Ronda Rousey Debuts and the Greatest WrestleMania Moments of the Last 10 Years

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistMarch 23, 2019

Ronda Rousey Debuts and the Greatest WrestleMania Moments of the Last 10 Years

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    The last decade of WrestleMania has provided fans with unforgettable moments that have further established the event The Showcase of the Immortals. 

    From dream matches no one could ever have imagined they would see to instant classics, electrifying debuts and heartbreaking retirements, the show has been the setting for moments that will live forever in the annals of WWE history.

    There are new memories to be made on April 7 in East Rutherford as the company celebrates 35 years of grandeur and spectacle, including the final match of Hall of Famer Kurt Angle's career and a potential first-time-ever women's main event featuring crossover star Ronda Rousey. Prepare yourself with this countdown of the top 15 moments of the last 10 years, ranked according to historical significance and, in the event of a tie, overall awesomeness. 

15. Cult of Personality (WrestleMania XXIX)

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    Since the summer of 2011, CM Punk reigned as the most talked-about professional wrestler on the planet, thanks to red-hot promos spiked with truth and an in-ring resume that spoke for itself. Fresh off the longest WWE Championship reign since 1988, Punk entered WrestleMania XXIX riding a wave of momentum as he battled The Undertaker in what was, arguably, the most anticipated bout on the card.

    His coronation came early in his segment of the show as he entered East Rutherford, New Jersey's MetLife Stadium to a live performance by Living Colour's "Cult of Personality."

    As the self-proclaimed Best in the World made his way to the ring, stopping to look out into the 80,000-plus fans that had packed the venue, it felt like we were seeing the maturation of a performer into the genuine main event attraction so many fans were so adamant he was.

    A lot could change in a year, though, and that night in the metropolitan area unexpectedly proved to be Punk's final dance on the grand stage.

14. A Magical Proposal (WrestleMania XXXIII)

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    For years, John Cena and Nikki Bella's relationship had been a hot topic among fans of both WWE and the E! Network reality show, Total Divas. Over the course of time, the question of whether Cena would ever take the leap of faith and propose to the show's star began to permeate.

    When it was revealed that Cena and Bella would team up at WrestleMania 33 to battle The Miz and Maryse, it appeared Cena had the most appropriate opportunity to do so.

    He seized it.

    Seconds after dispatching The Hollywood A-Lister and his wife, Cena knelt down and proposed to his longtime girlfriend in a moment that made mainstream media the next day.

    Fans never got their storybook wedding, but as a standalone moment in time, the high-profile show of love earns a place on this countdown.

13. The Monday Night Wars Revisited (WrestleMania XXXI)

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    Sting vs. Triple H may not have been the dream match fans wanted for The Stinger when he finally popped up in WWE after decades of avoiding the promotion, but it provided a tremendously fun throwback to the Monday Night Wars.

    First, D-Generation X's Road Dogg, Billy Gunn and X-Pac made their presence felt, rushing to ringside to assist The Game. Later, the New World Order's Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash made their presence felt, fighting DX around ringside.

    Triple H would ultimately go over, probably to satiate his ego, but it was the post-match embrace and truce between DX and the nWo as they paid homage to the Monday Night Wars, that remains one of the more enduring moments of the entire 2015 extravaganza.

    And a hell of an advertisement for the WWE Network.

12. Another Streak Broken (WrestleMania XXXIV)

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    For 914 days, Asuka ran through the talented roster of NXT and WWE Superstars, scoring wins and avoiding defeat. In the process, she created an aura for herself that was untouched by any other competitor. She was a buzzsaw, an unstoppable force and the surest bet to leave New Orleans with championship gold at WrestleMania 34.

    Fans did not account for her opponent's greatness, though—a fatal mistake.

    Charlotte Flair arrived at The Grandaddy of Them All as the SmackDown women's champion, ready to defend her throne as The Queen against her top contender, the 2018 Royal Rumble winner and Empress of Tomorrow.

    The second-generation wrestler summoned every ounce of fight in her to withstand the onslaught of her opponent and ultimately trap her in the Figure Eight submission. After several moments of fighting through the pain, Asuka tapped out, leaving the fans gathered inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in awe of a shattered streak for the second time in four years.

11. Three Icons, One Ring (WrestleMania XXX)

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    WrestleMania XXX not only celebrated three decades of sports entertainment excellence, it brought together the three biggest stars the industry had ever produced at the top of the show.

    Hulk Hogan kicked off the show before "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock joined the fray. Together, the icons of professional wrestling captivated the fans in New Orleans and those watching around the world with some banter, pandering, familiar catchphrases and a beer bash to wrap things up nicely. 

    It was a mostly innocent way to jumpstart the broadcast but a moment few could have ever imagined they would witness, regardless of the grandeur of the event.

10. A Last Ride for the Deadman? (WrestleMania XXXIII)

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    As WrestleMania 33 rolled around, it became more and more apparent that The Undertaker did not have many more dances left in him. His body slowed by age but not his spirit, he took to the stage he helped construct over the two decades prior for a showdown with Roman Reigns in the main event.

    Determined to prove Reigns was wrong, that the squared circle was still very much his yard, Undertaker stood across the ring from The Big Dog in the marquee bout of wrestling's most significant show.

    Unfortunately, it was his battered and beaten body that won out.

    The Deadman was unable to keep up with his opponent. He was more than a step slower, and the action was disjointed as a result. By the time Reigns finally put Undertaker down for the count, fans were happy the underwhelming contest had reached its merciful end.

    It was not the match but, rather, what happened after that landed it on this countdown of WrestleMania's most memorable moments of the last decade, though.

    Dejected, The Phenom left his trademark coat and hat piled in the center of the ring. He removed his gloves, too. Then, in a moment that left all thinking they had just witnessed the unexpected retirement of one of the all-time greats, he walked up the ramp and disappeared back into the depths in which he came from.

    It was a moment in time that, more so than any marketed "End of an Era," felt like the demise of an epoch. 

    As we found out, though, that would not be the case, devaluing the overall impact of the moment and resulting in its rather low placement on this countdown.

9. A Long Walk to Immortality (WrestleMania XXVI)

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    Obsession ruled Shawn Michaels' life in the year between WrestleMania XXV and XXVI.

    The Heartbreak Kid was so sure he could defeat The Undertaker after their classic encounter in Houston that he put up his legendary career against the iconic undefeated streak of The Deadman in an emotion-filled main event in the deserts of Arizona.

    Another showstopping performance from the Superstars concluded with a defiant Michaels again succumbing to the tombstone before embracing his competitive rival in the center of the squared circle. The Phenom taking his leave, Michaels was left to bask in the bright lights of WrestleMania one last time as an active competitor.

    His last match wrestled (for the time being), he walked up the long aisle, waving goodbye to the fans that had made him an industry giant over 20 years, and into immortality.

    Michaels' return to the ring in 2018 at WWE Crown Jewel resulted in this once-perfect goodbye's freefall down the list.

8. Call It a Revolution (WrestleMania XXXII)

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    For the first time in 10 years, the women's division had a legitimate opportunity to shine in one of the most eagerly anticipated matches on the WrestleMania 32 card.

    More importantly, the Triple Threat match for the newly established Women's Championship erased the term "Diva" from WWE lexicon and allowed the company's female competitors to take their rightful places among their fellow Superstars.

    Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair competed for the top prize in women's wrestling, delivering a show-stealing match that proved women belong in that high-profile spot on the show.

    The competitors took tremendous risks, including a moonsault from the top rope to the arena floor by Flair.

    Just as it looked like The Boss might leave Dallas's magnificent AT&T Stadium with the title, well-timed interference from Ric Flair allowed his daughter to tap Lynch out and capture the gold for herself.

    The moment was not only a crowning one Flair but for an entire women's revolution.

    On wrestling's grandest night, three of the so-called Four Horsewomen of NXT, who worked tirelessly to alter perceptions of their sport, outshined industry icons such as The Undertaker and Triple H, to make The Showcase of the Immortals their own and are an enormous reason Flair, Lynch and Ronda Rousey are poised to main event WrestleMania 35 on April 7.

7. A Rowdy in-Ring Debut (WrestleMania XXXIV)

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    Anytime an athlete transitions from one sport to professional wrestling, there is genuine curiosity on the part of fans as to whether or not they can succeed between the ropes.

    At WrestleMania 34, Ronda Rousey had her opportunity to prove she could, as she battled Triple H and Stephanie McMahon in a Mixed Tag Team match. Her partner? Only the greatest crossover athlete to ever lace a pair of boots, 1996 Olympic gold medalist and 2017 Hall of Fame inductee, Kurt Angle.

    With the weight of the world on her shoulders, Rousey arrived in New Orleans and wasted little time proving she could follow in the footsteps of the American hero, drawing a huge ovation as she unloaded on the spoiled Billion Dollar Princess and even fought The Game.

    Rousey was a ball of fire, capturing the attention of fans and proving her love for sports entertainment transcended watching from the stands.

    She was spectacular in her chance to make a first impression, delivering everything crisply and proving she would be the type of performer around whom an entire women's division could be built.

    And it was.

    In the wake of her stellar, Match of the Year-worthy performance, Rousey would go on to capture the Raw Women's Championship, a title she still holds today and will defend Sunday, April 7, at WrestleMania 35 against Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair.

    That match has a real opportunity to become the first women's main event in the long and storied history of The Showcase of the Immortals, and the quality of Rousey's performances, and her momentum since her WrestleMania debut, have a lot to do with it.

6. An Instant Classic (WrestleMania XXV)

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    There were no two bigger icons in WWE than Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker as they entered 2009's WrestleMania XXV. Billed as a battle between light and dark, The Heartbreak Kid and The Deadman embarked on a 30-minute match that would rewrite the history books.

    Dubbed "the greatest match of all time" by Chris Jericho in the 2011 WWE Home Video release The Story of WrestleMania, their battle captivated fans in Houston's Reliant Stadium and took them on an emotional roller coaster ride that ended when Michaels attempted a moonsault but found himself caught in the grasps of The Deadman.

    A tombstone piledriver and three-count later preserved Undertaker's undefeated streak and brought an end to what would go on to receive Match of the Year honors from Pro Wrestling Illustrated and The Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

    That match kicked off a decade of unforgettable moments and a series of occurrences linked to it, making it one of the most significant on this entire countdown.

5. The End of an Era (WrestleMania XXVIII)

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    For an entire generation, Triple H, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker represented the absolute best of professional wrestling in McMahonland.

    At WrestleMania XXVIII in 2012, The Heartbreak Kid officiated a Hell in a Cell match between The King of Kings and The Deadman that was dubbed by the company's mass marketing machine as "The End of an Era," hinting that things as fans had known it with those three Superstars would come to an end.

    In a brutal, violent, hard-hitting and dramatic clash, Undertaker withstood everything his opponent threw at him and finished Triple H off with a Tombstone to extend his win streak at The Showcase of the Immortals.

    Though the contest was another instant classic in a line of them for The Phenom, and a legitimate Match of the Year candidate, it was the embrace those competitors shared while standing on the WrestleMania stage that helps earn it a spot on this countdown.

    Three industry greats waved goodbye to yesteryear, what was and who they once were, and looked toward a future where they would not be intricately interlaced.

    Until Saudi Arabia came calling.

4. YES-leMania (WrestleMania XXX)

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    Daniel Bryan was never supposed to headline WrestleMania.

    Long one of the most talented and celebrated in-ring workers, he was largely seen by WWE officials as a good hand or, more appropriately, a "B+ player."

    After overcoming numerous attempts to screw him over and keep him from ascending the mountain, Bryan seized an opportunity and became the focal point of WrestleMania XXX.

    Kicking off the show, he pinned Triple H in the middle of the ring. Then, despite a shoulder injury that threatened his availability for the main event, he fended off both Batista and Randy Orton to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.

    Pyro exploded, confetti fell and the most unlikely star in the history of WrestleMania celebrated a win with the passionate fans that made his rise possible by never leaving WWE off the hook or accepting an alternative.

3. Once in a Lifetime (WrestleMania XXVIII)

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    Ideological differences and mainstream media trash talking brought The Rock and John Cena together at WrestleMania XXVIII in 2012 for one of the last true dream matches the wrestling industry had to offer.

    Returning from Hollywood for a colossal clash with the biggest star in the industry, Rock arrived in his hometown of Miami ready to electrify fans and silence the criticisms levied against him by his sworn enemy.

    For 30 minutes, The People's Champ and The Leader of the Cenation delivered a match that lived up to the year-long hype that preceded it. Dramatic near-falls kept fans on their seat all the way up until an arrogant Cena mocked his opponent's trademark People's Elbow...only to run right into a Rock Bottom that would end his night in disappointment.

    The imagery of Rock celebrating before his loved ones, friends and fans while a dejected Cena watched on, seated on the entrance ramp, only added to the emotion of the moment and set up another year of storytelling between the Superstars.

2. The Grandest Cash-in of Them All (WrestleMania XXXI)

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    Everyone and their mothers was positive that Roman Reigns' match against WWE champion Brock Lesnar in the main event of WrestleMania 31 would be the coronation of The Big Dog as the face of Vince McMahon's sports-entertainment emporium.

    With every kick out of Lesnar's punishing offense, those fans felt justified in their expectation.

    Then Seth Rollins' music played and The Architect hit the ring, his Money in the Bank briefcase in hand. In the span of seconds, those who expected to see Reigns leave Santa Clara, California, with the top prize in the industry erupted in joyous cheer as Rollins handed over his briefcase and proceeded to deliver a stomp to his former Shield teammate.

    Three seconds later, the most unexpected cash-in had succeeded and the immediate future of WWE took a sharp left, courtesy of The Authority's hand-picked chosen one.

    Rollins will look to leave Lesnar championship-less one more time on April 7 when he challenges The Beast Incarnate for the universal title in one of the main events of this year's spectacular.

    His cash-in remains the only in WrestleMania history.

1. 21-1 (WrestleMania XXX)

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    There are few moments in wrestling history that are met with utter shock and unnerving silence.

    Brock Lesnar's victory over The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXX, in which he became the first Superstar to ever defeat The Deadman on The Grandest Stage of Them All, is one of them.

    Jaws dropped. Eyes bulged. Tears flowed.

    Looks of disbelief, not to mention the uncomfortable silence that had fallen over the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, told the story of the most unexpected outcome in professional wrestling history.

    Not a single fan in that stadium, nor anyone watching at home, expected the most storied undefeated streak in sports and entertainment to ever come to an end. Much less to a part-time special attraction like Lesnar.

    It happened, though, and the fallout was talked about in mainstream media publications and across social media for days.

    Unbeknownst to fans, critics and WWE officials themselves, the repercussions of that loss would be felt for years and to some extent, still is today as the company routinely searches for matches it can generate buys with now that the annual "streak" match is no more.