So you’ve got the WWE Network and you’re getting ready for WrestleMania. Maybe you’re scrolling through all the past events looking for one to watch to get you in the mood for the big dance this Sunday. There have been thirty Showcases of the Immortals but you’ve only got time to watch a few. Which to choose?
Unfortunately, WrestleMania’s track record is a bit spotty. When the show hits its marks it makes a year’s worth of frustration and disappointment disappear. When it falls short of expectations, you can’t help but feel like a sucker that got conned by a carny.
Looking at the past thirty WrestleMania events, and watching them (repeatedly) has led to the conclusion that there are about ten really great events, ten shows that didn’t quite succeed and ten that just flat-out stunk.
You don’t want to get caught watching a clunker do you? Of course not, so let me help by giving you the ten WrestleMania shows to avoid. There may be a good match here or there within these events but overall they bombed. There are different reasons why a show may fail–be it crowd, buildup, match quality, etc–but for whatever reasons these shows bombed the hardest.
These ten WrestleMania’s are ranked according to four categories…
Fan heat: 1 point
Watch pro wrestling long enough and you’ll quickly come to appreciate the power a good crowd wields on the show. A good crowd can make a good match great. A great crowd can make a great match legendary. They tend to elevate the proceedings around them. The rare and elusive “hot crowd” (which only a few WrestleMania’s have experienced) have been known to make merely-good matches absolutely orgasmic. A purist might argue that wrestling fans ought to be able to appreciate a great match in spite of a dead crowd, but you can’t simply remove the fans from the equation. An interested and excited crowd is part of the greatness of pro-wrestling; it adds to the sport in a way even the best Super Bowl, National Championship or World Cup crowds simply can’t replicate.
Spectacle: 2 points
WrestleMania needs to FEEL like a big deal. If it doesn’t, then no amount of good matches can help earn it’s way onto the list of the best. How many great PPV’s does WWE produce every year? The buildup may be weak but the actual events tend to impress. Very few of those PPV’s, however, are really “memorable” once the dust clears and Raw the next night kicks off. WrestleMania is the one show (especially lately) that just has a FEEL for the spectacular. There’s a reason it’s called “the showcase of the immortals,” and it’s not because every competitor was immortal walking in; the show is special because a great WrestleMania MAKES men immortal.
Culmination of hot storylines: 3 points
Basically, this refers to whether or not the majority of the matches at WrestleMania are “worth it.” Certainly, the main event matches have to feel worthy of the name of the show: You want a WrestleMania match to give the impression that there were weeks, months and even years in the making and that all of the buildup is finally coming to a head right as the Mania match begins. Sure, you can get closure at SummerSlam or Survivor Series, or even at Battleground or TLC; but you’re SUPPOSED to get it at WrestleMania. Otherwise, it’s just another show with a bigger stage and more celebrity cameos.
Great matches: 4 points
Obviously, this has to mean the most. Personally, I don’t watch this stuff for the storylines. Sure, sometimes I’m impressed at the drama on display (HBK vs. Y2J in 2009 for example, or last year’s great Bryan vs Triple H feud), but I can get good drama on AMC, HBO or Showtime. What wrestling offers is a unique outlet to play out that drama. No mindless 2-minute gunfights here. No sir. Here we get 20-minute wrestling masterpieces that keep you on the edge of your seat, shaking your head, screaming at your TV, and throwing your hands up in either rage or triumph at the sound of the ref slapping 1-2-3. If a WrestleMania doesn’t have good wrestling, it’s not worthy of the name.
With that said, here are ten shows that failed to meet those expectations…
FROM THE NEW GENERATION ERA…#30
How NOT to do a WrestleMania. This show had nothing going for it. Fans? Dead for the most part. Spectacle? The tiny Hartford Civic Center felt like the Impact Zone. Hot storylines? Diesel was tanking as champion, Bret Hart was mired in a feud with Bob Backlund that felt exhausted months prior and the main event featured an NFL linebacker.
THE GOOD: The main event was surprisingly not horrible. Also Pamela Anderson (in her prime) accompanied Diesel to the ring.
THE BAD: The abomination of a main event. Not just the match (which, again could have been a lot worse), but everything surrounding it, behind the scenes and otherwise. The fact that the LT vs Bam Bam match was given top billing over the title match shows how far WWF business had fallen. You can argue that the LT match brought exposure and was the hottest feud in the company (therefore it deserved the main event) but the fact that such a feud would BE the hottest feud is the problem.
THE BIZARRE: Vince McMahon did his darnedest to sell the show at the beginning of the broadcast. He came off like a carnival barker tempting you to toss some rings over his square cups. He almost makes you believe it will be a good show. Almost.
FROM THE NEW GENERATION ERA…#29
The first outdoor WrestleMania made for a nice change of pace, though the crowd was largely unenthused. The matches were of the lowest quality. Either they had promise but ended wrongly, or they were doomed from the start (Taker vs Giant Gonzalez) or they had no place on a WrestleMania card at all (Doink vs Crush). The less said about the finish of the main event the better. Honestly I think it’s nearly as big a middle finger to Bret’s WWF career as the Montreal screwjob.
THE GOOD: Savage on Commentary (he was great…especially the way he’d say “Doink”). The company went all-in on the Ancient Greece theme, and the outdoor venue provided viewers with some memorable entrances (namely Undertaker and Bobby Heenan).
THE BAD: Savage on Commentary (he should have been wrestling). Giant Gonzalez’ spray-painted body suit (and Undertaker’s straight-man reaction to it) was beyond embarrassing. Most of the matches failed to deliver and lacked any real hype.
THE BIZARRE: Savage on Commentary (the thing’s he’d say). Also, everyone just pretended that Hogan’s eye was NOT black and blue. No big deal? Nothing to it? Okay.
FROM THE TITAN ERA…#28
(for the spectacle)
Sometimes Vince’s hair-brained ideas work, and sometimes he simulcasts a WrestleMania from three different locations. Only one of the crowds were really into it, though the LA crowd was into the main event, believing at times that Hogan had no chance against the mighty King Kong Bundy. 80’s marks are the best marks.
THE GOOD: Much better wrestling than what the first WrestleMania offered, though it was still not up to the standard the show would set in the future. Great Tag Title match, and the main event is classic Titan Era Hogan. It’s not a technical masterpiece, but it wasn’t supposed to be.
THE BAD: Piper v Mr. T. was a good idea, but it was probably half a year too late. The actual match was a fiasco as well.
THE BIZARRE: The whole three-city idea was just too gimmicky, even for the mid-80’s. They probably should have just had the whole thing in Chicago.
FROM THE TITAN ERA…#27
(for the mostly engaged fans plus the spectacle of a WWF Title Tournament, which was pretty novel at the time)
This show is up there with WrestleMania 18 in the “what could have been” category. The idea of a one-show tournament is good, but was so much wrong with the booking of the event, and so many decisions were made that simply defy logic.
THE GOOD: Rick Rude and Jake the Snake (minus the non-finish). Both stole the show. Randy Savage’s win was a surprise to most viewers as conventional wisdom assumed Hogan would win his title back after taking out Andre and Ted DiBiase.
THE BAD: Let’s start with the tournament as it was presented: It was too bloated. The show ran five hours, full of mostly throw away matches with some inexplicable finishes. The biggest-hyped match was a rematch between Hogan and Andre the Giant that ended in a double-dq after five minutes. Setting that aside, consider how many great matches could have happened, but didn’t because of some stupid booking decisions. Speaking of…
THE BIZARRE: We could have had Steamboat vs. Savage II, with Savage getting his win back on his way to the gold. Also, Vanna White is an American Princess, but she looked so out of place.
FROM THE TITAN ERA…#26
(fan entheusiasm for the mainevent makes up for their otherwise apathy, great mainevent storyline and match)
A one match card if ever there was one. Oh sure there are some other good ones (Rude vs. Warrior is a little gem), but the crowd couldn’t care less. There were maybe five matches that could have been scrapped, replaced with one throw away battle royal, in order to give some of the big undercard matches more time. THEN it would have been a good show. Maybe even a great one with such a great main event. Alas…
THE GOOD: The Main Event. One of only a handful of times in WrestleMania history where the main attraction of the card was also the title match AND was the best match on the show. That’s a surprisingly rare trifecta when you look at all thirty WrestleMania events. The storyline was legendary, with each performer playing his (and her!) part to perfection.
THE BAD: The fans were bored out of their minds, probably because most of the show was maddeningly boring. I appreciate the symmetry being conveyed by having Savage’s title win and loss both happening at the same venue, but Trump Towers was a weak venue the first time and should not have been featured yet again.
THE BIZARRE: The Red Rooster vs. Bobby Heenan. Really the whole Red Rooster thing. Just bizarre.
FROM THE TITAN ERA…#25
(for the fans and for the storylines)
It’s hard to judge this PPV objectively. It’s hard to judge any wrestling show objectively when you think about it; some fans say you should ignore the crowd heat and just focus on the bell-to-bell action. Others say the atmosphere of the event has to be taken into account. But the first WrestleMania is the hardest to judge. On paper it’s among the weakest of the 30. But then you consider that it was the early days of PPV/Closed Circuit super shows, and everyone was still feeling around for how to do it. The Rock-n-Wrestling backdrop is in full swing here, and it’s a testament to the era when the Women’s Title is arguably the number two match on the card. Still, the crowd is hot, and so was the product. The Hogan/Piper feud had fans more passionate than they ever were for any Hart/Michaels feud, Austin/Rock feud, or Cena/Punk feud.
THE GOOD: Watching it now is like watching a black and white 1950’s NFL game. The rules are close to the same, it’s basically the same on a fundamental level, but it’s not. The production is stripped away; everything feels different. But darn it if there’s not moments when you just smile.
THE BAD: King Kong Bundy vs. Special Delivery Jones. Everything about it. Yeesh.
THE BIZARRE: What’s crazier, that the Miz can die saying he main-evented WrestleMania, or that Paul Orndorff can say the same thing? Also, no discussion on the “bizarre” of WrestleMania can be complete without at least a namedrop of Liberace.
FROM THE TITAN ERA (again)…#24
(a good crowd and good wrestling)
The wrong match main-evented, but that’s not the last time it’ll happen. In a lot of ways this show is the show that is the template for the WrestleMania events of today: less than ten matches, a hot match to start with, the work horses in the middle, and an overbooked main event to close it out at a sold-out stadium.
THE GOOD: Several great matches, especially the WWF and I-C title matches. The main event is great fun if you enjoy watching things go wrong. Warrior’s return is a real mark out moment and the crowd responds accordingly.
THE BAD: Undertaker vs. Jake Roberts should have been good. It was not, and that makes me sad. The eight man tag that featured almost every embarrassing gimmick available.
THE BIZARRE: Start at Sid kicking out of the leg drop, and go from there.
FROM THE PG ERA…#23
(for the crowd and a couple strong matches)
WrestleMania’s visit to the Georgia Dome could have been something special. CM Punk was jockeying to be the main event opponent for Cena; Vince was begging Dana White to have… who the heck knows what. A shootfight? A Chael Sonnen contract on a pole match? Either way, White claims McMahon called him up early one morning asking for a fight. That’s a good enough intro to get your mind wrapped around the worst WrestleMania of the modern era.
The rest of the card (minus the Taker/HHH match) was at times only barely worthy of inclusion on PPV. The Rock bombed as host, but the stage set up was probably the best of the stadium-show era. I love the way the wrestlers walked up to the ramp like gladiators.
THE GOOD: Taker/HHH was very very good (some say it’s a classic). Orton vs Punk was great too. This show has my favorite stage, with the big “WrestleMania” sign curling around the entrance.
THE BAD: Cena v Miz. Take away the incredible Miz video before his match and try and find any measure of justification for this being the best potential title match Vince could have booked.
THE BIZARRE: Let’s not talk about the Lawler/Cole match, m’kay?
FROM THE NEW GENERATION ERA…#22
(for a pretty engaged crowd and some good matches)
The least-bought WrestleMania came on the cusp of the WWF’s second boom. This was their rock-bottom (financially) before they reached new heights. Honestly, the show might be a bit underrated. The undercard is mostly throw-away, but the action is basically good, sometimes very good. I get that HBK sat the show out (with a knee injury everyone knew he was faking) because he didn’t want to do the job back to Hart, but why couldn’t Vince have talked him into dropping it to ‘Taker? That would have been a better match than what Psycho Sid offered.
THE GOOD: Hart vs. Austin. The feud seemed settled after their Survivor Series 1996 clash, but the fiasco going on with Michaels dropping the belt and the planned Hart vs Michaels II fight being called off meant that a rematch between Stone Cold and the Hitman had to be thrown out with little natural buildup. The jumbled mess of the show’s booking didn’t affect this match, however, as together Hart and Austin engaged in one of the greatest WrestleMania matches of all time. Though the buildup was disastrous, many of the matches we got exceeded expectations.
THE BAD: The main event. The actual match was fine enough (though not great), but the entire title picture from January-WrestleMania was unhinged.
THE BIZARRE: The whole road to WrestleMania in 1997 was a mixture of drama behind the scenes (HBK going out with a knee “injury”) and a mess on TV: It was one of the few times where it seemed like Vince really didn’t know what he was doing. 2015’s tepid road to WrestleMania has nothing on 1997.
FROM THE TITAN ERA…#21
(for the crowd, spectacle, and good stories)
“Jesse & Gorilla” is my favorite announce team (JR is my favorite play by play man, but I never cared for King), and they have their final ‘Mania together here. Like the other WrestleManias of the era, there are simply too many matches, but unlike most from this era, most of them are watchable.
THE GOOD: The main-event. A perfect Titan Era showcase of two immortal characters. It is shocking, looking back, to see Hogan do an almost job clean (he DOES kick-out out at 3 and a half).
THE BAD: The Hart Foundation were practically unused (and Koko B Ware unfortunately wasn’t). Randy Savage and Dusty Rhodes were misused in a (novel at the time) intergender tag match.
THE BIZARRE: Oh man, Vince’s intro, with his monologue about the constellations… “hilariously bizarre” is an apt description for it. Actually, it’s a perfect into for a show that Warrior main-events.
It gets better on page 2…