WWE

WWE WrestleMania 2014: Matches That Have Defined PPV's Legacy

Erik BeastonFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2014

WWE WrestleMania 2014: Matches That Have Defined PPV's Legacy

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Throughout the 30-year history of WrestleMania, the top stars in the industry have competed in matches that have defined the importance and spectacle of the event.

    Whether it was Hulk Hogan stomping his way down the aisle to take on Andre the Giant in the main event of WrestleMania III or The Rock embracing Flo Rida on his way to the squared circle to clash with John Cena, the matches have become benchmarks for every Superstar to try to surpass as they prepare for their moment in the spotlight on the grandest stage the sport has to offer.

    They have inspired generations of fans and wrestlers alike and are relived in video packages, highlights and on the brand new WWE Network.

    Featuring the likes of Hogan, Rock, Steve Austin, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Undertaker and John Cena, here is a look back at the matches that have defined the legacy of WrestleMania. 

Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff (WrestleMania)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    On March 31, 1985, professional wrestling was changed forever when Vince McMahon's promotion, known then as the World Wrestling Federation, presented a sports and entertainment extravaganza unlike any the world had ever seen before.

    Celebrities from the sports, television and music worlds came together to take part in the event. The marquee bout, the main event of the show, was slated to be the villainous "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and partner "Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff taking on breakout star of television's The A-Team Mr. T and consummate good guy and WWE champion Hulk Hogan.

    With all-time great New York Yankees manager Billy Martin serving as guest ring announcer, Liberace sitting at ringside as guest timekeeper and Muhammad Ali filling the role of outside enforcer, WrestleMania was the show that fans and non-fans alike simply could not miss.

    Fans filled the historic Madison Square Garden for the night's main event.

    Piper was unquestionably the most hated man in the sport, and wrestling fans across the country simply could not wait to see the loudmouthed Scot get what was coming to him courtesy of the Hulkster and Mr. T.

    Those fans would not be disappointed.

    The match was a spectacle. The wrestling involved was very basic and, at times, not very good. But it was also filled with spots that popped the New York crowd, made for great photo opportunities and captured the imaginations of viewers watching on closed-circuit television in theaters and arenas throughout the United States.

    By the time "Cowboy" Bob Orton came off the top rope and accidentally caught friend Orndorff with a shot to the back of the head using his infamous cast and Hogan scored the pin for his team, it had become abundantly clear that fans had gotten their money's worth out of the innovative and revolutionary show.

    The culmination of major feuds and the integration of mainstream media and celebrities into the world of professional wrestling created a formula that would become key to the success of WrestleMania over the course of the next three decades.

Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant (WrestleMania III)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The greatest main event ever promoted by Vince McMahon is the Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant WWE Championship match from WrestleMania III.

    Bar none.

    Andre's heel turn stunned the wrestling world. One of the most beloved stars ever had turned his back on his friends and his beliefs in pursuit of the one thing that eluded him throughout his celebrated career—the WWE title.

    Hogan, like millions of fans, was shocked and saddened by the giant's decision to throw away years of friendship for the lure of gold.

    Word of their titanic battle captivated an entire nation. Fans traveled to Pontiac, Mich. from all corners of the country to see the match. When all was said and done, an official attendance tally of 93,173 resulted in a brand new indoor attendance record.

    The match was every bit as epic as one would expect.

    The staredown in the opening moments of the match, the near-fall following a failed bodyslam attempt, the bear hug, the successful body slam and the visual of Hogan celebrating his victory are all images from the bout that remain indelibly etched in the minds of all who have witnessed it.

    Hogan ended Andre's undefeated streak, retained his title and became the unquestioned biggest star in professional wrestling.

    The main event of WrestleMania III is a benchmark in terms of marketing, hype and execution that main events today still strive to live up to. 

Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior (WrestleMania VI)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The SkyDome in Toronto was the setting for the first WrestleMania main event to feature two babyfaces squaring off against one another, as Hulk Hogan took on the Ultimate Warrior in a match where both Hogan's WWE Championship and Warrior's Intercontinental Championship were on the line.

    Anticipation was at a fever pitch as the Superstars took to the squared circle for the match dubbed the "Ultimate Challenge."

    As the bell rang, they stepped to the center of the ring and the match was on. 

    Warrior and Hogan battled for over 22 minutes, exchanging control of the bout during that time before Hogan hit the ropes for his patented leg drop. Warrior rolled out of the way, made it to his feet and caught the Hulkster with a big splash. Three seconds later, he had done what few thought he could: cleanly pin Hulk Hogan in the center of the ring in the main event of WrestleMania VI.

    It was a moment where Hogan passed the torch to his opponent, as WWE attempted to create a new main event player to help take some of the pressure off the company's top star.

    Warrior never turned out to be the draw that Hogan was, for a number of reasons, but on that April night in 1990, he was put over as strong as any Superstar had ever been in a WrestleMania main event.

Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage (WrestleMania VII)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The retirement match between Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII is not just simply one of the defining matches in event history, it is one of the best.

    In January of 1991, Savage was incensed that he had been passed over for a WWE title shot by Warrior and was looking to gain a measure of revenge. He did just that, breaking a scepter over the champion's head during a match with Sgt. Slaughter. His actions cost Warrior the most prestigious prize in the industry and ignited a heated feud between them.

    It was decided that wrestling was not big enough for the two Superstars to coexist, so a retirement match was booked for WrestleMania in which the loser's career would come to an end.

    Warrior and Savage told a tremendous story in their match at the seventh incarnation of the Showcase of the Immortals. 

    One of the most memorable moments came when Savage hit Warrior with five straight top-rope elbow drops, only for Warrior to kick out to the shock and awe of everyone. Warrior recovered and destroyed Savage, only to look at his hand, then to the sky. He began questioning whether he was meant to continue on his path, to keep his wrestling career alive.

    He began to walk away but soon returned and finished off Savage following a series of high impact shoulder blocks.

    Story had played a huge role in plenty of WrestleMania matches before Warrior and Savage locked up in Los Angeles, but the retirement match in 1991 was the first truly epic match that was very heavy in story.

    Each man played his role to perfection, with Warrior turning in the greatest performance of his (soon-to-be Hall of Fame) career. More importantly, the match showed what incredible impact a great story could have on a match. Future contests, such as the Hell in a Cell match at WrestleMania XXVIII, would benefit greatly from the story told as opposed to the action delivered.

    The post-match activities involving Sensational Sherri and Miss Elizabeth would only make the bout that much more memorable.

Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon (WrestleMania X)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The first Ladder match in WWE to be seen by an international audience took place on March 20, 1994 and featured Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels battling it out for the right to be known as the undisputed Intercontinental champion.

    The talented performers, and real-life friends, tore the house down inside the historic Madison Square Garden, beating and battering one another with the ladder. Michaels, in particular, took unprecedented risks with his body as he flew from the top of the ladder and bumped around on it throughout the contest.

    Though Michaels would become the first Superstar to be readily associated with the Ladder match, he actually lost to Bret Hart in the first one he competed in and suffered another defeat to Ramon at WrestleMania.

    Knocked off the ladder, he became entangled in the ropes and could not get free in time to keep his opponent from scaling the rungs and retrieving both the real and fake Intercontinental titles.

    Ramon stood on top of the ladder victoriously while Michaels was forced to watch his celebration from ringside.

    WrestleMania is the showcase event for World Wrestling Entertainment and as such, it should be home to innovative matches that shape the course of history. That was the case at WrestleMania X, as Michaels and Ramon set the benchmark for every ladder match that followed.

    All-time great tag teams such as the Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian and the Dudley Boyz reference the match as the inspiration for some of their classic TLC and Triangle Ladder matches.

    The Michaels-Ramon match had a long-lasting effect on the WWE product and, to this day, continues to motivate and inspire young Superstars.

Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XII)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Take two of the most talented wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots, give them an hour in the main event of the biggest show of the year and watch the magic happen.

    That is exactly what happened at WrestleMania XII when Bret Hart defended the WWE Championship against Shawn Michaels in a 60-Minute Iron Man match.

    For one hour, Hart and Michaels demonstrated athleticism and endurance that was unmatched by any other Superstar on the WWE roster. They threw absolutely everything they had at one another in an attempt to leave the Anaheim Pond, host to two 'Mania events, with the WWE title in their possession.

    With only a minute of action left, Hart locked Michaels in the Sharpshooter and appeared to be on his way to scoring the only fall of the hour. Michaels, ever resilient, fought the urge to tap and the match seemingly ended in a tie.

    WWE president Gorilla Monsoon ordered a sudden-death overtime period where the winner would be the first to score a fall over the other.

    Just minutes into that period, Michaels capitalized on his second chance by catching Hart with Sweet Chin Music, pinning him and securing his first WWE Championship.

    The match was a perfect example of what the WrestleMania main event could be when the glitz and glamour associated with those that came before it give way to great wrestling between two superb athletes.

Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (WrestleMania 13)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    There are very few matches that can be considered perfect. The submission match between Bret Hart and Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIII is one of them.

    The Hardy-Austin rivalry dated back to the previous fall and had made for some incredibly entertaining and intense television. There was such hatred between the two that fans easily bought into their feud, making it one of the best of the era. 

    A Submission match was booked for WrestleMania in Chicago, with the only rule being that the winner would be determined once he forced his opponent to submit. With Hart being a more technically skilled wrestler and employing the Sharpshooter submission hold, it appeared as though the odds were in his favor.

    With Austin's tenaciousness and refusal to quit, however, it was unlikely that he would ever submit to his heated rival.

    Something had to give.

    A wild and chaotic brawl around the Rosemont Horizon saw Hart bloody Austin significantly. After assaulting each other with weapons from around the ringside area, Hart targeted the knee of Austin and eventually locked in the Sharpshooter.

    Austin screamed in pain as blood poured from a laceration on his forehead, down over his face and into his mouth. The crowd was solidly behind the Texas Rattlesnake, despite being a heel heading into the match, and they cheered every attempt he made to try and escape the hold.

    Ultimately, the blood loss and pain proved to be too much. Austin passed out and the match was awarded to Hart. After an attempted post-match beatdown of Austin, Hart effectively became the most hated man in WWE while Austin became the most popular.

    The company executed a rare double-turn that would have an unfathomable impact on WWE programming in the months to come and the company as a whole in the years that followed.

Steve Austin vs. The Rock (WrestleMania X7)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    At its best, WrestleMania is a showcase for the top stars in the industry to prove their greatness in front of a worldwide audience.

    WrestleMania X7 has been held in great regard as the greatest pay-per-view event ever produced by any wrestling company. One of the most talented rosters in the history of the business and some of the most engrossing rivalries of the period made for a stacked card, the main event of which was the epic showdown between the top two stars of the generation, The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.

    With Austin claiming, per 411Mania.com, "I need to beat you Rock. I need it more than you could ever imagine," fans knew that they were in for a wild match.

    Austin and Rock brawled around ringside, bled for their craft and took the fans on a roller-coaster ride of emotions.

    They withstood each other's signature moves and kicked out of each other's finishers. Each man broke out moves they are not typically associated with, including a Million Dollar Dream from Austin, a move he had not used in five years.

    There were many questions surrounding the announcement prior to the bout about the No Disqualification stipulation that had been placed on it. Who was responsible for that decision?

    That answer came when Vince McMahon made his way to the ring.

    In a shocking moment, the boss aided Austin in assaulting Rock. Stone Cold bashed the champion with a steel chair several times before pinning him and winning the title.

    The handshake between Austin and McMahon was a stunning development and really brought an end to the Attitude Era as fans had known it.

The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania X8)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Icon vs. Icon.

    That was how the epic collision between The Rock and Hulk Hogan was billed, and rightfully so. The Rock was arguably the biggest star of the period, while Hogan was the man who helped build WrestleMania from its infancy.

    The two Superstars entered the SkyDome in Toronto, the very same building in which Hogan suffered his biggest loss, for a monumental battle.

    The crowd, ever loyal to the Hulkster for all that he had done for the industry, voiced its support for him. For as bad as he had been in WCW, Hogan rediscovered greatness for one night and delivered his finest performance in nearly a decade.

    The Rock won the match, but it was Hogan who came out of WrestleMania as the biggest winner. He proved that, on the biggest stage, he could still deliver, and more importantly, he proved that Hulkamania will forever live in the hearts of his fans.

    The match was exactly the type of epic clash that 'Mania was meant to host.

Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania 25)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Like Rock-Hogan, The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV was a battle between two of the greatest wrestlers to ever lace up a pair of boots. They had built a heated rivalry in the weeks leading into the event, with Michaels channeling the light and Undertaker favoring the dark.

    The match that resulted was one of the most dramatic to ever unfold inside a squared circle. Each future Hall of Famer escaped, countered and kicked out of the other's signature and finishing maneuvers. It had the fans in Houston's Reliant Stadium on the edge of their seats for every high-impact move and heart-stopping near-fall.

    Whether it was Undertaker diving over the top rope and nearly breaking his neck as he crashed to the arena floor or Michaels moonsaulting off the top rope and right into a Tombstone piledriver, the match was full of outstanding spots and moments.

    The Undertaker won, of course, but the bigger story was the instant classic fans had just witnessed.

John Cena vs. The Rock (WrestleMania XXVIII)

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    Credit: WWE.com

    The "Once in a Lifetime" match between The Rock and John Cena at WrestleMania XXVIII was a year in the making and featured the two biggest stars of their respective generations.

    The animosity between the two began in social media, poured over onto the screen and had fans choosing sides like a teenage girls at a Twilight flick.

    By the time the wrestlers took to the ring for the main event of the show, anticipation had reached its height.

    The match, which was good on its own, was made considerably better thanks to the vocal crowd in Miami.

    Cena lost his focus, attempted to mock Rock's People's Elbow and wound up eating a Rock Bottom before having his shoulders pinned to the mat. A dejected Cena watched from the ramp while Rock celebrated among his people in his hometown.

    The match was reminiscent of the Hulk Hogan-Randy Savage main event of WrestleMania V in that it had built for so long and had fans so invested in the story—and the hype surrounding the match was at such a high level—that it would have been easy for fans to leave disappointed.

    Thanks to the Superstars' determination to deliver an epic main event, the audience was spared that feeling.

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