If you have spent some time reviewing rankings of this sort before, then you will find that most such lists have WrestleMania XVII (also known as WrestleMania X7) ranked No. 1.
There are many reasons for this. There were no shortage of great matches at WrestleMania XVII, but it was really the occurrence of one of the most anticipated main events in WrestleMania history, combined with a very unexpected swerve at the end of the night, that, in my mind, gives this WrestleMania the very slight edge over WrestleMania XIX.
On a match-for-match basis, I feel that WrestleMania XIX had just as many quality matches as did WrestleMania XVII, perhaps even a bit more. But the storylines leading into WrestleMania XVII were better, the drama thicker and the unthinkable heel turn of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin at the end of the night just made for a better overall event.
WrestleMania XVII originated from the Reliant Astrodome in Houston, Texas, and six championships would be on the line. By any measure, WrestleMania XVII shaped up, on paper anyway, to be an epic event—and it delivered in a big way.
The event got underway with Chris Jericho defending the Intercontinental Championship against Commissioner William Regal. This ended up being a very good match, and when Regal reversed Y2J's attempt at the Walls of Jericho and locked Jericho into the Regal Stretch, a new champion seemed imminent.
Jericho, however, would get to the ropes and break the hold. A few moments later, Jericho would connect with the Lionsault to retain the IC Championship.
The Triple Threat match for the Hardcore Championship between the champion Raven, Kane and the Big Show was probably the best of any of the Hardcore Championship matches ever contested at WrestleMania.
Almost immediately after the match began, the three men were battling each other through the crowd and into the backstage area. The three competitors ended up in an enclosed chain-fence-like area creating an almost impromptu Hell in the Cell match. Unfortunately for Raven, though, they did not stay confined for long and Kane threw Raven through a plate-glass window.
From there, Kane and Big Show continued to brawl with Big Show blasting Kane through a door and then both men slamming each other through a wall. Kane ran Raven down with a golf cart. Anything not nailed down was fair game.
The three men eventually ended up back out on the stage area, and Big Show pressed Raven overhead seemingly ready to slam him down and take the title. Instead, Kane nailed Big Show with a boot to the head, and Big Show and Raven fell into an enclosed area. Kane followed this up with a diving leg drop, got the pin and became the new Hardcore champion in one of the more wild matches in WrestleMania history.
Another factor not previously mentioned that made WrestleMania XVII such a extraordinary event was the timing of the event and the general landscape of professional wrestling taking place at the time. WCW had just collapsed and been purchased by the WWE. The Monday Night Wars were over, and with WCW going down in flames, there was an unprecedented influx of quality talent coming into the WWE.
The next two matches demonstrated this quite well.
The first example of this was Test defending the European Championship against Eddie Guerrero. Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko all made their way to WWE together roughly a year earlier and soon staked their claim to dominating their new home.
During the match, Test got his foot caught in the ropes and Guerrero's stable mate in the Radicalz, Saturn, nailed Test with some definite cheap shots. Despite being at a huge size disadvantage, Guerrero controlled the flow of action for much of the match. After delivering a low blow and distracting the referee, Saturn got involved again and delivered a Brain Buster but Test kicked out.
Test would connect with his Pumphandle Powerslam, but Guerrero would kick out. With Test finally gaining control of the match, Malenko made his appearance at ringside and distracted the referee. Guerrro would slam Test in the head with the European Championship belt and captured the title.
Benoit would get his chance to further his situation next as he took on Kurt Angle. Angle and Benoit had a rivalry for many years after this match, but it seems as though their encounter at WrestleMania XVII was the foundation for that ongoing rivalry. With both men being submission specialists, a hard-hitting match was expected.
Angle and Benoit delivered on what I feel is a relatively forgotten classic.
Their match at WrestleMania XVII was every bit the technical masterpiece that the Angle vs. Brock Lesnar match was two years later. For almost 15 minutes, Benoit and Angle traded holds, counterholds, reversals, pin attempts and submission attempts.
Angle would be the one to start employing some more brawling tactics and took a slight advantage. Benoit would battle back, and the pinfall attempts for Benoit seemed to come in bunches.
Things got very interesting when both men tried to get the other to submit to their own respective finishing move. First Benoit locked Angle in the Ankle Lock, and then Angle would trap Benoit in the Crippler Crossface. Neither man would yield or submit. The referee got knocked down, and Benoit locked in the Crossface on Angle, forcing Angle to tap out.
Unfortunately for the Rabid Wolverine, though, the referee did not witness Angle submitting. When Benoit went to try to revive the referee, Angle snuck up from behind and delivered the Angle Slam, but Benoit would kick out. Angle then went for a top-rope moonsault, but Benoit got his knees up at the last moment.
Benoit would then connect with a diving head-butt from the top rope, but this time it was Angle who incredibly kicked out. Benoit then tried to again apply the Crippler Crossface, but Angle rolled him up, used Benoit's tights for leverage and picked up the hard-fought, albeit somewhat cheapened, win.
The Street Fight between Vince McMahon and his son Shane had a great buildup leading into the match. The conflict between father and son arose out of the divorce proceedings between Vince McMahon and his wife Linda. Vince began to openly exploit his supposed affair with Trish Stratus and was flaunting it in the face of Linda, who was believed to be in some sort of catatonic state of denial.
Not surprisingly, Shane took offense to this and challenged his father to a match at WrestleMania XVII. The whole situation got ratcheted up even further just a week before WrestleMania XVII when on Raw, Vince announced that he had purchased WCW but had not finalized signing the contracts. In a momentous moment in WWE history, Raw and Nitro were simulcast at the same time, on the same channel.
Much to Vince's shock, though, Shane showed up in the Nitro ring and announced that he was the McMahon who had actually purchased WCW.
With Mick Foley serving as special referee, and with Stephanie McMahon in her father's corner, there were all sorts of combustible elements involved in this one.
Shane dominated the early part of the match, beating his father with anything he could get his hands on, nailing Vince with a clothesline from off the guard rail and, in general, just beating the tar out of his dad. Shane would set up Vince on the Spanish announce table and proceeded to the top rope to deliver an elbow drop. Stephanie pulled Vince out of the way, though, and Shane crashed through the table.
At this point, Trish Stratus brought Linda McMahon down to ringside in a wheelchair. Trish and Stephanie quickly got into a cat fight after Trish slapped Mr. McMahon across the face. Meanwhile, Vince took control of the match and brought his supposedly sedated wife into the ring so she could watch Vince beat their son with a garbage can, blasting Foley in the head with chair shots along the way.
To the surprise and delight of everyone, Linda rose from the chair, confronted her husband and kicked him squarely in the groin. Foley got a measure of revenge as he beat Mr. McMahon into the corner.
From there, Shane executed his now famous Coast-to-Coast dropkick where he literally flew from one corner to the other, drop kicking a trash can into the face of his prone father. Three seconds later and son had gotten the better of his father in satisfying fashion.
The Triple Threat match for the Tag Team Championship was another amazing battle in the history of phenomenal bouts between the Hardy Boyz, Dudley Boyz and Edge and Christian. The three teams had set a new standard for a Ladder match a year previously at WrestleMania XVI.
The three teams then took things to an even more extreme level at Summer Slam 2000 by competing in the first ever Tables, Ladders & Chairs match, a match won by Edge and Christian. At WrestleMania XVII, the three teams would square off in another TLC match, with the Dudleyz putting their titles on the line.
It did not seem possible that the three teams could take things any further, but they incredibly did just that. As dangerous as their previous two matches had been, this one was even more so. How these three teams kept things going for more than 15 minutes, delivering the punishment to each other that they did, is nothing short of amazing.
Each passing moment of the match saw one team or the other seemingly up the ante and take a bigger risk. Bubba Ray Dudley powerbombed Jeff Hardy through Edge, who was lying on a table, shattering the table in the process. A few minutes later, Spike Dudley came to ringside and delivered a huge Bulldog to Christian, driving him through a table outside the ring.
Things got even more chaotic as Rhyno and Lita soon showed up on the scene and began to administer damage. Jeff Hardy set up Rhyno and Spike Dudley on a table outside the ring and climbed to the top of a 20-foot ladder and delivered a Swanton Bomb, driving all three men through the table.
The next moment, Christian and D-Von Dudley were hanging from the title belts, but neither could hold their grip and they both eventually fell back to the ring. Jeff Hardy then seemed poised to win as he had his fingers on the belts. But in one of the more amazing moments in the match, Edge climbed to the top of another 20-foot ladder and speared Hardy in midair, causing both men to crash to the mat.
As if that was not enough, Rhyno slammed into another huge ladder, sending Matt Hardy and Bubba Ray Dudley crashing through multiple tables outside of the ring. Then, almost mercifully, Rhyno gave Christian a boost by placing him on his shoulders and climbing the ladder. With the extra height, Christian was able to retrieve the tag team title belts as Edge and Christian prevailed in an absolutely thrilling match.
Now, new fans to the WWE who came on the scene in the past couple of years know all about the rivalry between The Undertaker and Triple H. Their matches at WrestleMania XXVII and XXVIII were the stuff of legend. But what some may not know is that the two men actually squared off at WrestleMania XVII as well—and the match at the Reliant Astrodome might actually have been the best of the trilogy.
There was a lot of trash talking going on between The Game and Undertaker leading into the match, with Triple H claiming he was the best in the WWE and Undertaker noting that Triple H had never beaten him before. Things escalated quickly between the two, and the match was set for WrestleMania XVII.
This was as physical a match as any other at WrestleMania XVII. The early parts of the match took place predominantly outside the ring. Once inside the ring, the referee was quickly knocked out and the two legends of the ring took turns just mauling each other.
The fight soon spilled outside the ring and into an elevated camera area. Undertaker pummeled The Game for a while here as the crowd cheered on. Triple H would ultimately get his hands on a chair and laid waste to The Undertaker with multiple and repeated chair shots. Undertaker would recover and proceeded to chokeslam Triple H to the floor.
Once back in the ring, Undertaker got his hands on a sledgehammer, but Triple H felled him with a low blow. Triple H tried to hit Undertaker with a Tombstone Piledriver, but Undertaker reversed this and hit a Tombstone of his own. But the referee was still out of it and no count ensued. Undertaker went for the Last Ride, but Triple H got his hands on the sledgehammer and bashed 'Taker in the head just in time for the referee to come around.
But Undertaker kicked out and would eventually hit Triple H with the Last Ride and improved his WrestleMania record to 9-0.
The final match was the main event battle for the WWE Championship between Austin and the reigning champion, The Rock. Not since WrestleMania VI, where Hulk Hogan locked horns with The Ultimate Warrior, had two faces of this stature faced off at WrestleMania.
For Austin, the match against The Rock at WrestleMania XVII represented the end of the road back from neck surgery. Austin had been on the shelf for nine months following his surgery, although his absence was explained by way of him being run down in a parking garage by an unknown assailant.
When Austin did return, he won the 2001 Royal Rumble and earned a title shot at WrestleMania. At No Way Out, The Rock won the WWE Championship from Angle, and this set the stage for one of the biggest matches in WrestleMania history.
This match might actually be the most physically intense battle in WrestleMania history. Austin pretty much allowed The Rock to go to one corner and look out into the crowd before he went on the attack. With the Texas crowd solidly in his corner, the Rattlesnake went after the champion with everything he had. The first few moments of the match saw both men going for their finishing moves.
The match would incredibly go on for almost 30 minutes and having it turned into a no-disqualification match changed the landscape considerably. Both men would bust the other open by slamming him in the head with the ring bell.
Back inside the ring, Austin continued to control things, but The Rock fought back. Things did not stay in the ring for long, as Austin assaulted The Rock with some video monitors outside the ring. Back in the ring, Austin went for the Stone Cold Stunner, but The Rock blocked it and put Austin into a Sharpshooter. Austin was able to get to the ropes just in the nick of time.
But then Austin would lock The Rock in a Sharpshooter. The Rock would power out of it. Austin would then administer a Million Dollar Dream sleeper hold on The Rock, but The Rock escaped. The Rock then connected with a Stone Cold Stunner but could only get a two count.
The tension and drama continued to mount as Mr. McMahon strolled down to ringside. The Rock connected with the People's Elbow, but McMahon pulled The Rock off of Austin before he could execute the pin. Austin then nailed The Rock with a Rock Bottom but, again, could only get a two count.
Then the unthinkable began to take shape. Austin asked McMahon to give him a chair, and McMahon complied. Austin held The Rock while McMahon blasted The Rock in the head with a chair. Again, The Rock kicked out. More chaos ensued and Austin finally connected with a Stunner. But, incredibly, The Rock kicked out again.
From there, Austin beat The Rock into submission with about 15 chair shots to a helpless champion. Once the three count finally came down and Austin won the WWE Championship, Austin and McMahon congratulated each other verifying a heel turn by the Rattlesnake.
The Austin heel turn at WrestleMania XVII was on an equal scale with the heel turn made by Hulk Hogan when he joined the nWo back in 1996. It was a shocking turn of events that no one saw coming.
It also brought to a conclusion the greatest WrestleMania of them all in the most dramatic fashion possible.
Can WrestleMania XXX possibly be better than WrestleMania XVII?
I guess we will find out soon enough.