An Immortal Showcase: Ten WrestleMania Matches That Changed Wrestling Forever
For a wrestling fan, it's like the Super Bowl, the World Series, and the Stanley Cup Playoffs all rolled into one. WrestleMania! The "Showcase of the Immortals", the "Granddaddy of 'Em All"!
We wait all year for that one special Sunday, when the world's top wrestling promotion stages its annual gala of wrestling excitement.
From the moment the final bell rings at the Royal Rumble, wrestling fans begin counting down to WrestleMania Sunday, eagerly scouring every resource imaginable to find out which dream matches we'll be privy to this year.
When Vince McMahon and the then-WWF launched their annual spectacle way back in 1985, no one could have predicted just how important the event would become not only for professional wrestling, but for pop culture in general.
WrestleMania has stood the test of time, and has become one of the most engrossing events in all the world.
And the matches! WrestleMania exhibited layers of awesomeness beyond its pomp and circumstance. Not only has the "Greatest Spectacle in Sports Entertainment" showcased some of wrestling's best matches; it's showcased some of wrestling's most groundbreaking matches.
Wrestlers have defined their careers at WrestleMania, and have used the worldwide stage to launch themselves into the annals of wrestling immortality.
Yet of all the great performances we've witnessed at WrestleMania, there are ten performances that stand out from all the rest. They are the greatest examples of why we, the fans, love this sport so much.
These ten performances not only changed the way we viewed professional wrestling, but it changed the business itself forever. If you must watch 10 matches from the first 26 WrestleManias in your lifetime before you die, here they are.
10. Bret Hart Vs. Owen Hart: A Family Divided
Two brothers, born into a legendary wrestling family. For years, Bret "Hitman" Hart has been fondly remembered as the "Excellence of Execution"; perhaps the greatest Canadian-born wrestler of all time.
Owen Hart, meanwhile, has sadly become recognizable by his tragic accident at the 1999 Over the Edge Pay Per View show in Kansas City, Mo.
While both brothers experienced sordid ends to their stellar wrestling careers, there was a time when Bret and Owen Hart were headlining shows in Vince McMahon's promotion.
But at WrestleMania X, the two brothers wrestled the first match in their legendary rivalry in the opening bout of the evening and had what many insiders believe to be the greatest opening match in pro wrestling history.
Bret and Owen engaged in a technical masterpiece, showcasing brilliant tactical expertise between the savvy ring veteran Bret and the younger sibling Owen, who was fighting to prove that he belonged at the same level as Bret.
The match, ending with Owen shocking older brother Bret, propelled Owen Hart to the next level. For Bret Hart, it was the beginning of his greatest stretch as a professional wrestler.
Either way, professional wrestling hasn't seen a rivalry so subtle, yet so intense between two siblings before or after. It shook up the business, and has become one of the forgotten masterpieces of our generation.
9. TLC II: An Epic Trilogy of Matches Concludes With a Masterpiece
At WrestleMania 2000 (XVI), Edge and his tag team partner Christian competed in a Triangle Ladder Match against the Dudley Boyz and the Hardy Boyz. The match, hailed at the time as the greatest ladder match in history, prompted a follow up encounter at SummerSlam 2000.
Dubbed "Tables, Ladders, and Chairs," or TLC for short, the match once again set the bar ever-so higher, competing in the greatest ladder themed match ever to that point.
With two of wrestling's greatest ladder matches behind them, a third and final match was signed between the three teams for WrestleMania XVII.
Dubbed "TLC 2" in the build-up to the show, many skeptics wondered aloud whether or not Edge & Christian, the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz could live up to such lofty expectations.
After all, their previous two matches had been all-time classics. The three teams couldn't outdo themselves a third time, could they?
They didn't outdo their previous two matches: they obliterated them.
TLC 2 at WrestleMania XVII still stands to this day as the greatest tag team ladder match in the eyes of most fans, and finally established the bar when it comes to ladder-themed matches.
Largely serving as the inspiration behind many spots seen in the "Money in the Bank" series, TLC 2 serves as the litmus test for which ladder matches are good, and which ladder matches are legendary.
That's high praise for three teams who outdid themselves twice in a year's time.
8. Shawn Michaels Vs. Razor Ramon: Creating The Ladder Match
In 2011, fans of TNA Wrestling or the WWE are accustomed to seeing Ladder Matches. Entire Pay Per Views have been based around them in the past few years. Suffice to say, when it comes to using ladders inside a wrestling ring, we've all been witnesses to some incredible matches.
Yet without the groundbreaking Ladder Match that took place in March of 1994, there would be no TLC matches, nor the high-flying, innovative spots that your favorite wrestlers use today. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon engaged in an experimental type match at the 10th annual WrestleMania.
Not only did it become many wrestling fans' favorite match of all time, but it also changed the style of wrestling that North American wrestling fans were willing to accept.
Prior to the Ladder Match at WrestleMania X, wrestling fans were still being weaned off of the lumbering power style of the 1980s.
While wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior were capable of throwing some high-impact offense at the viewers, the fans had yet to truly see a high-flying style at the main event level. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon changed that perception.
Today, wrestlers like Rob Van Dam, Jeff Hardy, and Edge owe the success of their careers to the groundwork that the "Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels laid with Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X.
7. Bret Hart Vs. Shawn Michaels: Iron Wills
In the past 20 years, few rivalries (both on camera and backstage) have come close to the competitiveness (and fierceness) than the one between Bret "Hitman" Hart and the "Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels.
At WrestleMania XII, the two icons delivered 60-plus minutes of wrestling action, in one of the first matches to "go broadway" in the 1990s.
During the legendary struggle, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels pulled out all the stops, refusing to back down from one another in a match that finally elevated the technical-style of wrestling into the main event of professional wrestling in North America once and for all.
Because of the success of this match, you have seen wrestlers like Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle elevate themselves into the upper echelon of wrestlers.
The rivalry that began as a purely professional one would soon escalate into a very real, very intense backstage feud between the two men, and would culminate in the infamous Montreal Screwjob in 1997.
In terms of wrestling history, that event would prove to be a turning point in the WWF's fortunes, and would ultimately set the stage for the "Attitude" Era in 1998, which changed wrestling forever.
So if you want to trace back the modern product to its genesis, you could hardly do better than watching Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels wrestle one of the greatest matches in history at WrestleMania XII.
6. The Rock Vs. Steve Austin: Wrestling's Golden Age Concludes
Today, wrestlers like John Cena capture the minds of wrestling fans young and old. For almost five years now, John Cena has been the face of World Wrestling Entertainment, holding the company's top championship longer and more often than almost any other superstar.
Yet as great as John Cena is, his popularity is peanuts compared to the two men who helped launch professional wrestling into the stratosphere. In 2001, there were two wrestlers that were pushing the envelope on Monday nights, and capturing the attention of wrestling fans all over the world.
Today, we remember "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Dwayne "the Rock" Johnson as two of wrestling's all-time greats. But in 2001, they were the top two wrestlers in North America, and without a doubt the two most popular wrestlers in the world, period.
The first major showdown between The Rock and Stone Cold took place two years prior to their epic clash in 2001, at WrestleMania XV. Yet even that legendary encounter would be overshadowed by their historic confrontation in Houston, Texas.
On April 1st, 2001, professional wrestling saw (arguably) it's biggest match ever. The Rock and Stone Cold were on top of the wrestling world, and were drawing more money than any wrestler had ever drawn, with the only possible exception of Hulk Hogan.
The two men were at their peak, and were wrestling in the main event of the most important wrestling show ever, the 17th edition of WrestleMania.
The fabled "Monday Night Wars" had concluded earlier that week, and WrestleMania XVII was something of a celebratory show as a result.
Today, we remember it as one of, if not the greatest wrestling pay per view of all time, and the end of the second "Golden Age" in professional wrestling. The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's main event showdown was one of the greatest battles ever witnessed in wrestling history.
They took wrestling in that one match to a level that we haven't really seen since.
5. Shawn Michaels Vs. The Undertaker: The Streak's Gravest Threat
Few things hold more importance in the eyes of today's wrestling fan than the legendary streak of victories held by the Undertaker at WrestleMania.
The "Dead Man" has competed at 18of the twenty-six WrestleManias, and he's won at every single one of them. Yet it was his 17th match that proved to be his most difficult test ever - and his greatest match as a professional wrestler.
The Undertaker's streak had been on the line against some of wrestling's great wrestlers (Ric Flair, Triple H, Edge) and a few not-so-great wrestlers (King Kong Bundy, Albert, Mark Henry).
But at WrestleMania XXV, the Undertaker would face a man that was also trying to lay claim as WrestleMania's greatest competitor: Shawn Michaels.
The two men were among the greatest wrestling stars of the 1990s, and had each made a miraculous comeback as two of the more technically sound wrestlers in the game.
Especially incredible was the Undertaker's transformation into one of the more gifted big men in wrestling, after years of sub-par performances thanks to injuries and age.
Both men pulled out all the stops in their incredible showdown. As a result, wrestling fans witnessed one of the greatest wrestling matches of all time, and the best match of the last five years easily. There aren't enough words in the English language to say how awesome this match was.
In 20 years, the next generation of wrestling greats will likely point to this match as the reason they became wrestlers in the first place.
4. Randy Savage Vs. The Ultimate Warrior: Wrestling's Storybook Romance
Professional wrestling isn't often equated with Shakespeare (or great acting). Most pundits in the media view professional wrestling as "low-grade" entertainment; a carnival sideshow where men roll around in their underwear.
As wrestling fans, we obviously know better! We know the passion, the intensity, and the drama that pro wrestling offers.
But the Retirement Match between "Macho Man" Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII in 1991 took the meaning of drama to a whole new level. The match itself, one of the Ultimate Warrior's greatest in-ring showings, was legendary in its own right.
Yet as powerful and moving as the physical match was ( two men fighting for their professional lives, at a point in wrestling history where the Retirement stipulation still meant something to the fans) it was the post-match angle that propels this match to legendary status.
With Savage defeated, the late, great Sensational Sherri took out her frustrations on the fallen Macho King. The cruel beating was too much for Randy's former valet and possible love interest, Miss Elizabeth to take.
Elizabeth, who had been spurned by Savage two years prior for Sherri Martel, couldn't bear to watch Randy get beaten in his weakened state.
And so, in an act that surely exemplifies true love if there ever were one, Elizabeth jumped the barricade and charged into the ring, vanquishing Sherri and coming to the aid of her man.
When Savage came to, he couldn't quite fathom that Elizabeth, a foil to him for two years, had rescued him. After teasing a walk-out on her, Savage finally embraced the woman he loved, and the two reconciled in the middle of the ring in an iconic moment.
Don't let the cheesy nature of professional wrestling fool you: there were a lot of real people crying real tears of happiness in the crowd. There was several cuts showing nothing but crying people in the audience when Savage and Liz reunited.
For wrestling fans, it was the culmination of a story arc that had been going on for almost six years at that point.
Savage and Elizabeth's strange relationship had blossomed from nigh-abusive on Savage's part, to one of mutual respect, and one of outright hostility at points.
But when Savage shook his finger at Elizabeth for holding the ropes for him, and instead finally held the ropes open for her after so many years...
Wrestling hasn't touched that level of drama and emotion since.
3. Hulk Hogan Vs. The Ultimate Warrior: The End of an Era
Terry Bollea, known throughout the world as Hulk Hogan, has led an incredible life. Inside the squared circle of the 1980s, Hogan became wrestling's most successful draw ever, and helped usher in one of professional wrestling's greatest periods.
For the first time since the 1950s, professional wrestling was national news, and it was largely because of the popularity of Hulkamania.
But by 1990, Hulkamania was entering its seventh year, and Hogan was beginning to show signs of age. Wrestling is a tough, physical sport on the body, and the damage a wrestler accrues over a career can add up to a lifetime of pain, debilitating injuries, and sadly, even death.
Hogan's popularity was also waning a bit. The incredible tide of Hulkamania was beginning to fade, and promoter Vince McMahon was preparing to lay the groundwork for his "next Hulk Hogan". The man he chose to assume that mantle was Jim Hellwig, known to wrestling fans as the Ultimate Warrior.
The showdown between the Warrior and Hogan at the Toronto SkyDome in 1990 was monumental for several reasons. For starters, it was one of the first "Title for Title" matches many new fans of that period had ever seen.
Even more incredible, the match pitted two popular wrestlers against one another. In 1990, this was revolutionary stuff, and it's hard to understand in the post-Attitude era of wrestling that there used to exist a time period when good guys only wrestled bad guys.
Despite Hogan and the Warrior lacking technical prowess inside the ring, the two men engaged in a shockingly great match. With more drama than anyone thought possible, the two titans clashed in one of the most prolific showdowns in wrestling history.
In the end, it was the Ultimate Warrior that shocked the wrestling world and ended Hulk Hogan's reign as the top wrestler in the world.
At the time, it was viewed as one of the great matches of the period. Today, we remember it as the end of Hulkamania in the WWF.
While Hogan would continue on for several more years (and launch a popular comeback tour in the early 2000s), his loss to the Ultimate Warrior proved to most fans that the Hulkster was no longer unbeatable, as he had been in years past.
In a very real sense, this match was the coda to an entire generation, and a passing of the torch between Hogan's generation and the next. And, in an added twist, it was the success of this match that indirectly launched the career of one of wrestling's top stars in 2011: Edge.
The superstar was in attendance live at WrestleMania VI, and cites the match as one of the reasons he became a wrestler in the first place.
2. Bret Hart Vs. Steve Austin: The Birth of an Anti-Hero
Ask any wrestling fan who was watching the product in the 1990s as to what their favorite match was during the decade, and you'll probably hear this match come up often.
Very little can be said about the Submission Match between Bret "Hitman" Hart and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin that hasn't already been said. The match, quite simply, altered the course of professional wrestling, and created one of the greatest draws of all time in Steve Austin.
The bloody, brutal affair was one of the more violent matches in wrestling history, paralleling the hatred that Tully Blanchard and Magnum TA held for one another in their gruesome "I Quit Match" in 1985. That this match could even touch such lofty heights is impressive in its own right.
Yet this match launched a double shift, as Bret Hart (the virtuous face heading in) became a despicable heel, while the hated Steve Austin became the classic anti-hero. Both men helped earn the WWF more money than it had ever earned before.
Without the iconic struggle in Bret Hart's Sharpshooter, Steve Austin may have never ascended to the heights which he reached during his career.
With the blood pouring from his face, Austin's refusal to give in to the pain created a legion of fans who were willing to march to the ends of the earth with him. The magnitude of this match cannot be underscored: Bret Hart made Steve Austin.
This match set the stage for the garbage-style of wrestling that would come to define the Attitude Era. And it helped save the World Wrestling Federation from succumbing to the ultra-hot New World Order angle in World Championship Wrestling.
Few other matches have had the lasting impact on professional wrestling than Hart and Austin's match at WrestleMania 13 did.
1. Ricky Steamboat Vs. Randy Savage: The Greatest Match in History?
Everything you love about professional wrestling today, everything that makes wrestling so special, you owe it to this match.
There has never been a more prolific, sport-changing match than the one that took place at the Pontiac Silverdome in March 1987. The third annual WrestleMania show played host to 93,000 fans at one of the largest indoor events in history. And those 93,000 fans saw the greatest professional wrestling match in North American history.
The blood feud that had erupted between the Intercontinental Champion, "Macho Man" Randy Savage and challenger Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat was among the most intense angles ever witnessed at that time.
Using a ring bell, Savage had nearly killed Steamboat by "crushing his larynx", drawing molten heat. The revenge match took place at WrestleMania III, and the Intercontinental Championship was on the line.
The match was a splendid demonstration of what a wrestling match could be. In the plodding 1980s, Savage and Steamboat wrestled a match that was so far ahead of its time, it inspired over half the current wrestlers you see every Monday and Thursday night. The moves, the drama, the precision - everything was so crisp, so fluid, and so exciting. There had never been anything like it.
That one match redefined the standards that wrestling fans held towards a wrestling match. The great Ric Flair used much of it as a template for his own legendary series with Steamboat in 1989.
To think that those three matches, so great in their own right, drew so much inspiration from the showdown between Savage and Steamboat.
If you must watch one wrestling match before you die, this is it.