as a part of The Deadman’s lore. All that mattered was that two of the WWE’s most destructive and ominous forces were going to collide in Chi-Town and it was going to be epic.
Now let’s admit what really happened. Sid, while always a suitable person to play the role, was never the greatest worker. He had a good boot and an above average powerbomb, but the arsenal was always missing a degree of grace and execution. Taker did the best he could with opponent he was given. There were some strikes, a headlock or two. There may have been a Chokeslam and I believe Undertaker won with a Tombstone. Oh, and HBK was on commentary. The point is, I know how it went down. I choose to try and forget it.
27. Hulk Hogan vs King Kong Bundy – WrestleMania II (1986)
The main event of the show of shows sophomore effort was not really the main attraction. While broadcasting from three different cities was an interesting and somewhat groundbreaking concept for the time, the result was an awkwardly paced and often jumbled mess that got lost in its own hype. It culminated in this bout which in its own way, served as a precursor to what would take place the following year. Every fan has the image of Hogan slamming Andre etched into their minds, but Hogan showed equally impressive strength in handling Bundy inside the steel cage. Unfortunately, that is all that really impressed in this match. While it would have made a fine closing act for a Saturday Night’s Main Event, as the curtain closed on Mania II, you could only really say, “That was okay.”
26. Bret Hart vs Yokozuna – WrestleMania IX (1993)
What can one observe about WrestleMania IX that hasn’t already been recorded in the annals of crappy wrestling history? How about, “It wasn’t that bad.” I’ve heard some say you either love or hate WrestleMania IX. There is room for middle ground here. Mania IX epitomized the animated, outlandish excess of wrestling in the early 90s. Much of the criticism comes from this main event, more specifically the post match action. Hart was always able to pull a solid contest out of the late Samoan behemoth. Every time the Hitman came full steam ahead, it was like he only managed to chip away at a brick wall, but when the big man sold, he did so impressively. Sometimes, that part of the equation is more important than the offense itself.
After a grueling back and forth and a handful of powder to the eyes via Mr. Fuji, it was all over and Yokozuna’s ample posterior sat atop the WWE mountain, at least for a few minutes. This is where most folks have a gripe. Hulk Hogan swoops in and saves Bret only to be called out by Fuji and the new champ. Bret gives Hogan the okay, and Hulkamania runs wild, winning the title in just 22 seconds. A lot of fans say this was a terrible swerve, but I disagree. Go back and watch the crowd. Listen to the ovation when Hogan pins the big man. It would probably receive a stoning today, but it absolutely served its purpose at the time. I can’t fault it for that.
25. Triple H vs Randy Orton – WrestleMania XXV (2009)
Had this match gone on in the middle of the card or had it been a Street Fight, history may have been much kinder to it. The punt to Vince McMahon’s head kicked off an intense build deserving of a brutal and epic climax. Sadly, the combination of the poor booking and the other worldly effort of Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, put this match in the worst possible position. The crowd was so exhausted and since the stipulation dictated that if Helmsley was disqualified, he would lose the title, it pretty much guaranteed a disappointing close to Mania’s silver anniversary. The two never had fantastic chemistry, but their in ring product was always solid. On any other night, this match would have been received much better. The build was there. The talent was there. The momentum however, was like a sputtering engine that eventually died. They had better matches. It is hard to say if they had worse. But their best should have been reserved for WrestleMania.
24. Lex Luger / Bret Hart vs Yokozuna – WrestleMania X (1994)
Yes, these were two separate matches, but I am ranking them as one. Together, they formed a decent contribution to Mania’s MSG homecoming. Due to the Hart/Luger double elimination at the 1994 Royal Rumble, it was deemed fair to give both men a title shot. Had the match been a triple threat, it may have been more memorable. Luger’s run as the All American boy in WWE was largely unsuccessful. He never seemed to find and opponent he truly clicked with. He wound up coming off as more of a dime store Hulk Hogan sprinkled with echoes of Ken Patera. Luger’s clash with the original Samoan Bulldozer was refereed by Mr. Perfect who had started the vicious cycle of injuries that would relegate him to the role of a part timer for the rest of his career. There were some impressive feats of strength from Luger during the contest, but after witnessing Bret Hart’s instant classic against baby brother Owen earlier in the evening, the crowd was more interested in what was to come. The tensions between Perfect and Luger didn’t do much to spark any additional interest either.
Luger came up empty handed and spent the remainder of his time in WWE floating somewhere between the mid card and irrelevant. The main event showdown between Yokozuna and the Hitman just edged out their Mania IX contest, but didn’t really stand out as anything to write home about. Of course, the preceding ladder match had a lot to do with that. Ultimately, both title clashes were defeated by the strength of the under card. That is an all too familiar song we still hear at Mania today.
23. John Cena vs The Miz – WrestleMania XXVII (2011)
Ranking The Miz above the Hitman may seem like an unpardonable sin, but the fact is, this match was better than it is given credit for. Just go back and watch the “Angry Miz Girl” footage again sometime. The Miz worked as a heel, quite well in fact. As the cocky and cowardly champion from the “Real” world, he walked into the biggest spotlight of them all with his arrogant swagger and eager young apprentice by his side. He stood in the center of the ring about to defend his title against the biggest star of his era, John Cena. Looking at Miz today, maybe he peaked too soon. But after repeated viewing of this bout, I believe he belonged exactly where he was on this night. The third man in the match equation sucked up a great deal of the attention and The Rock’s impending interference in this Mania’s outcome was a detriment to what could have been a far more epic and career defining encounter.
Miz sold very well for Cena anytime they hooked up. The high impact maneuvers, false finishes and contrasting styles kept things exciting, and had The Rock hit the ring while the referee was out, nailed Cena and Miz with a Rock Bottom and walked away, it would have popped the Atlanta crowd and made for a far more dramatic conclusion. Hindsight is 20/20 I suppose. Instead, we were treated to a double count out, The Rock fighting a laptop and flexing some unwritten authority as the host, restarting the match in a No DQ and then hitting the Rock Bottom on Cena. The Miz crawls in and gets the pin fall. Strengthening a future feud at the expense of another superstar’s momentum might seem ill advised, but that’s pro wrestling 101.
22. Triple H vs Chris Jericho – WrestleMania XVIII (2002)
Here’s that familiar tune again. The Rock and Hulk Hogan should have closed this show. Jericho deserved a main event at Mania, but the order of the card made it less special. His clash with Triple H already had its issues. The build involved Stephanie McMahon as the woman scorned, a plus right? When her vengeance involved mistreatment of Helmsley’s bulldog, not so much. Stephanie and Jericho never worked well as a pair. As antagonists to one another, they were pure gold. As a team, they sort of fizzled out before really catching fire. Triple H was the face who had triumphantly returned from injury. He had the easy role. The match was a solid effort, although it never quite seemed to reach second gear. Instead, it idled at a place between good and just okay. The filer between the match’s best moments was standard fare. The heel targeted the injured limb and worked it over accordingly. A back drop blew up the Spanish announce table. Jericho attempted a Pedigree after Stephanie received one. In the end, Triple H took the then Undisputed Championship. The problem was, you didn’t get that warm, fuzzy Mania feeling in your gut when it happened. It wasn’t as good as their Last Man Standing match and wasn’t as memorable as the night Jericho “beat” The Game for the title on Raw. Both these efforts from two years prior trumped this bout which was ultimately average. Whatcha gonna do, when The Rock and Hulk Hogan go on before you? Not enough.
21. Randy Savage vs Ted Dibiase – WrestleMania IV (1988)
The format of WrestleMania IV hurt this match right out of the gate. The tournament for the vacant WWE title was an experiment that would have served Survivor Series better, and did ten years later. However for the grandest spectacle in wrestling, this wasn’t a great fit. Most of the matches suffered from bad booking and time constraints, particularly Hogan vs Andre. The double disqualification left every fan scratching their heads. This wasn’t like today, when people would have welcomed a scenario where John Cena didn’t advance to the main event. This was the 80s. This was Hulk Hogan. The Macho Man was poised for super stardom, and was accepted as the number one challenger in the tournament final against The Million Dollar Man. The match was quite good. Two tremendous athletes with pretty solid chemistry told a great story of greed and rising above adversity. But wait, it’s Hogan. It’s Andre. Weren’t they both eliminated?
Yet there they were, creating chaos and preventing Savage from beating Dibiase clean. Savage still became a legend, but winning the title on his own would have gone a long way in cementing that legacy sooner. The seeds of the Mega Powers were planted that night. The next year saw Hulkamania and Macho Madness run wild. But egotism, miscommunication and pure jealously would arise because of a woman named Elizabeth. The simple but effective story reached its climax at WrestleMania V when we saw…
20. Randy Savage vs Hulk Hogan – WrestleMania V (1989)
There is not a lot that separated the main events of Manias IV and V. Replace Dibiase with Hogan, account for a decrease in athleticism and fans still got a great clash in Trump Plaza that compensated for the lack of diverse action with two men playing their roles to near perfection. Savage, the cocky, paranoid and unrelenting heel stood against Hogan’s never say die gladiator for good. The physicality was relegated to the expected. You can’t Hulk up if the heel doesn’t work you over thoroughly for most of the match right? I once read a description for the action in this contest. It was one sentence about Savage nailing an elbow for a near fall. On this night, that didn’t matter. The explosion of the Mega Powers was the biggest main event since Hogan and Andre and it lived up to everything that it needed to in order to be considered a success for the time.