Whether it’s the WWF title, or later the WWE title, or for a time the World Heavyweight title, WrestleMania is almost always about whoever the top guy at the time is, competing for the top title in the land. I have to say almost because, as WrestleMania fans know, sometimes the title match is not the main event of the show. And sometimes, an undercard title match steals the show. These are the five times an undercard match arguably stole the show and made itself the top attraction for repeat viewers.

These are just the top five in the list, and notably absent are the two groundbreaking Tag Title matches that took place at WrestleMania 2000 and WrestleMania X-Seven. Those two, the triangle ladder match and TLC II without question stole the show at their respective WrestleManias and ushered in a new era in tag team wrestling. They aren’t mentioned here because the focus is on singles matches, but they were momentous enough that they deserved at least a shout out.

With that said, this is my list of the top five other title matches, and if you disagree feel free to add your own list to the comments below!

~~~

EDDIE GUERRERO vs KURT ANGLE, FOR THE WWE CHAMPIONSHIP

[Watch: WWE Network]

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WrestleMania XX, though it was a five-hour-long super-duper show, was—at its core—about celebrating the careers of two accomplished, but often overlooked, wrestlers. Chris Benoit would get his moment in the main event match for the World Heavyweight Championship, while Eddie Guerrero technically had his moment a month earlier. He defeated the red-hot Brock Lesnar (who was on his way out of the company) for the WWE title and entered into a WrestleMania feud with Kurt Angle. There was no one better for Eddie to feud with than Kurt, other than Chris Benoit (who, again, was already busy).

With Kurt you had the dynamic that Eddie was a pretender to the title’s throne, that he didn’t belong on the big stage and that Kurt was a more appropriate choice to carry the flagship title. It’s a similar story that played out with Benoit on Raw, as his story was that he was overshadowed (despite winning the Rumble) by the ongoing Triple H/Shawn Michaels feud. Of course, Benoit’s story is now tainted because of what happened, and while Eddie too died, the circumstances with his tragic departure at least allow us to look back fondly at his too-short WWE title reign, the peak of which was this technical mini-masterpiece he had with Kurt Angle.

UNDERTAKER vs BATISTA, FOR THE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPIONSHIP

[Watch: WWE Network]

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At the time of WrestleMania 23, the company was deep into the brand-split era, but the peak of Smackdown’s existence was in the past. The days of Paul Heyman booking the “Smackdown Six” from 2002-2003 were past, and the days of CM Punk’s Straight Edge Society feuding with Jeff Hardy (which was Smackdown’s final heyday before slipping into irrelevance) were still yet to come. It was up to the Undertaker, in these days, to carry the Smackdown brand, and while we appreciate the rarely-seen Phenom today as a legend in so many ways, it needs to be remembered that when he took over as the defacto face of Smackdown (around 2006) he wasn’t known for putting on the five-star matches he would become known for in the twilight of his full-time career. Those days, of Undertaker being able as a workman to put the show on his back, began really with his feud with Batista.

Batista joined Smackdown, essentially in a Raw-trade for Cena, in mid-2005. Immediately he was positioned as the main event player (though again, Undertaker was the backbone of the brand). He wasn’t known for his great workrate, however, and spent much of his first year stinking up the joint against foes like JBL and Big Show. He was injured in early 2006 and missed most of the year, before returning to further-dull matches against King Booker and Finley. Come 2007 he was champion but lacked a lot of the star power that his contemporary, Cena, had in spades. Undertaker won the 2007 Rumble and challenged Batista, but their match was booked for the midcard of WrestleMania. John Cena and Shawn Michaels’ WWE title match was booked for last. Angry at the slight, Batista vowed to put on the match of the night and he and Undertaker, with only fifteen minutes to work with, did just that. The match received a standing ovation when the two men made it to the back, with Batista responding with a cocky “beat that” as he strolled to his changing room. HBK and Cena did their best to put on a killer main-event, but many fans will say that they failed to beat the match that Undertaker and Batista put on that night.

RANDY SAVAGE vs RIC FLAIR, FOR THE WWF CHAMPIONSHIP

[Watch: WWE Network]

Speaking of title matches happening mid-show, WrestleMania VIII was the genesis of that. Ric Flair not only won the 1992 Rumble that year, he secured the WWF Championship in the process. Many assumed that a date with Hulk Hogan was in the cards for the main-event of WrestleMania, but instead Vince decided to split his top two attractions and give Macho Man to Flair and Sid Justice to Hogan. The reason for the decision is thought to have been due to low key interest at the Hogan vs Flair house shows months earlier. Hogan had been on top for nine years at that point and was showing some fan-fatigue (he was booed at the Rumble that year, in fact). Flair was also a smaller, more athletic champion than Vince was used to, and though McMahon loved Flair’s character and work-ethic, he never got behind him as champ the way he did someone like Hogan. Splitting the two top acts up allowed for a more robust WrestleMania card, which Vince really needed after the fiasco that was WrestleMania VII (which was forced to change venues due to low ticket sales).

The real insult, however, was the placement of the title match on the card. Ric Flair vs Randy Savage was a feud with all the drama and passion befitting a WrestleMania main event. It had the story (Flair’s assertion that Miss Elizabeth was unfaithful). It had the workers (both Flair and Savage were among the best storytellers to ever step into the ring). And it had the prize (the WWF Championship). But it was bumped because it didn’t have Hogan. So while Hogan and Sid were destined to stink up the joint in the final match, Flair and Savage tore the house down with a title match more than great enough to carry the whole show by itself. Technically, their match was billed as part of a double-main-event, but if you don’t go on last, you can call it whatever you want, it’s not the main event. It was, however, the show-stealer of the night.

RICKY STEAMBOAT vs RANDY SAVAGE, FOR THE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE

[Watch: WWE Network]

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What can you say about this match? It’s been hailed as the greatest technical wrestling match ever seen. Carefully choreographed and memorized at Savage’s direction, it was unlike anything a WWF show had ever had before. You could find barnburner athletic competitions in the NWA and the AWA back then, but in those days the WWF was known for its big guys lumbering around, hitting big punches, leg drops and double-ax-handles. This match went to an entirely different universe, and yet it still had a big story to carry the “sports entertainment” part of it: Months earlier, Macho Man, the dastardly heel, had injured Steamboat at ringside while the hero was greeting fans. Savage draped Steamboat’s throat across the steel railing, and dropped an elbow on the back of his neck. The move took Steamboat out of action but he vowed revenge. At WrestleMania III he had his chance.

For fifteen minutes—considered long for a non-main-event match in the WWF—Savage and Steamboat tore the house down. It’s a rather pedestrian match by today’s standards; there weren’t big dives over the top rope, or big finishers hit to near-falls, but again it was unlike anything ever seen by most of the watchers at that time. It was every bit a “technical” match, as the two traded headlocks and waistlocks. In the end, Savage went…well, savage, and tried to injure Steamboat again, this time with the ringbell. Instead, Steamboat countered into, of all things, a small package and squeaked out the 1-2-3 and won the inter-continental championship. Hogan and Andre the Giant would go on later that night to have their amazing story-driven heavyweight fight, but there was no doubt, when the night was finished, which match stole the show.

RAZOR RAMON vs SHAWN MICHAELS, FOR THE INTERCONTINENTAL TITLE

[Watch: WWE Network]

You can argue that Steamboat vs Savage belongs in the number-one spot and I wouldn’t fight you over it. As far as I’m concerned these two matches are 1A and 1B when it comes to show-stealing “other” title matches in WrestleMania history. Both managed to change the game for the next generation. Savage and Steamboat inspired men like Shawn Michaels to see that they had a place on the card as “smaller” wrestlers and that they didn’t have to be confined to opening act tag matches. In much the same way, this match between Michaels and Razor Ramon paved the way for “gimmick” matches to become a regular part of the circus of pro wrestling.

As with Savage and Steamboat’s techincal masterpiece, as a ladder match this was tame by today’s standards. I mean the high spot is a simple splash off the top of the (ten-foot) ladder. And it was sold on commentary by Vince McMahon like he was watching two men commit hari-kari on live television. Today his performers regularly fly off of fifteen foot ladders, crashing onto and sometimes through other ladders, just to get a rise out of the jaded fan base. Things were different then, but they had to start somewhere, and this is where they started. It was the semi-main-event of WrestleMania X, and though all the attention in the build-up was paid to whether Lex Lugar or Bret Hart would take the title away from Yokozuna, the real match of the night was this ladder match. It set the standard for “high flying, high impact” stunt-wrestling, but it did so without sacrificing the psychology of the match itself. In fact, this is still the best-paced ladder match I’ve ever seen. Both men use such discretion and wisdom in setting up their spots and in selling the effect just a single ladder can have on a match. It really needs to be studied more by the high-fliers of today to see how much a “less is more” philosophy can help get a match over. Looking back on it, it’s more than just a five-star masterpiece, it’s basically a masters course on feeding the audience out of the palm of your hands.

~~~

Attention is always paid the most to the main-event, and rightly so: That’s the match the whole show is built around. But every now and then, the cards fall in just the right way, that another title match can swoop in and steal the show. Will that happen at WrestleMania 32? It might. We may look back on this year’s supershow and say “forget Triple H vs Roman Reigns, it was the I-C match that you need to see.” We may look back and say “who would have thought that Kalisto vs Ryback would have been that amazing.” ….Okay maybe not that last one, but there’s a good chance, if given enough time, the triple threat women’s match for the Divas’ Title could be the sleeper title-match of the night.

We’ll find out very soon!

That was my list of the best other title matches. Did I leave one out that you love? Let us know in the comments below!

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