Ranking the 10 Greatest WWE WrestleMania Matches of the Last Decade

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistMarch 6, 2021

Ranking the 10 Greatest WWE WrestleMania Matches of the Last Decade

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    Credit: WWE.com

    Over the past decade, WWE has opted to build its WrestleMania events on the idea of moments, but the men and women who enter the squared circle have still managed to deliver unforgettable and iconic matches once the bell rings.

    From championship encounters to emotional grudge matches, the Showcase of the Immortals has been home to some of the most physical, dramatic, enthralling and captivating in-ring content the company has produced in that time.

    From KofiMania to the Yes Movement, the matches that have unfolded on Wrestling's Grandest Stage have also transcended the sport and meant more to the audience than winners, losers and title reigns.

    As the company gears up for an edition of the event headlined by Edge's return to a stage he has conquered numerous times before, relive these 10 matches that have helped define the past 10 years of sports entertainment's defining spectacle.

10. Once in a Lifetime: The Rock vs. John Cena (WrestleMania XXVIII)

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    Were there better technical wrestling matches than John Cena and The Rock's "Once in a Lifetime" showdown at WrestleMania XXVIII?

    Sure, but none quite meshed star power and spectacle the way the dream match did in 2012.

    A showdown between competitors of different generations, it split the audience like a Twilight flick, forcing fans to choose sides and creating a must-see environment for WWE's biggest money match.

    Dramatic, the match captivated fans in Miami right up until Cena arrogantly mocked Rock's People's Elbow, only for The Great One to catch him coming in and drop him with the Rock Bottom for the win.

    The image of The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertaining celebrating as 78,363 people cheered him on in his hometown while a dismayed Cena watched, seated on the ramp, is the sort of epic storytelling we should see on Wrestling's Grandest Stage.

9. Becky Lynch vs. Sasha Banks vs. Charlotte Flair (WrestleMania 32)

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    The Women's Revolution was in full force by the time WrestleMania 32 rolled around, thanks in large part to the arrivals of Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair, and Sasha Banks to the main roster.

    Three of the Four Horsewomen of NXT brought wrestling to the forefront of the women's division, and on that night in Dallas, they came together for a Triple Threat match that would simultaneously retire the embarrassing Divas Championship while introducing the brand new WWE Women's Championship.

    The spectacle that was their entrances, complete with Banks being performed to the ring by her cousin Snoop Dogg and Flair walking the aisle with her legendary father Ric, gave way to a highly competitive three-way contest.

    Flair's moonsault from the top rope to the floor and Banks' frog splash that broke up a Figure Four leg lock were highlights, but it was The Queen's victory that announced to the world that WWE was her queendom. 

    Lynch, the overlooked member of the match, would get the last laugh three years later when she won the Raw and SmackDown Women's Championships in the first women's main event at WrestleMania, but the historic significance of that match is not enough to propel it ahead of this 2016 Triple Threat, which was slightly better.

8. Fatal 4-Way Ladder Match for the Raw Tag Team Championship (WrestleMania 33)

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    Heading into WrestleMania 33, we knew Enzo Amore and Big Cass, The Bar and Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows would compete in a ladder match for the Raw Tag Team Championship. When special guest hosts The New Day announced there would be a fourth team added to proceedings, most fans logically assumed the multi-time champs would enter the fray themselves.

    Then, one of the most stunning returns in WrestleMania history occurred when Matt and Jeff Hardy exploded through the curtain. The fans in Orlando, Florida, erupted with a thunderous ovation typically reserved for those in the "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Rock atmosphere.

    Electricity filled the arena as the match took on even greater meaning as fans cheered the Attitude Era icons.

    Jeff threw his body around the ring, crashing on to Cesaro and Sheamus and driving them through a ladder with a Swanton Bomb while Matt scaled a ladder back inside the ring and secured the championships.

    It was a triumphant return for the brothers, a fantastic match full of the spots fans expect out of that particular gimmick and easily the most memorable moment of an otherwise so-so show.

7. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka (WrestleMania 34)

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    For 914 days, Asuka navigated the WWE Universe unbeaten.

    The Empress of Tomorrow pinned or tapped out every single competitor she came face-to-face with in NXT and on the main roster before winning the first Women's Royal Rumble Match in January 2018. That match put her on a collision course with SmackDown women's champion Charlotte Flair, the measuring stick for the company's thriving women's division.

    Most expected their match on Wrestling's Grandest Stage to be good, but few could have imagined it would steal the show.

    An incredibly physical roller-coaster ride of a match that captured the attention of the fans in New Orleans from the get-go, it kept the audience guessing as to who would leave with the title around her waist.

    Dramatic back-and-forth, strong near-falls and counter-wrestling dominated down the stretch until Flair hooked in the Figure Four and Asuka shockingly tapped, bringing her streak to a close and further anointing Flair The Queen of WWE.

    It was a stunning moment for those who expected Asuka to leave with the title and the first sign that her main-roster run would not look at all like her extraordinary reign atop NXT.

    Still, despite the controversial outcome, there is no denying that two of the best wrestlers in the company seized the WrestleMania spotlight and tore the house down in the second match of the night, setting an impossible bar for the rest of the roster to eclipse.

6. Daniel Bryan vs. Batista vs. Randy Orton (WrestleMania XXX)

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    His body racked with pain following a cowardly attack by Triple H earlier in the night that left him with shoulder and rib injuries, Daniel Bryan took to the squared circle for a WWE World Heavyweight Championship main event against Randy Orton and Batista, with his prospects of leaving with the gold not particularly great.

    A gritty performer who had overcome so many obstacles on his way to that match, he soldiered through and turned in another stellar showing in what would become the defining night of his legendary career.

    But not before having to fight from underneath one last time.

    Bryan endured a brutal Batista Bomb/RKO combination through the announce table, leaving him to be stretchered out of the arena. The idea of Batista and Orton battling it out for the world title in the closing minutes of WrestleMania was not particularly appealing, so the crowd understandably reacted with great fervor as Bryan returned to the squared circle.

    Thwarting interference from Triple H and Stephanie McMahon and then catching Batista with the running knee and tapping him out to the Yes Lock, Bryan celebrated his monumental victory as pyro exploded and confetti fell from the ceiling.

    WWE listened to its audience and paid off Bryan's journey in spectacular fashion in a highly dramatic match that looked and felt like the Attitude Era main events of years past. Bryan, the gutsy, anti-authority babyface, overcame the odds, delivered the unforgettable conclusion to the show and basked in the glory that should have been his many years earlier.

    An epic, iconic close to the last great WrestleMania presentation.

5. Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H (WrestleMania XXX)

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    WrestleMania XXX ended with Bryan triumphantly hoisting the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships high overhead but started with him fighting for the right to even get to that point, as he battled Triple H in a match that probably could have headlined the show in its own right.

    The contest was the culmination of Bryan's war with The Authority, the power-players in WWE who had labeled him a "B+ player" and unfit to carry the company's top prize.

    With wife Stephanie McMahon watching from ringside, Triple H exploited a previous injury to Bryan's shoulder, seizing control. Just as he did so often over the course of the monthslong storyline, Bryan fought back with guts and determination and put away Triple H with the running knee to earn his way into the main event.

    A physical encounter with some great mat wrestling and submission-based stuff from Triple H, the contest was a throwback to the type of match one would have expected from Bret Hart in the mid-'90s.

    It was The Cerebral Assassin's last great match at WrestleMania and the payoff fans deserved from the feud that had dominated WWE since the previous summer—an underrated gem in the WrestleMania pantheon often overshadowed by what came later in the night.

4. Boneyard Match: The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles

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    The COVID-19 pandemic forced WWE into its Performance Center for WrestleMania 36, a show unlike any other in the illustrious history of the event. It also made the company alter plans and adopt a cinematic style for one of its marquee bouts.

    The Undertaker and AJ Styles clashed in a Boneyard match, a modern take on the Buried Alive concept, and did so in a secluded cemetery. Taped the night before it aired, the match introduced the WWE Universe to a style that was introduced years earlier in Impact Wrestling by Matt and Jeff Hardy.

    Filmed and edited like a movie, the match played out without the commentary and featured camera cuts and background music. It also allowed WWE to do things that would not have been plausible in a live setting, such as Undertaker being seemingly buried alive, only to reappear behind Styles on a backhoe moments later.

    Ultimately, The Deadman dispatched Styles and cronies Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson before riding off into the dark of the night in what would become his retirement match. It was a fitting conclusion to the feud and, more importantly, the perfect end to The Deadman's journey.

    And the consensus 2020 Match of the Year in WWE.

    Styles whimpering, begging his opponent not to bury him, remains one of the most unforgettable moments and a great bit of theatricality from a performer not typically known for it.

3. Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan (WrestleMania 35)

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    Daniel Bryan's journey from underdog to the top of WWE has already been covered, making his role at WrestleMania 35 more ironic.

    Entering that show as the WWE champion, a planet-friendly heel who regularly berated opponents and fans for their treatment of Earth, he sought to end Kofi Kingston's childhood dream and rob him of the opportunity to hoist the top prize in wrestling on its grandest stage.

    Three-quarters of the way through their match, it looked like he may do just that.

    Bryan had firm control of the bout, outwrestling a Superstar who—had it not been for the tremendous momentum he garnered in the month prior to the biggest show of the year—would never have had the opportunity to be in that match.

    But there he was, and with the eyes of the wrestling world on him, Kingston fought back. In a moment that played off the previous encounters between them, Kingston grabbed hold of his opponent's arms and unleashed a series of stomps to his chest, driving the fight out of Bryan.

    Then he did it.

    Kingston uncorked Trouble in Paradise and pinned the most celebrated technical wrestler in the world to win his first WWE Championship, a triumph 11 years in the making.

    The emotional roller coaster Kingston and Bryan took fans on culminated in one of the event's most unforgettable title victories and, even more importantly, post-match celebrations.

    Kingston's New Day teammates, Big E and Xavier Woods, openly cried as they surrounded their fearless partner. Kofi's sons joined in the festivities. Social media celebrated the win, including a now-iconic video of MVP and Shad Gaspard watching the win, tears in their eyes, celebrating the first Black man to win the WWE Championship on the WrestleMania stage.

    It was a win that transcended wrestling and a damn-near flawless match to boot.

2. The Undertaker vs. CM Punk (WrestleMania 29)

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    CM Punk was the ultimate antagonist heading into WrestleMania 29, taunting The Undertaker with the memory of the recently departed Paul Bearer. A mastermind manipulating an emotionally fueled legend, he sought to use The Deadman's emotion against him and become the first man to defeat him at The Showcase of the Immortals.

    Entering the arena to the sound of Living Colour performing "Cult of Personality" live, Punk felt like the biggest star in the company. It felt like his night, a moment in time that would help to define him and his legacy as an in-ring performer.

    After all, headlining with Taker meant as much (if not more) than fighting for the title at WrestleMania.

    In front of 80,676 fans in New Jersey's MetLife Stadium, Punk did not disappoint.

    The Straight Edge Savior threw everything he had at Undertaker, soaring through the air with an elbow drop from the top rope that drove both himself and his opponent through the announce table. He rocked The Phenom with Go-To-Sleep but the icon rebounded off the ropes and answered with a Tombstone for a hell of a dramatic near-fall that brought the entire venue to its feet.

    A shot to the face with an urn, followed by a mocking pinfall, failed to put Undertaker away. And after a series of reversals and counters, The Deadman flattened Punk with the Tombstone for the win. Like so many before him, he succumbed to The Last Outlaw on wrestling's most important night.

    The match was of the quality fans demanded out of the two and the sort of performance that only further added to Punk's legacy.

    It was this match, as well as an all-timer with Brock Lesnar later in 2013 at SummerSlam, that keeps fans hopeful that Punk will one day return to the squared circle and give his fans another classic encounter.

1. End of an Era: Triple H vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania XXVIII)

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    The culmination of a four-year story, the End of an Era match inside Hell in a Cell at WrestleMania XXVIII was a thing of storytelling beauty.

    At WrestleMania 25, Undertaker defeated Shawn Michaels in a match considered by many to be the best of all time. One year later, he retired HBK in the main event. WrestleMania XXVII saw Triple H seek to do what his best friend could not by conquering The Phenom on the grand stage.

    He didn't. 

    With Michaels as the referee, the ring surrounded by the unforgiving steel of Hell in a Cell and Triple H hellbent on padding his resume with a win over Undertaker, the Superstars clashed one last time in a match that would bring finality to their story and put to an end a bygone era of wrestling.

    The fans in Miami hung on every near-fall, every epic story device and the simply phenomenal performance of Michaels as the referee. As Triple H and Undertaker expertly strung together every spot to maximize the drama, Michaels reacted in kind.

    When he needed to be torn over doing the right thing and supporting his bestie, he was. When he needed to be pissed off and rock Undertaker with Sweet Chin Music, he did. And the fans ate it up.

    On a night when the advertised main event between John Cena and The Rock broke box office records, it was the battle between pro wrestling deities that left the fans inside the Orange Bowl breathless.

    Ultimately, Undertaker put Triple H away with one last Tombstone before joining the D-Generation X brethren at the top of the stage for one last embrace, a nod of sorts to their long history and the many battles they had fought to that point.

    It was an unforgettable match, a show-stealer that won every Match of the Year award. And rightfully so.

    An exercise in pro wrestling storytelling and one of the most expertly executed examples of dramatic storytelling you will ever see in live-action theatre.

    That Sweet Chin Music/Pedigree combo for the near-fall... chef's kiss.