I remember all of them.
From a 10-year-old boy stamping his foot in impatience for the VHS release of the very first WrestleMania to a 36-year-old man stamping his foot impatiently for Sunday, April 3, 2011 to hurry up and get here already, I have a memory of watching every single 'Mania and carry with me the lasting impressions of the best performances on those historic nights.
In honor of the big day, I wanted to take on the challenge of constructing my list of greatest WrestleMania matches and add it to the ever growing pile of lists, commentary and analysis.
But this will be a little different than most.
I thought it would be more worth while to look at a ranking of the greatest WrestleMania matches within the context of a fan experience that dates back to when it all began.
This is not just an evaluation of work-rate, daredevil antics or hipster Attitude Era love.
This is a celebration of the top 20 WrestleMania matches that made me proud to be a fan and left an impression that meant more than just an afternoon's entertainment.
I understood the nostalgia factor of WrestleMania 20 being held in Madison Square Garden, but when WrestleMania 21 was announced for the Staples Center in Los Angeles, I was disappointed.
WrestleMania should always be in a stadium.
A normal sports or concert arena just cannot provide the atmosphere necessary to make the event feel special. Granted, it wasn't as bad as the dreadful efforts of 9, 11 or a few of the other smaller WrestleManias, but 17, 18, 19 and 20 were amazing events.
21 was just so deflating by comparison.
But there were two matches (the other coming later!) that made me feel like the spirit of WrestleMania was still alive and well.
The first ever Money in the Bank match was one of them.
Talk about a loaded match! Edge, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Shelton Benjamin, Christian and Kane were the amazing performers chosen to launch this new and exciting concept. It was an instant highlight reel of a match and Edge's victory catapulted him into the main event picture.
There were innovative spots, high drama, cringe inducing bumps, and the lingering question of when and where would the winner cash in the championship opportunity.
I was 30 years old at the time and found it quite easy to become jaded and frustrated with a predictable product. MITB brought back the feeling of "anything can happen."
Watching Edge take that ball and run with it was truly satisfying, and watching the genesis of a main event performer in the first of what has become an iconic match concept was definitely memorable.
I watched WrestleMania 19 with a conflicted sense of awe and frustration.
It was a stellar event with numerous standout performances and memorable moments. But I watched it from my home in Portland only two and half hours away from Safeco Field in Seattle.
I had just moved to the Pacific Northwest from California a few months earlier and had no money for anything extra above and beyond a few bills as I struggled to find work.
HBK vs. Jericho was the first match of the night that was able to make me forget my troubles. The job search and money woes faded as I fell into one of those moments of wrestling bliss when all I cared about was the story in the ring.
I still feel a little twinge of sadness that I missed the event, but when performers of this caliber can draw you in as if you were there, the memory is nothing but positive.
WrestleMania 16 (or 2000 as they called it) was a convoluted, over-booked, chaotic and all-around ugly event.
But among the few highlights was the TLC tag team title match.
The re-match from WrestleMania 17 was actually a more exciting and much more smoothly performed match, but the first one had the benefit of innovation and the wow-factor on an otherwise disappointing card.
This was one of the first matches from WWE I had seen in a while that made me close my eyes in dreadful anticipation. Not since Foley's fall from the Cell at King of the Ring 1998 had a match really made me watch through my fingers as I wondered just what in the hell was going to happen next.
More importantly, this match woke me up to the lengths as all six men would go through in order to steal the show. Those moments of unbridled respect are rare after you've been a fan for a really long time.
Becoming jaded is all too easy and to wake up from that jaded trance can be a difficult process.
These men shook me out of it in 22:29
Boy, WrestleMania 11 was depressing.
This was an awful time to be fan, but luckily, in one of my favorite feuds of this dismal period, Bret Hart and Bob Backlund had an unlikely and extremely entertaining run.
At WrestleMania 11, the two met in Backlund's last notable match before retiring for a second time and brought the rivalry to a close (this image was from a different event, but I had to go with what I could find).
But I wasn't really ready to let go.
The match itself was excellent, but this was less about the match itself and more of what it represented to me as a fan: Backlund's surprise return run was coming to an end.
This man's prime was supposed to be in the 1970s and early 1980s. His comeback was bizarre and dare I even say...unwelcomed.
Who wanted to see a '70s era clean cut good guy who did nothing but old school mat wrestling in WWE in the already awkward mid-'90s?
Backlund went on to become one of the best characters in wrestling at the time. Not only that, but I would call his '90s persona one of the greatest heels in the history of the business.
Combine this with one of the best technical talents the business ever produced, and you have gold.
This match was the end of that genius ray of light in mid-90's WWE.
I remember getting that feeling that I was watching someone's last real major performance. The best surprise of the early '90s was coming to an end, and I wished it could last a little longer.
Backlund vs. Bret Hart was an old-school clinic. I wanted more. I wanted Backlund to stay in the ring for as long as his body would let him, but all good things must come to an end.
I will never forget watching the last great match of this unlikely comeback and the empty feeling afterward wondering just who was talented enough to take his place.
This is just an all-out fantastic match, but I wasn't expecting much leading into it.
The story of the Hart brothers' falling-out was well told and well executed. Bret was on top of his game and the Hart family dynamic was front and center on WWE TV.
My limited expectations were because of Owen. I just didn't see him as a top level performer. I thought he was terrible on the microphone and was lackluster in the ring with the exception of a few great dropkicks here and there.
I was wrong.
Bret and Owen stole the show for me at WrestleMania 10 and it wasn't because Bret carried the match. Owen proved me wrong in every way and changed the way I viewed him for the rest of his career.
This match was 27:25 of perfection.
There's always that moment around the 10-minute mark of a match like this when the fact that the match you're watching may be a classic starts to sink in.
With this one, I felt it right away.
There were rumors all over the place about Shawn Michaels back problems. Coupled with Steve Austin's rise to the top, the outcome was never really in doubt.
But that didn't matter.
Mike Tyson as the special guest enforcer had given WWE its mainstream pop culture swagger back. Austin was exploding in popularity while HBK gave what many people considered at the time to be his last in-ring effort. This was undoubtedly one of the most important WrestleMania matches in history.
I remember wincing when Shawn was noticeably in very real pain due to his back. How he managed to perform at such a high level is still a mystery to me. I just hoped that he wouldn't paralyze himself.
Had this been HBK's last match, he would have gone out proud. Thankfully it wasn't, but thinking that WrestleMania 14 would be the last time we saw the Showstopper in action made this match bitter sweet.
I was watching history and knew it. The sadness for HBK, the rise of Austin, the presence of Tyson, and the fact that Austin and HBK tore the house down for 20:02 created an unforgettable WrestleMania moment.
I still consider this one of the greatest tag team matches in wrestling history.
At 11 years old, it was the greatest thing I had seen as a fan yet.
This was my first ever PPV event. I had saved my allowance for a month in order to pay my parents back for the privilege of watching the event via this new medium of pay-per-view.
I wasn't disappointed by anything on the card, but the real stand-out moment was the Bulldogs winning the tag straps from the Dream Team.
Being of British origin myself, and having a British mother who also cheered for her fellow countrymen, made the match feel pretty damn special.
When I walked into school the next day, the talk was not of Hogan vs. Bundy or the Chicago Bears in a battle royal, but of a tag team title match right in the middle of the card.
If 11-year-old Hulkamaniacs were talking about the tag titles rather than the steel cage main event, something pretty fantastic must have happened. It was the first time I can remember a match that wasn't a hyped main event stealing the show.
To this day my Mom will say, "Thank you very much, America!" in her best Davey Boy impersonation. If even the mother of a fan can remember the winner's interview quote 25 years later, you know they did something right.
WrestleMania 17 was an excellent show, and consistent from start to finish.
One of the highlights for me was Angle vs. Benoit, who took the rest of the locker room to school on how to tell an amazing in-ring story.
Benoit was one of those performers that could steal a show on any given night even within the context of a great overall event like WrestleMania 17. Having a natural like Angle to dance with must have just made it easier.
As I got older, those moments of losing myself in a match became few and far between. This one did it in a heartbeat and remains one of my favorite performances of both men.
I had never seen anything like it.
It's difficult to watch this match now and be awed by any of it, but when you place the match into its proper historical context, it becomes a classic.
Never before had we seen something like this from WWE. It was relatively daring at the time and started a craze with ladder matches of all types to follow.
Without the success of this match and the perfect performances from Michaels and Scott Hall, we wouldn't have TLC matches or Money in the Bank matches.
Perhaps the greatest thing about this trailblazing match is the fact that both wrestlers used the concept not as a crutch or an excuse for a spot-fest (that would come later with both good and bad results), but as a simple device that enhanced a good story.
There was something so new and fresh about it at the time, and it was so flawlessly executed, that watching it as it happened gave you the chills. Not just because it was a great match on its own merit, but because you just knew that we had seen something that would influence wrestling going forward.
Speaking of HBK....
By the time I was 21 years old, I had come to appreciate the works of art that certain wrestlers could execute.
Knowing that Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart would face off in a guaranteed hour long match was the best news a wrestling fan of my age could get in early 1996.
Both men delivered.
This was an absolute masterwork of patient story-telling. When it was over, I thought to myself, "Have I seen the greatest match ever?"
There was no way I could imagine it being topped. It reminded me of the classic Flair/Rhodes matches of the mid-'80s, except kicked into a higher gear. Just unreal.
Of course many matches since have surpassed it in my opinion, but at the time it was the pinnacle of pro wrestling.
I was on a high for days afterward satisfied by the money I spent, excited for the future of HBK as champ, wondering what lay ahead for Bret Hart, and damn proud to be a wrestling fan.
Oh what a surprise...more Shawn Michaels!
But the story here is less about Michaels and more about Flair.
I loathe the fact that Flair (who has a right to do anything he wants to) continued wrestling after the perfect send-off.
I am in that group of fans who feel his legacy is tarnished somewhat by not being able to let go and allow such an emotionally charged and satisfying match with HBK at WrestleMania 24 to be the last stand of the Nature Boy.
But that doesn't change the actual match and the emotion of the moment.
Flair looked so invigorated and inspired that night in Orlando.
Shawn also helped Flair look like a million bucks as one of the greatest careers in wrestling came to a supposed end.
From the wicked table bump by HBK to the "I'm sorry, I love you" super-kick moment, this was a match that tugged at heart strings all over the world.
While I was certainly a proud little Hulkamaniac growing up, by 1987 my favorite wrestler had become Rowdy Roddy Piper.
When he won his first title with WWE, the Intercontinental championship, from the Mountie at the 1992 Royal Rumble, I popped huge. But I also wondered if he really had what it took to carry a title. Though I loved him through and through, the doubts were merited.
Piper has bragged that he protected his character and his career by refusing to be pinned. When I was younger I remember wondering why all of his matches ended with a DQ or a count out.
Later learning that he was a bit paranoid of what clean losses would do for his career made me wonder if he had been holding himself back from reaching even greater heights.
Could he tell a good a story with a title?
After all, it must be hard for a promoter to book a story with a character who could only enter a match with limited creative options and never wanting to put anyone else over.
A title holder had to eventually let someone best him for the good of the title, the good of the story, and the good of the company.
WrestleMania 8 proved a turning point for Piper in this regard.
He was pinned clean by Bret Hart in what was without question Piper's finest moment. He wrestled an amazing match that was the best of his storied career.
The match had everything: a great back story, a proud veteran champion, a rising singles star, and the rare drama of face vs. face. In the end, Piper put Bret over. In the process he proved that he could lose a clean finish and come out smelling like roses.
This landmark moment for me as a Piper fan, and for Piper himself, had me then wondering: Had he been willing to do something like this earlier, could he have done more? Could he have been a world champion?
We'll never know, but at least there was WrestleMania 8. At least there was Piper vs. Bret when everyone, including the fans, won big.
The Piper vs. Hart match amazing, but for me what was the most memorable part of WrestleMania 8 was the WrestleMania debut of Ric Flair.
His match with "Macho Man" Randy Savage was an emotionally charged epic that more than made up for the fact we never got the big Hogan vs. Flair match up that was initially advertised and then changed.
What mattered is that Flair was finally at WrestleMania.
I'll never forget Flair's bloody face, Elizabeth fighting back his advances, and Savage giving what was probably his last great WWE match. Both men were at the top of their game and in the longest match of the night, they stole the show.
What really excited me was that this could have been the tip of the iceberg. Flair had just wrestled his first 'Mania match and it was a classic. Savage was at his best. 1992 was turning into an awesome year and the sense of anticipation for what WWE would do next was off the charts.
In January, Flair would leave and return to WCW. All of the dreaming of what could have been faded before a year had followed this stellar title match.
But this match holds a special place in WrestleMania history for me as a sign of what could have been, and the excitement of that Sunday in '92 is still a very vivid memory.
It was one of the greatest stories told in recent wrestling memory.
The great Shawn Michaels had one last mountain to climb and wouldn't rest until The Undertaker gave him one more shot. He chased him down, wore him down, and left him no choice.
We all knew Michaels was retiring, and we all knew that the match couldn't really surpass the classic from the year before, but when the story is that good, and the performers are that legendary, it's just an honor watching it play out.
I believe this was HBK's last match. We won't see him wrestle ever again. The finality was absolute and, unlike the WrestleMania14 match with Austin, the time just felt right.
As the match progressed I remembered.
I remembered watching him in the AWA from the Showboat in Las Vegas.
...seeing the Rockers make their WWE debut.
...the Barber Shop and a broken window.
...the birth of the Heartbreak Kid.
...the ladder match at WrestleMania 10.
..."the boyhood dream" and the 60 minute iron man match.
... the Kilq
...the screw job
...WrestleMania 14 with his three herniated discs.
... the come back.
...the classic matches after his return that I never thought I'd see.
...creating magic at WrestleMania 25 with the Undertaker.
All of it came down to this moment at WrestleMania 26.
Thank you, Shawn.
No match had ever organically generated this much electricity.
It was no technical classic. It was no spot-fest. There were sloppy moments and awkward exchanges.
But it was absolutely brilliant.
I was excited about Hogan's return to WWE, especially making a WrestleMania comeback. But I never imagined that the moment would result in one of the greatest matches wrestling.
And the assist goes to the fans in Toronto. I felt like I was right there with them.
My childhood as a Hulkamaniac came rushing back and I was wrestling with myself as the fan of the current product met head on with the 11-year-old boy that still lives somewhere inside of me. That never happened before and I doubt it will ever happen again.
It was one of those "where were you when...?" moments.
Damn, it's good to be a fan.
This may sound strange, but this wasn't a very good match. It was actually pretty terrible.
But that doesn't matter.
This match defined an entire era not because of the quality of the ring work, but because it stands as the biggest main event in WWE history.
It captured the imagination of every fan around the world and when the bell finally rung, disappointment was simply impossible.
The only household names that are arguably bigger than the business itself went face to face headlining the most iconic PPV in history. The buzz was unprecedented with local news, network news, sports recaps, newspapers, and entertainment outlets bristling with the excitement generated by this one card and its mammoth main event.
My sixth grade teacher even took a class poll on the winner and bet me $1 that Andre would win (he never paid me).
It really did feel like the whole world stood still to watch a match. I don't think that's happened since.
I was in awe.
Bret Hart and Steve Austin beat the hell out of each other, and I felt pummeled myself.
In one of the most exhilarating matches I can ever remember, Bret Hart and Steve Austin pulled off a double-turn that changed wrestling forever.
Bret Hart recently said on WWE On Demand's Legends Roundtable that this was the night Austin won the heart of the WWE fans. I couldn't agree more, but it was Bret that facilitated that transaction.
These were the only two wrestlers capable of this kind of performance (well, maybe HBK too).
This match stands as probably the finest combination of physical action, in-ring psychology, character development, and audience manipulation in the history of wrestling. It was utterly perfect.
I was speechless then and I'm only able to muster a few words now. Just amazing.
Yeah, the world watched for Hogan and Andre, but the show was stolen by one of the greatest matches in wrestling history.
Many have talked endlessly about how perfect this match was and what a standard it set. I figure that's all been covered.
For me, there is an added element that makes this match special.
This was a turning point for me as a fan. This was the match which turned me into a lifer.
It elevated my fandom to a new level that I knew separated me from the kids around me and I would never look at wrestling the same way again.
This match was my awakening to wrestling as art. All of a sudden it clicked. I "got it."
It wasn't just about the cartoon characters, the toys and the hype. Sure I loved all of that and I still do! But I really appreciated the beauty of in-ring precision, psychology and storytelling.
Before that match I was a 12-year-old kid who loved wrestling for fun. After Steamboat pinned Savage, I was addicted for life and understood how great wrestling could be.
They were master craftsmen who were the best entertainers and the best athletes in the world. They were artists, and anyone who thought differently would hear it from me loudly and proudly from that day forward.
I hope you enjoyed my ranking.
I'm sure you all have your favorite matches and your own personal reasons for them so please share them or any thoughts you have on this list below in the comment section.
Thanks for reading!