WWE WrestleMania 29: Ranking the 12 Best-Hyped Matches in WrestleMania History
Believe the hype?
Multi-national apparel company Nike produces T-shirts telling us to indulge in it, whilst hip hop group Public Enemy warned us of the pitfalls of believing hype on their 1988 release It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
The idea of ‘hype’ is somewhat dangerous, and can often act as a vicious double-edged sword.
Done correctly, the hype surrounding a product can greatly elevate even the most average of commodities. Done to an inferior standard, as it so often is, hype can also create a deafening aura of disappointment...so much so that influential Italian filmmaker Federico Fellini once claimed that hype is “the awkward and desperate attempt to convince journalists that what you’ve made is worth the misery of having to review it.”
In terms of professional wrestling, we are officially in the midst of hype season, known globally as the Road to WrestleMania.
Every year, the successful build-up to WrestleMania is a highlight of the pro-wrestling calendar and proves that, whilst often criticised, Vince McMahon’s WWE is still a marketing powerhouse when it comes to promoting must-see matches.
Last year’s WrestleMania XXVIII in Miami reportedly smashed pay-per-view records with a 1.3 million buy-rate (via Hollywood Life), largely due to the hype surrounding the much anticipated showdown between poster boy John Cena and returning Hollywood superstar The Rock.
With WrestleMania 29 and the titanic re-match between Cena and The Rock now just hours away, this article takes the opportunity to look back at the 12 best-hyped matches in the history of Vince McMahon’s beloved brainchild, WrestleMania.
A collection of matches that fell just short of the list…
Hulk Hogan & Mr T. vs. Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff
WWF Champion Hulk Hogan and A-List celebrity Mr T. joined forces to take on the heel duo of “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and “Mr Wonderful” Paul Orndorff in the angle that kick-started it all.
Full of humorous training skits and appearances on mainstream outlets such as Saturday Night Live, the selling point of the very first WrestleMania hinted that the WWF of 1985 was beginning to move away from pure ‘rasslin and into the glamorous world of pure entertainment.
A dream match that featured the top two babyfaces of the late 1980’s facing off to decide the fate of both the WWF Championship and the Intercontinental belt in a winner-take-all showdown, Hulk Hogan vs. the Ultimate Warrior was billed as “The Ultimate Challenge."
It featured an interesting dynamic of face vs. face that had been previously excluded from the WrestleMania headline scene.
The template for the future WrestleMania involvements of such mega-stars as Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather, the build-up of animosity between monster heel Bam Bam Bigelow and NFL linebacker Lawrence Taylor was extremely believable and foreshadowed a surprisingly competent match between the two.
Focusing on the idea of Shawn Michaels attempting to finally win “the big one” and WWF Champion Bret Hart standing in his way, the spectacular lead up to WrestleMania XII successfully built the Heartbreak Kid as a genuine star and laid the groundwork for the Hitman’s slow-burning heel turn in 1997.
Featuring a lengthy build that began shortly before the 2003 Royal Rumble pay-per-view, the fierce rivalry between the recently returned Shawn Michaels and the arrogant Chris Jericho cleverly noted the similarities between the two and amplified them in order to push the feud into personal territory.
Initiated by a convincing exchange between the two at No Way Out 2008 that ended with the Big Show’s nose being legitimately broken courtesy of a lightning-quick left hook, the angle between the World’s Largest Athlete and champion boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather was highly entertaining and attracted the mainstream media attention that WWE often desires.
... & the Worst
Six matches that are, unfortunately, at the other end of the spectrum…
Rightly criticised for exploiting the 1991 Gulf War, the feud for the WWF title saw the Americana of Hulk Hogan pitted against the Iraqi sympathiser Sgt. Slaughter (and leader Gen. Adnan) in an angle that was impressively executed, but ruined by its distasteful nature.
Despite being remembered fondly for the Undertaker’s first title victory of the famous undefeated streak, the main event of WrestleMania 13 featured little-to-no build-up prior to the show and can be summarised by then-champion Sid making a complete mess of the big go-home promo.
As the WrestleMania X8 match proved, Edge vs. Booker T, in the ring, was technically sound. However, the program was spoilt by the bizarre notion of both men fighting over an advertisement for a fictional Japanese shampoo…
Despite a brief flurry of popularity in early 2003 that saw him move up the card to the semi-main event slot, Booker T’s title bout against conceited heel Triple H suffered from the lacklustre booking of the challenger. Prior to the show, Booker was repeatedly shown as inferior threat to Helmsley’s World Heavyweight belt, resulting in the outcome being somewhat of a foregone conclusion.
Seemingly placed on the card purely to drive up interest in the Asian market, the Sumo Match between Big Show and Akebono was one of the worst matches in WrestleMania history. The incredibly forgettable build-up was not much better.
More of a promotional tool for the John Cena/The Rock showdown at WrestleMania XXVIII than the culmination of a red-hot feud, the WWE Championship battle between Cena and The Miz was not only dismal in the ring, but also lacked any spark of intrigue in the lead-up to the event.
12. WWE WrestleMania 25: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
Despite the WrestleMania 25 match itself being somewhat disappointing, the build-up to WWE Champion Triple H’s title defence against the calculated heel Randy Orton was nothing short of exceptional.
With the origins of the feud rooted in Randy Orton’s bitter exit from the Evolution faction in 2004, the feud had a personal nature from the offset.
Officially given the green light when Orton eliminated Triple H from the 2009 Royal Rumble Match to emerge victorious, the program between the two involved the McMahon family members (minus Linda), and even featured the champion’s wife suffering a beat down at the hands of the psychotic Orton.
Heading into the Showcase of the Immortals, Orton was one of the top heels in the business and, along with Legacy stable-mates Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase, lighting up the main event scene on Monday Night RAW.
The angles that saw Vince, Shane and Stephanie attacked were incredibly heated, and the segment in which the WWE Chairman received a particularly nasty (and reportedly legitimate) Punt Kick to the head was one of the most memorable in recent history.
Along with other fine spots such as Triple H’s invasion of the Orton household, the anticipation for the title match reached fever pitch heading into WrestleMania.
With the lead-up to the WWE title bout so superbly executed, many expected the two combatants to shine under the lights of WrestleMania. Unfortunately, this did not materialise as the match was ultimately an anti-climax.
A passable affair that was marred by the bizarre booking of both Helmsley and Orton delivering their finishing manoeuvres in the opening few minutes, the title clash could not live up to its fantastic build-up.
Triple H went on to drop the belt to Randy Orton in a fantastic six-man main event at the Backlash pay-per-view three weeks later, and The Viper carried the belt for a significant portion of 2009. For both men, however, the hype to their match at WrestleMania 25 remains one of the best in their careers.
11. WWF WrestleMania XIV: Undertaker vs. Kane
One of the most elaborate pieces of storytelling in WWE history, the backstory to the monumental clash of siblings between the Undertaker and Kane at WrestleMania XIV was superbly performed.
Starting in late summer 1997 and stretching over the next six months, the original section of the storied Undertaker/Kane feud was a highlight of WWF television heading into WrestleMania in Boston.
Given the green-light when Paul Bearer name-dropped Kane during an altercation with the Deadman in June, the program took off officially with the expertly presented debut of the Big Red Machine at Badd Blood: In Your House in October.
Interfering in the excellent Hell in a Cell Match between his brother and Shawn Michaels, Kane made a more than memorable first appearance.
The months that followed saw the Undertaker initially refuse to fight Kane and the two briefly join forces, but the animosity kicked into overdrive at the Royal Rumble event in January 1998.
Costing the Undertaker the WWF Championship in a Casket Match significant for Shawn Michaels’ almost career-ending back injury, Kane, with Bearer in tow, locked the Phenom in a coffin post-match and proceeded to set it ablaze in one of the most striking angles of the Attitude Era.
The bout at WrestleMania was a solid big-man match that featured various false finishes and high spots (including a brutal over-the-top-rope dive that saw the Deadman crash through the unfortunate Spanish announcer’s table) before the Undertaker secured the win.
Culminating with three Tombstone Piledrivers scoring the decisive pinfall, the Undertaker’s victory over Kane extended the undefeated streak to 7-0.
The Undertaker/Kane feud raged on throughout the remainder of 1998, and has since been re-visited several times by WWE, most notably in 2004 with the return of the Undertaker’s Deadman gimmick at WrestleMania XX.
However, with the untimely passing of Bill “Paul Bearer” Moody last month, we may have seen the end of one of the greatest storylines in professional wrestling history.
10. WWF WrestleMania XV: The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin
An extension of the incredibly successful Austin vs. McMahon feud, the famous WWF title scrap between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock was a hotly anticipated confrontation between two of the WWF’s greatest prospects in 1999.
The lead up was magnificent, and was as effective as it was simple. The Rock, as the centrepiece champion of Vince McMahon’s Corporation stable, was the Federation’s top heel in early ’99, emerging victorious from a particularly violent WWF Championship program with Mankind.
Austin, undoubtedly one of the most over performers ever seen in American pro-wrestling, was the leading WWF babyface and had been struggling with McMahon and his cronies for over 12 months. The two were on a collision course, and WrestleMania XV was the destination of the big showdown.
Heading into the Show of Shows, creative booked both Austin and The Rock in several unforgettable TV spots, possibly the best of which occurred on the March 22 edition of RAW. In the go-home segment of the Attitude Era, the WWF Champion, complete with Vince and Shane McMahon, was interrupted by a beer truck commandeering Stone Cold.
Much to the delight of the riotous crowd, Austin cut one of the best promos of his career and proceeded to douse the trio in a shower of Coors Light.
The highlight of a mediocre WrestleMania, Austin vs. The Rock was a fine effort from both men. The Rock, as always, excelled as the cocky heel (especially during his trademark bouts of trash-talking) whilst Austin, the unpredictable anti-hero, put in the type of exemplary performance that that the WWF heavily relied upon in 1999.
The Rattlesnake ultimately overcame the odds and secured the WWF title in an exciting finish that featured referee bumps, electric near-falls and appearances from Vince McMahon and special referee Mankind.
The story of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock is well-documented, and is undeniably one of the most revered (and financially beneficial) of the past 25+ years.
Having faced each other numerous times between 1997 and 2003, the rivalry is best known for the celebrated WrestleMania trilogy, with marquee matches between the two also occurring at WrestleMania X-Seven and XIX.
9. WWE WrestleMania XXVIII: The Rock vs. John Cena
Billed as a “Once in a Lifetime” bout (a bizarre occurrence in light of the upcoming WrestleMania 29 rematch), The Rock vs. John Cena in April 2012 was one of the biggest spectacles to take place in a WWE ring since the late 1990s.
With the genuine animosity between the two beginning with unflattering remarks made by John Cena to UK newspaper The Sun in 2008 and The Rock’s verbal jabs regarding The Marine at that year’s Hall of Fame ceremony, the lengthy feud and build up to the WrestleMania XXVII main event was phenomenal.
It officially began in early 2011 with the return of The Rock to host WrestleMania XXVII. Almost instantly entering fascinating promo work with Cena (and the invention of the popular “Fruity Pebbles” insult), The Rock’s return amped up the hostility between the two and, as a result, overshadowed the hype for the WWE title scrap between Cena and champion The Miz scheduled for 2011’s WrestleMania.
Surprisingly, The Rock physically intervened in the WWE Championship match, and The Miz walked out of WrestleMania XXVII as the champion.
The 04/04/11 broadcast of RAW saw the marquee match between Cena and The Rock officially confirmed as the WWE embarked on a challenging build-up that featured, for the first time, the WrestleMania main event announced almost a full year in advance.
Cena and Rock would interact sporadically over the next 12 months, with the feud especially heating up at the 2011 Survivor Series event. Joining forces to take on the team of R-Truth and The Miz, Cena and The Rock won the bout with ease, before tensions overflowed and Cena was left looking at the lights following a Rock Bottom.
Heading into WrestleMania XXVIII, the battle between the poster boy of WWE and the bona-fide Hollywood superstar was utterly believable.
A match between the limited Cena and a part-time Rock was always going to struggle under the bright lights of WrestleMania, but the two delivered a respectable main event and the genuine mystery surrounding the outcome kept the drama flowing.
Working his first full singles match since 2003, The Rock was seemingly spurred on by the incredibly vocal Miami crowd and Cena, certainly no stranger to a partisan crowd (see CM Punk/Chicago and Edge/Toronto), thrived under the negative reaction he received.
Eventually The Rock kept Cena down for the three-count with a Rock Bottom, much to the delight of The Great One’s hometown fans.
Overall, The Rock vs. John Cena was a terrific success for WWE both creatively and financially. The direction in which the upcoming re-match at WrestleMania 29 will go is yet to be seen, but the fact remains that the original Rock/Cena showdown (and the record-breaking buy-rates it received) proved that while the current WWE product is so often criticised, it can still promote a match that the whole world wants to see.
8. WWF WrestleMania III: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
A match that can stake a legitimate claim to being the pinnacle of the 1980s professional wrestling phenomena, the WWF title affair between former friends turned enemies Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant is one of the most famous matches ever staged.
Fresh from the highly successful shows that were WrestleManias I and II, 1987’s WrestleMania III needed a spectacle that eclipsed the enormity of the previous two events. Hulk Hogan, the wildly popular WWF Champion, also needed a legitimate challenger to the title that had been in his possession since a victory over the Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden in January 1984.
The resolution to both of these issues came in the form of Andre the Giant, one of the most consistent draws throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
Occurring at a time when lengthy championship programs were the norm, the build-up to WrestleMania and the slow heel-turn of Andre the Giant was a storytelling masterpiece. In storyline terms, Hulk Hogan and Andre had been allies for years, occasionally teaming together and often being shown on WWF programming as close friends.
Andre eventually tired of the Hogan spotlight and, following an intriguing Wrestling Challenge angle in January ‘87 that saw Hogan overshadow the celebration of Andre’s (questionable) 15-year WWF undefeated streak, turned on his partner through his association with heel manager Bobby Heenan.
The most poignant segment in the lead-up to WrestleMania III occurred on the 02/07/87 edition of Roddy Piper’s famous talk show, Piper’s Pit. Solidifying his affiliation with Heenan, Andre refused to talk, only speaking to issue a WrestleMania challenge to his former friend, to which Hogan initially declined.
With that, Andre ripped Hogan’s iconic Hulkamania shirt from his body and left, signifying the definitive end of the Hogan/Andre friendship and the beginning of one of the WWF’s grandest feuds.
The bout at WrestleMania III was fairly average, and typical of a Hulk Hogan match from the late 80’s. The finish, however, was nothing short of breathtaking. Cleverly teased earlier in the bout, the ending arrived when Hogan finally managed to bodyslam the 500+ pound Andre and execute his signature Leg Drop for the victory and the championship.
Dubbed “the bodyslam heard around the world”, the image of Andre being slammed and Hogan’s post-match celebrations are among the most distinguished in pro-wresting history.
Taking place at a time when the World Wrestling Federation was one of the hottest commodities in the entertainment world, the WWF title match from WrestleMania III is not only remembered for effectively setting the standard for future WrestleMania main events, but for also being the defining moment in the careers of both Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant.
7. WWE WrestleMania XXVIII: Undertaker vs. Triple H
Promoted as the match that would be the “End of an Era,” the brutal Hell in a Cell Match between the Undertaker and Triple H helped WrestleMania XXVIII attract the long-abandoned fans of the famous Attitude Era.
Since The Game’s elevation to main event status in the late 90’s through D-Generation X and later as a singles wrestler, Triple H and the Undertaker have been semi-frequent adversaries, with notable feuds occurring in 2001 and 2002 during the Undertaker’s time as the American Badass.
Unfortunately, due to Vince McMahon’s desire to quietly erase that (admittedly poor) gimmick from the history books, WWE chose to only acknowledge the history between the two dating from WrestleMania XXVII, with any interactions pre-2011 omitted from the build-up.
Happily, this did not affect the lead-up to WrestleMania XXVIII to a large extent, as the drama surrounding the 2011 Undertaker/Helmsley bout was very good indeed, and sufficient enough to create an immense amount of anticipation for the Hell in a Cell re-match.
Centred around the notion that the Undertaker had won the WrestleMania XXVII battle but Triple H had won the war, it was apparent that the two had unfinished business that needed to be settled at the 2012 Showcase of the Immortals.
The inclusion of Shawn Michaels (himself a victim of The Deadman’s undefeated WrestleMania streak in 2009 and 2010) as special guest referee added an interesting element that accentuated the personal drama, as the Heartbreak Kid’s ties with both Helmsley and the Undertaker stretches back to the mid-1990s.
Heading into the Hell in a Cell bout, there was a genuine sense that this was going to be the end of an era.
With the match quality never truly in doubt, the Undertaker and Triple H put on a storytelling gem within the confines of the Cell. Amid high-spots that saw both men cut hardway and the rare use of weapons such as The Game’s signature sledgehammer, both men traded tense false finishes, with the incredible Sweet Chin Music/Pedigree spot producing one of the most gripping near-falls ever seen in a WWE ring.
The Undertaker eventually put Triple H away with the Tombstone Piledriver, extending the undefeated streak to a landmark 20-0.
A candidate for not only Match of the Year but for greatest bout of either performer’s careers, the Hell in a Cell classic from WrestleMania XXVIII ended with an image that could truly characterise the Attitude Era: Triple H, Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker leaving WrestleMania after stealing the show.
6. WWE WrestleMania 21: Triple H vs. Batista
The culmination of the steady implosion of the Evolution stable, Triple H and Batista’s battle for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 21 featured a build-up that was expertly conceived and executed.
Inspired by the legendary NWA stable The Four Horsemen, the group known as Evolution (Triple H, Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Dave Batista) dominated WWE’s RAW brand between 2003 and 2005.
Designed to eventually create headline material out of Orton and Batista, Evolution’s main storyline purpose was to keep the World Heavyweight Championship firmly around the waist of leader Triple H, whom had been awarded the newly created title by General Manager Eric Bischoff in September 2002.
Following several main-event programs that saw The Game overcome the likes of Kevin Nash, Goldberg and Shawn Michaels, the group started to slowly dissolve, starting with the expulsion of Orton shortly after his shock title victory over Chris Benoit at SummerSlam 2004.
During this time, Batista also began to emerge as the new star of Evolution, much to the chagrin of Triple H and Ric Flair.
Batista’s gradual face turn was cemented at the Royal Rumble event in January 2005, where he eliminated John Cena to win the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match and earn a title shot against a champion of his choosing at the upcoming WrestleMania 21.
The following two months featured various ruses from Triple H and Flair (including an attempted limousine hit-and-run) to protect the World Heavyweight title from Batista and persuade The Animal to confront the then-WWE Champion John “Bradshaw” Layfield at the Show of Shows.
The challenger’s decision was made emphatically in a stellar segment on the February 21 broadcast of RAW that ended with Triple H powerbombed through a table and Batista announcing that he was challenging for the Big Gold Belt at WrestleMania.
On a night also significant for John Cena’s first WWE Championship victory, Batista defeated Triple H in a thrilling match that featured an entertaining finish.
After a solid 20+ minutes of back-and-forth action, Batista finally overcame the theatrical antics of Ric Flair at ringside and put a bloodied Triple H away with the Batista Bomb. A three-count later and The Animal was the new World Heavyweight Champion.
Post-WrestleMania, the Triple H/Batista feud overflowed into the summer of 2005, with Batista gaining a further two high-profile wins over The Game: the first at the Backlash event in May and the second under Hell in a Cell rules at the Vengeance pay-per-view in June.
The rivalry with Triple H, and the title match at WrestleMania 21 in particular, was instrumental in making Batista, along with John Cena, one of the new faces of the next WWE generation.
5. WWE WrestleMania XXVI: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
Similar to the situation surrounding the build-up to WrestleMania XXVIII’s Hell in a Cell Match, the much anticipated rematch between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker at WrestleMania XXVI was born out of HBK’s frustration at not being able to end the undefeated streak at the first attempt.
The intricate backstory to the Undertaker/Michaels rematch began in April 2009 when the two met in a five-star encounter that was the undeniable highlight of a disappointing WrestleMania 25. A genuine classic, the match featured Michaels pushing the Undertaker to the limit, before ultimately falling short to a Tombstone Piledriver.
Presented with the Match of the Year accolade at the 2009 Slammy Awards several months later, Michaels challenged The DeadMan to a rematch at the upcoming WrestleMania XXVI in Arizona. After the Undertaker’s initial decline, HBK vowed to face him by any means necessary, starting with the Royal Rumble event in January 2010.
By entering the Royal Rumble Match, Michaels attempted to earn the right to challenge for the Undertaker’s World Heavyweight Championship at the Showcase of the Immortals. Michaels was ultimately unsuccessful after being eliminated by Batista, and it appeared that the expected rematch would fail to come to fruition.
In the weeks following the Royal Rumble, Shawn Michaels became obsessed with the Undertaker, to such an extent that HBK’s constant distraction cost D-Generation X the Undisputed WWE Tag Team titles.
Michaels’ obsession came to a head at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view in February, when his interference in the Chamber bout cost The Phenom his World Heavyweight Championship, awarding the title to Chris Jericho in the process.
Undertaker retaliated on the February 22 edition of RAW by accepting Michaels’ WrestleMania challenge, but on one condition: if HBK lost, he would be forced to retire. Michaels ended an exceptional promo segment with the now-famous line “If I can’t beat you at WrestleMania, then I have no career.”
The Streak vs. Career match at WrestleMania was an emotional clash between two of WWE’s most reliable workers. Beautiful near-fall sequences saw both combatants almost receive the decision, and especially memorable was Michaels’ incredibly daring Moonsault from the top rope to a table-draped Undertaker.
Almost 25 minutes of draining physicality had elapsed when a jumping Tombstone Piledriver pinned HBK down for the finish, and the resulting three-count not only signified the extension of the undefeated streak to 18-0, but also represented the end of Shawn Michaels 20+ year career.
A fitting end to the in-ring career of one of the greatest performers the pro-wrestling world has ever possessed, the battle between Shawn Michaels and Undertaker came as close to out-doing their previous WrestleMania effort as it could ever have hoped to.
The two would go on to interact over the next two years thanks to The DeadMan’s clashes with Triple H, but the conclusion to WrestleMania XXVI remains a glorious moment of WWE history.
4. WWF WrestleMania V: Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage
A vintage tale of tag team partners turned bitter enemies; the main event of 1989’s WrestleMania V pitted Hulk Hogan against former teammate Randy Savage in an entertaining scrap for the WWF Championship.
The story leading into the showdown at New Jersey‘s Trump Plaza centred around the increasing paranoia of then-champion Macho Man Randy Savage and his jealousy towards his Mega Powers teammate Hulk Hogan.
Slowly turning heel after winning the vacant WWF Championship at WrestleMania IV, Savage began showing signs of resentment towards Hogan’s relationship with his girlfriend, Miss Elizabeth, despite it being of a purely platonic nature.
Randy Savage’s run as a heel was officially given the go-ahead during the WWF’s Main Event special for NBC in February 1989. Making their last appearance together as a team until almost a decade later in WCW, Savage and Hogan combined forces to take on the Twin Towers pair of Akeem and the Big Boss Man.
During the bout, Elizabeth suffered an injury at the hands of Akeem. Hogan tended to his fallen friend and, as a result, the bitterly jealous Savage abandoned the Hulkster and attacked him with the WWF title belt after he had single-handedly emerged victorious.
Signalling the end of the Mega Powers team, Hogan responded to Savage’s attack by demanding and receiving a WWF Championship bout at WrestleMania.
The biggest test of the Macho Man’s year-long tenure as champion, the confrontation between Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan was powerfully billed as “The Mega Powers Explode.” The match itself was high quality, with the athletic Savage taking numerous bumps from Hogan’s power moves.
Miss Elizabeth was placed in a neutral corner, but inevitably became involved in trying to aid both men, leading to referee Dave Hebner sending her backstage. The ending arrived when Hogan kicked out of the Savage Elbow, hulked up and secured the victory with the Leg Drop, earning his second WWF title in the process.
One of the most memorable WWF title matches of the 1980’s, Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage was the pay-off match to an expertly laid-out storyline.
The year-long turn of Savage and the ultimate implosion of the Mega Powers laid the foundation for a heated WWF Championship match that was, up to that point, among one of most exciting WrestleMania headline spectacles since the event’s inception.
3. WWF WrestleMania X8: The Rock vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan
The definition of a professional wrestling dream match, The Rock and Hollywood Hulk Hogan squared off in a blistering “Icon vs. Icon” match at the last WrestleMania promoted under the World Wrestling Federation banner, WrestleMania X8.
Upon returning to the WWF as part of the New World Order storyline at the No Way Out pay-per-view in February 2002, Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall immediately targeted the two biggest faces in the company: Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.
With Austin heading towards a contest with Hall at the upcoming WrestleMania, Hogan was free to take on The Rock in a match the pro-wrestling world thought they would never see.
Amongst such events as Hogan ambushing an ambulance taking The Rock to hospital and the nWo initials being spray-painted on The Great One’s back, the most iconic segment in the build-up to WrestleMania X8 took place on the Feb. 18 RAW broadcast.
Hogan, fresh from the nWo’s return the previous night, cut an electric promo on the WWF and its fans, claiming that he was the sole reason that the professional wrestling business was a success.
The Rock, taking exception to Hogan’s remarks, interrupted the segment and laid down the challenge for WrestleMania: a headline match against the People’s Champion. Hogan accepted almost instantly, and sarcastically wished his opponent luck, before being slammed to the canvas by a Rock Bottom.
The battle of pro-wrestling’s past and pro-wrestling’s present, the Icon vs. Icon match at WrestleMania X8 was astonishing, albeit not in the way that was intended by the WWF creative team. Prior to and throughout the monumental showdown, the Toronto crowd was incredibly pro-Hogan, despite him being a heel.
This came at the expense of The Rock whom, as a result of Hogan’s popularity, was audibly booed and taunted by the riotous Canadian fans. The match itself was impressive considering the limitations of a 48-year-old Hogan, and the finish contained a back-and-forth sequence that eventually saw The People’s Elbow put Hogan down for the pinfall.
The match between Hollywood Hogan and The Rock, to this day, remains one of the most fascinating in WrestleMania history as it not only marked Hogan’s return to singles action, but also signalled the start of The Rock’s drift towards Hollywood superstardom.
Post-WrestleMania, Hogan went on to re-embrace the red and yellow of Hulkamania and have a nostalgic run with the WWF Undisputed Championship, whilst The Rock took a three-month hiatus to promote his first major acting role in Chuck Russell’s The Scorpion King.
2: WWF WrestleMania XIV: Shawn Michaels vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin
Cited by many as the match that truly lit the fire underneath the Attitude Era of the late 1990s, WrestleMania XIV’s WWF Championship contest between the red-hot challenger Stone Cold Steve Austin and the outgoing champion Shawn Michaels was a genuine masterpiece.
At the beginning of 1998 and heading into the WrestleMania event, a resounding shift in direction was taking place within the World Wrestling Federation.
Steve Austin, largely due to his spectacular battles with the likes of the Hart Foundation throughout 1997, had become the leader of the new generation of performers emerging through the ranks, as his cool tweener character had struck a chord with the average fan and led to his ascension towards the top of the company becoming, by March ’98, inevitable.
Conversely, Shawn Michaels, the WWF Champion since the notorious Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997, was suffering several problems both personally and professionally, despite being one of the most outstanding WWF performers of the since 1995.
The time had come for Austin to take the reins at the top of the card, and WrestleMania was the destination for one of the most significant title changes in pro-wrestling history.
The 1998 Royal Rumble pay-per-view was an important event in the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
By eliminating The Rock to win the 30-Man Royal Rumble Match for a second year in a row, Austin booked a blockbuster showdown with the WWF Champion in Boston at WrestleMania.
This meant that the outcome of the WWF title contest the same night between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker would have massive ramifications heading into the Grandest Stage of them All.
HBK, with thanks to recent debutant Kane, defeated the Undertaker, but the bigger story occurred underneath. Towards the beginning of the bout, Michaels severely damaged three discs in his back, an injury that would ultimately sideline him for over four years.
Interestingly, both of these occurrences took place with “Iron” Mike Tyson in attendance. Tyson, an accomplished professional boxer and mainstream celebrity, would go on to become the special ring enforcer for the Austin/Michaels match at WrestleMania.
Tyson’s involvement was announced on the post-Royal Rumble broadcast of RAW is WAR, in a noteworthy segment. Austin, taking exception to Vince McMahon introducing Tyson as “the baddest man on the planet”, gate-crashed the big announcement and proceeded to engage in a brawl with the WWF’s newest celebrity friend.
A landmark segment in the career of Stone Cold, the Tyson vs. Austin angle is fondly remembered for being the start of one of the most entertaining WrestleMania hypes ever witnessed.
The bout at WrestleMania XIV was extraordinary considering Shawn Michaels was working with a debilitating back injury. Opening with the cocky champion playing a series of games with his challenger, Austin initially struggled to get his hands on the Heartbreak Kid before the inevitable fistfight broke out.
Austin eventually captured his first WWF Championship via a wicked Stone Cold Stunner after a strong 20-minute match and, in a true WrestleMania moment, the pin was counted by none other than Austin’s rival and initial D-Generation X ally, Mike Tyson.
Michaels, irate by Tyson’s double-cross, received a big right-hand from the boxer post-match, and Austin went on to celebrate scaling the heights of the what would become known as the Attitude Era.
An official passing of the torch, Stone Cold’s victory over Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania represented the start of a new period of prosperity for the WWF and began a slow shift in the professional wrestling landscape.
Within a year, the WWF had gained ground on Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling and was starting to dominate the well-documented ratings war. Two years after WrestleMania XIV, and WCW was firmly on course for its ultimate decline into obscurity.
1. WWF WrestleMania X-Seven: The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin
Eclipsing their first WrestleMania contest by a considerably large margin, the WWF Championship match between The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania X-Seven is not just one of the greatest matches of the modern era, but is undoubtedly the best-hyped match in the history of the Showcase of the Immortals.
The background to the marquee match can trace its roots back to the latter stages of 1999. Steve Austin, the WWF’s premier babyface since late 1997, was in desperate need of time off to recuperate from various injuries sustained over the previous few years (most notably, Austin was still suffering from the severe neck injury sustained at the hands of a botched Owen Hart piledriver at the ’97 SummerSlam event).
Written out of storylines through a whodunit car accident angle at the Survivor Series pay-per-view in November ‘99, Austin took an extended hiatus from professional wrestling.
In the absence of Stone Cold, The Rock, despite portraying a heel for most of his early WWF career, emerged as the company’s top face through high-profile feuds with the likes of the Big Show, Triple H and the entire McMahon-Helmsley faction.
Holding the WWF Championship several times throughout Austin’s tenure on the injury shelf, The Brahma Bull had become the new WWF poster boy during a successful 2000 and crossed over into mainstream culture with TV appearances for Saturday Night Live and as part of a collaboration with music artist Wyclef Jean.
Steve Austin returned to action in late 2000, and immediately set his sights upon regaining the WWF title. During the acclaimed feud with Triple H in January 2001 (The Game had been the storyline mastermind behind the automobile attack over a year previously), Austin eliminated a rampant Kane to win the Royal Rumble Match and challenge for the WWF’s top prize at the upcoming WrestleMania.
A month later at the No Way Out pay-per-view, The Rock regained the WWF title in a fine match-up with Kurt Angle and, as a result, was heading into the Reliant Astrodome in Houston, Texas as the top guy in the company.
Unlike their previous storyline that fed into WrestleMania XV, the 2001 program between Austin and The Rock benefited from not following the typical heel vs. face formula, and became the biggest face vs. face showdown since the Hulk Hogan/Ultimate Warrior contest at WrestleMania VI.
The sit-down interviews and in-ring promos in the weeks prior to the match put both men over equally, of which the most enthralling segment occurred on the Feb. 26 broadcast of RAW. Austin, standing face-to-face with the champion, advised The Rock to “stay healthy” on the road to WrestleMania, whilst the champion urged his challenger to simply “get ready.”
Segments such as the aforementioned created such an aura of intensity around the WrestleMania X-Seven main event that it felt like both men literally had to win.
The WWF Championship bout between The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin was exceptional, even by the hard-hitting and highly entertaining standards of the WWF in 2001. Austin, the hometown hero, received a monstrous reception from the 67,000+ Texas crowd, and The Rock entered the Reliant Astrodome as the underdog titleholder.
After a solid 25 minutes of stunning near-falls and incredibly competitive action, Austin eventually put a bloody champion down for the three-count via a flurry of vicious steel chair shots.
However, Austin won the match with the help of long-time rival Vince McMahon, turning the WWF’s most popular babyface heel in the process. Austin, the new WWF Champion, had turned his back on his fans in the biggest match of his career.
Taking place in the headline slot of greatest card ever produced by the World Wrestling Federation, Austin’s title victory and subsequent heel turn is seen by many as the final chapter of the Attitude Era boom period.
The match inception, build-up and action was phenomenal from start to finish, and can be held in high regard as the greatest WrestleMania package ever created.
UrbanDictionary.com defines hype as “a clever marketing strategy in which a product is advertised as the thing everyone must have, to the point where people begin to feel they need to consume it.”
In professional wrestling, this term is effectively right on the money.
The matches mentioned in this article were exceptionally successful due to the credible presentation and pre-event build-ups that made fans feel like they literally needed to see it and, as a result, parted with their hard-earned cash in order to watch the best of what WWE had to offer on pay-per-view.
In short, it is apparent that Vince McMahon and WWE are still the kings of professional wrestling hype; a full 25+ years after the organisation first went national with its then-fledgling PPV business model.
WrestleMania 29 this Sunday will be a testament to the McMahon Empire’s complete grasp on the importance of hype in pro-wrestling: something that is evident in the fact that all pro-wrestling fans will be paying close attention to the events occurring in East Rutherford, N.J., regardless of their views on McMahon, the company or the athletes performing on the card.
And in a time when the relevance of professional wrestling is rapidly decreasing, that is the way it should be.
Thank you for reading!
Comments welcome below and on Twitter: @matthewtsquires
Matt Squires is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, and covers other sports for websites such as This Is Futbol. For more on Matt, please visit his personal website Matthew T Squires.