WrestleMania XXIX: Power Ranking All 28 Shows in Event History
WrestleMania XXIX is only a few short weeks away and with a card that is, by all accounts stacked, the event has the potential to be one of the greatest in event history.
That says a lot considering some of the phenomenal WrestleMania shows World Wrestling Entertainment has produced.
From WrestleMania III featuring Hulk Hogan defending the his heavyweight title against Andre the Giant and Ricky Steamboat capturing the Intercontinental Championship from Randy Savage to the 10th installment featuring two bona fide five-star matches to the Attitude Era-igniting WrestleMania XIV, there have been several events that can stake their claim as the best of all time.
But which is? For that matter, which WrestleMania is the worst?
Taking into account match quality, historical value, celebrity involvement and overall quality of the card, these are the power rankings for all 28 WrestleMania events. Agree or disagree with the rankings? Where does your favorite fall?
Find out inside.
28. WrestleMania 2
Photo Credit: WWE.com
With three headline bouts broadcasted from three different locations (Uniondale, NY; Rosemont, IL; Los Angeles, CA), WrestleMania 2 employed a revolutionary idea that proved to be more trouble than it was worth.
A talented roster was spread thin in order to provide enough star power to all three venues, creating an overall card of unworthy WrestleMania matches. The Hart Foundation and the Killer Bees were booked in a Battle Royal, while Tito Santana and Junkyard Dog, two incredibly popular singles stars, were tagged together for a match against Terry and Dory Funk Jr. Jake Roberts and Ricky Steamboat were wasted in meaningless singles matches, while "Macho Man" Randy Savage was involved in a storyline-heavy title bout against George Steele.
The Hulk Hogan-King Kong Bundy WWE title bout was built up well enough but the final chapter of the story, the match itself, failed to live up the hype. Roddy Piper and Mr. T's real-life animosity boiled over in a Boxing Match that saw the audience cheering for the villainous Piper over the Hollywood star. And Andre the Giant won the massive Battle Royal featuring stars of the WWE and National Football League.
WrestleMania 2 was an unworthy sequel to the original, a failed experiment that tried too hard to be an extravaganza when, in reality, it was merely a wrestling show with D-list celebrities sprinkled on top. Poor match quality, a lackluster card and too much emphasis put on outside entities rather than the wrestling itself add up to the worst WrestleMania in WWE history.
27. WrestleMania XI
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WrestleMania XI emanated from the Hartford Civic Center in Hartford, Connecticut at a time when Vince McMahon's company was reeling from a drop-off in pro wrestling popularity and Hulk Hogan's signing with Ted Turner's World Championship Wrestling. By the end of the year, the Monday Night Wars would be in full effect and the company would be facing dire straights.
The 1995 installment of WrestleMania featured NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor squaring off against Bam Bam Bigelow in a match the company clearly hoped would draw higher buyrates than it did. Those who ordered the show, though, were rewarded with one of the best celebrity performances in the history of the event, as Taylor clearly took his in-ring duties seriously and, as a result, had a worthy match against the talented big man Bigelow.
Elsewhere, Shawn Michaels carried best friend Diesel (Kevin Nash) to what Pro Wrestling Illustrated would call the Match of the Year in the semi-main event slot. Bret Hart and Bob Backlund would bore in an ill-conceived Submission match, while the "Hitman's" younger brother Owen teamed with Yokozuna to capture the tag team titles from the Smoking Gunns.
There was nothing inherently wrong with the in-ring work at WrestleMania XI, other than its failure to rise above "average" in quality. What was wrong was the lack of excitement surrounding the show? There was very little pomp, circumstance, glitz or glamour usually associated with the show and as a result, it came across as an over-hyped edition of what would later become In Your House.
WrestleMania should be more. It deserves to be more. With average matches and a decided lack of enthusiasm, WrestleMania XI was not.
26. Wrestlemania IX
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada was the site for Wrestlemania IX, and the outdoor atmosphere created the most unique vibe in event history. Adopting the Roman Coliseum theme, World Wrestling Entertainment created an event with the look and feel befitting Caesar and Cleopatra.
Between the ropes, however, quality matches were few and far between. Tatanka and Shawn Michaels wrestled the best match of the night. Unfortunately, that was booked as the opening match of the evening, ensuring that nothing else presented to the live audience or those watching at home would be able to live up to it.
Crush and Doink the Clown, despite having a fairly decent story behind them heading into the event, failed to click and, as a result, had one of the worst matches in WrestleMania history. The Giant Gonzalez made his one and only appearance at WrestleMania in a losing effort to The Undertaker, who had one of the more impressive performances of the evening, arriving to the squared circle on a chariot.
Razor Ramon and Bob Backlund competed in a match that had absolutely no business being added to the card, due largely to the fact that they had no reason to be fighting in the first place, while the heavily-hyped tag team title match between the Mega Maniacs (Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake) and Money, Inc. (Ted DiBiase and IRS) was an example of four men no longer in their primes.
The biggest black eye on WrestleMania IX was Hogan's victory over Yokozuna in an unadvertised WWE title match just moments after the behemoth defeated Bret Hart to win the gold in what was supposed to be the show's closing bout. Hogan holding the title high overhead as the show went off the air reeked of politics and, in fact, that is what it ended up being.
WrestleMania IX has become somewhat of a cult classic due to the tremendous atmosphere the outdoor scenery and Roman theme created. For those who grew up in the early-1990s and have an affinity for the crazy and zany gimmicks that populated WWE television at the time, WrestleMania IX is a fine reminder of their youth.
For everyone else, it is a reminder of WWE's fall from grace and the loss of its fanbase that occurred early in the decade.
25. WrestleMania IV
Photo Credit: WWE.com
In February of 1988, Andre the Giant ended Hulk Hogan's four-year reign as WWE champion, doing so in highly-controversial fashion. Afterward, he sold the title to "Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase in a move then-WWE President Jack Tunney deemed illegal.
He vacated the title and announced a tournament to determine the new champion. That tournament would be held at WrestleMania IV and would be the major selling point for the event.
In one night, "Macho Man" Randy Savage went from being one of the best in-ring talents in the world, and former Intercontinental champion, to a legitimate main-event superstar and the new WWE champion. His performance on the show, in four matches against four very different performers (Butch Reed, Greg Valentine, One Man Gang and Ted DiBiase) is an iconic, star-making tour de force.
Unfortunately, with four rounds of the tournament and several matches outside of it booked for the show, time was limited and the quality of the matches suffered greatly because of it.
WrestleMania IV is a perfect example of what happens when a company has a brilliant idea but presents too much of a good thing.
Tournaments have long been favorites of fans and, perhaps by limiting the WWE title tournament to three rounds and cutting down on unnecessary out-of-tournament bouts, the show would have flowed better, with more time for matches to develop. The result would have been a higher quality of match and a more memorable tournament.
For what it is, WrestleMania IV will forever be known as the "Macho Man" Randy Savage show, the creation of the Mega Powers and little else.
Photo Credit: WWE.com
The original WrestleMania was the perfect storm of mainstream media attention, celebrity involvement, the star of Hulk Hogan and the brain of Vince McMahon coming together to create an extravaganza that even the harshest of wrestling critics felt the need to see first-hand. It was a "happening", as they say, and its popularity and reception would be responsible for the event fans will flock to and celebrate this April 7.
The inclusion of Cyndi Lauper and Mr. T captured the attention of people outside of the business and drew their attention to an event headlined by a massive tag team contest. Then-WWE champion Hulk Hogan would team with the aforementioned Mr. T to take on loud-mouth villain Roddy Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff.
The great Muhammad Ali would be a guest referee, Liberace the timekeeper and New York Yankees manager Billy Martin would be the special ring announcer. The match was basic in its formula, but the audience inside historic Madison Square Garden popped for every one of the major spots.
Lauper would manage WWE Hall of Famer Wendi Richter in her quest to regain the Women's Championship from Leilani Kai, who was managed by another Hall of Famer, the Fabulous Moolah. Richter would win the match and the title, and her post-match celebration with Lauper would create one of the iconic images from the earlier shows.
WrestleMania, like its sequel was a year later, was a wrestling show in which the celebrity involvement and media attention meant far more than anything that went on in the ring. Which is a good thing because what did happen in the ring, outside of the tag team title match between the US Express and team of The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, was nothing special.
One of the most historically significant shows in the history of professional wrestling, WrestleMania is fondly remembered for the legacy it created far more than anything that actually took place inside the ring.
And that is most definitely a good thing.
23. WrestleMania XV
Photo Credit: WWE.com
The First Union Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania was the setting for the 15th WrestleMania, a show taking place smack dab in the middle of the most successful period in WWE history, the Attitude Era.
Headlined by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's quest to regain the WWE title from corporate champion The Rock, it was a show that would be remembered for the first match in an epic trilogy and a heel turn that would change the course of the company forever.
Steve Austin and The Rock showcased their tremendous chemistry with one another in the main event of the evening. It was a display of everything the Attitude Era encompassed and featured the type of chaos at its conclusion that keeps the audience guessing about what exactly will happen.
In the end, Austin delivered a Stone Cold Stunner to his adversary and pinned him to win his third heavyweight title. In a fitting end to the event, Stone Cold would drink beer over the fallen WWE owner, Mr. McMahon, the company's top prize held high over his head.
Earlier in the evening, Triple H and Chyna reunited after the Ninth Wonder of the World seemingly turned her back on the Corporation, which she had joined two months before. With D-Generation X back at full strength, it seemed only a matter of time until X-Pac kicked the ass of silver-spoon son of the WWE Chairman, Shane McMahon, and recaptured his European title.
It was not meant to be, however, as the future "Game" turned his back on his friend and revealed that Chyna had not rejoined DX but, instead, he had joined her in the Corporation. The heel turn would ignite a push that would result in Triple H winning his first WWE title in the summer.
The rest, they say, is history.
Featuring one of the most passionate fanbases in any sport, at the height of the company's popularity, WrestleMania XV should have been a far better show than it actually was. Unfortunately, inane and idiotic booking by Vince Russo resulted in nonsensical matches and swerves for the sake of swerves. Bad matches did not help to mask the booking and, as a result, WrestleMania XV goes down as one of the lowest quality shows from an in-ring standpoint in event history.
If not for the iconic main event, this show very well may have finished at the bottom of the list.
22. WrestleMania V
Photo Credit: WWE.com
At Wrestlemania IV, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage effectively joined forces, becoming the Mega Powers. Over the course of 1988, they would dominate the main-event scene, even teaming together to defeat Ted DiBiase and Andre the Giant at the inaugural SummerSlam event.
As time wore on, however, Hogan's closeness to Miss Elizabeth began to wear on Savage and jealousy overtook the WWE champion. When Hogan left Savage to take an injured Elizabeth to the backstage area, it was the final straw for the Mega Powers tandem. When Hogan returned to the ring, Savage slapped him in the face and left him to face the Twin Towers (Big Bossman and Akeem) by himself. It was a heel turn that shook WWE at its core and set up a monumental clash between two former friends that fans were determined to see.
In the main event, Hulk Hogan defeated Randy Savage to capture his second WWE Championship. It was the final chapter in a year-long story that was masterfully told. Beginning a year earlier in the same venue, Trump Plaza, and ending almost exactly a year later, it was an example of the expert storytellers Vince McMahon and his performers could be when taking time to let things unfold properly.
With all of the hype squarely on the shoulders of the main event, there was less pressure on the undercard to deliver, which was a good thing because for the second year in a row, too many matches severely hampered the quality of the in-ring work.
Mr. Perfect and Owen Hart, under the Blue Blazer costume, had a spirited match but had the potential to deliver so much more. With just over five minutes to do so, however, fans were forced to settle for average.
Matches between Jake Roberts and Andre the Giant and Demolition and The Powers of Pain had very solid and entertaining stories accompanying them to Trump Plaza for WrestleMania V, but the actual in-ring work failed to live up to expectations, a common theme of some of the earlier events.
WrestleMania V was a one-match show, and that match more than delivered. Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage had a tremendous, story-ending bout that was easily the best main event in the history of WrestleMania to that point. Unfortunately, there was little in the way to hold fans over until that match took to the ring and as a result, fans were forced to endure a 14-match card, a "WrestleMania Rap" by Run D.M.C. and a special Piper's Pit segment featuring Morton Downey that is more fondly remembered by the company itself than any fan that had to sit through it.
There exists events that can be saved by a single high-quality match. When that show runs nearly four-hours and features a whole lot of average or worse before said match, rescuing is nearly impossible.
21. WrestleMania 13
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Over the years, WrestleMania 13 has become a more important show than it was at the time of its conclusion on March 23, 1997. On that show, Bret Hart and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin met in a Submission match that many consider one of the greatest bouts of all time. More important than the quality of the bout, however, was its finish and the post-match happenings.
At one point, Austin becomes bloody and Hart applies his trademark Sharpshooter submission hold. With blood literally pouring down his face, into his eyes and mouth, Austin refuses to submit. Instead, he passes out from the tremendous pain the hold has put him in and the match is awarded to "The Hitman." The crowd in suburban Chicago, Illinois booed the hero Hart and cheered the rebellious Austin as he fought to his feet and limped to the back on his own, blood still cascading over his facial features and hitting the arena floor.
The match made Steve Austin the star the company hoped he would be and set in motion the push to the WWE Championship that would save Vince McMahon's promotion and eventually push them past World Championship Wrestling in the ratings war a year later.
The main event, on the other hand, was not nearly as influential and important. Originally supposed to be a rematch from WrestleMania XII between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels for the WWE title, Michaels claimed an injury would keep him sidelined and the title bout was switched.
Sycho Sid would carry the gold into WrestleMania while The Undertaker would challenge. Despite tremendous performances from The Dead Man throughout 1996, there was little he could do to get a quality match out of Sid, and the result was one of the lesser main events in 'Mania history.
WrestleMania 13 provided fans with their first look at the attitude WWE would ride to the top of the business over the next few years. Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Rocky Maivia, Mankind, Goldust and Triple H were all stars in featured spots on the card. They would be key in overcoming the dominant performances of WCW Monday Nitro in the months to come. To be featured members of the biggest event of the year indicated that McMahon trusted them and believed they could contribute to the future of the industry.
It was a smart, and successful, move whose benefits would not be reaped for at least a year. A lesser event in terms of match quality, it is nonetheless a historically significant one with a few hidden gems that have been long overlooked by fans and critics alike.
20. WrestleMania 2000
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WrestleMania 2000 was an interesting event in that Vince McMahon's WWE had a significant lead over WCW Nitro in the Monday Night Wars and was producing the best programming in its history. Interesting, multilayered stories had combined with traditional wrestling angles to create a wrestling product that had attracted a wider audience. Ratings were high and, despite the absence of top star Steve Austin due to injury, the company was riding high with the likes of The Rock and Triple H at the wheel.
Leading into the show, many expected the main event to feature The Rock challenging Triple H for the WWE Championship. However, at some point it was decided that all four McMahon family members would be inserted into the match, each representing a superstar. The Big Show and Mick Foley, who had been feuding with Rock and Triple H, respectively, were added to make the main event a Fatal Four Way Elimination match.
The match was chaotic, a trait that made Attitude Era title matches so exciting. And in the end, Vince McMahon would swerve The Rock and reveal that he had made up with daughter Stephanie. As a result, Triple H would become the first villain to leave WrestleMania with the WWE title in tow.
Earlier in the evening, three teams determined to steal the show and make names for themselves beat, battered and bruised one another with ladders, chairs and tables. In a preview of future TLC matches, Edge and Christian, the Hardy Boys and the Dudley Boys tore the roof off the Anaheim Pond in a Triangle Ladder match for the WWE Tag Team Championships. Ten years after sitting in the audience and watching WrestleMania VI in Toronto, Edge hoisted the gold high in the air with Christian, the first of what would be many tag title reigns in each of their Hall of Fame-worthy careers.
A Hardcore Invitational for the WWE Hardcore Championship was innovative and controversial, with Hardcore Holly walking away with the title, despite video evidence that supported his cousin Crash winning the match. Trish Stratus, Albert, Tazz, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle all made their WrestleMania debuts while Chyna, The Kat and Terri Runnels made splashes between the ropes.
Like WrestleManias of the past, the 2000 edition suffered from an overabundance of matches (many of which were not worthy of being on a WrestleMania card) that existed solely to get as much talent on the show as possible. Also interesting was the lack of singles matches booked for the show, a "Catfight" between The Kat and Terri Runnels being the only one.
WrestleMania 2000 was a rare "miss" in a year of all-time great pay-per-view events. Despite a lack of truly great matches and too many overbooked messes, the show ages well and is still wildly entertaining to watch on replay. There are a number of questionable booking decisions throughout, but they are made up for by talented performers who never look like they are not thrilled to be where they are.
A middle-of-the-road show that could have been far worse than it was without the talent lining its card.
19. WrestleMania 27
Photo Credit: WWE.com
In 2011, The Rock made his return to World Wrestling Entertainment for the first time in seven years. He was announced as the guest host of WrestleMania 27, and "The Great One" wasted little time in targeting the company's top star with his unique brand of humor and trash talk. His interactions with John Cena leading up to the "Grandaddy of Them All" had fans anticipating their eventual showdown.
The only problem was, the main event for WrestleMania 27 was a WWE Championship match between Cena and then-champion The Miz.
By the time the main event took to the ring inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, the audience was far more concerned with watching the entrance for the arrival of The Rock than they were with anything going on inside the squared circle. The match suffered because of it and, by the time the show's host hit the ring, delivered the Rock Bottom to Cena and assured The Miz a successful title defense, it was too late to save the match.
Earlier in the broadcast, Triple H and The Undertaker proved not only that they were two of the best performers in the history of the sport, but also that any questions regarding their age or physical condition could be thrown out.
In a brutal, physical hellish battle, The Dead Man was lucky to escape with his undefeated streak intact. As a matter of fact, he would be stretchered out of the ring while Triple H walked out. It was the first time Undertaker had appeared weak following a WrestleMania performance, and that weakness would help to fuel an even more memorable match a year later.
Randy Orton and CM Punk impressed in the third match of the night, while young Cody Rhodes picked up his first WrestleMania win by defeating Rey Mysterio. Edge wrapped up a Hall of Fame career by successfully retaining his World Heavyweight title against Alberto Del Rio, while Jersey Shore's Snooki provided celebrity involvement, teaming with Trish Stratus and John Morrison to defeat Dolph Ziggler, Michelle McCool and Layla.
If there was ever a show that could be considered a placeholder, it would be WrestleMania 27. Clearly designed to help set up John Cena versus The Rock a year later, there was very little in the way of high quality matches fans could not see on any given episode of Raw or SmackDown. With so much time devoted to the guest host and his involvement with John Cena and in the main event, it never quite felt like anything else on the show, outside of Undertaker-Triple H, felt important enough to make fans emotionally invest themselves.
WrestleMania 27 was just sort of "there," a description that should never be used to describe the most important show on the calendar.
18. WrestleMania 25
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Star power was at a high as the silver anniversary of WrestleMania hit the pay-per-view airwaves on April 5, 2009. With one of the most talented rosters in the history of the event at their disposal, expectations were high entering Reliant Field.
Triple H and Randy Orton had engaged in a highly personal feud over the WWE Championship. John Cena and The Big Show both set their sights on the World Heavyweight Championship held by the "Rated R Superstar" Edge. Shawn Michaels would provide the latest challenge to The Undertaker's undefeated streak, while the Hardy Boys would battle in one of the most emotionally-fueled matches on the card.
Add to those contests a Money in the Bank match, and there was reason for optimism.
The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels was booked as the sixth match on the card, third from the top, and in retrospect that was a mistake. For just over one half-hour, the two veterans of the ring wars captivated an audience with a tremendous display of story and athletics. They completely burned out the crowd in Houston and made it difficult on the two title matches that followed to regain their attention.
The Hardys had a stiff, hard-fought Extreme Rules match that saw villainous Matt upset his brother Jeff following a Twist of Fate while Jeff's head was positioned in a steel chair. CM Punk captured his second-consecutive Money in the Bank briefcase, becoming the first superstar to accomplish that feat. Chris Jericho withstood the challenge of three legendary performers but was flattened by a single Mickey Rourke punch.
WrestleMania 25 was an event where two special performers proved to be on a completely different level than anyone else around them. On one night, Michaels and Undertaker wrestled a perfect match that will go down in the annals of professional wrestling as one of the best ever. The other Superstars had good-to-very good matches but at that event, on that stage, fans expect more than just "good" or "very good." They expect great.
The other superstars were not up to providing "great" and as a result, a show that had the potential to be one of the best ever must settle for its middle-of-the-road status.
17. WrestleMania VI
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WrestleMania VI was the first to be held outside of the United States, emanating from the Sky Dome in Toronto, Ontario. The event was headlined by a title-for-title match billed as "The Ultimate Challenge." WWE champion Hulk Hogan would defend his title against Intercontinental champion The Ultimate Warrior, who would also defend his title. It was the first time two babyfaces would clash in the top-billed match of a WWE pay-per-view event, and the first time there was serious doubt as to whether or not Hogan would leave with his arm raised in victory.
The main event lived up the hype, as Hogan and Warrior shared the spotlight, "The Hulkster" doing everything possible to make his challenger look better than he was. The crowd was split and it made for a magical atmosphere.
Late in the match, Hogan attempted the leg drop but Warrior rolled out of the way, bounced off the ropes and delivered the big splash. He covered and the referee counted to three, signaling the start of what the company had hoped would be the Warrior Era.
Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire taking on "Macho King" Randy Savage and "Sensational" Queen Sherri in a Mixed Tag match was the second most-hyped match and while the action between the ropes was nothing special, the return of Miss Elizabeth to stand in the corner of "The American Dream" was a nice moment for the first lady of WWE.
Like many of the early WrestleMania events, the sixth installment suffered from far too many matches. A handful of which had no business on the card other than to guarantee a number of hard-working individuals a WrestleMania pay-off. Matches such as Rick Martel vs. Koko B. Ware, The Barbarian vs. Tito Santana, Earthquake vs. Hercules and the Hart Foundation vs. the Bolsheviks had little to no hype surrounding them and served no real purpose.
Their presence bulked up the card and shortened matches that could have benefited from more time.
WrestleMania VI was a show headlined by one of WrestleMania's signature matches. It was an iconic clash that is still talked about as one of the top bouts in the event's long and illustrious history. Despite the fact that nothing else on the card broke free of the stranglehold of mediocre quality, Hogan and Warrior more than made up for it in a classic title bout that showed the first signs that VInce McMahon was tiring of Hulkamania and wanted to take his promotion in a different direction.
Even if he was wrong, at least at that point.
16. WrestleMania 26
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WrestleMania 26 was a show that closed the book on a number of feuds and careers. It was about endings more than beginnings and the emotion that comes with them.
The rivalry between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, which began with their classic match the year before, came to an end in a match billed as "Streak vs. Career." Michaels campaigned for a rematch against The Dead Man and, when the undefeated Phenom continued to refuse, the Heartbreak Kid took matters into his own hands and cost him the World Heavyweight Championship at Elimination Chamber 2010. With no other choice, Undertaker accepted the rematch challenge and added the stipulation that, if Michaels lost, his career would be over.
Emotions were high as the two legendary competitors took to the ring for the WrestleMania 26 main event. For the second year in a row, HBK and Undertaker stole the show in a match carried by story. In the end, realizing there was no realistic chance he would be able to end the vaunted and celebrated undefeated streak, Michaels goaded his opponent into delivering the Tombstone piledriver and ending his career.
The final images of the show, featuring the two all-time great performers embracing and Michaels walking the aisle for the final time as an active competitor, were shining examples of what sports entertainment can be at its finest.
There was plenty of good elsewhere on the card, as well. Triple H and Sheamus wrestled a very good, old-school style wrestling match that told a story without resorting to gimmicks or bells and whistles. The Celtic Warrior's loss to The Game did more for him than a cheap win ever would have.
Jack Swagger captured Money in the Bank in another Ladder match showcasing some tremendous young talent while mixing in some seasoned veterans to keep things together. Chris Jericho successfully defended his World Heavyweight Championship in an above-average bout against Edge, while John Cena and Batista nearly stole the show in titanic clash of the generation's top stars for the WWE Championship.
In a match that was 13 years in the making, Bret Hart returned to World Wrestling Entertainment to square off with owner and chairman Vince McMahon. Initiated by the Montreal Screwjob, fueled by years of personal animosity between the two, the match between the two was expected to be a stiff, violent brawl.
Instead, fans bore witness to an 11-minute beatdown by Bret and his entire family. The Hart clan destroyed McMahon and finally put an end to the heartache and suffering the Montreal debacle caused them. Seeing the entire Hart family celebrating inside the squared circle was simply another example of the closing of a book on a defining rivalry.
Some matches suffered due to a lack of time (Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk) and others simply underwhelmed. But the four most hyped matches generally delivered and as a result, World Wrestling Entertainment produced an above-average show with a tremendous and emotional main event.
15. WrestleMania 22
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WrestleMania 22 was, in retrospect, a show that was responsible for the elevation of a number of stars that would go on to dominate the second half of the decade. In one night, Edge, Rey Mysterio and John Cena were confirmed as the stars of the future through their performances, and victories, on the biggest stage the sport has to offer.
John Cena entered Allstate Arena as the WWE champion. His opposition for WrestleMania would be the man who was the unquestioned top star in the industry, a performer who had dominated the main-event scene since late-1999 and the measuring stick for every potential top star in the industry. Triple H was arriving to suburban-Chicago as the heavy favorite, both from an odds standpoint, as well as in terms of crowd support. The WWE fanbase had begun to turn on Cena, and the diehard audience of 17,159 would make sure everyone was aware of their displeasure for the company's top hero.
In a match with one of the most vocal crowds in the history of WrestleMania, John Cena was pounded, pummeled and beaten from post-to-post by the more experienced, cerebral challenger. Telling a story that has been lost in the reaction to the audience in the years since, Triple H backed up his claims that Cena could not hang with him in a main-event situation by dominating the champion for the majority of the bout.
But Cena never quit. The leader of the Chain Gang fought from underneath and, eventually, was able to catch Triple H in the STF. "The Game" struggled to fight toward the ropes, coming within inches of being able grab the bottom rope. But Cena wrenched back on the hold and Triple H had no choice but to tap out, to the shock and awe of a Chicago audience that expected "The King of Kings" to leave their town with the WWE title around his waist.
In the second of four legitimate main events, Rey Mysterio realized a boyhood dream by defeating Kurt Angle and Randy Orton in a Triple Threat match to win the World Heavyweight Championship. Riding the wave of emotions following the untimely death of Eddie Guerrero, Rey dedicated his match to his long-time friend and rival and celebrated his title win with his widow, Vickie, and nephew Chavo.
Shawn Michaels temporarily put an end to his feud with Vince McMahon by defeating him in a hard-hitting, bloody and violent street fight, despite interference from Vince's son Shane and the male cheerleader faction known as the Spirit Squad. The match would be the latest Pro Wrestling Illustrated "Match of the Year" award winners for HBK.
In the months prior to WrestleMania 22, Edge cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase to win his first WWE Championship. He would quickly lose it back to John Cena and a third match between the two, refereed by Mick Foley, would end with the Canadian's shoulders pinned to the mat. Edge blamed Foley for the loss and goaded the Hardcore Legend into a match by pointing out his lack of a WrestleMania Moment. Foley accepted and a Hardcore Match between the two was signed.
Edge performed up to the moment, delivering one of the greatest hardcore matches in company history and building a legacy for himself as a top-tier star in the industry. A spear to Foley between the ropes and through a flaming table was a moment for both men involved and one that has, unfortunately, been lost with the switch to PG programming in recent years.
Like WrestleMania 26, the 22nd installment of the extravaganza featured four heavily-hyped bouts, all of which delivered in one way or another. The Money in the Bank and the Women's Championship bout between Trish Stratus and Mickie James were also quality bouts. To have six matches on a card satisfy completely different sections of the audience is the definition of a successful event.
14. WrestleMania VII
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WrestleMania VII was a celebration of the United States. On the heels of Desert Storm, World Wrestling Entertainment was terrorized by villainous Iraqi sympathizer, and heavyweight champion, the turncoat Sergeant Slaughter. He disrespected America and promised to end one of the country's most visible heroes, Hulk Hogan, at the most prestigious event in sports entertainment.
The character change for Slaughter was reflective of a very real news story and touched on the nerves of every wrestling fan. Some went as far as to threaten the lives of Slaughter, WWE owner Vince McMahon and their families out of anger for its presentation. Tensions were heightened, and those very threats were blamed on the moving of the event from the Los Angeles Coliseum to the city's sports arena (although it would later be determined that poor ticket sales was the real reason for the move indoors).
With celebrities Regis Philbin, Alex Trebek and Marla Maples around ringside, Hulk Hogan and Sergeant Slaughter had a truly underrated match for the sport's top prize. Slaughter bloodied Hogan and appeared to have him defeated in the grasp of the Camel Clutch but, like America, the Hulkster refused to surrender to the villainous traitor and fought back and captured yet another heavyweight title. Hogan waving the American flag was a fitting conclusion to the most patriotic WrestleMania ever.
It would be a match on the undercard, between The Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage that would steal the show, however.
Billed as a Retirement match, Warrior and Savage looked to end their vendetta that had begun two months earlier at the Royal Rumble, when the "Macho King" cost his rival the WWE title. With so much on the line, both men dug deep into their skill sets and unleashed everything they had on one another. They exchanged finishers but neither was willing to stay down and accept the end of everything they worked hard for.
Savage delivered five flying elbows to Warrior, but the former champion kicked out to the shock and amazement of every fan inside the LA Sports Arena. When Savage kicked out of his opponent's finisher, Warrior looked to the sky and questioned whether or not he was meant to continue his career. He began to walk away from the ring but soon returned, delivered a series of hard shoulder blocks and won the match in impressive and dramatic fashion.
It was the greatest match in Warrior's career and one of the finest in WrestleMania history. What happened after the match, however, is as memorable and beloved, if not more so.
Sensational Sherri was enraged following Savage's loss, believing that her proverbial meal ticket was on his way out of the sport, leaving her with no one to attach herself to. She berated Randy and kicked him while he was still struggling to his feet. Then, from the stands, Miss Elizabeth jumped into the ring and tossed Sherri to the arena floor. She expressed concern for Savage, who shoved her away at first but, eventually, embraced her in one of the most heartfelt and emotional moments in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Tears flowed freely in the audience as Savage and Elizabeth reunited for the first time in over two years. It was one of those moments that means as much to the audience as anything that happened between the ropes. Truly iconic.
WrestleMania VII also featured the last appearances of legendary tag teams the Hart Foundation and the Rockers, the first match in the undefeated streak of The Undertaker, an underrated Intercontinental Championship match between Mr. Perfect and the Big Bossman and the final WrestleMania appearance of 1993 Hall of Fame inductee Andre the Giant.
In the 22 years since WrestleMania VII, the show has become a somewhat forgotten gem. Some look back at the controversial storyline involving Slaughter and allow their judgment to cloud their view on the entire card. There is a lot of good (Rockers vs. Barbarian and Haku, for example) to be found, despite once again being jam-packed with far too many meaningless matches.
13. WrestleMania VIII
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WrestleMania VII emanated from the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana and featured a double-main event. The first, a WWE Championship match, featured Ric Flair defending against Randy Savage. Their rivalry was personal in that Flair had been openly courting Miss Elizabeth and claimed to have some sort of racy pictures (and even a life-size poster) that he promised to display at WrestleMania. Savage was enraged and could not wait to dish out pain and punishment on Flair.
Their match was chaotic at first, as they brawled around ringside and up the aisle. Flair bled, as he normally does, but the match eventually slowed down and became a more traditional bout. One of the best matches on the show, Savage fought off intense pain in his knee and several attempts at interference from Mr. Perfect, to roll Flair up and take the WWE title.
The second main event featured Hulk Hogan taking on Sid Justice in what many speculated would be Hogan's last match. Vince McMahon had recognized that Hogan was no longer the draw he once was and, with Hollywood calling his name, Hulk was not sure he was fully committed to the business. Justice, on the other hand, was a physically intimidating specimen who had the look of a major star. A main-event match against Hogan could go a long way in elevating his star.
The match was as bad as a match between Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice sounds. They never really clicked and it seemed as though Hogan was on autopilot for the majority of the bout. Justice beat him down, Hogan "hulked up" but a disqualification ended the bout before either man could pick up a decisive win. One thing was certain: If Wrestlemania VIII was Hogan's last in-ring appearance (which it most certainly was not), it was a major disappointment.
What was not a disappointment, however, was the surprise return of The Ultimate Warrior. Sprinting to the ring to rescue Hulk from a two-on-one beatdown at the hands of Sid and Papa Shango, the Warrior stunned the WWE fans. He cleared the ring and posed with his WrestleMania VI opponent to close out a show that felt more like the end of an era than a celebration of the next year in WWE.
Speaking of the end of an era and the beginning of a new one, Bret Hart continued his march toward the top of the card by challenging Roddy Piper for the Intercontinental Championship. Piper was one of the most popular and respected talents from the Rock 'n' Wrestling Era, while Hart was clearly the future of the industry. They had much respect for one another but were also fiercely competitive.
Piper struggled with the decision to either blast Hart with the timekeeper's bell or wrestle the match fairly while the official was knocked down. He opted to do things the right way and was ultimately pinned when Hart countered a sleeper with a roll-up for the win. With Bret's face a bloody mess, he and Piper embraced as one generation passed the torch to the new generation.
Elsewhere, The Undertaker ended Jake Robert's six-year stint with WWE via Tombstone piledriver, and Shawn Michaels made his first singles appearance at WrestleMania, defeating the terribly underrated Tito Santana in the night's opening contest. With the future of WWE in the hands of the Dead Man, The Heartbreak Kid and The Hitman, Vince McMahon appeared poised to take his company in a brand new, interesting and untested direction.
WrestleMania VIII was the launching point for three future Hall of Famers. That alone makes it a significant event for World Wrestling Entertainment. The Hart-Piper and Savage-Flair matches are merely icing on the cake.
12. WrestleMania XII
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Two of the best in-ring performers professional wrestling has ever seen met in the main event of WrestleMania XII in the first ever Iron Man match. Shawn Michaels had rebounded from an up-and-down 1995 to win the Royal Rumble in January and earn a shot at Bret Hart's WWE Championship. The two most popular stars heading into the Anaheim Pond for that year's WrestleMania, it was clear that one was being groomed for the title, while the other was simply holding onto it in the meantime.
Despite what was considered a foregone conclusion, wrestling fans were intrigued by the idea of an hour-long match and whether or not two of the most athletically gifted and talented performers in the sport's history would be able to keep the attention of fans in attendance and watching at home for an entire 60-minute period.
They answered the call, delivering a wrestling classic that featured one of the most dramatic endings WrestleMania has ever seen. With neither man having scored a victory over the other, and Michaels locked in the Sharpshooter as the clock ran out, it appeared as though Bret Hart was on his way to retaining the title.
Then WWE President Gorilla Monsoon called for an overtime period. Enraged, Hart re-entered the ring and pounced on Michaels as the bell rang. Moments later, Michaels stunned The Hitman with Sweet Chin Music and won his first WWE Championship.
The Undertaker and Diesel had been involved in a heated rivalry heading into WrestleMania and, in the semi-main event of the evening, "Big Daddy Cool" proved to be the biggest threat to the Dead Man's undefeated streak. Diesel dominated Undertaker for the majority of the match but, like every man that has ever stepped in the squared circle with the Phenom at WrestleMania, he ultimately fell victim to the Tombstone.
Steve Austin picked up his first WrestleMania win, Jake Roberts and Yokozuna made their final appearances at the "Grandaddy of Them All" and Triple H made his first, losing in under two minutes to the returning Ultimate Warrior.
WrestleMania XII was the height of the New Generation as we knew it. Four of the top stars from that era competed in the night's top two matches. Meanwhile, Goldust, Steve Austin and Triple H, all integral parts of the Attitude Era, made their WrestleMania debuts. Like WrestleMania VII before it, the 12th annual event set the stage for the future of the industry while featuring the top stars of the time in main event matches. By the time 1997 rolled around, Hart and Michaels would remain in the spotlight, but it would become clearer that their days on top of the business were coming to an end.
11. WrestleMania X8
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WrestleMania X8 was the first edition of the event post-Attitude Era. With a roster of both WWE and WCW stars making for a whole lot of talent under one roof, and the pressure of topping the previous year's show, many expected a tremendous performance from all involved.
In February of 2002, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall reunited as the New World Order and infiltrated World Wrestling Entertainment at the behest of Vince McMahon. They interfered in the main event of No Way Out, costing Steve Austin the Undisputed title before turning their attention to The Rock on Monday Night Raw. Coming face-to-face in the center of the ring, Rock and Hogan gave audiences a goosebump-inducing moment most thought they would never see. Then came the challenge for a match at WrestleMania, and the fans in attendance erupted. One of the few remaining dream matches was about to become a reality.
Few could have expected the reaction the self-proclaimed "Immortal" Hogan would garner from the loyal Toronto audience. A heel leading up the event, he was greeted with a tremendous ovation. As he and The Rock stood in the center of the squared circle, the audience was at a fever pitch. They booed the babyface Rock and cheered everything Hogan did. While not a technical masterpiece, the competitors delivered a classic match that relied on crowd-pleasing spots and storytelling to achieve its goal.
The Rock would leave Toronto victorious, but it was Hogan that had reason to hold his head high. He proved that he could still deliver in a big match when called upon and, more importantly, he proved that the fans never quit caring about him.
Triple H and Chris Jericho, despite a terrible story leading up their Undisputed Championship match, had a very good match in the night's main event. Unfortunately, the crowd was so burned out from the Rock-Hogan encounter that they remained quiet for the majority of the match, which could have benefited from fan reaction.
"The Game" delivered a Pedigree to Stephanie McMahon and did the same to Jericho a few moments later, capturing the Undisputed title and leaving with gold around his waist for the second time in three years.
One of the most entertaining parts of the entire event was the hijinx surrounding the Hardcore Championship. Early in the show, Maven and Goldust competed with the title at stake. Their match would come to a premature finish when Spike Dudley entered the ring and pinned Maven to win the title, capitalizing on the 24-7 rule that allowed for title changes at any time during the day.
The fight over the title would spill to the backstage area, with Spike, Al Snow and Crash Holly all involved. Suddenly, The Hurricane swung into action and took down Spike, pinning him and taking off with the championship. He would end up in the Godfather's locker room, spying on the Hos while hiding from any potential attackers. Eventually, he would meet up with sidekick Mighty Molly.
Feeling safe, he let his guard down and paid for it when Molly smacked him in the head with a pan and pinned him to win the title. Christian would take the title from her a bit later before the man who entered WrestleMania with the title, Maven, ended up escaping Toronto with it back around his waste.
With a roster unmatched in talent at the time, World Wrestling Entertainment produced an entertaining entry into the WrestleMania anthology, even if it did lack the high quality matches that have come to define the event in recent years.
10. WrestleMania XXIV
Photo Credit: WWE.com
At No Way Out in February of 2008, The Big Show made a shocking return to WWE after over a year out of action. He was slim, trim and energized in a way he had not been prior. The giant received a nice reaction from the audience but managed to turn them against him when he attacked Rey Mysterio. This caused friend, and championship boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. to hop the guardrail and come to the aid of the smallest World Champion in history.
Mayweather peppered Show with hard rights and lefts, breaking his nose. It was not long before a match between the two was set up for WrestleMania in Orlando. With media attention and sports networks flocking to the match, Mayweather followed in the footsteps of Lawrence Taylor, providing a tremendous performance. He was a celebrity who took his role on the show seriously and it showed via the success of the match.
In January, John Cena made a surprise return from injury and won the Royal Rumble. He immediately targeted WWE champion Randy Orton, who had put him on the shelf. A one-on-one match between the two looked likely before Triple H, who had his fair share of issues with the titleholder, also petitioned for a title shot. A triple threat match was booked and three of the top stars in the industry delivered an exciting, intriguing match.
Many expected either of the challengers to leave the Citrus Bowl with the WWE title in tow, but it was Orton who found an opening and capitalized on it. The villain got one over on his top two rivals, something the world heavyweight champion could not say about his challenger in the main event of the evening, The Undertaker, who captured the title and extended his winning streak.
The most emotional match of the evening came when Ric Flair put his legendary career on the line against Shawn Michaels. Everyone from wrestlers to commentators to fans had a strong feeling that they were witnessing the end of one of the greatest careers the sport had ever seen, and it created an electric atmosphere. Flair pulled out every one of his tricks and Michaels made sure to give his lifelong hero one last great match.
With Flair struggling to his feet, seemingly at peace with what was about to happen, he taunted Michaels, telling him to bring it. HBK was reluctant but, after mouthing the words "I'm sorry, I love you", he dropped the "Nature Boy" with Sweet Chin Music and picked up the win. After embracing Flair, he exited the stadium, leaving Flair to bask in the glory and appreciation of the nearly-75,000 fans that had packed the Citrus Bowl. The long walk up the ramp proved to be as dramatic as the match.
WrestleMania XXIV was the first time since the ninth event that WrestleMania had ventured outdoors. The open-roof stadium created a unique environment that both fans and critics applauded. The night's two heavyweight title matches were each very good, but they were overshadowed by the "Boxer vs. Wrestler" match and the "Career-Ending Match," each of which had better stories attached to them than did the title bouts.
It was the beginning of a trend that continues to this day, where the title bouts are secondary to matches with better stories or stipulations.
9. WrestleMania 21
Photo Credit: WWE.com
In 2005, WrestleMania went Hollywood. Emanating from Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, the event took on the feel of a movie. Top superstars performed in promos for the event that parodied some of the most iconic scenes in film history. Like WrestleMania IX, the devotion to the theme of the show helped to create an atmosphere unlike any other show at the time.
All the glitz and glamour were fine but, at the end of the evening, WrestleMania 21 would be best remembered for the elevation of four men who would star for the company throughout the rest of the decade.
While John Cena would be made a star by Triple H a year later, it was his WWE Championship win over John Bradshaw Layfield at WrestleMania 21 that would announce his arrival to the main-event scene. The brash young star, who liked rap music and wore a chain around his neck, was the perfect adversary for the wealthy Wall Street analyst Layfield, who had been champion since July of 2004.
Their match was as basic as could be, with JBL controlling the middle section of the contest before Cena made his comeback, caught Layfield with the then-FU and pinned him to capture his first of 10 WWE Championships. Cena would launch himself into the crowd, deciding to celebrate his win the fans in attendance, their support of him over the previous year a large part of the success he had just achieved.
In months leading into WrestleMania, Dave Batista had become more and more disillusioned by Triple H and the way in which he used fellow Evolution members to achieve his own personal goals. No longer could "The Game" manipulate the big man into doing what he wanted. After winning the Royal Rumble in January, Batista revealed that he would, in fact, challenge Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania. He then put "The Game" through a table before signing the contract.
Batista would defeat Triple H to capture the gold in a match that was more reminiscent of Lex Luger-Ric Flair battles over the same title during the late-1980s than anything fans of the chaotic WWE main-event style may have been used to and, as a result, it hurt the reaction to the match and the title switch.
Earlier in the evening, Edge conquered five of the most talented individuals in the business to become the very first holder of the Money in the Bank briefcase. It earned him a guaranteed title match at any time he wished. With a championship reign in his future all-but a lock, it would only be a matter of time before Edge reached the level so many expected he would when he made his debut some seven years earlier.
Randy Orton became the latest superstar to test The Undertaker, and there was a real sense heading into the match that he may be the guy to finally end the much talked-about undefeated streak. He was young, talented and the company clearly had big things in store for him. Late in the match, when the Phenom attempted a chokeslam only to be caught with the RKO from out of nowhere, WWE fans held their collective breath until he shot his shoulder off the mat, breaking the referee's count.
Eventually, Orton's cockiness would get the best of him. He attempted a Tombstone of his own but Undertaker reversed and planted Orton on the mat for three, keeping the streak alive.
WrestleMania 21 featured a company finally realizing that they could not stick with the same dog-and-pony show any longer. It needed to look toward the future, not back to the past, and it did just that by focusing on a core group of young stars that it hoped would carry it into the future. Orton, Batista, Edge and Cena would become major stars for the company, the latter two of whom would be confirmed a year later with wins over two Attitude Era staples.
8. WrestleMania XX
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WrestleMania XX was a celebration of, well, WrestleMania. Returning to the historic Madison Square Garden in New York City, the event ran an unprecedented five hours and featured just about every star on the roster at that point. With five main event-worthy matches booked for the show, and an entertaining midcard rivalry between Chris Jericho and Christian capturing fans' attention, the show was hotly anticipated.
The main event would see 2004 Royal Rumble winner Chris Benoit and "Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels challenge Triple H in a Triple Threat match for the World Heavyweight Championship. Three of the most talented in-ring performers competing with one of the two top prizes the sport has to offer on the line meant good things should be expected.
A high-energy, high-impact match saw Michaels and Triple H team up on a few occasions to eliminate the pitbull-like Benoit from the match, only to turn their attention to one another, rekindling their long-running rivalry.
In the end, Benoit would lock in the Crippler Crossface and force Triple H to tap out. It was a moment that fans of the former ECW and WCW star believed impossible. Chris Benoit was being rewarded for years of spectacular matches with a title many thought he was deserving of when he was still a member of the World Championship Wrestling roster. The fact that he was joined in the ring by best friend, and WWE Champion, Eddie Guerrero only made things that much better.
Two men once dubbed "vanilla midgets" were left standing tall at the conclusion of the biggest event in company history, at least to that point.
Speaking of Guerrero, he defended his title against Kurt Angle earlier in the evening. Living up to his motto of "Lie, Cheat and Steal," Eddie loosened his boot so that, when Angle applied the ankle lock, it would slide off and allow the champion to escape the hold. Kurt charged at Eddie and was caught with a small package roll-up, which Eddie utilized to pick up the win.
The Undertaker returned to his Dead Man gimmick and dispatched of his brother, Kane, while Trish Stratus turned heel and helped Christian defeat Chris Jericho in a match that, on most other pay-per-view events, would have stolen the show. The cruiserweights and tag teams were highlighted, while Stacy Keibler, Miss Jackie, Sable and Torrie Wilson wrestled in lingerie.
The Rock returned to join Mick Foley in a two-on-three handicap match against Evolution, while Brock Lesnar and Goldberg made a complete mockery out of their final appearance for the company in what turned out to be one of the worst excuses for a match ever.
The tagline for WrestleMania XX was "Where It All Begins...Again" and for the most part, it did feel like the beginning of something special. Benoit and Guerrero were two champions completely unlike any the company had seen since the days of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels nearly 10 years earlier. Unfortunately, the new direction did not last and, by the end of the year, Triple H and JBL would be champions of their respective brands, while Guerrero and Benoit found themselves right back in the middle of the pack.
With that said, WrestleMania XX featured a five-star classic main event, two four-star-plus bouts, John Cena's first title win, the return of the Phenom and a very good Chris Jericho-Christian match. At five hours long, there is a lot of mediocre and bad to wade through in order to get to the good but once one does, it is well worth it.
7. WrestleMania XIV
Photo Credit: WWE.com
By the time March 29, 1998 rolled around, Vince McMahon's promotion was in the middle of what would go on to become an 83-week ratings beatdown at the hands of Eric Bischoff and World Championship Wrestling. The company was in dire straits having lost Bret Hart to the competition and was badly in need of a shot of adrenaline to turn the tide in their favor.
Enter "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, who spent the majority of the previous year evolving into an anti-hero that spit in the face of authority to the delight of the WWE fans. His popularity had reached such great heights that McMahon recognized that he would be the face of a new WWE. More importantly, he would provide the company with the attitude it needed if it had any chance of standing up to, and eventually defeating, the WCW, which featured the hot New World Order faction.
WrestleMania XIV would be Austin's crowning moment. He would win the WWE Championship and go on to become the unquestioned top star of the company, and McMahon would ride his new prized horse either to victory or defeat.
To add to the spectacle, the company reached out to Mike Tyson to have him serve as guest enforcer for the Austin-Shawn Michaels main-event match. Tyson brought with him great media presence. His first altercation with Austin was played to death on news broadcasts and ESPN. His siding with D-Generation X during the build to the match also provided yet another hurdle for Austin to overcome.
With the world watching, Steve Austin defeated Shawn Michaels in the main event of WrestleMania to capture his first (of many) WWE titles. With Jim Ross proclaiming "the Austin era has begun", the passing of the torch from Michaels to Austin represented a change in the direction the sport would take. WWE would eventually overtake WCW in the ratings war based on the Austin-Vince McMahon rivalry and the rest, they say, is history.
Also on the card was a clash between fictional brothers that had been in the works for nearly a year.
In the summer of 1997, Paul Bearer revealed to the world that the brother The Undertaker thought died in the fire that killed his parents was actually still alive and that he was coming to unleash hell on The Dead Man. At Bad Blood: In Your House in October, Kane made his debut, dropping his brother on his head with a Tombstone.
No matter how hard they tried, Kane and Bearer were unable to get Undertaker to fight his younger brother. Then came the Royal Rumble. With the Phenom trapped inside a casket, Kane doused it in gasoline and lit it on fire. When the casket was open, however, the Undertaker was nowhere to be found. He would return just over a month later and accept Bearer's challenge for a match at WrestleMania between the siblings.
The match was a display of power versus power, each man emptying the proverbial tank to wear the other down. Each man kicked out of finishing maneuvers and, in the end, Undertaker would deliver three Tombstone piledrivers to his brother to finally keep him down for three and add to his legendary undefeated streak.
If the arrival Goldust in 1995 and '96 and the rise of Steve Austin in 1997 had planted the seeds for the Attitude Era, it was WrestleMania XIV that watered them and allowed them to grow. With a much larger audience than had watched any WWE pay-per-view event in years, the company delivered a show that, from top to bottom, was one of the most entertaining in company history. Everyone that watched walked away with at least one thing they immensely enjoyed and, as a result, they tuned into Raw the following night and continued to do so week after week.
6. WrestleMania III
Photo Credit: WWE.com
WrestleMania III was the first really, really good WrestleMania. An audience of 93,173 set an all-time indoor attendance record to see WWE champion Hulk Hogan defend against the "Eighth Wonder of the World", Andre the Giant in the evening's main event. Andre had made a shocking heel turn months earlier and had announced his intentions to challenge Hogan for the title in the main event of the biggest show of the year.
Hogan had been champion for three years and many wondered if he would be able to defeat his biggest challenge to date in the same manner he had every other challenger to that point. They would find out on March 29, 1987 when the immovable object met the unstoppable force.
Andre the Giant did what many expected him to when he dominated Hulk Hogan through the majority of the match. And Hogan, to his credit, responded by overcoming the size and weight advantage of his opponent and hulking up. He pounded the gigantic cranium of his opponent before delivering a thunderous body slam that caused the audience to erupt. A leg drop, pinfall and three-count led to Hogan retaining his title.
While that match may very well have been the drawing card of the show, it would be the Intercontinental Championship match that left the audience wanting more.
Randy Savage had held the Intercontinental Championship for over a year by the time WrestleMania III arrived and had been one of WWE's most entertaining performers. During a previous match with Steamboat, Savage had draped his challenger's throat over the guard rail, climbed to the top rope with the timekeeper's bell in hand, and jumped off. The bell crashed across Ricky's back, crushing his throat against the steel.
Fans wondered if Ricky would ever be able to compete again and, when it was revealed that he would, they anticipated him getting a measure of revenge against Savage and, maybe, taking his Intercontinental title.
The match was made official for WrestleMania III, and fans of great professional wrestling matches knew they were likely to see one inside the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit.
For just under fifteen minutes, champion and challenger set a lightning quick pace and exchanged nearfalls, keeping the crowd on its feet the entire time. When the official was knocked down, Savage retrieved the ring bell and attempted to once again do damage to Steamboat. George Steele, who had prior history with Savage and had accompanied Steamboat to the ring, shoved Savage off the top rope, preventing any bell-assisted attack. Steamboat surprised Savage with a small package and the official counted three, awarding the match and title to Ricky.
The image of Steamboat hugging Steele, the title held high in the air as they make their way backstage, is a highlight of the event.
WrestleMania III was the first show where the wrestling was more important than any celebrity involvement or media attention. Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant sold tickets, Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage stole the show and an undercard full of talented future Hall of Famers kept fans entertained throughout. Celebrities helped add to the uniqueness of the show, but it was the wrestlers who received, and deserved, the attention of the fans.
5. WrestleMania 23
Photo Credit: WWE.com
On the 20th anniversary of the epic WrestleMania III, World Wrestling Entertainment returned to Detroit, Michigan for the biggest show of the year. The inclusion of Donald Trump to the card brought with it tremendous media attention. Involved in the "Battle of the Billionaires" match, Trump and Vince McMahon agreed to select a superstar to represent them in a match. The loser of the match would see their billionaire's head shaved bald.
It was a match that generated great interest from fans and non-fans alike and resulted in a buyrate that, until last year's WrestleMania 28, was the highest in the history of World Wrestling Entertainment.
Bobby Lashley represented Trump, while Umaga was McMahon's selection for the match. With so much on the line, only one man could referee and keep the chaos at a minimum. That man was "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. His presence only added to the star power of Trump and McMahon.
The match itself was nothing special. Lashley was very green and Umaga was not the right guy to get a good match out of him. But the interaction between Austin, Trump and McMahon made up for the lacking in-ring work. They kept the audience 100 percent invested in the presentation. When Lashley pinned Umaga, the crowd erupted.
The shaving of McMahon's head was a WrestleMania moment that lived beyond the business and was featured on several news and entertainment broadcasts.
While the celebrity involvement of Donald Trump may have sold pay-per-views, it was the two heavyweight title matches that whet the appetites of wrestling fans.
In the the World Heavyweight Championship match, Dave Batista and The Undertaker had one of the most physical bouts in event history. The two big men exchanged high impact signature maneuvers until Undertaker executed the Tombstone and put away his opposition en route to his first World Heavyweight Championship.
The night's main event featured John Cena defending the WWE Championship against Shawn Michaels. Original plans had called for Triple H to challenge Cena in a rematch of their WrestleMania 22 main event, but an ill-timed quadriceps tear put him out of action. Michaels stepped in to fill the void and what resulted was a phenomenal one-on-one title bout. Like the year before, Cena forced a member of D-Generation X to tap out to the STF.
The evening opened with the most star-studded Money in the Bank ladder match to that point. Former champions Edge, Randy Orton and Booker T shared the ring with the likes of the Hardys, Finlay, Mr. Kennedy and CM Punk. Kennedy would win the match but, due to injury, would lose the briefcase and his opportunity to become World or WWE champion.
WrestleMania 23 lived up to the hype and was rewarded with a record number of pay-per-view buys. It focused on the two top championships in the industry and added the sideshow of Trump-McMahon to entice casual viewers or non-fans to pay their hard-earned money to buy the show. At its very best, WrestleMania is a show that provides every section of the fanbase something to sink their teeth into and enjoy.
The 23rd WrestleMania did just that.
4. WrestleMania X
Photo Credit: WWE.com
On March 20, 1994, WWE produced a show that featured not one, but two five-star matches. To have one is a phenomenal feat. To have two is unheard of. It was a testament to the will of four men to have the best match on the show, to outwork and overshadow everything and everyone else. Those four men would be a major part of the company's new direction, entitled "The New Generation", and would make sure the 10th WrestleMania was among the best ever.
The evening started with a match between two brothers. Bret and Owen Hart's rivalry began because of the younger brother's jealous over his brother's fame and success. Feeling he was every bit as good as Bret, Owen challenged the former WWE champion to a match. While reluctant at first, Bret accepted the challenge when Owen assaulted him at January's Royal Rumble.
The brothers wasted no time in affirming that a new generation of WWE Superstar had arrived. They displayed great athleticism while crafting a flawless match. Owen controlled the pace, working over his brother's injured leg, all the while portraying the selfish, snot-nosed little brat that made him one of the great heels of his generation. Bret would make his comeback, but an ill-timed victory roll attempt would be countered into a pinning combination by Owen, who would pick up the huge upset win.
In the night's second perfect match, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon would introduce the Ladder match to a worldwide audience. Two years prior, Bret Hart and Michaels had competed for the Intercontinental Championship in a ladder match, but it had only been released on home video and never saw the light of day on television. Outside of the old territories, including Hart's father Stu's Stampede Wrestling, the gimmick was a unique, interesting and fresh one.
For nearly 20 minutes, Michaels and Ramon used the ladder as a weapon, creating new and innovative ways of doing so, and holding the audience's attention the entire time. They beat and battered each other with the weapon all for the chance to then ascend it and leave Madison Square Garden as the undisputed Intercontinental champion.
With Michaels trapped in the ropes, Razor would make the climb, procure the belts, and leave the victor.
WrestleMania X was also unique in that it featured two advertised WWE Championship matches. At January's Royal Rumble, Bret Hart and Lex Luger were eliminated from the 30-man Battle Royal simultaneously, resulting in WWE President Jack Tunney announcing that they were to be co-winners of the match. It was decided that each man would compete for the title at WrestleMania and that a coin flip would determine who got the first crack at then-champion Yokozuna. Luger won.
Lex's title opportunity would go up in smoke as controversy struck. Special referee Mr. Perfect, who had his fair share of history with Luger, questionably called for a disqualification, which would ensure that Yokozuna retained his title.
In the main event, the champion would defend against the man he defeated a year earlier, Bret Hart. Hart, still noticeably limping after his knee was injured during his opening match with brother Owen, struggled against the mammoth titleholder. Just when it looked as though Yokozuna would deliver the Banzai Drop and retain his title, he fell off the ropes and smacked the back of his head. Bret would capitalize quickly and cover for the win.
WrestleMania X was about wrestling and the stars of the company at the time. Yes, there was celebrity involvement and much was made of the fact that it was the 10th anniversary of the sports entertainment spectacular. But the focus remained on the wrestlers and what they could deliver from bell-to-bell. Bret Hart starred, competing in one of the best matches in event history before capturing the title in the main event. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon innovated. "Macho Man" Randy Savage had one last shining moment, a defeat of Crush, before riding off to World Championship Wrestling.
The show was about beginnings. The beginning of new rivalries, new title reigns and new stars. WrestleMania X was a momentous night for wrestling, for WWE and for the men who worked to make the show the success it was.
3. WrestleMania 28
Photo Credit: WWE.com
In 2011, World Wrestling Entertainment took a unique approach in regard to its main event for WrestleMania 28. Typically, the top match on the show would involve either the WWE or World Championship and would begin building sometime around the Royal Rumble. Fresh off of WrestleMania 27, which saw The Rock return after seven long years to host (and get involved in the main event), the company wasted no time in revealing what colossal clash would headline the following year's show.
There had been very real heat between the top star of the current era, John Cena, and The Rock dating back a few years to comments Cena made about "The Great One" professing his love for wrestling but never coming back after making it big in Hollywood.
The animosity between the two boiled over and, after Cena delivered an Attitude Adjustment to Rock and wrestling's most electrifying superstar responded by delivering a Rock Bottom to Cena and costing him the WWE title at WrestleMania 27, they agreed to settle their differences a year later in the main event of WrestleMania 28.
The match was hyped on a level unlike any seen before. Like major sports stars, Cena and The Rock cut promos on one another consisting solely of trash talk. Fans anticipated the following week's show to see exactly what these iconic performers had up their sleeves for each other, and it created this tremendous buzz, especially on social media, that would help make WrestleMania 28 the most successful pay-per-view in WWE history.
The match between Rock and Cena was every bit the epic fans expected. It was two superstars delivering every ounce of sweat and energy they had to defeat the other. There was no title on the line and there was no respect to be given. It was a match between two men who simply did not like each other, and fans could relate to it.
Overconfident while The Rock laid flat on his back, Cena attempted to mock the People's Elbow late in the match. Unfortunately for him, The Rock made it to his feet, caught his opponent coming off the ropes and delivered a Rock Bottom. The Miami crowd erupted as their hometown boy celebrated, arguably, the biggest win of his career.
Further down the card, The Undertaker and Triple H looked to deliver the End of an Era when they met for the second year in a row inside Hell in a Cell. Shawn Michaels served as the guest referee and created a great bit of drama with his involvement in the match, while Triple H and The Undertaker proved that they could do what their bodies allowed, all the while telling a story that kept the live and viewing audiences completely engrossed with their every move.
The Undertaker brought his WrestleMania undefeated streak to an impressive, and unheard of, 20-0 but it was the embrace by three of the top stars of a generation gone by that truly made the entire presentation feel that much more special.
CM Punk successfully retained his WWE Championship over Chris Jericho, Kane upset Randy Orton, the Big Show captured his first Intercontinental Championship and celebrity guest Maria Menounos proved to be more than just a pretty face, delivering a solid performance in a Divas tag match.
Featuring four main-event matches that all more-than delivered, including a main event that lived up to the year's worth of build accompanying it, WrestleMania 28 proved that, even when the current WWE product had been harshly criticized leading into the event, the hard work and dedication of all involved, as well as a passionate and vocal audience, could make for a truly great sports entertainment production.
2. WrestleMania XIX
Photo Credit: WWE.com
Safeco Field. Seattle, Washington. March 30, 2003.
Superstars from three different generations converged on the Pacific northwest for a show that would feature one of the greatest cards ever assembled. The greatest rivalries in the sport's long and illustrious history, as well as those that would carry it into the future, were presented to a WWE audience that was more than ready to eat it up.
2002 had featured the emergence and rise of the so-called "Next Big Thing", Brock Lesnar. A former NCAA wrestling champion, he quickly rose up the ranks of World Wrestling Entertainment, winning the King of the Ring tournament and capturing the WWE Championship from The Rock at SummerSlam. Considering his amateur wrestling past, it was only a matter of time before the monstrous competitor locked horns with the man many considered the absolute best professional wrestler at the time, 1996 Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle.
Despite a lackluster build, thanks largely in part to Angle's severely injured neck (which would need surgery immediately following the event), fans waited with great anticipation for the WrestleMania XIX main event.
Angle and Lesnar had a tremendously physical match that saw each man utilize skills they learned on the mat to wear the other down. Kurt's performance in particular, with a neck hanging on by a proverbial thread, goes down as one of the gutsiest ever. Each man emptied their move sets in an attempt to keep the other down for a pinfall or to force a submission, but neither man would have it.
Late in the match, Brock delivered an F5 and headed to the top rope. In a stunning, unforgettable moment, he came off with a Shooting Star Press...and drove his own head into the mat. Angle had been too far away and Lesnar undershot him, injuring himself in the process. He was able to finish the match, defeating his one-time idol and taking his second WWE title. What should have been a milestone moment, and still was to an extent, was tainted by a scary situation.
The greatest and most competitive rivalry in the history of professional wrestling wrapped up prior to the main event when The Rock and Steve Austin clashed for a third time on the big stage. Rock was once again a heel, returning to the company with a bigger ego due to his success in Hollywood. He and Austin, like magnets and steel, were drawn to each other and a match between the two was made.
Unknown to viewers at the time, Austin had spent the night before WrestleMania XIX in a hospital following an episode that left him feeling like he was having a heart attack. The situation only helped to solidify the "Rattlesnake's" decision to hang up his boots for the last time following his final showdown with the "Great One."
Steve Austin and The Rock thrilled the crowd in the third part of their epic trilogy. They exchanged finishers, stole each other's trademark moves and kept the audience guessing with a series of nearfalls. After three thunderous Rock Bottoms, however, the Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment finally swatted the monkey of his back by pinning Austin clean in the center of the ring.
The win only helped to solidify The Rock's position as one of the all-time great performers, while it brought to an end the career of the most popular star to ever lace a pair of wrestling boots.
Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon's personal issues came to a head in a bloody street fight, won by Hogan, while Triple H successfully retained the World Heavyweight Championship against Booker T, despite a racial storyline that indicated a title win for the former WCW standout. In the evening's best match, Chris Jericho lived his boyhood dream, competing at WrestleMania against the man who did more to influence him as a wrestler than anyone else, Shawn Michaels. The "Heartbreak Kid" won the match but Jericho got a measure of revenge with a swift kick below the belt.
WrestleMania XIX featured the very best performers professional wrestling has to offer, providing the type of entertainment only they could. They performed up to heightened expectations and pressure and, as a result, everyone else on the card did as well. Every one, from the first match on the card to the very last, featured superstars determined to deliver their best performances, because no one wanted to be overshadowed by the all-time greats further up the card.
Best feet were put forward and the show thrived because of it.
1. WrestleMania X-Seven
Photo Credit: WWE.com
There are situations in life where elements come together to create a perfect storm.
WrestleMania X-Seven, broadcast from the Astrodome in Houston, Texas in 2001, was one of those situations.
The main event, the second clash between The Rock and Steve Austin over the WWE Championship at a WrestleMania, had been known for months ahead of time, thanks in large part to marketing materials. But that did nothing to hurt fans' anticipation of the bout. After all, Rock and Austin were the absolute most popular stars in the industry at the time, perhaps ever, and the idea that they would compete for the sport's top prize in Austin's home state intrigued a lot of people.
More intriguing than that, however, was the idea that ring announcer Howard Finkel introduced the match as a "No Disqualification" one. In a match that combined the elements of great Attitude Era main events with some of the sport's great matches, Rock and Austin had a beautifully crafted main event that involved a little bit of everything.
In an interview prior to the match, Austin had told the WWE champion: "I need to beat you, Rock. I need more than anything you could ever imagine." Fans would learn just how far the "Texas Rattlesnake" would go when Vince McMahon made his way to ringside. The hated rivals would work together in draining any last bit of fight from The Rock, Austin relentlessly smacking him about the body with a steel chair before pinning him and capturing the WWE title. Then, in a shocking moment, Austin shook hands with McMahon.
The match, and event, brought to an end to the Attitude Era and started a new one surrounded by great uncertainty, what with the infiltration of the roster by former WCW talent.
Speaking of WCW, the on-screen owner of the company, Shane McMahon, took on his father in a street fight that was the perfect example of sports entertainment done right. Was their match an exhibition of tremendous in-ring skill? No. But they incorporated three major stories into it (Purchase of WCW by Shane, the Stephanie McMahon-Trish Stratus rivalry and the pathetic treatment of Linda McMahon by her husband) and managed to wrap them all up in the span of 20 minutes.
Linda rising up from her chair and delivering a low blow to Vince is still one of the loudest pops any fan will ever hear.
Everything on the WrestleMania X-Seven card clicked. From the second TLC match to Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle nearly stealing the show in a tremendous, technically-sound match to The Undertaker and Triple H tearing the house down in an incredibly physical and violent match, everyone performed up to the moment, even if the card was not as impressive (on paper) as other WrestleManias had been.
Held in a dome for the first time since WrestleMania VIII, X-Seven was professional wrestling done at its best. It mixed traditional in-ring action with storyline development. It concluded rivalries and delivered a number of shocking moments. Championships were won and lost, brawls spilled to the arena floor and backstage area and an entire period in WWE history came to its conclusion.
There has not been a WrestleMania since the 17th in which every single thing, from the opening match all the way through the main event, managed to click on all levels and deliver in their own ways.
And their may never be again.