WWE: The Top 10 WrestleManias of All Time
WrestleMania celebrates its 30th anniversary on Sunday.
In 30 years time, WrestleMania has become an incredible event, comparable in scope and scale to the Super Bowl. No other event in the world of professional wrestling comes close to the spectacle that is WrestleMania.
The event transcends generations and brings fans of the WWE—old, young and somewhere in between—together to watch the best in the industry put on a show that brings storylines to a conclusion or, sometimes, new ones to life.
Some of the greatest moments in WWE and pro wrestling history have taken place at WrestleMania.
Some of the greatest wrestlers in the history of sports entertainment have made their mark on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
Naturally, with an event as incredible as WrestleMania—and with 29 years worth of events to look back upon—coming up with a list of the best WrestleManias of all time has been done numerous times in the past.
But with the launch of the WWE Network, we now have the opportunity to truly go back and watch all 29 events—if one were so inclined—and gain a whole new perspective. If a fan has access to the WWE Network, it has never been so easy to relive history as it is now.
Some WrestleMania cards have been better than others. Some events have been tremendous from top to bottom. Others...not so much.
Ranking the best WrestleMania matches ever is one thing. Ranking each WrestleMania as a whole—and trying to determine which one was the grandest of them all—is a different endeavor.
From a personal perspective, I have watched every WrestleMania and even went to one that, to be quite honest, does not appear on this list—WrestleMania IX. So I feel fairly qualified to take my own stab at making this list.
Obviously, many of you will disagree with aspects of this list, while others might agree completely. If nothing else, I hope this will give all fans a good reference of the best WrestleManias to revisit as we draw ever closer to WrestleMania XXX.
So here, for your enjoyment, is a ranking of the top 10 WrestleManias of all time.
What Makes a WrestleMania Great?
The problem with a list like this—or any sort of top-10 list—is that there are no universally accepted criteria for determining the issue.
The entire endeavor is completely subjective. What I think is a determining factor could be completely different from your criteria. Such is to be expected in any sort of top-10 ranking.
Nevertheless, I will divulge some of the factors that I used to compile this list so that you can understand the method to my madness here.
One of those factors will be very obvious—the quality of the matches on the card. But this factor, standing on its own, is not completely determinative.
I will give you two examples. Go back to WrestleMania XIII. The match between Bret "The Hitman" Hart and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin is widely regarded as one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history, perhaps even one of the best matches ever.
But the rest of the card is generally considered to be weak, and the event as a whole was nothing spectacular. WrestleMania XIII did not even sell out. As great as Austin vs. Hart was, it could not salvage the rest of the event.
Something similar, but to a lesser extent, could be said about WrestleMania XXV. That card had some great matches, notably the Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker masterpiece and the Triple H vs. Randy Orton clash for the WWE Championship.
But those two bouts got lost amidst some poor matches. For instance, the 25-Diva Battle Royal was particularly bad, and the Triple Threat match between John Cena, Edge and Big Show for the World Heavyweight Championship was not what it could have been.
Another example is WrestleMania XII, where not even the 60-minute Iron Man classic between The Hitman and The Heartbreak Kid could salvage a rather dull card. Then there's WrestleMania VI, where the unforgettable match between Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior could not make the overall event anything more than average.
So the quality of the matches is important, but it is not the only factor to consider.
The historical impact of the card is also a key factor. But, again, it is not the only factor to consider. If that were the case, WrestleMania I would appear on every list. If you spend any time looking at similar rankings, the inaugural WrestleMania rarely appears, even though, historically speaking, it might have been the most important WrestleMania of them all.
Another factor to consider is the resolution of the storylines at the event. On many occasions, WrestleMania has served as the final chapter for long-running feuds and rivalries. But, again, it is not the only factor to consider. If that were the case, then WrestleMania IV—which resolved one of the most controversial periods in the history of the WWE Championship—would appear on more of these lists.
In coming up with this list, I was looking for the cards that had the highest-quality matches, the most historical significance and the most entertaining storyline resolutions.
With that as an introduction, let's get on with the actual list.
Before we get to the actual top 10, let's take a look at four WrestleManias that just barely missed the cut.
This is one I really wrestled with, no pun intended. I feel almost obliged to give the first WrestleMania an honorable mention, even though, by most standards, it was an average event.
If you go back and watch the first WrestleMania on WWE Network, you will likely reach the same conclusion many people did: not bad but very far from great.
There were some good moments. Seeing Bruno Sammartino get involved in some fashion was worth the price of admission alone.
King Kong Bundy's nine-second destruction of S.D. Jones is still a record—even if the match actually lasted more like 20 seconds or so.
Other matches just did not live up to expectations, including Greg "The Hammer" Valentine vs. The Junkyard Dog or Ricky Steamboat's win over Matt Borne. Again, they were good matches but not great ones.
There was some satisfaction to be found when Andre The Giant got a measure of revenge against Big John Studd, bodyslamming him and taking $15,000 of his money. The best part was when Andre began throwing money to the crowd, only to have Bobby "The Brain" Heenan snatch the bag away.
The WWE Tag Team Championship match between the U.S. Express and Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik was probably the best match of the night. WWF did a good job of politically charging the match, and when the Russian and Iranian cheated their way to the titles, you could literally feel the disdain coming from the crowd at Madison Square Garden.
The whole Rock and Wrestling connection that surrounded the Wendi Richter and Leilani Kai women's championship match did nothing to help the match. But the importance of that connection to helping WWE become an important piece of American pop culture is undeniable.
The same can be said for the main event pitting Hulk Hogan and Mr. T against "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff. The stars were out in force for this match. Hogan and Mr. T had "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka in their corner, while Piper and Orndorff had Bob Orton in theirs. Liberace was on hand, as was Billy Martin. Muhammad Ali was a special referee.
And, again, the match was OK. Nothing spectacular but not bad at all.
But WrestleMania I remains the only WrestleMania in which the WWE Championship was not defended, and that has always been a big problem.
Nevertheless, from a historical perspective, WrestleMania I was enormous. It more than demonstrated that the WWF could put on a supercard every bit as good—and arguably better—than what Jim Crockett Promotions was doing with Starrcade in WCW (then known as the NWA).
And without WrestleMania I, we would not be gearing up for WrestleMania XXX this weekend. Vince McMahon took a whale of a gamble—and it has paid off handsomely for him for three decades.
Due to the historical importance of the first WrestleMania, it gets an honorable mention on this list.
WrestleMania VIII could have been the site for one of the most anticipated matches in the history of professional wrestling. It was supposed to be the moment when, at long last, Hulk Hogan and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair would lock up and answer the question as to who was truly the real world champion.
Hogan and Flair had dominated WWE and WCW, respectively, for many years, and fans had long debated who would win if the two ever actually met inside the squared circle.
In 1991, Flair came to the WWE, and the dream match became a real possibility. When he became heavily involved in Hogan losing the title to The Undertaker at the 1991 Survivor Series—sparking a crazy series of events that resulted in Flair winning the WWE Championship at the 1992 Royal Rumble—a Hogan vs. Flair clash to resolve the issue seemed a foregone conclusion.
It never happened, though. The two men would meet in several house shows that were largely inconsequential. For a variety of reasons, the Hogan vs. Flair dream match would not truly occur until 1994, when both men were in WCW.
Nevertheless, WrestleMania VIII was still a great event. The Undertaker's emergence as a face was solidified as he defeated 2014 WWE Hall of Fame inductee Jake "The Snake" Roberts in a very good, albeit brief, match. Roberts would be victim No. 2 in Undertaker's amazing WrestleMania streak.
The best match of the night was actually the clash for the Intercontinental Championship between the champion "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Bret "The Hitman" Hart. This was a fantastic back-and-forth battle that saw Piper match Hart move for move.
In the end, a bloody Hitman was able to execute a brilliant reversal of Piper's sleeper hold by springing off the turnbuckles and pinning Piper to capture the title. It marked the first time that Piper was ever cleanly pinned on a nationally televised WWE event.
Instead of Hogan, Flair had to contend with none other than "Macho Man" Randy Savage for the WWE Championship. In virtually every way, Savage made for a better match with Flair than Hogan would have. Savage and Flair were both far superior to Hogan from a technical perspective, and they put on an excellent scrap.
The clash also had some great drama thrown into it with Flair's claim that the Macho Man's wife/manager, Miss Elizabeth, had been with the Nature Boy before she had been with Savage. In the end, Savage executed a slick roll up on Slick Ric, captured his second WWE Championship and defended the honor of his woman.
As for Hogan, he had a forgettable match with Sid Justice, and not even the surprising return of The Ultimate Warrior at the end of the night could make the Hogan vs. Justice bout anything more than average.
On the whole, though, WrestleMania VIII was still one of the better cards in the history of the event.
WrestleMania XXIV is another one that fell just short of being great but was still incredibly good.
This event had some memorable matches, and most of them had some solid storylines as well.
WrestleMania XXIV held the fourth annual Money In The Bank ladder match, and it was a particularly satisfying victory for CM Punk. Punk had fallen just short a year previously when Mr. Kennedy prevailed. At WrestleMania XXIV, though, Punk would break through and capture the MITB contract.
The Triple Threat match between John Cena, Randy Orton and Triple H for the WWE Championship was pretty good but not great. It brought some level of conclusion to a pretty good feud between the three men that really got going with Cena's surprise return at the 2008 Royal Rumble (which Cena won), took an interesting turn at Elimination Chamber (where Triple H prevailed) and evolved into a Triple Threat battle for the belt.
The bout ended in chaotic fashion with Orton retaining the title by punting Triple H in the head after The Game had delivered a Pedigree to Cena and was moving in for the pin.
The battle for the World Heavyweight Championship created a better than expected match between the Undertaker and Edge. The buildup to this match had been done very well. Edge had gotten the better of the "Dead Man" ever since he had cashed in the Money In The Bank contract on an episode of SmackDown.
The whole series of events created just enough doubt about the Undertaker's undefeated WrestleMania streak—which stood at 15-0 at the time—to capture the interest of fans. Edge gave it all he had and had the 'Taker in trouble on more than one occasion. But in the end, Undertaker went to 16-0 at WrestleMania—and won the World Championship—by forcing Edge to submit to the Hell's Gate.
The match that had the best storyline—and more tugs at the heartstrings than perhaps any other WrestleMania match in recent memory—was the career-threatening encounter between Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair. When Vince McMahon decreed that the Nature Boy's next loss would be his last, Flair's career was on borrowed time. Flair, however, defied the odds time and time again, leading into his showdown with HBK at WrestleMania.
Their mutual respect made for some high drama once their match got going. In his final match in a WWE ring, Flair gave all he had. In the end, though, Michaels uttered the now famous, "I'm sorry...I love you," before blasting Flair into retirement with one final Sweet Chin Music.
Ironically, it would be Michaels' final win at WrestleMania. Two years later, it would be HBK's turn to face his own wrestling mortality in a WrestleMania ring.
WrestleMania XXIV was very good but had its problems. The Big Show vs. Floyd Mayweather debacle was particularly disappointing, as was the ECW Championship match—if you can call it that—between Kane and Chavo Guerrero. All in all, though, WrestleMania XXIV was one of the better cards in the near 30-year history of the event.
WrestleMania XXVIII got off to such a bad start that even though the rest of the event was fantastic, it was still not enough to propel the card into the top 10. Still, the 28th was full of great matches and huge moments that it has to be considered one of the better WrestleManias of the lot.
Things began on the wrong foot when the WWE wasted an opportunity to put on what could have been a good match between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus for the World Championship. Instead, we got the functional equivalent of a squash match on an accelerated level. Sheamus ended Bryan's reign in just 18 seconds in a stunning start to the event.
The next two matches were not much better, as Kane upset Randy Orton and Big Show had a quasi-WrestleMania moment by defeating Cody Rhodes for the Intercontinental Championship. Both matches were average. They were nothing to write home about.
But the second half of the card was very strong. There was the End of an Era, Hell in a Cell match pitting the Undertaker vs. Triple H. It was the second consecutive year the two men would meet. Shawn Michaels was the guest referee this time around, which practically guaranteed that something unforgettable would take place.
The two men brutalized each other with a steel chair. There was even a moment—after HBK hit the Undertaker with Sweet Chin Music, which was immediately followed up by a Pedigree—that you thought The Streak might end. In the end, though, 'Taker hit Triple H with one final Tombstone and ran his incredible streak to 20-0.
The match between CM Punk and Chris Jericho for the WWE Championship was a technical masterpiece. Most everyone expected the Punk vs. Jericho match to be good. Instead, it could be argued that it was great. An excellent back-and-forth battle ended when Punk locked Y2J in the Anaconda Vice and retained the title.
Then there was the match that had been a year in the making between The Rock and John Cena. There was so much to like about this match. It was taking place in The Rock's hometown of Miami, so the crowd was very much in his corner.
It was one of those matches where you were not really sure what would happen. Most people felt that Cena would win, as he usually does. But there was enough doubt about the outcome that it enabled you to get lost in the match and enjoy the ride.
The bout exceeded the hype. Both men wrestled very well, and Cena, after a dreadful performance a year earlier, turned in one of his better performances. Another action-packed affair ended in shocking fashion when Cena decided to get cute and tried to nail The Rock with The People's Elbow.
Instead, he ran into a Rock Bottom, and three seconds later the crowd at Sun Life Stadium exploded, celebrating a stunning victory by The Rock.
It was an epic match, and their rematch one year later, at WrestleMania XXIX, would fail to meet the expectations of fans everywhere, who expected more of the same.
If not for the rather disappointing start, WrestleMania XXVIII would have easily made the top 10. As it stands, it is relegated to an honorable mention.
If those four epic cards could not make the list, then which ones did?
It is time to find out.
10. WrestleMania XXII
Throughout its history, certain venues have made some WrestleManias better than others. WrestleMania XXII was one of those events. It was held in Chicago at the Allstate Arena, formerly known as the Rosemont Horizon. The WWE fans in Chicago have always been some of the best anywhere in the United States.
On the evening of April 2, 2006, the Chicago fans were incredible, which made for a fantastic WrestleMania.
Pretty much the entire card was solid, and at least five of the matches were truly exceptional.
The Hardcore match between Edge and Mick Foley was a stirring lesson in brutality. Foley broke out the heavy artillery in this match and demonstrated exactly why he was considered a hardcore legend. What might not have been expected was how Edge did not back down and matched Foley in both intensity and viciousness.
The conclusion of the match is one that most fans had seen numerous times. Lita lit a table outside the ring on fire. Edge then proceeded to spear Foley off the ring apron and through the flaming table. Edge then picked up the pin on the floor, as Foley was too wiped out to kick out. The match had a true ECW feel to it and was one of the more memorable moments of the evening.
The Undertaker ran his WrestleMania record to 14-0 by beating Mark Henry in a Casket Match. What was most impressive about the match was the end. The Dead Man hit Henry with his patented dive over the top rope. Then, in an impressive feat of strength, Undertaker hit Henry with the Tombstone Piledriver and rolled Henry into the casket to secure the win.
I remember being shocked at how easy it was for 'Taker to get a man the size of Henry into position for the Tombstone. It is easy to forget just how powerful a man he is. Watch this match, and you will be reminded of that quite quickly.
The match between Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon was one of the most entertaining beatings of Mr. McMahon in the history of WrestleMania. True, Vince has been beaten up numerous times at WrestleMania—but this one had a little something extra to it.
For more than 15 minutes, The Heartbreak Kid pounded on McMahon. The highlight of the match was when HBK put a nearly unconscious McMahon into a trash can that was lying on a table. Michaels then climbed to the top of the ladder and landed his vaunted elbow drop on McMahon. The 1-2-3 followed shortly.
McMahon, defiant to the end, gave HBK a middle finger salute as he was being wheeled to the back of the arena on a stretcher. Good stuff indeed.
The two championship matches were very good as well. Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton and Kurt Angle squared off in a Triple Threat match for the World Heavyweight Championship. Mysterio had won the 2006 Royal Rumble, eliminating Orton at the end for the victory. This set the stage for Mysterio and Orton to try and take the title away from the reigning champion Angle.
The match was good, albeit not great. With all that talent in the ring, the three men couldn't help but put on a good show. In the end, Mysterio hit a 619 on Orton to capture the World Heavyweight Championship. It was an emotional victory for Mysterio, who was fighting to honor his fallen friend, Eddie Guerrero, who had passed away in November 2005.
Mysterio celebrated his win with Chavo and Vickie Guerrero.
Probably the best match of the card was the WWE Championship match between the champion John Cena, and the challenger Triple H.
There was a lot to like about this match. The entrances of the two men, however, were somewhat forgettable. I give credit to WWE for trying to make the entrances entertaining. But watching Triple H come out in his barbarian outfit and then watching Cena come out with a bunch of guys dressed up like Chicago gangsters—one of them being CM Punk before he became a star—seemed somewhat silly.
The match, however, was anything but silly. WWE wanted to legitimize Cena as a wrestler and not just a guy with lots of muscle and three moves to his repertoire. Having him in a match with Triple H was a great move, as Triple H would be able to carry the action—and make Cena look good along the way—with ease.
To a certain extent, WWE accomplished its objective. Cena wrestled one of his better WrestleMania matches and did show a few new wrinkles. But you have to love the fans in Chicago, who were merciless in their dislike for Cena no matter what he did.
The end of the match was quite exciting with both men trying to execute their finishing maneuvers. Just when it looked like Triple H would hit Cena with the Pedigree, Cena reversed the move right into the STF.
Not only did Cena win, but he made Triple H tap out in the process. The fans in Chicago did not like the result at all. But the match was hugely important for WWE and for the future of Cena.
All in all, WrestleMania XXII was a fantastic event from start to finish. It is worthy of being included as one of the 10 best WrestleManias of all time.
9. WrestleMania XXIII
One year after a great event in Chicago, the WWE brought WrestleMania back to Detroit for the first time since WrestleMania III—and put on an even better show.
WrestleMania XXIII had a little bit of something for everyone. It included several excellent matches that made the event, in my opinion, just a bit better than the year before.
You could tell that WrestleMania XXIII would be good right off the bat as the Money In The Bank ladder match was quite possibly the best of all the MITB matches in WrestleMania history. WWE increased the number of participants from six to eight, and the lineup was most impressive: CM Punk, Booker T, Edge, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy, Randy Orton, Mr. Kennedy and Finlay.
Two of those participants are already in the Hall of Fame (Edge and Booker T), Randy Orton will almost certainly be there one day, and the Hardy brothers, if nothing else, deserve to be there as a tag team. The verdict is still out on CM Punk, although I doubt we have seen the last of him.
The match was fantastic. There were at least three to four "OMG" moments, including Jeff Hardy wiping him and Edge out by performing a leg drop onto a prone Edge from the top of a 15-foot ladder. In the end, Mr. Kennedy would get the best of CM Punk to win the championship contract.
The middle of the card was good as well. We saw Kane become the first person to bodyslam the Great Khali, but Khali still picked up the win. Chris Benoit and MVP put on a good match for the United States Championship. MVP wrestled better than many of us thought he could, but in the end Benoit retained his title.
The card then moved onto the first of the World Championship matches as The Undertaker took on Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship. For more than 15 minutes, the two monsters engaged in a thrilling back-and-forth battle. Undertaker hit Batista with a Choke Slam and The Last Ride during the match but could not keep the world champion down.
Batista nailed The Undertaker with spears, Batista Bombs and running power slams—all to no avail. Power-slamming Undertaker through the announce table was also not enough. And so it went, as each man hit the other with huge moves yet was unable to put the other away.
What was truly impressive about this match was just how much great chemistry existed between Batista and 'Taker. The moves were crisp and clean, and hardly an error in execution was made. After 15 minutes of a real slobber-knocker, Undertaker finished off Batista with the Tombstone to capture the World Heavyweight Championship for the first time, and in doing so, he extended his undefeated WrestleMania streak to 15-0.
ECW then took center stage as the ECW Originals battled The New Breed. Now, if you were a fan of ECW when it carved a niche for itself, then this match was like coming home. Four of the true icons in ECW history (Sabu, Tommy Dreamer, Rob Van Dam and The Sandman) teamed up to take on the team of Elijah Burke, Kevin Thorn, Marcus Cor Von and Matt Striker.
While the match might have lacked some of the extreme things we have come to symbolize with ECW, it had more than its fair share of chaos, particularly at the end when six men were lying outside of the ring. However, Van Dam was able to connect with the Five Star Frog Splash on Striker to give The Originals the win.
The Battle of the Billionaires, pitting Umaga vs. Bobby Lashley, was one of the better gimmick matches that have taken place at WrestleMania. Umaga was representing Vince McMahon, while Lashley was representing Donald Trump. The special stipulation was that the losing billionaire would have his head shaved.
The match was better than expected. Lashley was the ECW champion, and Umaga was a monster. Throw in "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as the guest referee, and all the elements were present for something exciting to happen.
The two behemoths went at it for more than 10 minutes, and Umaga seemed to have the upper hand after he nailed Austin with the Samoan Spike on two occasions. Just when it seemed that Umaga was going to win, Austin re-entered the match, avoided another Samoan Spike and nailed Umaga with a Stone Cold Stunner. After a Lashley spear, Mr. McMahon soon shared the same hair style as his most bitter rival.
The final bout was the WWE Championship match between Shawn Michaels and John Cena, who had been champion since September 2006.
The match was something special. If the Cena vs. Triple H match a year earlier was designed to show that, in fact, Cena could wrestle, then his match at WrestleMania XXIII hammered that point home. Michaels, who is arguably a more technically polished wrestler than Triple H, brought out the best in Cena.
For almost 30 minutes, Cena and HBK went at it. HBK dominated the early moments of the match, but Cena fought back.
One of the big moments was when Michaels hit Cena with a piledriver on the steel steps, lacerating Cena in the process. Michaels was busted open as well during the match. This match was every bit as bloody as some of the matches from the early days of Starrcade.
Near the end of the match, both men tried to hit their finishing maneuvers and experienced counters at every turn. Cena would connect with an FU—but Michaels would kick out. Cena would try and go back to the FU, which would lead to an awesome series of reversals with Michaels trying to hit Sweet Chin Music and Cena trying to put Michaels in the STFU.
At around the 24-minute mark, Cena had Michaels in the STFU for what seemed like forever, but Michaels got to the ropes. Cena got into an argument with the referee and ran right into Sweet Chin Music. But even that could not put the champion away.
With both men barely able to stand, Cena went for the FU one more time, and HBK reversed it but then got caught back in the middle of the ring in the STFU. With nowhere to go, and no chance to get to the ropes, Mr. WrestleMania had to tap out, and Cena retained the WWE Championship in what might have been the most epic match of his career.
WrestleMania XXIII continued the great history of WrestleMania in the Motor City, and while this event ranks lower on the list than WrestleMania III, it was still a magnificent event and definitely one of the 10 best in WrestleMania history.
8. WrestleMania XIV
While the quality of matches at WrestleMania XIV might not have been as good as WrestleMania XXII or XXIII, the historical importance of the 14th installment convinced me to rank it just a bit higher than the first two cards we have looked at.
After all, WrestleMania XIV was where the Attitude Era was truly born. Without WrestleMania XIV, the WWE would probably bear very little resemblance to what we experience today.
When 1998 rolled around, the WWE was locked into the Monday Night Wars with WCW, and WWE was coming up on the short end of the stick. The Montreal Screwjob had taken place in November of 1997, and several high-profile wrestlers had defected to WCW, along with Bret "The Hitman" Hart.
WCW Monday Nitro was routinely generating better ratings than Monday Night Raw, and in general, WWE was suddenly seen as the inferior organization.
But then WWE started the "Attitude Era" transition, and at the front and center of that was "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. He had battled back from a serious neck injury to position himself to become the WWE champion. At the time though, the belt was held by Shawn Michaels.
Thus, the stage was set for one of the most important WrestleManias in WWE history. The fact that the event took place in a great wrestling city like Boston only helped to make WrestleMania XIV better.
The early part of the card had some good matches, but one would be hard-pressed to call any of them particularly great.
The match for the light heavyweight championship between Taka Michinoku and Aguila was brief but entertaining.
The match between Owen Hart and Triple H was also quite good. The European championship was on the line, and Chyna was handcuffed to Sgt. Slaughter to minimize her anticipated interference.
Well, that was the plan anyway. Chyna helped Triple H get to the ropes to break up the Sharpshooter, threw powder in Slaughter's eyes and then blasted Hart with a low blow. A Pedigree later, and Triple H had retained the title.
At the other end of things was the match between The Rock and Ken Shamrock for the intercontinental championship. This match had real potential, but in less than five minutes, it was over. Shamrock had seemingly won the title by a submission. But he would blow a gasket in his brain and hit practically every member of the Nation of Domination—along with most of the WWE officiating crew—with belly-to-belly suplexes.
The referee reversed his decision and disqualified Shamrock, allowing The Rock to retain the title. The whole thing was rather absurd and certainly not a match deserving of an intercontinental championship defense at WrestleMania.
The dumpster match for the tag team championship—pitting the New Age Outlaws vs. Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie (Terry Funk) was a unique match and a pretty good one at that. Having Cactus Jack and Funk win the titles was a nice touch, and the crowd in Boston seemed to enjoy the outcome.
The final two matches of the evening, though, were excellent. The first one featured the first meeting between The Undertaker and his brother Kane. The storyline leading into this match was very well-done, complete with all sorts of supernatural overtones and special effects, including The Undertaker's casket being struck by lightning.
The match was very good. Kane actually dominated most of it to the surprise of many in attendance in Boston. As the match wore on, though, Undertaker began to assert himself. It would actually take three Tombstone piledrivers to finally put Kane down for the three count to run 'Taker's WrestleMania record to 7-0.
The big match, of course, was the battle between Austin and HBK. If you have access to the WWE Network, then I urge you to watch the WrestleMania Rewind chronicling WrestleMania XIV. It recounts much of what made the match between Austin and Michaels so important.
Adding in the controversial figure that was "Iron" Mike Tyson only gave the event that much more heat and excitement.
The nature of professional wrestling being what it is, it is sometimes easy to forget that WWE Superstars are tough, and Michaels' performance at WrestleMania XIV was proof of that. His back was a disaster, and this has been well-documented. There was nothing kayfabe about that. He would be gone from the WWE for four-and-a-half years after the main event because of his back.
Despite being in agonizing pain, he carried large chunks of the match with Austin and lasted 20 minutes. If you watch the aforementioned segment on WWE Network, Michaels expresses regret that he could not physically deliver the way he wanted to.
Not many who witnessed the match would complain too much. It was a great match that ended with a jarring Stone Cold Stunner—and a bonus right hand to the jaw of HBK from Tyson.
Michaels bravely did his part and was able to complete the title change. Austin would take the belt and WWE to new levels.
The Attitude Era was officially under way, and professional wrestling would never be the same.
7. WrestleMania XX
The 20th anniversary of WrestleMania delivered on multiple fronts.
This event was jammed with matches—12 of them to be exact—and it seemed as though WWE wanted to get every Superstar it could onto the card in some fashion or another.
What we ended up with was an event that started strong, lulled in the middle and then finished with one of the best matches in WrestleMania history.
The spectacle emanated from New York's Madison Square Garden for the third time, and as usual, the MSG crowd was electric from the onset.
WrestleMania XX started off with a significant match in that it was John Cena's WrestleMania debut. For those fans who have only experienced the version of Cena that gets an equal amount of boos and cheers during his matches, then this match is one to watch on the WWE Network.
In 2004, he was very popular but just starting to hit his stride. The crowd at MSG was solidly behind him the entire match as he tried to capture the United States championship from the Big Show.
Near the end of the match, Cena incredibly hoisted the Big Show on his shoulders and delivered a stunning FU, but the Big Show kicked out, leaving Cena shocked and bewildered. Cena then blasted Big Show in the head with some brass knuckles—a shocking departure from the modern day Cena who would never stoop to such tactics—hit Show with a second FU and captured the United States title.
The legend of Cena was born, and it would only grow over the next few years. WWE Network's WrestleMania Rewind recently did a great feature on his win over the Big Show at WrestleMania XX that is worth checking out.
The Fatal 4-Way match for the world tag team Championship was good as well. A fairly chaotic match ended with a huge Five Star Frog Splash from Rob Van Dam as he and Booker T retained the titles.
The match between Chris Jericho and Christian was a good battle, but it probably could have been better. This one was made interesting due to the love triangle angle between Y2J, Christian and Trish Stratus. Her betrayal of Jericho after the conclusion of the match was a good backstab and added more drama to the storyline.
From there we got an entertaining match between Evolution and the reunited Rock 'N Sock Connection. In this bout, the WWE's future met up with its past. Evolution, featuring Batista, Randy Orton and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair were at the top of their game and becoming a dominant faction.
Meanwhile, Mick Foley had not wrestled at WrestleMania in four years, and The Rock was well on his way to getting his Hollywood career going.
The ensuing two vs. three handicap match would end up being surprisingly entertaining. The high points were Flair and The Rock taunting each other, particularly the way The Rock did his own version of Flair's strut just before delivering The People's Elbow.
But the match ended dramatically. Foley had brought out Mr. Socko and looked ready to administer the Mandible Claw to Orton and, in doing so, get some revenge against Orton for throwing him down a flight of stairs some nine months earlier. Instead, Orton nailed Foley with an RKO out of nowhere and pinned him. It was a huge win for Evolution and an even bigger victory for Orton.
After that match, the card bogged down a bit, although the evening gown match that turned into the functional equivalent of a lingerie match was great as far as eye candy was concerned.
The Cruiserweight Open featured a gauntlet-style mini-tournament. It was a good idea, but it just felt forced. There were 10 competitors, and the entire match lasted just more than 10 minutes, so you can imagine how quickly things moved. Add on the rather cheap way in which Chavo Guerrero retained the title, and this was one to forget.
The match between Brock Lesnar and Goldberg, with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin as the special referee, will go down as one of the oddest matches in WrestleMania history. The fans in New York were well-aware that this match was going to be the last for both Lesnar and Goldberg, and boy, did they let both men know it.
Both men were jeered continuously by the MSG faithful. The fact that both wrestlers seemed to be going through the motions half the time only fueled the hatred from the fans. The highlight came after Goldberg had prevailed when Austin gave the fans something to cheer about by delivering Stone Cold Stunners to both men, which was a rather fitting send-off.
The WWE then figured that if one Fatal 4-Way match for one pair of tag team titles was good, then two would be even better. Too Cool, featuring Scotty 2 Hotty and Rikishi, would end up also retaining their WWE Tag Team Championship in another match that felt rushed and tacked on.
But the final three matches made the 20th edition of WrestleMania stand out. Eddie Guerrero sought to defend the WWE Championship against Kurt Angle. Guerrero had won the title from Lesnar, thanks to Goldberg's interference at No Way Out, and the buildup to the match with Angle was done quite well.
The match was better than most expected. As usual, Angle wrestled an effective technical match. Guerrero matched him for much of the contest. Both men employed a lot of hit-and-run tactics at times.
The end of the match was very entertaining. Guerrero would reverse an attempt at an Angle Slam and DDT'd Angle into the mat. Guerrero would then hit a monstrous Five Star Frog Splash, and amazingly, Angle would kick out. As Guerrero tried to press the advantage, Angle caught him with the Ankle Lock—and that was where the fun began.
Guerrero would loosen the laces on his boot and trick Angle into applying the Ankle Lock again. With his boot loosened, Guerrero was able to get his foot free from his boot. An enraged Angle fell for the trap and got caught with a roll up. Three seconds later, in true Latino Heat fashion, Guerrero had retained the WWE Championship.
Six years after their first epic battle at WrestleMania XIV, the Undertaker and Kane would meet again—but much had changed over those six years. Kane had unmasked, and Undertaker had adopted his Big Evil persona for the past several years. But Kane had buried Undertaker alive at Survivor Series in 2003, or so it seemed.
Their match at WrestleMania XX might not have been as suspenseful or intense as their first WrestleMania encounter—and it only took one Tombstone Piledriver from 'Taker to win as opposed to three six years previously—but it was still very important, as it saw Undertaker return to his Dead Man persona. It also saw Undertaker's undefeated WrestleMania streak reach the mark of 12-0.
The final match stole the show. It featured a Triple Threat match for the World Heavyweight Championship between the defending champion Triple H, his former best friend Shawn Michaels and a rabid and rather hungry wolverine in Chris Benoit.
Now we all know what Benoit did in 2007. We all know the monster that was behind the man. But as far as his kayfabe wrestling persona, his attempt to win the world championship at WrestleMania XX would be the high-water mark of his career.
HBK and Triple H had been beating the daylights out of each other for the better part of two years, and once Benoit got added to the mix—well, the result was a match that is easily one of the top 10 best matches in WrestleMania history.
For nearly 25 minutes, three legends of the ring gave it their all and then some. This match had so many twists and turns and so many moments where you legitimately thought each man was going to win.
By the end of the match, both Michaels and Triple H were bloody messes. Michaels went for Sweet Chin Music, but Benoit avoided it and dumped Michaels over the top rope. Benoit then turned around and ran right into a Pedigree by Triple H. But before Triple H could finish the maneuver, Benoit reversed it straight into the Crippler Crossface. Triple H tried to hang on but eventually had to tap out, and Benoit won the World Heavyweight Championship.
A lasting memory occurred at the conclusion of WrestleMania XX when Guerrero got into the ring with his close friend Benoit, and the two champions embraced, each shedding tears of joy for the other.
Knowing what we know now, this is a particularly heartbreaking moment. Barely three years later, both men would be dead.
But on March 14, 2004, both men played key roles in producing one of the best WrestleManias ever.
6. WrestleMania XVIII
WrestleMania XVIII—also known as WrestleMania X8—was significant for a number of reasons.
It would be the final WrestleMania contested during the time when WWE was still known as WWF.
It was also the second time that WrestleMania took place at Toronto's SkyDome. This raised expectations considerably as the last time the Showcase of the Immortals emanated from a location outside of the United States one of the more memorable moments in WWE history took place when The Ultimate Warrior cleanly pinned Hulk Hogan.
Speaking of Hogan, WrestleMania XVIII would mark the return of Hogan to WrestleMania for the first time since WrestleMania IX. In those nine years away from WWE, the nWo had formed, with Hogan becoming known as Hollywood Hulk Hogan. With the collapse of WCW—and its acquisition by WWE a year earlier—the appearance of the nWo in WWE was expected but quite exciting all the same.
When The Rock challenged Hogan to a match at WrestleMania XVIII, the stage was set for a true icon vs. icon battle that would deliver on many levels.
WrestleMania XVIII got off to a somewhat average start. Most of the matches only lasted about six minutes or so, and not even the electric crowd at SkyDome could make them any better than they actually were.
Still, Rob Van Dam won the intercontinental championship, and Diamond Dallas Page retained his European title in the first 20 minutes. Throw in the insanity of the hardcore championship—with it being on the line 24/7—and having it change hands five times in the same night, it was not a bad start. But it was not great, either.
Things picked up when Kurt Angle locked horns with Kane. This match was much better than expected. The two men were an obvious contrast in style, but that did not prevent a very good match.
Angle survived a Choke Slam; Kane survived the Angle Slam and the Ankle Lock. At the end of the match, Angle would reverse another attempt at a Choke Slam, roll up Kane and use the ropes for leverage to gain the victory.
From there, things would get very personal in the matchup between The Undertaker and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Undertaker had wanted a match with Flair ever since Flair interfered in his match with The Rock at No Way Out. Flair, who was the co-owner of the WWE at the time, declined Undertaker's invitation.
Undertaker was not about to accept that for an answer, and he beat the living daylights out of Arn Anderson and Flair's son David to convince Flair otherwise. Flair accepted, and the match was set for WrestleMania XVIII.
What followed was a true slobber-knocker, as Jim Ross would say. Vince McMahon had turned the match into a No Disqualification affair, and the two legends tore into each other. Undertaker dominated the early part of the match and actually refused to pin Flair when he could have on several occasions.
But Flair showed that the heart of a champion is always the last thing to go by fighting back bravely. By the end of the match, both men were busted open. When Flair locked Undertaker in the Figure Four, it seemed, for a moment anyway, that perhaps Flair could win. When Anderson showed up and nailed 'Taker with a Spinebuster, the possibility started to look more plausible.
But it was not to be, as a Tombstone Piledriver ended the Nature Boy's valiant effort. Undertaker's WrestleMania record improved to 10-0.
Two future Hall of Famers would then lock up as Edge took on Booker T, who was making his WrestleMania debut. Meanwhile, Edge had actually been in the SkyDome as a patron 12 years earlier at WrestleMania VI.
Edge and Booker T put on a good match as well. In the end, Edge hit Booker T with an Edgecution to pick up the win before many of his countrymen.
The next match featured "Stone Cold" Steve Austin against the nWo's Scott Hall. The nWo had cost Austin the Undisputed WWE Championship at No Way Out, and from there, the nWo waged a war with both Austin and The Rock. Austin would try and get his revenge first against 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Hall (even though he is being inducted as Razor Ramon).
A very physical match ensued. With Kevin Nash in his corner, Hall gave the Rattlesnake all he could handle. Near the end of the match, Hall hit Austin with a Stone Cold Stunner and had him covered for what seemed like a 10-count. Austin would kick out, though, and then nail Hall with two massive Stunners—with Hall actually gaining hang time after the second one—for the win.
The Four Corners Elimination match for the WWE Tag Team Championship was quite exciting, and the last few minutes were chaotic. Seeing Billy and Chuck survive the match and retain the championship was somewhat of a surprise.
The Rock vs. Hogan match from WrestleMania XVIII was one of the most unique matches in WrestleMania history.
Was it a technical masterpiece? No, not even close, but it did not matter. This match remains one of the all-time great matches in WrestleMania history because the SkyDome crowd made it that way.
From the moment Hogan hit the ring, the crowd went crazy. Hulkamania was running as wild as it ever had. The crowd was at full throat, chanting for Hogan and cheering his every move. It was as though The Rock had been warped back to 1984 and was facing Hogan at the height of his popularity.
Never was this more evident than in the closing moments when Hogan kicked out of a Rock Bottom and Hulked up. It was vintage Hogan, and you would be hard-pressed to witness any more thunderous of a crowd reaction than what happened in Toronto that night.
But The Rock would survive the crowd and the Hogan leg drop to deliver two more Rock Bottoms and a People's Elbow to finally put Hogan away. The show of respect between the two men, and then The Rock's rescue of Hogan from a beatdown from Hall and Nash, completed Hogan's road back to redemption.
Hogan's return to the red and yellow was not far behind.
The match between The Rock and Hogan was so epic that it made the match for the Undisputed WWE Championship between Triple H and Chris Jericho feel less like the main event that it actually was. That was unfortunate because Triple H deserved a ton of respect for his road back from a career-threatening injury.
Triple H had returned from a torn quadriceps muscle that knocked him out of action for some eight months and had triumphed at the 2002 Royal Rumble. This earned The Game a shot at Y2J at WrestleMania for the championship.
The somewhat ridiculous love triangle storyline between Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, Triple H and Jericho notwithstanding, the two icons waged a tremendous war. With Stephanie at ringside and in Jericho's corner, Triple H's bandaged quadriceps was the target of numerous attacks by his wife and Y2J.
At one point, Jericho reversed an attempted Pedigree and backdropped The Game through the Spanish announcers table. The war would be waged on and on. At the end, Jericho went for an ill-fated attempt at a Pedigree. Instead, he was sling-shot into the corner but scaled the ropes to try and launch himself at Triple H. The Game caught him with a boot to the midsection, hit the Pedigree and became the new undisputed WWE champion.
It was hard to find a lot to complain about with WrestleMania XVIII. Some might argue that it should have been Austin facing Hogan, but I think WWE got it right. And it is hard to complain with the courage shown by Triple H in coming all the way back from a devastating injury to win the WWE Championship.
The end result was one of the best WrestleManias of them all.
5. WrestleMania XXI
At WrestleMania XXI, the WWE brought the Showcase of the Immortals back to the City of Angels for the first time since WrestleMania VII.
No, WrestleMania XII and XVI (also known as WrestleMania 2000) do not count, as they were in Anaheim and only Major League Baseball seems to think Anaheim is a suburb of Los Angeles.
The event sold out in less than one minute. The tremendous reaction of the fans at The Staples Center—before and during the show—aptly demonstrated the viability of Los Angeles as a WWE market.
Is it any wonder SummerSlam has been held at Staples Center every year since 2009?
Standing on its own, though, WrestleMania XXI delivered on multiple levels. It established a new type of match that eventually evolved into a separate and distinct pay-per-view. The event was also important as it solidified Batista as a challenger who was worthy of championship gold, while at the same time it announced to the world that John Cena had arrived as the new face of the WWE.
Throw in some tremendous performances by top names like Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker, Randy Orton and Kurt Angle, and the end result was one of the better WrestleManias in history.
The dark match at WrestleMania XXI was actually pretty good and, in some ways, could serve as a preview for the Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal that is set to take place at WrestleMania XXX this weekend. That match featured a 30-man Battle Royal, and Booker T eventually came out on top.
The televised part of the event began with an interesting match between Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero. I say the match was interesting because Guerrero and Mysterio were the reigning tag team champions but had been wrestling each other in one-on-one competition on several occasions leading into WrestleMania XXI. Mysterio had gotten the better of Guerrero, and Latino Heat had to prove to himself that he could beat Mysterio.
It did not work out that way. Guerrero and Mysterio put on a very good show, and there were several moments where it looked like either man would win. In the end, Mysterio modified a Hurricanrana into a pin for the win.
From there, we got the first-ever Money In The Bank ladder match. Chris Jericho is credited as being the person who invented the concept for the match—and what a concept it was. Six men would compete in a ladder match with the prize being a world title shot for the winner, at a place and time of his choosing.
The lineup for the first MITB match was outstanding, to say the least. Jericho, Kane, Edge, Shelton Benjamin, Chris Benoit and Christian would participate in a wildly successful match that made MITB a permanent part of WWE that persists to the present.
Each man had a highlight moment or two during the match. There were multiple moments of guys flying over the top rope to do damage to opponents outside the ring. Benjamin, in particular, put on a great performance, particularly when he ran up an inclined ladder to hit Jericho with a clothesline to prevent the win by Y2J.
The closing moment was filled with drama. It included Benoit hitting Kane with a flying headbutt from the top of the ladder—even though Benoit already had numerous stitches in his forehead. The maneuver opened up Benoit again, but he gamely fought on and looked poised to win until Edge blasted him in his injured arm with a chair. Edge then scaled the ladder, retrieved the briefcase and won the MITB match.
Randy Orton's attempt to break The Undertaker's unbeaten WrestleMania streak turned into another very good match. For much of the match, Orton took it to 'Taker. Showing no fear at all, Orton appeared to be in position to end The Streak. When his father, Cowboy Bob Orton, nailed Undertaker with his cast, it looked as though The Streak would cease.
But, as is often the case, Undertaker got his shoulder up before the three count. When Orton reversed an attempt at a choke slam and delivered his RKO, it again looked as though the Legend Killer would slay the biggest legend of them all.
Undertaker kicked out again.
Ultimately, Orton made a mistake by trying to hit Undertaker with a Tombstone Piledriver. Undertaker reversed this into his own Tombstone, and three seconds later, he improved his WrestleMania record to 13-0.
Even the WWE Women's Championship match was better than expected as Christy Hemme, who had been trained by Lita, gave the defending champion Trish Stratus a true run for her money. But Trish was too good and retained her title in a fine match.
Then came the epic encounter between Angle and Michaels. For almost 30 minutes, the two legends gave us one of the top-10 matches in WrestleMania history. They pulled out all the stops. In one of the best technical matches ever, HBK matched Angle move for move and vice versa.
In the closing moments, Angle went for a moonsault off the top rope, but Michaels got out of the way. Michaels got to the top rope to try and capitalize on the moment but was instead caught by an Angle Slam from the top rope. Michaels, somehow, kicked out.
Angle then got careless and wanted to talk trash. HBK used the opportunity to hit Angle with Sweet Chin Music, but Angle would show his resiliency by just getting his shoulder up before the three count. Then, out of nowhere, Angle locked Michaels in the Ankle Lock. HBK fought this as much as he could but could not kick Angle out of the hold. Trapped and with Angle exerting maximum pressure, Michaels was forced to tap out.
The two title matches were not quite up to par with the earlier matches, but they were good all the same, and each one was important in its own respect.
The WWE Championship match between JBL and Cena was the latest installment of their feud. JBL had been the WWE champion for nine months, and he dominated most of the match. Near the end of the match, JBL hit Cena with a superplex. He tried to capitalize on this and went to the top rope again. Cena caught JBL in mid-flight and delivered a power slam, which seemed to change momentum.
Cena would deliver some powerful clotheslines of his own and hit the Five Knuckle Shuffle. He went to attack JBL in the corner but met a big boot for his trouble. JBL went for the Clothesline From Hell, but Cena ducked the move and delivered the FU for the win.
The match was far from a classic. In fact, calling it average might be a bit much. But it was hugely important because it elevated Cena to a new level that continues to this very day. Like him or loathe him, Cena would be vital to the ongoing popularity of WWE for the following decade. His first WWE title reign, which began with his win over JBL at WrestleMania XXI, should therefore not be overlooked.
The final match of the evening saw two former allies going at it, as Triple H defended the World Heavyweight Championship against Batista. Batista had turned his back on The Game, and this led to a very entertaining storyline heading into WrestleMania XXI.
This match lasted longer than one might have expected, and for more than 20 minutes, Triple H and Batista traded power move for power move in a very good match that exceeded expectations.
By the end of the match, Triple H was a bloody mess and was taking a huge beating in the corner. Ric Flair tried to get involved and got a spinebuster for his trouble. Flair did manage to drop the world championship belt to Triple H in the process, and The Game nailed Batista with it. Batista kicked out, though.
Batista tried to go for the Batista Bomb, but Triple H delivered a low blow. He went for the Pedigree, but Batista blocked it and then powered his way out of it. A Batista Bomb later and The Animal had captured the World Heavyweight Championship.
WrestleMania came to Hollywood for its 21st installment and delivered. Both of the world titles changed hands and helped to elevate both new champions, Cena and Batista, to even higher levels.
Add in a tremendous crowd in attendance that night, the invention of the Money In The Bank match, a cool cameo appearance by Hulk Hogan and one of the best WrestleMania matches ever between Michaels and Angle, and WrestleMania XXI is deserving of its spot as the fifth-best WrestleMania of all time.
4. WrestleMania X
For the 10th anniversary of WrestleMania, the WWE returned to where it all began, Madison Square Garden. Of all the previous WrestleManias, WrestleMania X had some of the better storylines going into the event, and to a large extent, the resolution to some of those stories made for one of the best WrestleManias in history.
WrestleMania X got off to a tremendous start with one of those great storylines coming to a head as Bret "Hitman" Hart locked horns with his younger brother Owen Hart. The sibling rivalry between the Hart brothers had been building for some time with Owen desperately seeking the success of his older brother.
The feud between the Harts had begun at the 1993 Survivor Series but was taken over the top at the 1994 Royal Rumble when Owen accused Bret of being selfish during a loss to The Quebecers. Owen kicked Bret in his already-injured leg, completing Owen's heel turn and setting up a match between the Harts at WrestleMania X.
Not too many people expected Owen to compete with the Hitman. What we got instead was one of the bigger upsets in WrestleMania history—and a definite contender for one of the top 10 best matches in WrestleMania history.
If you love technical matches with lots of back-and-forth action involving many moves with a high degree of difficulty, then this was the match for you. The Hart brothers left it all in the ring and crafted a masterpiece.
The end of the match demonstrated the level of technical proficiency that exemplified the match. Owen had Bret in a Sharpshooter, but Bret reversed it and put it on Owen. Owen got to the ropes to break the hold. Owen would then Irish Whip the Hitman into the far corner and ran into a boot from his older brother. Bret then climbed up on Owen's shoulders and executed a Victory Roll. But Owen stepped into the move and leveraged out an improbable pin of his older brother.
But the Hitman's night was far from done.
But before we get to that, we have to discuss the Randy "Macho Man" Savage vs. Crush Falls Count Anywhere match. Now, let's not kid ourselves. This was not one of Savage's great performances. It is, however, very memorable in that this would end up being the Macho Man's final WrestleMania match.
Though the match was called a Falls Count Anywhere match, it was actually more of a hybrid between a Falls Count Anywhere match, Iron Man match and Last Man Standing match. To win, a fall had to be recorded outside the ring, and if the man pinned could not return to the ring in 60 seconds, he would be declared the loser.
There was quite a bit of bad blood between Savage and Crush heading into the match. Crush would win the first fall by dropping Savage across a guard rail, but Savage would get back in the ring with two seconds to spare. Savage would take the second fall by delivering his patented Flying Elbow and then pinning Crush just outside of the ring. Crush was revived by Mr. Fuji and beat the count back into the ring.
Savage, however, would get the next fall and would then tie Crush's legs to a pulley. Crush was unable to get back to the ring in time, and the Macho Man prevailed in his final WrestleMania match.
Of course, one cannot mention WrestleMania X without discussing the Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. Here was another example of an excellent storyline coming to a head at WrestleMania X. Michaels had been stripped of the IC belt near the end of 1993 and Ramon won a Battle Royal to be crowned the new champion.
Whatever the real-life reasons behind taking the title off of HBK, when he did return he refused to acknowledge Ramon as the champion, citing the fact that he had never actually been beaten for the belt. The matter would be decided at the first Ladder match at WrestleMania.
That match would revolutionize the entire concept of what a Ladder match could and should be. No one had ever seen a match quite like the Ladder match at WrestleMania X before. The risks both men took were unlike any really seen before. The use of the ladder as a weapon and a prop for even bigger and more dangerous moves was nothing short of amazing.
By most accounts, Michaels outperformed Ramon, but that might be nitpicking the details a bit. It is amazing to think that as good as the Hart vs. Hart opening match was, the Ladder match between Ramon and HBK might have been better. In the end, Ramon was able to trap Michaels in the ropes while he scaled the ladder to retrieve the belts and become the undisputed intercontinental champion.
That one match led to many more Ladder matches (including a rematch between Michaels and Ramon at Summer Slam '95, this one won by HBK) and saw the evolution of the match into a more dangerous affair. Larger ladders were soon being involved, and then tables and chairs were added to the match just to up the ante.
But for the Ladder match at WrestleMania X, there would not be a TLC pay-per-view event. The WWE would never be the same after WrestleMania X.
One of the best storylines leading into WrestleMania X was the conflict over the WWE Championship involving the reigning champion, Yokozuna, the former champion, Bret "Hitman" Hart, and Lex Luger.
The conflict began one year earlier at WrestleMania IX when Yokozuna won the WWE Championship from the Hitman thanks to Mr. Fuji throwing salt in the eyes of Hart. Yokozuna would drop the title to Hulk Hogan mere moments later but would then re-capture the title from Hogan at King of the Ring '93, Hogan's final match in a WWE ring for nine years.
Yokozuna was a dominant champion and Mr. Fuji challenged any American wrestler to try to bodyslam the champion on the deck of the USS Intrepid on July 4, 1993. After several competitors failed, a helicopter arrived on the scene. Most everyone assumed it would be Hogan stepping out to gain a measure of revenge. Instead, Luger appeared sporting a flag-shirt. Luger, who had been a heel known as The Narcissist up until this moment, bodyslammed Yokozuna and became a huge face.
Luger would try to take the title from Yokozuna at Summer Slam '93 but could only manage a count-out victory. With no rematch clause in place, Luger would have to win the Royal Rumble to get his rematch.
The 1994 Royal Rumble became unique in that the final two men were Luger and Hart. When both men had their feet touch the ground at the exact same time, a major problem ensued. Who would get the title shot at Yokozuna at WrestleMania X?
It was decided that both would get a chance to compete for the WWE Championship. A coin flip determined that Luger would get the first crack at Yokozuna and the Hitman would wrestle the winner in the last match of the evening.
Mr. Perfect was the special referee for the Luger vs. Yokozuna match. For most of the match, Yokozuna really took the fight to Luger. Near the end of the match, though, Luger would smash the champion's head into an exposed turnbuckle. From there, Luger unloaded the heavy artillery with a series of clotheslines and a bodyslam. When Luger hit Yokozuna with his patented forearm smash, a title change seemed imminent.
Instead, Mr. Fuji and Jim Cornette got involved. Luger pulled both men into the ring, and Mr. Perfect went to try to get them out. A frustrated Luger pushed Mr. Perfect a bit, and to the shock of the MSG faithful, Mr. Perfect disqualified Luger.
Now, in real life there are all sorts of stories as to why Luger did not win this match, including the story that he got drunk the night before the event and was punished by Vince McMahon. Whatever the real reasons, Luger failed in his attempt and would never again get a good chance to win the WWE Championship.
Thus, it was up to the Hitman to end the reign of Yokozuna. After losing to his younger brother at the beginning of the night, the Hitman's prospects for regaining the belt did not seem too good. And for most of the match, it looked like Yokozuna would have little trouble retaining his title.
But Hart would fight back and began to wear down the massive champion. Near the end of the match, Hart got three near-falls over Yokozuna. When Hart tried to deliver an elbow off the top rope, though, Yokozuna caught him and delivered a crushing belly-to-belly suplex.
Yokozuna then dragged Hart to the far corner and set him up for his dreaded Banzai Drop. Inexplicably, Yokozuna lost his balance and fell backward. Hart rolled out of the way and covered the downed Yokozuna for the win and the WWE Championship.
In a moment reminiscent of Rudy, many of the more popular wrestlers in the WWE at the time came to the ring and hoisted the Hitman on their shoulders as his younger brother Owen looked on in disbelief from the entryway to the ring.
It capped off a tremendous WrestleMania. Unlike the first WrestleMania, where the WWE Championship was not even defended, WrestleMania X saw it defended twice. It also saw two matches that routinely appear in the listings of the top 10 WrestleMania matches of all time.
And it also has to be remembered that this was the first WrestleMania where Hogan did not appear—and it was still a tremendous event, a feather in the cap of the evolving WWE at the time if ever there was one.
The quality of matches coupled with the deep and satisfying storylines made WrestleMania X one for the ages.
3. WrestleMania III
I will be the first to admit that several of the WrestleManias that have already appeared on this list had better overall cards than did WrestleMania III.
But as for the sheer magnitude of the event, WrestleMania III is tough to beat. Whereas WrestleMania I showed that the entire concept of a supercard such as WrestleMania could work, WrestleMania III showed just how big an event it could be—and just how big the demand for an annual installment of the event could be.
WrestleMania III forever changed the landscape of professional wrestling in a way that not even the first WrestleMania was able to accomplish. It is not the best WrestleMania ever—but it very well might be the most important.
WrestleMania III was held at the Pontiac Silverdome and sported an attendance of 93,173. Let that number soak in for a bit and you will get an idea of the magnitude of WrestleMania III. This was an indoor attendance record that stood for almost 27 years until the 2010 NBA All-Star Game at Cowboys Stadium surpassed it.
The motivating force behind all those people showing up was the main event pitting the reigning WWE champion, Hulk Hogan, against his former good friend, Andre the Giant, a man who had not been defeated in 15 years. Andre's heel turn and betrayal of Hogan was brilliantly done, and Hogan's three-year reign as champion was in serious jeopardy.
By far, it was the biggest match in pro wrestling history up to that point in time, and it is still considered one of the most important matches ever.
There was, however, more to WrestleMania III than just the Hogan vs. Andre match. Many of the early matches were good, solid matches.
For instance, the Can-Am Connection of Rick Martel and Tom Zenk defeating two eventual Hall of Famers in Cowboy Bob Orton and Don Muraco had to be considered a big upset.
There was also the match between eight-time former WCW (NWA) champion Harley Race and the Junkyard Dog. This match was a bit too short and Race's win with a belly-to-belly suplex seemed somewhat anticlimactic, particularly with the stipulation that the loser must bow to the winner being in play.
The match between the Dream Team of Brutus Beefcake and Greg "The Hammer" Valentine vs. The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers was another solid match. But it was what happened at the end of the match that would have a lasting repercussion.
The Rougeaus were on their way to a victory after Beefcake accidentally nailed Valentine with a move from the top rope. But Dino Bravo, who was at ringside with Johnny Valiant, came in and hit Raymond Rougeau, flipped The Hammer on top of Rougeau and secured the win. After the match, an argument ensured between Beefcake, Valentine, Bravo and Valiant. Bravo, Valentine and Valiant left the ring area and left Beefcake behind.
Little did we know that Beefcake's face turn would happen sooner rather than later.
The following match between "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Adrian Adonis was one of the better matches on the card for several reasons. A big factor was that this was supposed to be Piper's retirement match. Another factor was that the two men had been embroiled in a bitter feud for a while with both men attacking each other and destroying each other's sets with Adonis doing all sorts of damage to Piper's Pit and Piper doing the same to The Flower Shop.
Throw in the fact that the loser would get his hair cut and there was all sorts of drama involved in this one.
The match barely lasted five minutes—but what a five-plus minutes it was. Adonis had the match won as he had Piper locked into his Goodnight Irene sleeper hold. Piper's arm dropped twice and Adonis, for some odd reason, released the hold. Piper's arm never dropped for that fatal third time, but Adonis celebrated as though he had won anyway.
Suddenly, Beefcake ran into the ring and revived Piper. Piper then put Adonis in his own version of the sleeper hold. Adonis went down quickly, and Piper was the victor. From there, Beefcake and Piper, with Beefcake doing most of the work, took the clippers to the head of Adonis and did a pretty gnarly hack job on the Adorable One.
It was at this moment that Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake was created.
The six-man tag team match between the WWE Tag Team champions, The Hart Foundation, with exiled referee Danny Davis as their teammate, going against the former champions, the British Bulldogs with Tito Santana as their teammate, was supposed to be the moment when Davis would atone for his sins.
Davis had been the man directly responsible for the Bulldogs dropping the tag straps to the Harts and was also largely responsible for the "Macho Man" Randy Savage beating Tito Santana for the Intercontinental Championship more than a year earlier.
It did not work out quite that way. Oh sure, Davis took a beating from both Bulldogs and Santana. But with chaos breaking out near the end of the match, Davis used Jimmy Hart's megaphone to blast Davey Boy Smith in the head and then covered him for the win.
With all the hype surrounding the Hogan vs. Andre match, the battle for the Intercontinental Championship between Savage and Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat got somewhat lost in the shuffle.
What transpired, however, was a match that not only stole the show, but it is considered by many to not just be the greatest match in WrestleMania history but, quite possibly, the greatest pro wrestling match ever.
If you are a longtime wrestling fan and have done any sort of research into this match, then you know that Savage and Steamboat meticulously mapped the match out in advance. They practiced and practiced until it was practically memorized for both men. Whether that was a good or bad thing with two men the caliber of Savage and Steamboat is a subject of debate. What should not be debated, however, is that the match remains a classic that has stood the test of time.
For almost 15 minutes, the Macho Man and the Dragon put on a wrestling clinic. There were multiple two-counts for each man, and they attacked each other with ferocity and at a lightning pace. Near the end of the match, Savage had Steamboat beaten after delivering the Flying Elbow Drop from the top rope, but the referee had been knocked out.
Savage then went outside the ring to grab the ring bell with the intention of leaping from the top rope with it. It was a move like that where Savage had originally injured Steamboat several months earlier, and he looked poised to repeat the feat at WrestleMania III.
Steamboat got rescued by George "The Animal" Steele, who tossed Macho Man off the top rope and head first into the ring. Savage then went for a bodyslam, but the Dragon held on and caught Savage in a small package for the win and the Intercontinental Championship.
The end of the match is the only complaint I have as I have always felt that Steamboat should have downed Savage with a more dramatic final move. Then again, it was a lot like any number of NHL playoff games that go to sudden-death overtime and the goalies make incredible save after incredible save only to be beaten by a soft goal or a fluke bounce. So, perhaps, the way the match ended was the best way to go.
Regardless, the Savage vs. Steamboat match at WrestleMania III remains the standard by which all other WrestleMania matches are measured.
Another match that gets lost in the shuffle is the match between Jake "The Snake" Roberts and the Honky Tonk Man. It was not a great match at all, but when Honky got the win, by rolling up Roberts and using the ropes for leverage, it was some great foreshadowing of what was to come.
The Honky Tonk Man would go on to become the longest-reigning intercontinental champion in history, and many of his title defenses ended just as his match with The Snake did at WrestleMania III.
In the end, though, it all came down to Hogan and Andre. This was a match of absolutely epic proportions. Hogan started strong but went for a bodyslam early on. Hogan could not pull off the move and Andre slammed down on top of Hogan and very nearly got a three count.
Personally, I had witnessed Andre beat Hogan with this same move during Hopgan's initial run in the WWF when he was a heel and Andre was a face. Nevertheless, Hogan survived and the match continued. Andre would dominate most of the next five minutes or more of the match, and Hogan looked to be in deep, deep trouble.
Hogan would mount some offense, at least for a little while. Andre would counter. Still, one could see that Andre could possibly be had even relatively early in the match. When the action spilled outside the ring, The Giant went for a head-butt but ended up butting the ring post instead. The Hulkster pulled back the mats around ringside and seemingly wanted to deliver a piledriver to Andre. Hogan got back dropped for his trouble instead.
Once the two men got back inside the ring, though, the end came quickly. Hogan ducked under a big boot attempt by Andre and delivered a mammoth clothesline that dropped The Giant to the mat. Hogan then Hulked up as 93,173 went absolutely crazy.
Then the impossible happened. Hogan bodyslammed Andre the Giant, dropped the big leg on him and secured an improbable three count. Hogan was squarely on the path toward immortality while Andre the Giant was undefeated no more.
It was a landscape changing moment for Hogan, Andre and the WWE. Everything about professional wrestling changed after that match. To truly classify it as the most important match in professional wrestling history is not really an overstatement at all.
The rivalry between Hogan and Andre would continue for another year, although their subsequent rematches failed to recapture the magic of their battle at WrestleMania III.
But as for WrestleMania III, the Hogan vs. Andre match was some very excellent frosting on an already-impressive cake as WrestleMania III remains, quite possibly, the most important WrestleMania of them all.
2. WrestleMania XIX
The final two WrestleManias on this list are very close to call as far as which one was better. Many of the WrestleManias ranked previously had at least one or two great matches surrounded on either side by some very good matches, with some average matches thrown in along the way.
The final two WrestleManias on this list, however, were loaded with excellent matches pretty much from start to finish.
Checking in at No. 2 is WrestleMania XIX. Had we known then what we know now, this one could have been the greatest WrestleMania of them all because it was the stage for the final match of the tremendous career of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.
The problem was that very few people outside of Austin knew that for sure at the time.
Had the fans known that WrestleMania XIX would be the Rattlesnake's last stand, then the final match in the trilogy of Austin vs. The Rock bouts at WrestleMania would have had a much different feel to it.
Be that as it may, WrestleMania XIX has to be considered one of the best WrestleManias ever—and for good reason.
Emanating from Safeco Field in Seattle, the crowd on this night was like a massive version of the Seahawks' 12th man on super steroids. A rather boisterous crowd witnessed a tremendous event.
The event got off to a solid start with a fast-paced match for the Cruiserweight Championship between Matt Hardy and Rey Mysterio. There was some very good back-and-forth action taking place. Both men hit their finishing moves with Hardy nearly getting the win after executing a Twist of Fate.
Mysterio would hit Hardy with the 619 but could not complete the West Coast Pop end of the combination. Mysterio then tried to execute a Victory Roll, but Hardy would step into the move and hold the ropes for leverage to pick up the win and retain his title.
Do you remember a time when the band Limp Bizkit was actually very popular? Watch WrestleMania XIX and you will witness this. Limp Bizkit performed The Undertaker's entrance song "Rollin" live as Big Evil rode his motorcycle down to the ring for what had evolved into a two-on-one handicap match against The Big Show and A-Train.
It was, of course, not supposed to be a handicap match. But Big Show and A-Train had beaten down Undertaker's partner, Nathan Jones, on Sunday Night Heat, the functional equivalent of the pre-show back in 2003. As such, 'Taker would have to go it alone in his attempt to keep his undefeated WrestleMania streak alive.
Against two massive foes, Undertaker more than held his own for most of the match. At one point in the match, Undertaker had both men in opposite corners and he went from one corner to the other delivering battering-ram-like clotheslines to each one in succession.
Eventually, though, the numbers game became a factor and things started to look bleak for Big Evil. That was when Jones surprised everyone by coming down to ringside. Big Show, who had just delivered a chokeslam to The Undertaker, tried to intercept him—and got a spinning kick to his face for his trouble.
Back in the ring, Undertaker kicked out of a pin attempt by A-Train. Jones came into the ring and blasted A-Train with a boot to his face. A-Train staggered right into a Tombstone Piledriver by Undertaker, and three seconds later, Undertaker's unblemished record at WrestleMania rose to 11-0.
The Triple Threat match for the Women's Championship between Trish Stratus, Jazz and the reigning champion, Victoria, was another solid match. Stratus would put forth one of her better efforts, and the 2013 Hall of Famer would eventually pick up the win and recapture the Women's Championship.
The Triple Threat match for the Tag Team Championship was a great collection of talent as it featured the teams of Los Guerreros (Eddie and Chavo Guerrero) going up against Chris Benoit and Rhyno going up against the reigning champions, Team Angle (Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas).
This evolved into yet another fantastic match. Benoit and Rhyno oozed intensity, and some of the better moments were the clashes between Benoit and his longtime friend, Eddie Guerrero. Meanwhile, the relatively inexperienced champions more than held their own for the better part of the match—and proved to be quite opportunistic when it counted.
Rhyno had delivered a Gore to Haas and then blasted Chavo Guerrero with one as well. Eddie Guerrero drug Rhyno out of the ring, which allowed Benjamin, who was the legal man in the ring, to cover a destroyed Chavo for the win, allowing Team Angle to retain the belts.
As great as the first half of WrestleMania XIX was, the second half really upped the ante. It all started with the phenomenal match between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho. This was HBK's first WrestleMania match since he lost the WWE Championship to Austin at WrestleMania XIV.
Most everyone felt Michaels' career was over due to a serious back injury, but Michaels made a near miraculous return, recapturing the title along the way. This drew the eventual ire of Y2J who, despite Michaels' improbable comeback, accused HBK of being washed up. At the 2003 Royal Rumble, Jericho would eliminate Michaels, and Michaels would later return and be instrumental in Jericho getting eliminated.
Thus the stage was set for a huge encounter between the two icons at WrestleMania XIX. What followed was probably the best match of the evening.
Two of the best in-ring performers in WWE history pulled out all the stops, and each man seemed to have the match won on numerous occasions. HBK seemed to be done when an attempt at a Hurricanrana was countered into the Walls of Jericho, but Michaels was able to get to the ropes.
Y2J would then actually nail Michaels with Sweet Chin Music but could only get a two count out of it. Michaels would counter an attempted superplex by Jericho into a near three count. HBK would nail Jericho with the Flying Elbow off the top rope and would go for his version of Sweet Chin Music.
But Jericho would duck and put Michaels back into the Walls of Jericho. Somehow, HBK got to the ropes and a frustrated Jericho ran right into Sweet Chin Music—and somehow kicked out again. Jericho then seemed to be going for a belly-to-back suplex, but Michaels used a variation of a roll up to secure the win and end an epic encounter.
HBK then got kicked in the groin by a bitter Jericho for all his trouble. Still, it was a successful return to WrestleMania for Mr. WrestleMania.
From there, Triple H defended the World Heavyweight Championship against Booker T. This was another very good match on an already-great card. Triple H had Ric Flair in his corner, and this would pay big dividends for The Game as the match progressed.
Booker T proved early on that he was here to fight as he brought the battle to Triple H. The match turned when The Nature Boy dropped Booker T's leg onto the steel steps. Triple H would slap on a rarely used Indian Deathlock but could not get a submission out of Booker T.
The Game would remain in control for the next several minutes until Booker T was able to battle out of a superplex attempt and then hit Triple H with a spinning leg drop from the top rope.
Flair put Triple H's foot on the rope and saved the title for The Game. Booker T tried to capitalize on the moment, but his leg gave way. Triple H would deliver a Pedigree and retained the World Heavyweight Championship in a hard-fought battle.
The Street Fight between Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon blurred the lines of reality and fiction with references being made to Hogan ditching McMahon and WWE for WCW and also testifying against McMahon during the 1990s steroid trial. Hogan's career was also on the line, so this match had some better-than-average heat attached to it for a McMahon match at WrestleMania.
Shockingly, McMahon looked to be almost as big as Hogan for this match. Not surprisingly, this would not be any sort of wrestling classic. It was just a brawl from the word go. McMahon came to fight, but a chair shot to the head opened him up.
McMahon would return the favor and open up Hogan's forehead with a chair shot. Stunningly, the match continued to get better as McMahon delivered a leg drop from the top of a ladder, driving Hogan through an announce table.
From there, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, who had long-standing issues with Hogan and McMahon made a stunning entrance—and clubbed Hogan in the head with a lead pipe. Hogan, however, would somehow kick out of McMahon's pin attempt.
When McMahon attempted to finish off Hogan with a leg drop, though, he then got to experience, firsthand, what Hulkamania was all about. Hogan Hulked up, floored McMahon and then hit McMahon with three huge leg drops of his own for the brutal victory.
And we wern't done yet because the next match would end up being Austin's final WWE battle, and he would go up against his biggest rival, The Rock. Now, fans did not know that this would be Austin's last ride. As far as most of us knew, this would just be the third installment in an already-legendary series of matches between the two greats.
Behind the scenes there was a lot going on. The physical toll of Austin's many years in the ring and the cumulative effect of the repeated injuries to his neck and knees made it imperative that Austin stop wrestling before any more permanent damage was done. Any number of documentaries are available that discuss this.
The night before his battle with The Rock, Austin was actually hospitalized with a high heart rate. He was taken to the hospital by his longtime friend, Jim Ross. Amazingly, Austin still showed up for his match with The Rock, and in his swan song, he put everything he had left into one final match.
With all the intensity that the two men had demonstrated twice before, Austin and The Rock waged a brutal war. Obsessed with his desire to finally beat Austin at WrestleMania, The Rock pulled out all the stops as well.
As the match progressed, the intensity escalated. The Rock would put on Austin's vest, which only served to aggravate the Rattlesnake. Each man would hit the other with the other's finishing move but could not secure the win. When Austin hit the Stone Cold Stunner, though, it looked like Austin would secure the hat trick of WrestleMania victories over The Rock. The Rock kicked out and then delivered a low blow to turn the match in his favor.
The Rock would miss on one attempt at The People's Elbow but would then connect moments later. Austin would kick out. The Rock would hit one Rock Bottom. Austin kicked out. The Rock nailed a second Rock Bottom. Austin kicked out again. The third Rock Bottom was the charm, and The Rock had finally defeated the Rattlesnake.
If you watch the moments right after the three count, you will see The Rock talking to Austin, and as Austin has discussed in his Behind The Ring segment on the WWE Network, The Rock thanked Austin for all he had done for him over the years.
And just like that, the career of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was finished. There was no celebration of Austin's career the next night on Raw or anything like that and many fans, myself included, have felt as though we were robbed some by the relative secrecy of the situation involving Austin's final match.
But there was one last match to be had at WrestleMania XIX, and that was the battle for the WWE Championship between Brock Lesnar and the WWE champion, Kurt Angle. Two of the best amateur wrestlers to ever compete in WWE would piece together a masterpiece that very nearly ended in disaster.
For over 20 minutes, Lesnar and Angle battled and grappled. Angle had avoided Lesnar for months, ever since Lesnar had won the Royal Rumble. But there was nowhere for Angle to run on this night. The first part of the match was very technical and amateur-based in nature. During the second part of the match, some more of the high-impact moves were administered.
After a series of German suplexes by Angle, the champion went for the Angle Slam, but Lesnar got out of it. Lesnar went for the F5, but Angle got out of this and put Lesnar into the Ankle Lock that he then modified into a half Boston Crab. Lesnar would get to the ropes, but moments later, Angle would finally connect with the Angle Slam and seemingly had the match won.
Lesnar would somehow kick out and would nail Angle with the F5. Somehow, Angle would kick out and then lock Lesnar in the Ankle Lock again. Angle would drop to the mat increasing the pressure on Lesnar's ankle. Lesnar though, in a tremendous show of strength dragged Angle to the ropes to break the hold. Angle went for the Angle Slam again and Lesnar reversed it into another F5.
It was here that disaster nearly struck. Lesnar scaled the ropes to try to deliver a Shooting Star Press, but Lesnar misjudged the move and very nearly broke his neck. Angle went for the cover but somehow Lesnar, who must have been only semi-lucid at this point, got a shoulder up. Lesnar would then deliver a third F5 and won the WWE Championship.
The great show of respect between Angle and a clearly dazed Lesnar was a great way to cap off a simply unbelievable event.
But one WrestleMania, believe it or not, was actually even better than WrestleMania XIX.
1. WrestleMania XVII
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.