WWE WrestleMania: Ranking the 10 Most Important Matches in 'Mania History
With so many great matches over the course of the first 28 WrestleManias, it is nearly impossible to come to a consensus on which one was the best. Not every great 'Mania match was necessarily important in the grand scheme of professional wrestling, however.
Since WrestleMania is the mecca of the business, most of the biggest bouts in the history of the sport have taken place on the 'Mania stage. That isn't to say that huge matches haven't happened on other pay-per-views or in other promotions, but WrestleMania is the top of the mountain and has changed the very course of professional wrestling.
Not every match has the power to do that, but a small handful of Superstars have been able to transcend the sport over the years and take it to new heights. Whether they were title contests, dream clashes, retirement bouts, new match types or anything in between, all of the encounters on this list influenced the way people view wrestling in a positive manner.
Here are the 10 most important WrestleMania matches of all time. They certainly aren't the 10 best 'Mania matches from an in-ring perspective, but they all left an indelible mark on the business.
10. Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart (WrestleMania XII)
Perhaps the most divisive main event in WWE history is the 60-minute Iron Man match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels from WrestleMania XII.
Some fans seem to believe that it was a work of wrestling art, while others bash it due to an abundance of rest holds and down time. Whatever the case, there is no doubt that the match helped intensify the most famous real-life wrestling feud in history between Michaels and Hart.
As every wrestling fan knows by now, Michaels and Hart had a ton of heat with one another and that culminated in the Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series in 1997. Hart refused to drop the WWE Championship to HBK at Survivor Series due to their bad blood, so Michaels and Vince McMahon perpetrated a rouse to get the title around Michaels' waist before Hart could leave for WCW.
It worked and Hart wasn't seen in a WWE ring again for more than a decade.
The Iron Man match may not have been the beginning of the Michaels vs. Hart feud, but it definitely helped him along. HBK and Hart fought to a draw through one hour, as neither man could score a fall, but the match was ordered to continue until a winner could be determined. Michaels hit Hart with Sweet Chin Music to become WWE Champion for the first time.
That, in and of itself, was noteworthy, but rumors persist that Michaels told Hart to get out of the ring once the match came to an end, so the stage was set for big things between them moving forward.
9. The Rock vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania X8)
Hulk Hogan has headlined more WrestleManias than anyone in WWE history, but arguably his best 'Mania match against The Rock didn't even headline WrestleMania X8.
Despite that, it still holds up as one of the most important matches in the history of WrestleMania.
Hogan hadn't competed at WrestleMania since beating Yokozuna for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania IX, so his return at WrestleMania X8 was highly anticipated by the fans and it definitely showed.
Hogan played the heel role in the match, as he was using his Hollywood persona as leader of the nWo. The fans didn't seem to care though, as they supported him pretty much from the start.
WrestleMania X8 took place in Toronto, which was the same city that hosted the WrestleMania VI encounter between Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. The Rock certainly had his supporters, but the match became face vs. face more than face vs. heel.
The Rock ultimately prevailed in a pass-the-torch moment, and he embraced Hogan afterward.
While an argument can be made in favor of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Hogan is the biggest star in the history of the business, so his WrestleMania return was unforgettable. Also, the match featured the biggest star of the Golden Era against one of the biggest stars of the Attitude Era, so it was a dream bout in a lot of ways.
Hogan's face turn allowed for one last Hulkamania run in WWE as well, and it created memories for a new generation of WWE fans.
8. The Rock vs. John Cena (WrestleMania XXVIII)
Whether you loved The Rock vs. John Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII or hated it, there is no denying the impact it had on the wrestling business and even on mainstream media.
When The Rock returned prior to WrestleMania XXVII to host the event, he called out Cena and began a feud with him. Things came to a head when he cost Cena the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XXVII, and that resulted in Rock and Cena agreeing to compete in the WrestleMania XXVIII main event one year ahead of time.
It was the first time that a match had ever been announced that far ahead of time, so the WWE had a challenge on its hands when it came to building toward it.
Most fans seem to believe that the WWE failed in that regard, but it was still one of the most hyped matches in WWE history. The bout itself wasn't a technical display by any means, but the atmosphere rivaled any other match that ever came before it.
Since WrestleMania XXVIII took place in The Rock's hometown of Miami, the crowd was very much in his favor, but there obviously legions of Cena fans as well.
The Rock won the match by capitalizing on Cena's mistake as he tried to beat The Rock with the People's Elbow. The fans went wild because of the surprise result, and the show ended on a high note.
That match also laid the groundwork for this year's main event, as The Rock will defend the WWE Championship against Cena. Many seem to have a sour outlook on that match right now, but when people look back at it in 10 or 20 years, I'm sure they will understand the impact it had on the WWE, especially with part-time wrestlers like The Rock becoming the norm.
7. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XIV)
By the time WrestleMania XIV rolled around, it was clear that "Stone Cold" Steve Austin would have to be the man to lead the WWE past WCW in the Monday Night Wars.
He was ultimately able to do that, but he needed to become WWE Champion in order to solidify himself as "the guy."
The main obstacle standing in his way was Shawn Michaels, who had won the title from Bret Hart in controversial fashion through the Montreal Screwjob. There would be no such shenanigans on this night though, as The Texas Rattlesnake reigned supreme.
The match would have been huge if it was simply Austin vs. Michaels, but the presence of Mike Tyson as a special outside enforcer took things to another level.
Tyson was seemingly a member of D-Generation X, as he and Austin had gotten physical with each other leading up to WrestleMania. With the referee knocked out late in the match, Austin hit HBK with a Stunner, and Tyson surprisingly made the count.
Austin became the WWE Champion and led the company to new heights, while Michaels retired from in-ring competition due to injury before coming back four years later.
This wasn't technically a pass-the-torch moment, since Austin had already surpassed Michaels in terms of popularity, but it was definitely symbolic. Michaels had been the WWE's go-to guy since 1995, but Austin unseated him.
WrestleMania XIV basically signaled Michaels to step aside for the next big star. Austin probably would have led the WWE to greatness with or without this match, but it definitely gave him a boost in the right direction.
6. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania X)
Many of the matches on this list were staged with the WWE Championship on the line, but the Intercontinental Championship match between Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania X truly stole the show.
This was no ordinary match, as it carried a ladder stipulation with it.
Ladder matches had occurred in other promotions and even in the WWE on occasion prior to WrestleMania X, but they were never really showcased.
That all changed when Razor and HBK engaged in a classic encounter.
Razor and Michaels were feuding over who was the true IC Champion heading into WrestleMania X, as HBK was suspended and forced to vacate the title, which Ramon then won. Because of that, two IC titles were suspended above the ring. Razor was able to retrieve both of them, but not before plenty of action.
Michaels and Ramon did things that most wrestling fans had never really seen before, managing to make the ladder match a mainstream stipulation that is still used regularly today.
I love ladder matches, but they do tend to get gimmicky at times.
That was never the case in this match, because there was only one ladder, and it was used for a purpose. There have been countless revolutionary matches at 'Mania, and this one is obviously near the top of the list.
In addition to popularizing the ladder match, the bout was Michaels' first truly great one on the big stage, and it was the beginning of his evolution into Mr. WrestleMania.
5. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXVI)
The consensus seems to be that the WrestleMania XXV match between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels was better than their WrestleMania XXVI encounter.
While I don't necessarily disagree with that notion, you can't really go wrong either way.
With that said, there is little doubt that their WrestleMania XXVI match was of greater importance to the business, as it was HBK's final match, and it extended Taker's 'Mania streak to 18-0.
Several Superstars seemed like true threats to end The Undertaker's streak in the past; including Randy Orton, Batista and Edge, but Michaels was clearly his greatest challenge.
The Phenom narrowly averted disaster at WrestleMania XXV, and he had to do the same one year later. Michaels essentially forced his way into a rematch, but he had to put his career on the line in order to get it. Losing to The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXV consumed The Showstopper so much that he was willing to retire if he couldn't get the job done at WrestleMania XXVI.
Most figured that Taker would win at WrestleMania XXVI, but diehard Michaels fans such as myself watched in hopes of seeing him end the streak. At the end of another classic match between them, The Undertaker put Michaels away for good with a Tombstone.
Michaels and Taker are without a doubt the two greatest performers in the history of WrestleMania, so simply watching them compete on the big stage was a pleasure.
The fact that Michaels' final match was one of his best is something that every wrestling fan will always remember as well.
4. The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania VI)
With so much emphasis placed on in-ring work these days, it is very easy for current fans to call Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior two of the worst technical wrestlers of all time.
It's true that neither of them could work a match like Shawn Michaels or Daniel Bryan, but they were entertainers more than anything. Never was that more apparent than when they locked horns at WrestleMania VI in a match that was dubbed "The Ultimate Challenge."
At the time, Hogan was the WWE Champion and was still the face of the company. Warrior was gaining popularity at a rapid rate and was in possession of the Intercontinental Championship.
Both titles were on the line in the same match for the first and only time in WrestleMania history.
WrestleMania VI also marked the first face vs. face main event, which is something that has actually become commonplace in recent years. The fans adored both Hogan and Warrior, and that made for an unbelievable atmosphere at the SkyDome in Toronto.
Hogan and Warrior had a brief encounter in the Royal Rumble match a few months earlier, and they eventually set their sights on proving who was better.
It was settled once and for all at WrestleMania, as Warrior came out on top and became WWE Champion in addition to retaining his status as Intercontinental Champion.
It was a pass-the-torch moment, meant to make Warrior the top guy in the WWE, and while it worked for a bit, Warrior's unreliability pushed Hogan back into that spot a year later.
Even so, this was truly a great pioneering match in WrestleMania history.
3. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant (WrestleMania III)
After the success of WrestleMania I and WrestleMania II, Vince McMahon and the WWE wanted to take things to another level at WrestleMania III.
Everything was bigger and better, as over 93,000 rabid fans packed into the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, MI. They showed up in order to see all of their favorite WWE superstars in action on the big stage, but there is no doubt that the main attraction of Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant was the biggest draw of all.
Like Hogan vs. Warrior, this is a match that current fans unfairly look down upon.
It's important to understand that this particular match wasn't about grappling; rather it was about the spectacle surrounding it. Hogan was easily the biggest star in wrestling at the time and was a mainstream star to boot. Andre was the guy every fan came to see prior to Hogan ascent, and while he was nearing the end of the line at this point, he was still one of the biggest stars in the WWE, even as a heel.
The WWE billed Hogan and Andre as being unbeaten essentially even though they had both been beaten in the past.
With very little wrestling on television, it was tough for fans to keep track of those types of things.
It had been said that Andre was never body slammed before.
That was also false, but most fans bought into that notion. The pre-match stare down between Hogan and Andre was something special, and the moment that Hogan slammed Andre was one of the most iconic in wrestling history.
Hogan went on to win the match, and I can't imagine that there was a disappointed person in the stadium, regardless of the match quality.
2. Bret Hart vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (WrestleMania 13)
While Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III was more about atmosphere and impact on the wrestling business than in-ring work, while Bret Hart vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 was one of those rare WrestleMania matches that possessed all of that rolled into one.
Hart and Austin didn't headline the pay-per-view, as that honor regrettably went to The Undertaker and Sycho Sid.
What happened in the submission match between Austin and Hart set the stage for the most lucrative time period in WWE history, so most fans choose to remember it as the main event.
Hart and Austin had an entertaining feud going ahead of WrestleMania 13, as they had faced each other on a couple occasions, and Austin last eliminated Hart to win the Royal Rumble.
The WWE Championship scene was thrown for a loop due to Shawn Michaels' injury, so the creative team reshuffled, and Austin never got his title shot at WrestleMania. That was ultimately for the best though, as his match against Hart was far more meaningful. The match itself was unbelievable and it was made even more compelling by the presence of Ken Shamrock as special guest referee.
Austin was a heel prior to the match, and Hart was a big-time fan favorite, but that began to change to some degree.
Since there were no disqualifications, both men employed some less-than-desirable tactics.
Hart succeeded in busting Austin open and then locked him in the Sharpshooter. Austin refused to quit, but Hart won the match after Stone Cole passed out.
Hart then proceeded to attack Austin after the match, which led to a double turn with Hart turning heel and Austin turning face.
Hart did well as a heel while leading the Hart Foundation stable, and Austin became one of the biggest stars the business has ever seen. The match was executed to absolute perfection, and it set up both Austin and the WWE as a whole for great things.
1. Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff (WrestleMania I)
It's very easy to look back at the WrestleMania I card and say that it was nothing special, but the only people that truly have a feel for what it meant for the wrestling business were the people who got to witness it live.
I wasn't among that group unfortunately, as it was a bit before my time, but I truly appreciate the fact that WrestleMania allowed the WWE to soar to unseen heights. The original 'Mania had a ton of star power that attracted non-wrestling fans, and the best example of that was the main event tag-team match.
In that match, Hulk Hogan teamed with television star Mr. T to take on "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff.
Despite Hogan's status as WWE Champion, his title wasn't on the line.
That is something that fans would complain about mercilessly today, but it wasn't the focus at WrestleMania I.
Vince McMahon emptied all of his resources into the event and spent a ton of money in order to bring in celebrities. His main event needed to appeal to absolutely everyone, and that is why Mr. T was involved. While Mr. T wasn't a grappler by any means, he was in good shape and held up his end of the bargain in the match.
Hogan, Piper and Orndorff did most of the heavy lifting, while "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka and "Cowboy" Bob Orton provided entertainment outside the ring. Also, Muhammad Ali was a special outside official, and he added plenty of intrigue to the proceedings. Ali inevitably got involved physically, and the team of Hogan and Mr. T reigned supreme.
This match is far from the greatest in WrestleMania history, but it is easily the most significant. Had it flopped, then WrestleMania would have too, and then there is no telling what would have happened to the WWE.
The success of the match made WrestleMania a success and allowed McMahon to expand and become a global entity.
The WrestleMania I main event ensured that there would be many more to come, so its value cannot be questioned.