WrestleMania is right around the corner and it's a very welcome sight. For with WrestleMania comes a time when the overall tone of the WWE kicks into high gear. For the "Showcase of the Immortals," what else could be expected?
Throughout the past 28 editions, there have been more instant classics than can be counted. But for every straightforward good guy vs. bad guy match or old-fashioned grudge match, there are those matches that need an extra twist.
This is where stipulations and gimmicks come into play.
Stipulations are little additions to a standard match that affect the loser. It could be something as simple as Loser Must Bow or Loser Leaves Town, or something more dramatic, like Hair vs. Hair or retirement.
A gimmick changes the rules for an entire bout, essentially creating something new. Gimmick matches include Iron Man, I Quit or a simple Street Fight.
WrestleMania has had its share of both stipulations and gimmicks. What follows is a ranking of the best of these types of matches. They are ranked according to originality, intensity and historical significance. With WrestleMania as the biggest show of the year, more importance was placed on originality and historical significance.
Not every stipulation and gimmick match made the list. These are simply the ones that stood out for one reason or another.
WrestleMania XIX: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle (If Angle was counted out or disqualified, he would lose the title.)
WrestleMania XXIV: Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Fair, Retirement Match
WrestleMania XXVI: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, Retirement Match
WrestleMania XXVIII: Undertaker vs. Triple H, Hell in a Cell
The four matches listed above would land near the top of a list of the all-time greatest WrestleMania matches in general. They didn't make this list because these matches have transcended the confines of their stipulations.
They are remembered more for their action and results, and less for the match’s gimmick or rules.
This was a very original match and hasn't been done at WrestleMania since. The idea was simple: If Andre the Giant could bodyslam Big John Studd, he would win $15,000. If he couldn't, then he would have to retire.
During the early and mid-'80s, Andre and Studd had feuded over who was the real giant of the WWE. Both men were impressive in size: Andre was billed as 7'4" and 520 pounds; Studd billed as 6'10" and 364 pounds. (Krugman, Michael (2009). André the Giant: A Legendary Life. Pocket Books. p. 71.)
According to Main Event: WWE in the Raging 80s by Brian Shields, in December of '84, Studd and his tag team partner Ken Patera attacked Andre on television and cut off his hair. This led to their WrestleMania match.
The match had lasted just over five minutes when Andre scored the slam. After he won, he began to pass the money out to the fans, before Studd's manager Bobby Heenan ran away with the cash.
The originality of the bout lands it on this list, since it wasn't a surprise Andre won.
On April 7, 1986, Hulk Hogan defended the WWF championship against King Kong Bundy in WrestleMania's first-ever steel cage bout.
Bundy had debuted in the WWE in 1985. He was first managed by Jimmy Hart, but was soon traded to Bobby Heenan. On an edition of Saturday Night's Main Event, Hogan defended the title against Don Muraco. He was ambushed by Heenan and Bundy, who splashed the champion and injured his ribs.
This set up their main-event match at the second WrestleMania.
Their bout was an intense one. Bundy repeatedly worked over Hogan's injured ribs. Hogan used the steel cage as a weapon to injury his much larger foe.
Hogan would go one to win the bout and keep the title.
Not only was this the first steel cage match at WrestleMania, but also one of the first times the WWE used a blue, family-friendly steel cage.
There have been women's matches on WrestleMania before, but none had the added stipulation of one of the women losing their hair.
Molly Holly had defeated Gail Kim for her second Women's title in 2003. She lost the belt to Victoria in a four-way elimination match, setting up this encounter at WrestleMania XX.
It was an exciting match with several changes in momentum. In the end, Holly made a mistake when she attempted to hit Victoria with her own finisher, the Widow's Peak. Victoria escaped, turning the move into a back slide. She managed to hold Holly down for the three count.
After the bout, Holly tried to escape, but Victoria managed to drag her back to the preset barber chair. Strapped to the chair, she was shaved bald.
The sight of one of the women being shaved bald was a truly original WrestleMania moment, one that hasn't been done again.
The match itself, pitting Bobby Lashley vs. Umaga, was a fine encounter between two powerhouses. But the stipulations added to the bout really sold it.
Firstly, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was the guest referee. Secondly, both men had been chosen to represent someone else. Donald Trump chose Lashley to be his champion and Vince McMahon chose Umaga.
Both Umaga and Lashley had a spirited bout, pushed forward by the added stipulation that whomever lost, either Trump or McMahon, would have their head shaved in the middle of the ring. Lashley scored the pin.
Held down in a chair in the middle of the ring, McMahon was shaved bald. Hair matches are nothing new in the sport of wrestling, but when McMahon took the cut, it brought this bout to a whole new level.
Bret Hart and Bob Backlund faced each other at WrestleMania XI in the WWE's first "I Quit" match. It was a rematch of sorts. The two had fought over the WWF championship at Survivor Series in 1994, where Backlund defeated Hart for the title.
Just like the previous year in a Hart match, Roddy Piper was the guest referee.
Hart started off on the offensive, pounding Backlund in the corner, before Irish whipping him into the opposite corner. Despite his equal skill as a wrestler, it wasn't until nearly six minutes in that Backlund took control of the bout. He spent several minutes working over Hart's arm to soften him up for the Crossface Chickenwing, his finisher.
Once applied, Hart managed to reverse the hold and sink it in tight. While Backlund only grunted into the microphone and didn't say, "I Quit," Piper called the bout in favor of Hart.
Both men turned in a spectacular performance. This was the first of many "I Quit" matches that would follow in the WWE.
It certainly seemed appropriate Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon would meet and fight in the ring.
One man became an icon of the wrestling world, changing the way people viewed wrestlers. The other also became an icon of the wrestling world, only by changing the face of wrestling and turning it into an internationally successful business.
At the No Way Out pay-per-view, McMahon had cost Hogan his match with The Rock. Afterward, he declared Hulkamania dead. Hogan objected to this. The two aired their grievances on SmackDown, where McMahon admitted he hated Hogan for leaving the WWF for WCW.
At WrestleMania, the two men met in a Street Fight, where if Hogan lost, he would be forced to retire.
Neither man held anything back as they unleashed years of resent on each of their bodies. Bloody and near broken, Hogan scored the eventual pinfall. It was an historical moment when these two men, who had needed each other to reach the heights they did, finally clashed in the ring. It was also Hogan's first WrestleMania victory since WrestleMania IX.
Not the first Ladder Match in professional wrestling, but it was the first one for a WrestleMania, and it helped make the gimmick a popular one for the fans. That popularity turned it into one of the most recognized and brutal match types in the WWE during the late '90s.
In the fall of 1993, then-WWF President Jack Tunney stripped Shawn Michaels of the Intercontinental title. His reasoning was Michaels didn't defend the title often enough. A Battle Royal was scheduled to decide the new champion.
Razor Ramon was the victor of the bout and thus was crowned the new champion. Michaels refused to acknowledge the new champion and even insisted he was still the champion. The title was put on the line in a Ladder Match at WrestleMania X.
Even without the ladder, the match was tough and brutal. Both men hammered away at each other. At one point, Ramon was flipped from the ring and landed on bare concrete.
Once Michaels brought the ladder into the match, things kicked up a notch. He smacked Ramon with the ladder like a battering ram. One of the highlights of the bout was Michaels doing a splash onto Ramon from the top rungs of the ladder.
But that one was quickly eclipsed when Ramon Irish whipped Michaels into the corner...and the ladder. He hit hard, flipped over the turnbuckle and landed onto the floor like a wet towel.
Ramon went on to win the match and the title.
This match was a true original, both in idea and sheer intensity. They treated the Intercontinental title like it was a world championship and in the process churned out a world championship match.
If Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels introduced the WWE Universe to the Ladder match, this Triple Threat tag team match took that ladder idea and pumped it full of steroids.
For two consecutive years The Dudley Boyz, The Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian punished each other with tables, ladders and chairs.
At WrestleMania X-7 in particular, The Dudley Boyz, the tag team champions coming into this bout, had their work cut out for them. All four teams used every ladder, table and chair at their disposal to batter each other. At one point, the ring looked like a train had been driven through it, bodies, ladders and tables left scattered and broken in the ring.
One of the highlights was when both Ryno and Lita interfered. Lita hit Ryno with a hurricanrana from the top rope, shortly after she rammed Edge head first into a ladder.
Another impressive spot came when Jeff Hardy was hanging from the belts suspended above the ring. Edge connected with a spear from the top of a ladder into Hardy's midsection. Both men fell to the ring in a nasty dump.
For a brief time, these two bouts elevated the tag team division to heights never seen. The level of both brutality and athletic skill in the matches remain some of the greatest ever.
The buildup to the Submission match between Bret Hart and Steven Austin was brilliant. After Austin won the 1996 King of the Ring tournament, he began to badger and taunt Hart, who was not active in wrestling at the time.
The two battled each other at Survivor Series and were then the last two men in the ring at the Royal Rumble. Austin eliminated Hart after Hart tossed him out; officials didn't see it. After Hart won the WWF championship, Austin cost him the belt on Monday Night Raw.
This led to their match at WrestleMania in a Submission match.
The bout started as an all-out brawl as the two men went at each other like dogs over a piece of meat. After a clothesline by Austin to Hart over the railing, the two men battled in the midst of the crowd. The bout was just as brutal when they returned to the ring, where Hart worked over Austin’s knees.
Shortly thereafter, he applied the figure-four leglock to Austin around the steel ring post.
After some of the most brutal action seen at WrestleMania, Hart locked Austin in the Sharpshooter. Austin never submitted, but instead passed out from the pain. Hart was declared the winner.
After the bout, Hart continued to attack Austin and turned heel in the process.
This bout was as brutal as they come. The two men wrestled as if they were fighting over a World title and not simply bragging rights. Add in Hart was cheered in the beginning and booed at the end, with the opposite true for Austin, and the historical significance of this bout becomes clear.
The second first-ever match for Bret Hart occurred at WrestleMania XII when he wrestled Shawn Michaels in the WWE's first Iron Man match. With this bout, both men were guaranteed to wrestle for an hour, with the winner being the man who scored the most pinfalls.
Michaels had earned this title shot by winning the 1996 Royal Rumble. Roddy Piper, the acting "president" of the WWF at the time, put the match together.
The match itself was an incredible display of athleticism and stamina. Both men hit each other with every move in their arsenal.
Nothing either man did seemed to be able to put the other away.
As the clock ticked away, neither man had scored a win. As the final minute counted down, Hart locked Michaels in the Sharpshooter. But time expired without Michaels tapping.
With no winner, the WWE did the only thing it could do during a live pay-per-view event: The match was ordered to continue.
The match was sent into sudden death—essentially changed back into a regular match with the winner determined after the first pin was made. A few minutes later, Michaels hit Sweet Chin Music and captured his first WWF championship.
This was easily the greatest gimmick match in the history of WrestleMania. Not only did both men show how talented they were by holding the crowd for over an hour, but also Michaels conquered the top of the WWE for the first time.