Looking back on WrestleManias past is like leafing through a photo album — the headlining match is a valuable snapshot of who ruled the company at that particular time.
But the inclusion of big-name superstars in the closing match doesn't automatically guarantee a memorable event.
An extraordinary WrestleMania headliner is built up over time, the culmination of a slow-simmering feud in which each wrestler has had a chance to verbally and physically slay his opponent.
The rudimentary element of all WrestleMania main event feuds is this: a believable, interesting and otherwise entertaining reason for two wrestlers to fight.
Each feud has different wrinkles and secondary components added into it, but the underlying characteristic between all of the best WrestleMania main events is the same.
The audience has to genuinely care that these two wrestlers want to tear each other apart.
First, let's take a look at the 10 worst WrestleMania main event buildups, instances in which something — the storyline, the execution, or the wrestlers involved — just didn't click.
WrestleMania II, Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy
WrestleMania XXVII, John Cena vs. The Miz: The WWE spent more time hyping the feud between Cena and the Rock, leaving the Miz as nothing more than an afterthought.
WrestleMania X8, Triple H vs. Chris Jericho: Not only was this match overshadowed by Hollywood Hogan vs. The Rock, it also suffered from poor booking. Using Jericho and his Undisputed Championship as a secondary prop to Triple H and Stephanie McMahon's divorce was a nonsensical decision.
WrestleMania IX, Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna
WrestleMania X, Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna: Hart and Lex Luger were co-winners of the Royal Rumble, which jumbled the title picture. Luger had been feuding with Yokozuna since the previous year, and Hart had a conflict with his brother, Owen, heading into WrestleMania. Because of this, Hart vs. Yokozuna really had no build besides their feud leading up to WrestleMania IX.
WrestleMania 13, Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid
WrestleMania 25, Triple H vs. Randy Orton: Triple H seeking vengeance after Orton punted Vince McMahon in the head was a passable storyline, but the Legacy never got any credibility as a heel stable. Shane McMahon was able to manhandle Orton one week after the punt, Triple H constantly had the Legacy on the run, and even Vince held his own during the three-on-three brawl a week before 'Mania.
WrestleMania 22, John Cena vs. Triple H: Triple H did not take John Cena seriously as a threat, making Cena a major underdog going into this match. The problem with that: Cena had been the WWE champion for 343 of the last 364 days on the date WrestleMania 22 took place.
WrestleMania 23, John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels
WrestleMania XIX, Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar: Instead of booking this match as two guys looking to prove they were the best wrestler in the world, the WWE built Angle up as a cowardly champion trying to win by any means necessary — switching places with Eric Angle and getting interference from Team Angle — to win.
Now, on to the 17 best WrestleMania main event buildups:
Cause of the Conflict: At the 1995 Royal Rumble, Bigelow's tag-team partner Tatanka accidentally knocked him off the top rope during a moonsault attempt, allowing the 1-2-3 Kid to get the pin. Bigelow took exception to the crowd heckling him post-match. Taylor was seated in the front row and laughed as Bigelow walked by. Bigelow confronted L.T. and shoved the former NFL superstar off of his feet after Taylor extended his hand.
Why it Worked: The 1995 WWF main-event scene was lacking in star power as the company was still in the transition phase between the Hogan and Austin eras. Shawn Michaels was still a year away from winning the WWF Championship for the first time, and Diesel wasn't really a top draw as a face.
Bigelow and Taylor provided promotion for the event that wouldn't have existed without the match. The premise was simple but effective — Bigelow thought he had been disrespected by his fellow athlete when Taylor laughed at him, and as a result he challenged Taylor to prove his toughness in Bigelow's world.
Cause of the Conflict: Edge cashed in his Money in the Bank opportunity on the Undertaker in May 2007 to steal the World Heavyweight Championship. The Ultimate Opportunist had to vacate the championship in July due to a pectoral injury, but he returned at Survivor Series — disguised as a camera operator — to attack the Undertaker during his Hell in a Cell match with Batista for the belt. Edge won the title at Armageddon, and the Undertaker earned the right to face the champ at WrestleMania by winning an Elimination Chamber match at No Way Out.
Why it Worked: The Undertaker was seeking vengeance for Edge's actions nine months prior, looking to regain his title and attempting to advance his WrestleMania streak to 16-0. Edge was at the apex of his Rated-R Superstar gimmick, and he also claimed to be undefeated at WrestleMania (though technically he did lose the Money in the Bank match to Mr. Kennedy at WrestleMania 23). Edge was booked as a credible threat to end the Undertaker's streak, especially considering he had the allegiance of La Familia — Vickie Guerrero, Chavo Guerrero, Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder.
Cause of the Conflict: Piper had taken to Piper's Pit to disparage Hogan's Rock 'n Wrestling Connection. Piper faced Hogan for the WWF title at The War to Settle the Score on MTV. "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff interfered in the match on behalf of Piper, and after the two beat down Hogan, they stalked Hogan's friend Cyndi Lauper. Mr. T attempted to make the save, but Piper, Orndorff and Piper's bodyguard, Bob Orton, put the boots to Mr. T.
Why it Worked: The promotion for this entire event was epic, as Vince McMahon staked his reputation and career on WrestleMania's success. As for the main event, Piper's heel promos were always gold, and this was no different. Tensions between the two teams grew heading into the event. The WWF built anticipation with verbal showdowns and near-physical confrontations prior to the event, but fans would have to purchase the pay-per-view to see Mr. T and Piper finally square off.
Cause of the Conflict: After Sid Justice eliminated Hulk Hogan in the 1992 Royal Rumble match, Hogan grabbed Sid's arm, allowing Flair to eliminate Justice. At a WrestleMania press conference, WWF President Jack Tunney granted Hogan a title match with Flair, a decision that angered Justice. Sid claimed to be misunderstood and apologized to Hogan, but then betrayed him in a tag match at Saturday Night's Main Event. The final straw was Sid's appearance on the Barber Shop with Hogan's friend Brutus Beefcake. A crazed Sid trashed the Barber Shop set, all the while screaming that Hogan was afraid of him.
Why it Worked: Sid's hatred of Hogan was tenable, as he felt like Hogan wasn't deserving of the WrestleMania title shot and only received it because he was a big movie star. Sid destroyed everyone and everything in his path heading into his showdown with Hogan, lending credibility to Sid's claim that he ruled the world.
Cause of the Conflict: After Batista won the 2005 Royal Rumble match, Triple H tried to do everything he could to get the Animal to join SmackDown. The Game even had a white limousine try to run down Batista so the Animal would think it was WWE champion JBL, but Batista overheard Triple H and Ric Flair discussing the plan.
When it came time to make his decision, Batista told Triple H that he had known what he was going to do for a long time. He first threw down the Raw contract and gave a thumbs up to his Evolution stablemates, but he turned his thumb down—Triple H had done the same thing when he betrayed Randy Orton five months prior—and powerbombed Triple H through a table.
Why it Worked: It was the perfect way to dissolve Evolution. Triple H had always hogged the spotlight as the World Heavyweight Champion, and he was trying to protect his own neck again by convincing Batista to join SmackDown. Batista remembered what Triple H did to newly-crowned world champion Randy Orton in 2004, so he wasn't going to trust Triple H here.
Cause of the Conflict: Shawn Michaels had won the 1996 Royal Rumble match — his second consecutive Rumble win — to earn an opportunity against WWF champion Bret Hart. The two biggest stars in the company would go one-on-one in the first Iron Man Match to prove who was really "the man."
Why it Worked: Michaels and Hart were both faces at the time, so the WWF didn't need some convoluted feud to build up this match. It was going to be two of the best wrestlers in the business battling for one hour, with the winner proving he was truly the best. There was an interesting wrinkle to the match: after Hart had won the WWF title at Survivor Series 1995, he had defended the championship in a number of gut-wrenching brawls with Diesel, the British Bulldog and the Undertaker, while Shawn Michaels had not wrestled in several months prior to returning at the Royal Rumble. The question was, would that play a fatigue factor during the hour-long struggle?
Cause of the Conflict: Michaels and Triple H had been feuding since the summer of 2002. The two squared off in a Last Man Standing match at the 2004 Royal Rumble, but the bout ended in a draw when neither man could answer the 10 count. SmackDown's Benoit won the 2004 Rumble match and decided to jump to Raw, placing himself right in the middle of HBK and Triple H. HBK superkicked Benoit and signed his name on the WrestleMania contract, forcing Eric Bischoff to make the World Heavyweight Championship match at WrestleMania a triple-threat match.
Why it Worked: Benoit set a precedent by becoming the first Royal Rumble winner to challenge the champion of a different brand. Michaels wasn't finished with Triple H yet, so a mini-feud developed between Benoit and Michaels. Benoit wanted to beat the best, but circumstances forced him to have to overcome two men instead of one. All three men had a meaningful reason to dislike the other two, creating intrigue for the match.
Cause of the Conflict: Triple H married an unconscious Stephanie McMahon in late 1999, causing Vince McMahon to defend her honor in a street fight at Armageddon 1999. However, Stephanie turned on her father and joined Triple H. Triple H feuded with Foley over the WWF title, defeating him in brutal matches at the Royal Rumble and No Way Out, the latter of which retired the hardcore legend.
Meanwhile, the Rock won the Royal Rumble match, but the Big Show claimed that Rock's feet touched the floor first. When the two battled at No Way Out with the WrestleMania title shot on the line, Shane McMahon returned to screw the Rock. In a rematch, Vince McMahon returned to help the Rock, decking his son in the process.
Triple H defeated the Rock and Big Show on Raw — the Game had agreed to the match on the condition that the WrestleMania match would no longer take place — and after, Linda McMahon appeared to announce that Triple H was right. The WrestleMania triple-threat match wouldn't take place, because it was now a Fatal Four Way Elimination Match — including Mick Foley.
Why it Worked: So many intertwining storylines coming to a head in one match. True, a McMahon in every corner was a bit much, and maybe the match should have just been booked as a showdown between the Rock and Triple H, but the buildup to WrestleMania 2000 was still extremely entertaining. It included innumerable twists, turns, returns and screwjobs, creating convincing hatred between all of the participants.
Cause of the Conflict: After Austin defeated Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIV, Vince McMahon had worked tirelessly to get the title off of his unruly employee. He helped his hand-picked corporate champion, the Rock, win the WWF Championship at Survivor Series '98, and put countless obstacles in Austin's way to make sure the Rattlesnake didn't return to the WrestleMania main event. The Rock's distraction caused Austin to lose the Royal Rumble match to McMahon, but Austin bested his boss in a steel cage match at the St. Valentine's Day Massacre pay-per-view to earn the WrestleMania title shot.
Why it Worked: Austin's uphill battle to get the gold back would finally culminate against the rising star of the Rock at WrestleMania. The Rock was the crown jewel of McMahon's Corporation, so beating him at WrestleMania would deal a major blow to the faction. The Rock was looking to stay on top of the company and exact revenge on Austin for repeatedly embarrassing the Corporation.
Cause of the Conflict: Andre the Giant controversially beat Hulk Hogan at the Main Event to end Hogan's 1474-day reign as champion. He immediately sold the title to Ted DiBiase, but President Jack Tunney nullified the decision to set up the tournament for WrestleMania IV.
Why it Worked: Attempting to purchase the WWF title worked well for Ted DiBiase's "Million Dollar Man" character, as he proved everyone really did have a price. DiBiase had failed to get the belt from Hogan himself, so instead he resorted to his riches to put the title around his waist. Tunney put a stop to it, so DiBiase would have to win the tournament to earn the title. Hogan and Andre would both be in the tournament, so there was much anticipation surrounding their inevitable showdown. Macho Man was a rising star in the WWF, as well as a member of the Mega Powers with Hogan, so his inclusion in the tournament made him a wild card.
Cause of the Conflict: Sgt. Slaughter returned to the WWF in 1990 as an Iraqi sympathizer and would win the WWF title from the Ultimate Warrior at the 1991 Royal Rumble. Hulk Hogan won the Rumble match at the same event, setting up a showdown between the two — the American patriot Hogan and the turncoat Slaughter.
Why it Worked: Sgt. Slaughter's new heel character was based on real-life events — the United States had entered into the Persian Gulf War in 1990, and Slaughter had turned on his country — and Slaughter's actions received serious heat from the crowd. Who better to defend America's honor than Hogan?
Cause of the Conflict: Hogan and Warrior had first come face-to-face in the 1991 Royal Rumble, and Hogan inadvertently eliminated Warrior from the match. Hogan laid down the Ultimate Challenge for WrestleMania VI: WWF Champion vs. Intercontinental Champion for the first time ever.
Why it Worked: The buildup allowed Hogan and Warrior to take turns cutting irrationally bizarre promos on each other. With both men wrestling as major babyfaces, the premise to the match was simple — who was the strongest force in the WWF?
Cause of the Conflict: Austin won the 1998 Royal Rumble, and Shawn Michaels was the reigning WWF champion.
Why it Worked: Austin was the biggest superstar in all of wrestling at the time, but his rise wouldn't be complete until he won the WWF title. Shawn Michaels wasn't going to roll over, as he still felt he was the best in the business. Mike Tyson's involvement in the buildup and DX's heel tactics added an extra element to an already intriguing feud.
Cause of the Conflict: Shawn Michaels lost to the Undertaker at WrestleMania 25, and challenged the him again only to be rebuffed by the Deadman. Michaels became obsessed with ending the Undertaker's streak. After he was eliminated from the Royal Rumble match, HBK threw a fit, attacking a referee out of frustration. Michaels then appeared from under the Elimination Chamber to cost the Undertaker his World Heavyweight Championship. Undertaker finally agreed to face Michaels again on one condition: HBK would have to put his career on the line.
Why it Worked: Everything about this buildup was brilliant. Michaels, a man who had accomplished so much in the WWE, was now measuring the success of his career on whether or not he could defeat the Undertaker at WrestleMania. Not even his friend Triple H knew how to help him get over the obsession.
Michaels's downward spiral, and his descent into near-depression, was perfectly booked and executed. Costing the Undertaker the title was a convincing way to get the Deadman to finally agree to fight him at WrestleMania, and putting his career on the line excellently raised the stakes.
Cause of the Conflict: Big egos. Savage's jealousy of Hogan caused him to think Hogan was lusting after Miss Elizabeth. Savage also felt he was third in the Mega Powers' pecking order, despite being the WWF champion.
Why it Worked: Two huge stars can only coexist for so long, especially when the WWF championship — and a woman's love — is in play. Savage had always been a madman, but he showed what he could do when his madness was displaced by paranoia.
Cause of the Conflict: Andre turned on Hogan and joined Bobby Heenan. Hogan had received a trophy for being the WWF champion for three years, and a week later Andre received a smaller trophy for being undefeated for 15 years. Hogan came out to congratulate Andre but ended up hogging the spotlight. Andre challenged Hogan for the WWF title at WrestleMania on Piper's Pit, tearing Hogan's shirt and crucifix chain off to symbolically end their friendship.
Why it Worked: The Irresistible Force meets the Immovable Object. Andre had never been pinned or been forced to submit in a WWF ring, and Hogan was unbeatable as the WWF champ. Even without the Hogan-hating Heenan, this would have been one for the ages, but adding in the devious manager made it even better.
Cause of the Conflict: Austin was the Royal Rumble winner and the Rock was the WWF champion. They were the two biggest stars in the industry, but only one would walk away as the No. 1 man.
Why it Worked: Superstar vs. superstar. Two larger-than-life personalities colliding on the grandest stage of them all. Being the WWF champion meant everything to both men. They were both faces and both had respect for the other man, but the WWF title nullified that in a big way. Winning this match would cement one of these men as the greatest superstar of the era.