WWE WrestleMania: 15 Greatest Matches in The Show of Shows' History

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistMarch 27, 2017

WWE WrestleMania: 15 Greatest Matches in The Show of Shows' History

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    Credit: WWE.com

    WrestleMania.

    The mere mention of the event generates excitement among fans unlike any other live event spectacular. A showcase of sport and entertainment, icons and innovators, the event has housed the most unforgettable and epochal matches and moments in professional wrestling history.

    Over its three decades of existence, the extravaganza has been home to matches that have defined the industry in which the men and women involved ply their crafts. It has seen championships change hands, heroes conquer villains and the most celebrated of careers come to an end.

    From The Ultimate Challenge to Icon vs. Icon, the event has produced the greatest emotional roller coaster rides in WWE's long and illustrious history.

    The most prestigious event in professional wrestling history is preparing to turn 33, and the current crop of WWE Superstars are poised and determined to ensure their contributions to the magical night of action on April 2 land them on the list of the best matches to ever occur at The Show of Shows.

    Which 15 matches would they be joining on said list?

    Find out with this countdown of WrestleMania's greatest bouts.

15. Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle (WrestleMania XIX)

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    Brock Lesnar may headline WrestleMania 33 in Orlando, Florida, but his first dance on the grand stage came in 2003 as the then-Next Big Thing challenged Kurt Angle for the WWE Championship in the night's headliner.

    The match had been anticipated from the moment Lesnar and Angle ended up on the SmackDown brand the previous fall and for good reason. Two former masters of amateur wrestling, Angle an Olympic gold medalist and Lesnar an NCAA champion, their similar journeys to The Showcase of the Immortals piqued the interest of the fanbase and sparked hope for an instant classic.

    Angle and Lesnar did not disappoint.

    The 2017 Hall of Fame inductee and his Beast Incarnate opponent delivered a match steeped in mat work but with an intensity and high-impact style that captivated the audience. Angle, suffering from a severe neck injury that would require surgery in the days following the show, was brilliant as he threw caution to the wind to deliver the finest performance possible in his first WrestleMania main event.

    The match is not remembered for its fierce competitiveness or the dramatic roller coaster ride it took the fans in Seattle on.

    Instead, the most iconic image of the bout is Lesnar's botched Shooting Star Press. His eyes glazed with a concussion obvious, Lesnar was able to recover just enough to deliver a third F-5 to Angle for the win and championship.

    While the finish did not occur according to plan, it could not diminish the near-classic mat war the competitors delivered to cap off one of the greatest events in WrestleMania history and the incredibly gutsy performances by both Lesnar and Angle.

14. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 23)

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    John Cena had spent two years proving to even his harshest critics he belonged in the main event, both as WWE champion and the company's most prominent babyface. He had been part of fantastic matches with Kurt Angle, Triple H, Edge, Umaga and Randy Orton but needed that one classic WrestleMania match to further strengthen his claim to the top spot in sports entertainment.

    Enter Shawn Michaels.

    What was originally scheduled to be Cena vs. Triple H in a rematch of their WrestleMania 22 encounter was shuffled around when The Game suffered a torn quadriceps. The Heartbreak Kid slid into the spot previously occupied by his D-Generation X teammate, and suddenly fans were treated to a match they had no idea they wanted so badly.

    At the top of a card that also included The Battle of the Billionaires between Vince McMahon and not-quite-public nuisance Donald Trump, Money in the Bank and a World Heavyweight Championship match between Batista and The Undertaker, pressure was on both men to deliver.

    They did.

    Cena overcame a lacerated forehead acquired during a piledriver onto the ring steps and defeated Michaels via submission with the STF.

    It was the second time in two years that Cena had defeated a D-X member with his trademark hold, and the match, from a quality standpoint, firmly established the leader of the Cenation as the top dog in professional wrestling.

13. The Ultimate Warrior vs. "Macho King" Randy Savage (WrestleMania VII)

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    Sometimes, the greatness of a match extends far beyond the action that takes place between the ropes. It encompasses the emotion it generates from the audience and the story it tells from bell to bell. At WrestleMania VII in 1991, fans were treated to a classic match between two iconic performers that still ranks as one of the most emotionally draining in wrestling history.

    "Macho King" Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior competed in WrestleMania's first Retirement match. The product of an intense rivalry that began with Savage costing Warrior the WWE Championship at Royal Rumble, the contest would be the final battle for one unfortunate wrestler.

    Savage dominated the middle portion of the match, leaving fans in Los Angeles thinking they may be witnessing the final match of Warrior's meteoric career. When he climbed the ropes and dropped four consecutive elbow drops to the chest of his opponent, it looked as though Savage was en route to another major 'Mania victory.

    Warrior inexplicably kicked out, even after withstanding the devastating finisher as many times as he did. It was as if some higher power willed him back into the match. He exploded across the ring, taking his opponent down with three clotheslines, the gorilla press slam and his signature big splash.

    Savage kicked out.

    Left to question whether a continued career in pro wrestling was right for him, Warrior looked to the sky for some sort of sign. When Savage attacked him from behind, he received that sign.

    No longer looking to walk out, Warrior obliterated Savage with multiple shoulder tackles, the last one sending Savage crashing to the arena floor. One more and Warrior placed his foot in the center of the Savage's chest for the pinfall victory.

    The match was simply fantastic, an exhibition of crowd manipulation and the first hint of how significant the kickout of a finishing maneuver could be when enhancing the drama surrounding the match. Today, Superstars use that formula all too often. In 1991, it meant something and added to the aura surrounding the bout.

    The post-match antics, involving Miss Elizabeth's return and reunion with a beaten and broken Savage, is as fantastic a cap to a phenomenal wrestling match as one will ever see.

12. Money in the Bank (WrestleMania 21)

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    There have been so many Money in the Bank Ladder matches since the inaugural one in 2005 that it is easy to forget just how extraordinary that bout actually was.

    Featuring a talent pool consisting of Shelton Benjamin, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Kane, Christian and Edge, it was a bout loaded with future Hall of Famers. Thought it was the lack of anything else better to do that landed them in the contest, each men set out to steal the show and the result was a near-flawlessly executed gimmick match.

    Major high spots early gave way to an in-ring psychology that is rarely seen in those type of matches. Midway through the bout, Benoit had his left arm crushed between a ladder. He sold it to perfection, so much so that fans remembered he had an injured limb when it came time for it to play a deciding role in the match.

    Benoit climbed the ladder late, appearing to be on his way to a guaranteed championship opportunity. From out of nowhere, the vile Edge blasted his arm with a steel chair, knocking him off the ladder and allowing the future Rated R Superstar to ascend to the top of the ladder and retrieve the Money in the Bank briefcase.

    Inventive spots and strong psychology came together to set the bar incredibly high for all other matches of its type to follow and, in the process, made for one of the 15 greatest WrestleMania contests ever.

11. Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle (WrestleMania 21)

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    Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle represented the peak of professional wrestling in 2005. Two all-time great workers with a knack for recognizing and understanding in-ring psychology, they were second to none when discussing the finest the industry had to offer.

    At WrestleMania 21, in front of Hollywood big wigs and fans from all over the world, they would battle for the right to call themselves the very best in their field.

    The tenacity of Angle would be the difference in the match. The Pittsburgh native survived everything Michaels through at him, including Sweet Chin Music that nearly dimmed his lights, and trapped The Heartbreak Kid in an ankle lock.

    Michaels tried everything he could to escape the hold, but Angle countered it all before intertwining his legs around his opponent's and forcing a tapout.

    The drama created late in the match by the industry standards was phenomenal. The story they told, including a point in which Angle got too cocky and confident and nearly wound up beaten as a result, was the stuff of epics.

    The right man went over, the match was fantastic and the 2000s had another WrestleMania classic to tout.

10. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XII)

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    Who had the guts, determination and drive to compete for 60 minutes for the right to call himself WWE champion?

    That was the question that faced both defending titleholder Bret Hart and challenger Shawn Michaels as they arrived in Anaheim, California, for WrestleMania XII and the first Ironman match in WWE history.

    The top two babyfaces in the company would shed blood, sweat and tears for the opportunity to hold the WWE title high overhead at the end of the night. Exhausted, their bodies worn out from the incredible athleticism they displayed throughout the hourlong run time, they would stop at nothing to emerge victorious.

    So much so that neither was able to net a single fall against their strong-willed opponent throughout the initial 60 minutes.

    In overtime, Michaels would blast Hart with Sweet Chin Music and win his first world title as commentator Vince McMahon uttered the iconic sentence, "The boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels!"

    The match was unlike any longtime fans of WWE had ever seen before. For so long, wrestlers got by on their looks or the size of their biceps. Marketability trumped talent.

    Not anymore.

    Michaels and Hart were standard-bearers for the athletic, high-intensity and frenetic main event matches that would eventually follow. Their bout represented a change in philosophies and a shift in tone for WWE. Plodding main events would no longer be accepted, as fans dictated the following year when those in Chicago sat on their hands for the slow headliner between Undertaker and Sycho Sid.

    A dramatic bout that managed to capture the attention of the audience for its duration, the contest deserves its place in the annals of WWE history and in the top 10 of this countdown.

9. The Rock vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (WrestleMania X-Seven)

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    "Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. The Rock is undeniably the greatest rivalry in WrestleMania history. The Attitude Era icons wrestled three matches on the grand stage, but none carried with it the emotion and anticipation that their clash at the 17th annual spectacular did.

    Both were at peak popularity. They were also at their best between the ropes, delivering the finest performances of their acclaimed careers. With a crowd of 67,000-plus jam-packing the AstroDome in Houston for The Showcase of the Immortals, there was a noticeable buzz in the air.

    The action started hot and heavy, spilling to the arena floor. Seeing as how the match was announced as a No Disqualification match just seconds before its start, weaponry made its presence felt in the form of steel chairs, announce tables and television monitors.

    Both men bled for their art, their bodies wracked with pain.

    Austin was the clear aggressor but when his signature offense, including his deadly Stone Cold Stunner failed to keep Rock down for the count, he became increasingly frustrated. He dipped into his arsenal, retrieving the Million Dollar Dream he had utilized during his days as The Ringmaster and attempted to put Rock away via submission.

    The People's Champion, having clearly studied his opponent, took a page out of Bret Hart's book and kicked off the turnbuckles to reverse the hold into a pinning combination.

    With tensions heightened, Mr. McMahon made his way to the ring and, in a shocking moment that would define the match and bring the Attitude Era to a definitive close, assisted Austin in defeating Rock to capture the WWE Championship after nearly a dozen chair shots to the body.

    The image of Austin shaking hands with McMahon, whom he needed to help secure the win, put a nail in the greatest stretch of WWE programming ever and an exclamation point on one of the most dramatic and intense main events WrestleMania has ever produced.

8. Undertaker vs. Triple H (WrestleMania XXVIII)

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    WrestleMania XXVIII may have featured the marquee match of John Cena vs. The Rock, but the show was stolen by a brutal, violent Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker and Triple H dubbed "Once in a Lifetime."

    One year after an incredible bout left Undertaker unable to leave the Georgia Dome under his own power, Triple H set out to end The Streak once and for all and become the first Superstar to defeat The Deadman on the grand stage.

    With Shawn Michaels serving as guest referee, it appeared as if the odds were in The Game's favor.

    Despite mid-match Sweet Chin Music from ol' HBK, Undertaker refused to see two decades of hard work and sacrifice washed away by two best friends who had been unable to beat him on their own.

    Undertaker fought back and planted a defiant Triple H with the Tombstone piledriver to end The Cerebral Assassin's threat to his unblemished WrestleMania win-loss record.

    After the match, Undertaker, Michaels and Triple H embraced at the top of the WrestleMania stage, looking out into the stands in Miami as if their grand vision of what the business could be had come to fruition.

    They were last vestiges of a bygone era.

    Neither Triple H nor Undertaker were in the shape necessary to deliver a mat classic, so they hid the negatives and accentuated the positives—that being their ability to tell a story. Every spot was intricately placed in order to elicit the desired reaction, and the result was a bout that far surpassed the Cena-Rock bout from later in the night.

    A five-star classic from two Superstars well-versed in delivering epic matches, it is another fine example of how a red-hot crowd and two minds for the business can trump pure athleticism or incredible high spots when necessary. 

7. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania X)

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    When it comes to innovation, few did it better than Shawn Michaels.

    During the 1990s, The Heartbreak Kid always seemed to be at or near the center of any new and exciting match. He represented evolution in professional wrestling, and his contribution to WrestleMania X was no different. 

    With both Michaels and rival Razor Ramon claiming to be the real intercontinental champion, a Ladder match was booked for the show. Never before seen by the vast majority of WWE fans, the bout would feature each man's attempt to scale the rungs of the ladder, retrieve both intercontinental titles hanging from the rafters and put an end to the argument once and for all.

    Not the wild stuntfest the TLC matches would ultimately become, the Ladder match at WrestleMania X was a methodical bout that saw both Michaels and Ramon use the climbing tool as a weapon. They brutalized each other with it and took bigger bumps than usual.

    It was an enormous splash from the top of the ladder—to a prone Ramon—that provided Michaels the first of many WrestleMania moments and furthered the story of Ramon's injured ribs plaguing him.

    Ultimately The Bad Guy would knock HBK off the ladder and into the ropes, where the heel's foot would become entangled in them, allowing Ramon to retrieve the titles and score the win.

    Even in defeat, it was clear Michaels was headed for bigger and better things, and suddenly WWE had a new gimmick match at its disposal. Both competitors proved their ability to deliver in the most pressure-packed situations.

    Most importantly, it had the second five-star match to come out of the 1994 event, a mark that has never been repeated.

6. TLC II (WrestleMania X-Seven)

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    The inaugural Tables, Ladders & Chairs match at SummerSlam 2000 was an all-time great match that featured The Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian as well as The Dudley Boyz stealing the show while seeking the WWE Tag Team Championships.

    Some seven months later, the three teams would come together for TLC II, the tag titles at stake once again. This time, they would have the opportunity to wow audiences and solidify themselves as the brightest young stars in the industry on the grandest stage wrestling had to offer in WrestleMania X-Seven.

    With the eyes of the wrestling world watching, they broke tables, dented chairs and crashed off ladders in what amounted to a human demolition derby.

    In one of the most unforgettable moments of the entire match, one still replayed in WrestleMania video packages to this day, Edge delivered an enormous spear to Jeff Hardy. The spot was made even more impressive by the fact that Hardy had been hanging 15 feet above the ring and Edge had jumped off a ladder to execute the maneuver.

    The introduction of Rhyno, Spike Dudley and Lita allowed for creative spots and elevated the sense of drama. Fans had no idea who would leave the match with the gold. When Rhyno injected himself into the match late, carrying Christian up the ladder to grab hold of the championships, the audience got its answer.

    For the second consecutive match, Edge and Christian walked away with gold.

    For the second consecutive match, all six Superstars stole the show.

5. Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H (WrestleMania XX)

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    Chris Benoit's journey to pro wrestling excellence was a long, arduous one across several continents and the dumpster fire known as World Championship Wrestling. After 15 years of hard work and dedication to being the absolute best professional wrestler he could be, he arrived in New York's Madison Square Garden for his first WrestleMania main event.

    One-third of a Triple Threat match for the World Heavyweight Championship, he would stand across the ring from two of the most recognizable measuring sticks the industry had to offer: Triple H and Shawn Michaels.

    Those two Superstars had done everything there was to do in professional wrestling, including headlining WWE's most significant event. In his first opportunity to do so, he would have to outshine the all-time greats he shared the ring with if WrestleMania XX was truly meant to be his night.

    He did just that.

    He bled for his art and suffered major bumps, including a double suplex through the announce table, but he kept fighting. His body a mass of pain and punishment, he managed to duck Sweet Chin Music from Michaels and dump him over the top rope. From there, he caught Triple H in the Crippler Crossface and resisted a counter. 

    With nowhere else to go, The Game had no choice but tap out, giving the match and title to Benoit.

    The best wrestler in the world for a long time, an understandably emotional Benoit remained knelt down on the mat as the official handed him his prize, tears flowing through the blood and sweat that had caked his face. His journey had culminated in the promised land of WrestleMania, the top prize on Raw now his.

    He etched his name alongside industry greats and ensured his place in history with an extraordinary main event. Even after the tragic circumstances of his untimely passing, Benoit's contributions to the match and its greatness are not lost on those who have watched it and are unbiased in their assessment of it.

4. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (WrestleMania X)

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    Bret and Owen Hart entered Madison Square Garden in New York City in March 1994 with, arguably, the best and most emotional storyline accompanying them.

    Owen, the younger Hart sibling, was determined to break free from the shadow of his older brother Bret. He had undergone a transformation from lovable undercard babyface to despicable heel and needed one defining victory to catapult him up the card.

    After a heel turn at the Royal Rumble set him up for one-on-one showdown with his brother, most speculated he would get it.

    He did.

    Owen targeted Bret's knee, exploiting a previously established injury. The Hitman sold it as only he could, generating sympathy and convincing fans he was legitimately hurt. Every attempt at a comeback was met by a swift kick or a questionable chop block that wrestled control back in Owen's favor.

    Late, Bret mounted a comeback and a big boot to the face of a charging Owen looked to have stalled the evil younger sibling's momentum. Bret climbed the ropes and set up for a victory roll. Unfortunately for him, Owen countered it, shifted his weight and scored a clean pin-fall victory.

    Even more impressive was the fact that Owen beat Bret on the same night The Hitman would go on to compete for the WWE Championship in the main event.

    It was a watershed moment for Owen and the first instant classic match on the WrestleMania stage since Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage tore the roof off of Pontiac SilverDome in 1987.

3. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat vs. "Macho Man" Randy Savage (WrestleMania III)

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    Ricky Steamboat was seeking revenge for a cowardly attack by Randy Savage that left him hospitalized, his vocal chords damaged and his throat crushed, as he arrived in suburban Detroit for WrestleMania III.

    The consummate babyface not only wanted to get his hands on Savage but also relieve him of the intercontinental title Macho Man had held for over a year. While Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant had attracted 93,173 fans to the Pontiac Silverdome, it was Steamboat and Savage that would deliver the goods between the ropes, ensuring WrestleMania III would become the benchmark for sports, entertainment, grandeur and spectacle it would ultimately be known for.

    The pure athleticism on display was dazzling as Steamboat and Savage cut a frenetic pace that left viewers exhausted. Dozens of near-falls followed, keeping fans on the edge of their seats throughout.

    Would The Dragon be able to dethrone Savage or would Macho Man leave another Showcase of the Immortals with his title intact?

    Thanks to George "The Animal" Steele saving him from an attack with the ring bell, Steamboat was able to catch Savage off guard with a small package roll-up and win the title.

    It was a triumphant moment for the future Hall of Famer, but in many ways, it was more significant for Savage. A virtuoso performer, he had proven his greatness to management. Now, Vince McMahon and Co. would have the faith and belief in Savage to elevate him past his comfy spot in the midcard and all the way to the top of the industry.

    That would come a year later, the result of his contributions to the event's growth and evolution in 1987. 

2. Bret Hart vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (WrestleMania 13)

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    Bret Hart and Steve Austin were entirely different characters by the time WrestleMania 13 in Chicago arrived.

    Hart was the former hero-turned-whiny babyface, constantly grating on the nerves of fans who were tired of hearing how he had been screwed over and over since his return to WWE in late 1996. No longer proud, he was a bitter Superstar, disenfranchised by what the company had become in his absence.

    Austin was the rebellious antihero who did what he wanted, said what he wanted and gave no damns about it. He would do whatever was necessary to accomplish his goals, whether that was cheating or engaging a beloved figure like Hart in a heated rivalry.

    As WrestleMania approached, it was he who was generating the loudest ovations of anyone on the show.

    With that in mind, WWE officials sought to execute a rare double-turn that would turn Austin babyface and Hart heel. If it worked, it would be an epic occurrence on wrestling's most prestigious night.

    It did. To perfection.

    Late in the violent, bloody match that unfolded with the grace of fine art, Hart trapped Austin in the Sharpshooter. His face the proverbial crimson mask, Austin screamed in agony, blood pouring down his face and puddling on the mat below. It was a visceral, disgusting image but one that appealed to fans inspired by Austin's never-say-quit mentality.

    Refusing to give up, he passed out from the pain, rendered unconscious by the agony that had overwhelmed his body.

    Hart won the match but was greeted with boos as he walked out of the historic Rosemont Horizon while a limping, beaten Austin was met with cheers and chants of his last name.

    Storytelling at its best and a brutal brawl to boot, the Submission match between Hart and Austin from WrestleMania 13 is the second-best match in WrestleMania history.

1. Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXV)

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    The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had wrestled extraordinary matches prior to WrestleMania XXV in Houston.

    Their Hell in a Cell match in 1997 not only ensured that gimmick bout would become one of the most storied in WWE history, it also demonstrated the incredible chemistry the Superstars had with each other. Undertaker was the bruiser and brawler, while Michaels was the smaller, more athletic competitor.

    They played on those strengths at the 25th anniversary of WrestleMania, providing fans with a match that would instantly join the likes of Hart vs. Hart and Steamboat vs. Savage as the best matches in event history.

    Fans were on their feet, watching with bated breath as Undertaker shot his shoulder off the mat just in time to avoid his first defeat on the grand stage, courtesy of Sweet Chin Music. Their faces matched that of The Deadman when Michaels kicked out of the Tombstone piledriver later in the contest. There was, at all times, a noticeable buzz that filled the enormous Reliant Stadium.

    When Michaels scaled the ropes for a moonsault, he launched himself right into the waiting arms of The Phenom, who planted him with another Tombstone, this time scoring the pinfall victory.

    As both men laid on the mat, exhausted after the war they had just been in, fans and analysts alike understood and appreciated the enormity of the match. Not only had two of the greatest to ever lace a pair of boots just laid it all on the line for the enjoyment and entertainment of fans, they delivered a five-star affair under the brightest lights and on the biggest stage.

    Most expected excellence.

    What they got was perfection.

    Agree or disagree with the list? Let your voice be heard on Twitter, using #ManiaMatches.