The criteria for this countdown are varied and inevitably subjective. Work rate—the pure in-ring quality of the match at hand, sans any external context—was a leading factor. There are also historical considerations. While it may seem absurd to the uninitiated, WWE performance style has evolved significantly over the last thirty years. Some innovative, historically important matches are far less impressive than their successors when watched in a vacuum, but considering the ground they broke, are more than worthy of their status as classics (the now-snooze-inducing, then-mind-blowing Razor Ramon-Shawn Michaels ladder match from Wrestlemania 10 is the quintessential example). Other factors in the ranking included the storyline leading up to, and in some cases following a match, the immediate dramatic impact of the match, and, without fail, a healthy dose of personal preference.
Without further ado, I present my countdown of every Wrestlemania match ever.
287. Jerry Lawler vs. Michael Cole Make no mistake, this match was an absolute train wreck. At sixty years old, I understand the impulse to offer Jerry Lawler a Wrestlemania match before he fully retired from in-ring performance. But if they were going to do it, the match should have been about elevating a young star, celebrating Lawler’s legacy, or at least putting on a decent wrestling match to salute “The King.”
We got none of the above.
Lawler and Cole shared a broadcast booth and in the months leading up to this match, Cole’s commentary skewed increasingly toward the dark side, rooting for the bad guys, disparaging the heroes. Heel commentators can be great (see Bobby Heenan, Jesse Ventura, or even the early days of Jerry Lawler as color man) but Cole’s ramblings grew obnoxious without the good humor or credibility of those who preceded him. Worst of all, the war between commentators encroached upon other elements of the show, as everything from lower-card squashes to main event matches had a tendency to get talked over by Cole’s heel schtick—putting himself over and prioritizing banter with Lawler over the action in the ring.
The silver lining was that the Wrestlemania showdown between the two held the promise of being short (Cole isn’t a trained wrestler who can support a lengthy match) and sweet (Lawler would inevitably crush Cole to offer fans a modicum of retribution and give “The King” a win in his only Wrestlemania match).
Lawler-Cole dragged on way too long, with Jack Swagger’s outside interference leading to far too much offense from Cole. Worse yet, when it was all said and done Cole won the match on a “Dusty finish”—when Lawler seemed to have won and a higher authority declared a disqualification based on a technicality.
Worst of all this wasn’t the end of the Lawler-Cole program. The two would go on to have two more pay-per-view matches, and an on-again, off-again feud after that point for most of the year to follow until, of all things, Lawler’s real-life on-air heart attack put an end to the storyline animosity once and for all.
286. Terri Runnels vs. The Kat at Wrestlemania 16 Catfight This one was contested under kinda-sorta sumo wrestling rules, in which the winner was the performer to remove her opponent from the ring. The simplistic rules didn’t keep WWE from overbooking the finish with Mae Young distracting referee Val Venis so he didn’t see Kat win the match twice over. Runnels picked up the win when The Fabulous Moolah dragged The Kat from the ring behind the ref’s back. Frankly, there is no redeeming value here.
285. Stacey Keibler vs. Torrie Wilson vs. The Miller Lite Catfight Girls vs. Jonathan Coachman at Wrestlemania 19 Pillow Fight I was reticent to include this match in the countdown because it walks a very fine line between promotional segment and match and the match’s kayfabe loser, “Coach,” wasn’t actually a participant until the women involved elected to drag him into the match to pin him.
To review, this was a half-hearted, booked-on-the-fly fatal fourway in which all four women won when they collectively pinned a non-participant in the match. This match is the very essence of squeezing T&A onto a wrestling card, and an insult to the paying audience at the biggest show of the year.
284. Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan at Wrestlemania 28 World Heavyweight Championship Match At the present moment, I’d rate Daniel Bryan as the number one in-ring performer in WWE. While I’m not huge fan of Sheamus’s relatively plodding, predictable style, he’s also capable of holding up his end of the bargain in a technically sound match or a decent brawl. One-month later, Sheamus and Bryan would work a startlingly good two out of three falls match at the Extreme Rules pay-per-view. But at Wrestlemania—the biggest card of the year, two of the companies biggest stars garnered eighteen seconds to work a World Heavyweight Championship match.
No doubt, the idea was to push budding hero Sheamus and offer a moment of sweet retribution to Bryan’s cowardly heel character who had lucked his way into the championship months before. The end result, though, was a world of squandered potential in the match itself and a slap in the face to the two performers (this was only Sheamus’s second Wrestlemania appearance and Bryan’s first; not to mention that a match between the two for the United States championship was booked for Wrestlemania 27 and relegated to an abbreviated pre-show slot due to time constraints one year earlier).
This was a match too brief to mean much of anything. As such, it stands out to me as Wrestlemania’s greatest disappointment and third worst match.
283. Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania 2 Boxing Match Pro wrestling matches that involve celebrities are a gamble with historically mixed results. Mr. T performed competently enough to justify a big payday in the Wrestlemania 1 main event, tag teaming with Hulk Hogan, so I can understand the logic of re-booking him for the second Wrestlemania’s second-tier main event. Furthermore, there’s a certain storyline logic to booking a boxing match to take veteran wrestler Piper out of his element and set the stage for a fair battle between him and amateur fighter, Mr. T.
All of those justifications aside, man did this match stink. Worked boxing is rarely much fun to watch, and these two seemed to approach the performance with little game plan beyond killing time until Piper would lose his temper to get himself disqualified by bodyslamming T.
Nowadays, I don’t expect WWE would think of ending such a high profile match with a “non-finish.” T should have knocked out Piper clean to achieve his storyline comeuppance, or Piper might have won a slugfest to have emerged a more dastardly heel for his dominance, or have started his good-guy turn a few months early by giving T his begrudging respect. In the end, all we got was a snoozefest with no resolution in one of the event’s highest profile encounters. Blech.
282. Twenty-Five Women Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 25 To be frank, women’s matches at Wrestlemania have a pretty sad history. While the years when the Women’s Championship revolved around Trish Stratus and a handful of other exceptions presented some reprieve, most other attempts have been either token in nature, or all about T&A.
When WWE announced they would present a battle royal, including past and present female stars at Wrestlemania 25, I thought the idea had potential, with visions of stars of yesteryear like Madusa, Missy Hyatt, Wendi Richter, Stratus, and Lita converging for an encounter that wouldn’t be a technical masterpiece, but that could nonetheless mark a nostalgic accomplishment of similar caliber to the Gimmick Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 17 (see 124).
Rumor has it that when big names like Stratus and Lita declined the WWE’s offer to participate, WWE decided not to try for anything more than a farce. Even if this match weren’t going to tell a meaningful story or bring about fond memories, it could have at least been used as a platform to elevate a current female star with a big win. Instead, the victor was Santina Marella—male grappler Santino Marella in drag, for whom this absurd victory marked the launching point for a mercifully short storyline in in which comic heel Marella duped his legit female star girlfriend, Beth Phoenix (who should have won), at every turn.
281. Akebono vs. The Big Show at Wrestlemania 21 Sumo Wrestling Match Here’s a statement for you: this match so unentertaining that it’s actually even less interesting to watch it than it is to hear Michael Cole describe sumo tradition in the lead up to the bout.
I don’t altogether disagree with WWE booking this match as a unique spectacle and a way of cooling down the crowd after the Shawn Michaels-Kurt Angle classic (see 14). Just the same, I wish I coul un-see the sight of each of these guys in nothing but sumo thongs and the limited action in no way compensates for that.
280. The Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzalez at Wrestlemania 9 Amidst the mystique of The Undertaker’s 21-match-and-counting undefeated streak at Wrestlemania, folks tend to overlook the fact the streak has included its share of stinkers, none more heinous than this debacle. In WCW Jorge Gonzalez went by the name of El Gigante, a good-natured giant who legitimately stood 7’11” and stuck up for smaller buddies like Brian Pillman. The trouble was, El Gigante was a klutz, couldn’t speak English well enough to cut a promo, and was utterly unmuscular. Thus, the man’s remarkable height was the lone characteristic to make him a figure of any interest in wrestling.
When Vince McMahon got his hands on Gonzalez, he rebranded him as a monster heel who offered up the remarkable visual of towering over the almost-seven-feet-tall Undertaker. Sadly, when it came time for a match, Gonzalez’s every weakness was exposed as ‘Taker was not yet a skilled enough veteran to carry his unskilled opponent to a passable match the way he would for The Great Khali under remarkably similar circumstances some fifteen years. The result was a slow-paced match, devoid of any sense of flow, culminating in a non-finish when Gonzalez smothered ‘Taker with a chloroform-soaked rag for the DQ. Bad, bad stuff.
279. David Sammartino vs. Brutus Beefcake at Wrestlemania 1 I don’t know much about either of these men as people, but will note the irony that, from a performance perspective they have the ironic parallel of being the far less charismatic, less obviously talented hanger-on adjacent to wrestling’s biggest legends—David Sammartino, the son of Bruno Sammartino, WWWF’s biggest star of the ’60s and ’70s; Brutus Beefcake, real-life best buddy of Hulk Hogan, the WWF’s biggest star of the ’80s and ’90s.
To his credit, the younger Sammartino proves himself as a capable, if vanilla mechanic in this match and Beefcake offers up his signature adequacy for a match that isn’t good, but could certainly be worse. It gets a few points off for the double DQ non-finsh, but easily gets those points back for Bruno getting physically involved in the finish, bludgeoning Beefcake and his manager Lucsious Johnny to a massive reaction from the crowd.
278. Bret Hart versus Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 26 No Disqualification Match When you look at the external context of this match, there’s some good and some bad.
The good: In 1997 real-life Vince McMahon screwed real-life Bret Hart by surprising him on the fly with a storyline change that humiliated Hart in front of his countrymen in his last match before leaving WWF for WCW. Bad blood ensued and real life merged with storyline. In the years to follow, Bret’s brother Owen legitimately died in front of a live WWF audience because of a stunt gone wrong. Bret suffered a career-ending concussion in WCW, then had a stroke that nearly killed him; both of his parents and his real-life brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith died subsequently. Meanwhile, McMahon used his real life manipulation of Bret as storyline fodder to become one of the biggest on-camera villains in wrestling history and a huge part of WWF’s resurgence and ultimate dominance in the wrestling business.
How’s that for a dramatic storyline to back a grudge match?
The bad: Following his concussion and stroke, Hart was in no condition to work anything but the most carefully choreographed wrestling match, without any risky moves to his head, neck, or spine. McMahon was over 60 years old and to put it tactfully, hadn’t been a great technical wrestler in his prime.
This match should have started and ended inside two minutes with Hart dominating and making McMahon tap to his signature sharpshooter. Instead, the match lasted a painful eleven minutes, frontloaded with a convoluted storyline about McMahon attempting to buy off Hart’s surviving family members to interfere against him and including way more McMahon offense than the match needed. This one ultimately flirts with the line between forgettable epilogue and actively tarnishing Hart’s legacy.
277. Velvet McIntyre vs. The Fabulous Moolah at Wrestlemania 2 Women’s Championship Match The match isn’t great, but at 62 years old, Moolah was still a superior work to most of the female performers in WWE today. The match only lasts a couple minutes, but is inoffensive for the duration.
276. Roddy Piper vs. Bad News Brown at Wrestlemania 6 This match should easily crack the top 100 as a slightly higher caliber slugfest of the same ilk as Finlay-JBL at Wrestlemania 24 (see 61). Instead, we get a strangely tame brawl with a disappointing double countout finish. What really lowers this match to the doldrums of this countdown, though, is the altogether inexplicable creative decision for Piper to enter the match with half of his body painted black. One can only assume that the WWE didn’t want to risk white Roddy Piper looking like a bad guy against black Bad News Brown; or, more to the point, that the company wanted Piper to spread a message about racial equality and love. At the end of the day, Piper looked just plain absurd and far more racist than he ever would have for simply beating down Brown, as his half-and-half look seemed tantamount to blackface.
A disappointing match with a non-finish, colored by an awkward, failed attempt at social commentary—yikes.
275. Miss Jackie and Stacey Keibler vs. Torrie Wilson and Sable at Wrestlemania 20 The storyline heading into this match is that Torrie Wilson and Sable each posed for Playboy and Stacey Keilber and Miss Jackie were jealous. The resulting encounter was about as good as you’d expect (which, just in case you couln’t extrapolate, is not very good at all). Eye candy abounds and wrestling isn’t as brutally bad as the aforementioned Terri Runnels-Kat match, though it’s pretty laughable to watch Keibler and Wilson attempt a Steamboat-Savage like series of pins and reversals late in the match. Next please.
274. Tito Santana vs. The Mountie at Wrestlemania 7 With the exception of Hulk Hogan, Tito Santana was the only wrestler to perform in every single one of the first eight Wrestlemanias, with no absences. This match would mark the low point in that streak. Santana ran wild on his up and coming foe for a bout a minute, then The Mountie got his hands on his signature cattle prod and shocked Santana behind the referee’s back to get the pin. This match wasn’t ever going to set the world on fire, but the two guys had the talent for a decent mid-card outing. Unfortunately, with fourteen matches on the Wrestlemania card, and performing in the last match before the main event, these guys drew the short straw and didn’t have enough time to do anything significant.
273. Torrie Wilson vs. Candice Michelle at Wrestlemania 22 Playboy Pillow Fight Torrie Wilson is one of the most beautiful women in pro wrestling history, and Candice Michelle holds her own in that regard as well. That’s really about all this match had going for it. At least there were few illusions about what this match was supposed to be—pure T&A buffer between world title matches. The most glorious unintentional comedy moment of the match was probablyWilson backdropping Michelle onto a bed, and Michelle selling like it actually hurt her back.
To their credit, Michelle did work in her reasonably entertaining hanging headscissors spot and Wilson looked good on her leap frog into a roll up pinning combination on the finish. It could have been worse—not much worse, but worse.
272. Wendi Richter versus Lelaini Kai at Wrestlemania 1 The profound irony of this match: in an age when WWF’s storylines were thriving and their in-ring action was tanking, the company actually featured some of its better women’s wrestling. Little doubt that has a lot to do with the fact that in the 1980s and 1990s the WWF recruited top female wrestlers and brought them in to do their thing—as opposed to the more contemporary model of hiring top female talent for them to train the models they’ve hired as in-ring performers. But I digress.
This one wasn’t a classic, but it was handled in perfectly competent fashion, and Cyndi Lauper, near the peak of her fame, serving as Richter’s manager added a level of both fun and historical value to the bout. Not necessarily worth seeking out, but nothing cringe-worthy about this match either.
271. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 4 What a difference a year makes. Wrestlemania 3 was a spectacle with 93,000 fans in attendance to witness what WWF could still somewhat reasonably (if disingenuously) market as a first-time meeting between Hogan and Andre (see 7). This sequel amounts to little more than a footnote—less than a quarter of the crowd watching a cliff notes version of the match that ended in an unsatisfying draw.
Hogan and Andre had a lackluster rematch on free TV in which a controversial referee switch led to Andre’s one, dubious title reign, after which the big guy literally sold the title to Ted Dibiase, leading WWF to vacate the title and set up Wrestlemania 4’s infamous tournament for the gold.
WWF booked itself into a bit of a corner here, wanting to protect two of the biggest stars of the era while still establishing the next two top dogs—Randy Savage and Ted Dibiase—as legit main eventers. The non-finish was understandable to keep these two in good standing and pave the way to a Savage-Dibiase final. That said, the short brawl, ending in a steel chair-induced double DQ, offered fans a mere shell of the previous year’s spectacle.
270. Lex Luger vs. Yokozuna at Wrestlemania 10 World Championship Match Everytime a budding megastar’s push gets put on hold this is what that star’s devout fans worry about.
In the summer of 1993, the WWF put everything it had behind Lex Luger, pushing him as the top new face in the company by abruptly turning The Narcissist into a devout patriot who chased Japanese baddy Yokozuna across the company in a bus after bodyslamming him aboard an old battleship on the Fourth of July (zero hyperbole there—that’s literally what happened). The feud seemed poised to reach its climax at SummerSlam of that year, only for Luger to achieve a relatively hollow countout victory that did not garner him the title.
The stage seemed set for Luger to get his actual crowning moment on a bigger stage, at Wrestlemania 10 in Madison Square Garden. The trouble is, a combination of Luger’s middling wrestling talent and Bret Hart catching fire again reduced Luger to, at best, the second most popular guy in the company. Thus, Wrestlemania 10 was booked to have two world title matches, with the Luger and Yokozuna match first and Hart challenging the winner.
There’s an urban legend that Luger was supposed to win until he got drunk at a bar and spoiled the finish; this theory has be debunked by Luger and several other parties. Rather it seems WWF had lost faith in its chosen one, and thus he never got his run with the strap. And so, we end up with a lackluster revisiting of the SummerSlam match up with less drama, slower workrate, and Mr. Perfect playing biased referee to ultimately DQ Luger with little provocation.
Luger receded to the midcard after this failed run and was tag teaming with Davey Boy Smith by the time the next year’s ‘Mania rolled around, before quietly defecting to WCW. The match itself charts as the second worst world title match in ‘Mania history.
269. Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 20 Make no mistake about it—world war hoss had a well-built storyline. In the early days of the brand extension, when WWE maintained two distinct rosters that rarely interacted, this was tantamount to The Incredible Hulk and Superman crossing Marvel-DC lines for a fist fight. WWE teased this match when the two men interacted briefly the preceding November, and went all-in that January and February to tell a smart, high stakes story.
Moreover, let’s not ignore that this match featured two legit wrestling stars—Goldberg, who had proven himself capable of holding his own in high impact matches, and Lesnar who has always been remarkably athletic and technically sound for a monster heel.
Then it all went to hell.
Goldberg’s contract was up. By all measures, his one-year tour of WWE was a disappointment in which the bookers and Goldberg failed to recapture that made him a star in WCW. Wrestlemania looked to be the last hurrah of the Goldberg experiment. Meanwhile, shortly before ‘Mania, Lesnar announced his intentions to leave pro wrestling to pursue a career in pro football.
Wrestlemania 20 went down in Madison Square Garden in front of a hardcore, “smark” crowd (largely aware of behind the scenes happenings in addition to the storylines). The result was the audience booing both performers relentlessly. Goldberg and Lesnar, for their parts, seemed bewildered at how to react. Even guest referee Steve Austin could do little to push this awkwardfest toward action as the combatants, stalled and looked at each other for the better part of ten minutes before hitting a handful of power moves with little continuity or internal logic before Goldberg won. If you haven’t seen it, the match actually has a certain degree of comedic value and spectacle attached to it for just how poorly executed it all is.
268. Paul Orndorff vs. Don Muraco at Wrestlemania 2 This opening bout was an adequate little brawl, but ran painfully short before a contrived double countout finish in which both men happened to climb out of the ring as they traded punches, and the ten-count seemed to pass remarkably quickly. The most notable moment was probably good guy Orndorff feigning slanty eyes to make a racist dig at Muraco’s manager, Mr. Fuji. The crowd approved.
267. The Natural Disasters vs. Money Inc. at Wrestlemania 8 Tag Team Championship Match For as high caliber of a team as they were, Money Inc. has the dubious record of holding their belts through much of 1992 and 1993 but rarely actually winning—at least by any decisive means. Instead, they had a tendency to get themselves intentionally counted out or disqualified to keep their titles despite losing matches. The pattern helped get the guys heat as cowardly jerk heels, but also got legitimately annoying, as was the case here, when big Earthquake and Typhoon looked primed to get their revenge on former manager Jimmy Hart and his new charges, only to dominate the better part of eight minutes of match time, then take a hollow countout win when Ted Dibiase and IRS fled ringside with their titles in tow.
266. The Red Rooster vs. Bobby Heenan at Wrestlemania 5 Pure comedy squash here with manager Heenan taking on his former client, Terry Taylor saddled in an awful gimmick as an oversized rooster. The Brooklyn Brawler has Heenan’s back in this match to add a modicum of intrigue, but that’s not enough extend the match past the one-minute mark.
There’s a pretty serious gap in storyline logic for this match in that Rooster, presumably rewarded with this match to collect some revenge on Heenan, opts to score the quick pin after some low impact offense, rather than extending the punishment. I’m guessing the match was clipped to conserve time and focus more on the feud to follow between The Rooster and The Brawler.
265. The Boogeyman vs. Booker T and Sharmell at Wrestlemania 22 I’m not a big fan of comedy matches at Wrestlemania, but I can understand their place. That said, when a comedy match happens, you expect it to involve lower-card guys or celebrities. The Boogeyman never amounted to much in WWE—an anachronistic throwback to more cartoonish figures of yesteryear, who wasn’t exactly a polished in-ring performer. Consider all of this, then consider the fact that he won this particular encounter, not against a comic heel per se (though “King Booker” did walk the line of intentional and unintentional humor) but rather one of the most decorated performers of the day who would go on to win the World Heavyweight Championship four months later and hold onto it for almost half of the year.
The match itself was too short to be offensive, but a strange, counter-intuitive enough encounter not to warrant any higher placement on the countdown.
264. Maria Kanellis and Ashley Massaro vs. Beth Phoenix and Melina at Wrestlemania 24 Lumberjill Match The story headed into this match may sound familiar because WWE revisited variations on it several tiems over the years—Maria Kanellis, at her friend Ashley Massaro’s encouragement, appeared in Playboy; Melina and Beth Phoex wre jealous. One of the few wrinkles was that Kanellis’s on-air boyfriend, Santino Marella was jealous, too, and thus aligned himself with the heels. The lumberjills were mostly there for eye candy and to get more of the women a ‘Mania payday, though the heels got in some good licks on Massaro when she was thrown from the ring.
To their credit, Melina and Phoenix were relatively well developed practicioners of their craft and got some good spots in—particularly, a move for which Phoenix hurled Melina into a moonsault on Massaro. In a development that probably wasn’t the worst thing, the Citrus Bowl suffered a brief black out right after Kanellis’s hot tag, so we lost a segment of the least skilled hand’s offense.
In the end, Kanellis had the match won, but Marella swiped out her leg from the pin. Announcer Jerry Lawler circled the ring to punch out Marella, but the distraction was enough for Phonix to catch Kanellis with a fisherman’s suplex for the pin. In the aftermath, Snoop Dogg, too, punched out Marella, and kissed Kanellis.
263. Ryback vs. Mark Henry at Wrestlemania 29 While no one expected a mat classic here, this match took place amidst the Mark Henry renaissance in which he went from mid-card oaf to genuinely entertaining fringe main eventer, and the bloom was not yet altogether off the Ryback rose—thus, it was fair hope for an entertaining enough big man fight. The results, while not embarrassing, were also far from interesting, highlighted by some awfully strange booking decisions. One had to suspect that the end game for this match would be Ryback executing his Shell Shock finisher on an impressively large opponent. Instead, Ryback collapsed under Henry’s weight, paving the way to his minor upset loss. Then, however, Ryback did hit the Shell Shock after he had lost, making the good guy a spoiled sport, and the successful completion of the move far less of a moment. You can argue that the former effect foreshadowed Ryback’s heel turn that came within weeks of the show, but the turn—which deposited him in a main event program against John Cena—seemed all the less logical because the new top heel had just lost clean as a sheet at the biggest show of the year.
262. Corporal Kirchner vs. Nikolai Volkoff at Wrestlemania 2 True story: Sergeant Slaughter tried to hold up Vince McMahon for a bigger payday. McMahon paid him out for the night, but when WWF reached the next town its tour, told Slaughter his services would no longer be needed. A few nights later, the Corporal Kirchner character made his debut and the US army’s new in-ring delegate had arrived. The match was a very short brawl, the strangest aspect of which was just how blatantly Kirchner cheated to get the win—only half accidentally smacking the ref as he pummeled Volkoff in the corner, then stealing manager Freddie Blassie’s cane to KO Volkoff with it for the win.
261. Kane vs. The Great Khali at Wrestlemania 23 I cut this match some slack on the countdown for the sheer fact that, as poor as it was, I don’t know of anyone who expected much better from it. That said, at a Wrestlemania when stars like Edge, Randy Orton, Booker T, and CM Punk got shoe-horned into the Money in the Bank cluster, it’s a bit baffling that these two got the spotlight to go one-on-one.
This was a slow, plodding affair. It’s sole saving grace was the sight of Kane bodyslamming Khali, an homage to Hulk Hogan bodyslamming Andre the Giant in Michigan 20 years earlier—a nice moment, more or less completely undermined by the surrounding action and the fact that Khali went on to win the match.
260. Jim Duggan, Sgt. Slaughter, The Big Boss Man, and Virgil vs. The Mountie, Repo Man, and The Nasty Boys at Wrestlemania 8 This one started with an elongated session of guest ring announcer Ray Combs bashing all of the heels, then a free for all when they all went after Combs and the good guys fended them off.
Decent, if not particularly remarkable back and forth action between eight mid-card acts with nothing better to do. The finish came when The Nastys tore off Virgil’s protective mask and tried to hit him with it, only for the move to backfire when Virgil ducked and Brian Knobbs got KOed instead. There was a subtle psychology to that finish that I appreciated in that Virgil was kayfabe injured by main event Sid Justice to necessitate the mask. Hence Sid was subtly woven into the early stages of the card to make him a bigger figure in the collective consciousness of the crowd. Unfortunately, that match would end up being a stinker (see 247), but it was still a nice attempt tying the card together as coherent whole.
259. Jim Duggan vs. Bad News Brown at Wrestlemania 5 Bad News Brown has the regrettable legacy of being a good hand, booked into promising Wrestlemania scenarios, but he just never had a really good ‘Mania bout. This one had all the makings of a wild brawl, but stuck to the WWF standards of the day with a ton of punches thrown, but little story. They only exited the ring for one brief sequence in which Brown posted Duggan to seemingly gain the advantage, only for Duggan to regain control leading to the double DQ ending sequence when the two staged a duel—2×4 vs. steel chair.
258. Earthquake vs. Adam Bomb at Wrestlemania 10 On paper, this seemed like it could have been a fun big man collision. As it turns out, Adam Bomb’s manager Harvey Wippleman got in a scuffle with ring announcer Howard Finkel, and Bomb got involved to bully The Fink. Earthquake came to the rescue, giving bomb a belly to belly suplex, a powerslam, and his running sitdown splash to pick up the win in about thirty seconds.
257. Owen Hart vs. Skinner at Wrestlemania 8 A strange little bout here—Skinner all but squashed Owen Hart for a minute, including hitting him with his finisher, a reverse DDT. Hart kicked out at the last minute. Skinner tosses him over the top rope and turns around to celebrate. Hart skinned the cat and comes back in to roll up the Alligator Man for the pin. If they were seeking to put Hart over, it’s a little curious he’d look so weak up until that point, and as it stood, Skinner just looked kind of dumb taking the loss because he distracted himself. Smooth enough execution, anyway, of an imperfect plan.
256. Ashley Massaro vs. Melina at Wrestlemania 23 Lumberjill Match for Women’s Championship Wrestlemania has its pockets of solid women’s matches. This is not among them. Though Melina was a reasonable talent, Massaro never quite reached that level, and it’s particularly troubling to see these two getting the spotlight when women like Mickie James and Victoria were legated to “lumberill” spots surrounding the ring. Massaro got the push, though, as the latest in a line of women from WWE to appear in Playboy that spring.
To her credit, Massaro at least attacked at an enthusiastic, frentic pace, even if the offense never evolved much past the point of hair pulling and punches. Melina diversified things nicely with moves including a giant swing and an interesting enough modification of the surfboard. In the end, Melina took the win with a bridging roll up. The lumberjills didn’t have much to do until the post match when they piled in the ring for a mass brawl.
255. Ronnie Garvin vs. Dino Bravo at Wrestlemania 5 “Rugged” Ronnie Garvin is probably best known for a brief, ill-conceived run with the NWA World Championship. He was a capable mid-card act here, going one-on-one with essence-of-eighties ‘roided up Canadian strong man Dino Bravo. The match has a strange flow with Bravo dominating first, then Garvin firmly in control with little transition. The match ends just as abruptly with Bravo scoring the clean pinfall off of his sideslam finisher.
254. George Steele vs. Randy Savage at Wrestlemania 2 Intercontinental Championship Match It’s animalistic lunatic versus polished wrestler here, with George “The Animal” Steele as the face, “The Macho Man” as the heel. The story of this match was Steele dominating through unorthodox means (ripping at Savage’s face, tearing open the turnbuckle and shoving the filling down Savage’s throat), with Savage’s only reprieve that Steele repeatedly becomes transfixed with Savage’s beautiful manager, Miss Elizabeth. Pretty lackluster match with the saving graces being that Savage dod get to hit his signature offense (that top rope elbow drop holds up to this day as a thing of beauty) and the right guy got the win, even if it is with his feet illegally on the ropes.
253. Jake Roberts vs. Rick Rude at Wrestlemania 4 Roberts and Rude were two of the best mid-card talents of late ’80s WWF—a pair that probably would have had world title runs or at least extended stays on the main event scene during most other eras (to be fair, Rude did kinda sorta achieve such acclaim in WCW in the early 90s). Thus, you’d expect this to be a pretty excellent match. Instead, the guys spent just about every moment of their fifteen-minute encounter working toward their time-limit draw, sluggishly stalling and working rest holds. There’s some continuity in Roberts repeatedly going for his DDT finisher and Rude repeatedly coming up with counters, but that’s about the best I can say for this outing.
252. Brutus Beefcake vs. The Honky Tonk Man at Wrestlemania 4 Intercontinental Championship Match Ah, how a once proud title had fallen—its most recent lineage at the time moving from Greg Valentine to Tito Santana to Randy Savage to Ricky Steamboat… to The Honky Tonk Man? HTM ended up having the longest Intercontinental Championship reign ever (at least to date) and this match is amidst that run. Fairly dull, if decently paced action here. The story was HTM going for his Shake Rattle N Roll neckbreaker finisher and Beefcake countering. Beefcake seems to have it won with a sleeper when manager Jimmy Hart KOed the referee. Beefcake elects to cut Hart’s hair while HTM’s other manager, Peggy Sue (Sherrie Martel in a blond wig), roused HTM with a pitcher of water in time for him to hear that he’s been disqualified.
251. Butter Bean vs. Bart Gunn at Wrestlemania 15 Brawl for All Match This match holds the unique distinction of being the first and to date only shoot fight in Wrestlemania history. In the preceding months, WWF booked the Brawl For All shoot fighting tournament, ostensibly a vehicle to put over the recently debuted Steve Williams as a legit tough guy and set him up to feud with Steve Austin. Bart Gunn went ahead and spoiled that plan, upsetting Williams with a KO in the second round and going on to prevail as the unlikely tournament winner.
Brawl for All is pretty universally panned as not particularly entertaining and ultimately destructive for the volume of injuries it caused and its problematic impact on long-range booking. This match was the concept’s send-off—ostensibly admitting the whole thing was a mistake and subjecting the tournament winner to a slaughter—getting annihilated in a half a minute by legit bad ass heavyweight boxer Butterbean. There’s certainly an argument to rank this match in a much lower spot, but it’s sort of a fascinating spectacle in a car crash kind of way.
250. Mr. Perfect vs. Lex Luger at Wrestlemania 9 Make no mistake about it—“Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig is an all-time great, particularly from the in-ring perspective. His abbreviated return to in-ring action in WWF in 1993 had a few true career highlights (matches with Ric Flair, Doink, and Bret Hart). That said, he also had his share of stinkers—most notably a bizarrely stale outing with Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania, and closely followed by a directionless bit of mid-card miscellany with Luger at Wrestlemania. The build to the match was solid enough, but once the guys were in the ring, they offered a completely forgettable match, ending in a lame pinfall finish with Perfect’s feet clearly on the ropes, as the referee failed to take notice.
249. Jake Roberts vs. Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 5 This match was sadly typical of the latter stages of Andre’s career. Sure, his punch, kick, headbutt, choke, repeat offense is believable given the sheer size of the man. That said, he was painfully slow and had such poor balance at this stage that it often seemed to take all of his effort just to keep on his feet. The situation posed a tricky spot for WWF booking. Andre still has the aura of a monster, which made him a draw and a permanent fixture in the upper card. That said, a performer like Roberts had infinitely more potential in the long-term. To each man’s credit, Roberts sold the drama well in this match, and Andre gave it his all. Big John Studd was the guest referee—an odd choice since his feud with Andre was probably the more prominent of the two—not to mention that he was the Royal Rumble winner that year.
The match comes to a convoluted DQ finish when Ted Dibiase showed up to steal Roberts’ snake, Andre choked out Studd, then Roberts got the snake back and used it to chase off the Giant.
248. Kane vs. Chavo Guerrero Jr. at Wrestlemania 24 ECW Championship Match The set up for this match saw Guerrero win the ECW strap and beat back a modest collection of challengers before it came to be that the ‘Mania pre-show would feature a battle royal out of which the winner would challenge him for the belt during the main PPV card. Kane won the battle royal, then surprised Chavo by sneaking in the back side of the ring and scoring the victory via chokeslam in eleven seconds. The end result was fun enough, but the match was too short to rate any higher than this.
247. Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice at Wrestlemania 8 I find this match pretty fascinating from a historical context, because it represents all sorts of interesting creative decisions and the cusp of a creative paradigm shift in WWF. That said, it’s also a bad match, made worse by high profile blunders.
The abbreviated context: Ric Flair showed up, newly defected from WCW, and looked to set up a storyline showdown of epic proportions between the Flair as the face of WCW and Hogan as the face of the WWF. Then Hogan-Flair matches failed to inspire much interest at house (non-televised) shows and WWF management got cold feet about whether the match really worked as a main event. Around the same time, Hogan decided to retire so he could pursue a career in acting.
Thus, WWF switched direction mid-stream. Flair entered a blood feud with Randy Savage, pitting two high caliber in-ring performers against one another for an excellent match. Meanwhile, Hogan would feud with Justice in what pessimists would call a retread, and optimists might call an homage to earlier Hogan programs with the likes of friends turned enemies Paul Orndorff, Andre the Giant, and Savage. Moreover, on the eve of a real life steroid trial, this would mark one last revisition of the WWF paradigm of jacked up muscle man versus jacked up muscle man before the company put steroids on lockdown and embraced smaller performers in main event spots for the first time in decades.
Hogan-Justice clocks in at under ten minutes and was marred by a strange non-finish. Hogan hulked up and hits his trademark finisher—a leg drop off the ropes. By most accounts, up and coming bad guy Papa Shango was supposed to break up the pin and beat down Hogan, but missed his cue, so Justice kicked out on his own instead, unintentionally reaching rarefied air among a small handful of elite (storyline) performers to survive The Hulkster’s big move. Shango arrived shortly after to still attack Hogan and arrive at an even less climactic non-finish than the one planned.
All of the end-of-match shenanigans were, of course, merely set up for the surprise return of The Ultimate Warrior—a nice enough dramatic moment, if still a bit of a historical anti-climax (in reality, Warrior would depart the company again inside a year, and rather than really retiring, Hogan would stage the first many comebacks one year later at Wrestlemania 9).
246. Tito Santana vs. The Executioner at Wrestlemania 1 It can be hard for contemporary wrestling fans to conceptualize that Wrestlemania wasn’t always used to resolve ongoing feuds, but rather to further them—and often in tangential ways. See, back in the day, TV was a vehicle to get fans to buy tickets to see more meaningful matches live. Wrestlemania 1 was only the second ever WWF pay-per-view—thus while it did include a handful of major matches like the main event tag, it also included its share of placeholders and filler. Such was the case for the first ever ‘Mania match in which Tito took on unknown commodity The Executioner. Technically, this was not a squash match—the two men spent more or less equal amounts of time on offense. That said, the finish was never really in doubt either. Santana had recently lost his Intercontinental title Greg Valentine and was still deep in his feud with The Hammer. This encounter was a minor speed bump on the way to the rematch. This match gets a few points for Santana’s crisp offense, but the overall presentation was too disjointed to rate it any higher.
245. Mickie James, Kelly Kelly, Beth Phoenix, Gail Kim, and Eve Torres vs. Vickie Guerrero, Michelle McCool, Layla El, Mayryse, a Alicia Fox at Wrestlemania 26 Vicke Guerrero did her best Bobby Heenan impression here as a cowardly, comedic heel for all the face divas wail on for various injustices and obnoxious behaviour she’s perpetrated upon them. The match broke down into the teams trading signature spots, culmingating in a Glam Slam from Beth Phoenix to Alicia Fox. In the end, Kelly Kelly fell victim to Guerrero’s fugly top rope splash (alternately called The Bullfrog Splash and Hog Splash by the announce team). I can sort of appreciate the nod to her late husband, but the move walked the line between tribute and mockery. In any event, the match was mercifully three minutes short, allowing us to move on quickly enough.
244. Tatanka vs. Rick Martel at Wrestlemania 8 Tatanka got a hero’s treatment coming into this match with several Native Americans in full headdresses and regalia chanting and dancing in the ring for his entrance—a presentation that landed in the awkward space between tribute and awful stereotype that WWF tended to flirt with a lot in this period.
Harmless, quick bout here between Tatanka, one of WWF’s hotter young propects at the time and Rick Martel, starting to recede from upper-mid-card to smack dab middle of the mid-card. Martel surprising dominates the vast majority of the offense before Tatanka got the pin out of nowhere with a crossbody block.
243. Tito Santana vs. The Barbarian at Wrestlemania 6 This was the story of two tag guys headed in opposite directions in the wake of their teams splitting up. When Strike Force split up, Rick Martel was on its way to the upper middle card, while Tito Santana was settling into the twilight of his car as a lower mid-card jobber to the stars. Barbarian wasn’t destined for the main event, but, like Martel was enjoying some upward mobility at this point in time—still dressed like a Power of Pain but starting to wrestle like he was a bigger deal.
To his credit, Santana still wrestled in a spirited fashion, delivering the match’s faster paced offense and selling well for Barbarian’s power moves. The big guy finished this one off just shy of the five-minute mark with a clothesline off the rope.
242. The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hunter Hearst-Helmesley at Wrestlemania 12 As squashes go, this one was effective enough. Warrior was typically at his best in high energy, short bursts, such as the series of house show matches in his first run when he would storm the ring, knock down Andre the Giant, and pin him within 30 seconds. The story is similar here with then-mid-card heel Triple H attacking Warrior early and hitting him with the Pedigree, only for Warrior to no sell it and destroy the aristocrat in short order.
From a historical perspective, this match is pretty fascinating. Warrior looked prime for an extend run at least in the upper card if not the main event, but within four months had entered into a nasty contract dispute with Vince McMahon, and wouldn’t appear in WWE again for 18 years. Meanwhile, Triple H, despite being an afterthought in this ‘Mania bout, would go on to steadily climb the ladder, which included being involved in world title matches at Wrestlemanias 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, and 24. In short, these guys met at crossroads, when Warrior was unmistakably a bigger star, only for Triple H’s legacy to blow Warrior’s out of the water in the decade to follow.
On a side note, this match also marked the debut of Sable, appearing as Triple H’s valet, who he would blame for the loss backstage, only for her to leave him to align herself with newly arrived Marc Mero. Just imagine if we modernized that storyline—contemporary Triple H loses quickly and blames Stephanie McMahon for the loss, only for Marc Mero to show up and sweep her off her feet. And, I’m done…
241. Men on a Mission vs. The Quebecers at Wrestlemania 10 Tag Team Championship Match Men on a Mission were Mabel and Mo, with their rapping manager Oscar. A year later, WWF would start the process of trying to push Mabel as a main event heel (an effort they’d revisit with varying degrees of commitment in the fourteen years to follow). While there are a number of reasons these pushes didn’t work, I maintain that one of the key reasons the agile 500-pounder never really made it as a top talent was because of this very first gimmick. Once you’ve seen a guy dance along to bad rap in big purple jammies, it’s hard to buy him as a world beater.
The Quebecers were a very good team with a silly gimmick, featuring Jacques and Pierre, each of whom were just shy of ever really making it as mid-card acts on their own, thus this tag team championship run was probably the best of each man’s WWF career. Part of what’s fascinating in watching them is the ways in which each man defies expectations. Jacques with the little man, but deceptively strong. Pierre was the big man who was remarkably agile. On a side note, the team is managed by Johnny Polo (who would become Raven) in his most cartoonish gimmick as a spoiled rich kid.
The highlight of this match was watching The Quebecers double suplex Mabel. That, and perhaps Mo getting a segment of the crowd to chant “Whoomp, there it is” as he climbed to the top rope.
This wasn’t a bad tag match, but The Quebecers were ultimately a poor man’s Money Inc., taking a walk to save their titles like they had on other occasions, thus giving the opposition the moral victory while the titles remained with the more talented in-ring tandem.
240. Koko B. Ware vs. Butch Reed at Wrestlemania 3 Not much action to speak of here. The match lasted about four minutes, roughly three of those minutes consumed by the feeling out period, and the big finish came when Reed rolled through a crossbody block to score the victory with a handful of tights (just to make sure we knew he was a cheater and a jerk). Nothing offensive, nothing significant, this match was there to get these guys on the card, plain and simple, and marginally establish a Tito Santana-Butch Reed program as Santana saved Ware from a post-match beat down.
239. Jim Duggan vs. Dino Bravo at Wrestlemania 6 This match was more or less what you’d expect in terms of a slugfest between two big, tough dudes. There’s an interesting subtext to the match in that Bravo’s main distinguishing factor as a heel was being Canadian and Duggan’s key characteristic as a face was his endless pride in the USA—dynamics that could have turned things topsy-tervy for the first Wrestlemania held in Canada. Bravo has Earthquake and Jimmy Hart by his side to reinforce his heel status, though, and the crowd wasn’t as “smart” as a late nineties one, the likes of which made the heel Hart Foundation the biggest heroes in the company each time they performed north of the border.
Quick, harmless match in which Duggan won when Bravo tried to attack him with his own two-by-four, only for Duggan to intercept the board and KO him. The match was largely just set up for the aftermath, during which Earthquake destroyed Duggan with three sitdown splashes.
238. Tori vs. Sable at Wrestlemania 15 Women’s championship Match The story here was that Sable has become a self-involved snob of a heel. Tori entered the scene as an obsessed fan, but Sable soon took advantage of the dynamic, ultimately beating her down to set up this feud.
The match was pretty far from artful, but at least the women seem to care, showing emotion and Sable pulled off some competent offense. The real story, though, was the debut of Nicole Bass as Sable’s bodyguard, who delivers a gorilla press slam to Tori to set up Sable for the win.
237. Hercules vs. Earthquake at Wrestlemania 6 Earthquake was one of the most mobile of the super heavyweights WWF used to love and was pretty fun to watch as a monster heel against Herc, as a powerhouse face. Though Hercules got in a fair bit of offense, the outcome was never really in doubt here. Herc was a career mid-carder and ‘Quake is on course to challenge guys like Hulk Hogan and The Ulitmate Warrior in the main event.
In perfect dick heel form, Earthquake not only won with his running sitdown splash, but hit it again after he scores the pin as “the aftershock”—as commentator Jesse Ventura explained, “that’s what happens when you get an earthquake—generally, within the next hour or so you get an aftershock … in this case, it’s a matter of ten seconds.”
236. Head Cheese vs. T&A at Wrestlemania 16 There’s nothing technically wrong with this encounter, it’s just feels much more like a free TV match than one befitting pay per view—much less a Wrestlemania during this era.
Decent tandem offense from both sides. T&A pulled off the win with a swank press slam-top rope elbow drop finisher, Trish looked hot, and Steve Blackman and Al Snow destroyed their wedge-of-cheese mascot post-match. Yep, that happened.
235. The Legion of Doom vs. Power and Glory at Wrestlemania 7 This was pretty much the exact match you’d expect from these two teams. Paul Roma and Hercules got the advantage early on by sneak attacking Hawk and Animal on their way in the ring. That lasted about 30 seconds before LOD took over and nailed Roma with The Doomsday Device to win.
234. Kane, The Big Show, Santino Marella, and Kofi Kingston vs. Wade Barrett, Ezekiel Jackson, Heath Slater, and Justin Gabriel at Wrestlemania 27 For as completely ineffectual as The Corre stable turned out to be, I was surprised to see them walk down the aisle, three out of four of them wearing championship gold. Wade Barrett was understandable enough as a perennial Intercontinental/US Championship threat. Then there’s the combo of Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel, still being taken reasonably seriously, and thriving at a point when the tag straps were around their nadir of meaning.
Kofi Kingston was a last-minute addition to the match, claiming the ‘Mania spot he certainly deserved, after The Corre attacked and kayfabe injured Vladimir Kozlov the day before at Axxess. He was a welcome addition to the proceedings since he delivers the best spots of the sub-two minute match. Not much to remember here, though—just a series of guys streaming into the ring to trade moves and incapacitate the guy before, culminating in Kingston taking out Barrett with Trouble in Paradise, then Ezekiel Jackson and Gabriel with a sweet double crossbody to the outside. Marella hit Slater with a Cobra shot, after which Big Show punched him out for the pin.
233. Koko B. Ware vs. Rick Martel at Wrestlemania 6 This match pretty early into Martel’s heel run as “The Model.” Ware was a consistently solid plucky mid-card face, and Martel did good work here as an arrogant, cowardly heel—sort of like Rick Rude with slightly less gravitas. Fine, if quite formulaic match. Points for Martel getting a squeaky clean win via submission with the Boston crab—a rare feat in a match of any consequence for anything less than a main event heel during this era.
232. Bob Backlund vs. Razor Ramon at Wrestlemania 9 This match seems oddly out of sync. In a sense, you have two pretty iconic figures in WWF history—Backlund who’s run as an All-American good old boy dominated the late seventies and early eighties, before he returned to the spotlight to play a great psychotic character in the mid-nineties. And there’s Razor Ramon who from the early to mid-nineties was one of the first truly cool bad guys, who, by the end of 1993, WWF couldn’t resist turning face—only to make him a vanilla mid-card act who never really regained his spark until he left for WCW and was bad again as part of the NWO vanguard.
Anyway, these guys got matched up at Wrestlemania 9 ostensibly because WWF wanted them each at ‘Mania but didn’t have anything sensible to do with them. Backlund controlled most of the match, surprising Ramon with his strength and technical prowess, before Ramon stole the pin with a small package out of nowhere. Nothing offensive, but also too short to really matter. Much more interesting things were coming up for each of these performers, and they’d never cross paths in a meaningful way again.
231. Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd at Wrestlemania 1 Body Slam Match, Andre’s Career vs. $15,000 Yes, the match was a spectacle. No, it does not hold up 29 years later.
As Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse Ventura didn’t hesitate to point out, Andre accepted a lopsided wager here. Studd and manager Bobby Heenan ponied up $15,000 cash while Andre agreed to retire if he lost. Of course, he outweighed his opponent by a legit 150 pounds, so it’s not as though he didn’t have reason for confidence in a match that could only be won by bodyslamming one’s opponent.
The match had minimal flow, with the big guys punching and kicking each other, Andre in charge about 75 percent of the time, before The Giant, apropos nothing, slammed to Studd to end the battle with little fanfare. This one gets a few points for sheer spectacle and the fun follow up visual of Andre throwing Heenan’s cash to the crowd. That said, there’s little else to take away from this match.
230. Alundra Blayze vs. Lelaini Kai at Wrestlemania 10 Women’s Championship Match While she spent more time and may be better known as Madusa Miceli, I’d argue that the Alundra Blayze character may have been the best character Deborah Lewandrowski got to play in the United States (to be fair, her work as Madusa in Japan was probably true best of her career).
During this run, Blayze is a pretty dominant women’s champion whose only meaningful challenges would come in the months to follow against made-in-Japan stars Bull Nakano and Rhonda Sing (a beast rebranded as Harvey Wippleman’s overweight girlfriend, Bertha Faye). This match with Lelaini Kai has the joint purposes of showcasing Blayze at the biggest show of the year, and giving a nod to tradition, since Kai defended women’s champion at Wrestlemania 1 (see 272).
This match was actually better than Kai’s first ‘Mania outing nine years earlier, if still fairly short and forgettable. Blayze controled most of the three-minute match before closing it out with the swank German suplex she was using as a finisher at that time.
229. Maven vs. Goldust at Wrestlemania 18 Hardcore Championship Match I’m taking some serious creative license in evaluating this match as inclusive of the continuous wave of Hardcore Championship matches that took place over the course of this ‘Mania. It seems only fitting given that neither Maven nor Goldust, but rather Spike Dudley got the pin and leaves this match with the title—a not entirely aberrant outcome for the very-Attiude-Era Hardcore division, with it’s 24/7 rule by which the champion could be challenged anytime, anyplace.
The actual Maven-Goldust match was a serviceable three minute brawl. Some of the ensuing backstage shenanigans were blah. Some were pretty great: Hurricane swinging into the camera frame to steal the title, Mighty Molly KOing him and taking the strap, Christian heinously wailing on Molly with door to pin her, and Maven ultimately stealing the belt back to return to the status quo. Nothing brilliant at all about this state of affairs, but it was a fun enough running gag across the course of the show.
228. The Bushwhackers vs. The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers at Wrestlemania 5 The Rougeaus worked a somewhat confounding gimmick here in which, despite being overtly French Canadian up to this point, they try to sell the audience on being from Memphis, TN. At least they were in their proper roles as heels here, squaring off against The Bushwhackers (who, ironically, rose to prominence as vicious heels before being signed by WWF to work as comedic faces).
Fun enough encounter, with the running storyline of The Rougueas taking cheap shots on Butch outside the ring during the heat segment, only for Butch to illegally enter the ring behind the ref’s back and team up with Luke to deliver both of the team’s tandem finishers so they could steal the pinfall. Not terribly logical, and not terribly well developed, but it was a harmless enough comedy match.
227. Junkyard Dog vs. Greg Valentine at Wrestlemania 1 Intercontinental Championship Match As referenced in the write-up of Tito Santana’s Wrestlemania 1 match (see 246), Valentine was embroiled in a feud with Santana, making this ‘Mania match a bit haphazard.
The good news for this match was that JYD had a pretty fantastic connection with the crowd and Valentine was a pretty special worker—essential Ric Flair-lite the way he worked his opponent’s knee and took every opportunity to cheat, but did so in artful fashion. I take a few points off for the incoherent finish here, with Valentine stealing a pin out of nowhere with his feet on the ropes, after which Santana appeared to point out the rules infraction, after which the referee opted to re-start the match and counted out Valentine.
226. Jim Duggan vs. Ted Dibiase at Wrestlemania 4 What was a brutal feud in Mid-South became opening round fodder for WWF’s tournament for the vacant World Championship. The match was competently executed and reasonably fast-paced, if not particularly memorable. I’d say the best moment of the match actually came courtesy of Andre the Giant, there to back up Dibiase, who tripped Duggan at a key moment with marked quickness and subtlety, in such a way that I could actually buy the referee not seeing it. That interference was enough for Dibiase to regain his bearings and win via fist drop seconds later.
225. Christy Hemme vs. Trish Stratus at Wrestlemania 21 Women’s Championship Match No, this was not a classic, but it was an entertaining piece of business. Christy Hemme was the WWE performer to be featured in Playboy in 2005, and Trish Stratus had wrestled long enough and well enough to have some credibility in this match as the arrogant veteran who resented the attention the young upstart was getting.
Hemme was awfully green here, but projected spunk and sold well when Stratus was in control. To her credit, Stratus adjusted her character brilliantly. While her most celebrated work would occur as a face, her heel work was brilliantly jerktastic, taking Hemme apart, then begging off the minute Hemme got some offense. Stratus finished the bout with a Chick Kick.
224. Bam Bam Bigelow vs. One Man Gang at Wrestlemania 4 Given these men’s personas and the particularly exceptional talent Bigelow demonstrated at a number of points in his career, you’d expect a pretty fun super heavyweight outing. The good news was that the big guys managed to keep the tempo up. The bad news is that the guys wrestled a far more cartoonish than hard-hitting style, only got three minutes to go at it, and the match ended in a wonky countout non-finish when Bigelow was on the apron and Gang blocked his entry from just inside the ring for counts 6-10.
223. The Undertaker vs. Kane at Wrestlemania 20 Everything folks feared about the match between these two at Wrestlemania 14 came to fruition six years later in Madison Square Garden. After several months of arch-rivalry upon Kane’s debut and years of on-again off-again friendship to follow, the two butted heads once again when Kane proved instrumental in Vince McMahon burying ‘Taker alive at Survivor Series 2003 (long story…).
Kane, who should have known better, considered his brother dead and gone. This was ‘Taker’s epic return that wasn’t so epic—just Undertaker no selling his brother’s plodding offense and Tombstoning him for a victory that surprised few in terms of either result or execution. Not terribly bad, but also on the boring side of ‘Taker’s streak.
222. Jimmy Snuka vs. Rick Rude at Wrestlemania 6 At this point in his career, one-time main eventer Jimmy Snuka was a marginally higher up the card version of Tito Santana—the kind of guy you need to take seriously for his legacy, but who mostly remained under contract for the purpose of putting over up and coming heels with brighter futures.
One of the positive elements of the sub-five-minute ‘Mania matches of this era was that, although they were too short to be great, they were also short enough that guys could cut a fast pace and deliver an action-packed match. Such was the case here with Rude starting out in control when he jumped Snuka from behind at the onset, then Snuka took over, before missing a splash so Rude could finish him off with a Rude Awakening. Nice enough taste of what these guys were capable of.
221. The Big Boss Man vs. Akeem at Wrestlemania 6 Given the size of the men involved and the fact that they both stood out as highly mobile big men, you’d expect this to be pretty good. The match got tainted, though, for only getting three minutes between bells, and getting a screwy start when Ted Dibiase jumped Boss Man on his way into the ring.
That said, the guys did make the most of their time given, delivering fast-paced, high impact offense, culminating in an impressive combination of Boss Man’s strength and Akeem’s agility in facilitating a Boss Man Slam to end the match.
220. Don Muraco vs. Dino Bravo at Wrestlemania 4 This was pretty quintessential late ’80s WWE with two huge ‘roided up dudes trading power moves. The match was short enough to be harmless and props to Bravo for delivering a nicely executed piledriver. That said, the match lost a few points for the weak and logically inconsistent DQ finish levied on Bravo for pulling the ref into harm’s way when Muraco charged him.
219. The Undertaker vs. King Kong Bundy at Wrestlemania 11 In a time honored tradition that’s run from Hulk Hogan vs. Bobby Heenan to CM Punk vs. Paul Heyman, at this stage of his career, The Undertaker was feuding as much, if not more, with manager Ted Dibiase than he was with any of Dibiase’s wrestlers. The feud more or less started the previous summer when Dibiase brought in an imposter Undertaker, with whom the real ‘Taker felt compelled to do battle.
The subplot here was the story of Undertaker’s urn. Dibiase had stolen it and ‘Taker swiped it back in the early stages of this match to put back in his own manager, Paul Bearer’s safe keeping. The only problem was that Kama (Charles Wright, just two gimmicks away from The Godfather character he’d ultimately be best known for) came down and stole the urn back. In the weeks to follow, Kama would melt the urn down to have himself some bling. You just can’t make that stuff up. (Unless you’re Vince McMahon or part of his creative team.)
This match has its fun spots with the two big guys wailing on one another, but in the absence of the urn, Undertaker felt compelled to play fatigued, which slows things way down. Ultimately, The Dead Man hit a bodyslam (it looked like he may have been aiming for a Tombstone, but couldn’t hold him up), then connects with a flying clothesline for the pin.
218. Batista vs. Umaga at Wrestlemania 23 I consider this match a primary example of what worked about the brand split. Batista-Umaga was not an inherently special match to have booked—a battle between two big powerhouses, sure, but hardly a dream match. Due to the brand split, though, these guys remained separate for Umaga’s year in that character, thus when the guys did come together, it felt fresh and new.
The match to follow was about as good as you could realistically expect—fast paced and hard hitting with Umaga demonstrating his impressive agility, short enough not to get away from the guys. The match lost a little credit for a partially botched ending—that Batista Bomb was pretty sloppy—but nonetheless was a fun enough brawl for what it was.
217. Kerry Von Erich vs. Dino Bravo at Wrestlemania 7 After starring in his father’s World Class Championship Wrestling promotion, and an abbreviated run as NWA Champion, Kerry Von Erich was well past his prime by the time he came to the WWF. It is pretty remarkable, though, to think that he remained a perfectly reasonable in-ring performer at that stage after his right foot had been amputated due to complications resulting from a motorcycle accident.
All that aside, with only four minutes to work with, these guys squeezed in quite a bit of action, each getting their signature spots, culminating in an iron claw and a discus punch for The Texas Tornado to score the pinfall.
216. The Killer Bees vs. The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff at Wrestlemania 3 Hacksaw Jim Duggan got a cameo at the start of this match, cutting off the Russian national anthem by beating Sheik and Volkoff with his 2×4. The match to follow was little less chaotic with all four men in the ring early on, then The Bees double teaming Sheik as Blair and Sheik continue to stoke a fire between them that would continue via Twitter and shoot interviews 25 years later. What can I say? Some guys can’t let go of a grudge.
The Bees looked like a solid team here and the heels were good at delivering a stiffer brand of offense than most of the WWF roster of the day. Good action while it lasted, but the match came to an abrupt end when Sheik looked to have it won with a camel clutch, and Duggan got the Bees disqualified by smacking him with the 2×4 again.
215.Genechiro Tenryu and Koji Kitao vs. Demolition at Wrestlemania 7 Wrestlemania 7 marked a changing of the guard for the WWF tag team scene, with the final ‘Mania appearances for The Hart Foundation, The Rockers, and Demolition. A new guard was on the rise with The Nasty Boys winning the titles that night, The Legion of Doom freshly arrived, The Natural Disasters and Money Inc. to be formed inside the next year, and The Steiners on their way in about a year and a half.
The transition may be saddest and most evident here. Demolition, initially so derivative of The Road Warriors, had evolved into a legitimately great team in its own right. The team was on its last legs, by this point, though, with Ax’s body wearing down, thus the decision to add Crush as a third member who teamed up with Smash for this match. Further emblematic of the waves of change—Demolition, once the dominant power team of this company was largely overpowered by their Japanese opponents. Props to everyone involved for a stiff send off for Demolition and a good showing for a Japanese team that, unfortunately, struggled to get much interest from the crowd since they were special guests for the event rather than regular performers with the WWF.
214. Uncle Elmer vs. Adrian Adonis at Wrestlemania 2 In terms of sheer spectacle, this one is pretty ridiculous to watch, even by wrestling standards. You have portly Adrian Adonis wrestling in a pink and white mumu; legit 400-pounder Uncle Elmer clad in a red t-shirt and overalls cut off at the knees (not to mention manager Jimmy Hart working the outside of the ring clad in a white blazer with the image of his own face emblazoned on the back). The good news included Elemer’s brutally stiff style and Adonis’s always startling athleticism. Re-brand Elmer as a King Kong Bundy-style monster heel and he might have been a 1980s main eventer. In this bout Adonis took the duke with a flying headbutt from the top rope and brutalized his beaten foe afterward by both punching him in the face and attaching a pink bow to his overalls.
213. Hulk Hogan and Brutus Beefcake vs. Money Inc. at Wrestlemania 9 Tag Team Championship Match I like to think that one of the core differences between WWF and WCW could be demonstrated through their respective handling of Brutus Beefcake. This match was his highest profile outing in WWF. Money Inc. bullied an already injured Beefcake and Hogan came back to help his friend, leading to this tag match in which Beefcake played victim and Hogan played cavalry. These were perfectly fitting roles for the two, given one conquering hero (Hogan) and one recognizable star who was in no way on Hogan’s level (Beefcake). In WCW, Beefcake turned on Hogan to set up a one-on-one match between the two at their biggest show of the year, Starrcade 1994. They recognized the old WWF formula of Hogan’s friends turning on him to set up big time grudge matches. They failed to recognize that the formula was over exposed by that point and Beefcake was nowhere near talented or over enough for anyone to buy him as a threat to The Hulkster.
Back to Wrestlemania 9, the faces had a predictably hot start on this one. In their typical fashion, Money Inc. tries to take a walk, only for the ref to arbitrarily decide that if they take the count out loss, they’ll sacrifice their titles. Thus, the match had to continue. Beefcake’s face was vulnerable after returning from a parasailing accident, thus he wore a protective mask until Money Inc. tore it off in dastardly fashion. Minutes later, with the ref down, Hogan knocked both Dibiase and IRS unconscious with shots from the mask.
There were cartoonish shenanigans, not the least of which is newly good guy manager Jimmy Hart versing his jacket to reveal referee stripes and try to count a pinfall when the ref was down, only for a new ref to come down and call for a DQ finish. All in all, it was an OK tag match, dressed up as something special for Hogan’s involvement.
212. Twenty-Man Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 4 The tough thing about battle royals is that if you don’t have the right booking in place, they can very easily deteriorate into meandering, directionless brawls as the performers bide their time until the finish. That’s a big part of what separates the annual Royal Rumble matches from the pack—the masterful booking, primarily attributed to Pat Patterson is all about building storylines and featured moments, culminating in a compelling finish.
This match had so little direction that jobber Paul Roma ended up in the final four. The lone real story of the match manifested with the last three men in the ring, though—Bad News Brown, Bret Hart, and Junkyard Dog. JYD was the only good guy in the group and as such, the heels teamed up against him to score the elimination, and it appeared they’d share co-winner honors, before Brown attacked Hart from behind and tossed him from the ring.
There’s very little memorable about the match, but it accomplished two ends: solidifying Brown’s upper-midcard status, and theoretically kickstarting a face push as a singles wrestler for Hart, as, in the aftermath, he cleared Brown from the ring and broke the trophy, ostensibly setting up a new feud between the two. According to Hart’s memoir, WWF changed its mind afterward, turning him face in the aftermath, but keeping him in tag team limbo with Jim Neidhart for years to come, effectively rendering the biggest upshot of the match moot.
211. Hulk Hogan vs. Yokozuna at Wrestlemania 9 World Championship Match As a Bret Hart loyalist, and contemporary wrestling fan, I’m supposed to hate this match.
Hart lost his world title to Yokozuna due to outside interference from Mr. Fuji. Hulk Hogan came out to help Hart to the back, and a cocky Fuji proceeded to challenge Hogan to fight Yoko right then and there. With Hart’s blessing, Hogan stormed the ring. Within 30 seconds, Hogan had neutralized Fuji and pinned Yokozuna to finish out Wrestlemania as the champion for the sixth time.
I’m supposed to hate the moment. But I can’t.
The fact of the matter is, this was the last match of the very first WWF pay-per-view I ever watched live, and I remember that when Hogan won the title, the moment felt electric. Sure, the luster would fade quickly when I pined for Hart to have the belt back, and when Hogan proceeded as one of the least “fightingest” champions ever, not defending his title until June, when he lost it back to Yoko. But for the moment it happened, this match was a shocking twist in the story, building from a compelling combination of nostalgia and a distinctively Wrestlemania-flavored brand of optimism. No way it goes higher on the list than this, but I simply can’t agree with the haters who condemn the match wholesale.
210. The Fabulous Rougeau Brothers vs. Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine at Wrestlemania 3 It’s a bit odd now to watch The Rougeaus—particularly Jacques—play face. The team would turn cowardly heel inside the year, and Jacques would go on to greater success as The Mountie, then one half of the Quebecers.
Anyway, this was a solid if wholly unspectacular tag match squeezed into four minutes. Highlights included the Rougeaus hitting their finisher—sort of a Doomsday Devise with Jacques delivering a top rope Rough Ryder instead of a clothesline, and Brutus Beefcake splintering from Greg Valentine and their heel contingent (manager Johnny Valiant and buddy Dino Bravo) when he disapproved of the manner in which they cheated to win.
209. The Hart Foundation vs. The Bolsheviks at Wrestlemania 6 This match didn’t last long. Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov antagonized the crowd by singing the Russian national anthem, and the Hart Foundation cut them off, knocking Volkoff from the ring, and blasting Zhukov with their Hart Attack finisher to pick up the win in a total of nineteen seconds. Nothing to write home about, but an enjoyable enough quick squash.
208. Jake Roberts vs. George Wells at Wrestlemania 2 I didn’t remember it and wouldn’t have guessed it, but little-known George Wells was in total control for the front end of this match, cutting a blistering pace, highlighted by a swank little scoop powerslam. Roberts actually only got three offensive moves in (an eyerake, a kick to the stomach, and a DDT). Fortunately, the DDT was Roberts’ signature move and enough for him to win the duke. Post match, Roberts grabbed his python, Damien, to hang limply around Wells’s neck (tightening its grip, Vince McMahon purported on play-by-play) causing Wells to foam at the mouth.
207. Rey Mysterio vs. JBL at Wrestlemania 25 Intercontinental Championship Match Squashes have their place at Wrestlemania. They’re one of the clearest cut ways for a heel to get his comeuppance in decisive, humiliating fashion, and in cards that tend to be overcrowded, they’re a way of squeezing two more guys into a Wrestlemania payday. All of those pieces more or less worked for this match. Mysterio was better at delivering an exciting flurry of action than most anybody in the world and JBL was just the brand of loud mouth bad guy who needs his mouth shut.
All of that said, I saw this one live in Houston. Sitting in front of me was a young boy, who had his luchador mask on his lap all night and put it on to stand up and cheer when his hero, Rey Mysterio, appeared. The fact that Mysterio spent well under a minute actively in the ring came across as a big let down and I felt bad for the little dude—and all the little dudes like him throughout the arena and watching and PPV who had to have left Wrestlemania disappointed.
206. Junkyard Dog vs. Harley Race at Wrestlemania 3 Loser Must Bow to the Winner Match At the right time, the right context, you’d have to consider this a dream match—the face of Bill Watts’s Mid-South Wrestling (JYD) versus one of the most dominant NWA world champs of all time (Harley Race—playing a King character that paid lip service to his career prior to this WWF run). Sometimes matches like this are best left as fantasies, though. Race was in the twlilight of his career and well past the point of pulling off miracles, and The Dog was always a charisma machine with limited in-ring skills.
This match was harmless enough fun with JYD chasing manager Bobby Heenan around the ring and Race making the classic error of trying to headbutt the Dog (whose head was kayfabe about as hard as a steel chair). It wraps up with Heenan distracting JYD long enough for Race to get the win off a belly-to-belly suplex. Junyard Dog got the last laugh, though, beating up Race and stealing his royal robe.
205. Rikishi and Scotty 2 Hotty vs. The APA vs.The Basham Brothers vs. The World’s Greatest Tag Team at Wrestlemania 20WWE Tag Team Championship Match This was the weaker half of the pair of sudden-death four-way tag title matches at Wrestlemania 20, used to wedge a total of sixteen guys onto the card. The striking thing here was that you actually have two great teams (TWGTT and APA), another solid one (The Bashams) and the serviceable tag team champions (the last vestiges of the Too Cool mini-stable, Rikishi edging toward retirement, and Scotty 2 Hotty). This one suffers from similar psychology issues to the other encounter, but benefited from more flashy signature spots like Scotty 2 Hotty skinning the cat only get caught with TWGTT’s leapfrog maneuver and The Bashams executing a double suplex into a double kip up.
The APA was pretty firmly booked as after thoughts in this match, getting the least ring time and doing little of consequence until Bradshaw’s mini-spree on offense (including a nice spot in which he fallaway slammed a Basham over the top rope, onto TWGTT). The irony here, of course, was the fact that one year later, Bradshaw had soared up the card, walking into Wrestlemania as the reigning world champion, there to pass to the torch to a young stud by the name of John Cena.
204. Hillbilly Jim, Little Beaver and Haiti Kid vs. King Kong Bundy, Lord Littlebrook, and Little Tokyo at Wrestlemania 3 The first thing to strike me on re-watching this match was how wildly stereotypical the midget characters were. Not that wrestling was a bastion of political correctness in the 19… well, ever… but Little Beaver was a little Native American warrior, The Haiti Kid’s gimmick was being Haitian, Little Tokyo hammed it up as a Japanese villain in what, at least superficially, suggested one of the most internationally diverse matches in Wrestlemania history. Lord Littlebrook seems to be working a midget big man gimmick, dressed like Andre the Giant.
No, this match wasn’t good, but Bundy’s readiness to slam and elbow drop Little Beaver was a near-perfect piece of character work to sell that Bundy was having none of the cartoon shenanigans around him, and refused to be anything but a dominant monster—not so different from his Wrestlemania squash performance (see 197). Furthermore, the way in which all of the little people rallied around their fallen comrade against Bundy made for a strangely iconic little moment in ‘Mania history.
203. Jimmy Snuka vs. The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 7 Here we have it—the very first match in ‘Taker’s vaunted undefeated streak at Wrestlemania. Though Undertaker had not yet been a face at all in WWF, he surprisingly earned a decent pop from the audience when his music keyed in and when the ring announcer said his name.
As a kid, I remember that this seemed like a mismatch, and I think the drama was probably higher for older fans, more familiar with Snuka’s main-event-level work, as opposed to his status as a jobber to the stars during this particular run with the company. ‘Taker dominated the match, but unfortunately he hadn’t yet developed much diversity of offense—thus, while, he came across as a monster, he was a pretty generic monster rather than the sound psychologist and remarkable aerial performer he would grow into.
202. Rick Martel and Tom Zenk vs. Don Muraco and Bob Orton at Wrestlemania 3 I’d argue that, in its third year, WWF stumbled upon its most successful formula for a ‘Mania opener. This was by no means a classic, nor did it feature much semblance of psychology. That said, it was a competently executed, fast-paced match in which the young good guys made short work of their aged heel foes. Harmless good times that got the crowd primed for more meaningful confrontations to follow. That said, I’d argue that The Can-Am Connection was a mere rough draft for Strike Force, when Tito Santana replaced Zenk as Martel’s partner for a more technically proficient, charismatic pairing in the years to follow.
201. Randy Savage vs. One Man Gang at Wrestlemania 4 This is, no doubt, the weak link in Savage’s quartet of tournament matches at Wrestlemania 4, on one hand built to for Savage to look like a world beater facing insurmountable odds, and on the other hand built to conserve his energy for the main event by running a scant four minutes before Gang was DQed. Well executed enough big man-little man, match, but at four minutes there’s also not a lot to report from this one.
200. R-Truth and John Morrison vs. The Big Show and The Miz at Wrestlemania 26 Tag Team Championship Match In Mike Chin fantasy booking, I always felt WWE missed an opportunity for a really unique opportunity to elevate the tag titles at this Wrestlemania. The bare bone pieces:
-June 2009, Edge and Chris Jericho won the tag titles
-July 2009, Edge got real-life injured and Jericho was permitted to elect a replacement partner and chose The Big Show. In the process, Jericho storyline talked trash about Edge being fragile and costing their team its reign.
-Jericho and Show held the belts until December 2009
-Edge made a surprise return in January 2010 and won the Royal Rumble
-Jericho won the World Heavyweight Championship at in February 2010
-Edge opted to challenge Jericho to avenge his past dickishness (and try to take his title)
The injury was unavoidable and I thought JeriShow was a great heel team that did a lot to legitimize the tag titles for a period of time. My proposed revision? JeriShow keeps the tag straps all the way to ‘Mania, further cementing their legacy as a great tag team. Then Edge goes the road never before traveled and opts to use his Rumble title shot not for a singles world title match, but to challenge for a tag team championship.
“But who would be his partner?” you may ask.
The answer is easy: Christian.
Christian was hot off a WWECW-level main event run at this point—thus, while slightly lower on the card than the other three men, not completely out of place in a main event scenario and a match like this arguably would have gotten him over the main event hump much sooner and with more longevity than his half-hearted cup of coffee at the top of the card a little over a year later.
This match would have gotten Christian out of the Money in the Bank cluster where he was under-utilized, it would have maintained the Edge-Jericho feud, would have kept Show in a tag title match (ShowMiz was little more than a poor man’s JeriShow anyway), and most importantly given us the big time Edge and Christian reunion plenty folks would have loved to have seen (and that never really materialized on account of the spinal injuries that cut short Edge’s career a year later). Giving the tag belts a Wrestlemania main event rub would have been good for the long-term future of the division, too, and putting all of these guys in the tag ranks could have opened up new possibilities for the World Heavyweight Championship –they could have upped the stakes even more on the Undertaker-Michaels career vs. streak match, developed a new level of intrigue around Triple H-Sheamus, tacked the strap on to Punk-Mysterio, or gone really off the wall and elevated R-Truth or Morrison to challenge for it (and the other one of them could have taken Christian’s place in Money in the Bank without much affecting the quality of that match.). I’m not saying there’s a perfect solution, but when the alternative to my scenario was an over-long slog of world title match and this tag match that was too short to mean much of anything, I have a hard time resisting the urge to rewrite history.
Anyway, this tag match was fine for what it is, but clocking in at just under three and half minutes, it wasn’t much. At least the finish was clever, with Big Show, making a blind tag in, Morrison not noticing and trying to execute a springboard move off the ropes, only for the giant to punch his lights out and steal the pin.
199. Billy Jack Haynes vs. Hercules at Wrestlemania 3 Make no mistake about it, this one ain’t pretty. That said, it was straight forward, logical, and, for as simplistic as it may have been, mostly well executed. The storyline here was that Haynes and Herc were two big, strong dudes who each used the full nelson as a finishing hold. Good guy Haynes got the moral victory by dominating the late stages of the match and having his hold synched in when both guys got counted out of the ring for the official result to be a draw. Meanwhile, Hercules and manager Bobby Heenan kept their heel heat pumping via a dastardly post-match attack that perpetuated the feud that this match embodied—logical, consistent, and competently performed without ever producing any truly memorable moments.
198. Razor Ramon vs. Jeff Jarrett at Wrestlemania 11 Intercontinental Championship Match Razor Ramon and Jeff Jarrett, particularly in this era, had an odd brand of chemistry. Face Ramon’s offense was all power brawling, whereas heel Jarrett was playing a technical-leaning speed game—thus kinda sorta reversing what you’d expect from their face-heel alignments. Sort of like Brock Lesnar-Kurt Ange at Wrestlemania 19 (see 31). The two differences: 1) this match wasn’t nearly as good and 2) Ramon was cool enough and Jarrett was inherently annoying enough that the alignment kind of worked in spite of itself.
There was a recurrent theme in this match of the guys faking moves, then going for real ones which I think was supposed to sell the fact that these guys were smart and knew one another inside and out as opponents, but generally felt kind of stilted in practice. Like many of Ramon’s face matches, he spent a goodly portion of the match slouched over in rest holds or lying in the mat to sell a move that wasn’t particularly devastating. The match ended with a DQ when Ramon had Jarrett set up for the Razor’s Edge and The Roadie climbed in the ring and clipped his knee.
The Roadie (the eventual Road Dogg) was seconding Jarrett for this match while The 1-2-3 Kid (later X-Pac) was in Ramon’s corner. Interesting to think that the sidekicks would ultimately have longer WWE careers than the major players here, in addition to being DX stable mates and sometimes tag partners. To be fair, Ramon and Jarrett did make it to fringe main event status, but in WCW and TNA.
The two sides brawled after the match, with a good bit of unintentional comedy when Jarrett locked The Kid in his signature figure four leglock. Ramon tried to make the save and wailed on Jarrett, but in such a way that Jarrett was stuck in place with the hold on, so Kid had to keep selling like he was in agony while his bumbling friend couldn’t figure out how to save him.
197. King Kong Bundy vs. SD Jones at Wrestlemania 1 I really can’t bring myself to rate a sub-thirty-second match any higher than this, but as a high profile squash, the match achieved precisely what it set out to: establishing Bundy as an unstoppable monster. Bundy was being groomed to challenge Hulk Hogan at the following year’s ‘Mania and this match was an effective way of forcing the audience to take notice of the big guy.
196. Tito Santana vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 8 This was a clear cut example of guys meeting along opposite trajectories. Tito Santana was on his last legs as a WWF wrestler, working a Matador gimmick. This was Michaels’s first singles match at ‘Mania. Santana hadn’t really been relevant in the mid-card for about five years and Michaels was a half year from his first Intercontinental Championship, four years away from his first world title.
The overall match was good, though it’s interesting to see Michaels still finding his druthers as a singles performer and a heel, very dependent on chinlock offense. Also funny to see him hit his super kick as a transitional move, rather than the deadly finisher it would come to be seen as in the years ahead. Santana’s moves were much fresher and more diversified at this point and, to his credit, Michaels sold them all like a champ. The finish came when Michaels shifted his weight and clung to the top rope to get some leverage and pin Santana when he tried to slam him.
195. Doink and Dink vs. Bam Bam Bigelow and Luna Vachon at Wrestlemania 10 Mixed Tag Team Match As much as I loved heel Doink, I kind of hated the face version of the character. I was ten years old when this match happened, and, as I recall, that was just old enough to resent the booking of this match, in which one of the legit bad asses of the men’s division, and a legit bad ass from the women’s divison would most likely be humiliated in a comedy match against two clowns, one of whom was a midget (in addition to the concern that equating a midget wrestler and a woman wrestler for mixed tag purposes seemed kind of dubious).
This match gets a lot of hate, but for how bad it potentially could have been, I actually think it turned out rather well. Just as they should have, Bigelow and Vachon dominate much of the match with more brutality than you’d expect for the situation. There were moments of levity, but, against all oddsi in early-mid-nities WWF, the heels did win after Bigelow connected with a head butt off the top rope.
194. Ken Shamrock vs. Road Dogg vs. Val Venis vs. Goldust at Wrestlemania 15 Four Corners Elimination Match for the Intercontinental Championship Match It’s telling that the intros came with Road Dogg and Val Venis getting their obligatory mic time, and that Goldust made his entrance with The Blue Meanie and Ryan Shamrock by his side—in this era, characters came before wrestlers. Thus, Shamrock was the perfect final entrant, an ass-kicking machine who came across as something of a throwback among this roster.
There was an interesting dynamic to this match in which it was every man for himself, but guys also had tag in and out of the ring. A bit of a cheap double elimination midway through with Shamrock and Venis getting conted out. At least we get a fun Shamrock snap to follow as he got back in the ring to suplex everyone. Ho-hum finish to this one as Ryan Shamrock accidentally tripped Goldust, which kinda sorta set up Road Dogg for a roll up pin. Despite the talents involved, this match just didn’t have the time to generate much interest.
193. The Godfather and D-Lo Brown vs. The Big Boss Man and Bull Buchanan at Wrestlemania 16 It’s police officers versus pimps—the cops are the bad guys and the whoremongers are the good guys. You’ve gotta love the Attitude Era.
The big surprise rewatching this match was the forgotten hero—not Ice T rapping the pimps to the ring, but rather Bull Buchanan. I remembered him as little more than a generic big man, but the dude demonstrated a pretty shocking combination of power and athleticism in this match, pushing the action, and hitting nifty tandem moves with The Boss Man to generate the matches most lethal offense, including a very nice top rope leg drop for the win.
192. The Big Show vs. Cody Rhodes at Wrestlemania 28 Intercontinental Championship Match The story here was that Big Show had a notoriously bad record at Wrestlemania and Cody Rhodes was a real dick to point that out over and over again. Meanwhile, there was the subplot that Big Show had won every WWE title he was eligible for except for the IC strap.
There’s a structural flaw in this match, in that the heel is so much smaller than the face, making it really hard for Show to get any sympathy. To their credit, Show had enough veteran cred and Rhodes was good enough at playing a jerk here that it more or less worked. Big Show dominated early, then Rhodes took over, working the leg. Show was just too big in the end, though, and KO punched Rhodes for the pin. Nice little aftermath—be it totally staged or rooted in real emotion—as Big Show got tearful celebrating his win.
191. Ricky Steamboat vs. Greg Valentine at Wrestlemania 4 I had pretty high expectations in revisiting this one, but Valentine seemed oddly out of sync with what Steamboat was going for in a few key, would-be swank spots. That said, when Valentine got to his straightforward, blunt offense, he was solid, and the guys had a fun little chopping slug fest. All that, and frankly, between his ability to sell, and his crispness on offense, it was nearly impossible for Steamboat to have an actively bad match in this era. Disappointing finish with Valentine winning, precluding a second round tournament match between Savage and Steamboat (which, to be fair, Steamboat reportedly politicked against, because Savage’s insistence on plotting every move in advance of matches drove him nuts).
190. Brutus Beefcake vs. Ted Dibiase at Wrestlemania 5 One year earlier, Ted Dibiase had shared the ring with Randy Savage, competing in the Wrestlemania main event in the very same venue, over the vacant world championship (see 44). How the mighty had fallen. To his credit, Beefcake at least cut a fast pace on his vanilla offense in the early going, to justify Dibiase’s cowardly heel act of repeatedly running from the ring.
The match to follow was competent if far from groundbreaking as the guys seemed ready to more or less bide their time until they’d trade punches outside the ring and both get counted out for the anti-climactic finish.
On an interesting side note, these two would wrestle at ‘Mania again four years later, in a match that Hulk Hogan more or less singlehandedly promoted to near-main-event-level status, despite it objectively being of lesser quality (see 213).
189. Rob Van Dam and Booker T vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. La Resistance vs. Garrison Cade and Mark Jindrak World Tag Team Championship Match The psychology is really whack for a tag team match with tag-able men in every corner and five guys waiting around to break up potential pins and submissions—not to mention that the sudden-death rules in which the first fall scores the victory removed any impetus teams to form temporary alliances.
As one might expect, after a clearing-their-throats period, the match broke down to a free for all so the four corners were unoccupied. Booker T hits a scissors kick on Rob Conway and RVD scores the pin off a Five Star Frog Splash to give the fans all they could have reasonably expected from the match.
188. The Hart Foundation vs. The Honky Tonk Man and Greg Valentine at Wrestlemania 5 Decent little tag encounter here. One of the most striking aspects of the match was just how cartoonish Honky Tonk seemed next to everyone else involved, particularly Bret Hart who’s style was more NWA than WWF at this stage, foretelling his place as a major player in the post-Hogan era. That said, Valentine was sharp here, The Hart Foundation’s tandem moves were darn slick, and Neidhart’s offense is pretty electric off of the hot tag.
In one of those details you don’t notice so much as a kid, but can’t ignore as an adult, The Hart Foundation cheated pretty blatantly on the finish, blasting Honky Tonk Man with Jimmy Hart’s megaphone to pick up the pin. The impression I get from 80s WWF finishes like this is that a) they thought the best way for villains to get their comeuppance was by getting their own devices used against them and b)they were looking for ways to protect everyone on the main roster from clean losses.
187. Al Snow vs. Billy Gunn vs. Hardcore Holly at Wrestlemania 15 This was an interesting set of guys to put together. Hardcore Holly and Billy Gunn had somewhat similar paths as lower card, over-gimmicked faces who debuted in the post-Hogan era, only to rise to upper mid-card status (and even flirt with the main event) during and in the aftermath of the Attitude Era. Al Snow, meanwhile, was the quintessential Attitude Era mid-carder—a good hand with a memorable catchphrase.
It was a good call to open ‘Mania 15 with his bout as the traditionally hardcore audience in Philly, still breathing in the final fumes of ECW, was thirsty for plunder and eager to cheer Snow. The match culminated in Gunn nailing snow with a Fame-Asser onto a chair, only for Holly to take him out with chair and pin Snow himself to win the title. A fun enough little brawl to warm up the crowd.
186. Tazz and The APA vs. The Goodfather, Val Venis, and Bull Buchanan at Wrestlemania 17 The heels were all members of Right to Censor, a heel stable I’ve always felt just missed the mark in never elevating past mid-card despite getting some pretty solid heat and featuring some pretty charismatic dudes (albeit dudes who were all better in other roles). The face team was pretty bad ass, with the unique distinction of featuring a noteworthy ECW champ (Tazz), a noteworthy WCW champ (Ron Simmons) and a notable WWE champ (Bradshaw—though he wouldn’t get there for another three years; prophetically he was the one to offer up a dynamite promo to hype up his team on the way to the ring).
The match didn’t last long and didn’t benefit from much psychology, but was a fast-paced, hard hitting brawl, highlighted by a nice spike powerbomb spot on Bradshaw, before the big Texan closes things out with a Clothesline from Hell on The Goodfather.
185. John Cena vs. The Miz at Wrestlemania 27 WWE Championship Match I am, to a reasonable extent, an apologist for The Miz’s world title run. Behind CM Punk and John Cena, he was probably the best talker in the company, was of above average competence in the ring. That said, once the initial shock of his world title win wore off, he had to grapple with a severe credibility deficit. You’d think winning the main event at Wrestlemania would do that for him. The trouble was, he found himself in the uncomfortable spot of third wheel to challenger Cena and freshly returned Wrestlemania 27 “host” The Rock. Despite some pretty exceptional video packages to introduce the match, once the bell had rung, this encounter felt positively flat as everyone waited for The Rock to show up and do something interesting.
As a storytelling mechanism, the match’s conclusion, in which Rock all but gift wrapped the victory for Miz, was a serviceable set up for the following year’s Rock-Cena showdown. The idea of a Wrestlemania main event serving as nothing more than set up for another match a year down the road felt pretty empty, though (hush you Wrestlemania 4 critics—as much as Savage was built up to serve on a platter to Hogan, he offered us a darn interesting journey along the way). In summary: this was one of the weakest endings to one of the weakest Wrestlemanias on record; a headline match with low expectations that still managed to disappoint.
184. Randy Savage vs. Butch Reed at Wrestlemania 4 This match was what Randy Savage’s late-80s face run was all about—taking a wicked beating for ninety percent of the match, then striking back with a flurry of offense, capped by a flying elbow drop to take the win. Reed was a pretty ideal dance partner for that formula—an imposing physical specimen with a varied enough offense to keep things interesting. It’s hard to rate this match too highly when it was barely five minutes long, but it served its purpose, kicking off Savage’s run to his first world title.
183. Owen Hart and Jeff Jarrett vs. D-Lo Brown and Test at Wrestlemania 15 Tag Team Championship Match The story here saw Test and D-Lo Brown as uneasy partners wedged into a team together, Hart and Jarrett as a pair of guys who probably should have been doing bigger things, but this was all creative had for them.
Watching Test and Owen duel is pretty sad in retrospect—a pair of really talented guys (Test, in particular, tends to be remembered less fondly than he deserves). Owen Hart passed away in front of a live audience inside a calendar year; Test would pass away in 2008 from the combined effects of head injuries and drug overdose.
In any event, managers Ivory and Deborah stole the show, distracting Test, setting up D-Lo Brown to fall victim to a double team for the pin. Brown and Test exchange blows after the match.
182. Kane and The Big Show vs. Carlito and Chris Masters at Wrestlemania 22 Tag Team Championship Match There was a point at which Carlito and Chris Masters look poised to become main event heels, what with Carlito beating John Cena in his debut and Masters engaging in his first real feud against Shawn Michaels. The guys got main event spots in Survivor Series and Elimination Chamber matches, but by this point their upper-card luster had just about worn off. Conventional wisdom was they’d either win this match to send their collective stock soaring or lose and split up as a team and start feuding with one another. The latter more or less proved to be the case—Carlito turning face to more or less own Masters, en route to a brief run in the upper mid-card before settling down as a decisive mid-carder who enjoyed occasional bright spots teaming with Ric Flair and his brother Primo.
In this match, the young heels looked entirely over their heads, constantly overpowered by their bigger foes, in addition to falling victim to Kane’s unlikely aerial assault more than once. Fortunately Kane looked motivated and was pretty fun to watch at this point. In the end, Masters accidentally hit Carlito with a double axehandle, which sets him up to fall prey to Kane’s chokeslam for the finish.
181. Kelly Kelly and Maria Menounos vs. Beth Phoenix and Eve Torres at Wrestlemania 28 For what little it’s worth, I’ve got to say this: If ever there were a worthy woman to one day make it into the celebrity wing of the WWE Hall of Fame, it would have to be Maria Menounos. Not that the bar is tremendously high, but the co-host of Extra did not look at all out of place among the full-time women’s wrestlers she was in the ring with here, taking hits and selling like a pro. Urban legend has it that a brown mark on Menounos’s white pants were evidence she had pooped herself out of fear for what she was in for—Menounos explained it afterward as Torres’s makeup rubbing off on her, which actually does make sense because one of the most memorable spots of this match saw Kelly Kelly and Menounos team up to rub their butts in Torres’s face.
As women’s matches at ‘Mania go, this was far from the worst. Phoenix was the MVP of the bout, pulling off multiple impressive power spots (including covering for Kelly’s botch on a bulldog) and ended up having to take the pin for her troubles off a roll up by Menounos.
180. The British Bulldogs and Koko B. Ware vs. The Islanders and Bobby Heenan at Wrestlemania 4 Take one exceptionally good tag team (The Bulldogs) and one very good one (The Islanders), add Ware to help rouse the crowd, and Heenan for comic value and you have recipe for a decent little six-man affair. The faces controled the bulk of the match, before the heels rallied for the win. Heenan has famously said that the key to being a good heel wrestling manager is to: “Manage like a wrestler and wrestle like a manager.” This philosophy was on display as Heenan uses every opportunity to cheat, very nearly got his comeuppance, then cheated some more to steal the win.
179. Batista vs. Triple at Wrestlemania 21 World Heavyweight Championship Match ‘Mania 21 was a huge leaping off point for the new generation of main eventers, seeing John Cena and Batista win their first world titles, Edge win the Money in the Bank contract that would lead to his first title reign, and Randy Orton challenging Undertaker in a bout that helped concretize him as a top-of-the-card player.
The match at hand, benefited from a pretty epic build. Batista spent two years as one of Triple H’s henchmen in the Evolution stable. Randy Orton looked to be the break out main event star of the group—and he did ultimately get there—but in the shorter term, the crowd was far more interested in Big Dave who went on to win the Royal Rumble and reject Triple H’s suggestion that he jump brands to challenge JBL for the WWE Championship, instead, breaking from Evolution to take on his long-time ally.
Triple H can more than hold up his end of the bargain working with great talents, but paired with less stellar performers, he doesn’t have the best track record. Such is the case for this match. Batista was still on the green side—not that he has ever been an elite worker—and his offense looked particularly un-fluid and repetitive over the course of this match. This encounter felt every bit as long as its twenty-minute bell-to-bell time.
The best thing going for this match: it was decisive. Batista powered out of a Pedigree attempt and hit his signature Batista Bomb for the clean victory. Thus, even if the match itself wasn’t great, the final moments served as a proper kickoff for Batista’s superstardom.
178. The British Bulldogs vs. Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake at Wrestlemania 2 This match suffers from way too much offense by Brutus Beefcake—sort of criminal when you consider how sharp all three of the other guys were at this point in their careers. Nonetheless, a fun if unspectacular tag team outing, culminating in a fun spot in which Davey Boy Smith ran Beefcake’s head into Dynamite Kid’s in the corner to knock him out for the pin.
The real treat of this match? Ozzy Osborne in the Bulldog corner, and screaming, “British Bulldogs forever!” into the mic after the pinfall.
177. Trish Stratus vs. Lita vs. Jazz at Wrestlemania 18 Women’s Championship Match Jazz played something like The Big Show role in this triple threat—an overwhelming powerful force that dominated in one-on-one scenarios, forcing the faces to team up to take her on. For my money, Trish Stratus-Lita was the greatest female rivalry in WWE history, spanning a number of years with all different permutations of face-heel alignments. Here, the two worked together for much of the match, then got into a handful of heated exchanges between one another.
In the end, this match is all about that core theme of the faces working together, then falling apart. When Stratus and Lita aren’t aligned, Jazz had her chance to pick them apart. Lita seemed to have the champ in trouble and went up to the top rope to finish her off, only for Stratus to get in the way. Lita smacked down Stratus, but was distracted long enough for Jazz to gather herself and nail her with a fisherman’s suplex off the top for the win.
176. John Cena vs. JBL at Wrestlemania 21 WWE Championship Match JBL was a good talent. I dare say he’s underrated in conversations about wrestling’s all-time best talkers.
That said, he was not a great champion. While it’s not an entirely fair comparison, and I’d argue ol’ Bradhsaw deserves slightly more credit than this, he was more or less to the WWE Championship what The Honky Tonk Man was to the Intercontinental Championship—a blustery, cartoonish heel villain, surrounded by more elite talents, but who nonetheless clung to his strap for a remarkably long period of time.
This match was fairly representative of that reign—JBL dominated with some stiff but generally unimpressive offense. Cena got flurries of offense in, then, out of nowhere, went on the rampage and got the pin with an F-U. That’s it. No false finishes. No counters. This match felt like a pretty generic TV bout, with a slightly elongated heat segment—not a proper ‘Mania world title match, much less a proper launching pad for the biggest star of the past decade. The guys would, in many ways, make up for this lackluster match with a better I Quit rematch at the Judgment Day PPV a month later. Nonetheless, it’s unfortunate that such a historic moment went so inauspiciously.
175.The Undertaker vs. The Big Boss Man at Wrestlemania 15 Hell in a Cell Match The Big Boss Man served as an unfortunate surragote for Vince McMahon in this match, amidst a sub-main event feud between McMahon and The Undertaker’s Attitude Era-adjusted Satanic heel character. This feud was famous, among other things, for an angle in which ‘Taker kidnapped Stephanie McMahon—only to subsequently reveal he had been taking orders from Vince all along as part of a master plan to screw Steve Austin out of the world title (which he hadn’t yet won…).
In any event, this match was pretty widely regarded as one of, if not the worst Hell in a Cell match ever booked. The match had its moments, particularly when the guys brawled at ringside, but they never got much of a flow going, and just couldn’t contend with the drama of Cell matches to precede this one. I don’t mean to take away from Boss Man as a worker—I consider him one of the most underrated talents of the nineties—but he wasn’t booked as a threat to The Undertaker leading up to or during this match, which didn’t help matters. As such, the superficially epic gimmick of Hell in a Cell seemed really out of place. One can only assume the cage’s purpose was wholly to achieve the post-match spectacle of Boss Man hanging from a noose at the top of cage (and maybe to sell a few extra PPV buys on the theory Boss Man might take a bump off the top of the Cell).
On a historical side note, this match features the ‘Mania on-screen debut of eventual main eventer Edge (who would, among other things, defend his world title against ‘Taker nine years later), standing atop the cage as part of The Brood, alongside Christian and Gangrel, to function as ‘Taker’s minions.
174. Hercules vs. Haku at Wrestlemania 5 Here we have Haku, a dude universally recognized as one of the baddest of real-life badasses in WWF history, squaring off with Hercules, a fairly able big man who’s mini-push as the third Mega Power was forgotten when the Hogan-Savage feud took off.
The result was a fun enough power match, if a little on the sluggish side to open the Wrestlemania 5 card. Hercules went over with a kinda-sorta German suplex for which he doesn’t really get the bridge, and thus technically has his shoulders down for what looked like a double pin. The ref only caught Haku down, though, so Hercules got the good-guy win to get crowd warmed up.
173. Booker T vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 19 World Heavyweight Championship Match This encounter had all the makings of a classic underdog formula match, as the storyline leading up to ‘Mania was all about Booker T not being at Triple H’s level. However, the build expanded to discuss Booker’s real-life criminal record. Then his “nappy” hair. The program ultimately promoted Triple H as not only an arrogant snob, but a white supremacist.
The resulting match? It was long and plodding with lengthy rest periods to follow unremarkable action. That, and the white racist won. I have my suspicions WWE originally intended for Booker T to win the title in this match and altered directions when the company signed Goldberg to debut the day after Wrestlemania. I can understand that shift in principle, but given the build, it’s hard to swallow Booker T not earning a modicum of redemption with at least a short title reign.
172. The Undertaker vs. Sid at Wrestlemania 13 World Championship Match The bold statement that occurred to me while re-watching this match—Sid may be the least legit all-around star to ever main event more than one Wrestlemania.
Undertaker actually started this main event match relatively hot, administering some speedy body shots that foretold the age of Biker ‘Taker. Sid, on the contrary, was all about bearhugs and chinlocks with the occasional power move that threatened to make the match interesting. Then Undertaker fought back with a nerve hold. Ugh. The high spots were few and far beteen, but did include a nice top rope clothesline from ‘Taker and a Tombstone piledriver from Sid. Ultimately, it was Bret Hart’s distraction that more or less cost Sid the match, facilitating a Tombstone from the Dead Man to win the bout and the championship.
Despite the matching objectively occurring at a relatively low caliber, Sid’s shear physical look and ‘Taker’s occasional bursts of athleticism and evolving sense of how to sell help elevate the drama of the match to a serviceable level. Heck, were this a main event for most any other pay per view, I’d probably give it a pass; it’s just that the bar is a few notches higher when we’re talking about ‘Mania. That, and this is a pretty severe letdown following Bret Hart-Steve Austin (see 4) and a nasty Chicago Street Fight (see 74).
171. Diamond Dallas Page vs. Christian at Wrestlemania 18 European Championship Match This was DDP’s lone Wrestlemania match. The guy was one of a small handful of legitimate new stars that WCW created, and he got by largely on personality—coming across as any everyman street fighter from Jersey who was more often than not an underdog on the main event scene. I always felt that he should have gotten a good run in WWF to boot, but instead, the WWF brain trust insisted on imposing characters on him—first as a crazed stalker, then as a slightly unhinged motivational speaker. As a character, DDP lost of the relate-ability that had made him great and became a glorified mid-carder with no direction. This match was the culmination of a storyline of Christian as a crybaby sore loser, squaring off with his attempted mentor Page. Fortunately, Christian was really coming into his own as a singles performer at this point and Page could still hold up his end of the bargain in the ring. The action was fast and furious and the result was decisive when Page nailed a Diamond Cutter. Thus, this one was about as good as a six-minute mid-card match was going to get.
170. Greg Valentine vs. Earthquake at Wrestlemania 7 As these guys made their entrances, we heard from Chuck Norris, Henry Winkler, and Lou Ferrigno, seated in the crowd. I’m pretty sure the dudes were temporarily sat together to conveniently facilitate this segment, but I kind of love the idea that the three of them are just drinking buddies who like to watch wrestling together. For the record, Macauley Culkin, shown in the crowd earlier, was not seated with them. He’s his own man.
At this point in their respective careers, I didn’t expect this to be much of a contest. Earthquake was slipping down the card, though, about to join the tags rank, and Valentine is relatively fresh on his face run, so The Hammer gets more offense than you’d expect, almost locking in the figure four leglock until Jimmy Hart distracted him. In the end ‘Quake got his win the running sitdown splash.
169. The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hercules at Wrestlemania 4 I’ll be the first to admit that I give this one more credit than it objectively deserves on account of it being a key step in The Ultimate Warrior’s rise to the top of the card, and the fact that muscleman Hercules remains a guilty pleasure of mine from late 1980s WWF. The match was mostly the two guys trading clotheslines—a point I can forgive because they were each jacked enough to look like they could legitimately kill somebody with those moves. The ending was oddly indecisive given the men’s respective overall trajectories, with Hercules delivering a back suplex only for Warrior to escape the double-pinning predicament by getting his shoulder up at the two-count to steal the win. Herc would go on to a mini-push as a junior partner in the Mega Powers, so I guess that’s why he needed to preserve some credibility. Warrior, of course, had much a bigger future.
168. Virgil vs. Ted Dibiase at Wrestlemania 7 It’s mid-card feuds like this one that really make you miss long-range storytelling in contemporary WWE. Virgil had been Dibiase’s bodyguard and servant for over three years when, inspired by Roddy Piper, he finally stood up to his employer and broke out as a wrestler all his own. This not only made for a feel-good story, but also marked a near-perfect transition point as Dibiase was done as a fringe main eventer and this was a great way to transition him to upper-middle card, besides making a new singles star out of Virgil.
This match started with Virgil dominating with low-impact offense, before Dibiase took over and beat down his former charge with a graver moveset. The match ended when Piper distracted Dibiase and got him counted out. Virgil got the literal and moral victory without pushing Dibiase further down the card by actually pinning him. In the aftermath, Sherrie Martel surfaced to join Dibiase in beating down Piper, only for Virgil to fend them off and help his friend to the back.
Inside a year, Virgil would have dipped to all-but-jobber level, while Dibiase would align himself with IRS to forge the solid Money Inc. tag team, with which he rode out the remainder of his in-ring career.
167. Rocky Maivia vs. The Sultan at Wrestlemania 13 Intercontinental Championship Match Man, at Rock’s first Wrestlemania, who could have imagined the star he would evolve into? But then, to be fair, I don’t think may people foresaw The Sultan evolving into a feel good dancing mascot for Too Cool either (or a short term crazed antagonist who ran over Stone Cold in a parking lot). Each of these guys would benefit from the influence of the Attitude Era that was just about to catch fire.
The Sultan was about as good as you could expect him to be, making a cartoonish figure into a stiff brawler. Rocky, on the other hand, was the very definition of a white-meat babyface, showing so little of the personality that would take him into the stratosphere in the years to follow. At this point, his entire gimmick was that he was a third generation wrestler. The match lost some credit in my estimation for a lengthy chinlock segment, immediately followed by a double clothesline spot that left both men lying. On his comeback, Rock seemed oddly reminiscent of Tatanka, to me, which is about the caliber of star he seemed primed to be at this point. Nice belly to belly from Rocky, followed up by a pretty swank DDT. The Sultan busted out a piledriver as this one gets very seriously very quickly—only for Maivia to slip out the back of a bodyslam attempt and score a pin off of a schoolboy. Sultan got his heat back afterward with a top rope splash, followed by his manager, The Iron Sheik, locking in a camel clutch.Who could make the save but Rock’s dad, Rocky Johnson. Fun appearance, though he ended up beaten down, too, for the effort. The father-son team rallied, though, with bodyslams and punches galore before hugging it out in the middle of the ring together. Nice enough moment, but kind of paltry considering where this young man was headed.
166. Victoria vs. Molly Holly at Wrestlemania 20 Women’s Championship vs. Hair Match The stipulation for this match was that if Holly can’t win the title, she would get her head shaved. When folks think about this era in WWE women’s wrestling, the names that always roll off their tongues are Trish Stratus and Lita, butVictoria and Molly Holly were quite arbuably the superior talents to either of them. Victoria garnered the most attention playing a psychotic character but performed perfectly well in her peppy babyface role here and Holly, originally introduced as the chipper cousin to Hardcore and Crash Holly, was sharp as a vengeful, desperate heel.
Fairly formulaic, but very clean match with Holly working over Victoria’s neck and Victoria refusing to quit. Fun little float over power bomb spot out of the corner that wasn’t quite as fluid as it should have been, but I still admire the ambition in a women’s match. The finish made great sense by the internal logic of the match with Holly trying to seal the deal using Victoria’s own Widow’s Peak neckbreaker finisher, only for Vicotira to reverse it into a backslide for the win.
As good as the match was, the aftermath was pretty awkward. While it’s a fun enough spectacle for heel Holly to get her comeuppance in the barber’s chair, the act ran far too long with Victoria taunting Holly as she slowly shaved her opponent’s head clean with a set of electric clippers.
165. The Undertaker and Nathan Jones versus The Big Show and A-Train at Wrestlemania 19 People tend to scoff at this match. Sure, Big Show and A-Train were far from the most compelling nemeses to ‘Taker and his streak. And yes, by almost all accounts, WWE staged a pre-match backstage attack on Jones so there was an excuse for him to stay in the back and not embarrass himself with his oafishness until the very end of the match.
Put all of that aside, and you have The Undertaker right around his prime, playing the unlikely role of undersized underdog in a handicap, and I’ll be darned if he didn’t make it work for nine minutes. No, this wasn’t a classic, nor does it stand up to the streak matches of the last few years, but it was a solid outing where the story was all Undertaker, and the result was a reasonably entertaining match.
164. Strike Force vs. Demolition at Wrestlemania 4 Intercontinental Championship Match Solid enough formula tag here with the plucky good guy Strike Force defending their titles against the much larger Demolition contingent. There are teams from approximately the same era that played these roles better, but this was a completely inoffensive match that wrapped up when the Martel put Smash in his signature boston crab and Ax stole the victory by smashing him with manager Mr. Fuji’s cane behind the ref’s back.
163. Jake Roberts vs. Ted Dibiase at Wrestlemania 6 Million Dollar Championship Match In a more just universe, both Jake Roberts and Ted Dibiase probably would have arrived in wrestling at slightly less rich periods and when Hulk Hogan didn’t dominate the main event so thoroughly, and thus each would have had world title runs of his own, or at least extended stays in the main event. Just the same, here we had two great workers and two of the most iconic personalities of their time.
Sadly, this match didn’t really deliver on all of its potential. I consider this a prime example of eighties into early nineties WWF booking which sought to protect big name talents and only have them lose any face on house shows, in front of a limited audience. This was a pretty blah, drawn out affair save for a few spots of notable offense like Dibiase’s Million Dollar Dream and piledriver. The match ended with a deeply dissatisfying countout when Dibiase and Roberts were both down on the outside, but Dibiase’s bodyguard, Virgil, helped him back in the ring just in time to beat the count. Not awful, but certainly a disappointment, all considered.
162. Chyna vs. Ivory at Wrestlemania 17 Sometimes matches surprise you. Sometimes they’re exactly what you expect them to be. The storyline here was that Ivory and the men of the Right to Censor faction had sidelined Chyna with a spike piledriver. This match marked Chyna’s big come back, for which the storyline question was all about whether Chyna’s neck would hold up and allow her to compete at the insurmountable level to which she was accustomed (her imposing physique and stature had seen her performing mostly in the male ranks up to that point). Chyna played the perfect Ultimate Warrior/Goldberg to Ivory’s bump-o-matic Chris Jericho-like figure here in a short, dominant squash match to lead off Chyna’s brief spell atop the women’s division before she left the company.
161. Mankind vs. The Big Show at Wrestlemania 15 Winner Officiates the Main Event Wrestlemania 15 was the quintessential Attitude Era ‘Mania. Among other reasons there’s the fact that storyline decisively prevails over in-ring action. Mankind-Big Show had potential to be a decent brawl and, particularly with the stipulations at hand, could have told a compelling David vs. Goliath story. Instead, we got five minutes of fairly aimless brawling that culminated in the decent spectacle of Show chokeslamming Foley through a pair of steel chairs in the middle of the ring. The moment sold Show’s unrestrained power and mean streak—and the fact that he wasn’t too bright. Show got disqualified for the move, thus The Rock lost his ace in the hole guest referee for the night’s main event. The story continued after the match, as Vince McMahon berated Big Show, and Show started a face turn by decking the boss.
160. Edge vs. Booker T at Wrestlemania 18 I think there’s a pretty fair argument to be made that Booker T has the most underwhelming Wrestlemania career of any star of his caliber who hung around WWE for over five years. Case in point—excluding his Money in the Bank appearance, this was probably his best ‘Mania bout. Not that this match was bad, but at just over six minutes, it’s pretty inconsequential, leading up to a decisive win to help shore up Edge’s place in the upper mid-card—a push WWE wouldn’t really capitalize on for another four years. Not much to write home about for the match itself, aside from a fun enough ending sequence with the guys each countering or dodging each other’s signature moves over and over before Edge finally scored with the Edge-ecution DDT for the win.
159. Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Borne at Wrestlemania 1 Eight years later, Matt Borne would reach the pinnacle of his career when he re-debuted at Wrestlemania 9 as the original Doink the Clown. At Wrestlemania 1, Borne served as competent fodder for the artist that was Ricky Steamboat. Even working a relatively slow, WWF-style, Steamboat was so polished that I simply don’t think he was capable of having a bad match. Nothing to write home about, but a fun enough little show case for “The Dragon” who was just a few years shy of his prime.
158. Mike Rotundo and Barry Windham vs. Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik at Wrestlemania 1 Tag Team Championship Match Part of what’s interesting about this encounter was the generational gap inherent to it. The Iron Sheik had attained the high point in his career a year and half earlier, unseating Bob Backlund for the World Championship. Volkoff had been a foil for Bruno Sammartino a year earlier and would make a brief return to the main event, jobbing to Hulk Hogan in the years to immediately follow this match.
Rotundo and Windham, meanwhile, were at the beginnings of very respectable careers. Rotundo would proceed to greater fame as shirt and tie-clad Irwin R. Schyster (IRS), a mid-card mainstay throughout the 1990s, in between stints as Michael Wallstreet in WCW. (He’s also the real-life father of current stars Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas). Windham was amidst his first stint in WWF, but would always seem more at home in the NWA and WCW as an on-again, off-again Horseman and eventual NWA champion.
As for this match, Rotundo and Windham made for a pretty crisp tag team, Volkoff was a competent big man, and for his suplex-centric offense and submission style, The Sheik looked like a spiritual predecessor to Kurt Angle. The finish was abrupt with Sheik taking out Windham via a shot from Freddie Blassie’s cane, but it was nonetheless an entertaining tag team romp, particularly for a mid-’80s WWF match, prior to the tag team boom that was on its way with the arrival of teams like The British Bulldogs, Hart Foundation, Killer Bees, Demolition, The Rockers, and The Rougeaus.
157. Demolition vs. The Colossal Connection at Wrestlemania 6 Tag Team Championship Match Haku found himself in an interesting spot as part of this tag team with Andre the Giant. On the plus side, I don’t know that the guy ever got more attention than he did tag teaming with one of wrestling’s biggest stars, and this was probably the high point for his in-ring work. On the other hand, Andre was in poor enough physical shape that he really couldn’t do anything of consequence, thus Haku was left to do 90 percent of the work for the team.
Demolition was fun to watch and Haku was solid. A Demolition Decapitation picked up the win after Haku accidentally crescent kicked Andre and got him tied up in the ropes so he couldn’t help. Good match and a fair enough swan song for the Giant’s ‘Mania career, particularly when he turned face, beating back Haku and Heenan after they try to blame him for the loss.
156. The Undertaker vs. Jake Roberts at Wrestlemania 8 This was the last stand for Jake Roberts’ inspired, if short-lived early nineties heel character in WWF (fortunately, he’d carry it on for a bit in WCW immediately afterward). This was also the first major showing for The Undertaker as a face.
With Roberts on his way out and Undertaker poised as a major player, it was a pretty dominant showing for The Dead Man. There was a bit of back and forth early on before Roberts seemingly took a decided advantage with two DDTs—at the time a pretty brutal display. Roberts left the tring to stalk Paul Bearer, affording Undertaker ample time to recover and head outside to Tombstone Roberts on the floor—that was more than enough to score the victory.
155. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boys vs. The APA vs. Billy and Chuck at Wrestlemania 18 Four Corners Elimination Match for the Tag Team Championship On paper, you’d expect this match to have a world of potential. After all, Wrestlemanias 16 and 17 featured the two greatest tag title matches in ‘Mania history, and this match included two out of the three teams involved in those matches, plus the fourth most iconic team of the era in The APA, plus Billy and Chuck—the reigning champions and a perfectly serviceable team that included Billy Gunn, arguable the best tag team specialist of his era. The resulting match wasn’t bad but neither was it great, because having four teams follow tag-in, tag-out rules both barred standard tag team psychology, and precluded the frenetic level of the ladder and TLC matches to precede it. There were a few hot sequences, like the APA’s dominant run that culminated in Bradshaw getting eliminated via 3D, Bubba Ray Dudley and Billy Gunn’s unlikely Doomsday Device on Jeff Hardy, and Gunn unceremoniously dumping Devon Dudley off the top rope through a table.
Part of what’s great about the three challenging teams all being longstanding ones that collaborated for periods of years was that they had their tandem offense down, resulting in any number of entertaining double-team spots. That said, the eliminations were too fast to take them all that seriously and took too long to keep the spectators on the edge of their seats, making for a middling outcome.
Random thought that occurred to me whilst re-watching this one—Jeff Hardy may be the biggest star to have wrestled in five or more ‘Manias and to have never actually won a match at Wrestlemania.
154. Don Muraco vs. Ted Dibiase at Wrestlemania 4 Short as it was, the guys cut a pretty wicked pace, with Muraco getting the jump on Dibiase as he climbed in the ring and controlling most of the match before Dibiase took over and eventually nailed him with a stun gun to pick up the pin. As is the case for so much of Wrestlemania 4, this was abbreviated tournament fodder, but props to the men involved for giving the fans all they had for five minutes.
153. Sabu, The Sandman, Tommy Dreamer, and Rob Van Dam vs. Elijah Burke, Matt Striker, Kevin Thorn, and Marcus Cor Von at Wrestlemania 23 In its dying days, WCW ran the rather uncomfortable angle of The New Blood vs. The Millionaire’s Club in which a heel stable of up and comers challenged a face grouping of long-time main event talents. A part of what was fundamentally flawed about this match was that the fans were getting sick of the supposed heroes and were primed to cheer the bad guys—and when you think about the long-term well being of the company, wouldn’t you want the fans behind your younger talent?
This Wrestlemania 23 represents a very similar storyline with much lower stakes and much better storytelling. Yes, the old guys are still playing face, but there are fundamental differences at hand, as the good guys weren’t over-exposed, tired main eventers, but rather a crew of cult heroes who represented the original ECW that so many fans hungered for, squaring off against a crew of young heels of dubious merits.
While it’s very arguable that the ECW New Breed should have won this match (and that their failure to do so undermined their ability to ever really get over) there’s also something to be said for delivering a nostalgia moment at ‘Mania. Watching Dreamer play face in peril, Sabu and Sandman attack with reckless abandon, and RVD score the in via Five Star Frog Splash just felt right, offering up one of the brighter spots in the less than celebrated story of WWECW.
152. The Undertaker vs. Mark Henry at Wrestlemania 22 Casket Match Fun facts I realized/researched whilst rewatching this match: amidst Undertaker’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania, he has faced seventeen distinct opponents to date. Of his ‘Mania storylines, Undertaker had three world title matches (against Sid, Batista, and Edge) and four feuds at least partially rooted in his opponent costing him the world title (Diesel, Triple H, Mark Henry, Shawn Michaels). While I thought the percentage was more overwhelming when I first looked into it, it’s still pretty impressive that seven of the guys he feuded with ‘Mania over the last two decades were related to ‘Taker being in the main event or just missing it (and the stat is marginally skewed by The Dead Man becoming such a part-time performer over the last four years and being a part of one tag match); all the more so because the first instance came up in 1996, the most recent in 2010—a lengthy period of time to spend at or toward the top of the card.
Nerdy stats aside, this was an outlier as a pretty blah match amidst the mostly epic latter half of The Streak (to date). Henry hadn’t yet truly harnessed the badass character he would take command of about four years later, and ‘Taker didn’t do much to write home about until the closing sequence when, to his credit, he merged power and agility to pretty remarkable effect—power bombing Henry, then hitting him with a hands-free diving plancha over the top rope and over the casket, then Tombstoning him in the middle of the ring before shoving The World’s Strongest Man into the casket for the win.
151. Chavo Guerrero vs. Ultimo Dragon vs. Shannon Moore vs. Jamie Noble vs. Funaki vs. Nunzio vs. Billy Kidman vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Tajiri vs. Akio at Wrestlemania 20 Cruiserweight Open Match for the Cruiserweight Championship This was a ten-man gauntlet match of lightweight stars. The concept was fun, though it also kind of reeked of squeezing as many people onto the Wrestlemania card as possible, and it was a pretty shoddy use of a star as bright as Rey Mysterio. At this point, WWE still seemed stuck in the line of thought that Rey-Rey could only be competitive among lightweights, and thus kept him from ascending the card).
The action was crisp. Dragon’s offense was on fire and Shannon Moore sold it perfectly in the opening. One of the drawbacks of the gauntlet format is that it all but necessitates quick falls, which inevitably sells many of the performers short. Such was the plight of Dragon, tapping out quick to Jamie Noble’s guillotine, and Funaki who fell victim to a small package less than five minutes after entering the match. If this match had to to have this format, I kind of wish they had cut the roster to six or so. Nothing against Nunzio or Funaki, but neither offer much besides helping push Noble (side note: one of the benefits of the gauntlet format is that it allows for more than one guy to come across well—a winner as well as one or two guys who get extended runs in the match). For the record, I’d probably drop Akio and Moore as well if we were trimming.
Billy Kidman earned the spot of the match superlative with a springboard shooting star press off the top rope to the outside on Noble and the already eliminated Nunzio. Mysterio and Kidman got a nice run with one another, indicative of their background collaborating in the ring since their WCW days. Tajiri and Mysterio get some fun spots as well, particularly Mysterio dropkicking him in the back to break up the would-be handspring elbow.
But in the end, this one was all about the predictable final twosome of reigning champ Chavo Guerrero vs. challenger Rey Mysterio. WWE was ultimately very fair to most of the best workers who transitioned over from WCW—Mysterio, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho, Booker T, to name a few. I always felt that Chavo got the short end of the stick on that one. Though he enjoyed a lengthy tenure with WWE, in a completely just wrestling world, he probably would have had at least a brief main event run. That said, at least he can claim to have scored a win over Mysterio (and technically eight others) in this ‘Mania match, retaining his title when his father added some leverage to afford him the cheap, final pinfall.
150. Demolition vs. The Powers of Pain and Mr. Fuji at Wrestlemania 5 Tag Team Championship Match The storyline heading into this match was that Mr. Fuji managed Demolition, and double crossed them in favor of his new clients, The Barbarian and The Warlord. Demolition wanted revenge on all three, and in a move of great kayfabe intelligence, recognized Fuji was more of a detriment to his own team as an active participant in the match, as opposed to meddling illegally as a manager.
Demolition delivered its standard brand of bludgeoning power offense in the early going. No, they’re not as physically impressive to look at as The Powers of Pain, much less The Road Warriors (off of whom each team was patterned) but they were probably the sleekest team of their mold in this era. The match was, predictably, more plodding when the heels were in control. Smash ran wild off the hot tag, and it’s sort of a shame to think this guy’s talent was wasted in later years on gimmicks like Repo Man and the Blacktop Bully. The match culminated in Mr. Fuji accidentally throwing salt into Warlord’s eyes (you’d think he’d learn the lesson not to do that here, rather than repeating it four years later at Wrestlemania 9 (see 211) leaving him without anyone to defend him against a Demolition Decapitation to finish the match.
149. Randy Orton vs. Kane at Wrestlemania 28 This match was more or less the definition of upper mid-card filler—two fringe main event guys without meaningful storylines, thrown into a short-term feud for the sake of getting them on the card. Kane was about six months away from his brief career resurgence teaming with Daniel Bryan, and Orton was at his good guy blandest, long due for a heel turn that wouldn’t come for another year and half.
The match itself was OK—error free and short enough not to get boring despite doing the bare minimum to generate any crowd interest. The match benefited from a surprise finish with Kane pulling off the clean upset with a neat little second rope chokeslam. On the down side, that victory had little rhyme, reason, or long-term effect, given that Orton won all of the rematches to reassert his higher place on the card.
148. Ricky Steamboat vs. Hercules at Wrestlemania 2 Steamboat was one of the best of all-time and big Herc more or less held up his end of the bargain here, though the match got bogged down in rest holds a little too long for my tastes. Nonetheless a few cool power moves from Hercules and a few electrifying sequences out of Steamboat made it one of the top bouts to come out of dismal Wrestlemania 2.
147. The New Blackjacks vs. Dough Furnas and Phil Lafon vs. The Headbangers vs. The Godwinns at Wrestlemania 13 Four-Team Elimination Tag Team Match In a broader historical context, The New Blackjacks were the most interesting team in play—former NWA champ Barry Windham teaming with future WWE champ Bradshaw (later JBL). Everyone else pretty much reached the middling peak of his career in the team at hand.
The psychology of this match was better on point than the four-ways at Wrestlemania 20 for being contested under elimination rules, making it far less of a mess to explain someone not breaking up every pin attempt. The Blackjacks took a cheap DQ elimination to both get them out of the way and protect them as a property, while Furnas and Lafon were quietly counted out so the match could narrow to a straight tag between The Godwinns and Headbangers. Part of what you have to miss about the tag team division in the Attitude Era was the distinct, diverse personalities it featured—exemplified here. Everybody involved was a big guy, but the country boys play the power game against the impressive aerial assault of Mosh and Thrash, who ultimately picked up the big win.
146. Brutus Beefcake vs. Mr. Perfect at Wrestlemania 6 Curt Hennig was one of the great sellers in wrestling history, and matches like this really highlight that skill, as he makes one hundred percent of Brutus Beefcake’s power offense look deadly.
Mr. Perfect was also very good on heel offense, alternating between impressive maneuvers like his trademark flip over neck snap, and repeatedly slapping his opponent in the face. It’s that over-confidence that ultimately spelled his undoing when Beefcake swept his legs and slingshotted him into the ring post to KO Perfect for the pinfall.
145. Hardcore Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 16 Hardcore Championship Match If you dig incoherent brawls, this might be your bag. Otherwise, it’s a middling point for the Hardcore strap.
Little Crash Holly emerged as the unlikely definitive champ for the hardcore division, consistently finding ways to escape with his title, and regain it in short order when he dropped it. In this case, the odds seemed insurmountable, putting him head to head in a falls count anywhere, anything goes donnybrook with a roster including his storyline cousin Hardcore Holly, 500-pound Viscera, bad ass Tazz, and the 3-man unit of The Mean Street Posse.
The match may be most notable for its odd finish, which most parties report was botched. Hardcore Holly pinned Crash Holly at the last second and folks say time was supposed to expire before the 3-count. The time was off, though, and the ref had an extra second to count three—only to pull up his count short, ostensibly due to a phantom kick out. Crash Holly left with the belt. After some hesitation, the ring announcer proclaimed Hardcore Holly the winner. The ref seemed unsure whom to award the match to and ultimately went with the ring announcer’s decision. I give the guys credit for a reasonably fun, intense fight, but a lot of that good will got squandered by the funky finish.
144. John Morrison, Trish Stratus, and Snooki vs. Dolph Ziggler, Michelle McCool, and Layla at Wrestlemania 27 Bringing in celebrities to perform in pro wrestling matches is nothing new. Some celebs have been obvious picks—Karl Malone, Dennis Rodman, Kevin Greene, Floyd Mayweather, Mr. T; some have been less obvious—David Arquette, Jay Leno, Kevin Federline, Maria Menounos. There may be no guest celebrity more absurd at first blush than Snooki. And yet, not far removed from the peak of her Jersey Shore fame, Snooki stepped in the ring at the biggest show of the year.
The match was short and, frankly, brilliantly booked. Stratus carried the lion’s share of the workload for her team. Morrison got his moment of glory with split leg, corkscrew moonsault outside the ringtonto Ziggler, and Snooki—yes, Snooki—picked up the win in shockingly athletic fashion, converting a cartwheel from her cheerleading days into a halfway decent handspring elbow, before flipping again into a splash to pick up the pin.
143. Chris Benoit vs. JBL at Wrestlemania 22 United States Championship Match In this match, you have a guy who won his only world title in WWE two years earlier against a man who lost his only world title one year earlier, competing for a secondary title. It sounds pretty good on paper and the match certainly wasn’t bad, with Benoit bringing his trademark intensity and JBL working his quasi-stiff bastard quasi-chickenshit heel part. Each of these men were kinda sorta above the US Championship at this point and still performed like main eventers (albeit with the limitations of a mid-carderly ten minutes to work with).
I wish that JBL hadn’t felt compelled to play the mock-Eddie-Guerrero heat card, but it was what it was. That faux pas aside, this was a fairly stiff encounter, which ended with a cool enough little counter as JBL rolled up Benoit out of a Crippler Crossface (and grabbed the ropes just to be dick).
142. Santino Marella, R-Truth, Zack Ryder, The Great Khali, Booker T, and Kofi Kingston vs. David Otunga, Mark Henry, The Miz, Dolph Ziggler, Jack Swagger, and Drew McIntyre Twelve-Man Tag Team Match To Determine the General Manager of the Raw and Smackdown BrandsTag team matches of this size are rarely all that good, but from an in-ring perspective, I feel this one was perfectly serviceable. From a more historical perspective, I have more mixed feelings about the match’s kayfabe stakes and its real-life implications.
In 2002, WWE instituted the brand split through which, in the absence of any real competition, WWE would maintain two distinct rosters—Raw and Smackdown—that would tour separately, have their own weekly shows and monthly PPVs and only crossover at major events and annual draft days when the rosters were shuffled.
Fast forward ten years and the split had broken down considerably with talents appearing across shows with very little rhyme or reason. Little by little, things had evolved to the point that the brands were negligible. Whereas brand pride had hitherto been motivation enough for large scale tag team war, here, wrestlers transcended brand lines in favor of face-heel alignment to back John Laurinaitis or Teddy Long, with the winning team’s GM becoming the master of both brands, one of the final nails in the coffin of the overall brand split.
Lots of people blasted the split from its inception as a mode of creating artificial competition and a boneheaded choice to keep stars separate, thus depriving the fans of dream matches for no clear reason. Personally, I liked the brand split concept for the opportunity to feature more performers and to still build to dream matches by having a reason not to exhaust permutations on feuds, holding off on key match ups until there were crossover PPVs or someone got drafted to a new show.
But I digress. By the time this match happened it was more symbolic than impactful as it pertained to the changing times. The match itself, as mid-card fodder to squeeze fourteen guys and a bevy of sidekicks onto the Wrestlemania card, was effective enough. The match was almost too diplomatic with few of the guys spending much time in the ring in favor of each guy getting s a spot or two in. Kofi Kingston and R-Truth probably get the best of it, not for ring time, but rather for pulling off a swank double somersault plancha spot.
For better or worse, the guy I always remember best in this match is Zack Ryder. As white hot as this guy was based on his own guerrilla Internet marketing, and coming off a big US title win at the end of 2011, his stock plunged from there and to date of this—his only ‘Mania appearance. Ryder didsn’t get in the ring until the closing minute or so of the match, proceeded to run roughshod over the heels for about forty-five seconds—then his on-air girlfriend Eve Torres “inadvertently” distracted him, allowing The Miz to steal the pin. The aftermath of this match may have been the most the poetic part, representative of WWE’s treatment of Ryder as, after taking the pin, Torres kicked him in the balls and left him for dead, completing her slow burn heel turn and leaving Ryder to fester at the bottom of the card.
141. Chyna and Too Cool vs. Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn at Wrestlemania 16 This match was all about Chyna giving sleazy womanizer Eddie Guerrero his comeuppance. The WWF wisely booked the match as six-person tag, which both squeezed additional faces on the card, and spread the workload to protect Chyna’s lack of skill from getting over-exposed (though she still botched the finishing sequence, losing control of a powerbomb on Guerrero).
The story behind the story here was that you have two of the greatest workers of their era (Guerrero and Malenko) and a highly able Saturn teamed against a female bodybuilder and a comedy tag team—and they lost. A strange, if not unexpected outcome, and it was a fun enough mid-card match along the way.
140. Rikishi and Kane vs. X-Pac and Road Dogg at Wrestlemania 16 Oh how the mighty had fallen. With Shawn Michaels temporarily retired, Triple H having joined the corporate establishment, and even Billy Gunn striking out on his own, X-Pac and Road Dogg teamed up as the last vestiges of a once-proud Degeneration-X stable.
Like a number of matches at Wrestlemania 16 (the only ‘Mania not to have even a single one-on-one match) this encounter was all about mashing up a high profile feud with with surrounding performers to get more people on the big show within tight time constraints.
In the lead up to Wrestlemania, X-Pac had befriended Kane and hooked him up with his first girlfriend, Tori—only for X-Pac to ultimately turn on his big buddy and steal that girlfriend. Thus, the story here was Kane stalking after X-Pac and Tori while Rikishi did his best impression of one of those big inflatable punching bags they make for kids—taking a ton of hits per minute in this match but refusing to stay down for any period of time.
Kane attained his revenge by setting up Rikishing to give Tori the stinkface (very literally, rubbing his butt in her face), then tombstoning X-Pac for the win. The match seemed oddly abbreviated, though, after the final bell rang it became apparent why. They needed to save time for Kane to carry on his Wrestlemania tradition of pummeling Pete Rose—and time for Too Cool to return to the ring and have a dance party with Rikishi. The Pete Rose bit was harmless running gag. The dancing part—I wish I was making this stuff up.
139. Kane vs. Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 18 Kane found himself in a familiar role at this ‘Mania as a big upper card obstacle to occupy a more major star with nothing better to do come ‘Mania season. You could argue he served the same function for Triple H, The Great Khali, and Randy Orton over the years. This was arguably the best of such outings from an in-ring perspective, as Kane looked motivated and Angle was his typical wrestling machine self, exploding with suplexes galore, and a fun spot in which he pulled loose Kane’s mask to escape peril and deliver an Angle Slam. The match ended with Angle countering a chokeslam into a swank pinning predicament (with his feet on the rope for good heel measure).
138. Davey Boy Smith vs. The Warlord at Wrestlemania 7 This was essentially Haynes-Hercules four years later, with The British Bulldog a bit more polished version of Haynes who used a fan-friendly running powerslam for his finisher and The Warlord—well, memorable metallic ring gear aside, he was basically the same wrestler as Hercules, and built his offense around the same full nelson finisher.
The key elements to set this match, apart from its spiritual forefather all came in the end game—that Smith manned the f up and powered out of the full nelson to a very good fan reaction and followed it up with the power slam for the decisive victory. Bulldog progressed to the Intercontinental title scene that summer, and graduated to fringe main event guy in the years to follow (both in WWF and WCW). Warlord lingered in the mid-card for a few weeks before his WWF contract quietly expired. He’d make a few scattershot appearances for WCW in the years to follow but this match arguably marked the peak of his career.
137. Triple H vs. Randy Orton at Wrestlemania 25 WWE Championship Match Man, I loved the build for this match.
Man, I was disappointed with the match itself.
In a rare booking move, WWE didn’t run from its past, but rather embraced it, taking on the last five years of history between these men, setting up Orton as a completely justifiable villain, out for revenge against the guy who screwed him out of his very first world title by betraying him back in 2004. Orton went on a tear, assaulting Triple H’s father-in-law (Vince McMahon), brother-in-law (Shane McMahons), and wife (Stephanie McMahon). Triple H, in turn, snapped and paid Orton a home visit to beat the ever-loving crap out of him.
Six days before ‘Mania, the McMahons returned and joined Triple H in brawling with Orton and his flunkies, Cody Rhodes and Ted Dibiase for what I would argue was one of the top ten most electric moments in Monday Night Raw history. So, the stage was set for a brutal grudge match, probably with more than a hint of sports entertainment, courtesy of interference from each man’s allies.
This match saw no interference. Moreover, it was handicapped by the strangely booked stipulation that if Triple H was disqualified he would lose his title, thus neutering what the brawl might have been.
The match did have its bright spots. There was the unconventional choice for each man to stun the other with his finisher in the opening minutes, and a righteously pissed off Triple H is inherently fun to a certain extent. It’s just that the epic quality of this match—befitting the Wrestlemania 25 main event never really arrived.
There was some poetry to the match. The overarching theme that ‘Orton has taken everything from Triple H, and the only thing left is the title.’ Orton attempting to attack with Triple H’s signature weapon, the sledgehammer. Triple H using one of Orton’s signature moves—a punt to the head—to counter. Triple H finishing of Orton not with a flashy reversal, but rather by hitting him with the sledgehammer, punching him into oblivion, and tacking on a spiteful Pedigree, just for kicks.
The match was fine—I just wish it had been great.
136. Kane vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 15 While Kane was still a monster at this point, he wasn’t as indestructible as he was a year earlier in his monster war with Undertaker. He was starting to show signs of humanity via a maybe-friendship, maybe-romantic interest in Chyna, who he accidentally blinded with a fireball in the lead up to this match. Meanwhile, Triple H entered this match as a plucky face who went on the offense early and with a flurry to keep his bigger rival on his heels in the early going. Kane returned the beating, bludgeoning Trips with fast-paced brawling offense.
Heel Chyna showed up at ringside late in the game to take apart the ring steps, which Triple H ended up using amidst his comeback. Soon enough, it became clear Chyna actually arrived in the interest of helping Triple H. Though her interference ultimately got Trips disqualified, the two collaborated to KO Kane after a series of chairshots and pedigree on a chair.
This match was fairly forgettable and kind of illogical in a vacuum (particularly for the fact that Triple H wrestled a lot like a heel; Kane a lot like a face). It’s rather brilliant in the bigger picture of this, the most cohesive of all Wrestlemanias, when it became clear Triple H and Chyna were aligned, but not under the face DX banner, but rather as new key players in The Corporation, filling the void Big Show and Kane would leave that very night. Furthermore, the succession plan was in place—before long, Rock would turn and leave the Corporation and Triple was primed to ascened to the main event level and take his spot.
135. Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna at Wrestlemania 10 Some folks actually like this match more than the Wrestlemania 9 encounter between the two. I’ll give them that the ending is far more satisfying, but I never much cared for the match itself. This was one of a handful of instances in which Bret Hart’s believability and commitment to his selling were actually detriments to match. Over the course of the match, he sold a bad leg and fatigue from his earlier match with his brother Owen, making him sluggish and capable of little offense. Meanwhile, Yokozuna appeared to be legitimately blown up from already wrestling Lex Luger earlier in the night, and couldn’t mount much more than rest hold offense. The result was a relative snore of a ten-minute match, which ended in realistic, if puzzling fashion, as Yokozuna lost his balance and fell off the ropes, allowing Hart to steal the pin. Yes, this was one of the more realistic ways in which an injured Hart could win the match clean. No, it did not instill much confidence in Hart as a champion that he could only win when his opponent slipped and fell over to knock himself out.
On the more positive side, the post-match offered up one of Wrestlemania’s more fun celebrations with Luger shaking Hart’s hand to formally pass the top face torch, and a stream of other good guys filling the ring to congratulate The Hitman and lift him up on their shoulders to celebrate the win—only for Hart’s own brother to stand on the ramp and sneer, further establishing their world title feud to come.
134. X-Pac vs. Shane McMahon at Wrestlemania 15 European Championship Match There was a half-hearted effort to sell this match as class warfare between silver spoon Shane McMahon and street tough X-Pac. I’m not sure I altogether buy that, but regardless of that dubious dynamic, there was a good story of X-Pac battling the odds, with McMahon having The Stooges, Test, and The Mean Street Posse on his side to short circuit X-Pac’s momentum. McMahon hadn’t quite come into his own as worker yet here, but he was enthusiastic, at least, and played chickenshit heel pretty well. In an alternate universe, I imagine Shane and his dad could have been a pretty solid mid-card comedy heel team (of course, in our reality, they performed at the main event level with more dubious results).
In the end, though, this match was most noteworthy and best remembered for the continuation of the Triple H-Chyna angle earlier in the show, in which Chyna seemingly came home to DX. In reality, the twosome revealed themselves to be aligned with the McMahons as part of The Corporation, turning their backs on poor X-Pac so Shane could retain his title.
133. The Allied Powers vs. The Blu Brothers at Wrestlemania 11 The Blu Brothers were Ron and Don Harris, who would shave their heads to later be a part of Crush’s biker gang The Disciples of Apocalypse, and later still donned suits to serve as a bad ass pair of enforcers to back up Jeff Jarrett in one of the final incarnations of the NWO in WCW. Mind you, they weren’t especially good, as their in-ring ability actually seemed to deteriorate with more experience, but at least they looked formidable at these later point in their careers. At this stage, they were cast as shaggy, bearded mountain men—not exactly their best look.
The Allied Powers were all-American Lex Luger in his final big appearance for WWF, teaming with The British Bulldog, Davey Boy Smith. Luger and Smith had potential as an upper tier tag team had Luger not slipped off in the night to join WCW. There was also that awkward bit about the fans constantly chanting USA despite Smith’s identity—in a good bit of continuity, he would use that as fodder for his heel turn a little ways down the road.
In any event, this was a solid enough tag match with Luger and Smith running most of the offense off power moves and The Blus gaining what advantage they could get via illegal twin switching behind the referee’s back since he couldn’t tell them apart. Luger got the hot tag after Bulldog’s brief heat segment. There was actually a pretty nifty finish on this one with one of the Blus trying to piledrive Luger, and Smith tagging in and pinning him off a top rope sunset flip. It’s too bad the match didn’t have longer term implications—a feud between The Allied Powers and the newly formed tag champs, Owen Hart and Yokozuna, probably would have been fun.
132. Chris Benoit vs. MVP at Wrestlemania 23 United States Championship This was a soundly executed little piece of business, focusing on the story of up and comer MVP having a clever counter for every maneuver grizzled veteran Chris Benoit threw at him. The match seemed primed to be MVP’s moment of ascension up the card, a young stud winning his first championship on the biggest stage possible. Instead, an otherwise sharp match ended out of nowhere via Benoit’s flying headbutt from the top rope—a fine enough finish, except for the fact that Benoit routinely used that same maneuver as a set up move , scarcely a finisher, thus giving the end of the match an anticlimactic feel.
131. Tito Santana and Junkyard Dog vs. Terry and Hoss Funk at Wrestlemania 2 It’s strange to think that the heel Funk Brothers were each at this point former NWA World champions. For all their madness and brutality, the Funks never had the look to match the WWF main event scene. Another bit of trivia worth noting: Terry Funk was already a twenty-year pro wrestling veteran at this point, but only at the mid-point of his career, as he remained consistently active for a little over 40 years.
One of the strange parts of the match was just how much of it went down outside the ring. The opening sequences saw the faces battering the heels and repeatedly knocking them to the outside. Later, the Funks tossed Tito between the ropes so Jimmy Hart could kick him, which feels like cheating for the sake of cheating because surely the Funks could deliver more impactful punishment than their 120-pound manager. Some good tag team work with the Funks isolating Santana for the heat segment, and a fun sequence leading up to the hot tag in which Santana scrambled on the mat, and Terry chased him as if he were scrambling after a chicken as part of his training regimen—that spot would probably stil hold up in 2014 and it’s funny that I don’t recall seeing it anytime else. Cheap finish in which Jimmy Hart’s megaphone was the implement of victory, capping off a decent effort.
130. Randy Orton vs. Cody Rhodes vs. Ted Dibiase Jr. at Wrestlemania 26 You have to assume that this match didn’t go down the way it was supposed to.
Randy Orton arrived as a superstar when he fell under the tutelage of Ric Flair and Triple H in the Evolution faction. Five years later, he assembled his own heel stable under the banner of Legacy, featuring himself as a main event player and a crew of young studs who were also second- or third-generation wrestlers. Over a year and a half, the group roster varied a bit, but more often than not it was the trio of Orton, Rhodes, and Dibiase that stood together.
Accordingly, Rhodes and Dibiase did enjoy some upward mobility, going so far as to enjoy a submission victory over Shawn Michaels and Triple H in the autumn of 2009. From there, WWE planted the seeds of dissension. A split among the three became evident, with all indications that at least one of the youngsters—probably Dibiase—would break out as a good guy star.
But the fans hijacked the story. While he was supposed to be reviled, Orton played a compelling enough villain to get some of the biggest cheers of his career. And so, rather than serving as the imposing presence for a new hero to overcome, he instead became the hero for the culminating Wrestlemania triple threat—simultaneously the odds-on favorite and the storyline underdog (theoretically, Rhodes and Dibiase would work together to take him out).
The resulting match was competently executed, if unremarkable. Orton got the win that did less to build him than it did to bury his protégés. Dibiase would never quite recover and ended up leaving WWE three years later. Rhodes did a bit better, but arguably didn’t get back to the upper card until his face turn in the summer of 2013. Orton enjoyed the status quo, rotating in and out of the main event picture straight through present day.
129. The Rockers vs. The Orient Express at Wrestlemania 6 Yes, The Rockers were one of the best in-ring teams in WWF history, but their matches were even better when they worked against teams of similar size and work rate, both for the interesting, fast-paced action and the believability of them dominating much of the offense in the match (contrast this with Rockers-Twin Towers at Wrestlemania 5 (see 68), in which the combined weight of Michaels and Jannetty was approximately the same as One Man Gang alone).
There’s really no weak link in this match with each Orient Express member demonstrating good aerial skills and brawling and The Rockers just plain clicking on all cylinders. Had the match gone fifteen minutes rather than seven-and-a-half, and ended in more decisive fashion than Jannetty getting counted out after he got salt thrown in his eyes, it would likely land in the top fifty of this countdown. As it stands, it was an excellent little exhibition.
128. Chris Jericho vs. Fandango at Wrestlemania 29 In the modern era, this was a pretty strange choice for a Wrestlemania bout. Jericho, yes, should be a lock for the ‘Mania card if he’s on the roster. But then there’s Fandango—freshly called up from developmental with a very 1990s-WWF-style gimmick of a ballroom dancer; the sort of gimmick that, even then, seemed destined for nothing greater than mid-card ambitions.
That said, there is a logic to booking this match for Wrestlemania. Fandango got a spectacular entrance amidst a sea of ballroom dancers. Jericho was just the veteran to help get a new talent over (as he described quite well in a post-‘Mania interview, there are challenges to getting the fans invested in a wrestler for whom the they don’t know any signature spots to look forward to, and Jericho was clever in getting the fans interested, and familiarizing them with enough of Fandango’s repertoire before the match and in the early going to set up the late stages). Then there was the match itself—unremarkable, but far from bad, and quite arguably even good. Better yet, the ‘Mania crowd bought into Fandango in unexpected ways, starting to sing along to his music in a trend that would only intensify on the following night’s Raw, and carry on for a couple weeks after, creating the perception that the Fandango character may actually be a main event player.
Of course, within three months, Fandango was squarely in the mid-card where he probably belonged all along, and Jericho was on another hiatus from wrestling, thus the long term impact of the match was difficult to celebrate. Just the same, it was a fun enough stand-alone outing.
127. Ken Shamrock vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania 14 Intercontinental Championship Match This was a pretty strange match to watch in historical context. Both men were on the rise at this point, but Ken Shamrock was an absolute beast relative to Rock’s cowardly heel act. Rock had his moments in this match, but by and large this is a squash in Shamrock’s favor. Fortunately, Shamrock was a lot of fun to watch, so, despite the one-sided nature the match, it was pretty darn entertaining. In the aftermath of the match, Shamrock disposed of members of the Nation of Domination one by one before reapplying the ankle lock on Rock until he was retroactively disqualified. Nation of Domination leader Faarooq ran down the aisle, but, emblematic of his dissension with Rock at the time, didn’t help his young upstart stablemate, but rather gives him the finger and walked away.
Shamrock would turn heel and be more or less neutered over the year to follow. Rock would compete in World Championships at the next three ‘Manias.
126. The Ultimate Warrior vs. Rick Rude at Wrestlemania 5 Intercontinental Championship Match You have to feel for Rick Rude here, playing David to Warrior’s Goliath, though he was really not much smaller than Warrior—just more agile and wiling to sell. Odd face-heel dynamic as Warrior dominated the bulk of the match with Rude finding cunning counters and escapes, and moving on to hit much more interesting offense when he got in control. One of Rude’s great heel mannerisms was his tendency to stop, pose, and swivel his hips seductively—it was a wonderful touch to watch him do so, then stop mid-motion to sell the pain in his back and ribs. It’s unfortunate that that great comedic work may well be what kept him from being taken seriously enough to ever get a long-term main event push in the WWF.
The end of the match was somewhat iconic, if cheap, with Warrior going for a suplex only for Heenan to trip him and hold down his legs while Rude stole the pin. From a historical perspective, the best part of the match may be that it planted the seeds for the guys to feud again when Warrior was world champ, since Rude could earnestly claim to be the man who beat Warrior to end his very first title reign in the WWF.
125. Steve Austin vs. Scott Hall at Wrestlemania 18 Had this match happened eight-to-ten years earlier, Hall (then Razor Ramon) would have seemed like too big of a star to be taking on “Stunning” Steve Austin. Had it happened five years earlier, quite arguably at the peak of each man’s career, it would have been a pretty irresistible main event. By 2002, the tables had turned yet again. As much as Scott Hall is a legend in his own right, he was not in Stone Cold’s league at this point. There’s an awkward air about this match in that both Steve Austin and The Rock were natural opponents for Hulk Hogan, and the other guy was going to get stuck in this sort of scenario. While I do feel Rock was the more natural guy to match up with Hogan, and hence the right choice, it’s still a shame that this was the outcome.
The match itself was all right—just not up to the caliber of what you’d expect from Austin in this era, or even Hall. It was an entertaining enough brawl with Austin running most of the offense, and Kevin Nash playing equalizer/enforcer to back up Hall. The match culminated in Nash taking out the referee so he and Hall could double team Austin—only for Austin to make his own save and take apart both of The Outsiders at the same time.
124. The Gimmick Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 17 A wrestling classic this was not, but rarely has WWE created a more fun and entertaining little romp—sold, built, and delivered purely on nostalgia. In dying days of the Attitude Era, WWE amassed an eclectic group of alumni, many playing their most absurd characters, for an over the top rope battle royal. The Iron Sheik took the victory—which, at first blush, may not seem so odd given he was a former world title holder and one of the few guys involved who was ever a legit main eventer. Popular mythology has it that the truest reason for Sheik’s win, though, was that his body was in rough enough shape that he could not withstand a fall from over the top rope to the arena floor—thus Occam’s razor dictated that he should be the one man not to take such a bump—the winner of the match.
123. Ricky Steamboat, Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 25 Elimination Handicap Match A couple unique bits of personal history about this match: one day before it happened, I got to meet Roddy Piper and wish him luck for this match. No, really:
Two years later, I met Chris Jericho, and specifically recalled this match when I chatted with him. No, really:
You can read the story of that encounter here.
Popular theory is that this match was supposed to be Chris Jericho versus Mickey Rourke on the heels of The Wrestler, but Rourke’s people wouldn’t let him go through ith it, so three legit wrestling legends stood in the movie star’s place, with Ric Flair in their corner. The match was a huge testament to Jericho’s ability. Piper and Jimmy Snuka looked in darn rough shape but Y2J sold for them like a champ and worked safely with the old timers to put them away without incident via a Walls of Jericho submission and and an enzuguri pinfall.
But then there was Ricky Steamboat.
The Dragon looked sharp his first time in the ring, but his second time was even better, starting with a slick crossbody block off the top rope, then getting slung over the top rope only to come back over and knock Jericho from the ring—and follow it up with a plancha! He chased that sequence with a karate chop off the top rope. I don’t know that any wrestler has ever been more deserving of a “he’s still got it” chant than Steamboat here, fifty-seven years old and fifteen years retired. Steamboat ultimately succumbed to a Codebreaker for Jericho to get the win he richly deserved.
Post-match, Jericho took out Flair, too, then challenged Rourke to come to the ring for a fight. True to form, Rourke emerged from the crowd and punked out Y2J.
The happiest return of this match was in the weeks to follow. The next night, Steamboat would perform brilliantly as part of a ten-man tag match on Raw, and a few weeks after that, he’d go one-on-one with Jericho in a more than worthy sequel to their ‘Mania encounter.
122. Test vs. Eddie Guerrero at Wrestlemania 17 European Championship Match This was a pretty shrewd pairing, with Eddie Guerrero as a top-rate mechanic, and Test as a young stud on the rise. Guerrero, would, of course, go on to prove himself as a main event player a few years down the road, and Test was an above average worker in his own right at the time. The resulting match was a fun sprint in which Test got in plenty of heavy artillery early on, Guerrero literally worked around the big guy, and the match ultimately worked out to a matter of numbers as Guerrero’s Radicalz pals, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko complicated things nicely for Guerrero to ultimately steal a pin off of a belt shot. It’s easy to downplay this match based on the outside interference that shaped it’s conclusion, but I’d argue that this was more a match in the style of the modern-day Shield in which the way multiple talents work together so fluidly, which such tremendous chemistry, is a joy to watch in its own right.
121. Taka Michinoku vs. Aguila at Wrestlemania 15 Light Heavyweight Championshp Match Though WCW was better known for its lightweights during this period, when the WWF turned loose some of its international guys, the results could be pretty spectacular. These guys only got five minutes to work with, but they make sure to get all their stuff in, very much working the sort of high spot-intensive, low-psychology indy style that contemporary WWE balks at.
Aguila would later be known as Essa Rios, and his greatest claim to fame for American werstling fans is introducing Lita as his valet, who went on to be a much bigger star than him as a wrestler in her own right, and seconding the Hardy Boys and later Edge. Michinoku was most famous for his work as half of the Kai En Tai tag team with Sho Funaki, at which time the guys were most notable for delivering extended promos, badly lip-synced into English, to say “Indeed.”
Anyway, for such a short encounter, this one included some interesting bits. I’d argue Aguila’s high-arching top rope moonsault to the outside was the greatest moonsault in Wrestlemania history, and the guy offered up a swank corkscrew plancha to boot. Just the same, he also executed spots like a corkscrew top-rope wristlock takeover which was absurdly flashy for such a low-level piece of offense. In any event, Michinoku ultimately snags the decisive victory, courtesy of the Michinoku Driver—an oft-forgotten doozey of a finisher from this period.
120. Triple H vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 18 World championship Match This probably should have been a crowning moment in Chris Jericho’s career—on last and defending the unified world title at Wrestlemania (not to mention in front of a Canadian crowd). While it certainly was a milestone for Y2J, it’s unfortunate that Jericho got overshadowed in this one, acting as more of a proxy for Stephanie McMahon-Helmesley than is own man in the feud with Triple H. In addition, the match on the whole got over shadowed, appearing after Rock-Hulk Hogan—despite the equal if not greater in-ring talents of these men, this one was never going to live up to sheer crowd response of that co-main event (and to their credit, Triple H and Jericho have each said that they knew that was the case and argued to not go on last, but were ultimately compelled to do so because they had the title at stake—it wasn’t until eight years later that WWE first booked a more compelling main event to go on after the biggest title match, a convention that’s now happened twice for Michaels-Undertaker 2 and Cena-Rock 1).
In any event, this mattch itself was good, if more than a little awkward for McMahon’s involvement, taking cheap shots at her real-life husband and more than once looking to be the victim of spousal abuse at his hands—questionable behavior for a face, particularly in the aftermath of The Attitude Era when WWE was still figuring out how edgy it might be. There was a decent story throughout the match of Jericho working Triple H’s quad which Jericho real-life injured year earlier to put Triple H out of action for half a year, culminating in a Walls of Jericho spot. Triple H escaped, though, and Pedigreed both his wife and the champ to get the pin.
119. Kane vs. The Big Show vs. Raven at Wrestlemania 17 Hardcore Championship Match A part of why Wrestlemania 17 is so universally celebrated is that there was something for fans of all tastes—this bout represented the hardcore element, and was a pretty smartly constructed piece of business. Raven plays hardcore warrior who was, in this instance, in way over his head against a pair of giants. The bout features a number of clever little spots, like Raven attacking Kane before Big Show could even make his entrance, to try to get an early advantage; or Big Show attempting to lock Kane out of a fenced off area so he could get Raven one on one.
Yes, some of this bout’s big spots were pretty contrived, like Show and Kane brawling straight through a gimmicked wall or Kane kicking both of his opponents off the stage just as Show gets Raven pressed above his head. Just the same, it was a fun high-impact brawl and one of the finest chapters in the history of the Hardcore Championship.
118. Fifteen Team Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 14Winning Team Gets a Tag Team Championship Match It’s easy dismiss this match as just another battle royal, and I won’t deny that one of the biggest motivating factors in booking it was probably to squeeze all thirty guys onto the card. Just the same, it was a darn solid match in its own right—smartly booked and featuring some pretty excellent talent.
Part of the match’s success was the very nature of the Attitude Era that was just coming into bloom. Two of the defining characteristics of this wildly successful period were the presence of characters with huge personalities and totally insane brawls. Thus, a battle royal was the perfect complement for the time—chaotic by nature, and spotlighting fifteen teams, each with its own personality, thus presenting a pretty cool little time capsule of the mid to lower card at that time.
The other key to this match’s success is the mystery team and eventual winning combo: a returning Legion of Doom. Hawk and Animal showed up with new haircuts, new short tights for Animal, and perhaps most importantly, a new manager, Sunny. Sunny was one of the more awkward figures in mid-nineties WWF because she was way more over than most any man she was affiliated with, despite not having anything to contribute to in-ring action. Thus, the LOD was a near perfect team for her to saddle up with—at once offering them the new dimension of a damsel to defend, and partnering her with one of the few tag teams she couldn’t overshadow.
Like most battle royals, the match didn’t have much flow, but it’s a fun enough way to pass eight minutes.
117. Tatanka vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 9 Intercontinental Championship Match A fun tangent to start off. I met Tatanka at Chikara’s King of Trios festival a couple years back. He was very nice to me and seemed excited to talk to a fan. Amidst our conversation, he insisted that there was a movement for a rematch between he and Michaels. I’m a bit dubious about the claim, but it was nonetheless a fun talking point, and fun to revisit a ‘Mania memory with one of the participants.
Lots of folks argue that this was the best match of a weak ‘Mania—I’m partial to Steiner-Headshrinkers, Crush-Doink and Bret Hart-Yokozuna over this one, but it’s a fair enough debate. Tatanka was pretty red hot at this juncture, as the undefeated Native American warrior, and Michaels had largely grown into himself a singles performer by this point. I’d go so far as to say this was Michaels’s final Wrestlemania match that wasn’t great. That said, the match was short and didn’t establish much of a flow. Ultimately, the most memorable aspect of it was the surprise debut of Luna Vachon in Michaels’s corner, and her attacking Sherrie Martel following Tatanka’s countout victory.
116. Rob Van Dam vs. William Regal at Wrestlemania 18 Intercontinental Championship Match William Regal was playing the most cowardly of the cowardly heel incarnations of his character here. The story throughout the match was Regal attempting to run away, attempting to cheat, then running away some more—and nailing a handful of cool high impact maneuvers in between (how about that tiger bomb! That modified dragon suplex!). Rob Van Dam looks good, but something about RVD in the WWF never quite gelled for me—the character a bit sanitized, the style a wedge too slowed down and too softened to appear nearly as badass as it should. Just the same, the Five Star Frog Splash was a neat visual, as always, and the match did its job as a hot opener for the 2002 edition of ‘Mania.
115. Cactus Jack and Chainsaw Charlie vs. The New Age Outlaws at Wrestlemania 14 Dumpster Match for the Tag Team Championship As gimmick matches go, the concept wasn’t exactly inspired here—the winning team had to put both members of the opposing team into a dumpster and close the lid in what kinda sorta amounted to a glorified Casket Match. That said, the talents involved make this match well worth it’s while, with Mick Foley and Terry Funk challenging as a pair of legit hardcore wrestling legends against one of the premier tag teams of the day—The Road Dogg and Billy Gunn (who all the more remarkably reunited and won another tag team championship sixteen years after this match went down). Dogg was an iconic talker and decent brawler for his era; Gunn was a pretty remarkable physical talent whose lack of charisma never quite allowed him to reach the main event level.
There was plunder aplenty in this high caliber brawl, reaching its climax in a fun ladder spot that saw Gunn and Jack thrown in the dumpster, followed by a pretty sweet powerbomb spot though which Gunn threw Funk into the dumpster. Things came to a creative, if somewhat contrived conclusion when the prone Outlaws get loaded onto a fork lift and deposited into a second dumpster backstage.
114. Jake Roberts vs. Honky Tonk Man at Wrestlemania 3 The most memorable part of this match was, no doubt, Alice Cooper playing corner man for Roberts and ultimately assaulting Jimmy Hart with Jake’s snake.
That said, Roberts looked motivated, charging Honky Tonk Man the moment he hit the ring with a level of aggression that pretty openly said he knew he was trying to follow Savage-Steamboat and wasn’t going to be the one at fault when this match came up short. For his part, HTM delivered a perfectly serviceable comedy heel performance, spending the first half of the match running from his opponent and scoring a few bits of quality offense in the latter stages, including a stiff shot into the post outside the ring, leading up to his roll up victory, clutching the ropes because good guys didn’t lose clean much in 1987 WWF.
113. Jake Roberts vs. Rick Martel at Wrestlemania 7 Blindfold Match Plenty of fans hate this match. A handful love it. I’m pretty squarely in the middle, but err toward calling it a good one.
The story here was that Martel temporarily blinded Roberts by spraying cologne in his eyes. Thus, the two blew off their feud in a Blindfold Match in which each had his face covered in a black hood and thus couldn’t see anything. In reality, of course, each man could see through his hood, so all the blind staggering about was purely for show.
And the show was pretty good, with each of the men pointing so the crowd’s cheers could help guide him toward his opponent. There was a contrived Irish whip spot and another in which the guys backed into each other and try to charge one another only to miss wildly. Truth be told, if this match went any longer than it did, I think I’d join the chorus of haters, but at eight minutes, I feel it was just long enough to be fully realized, just short enough not to lose its novelty altogether and remain a fun spectacle match. The encounter ended predictably enough with Roberts finally catching “The Model” and laying him out with a DDT.
112. Chris Jericho vs. William Regal at Wrestlemania 17 Intercontinental Championship Match This feud was kinda sorta a mid-card reimagining of Austin-McMahon, with Regal as the heel commissioner and Jericho as the rebel face. Regal booked Jericho into handicap matches so he could get beaten down. Jericho peed in Regal’s tea when he wasn’t looking.
As cartoonish as the feud may sound, the story had the benefit of two very, very talented wrestlers working it. The resulting match saw Regal as a punshing heel, working Jericho’s shoulder to set up the Regal Stretch, and Jericho focusing on aerial offense. Swank butterfly suplex spot by Regal, and after some submission teases, Jericho finished it off with a Lionsault. Give this one another five-to-ten minutes and it probably could have approached great territory, but for as stacked as ‘Mania 17 was, you can’t exactly question it only getting seven minutes. Just the same, an excellent opener.
111. Chris Benoit and Rhyno vs. Los Guerreros vs. Team Angle at Wrestlemania 19 Tag Team Championship Match This match was the result of combining two of the best wrestlers in the world (Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero), two of the business’s top young guns (Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas) and two of very able hands (Rhyno and Chavo Guerrero) and giving them nine minutes to make their respective cases that they should be bound for bigger things. (For the record, one year later Guerrero and Benoit would each walk out of ‘Mania with world titles, and the other guys each went on to varying degrees of success.)
This match did suffer from a lack of flow and too little time to really tell a story. But then, to be fair, I’m not entirely sure how one does tell much of a coherent story in triple threat tag team rules (how do you build to a hot tag when half of the corners allow you to tag out and there are three guys waiting to break up pins and holds at any given moment?). These guys did their darnedest to make their minutes count with a lot of high impact maneuvers, crisp execution all around, gores galore, and Benjamin and Haas sneaking their way to a heelish victory.
110. Dusty Rhodes and Sapphire vs. Randy Savage and Sherrie Martel at Wrestlemania 6 Mixed Tag Team Match You have to feel for Sherrie Martel—a capable wrestler and arguably the biggest female star of her day and this was her only Wrestlemania match, much of which she spent bumping around the ring for the untrained Sapphire. That said, it was fun to see her get more physically involved in the offense against Rhodes than she ordinarily would have.
Savage-Rhodes was a compelling feud, and truth be told they probably should have had a singles match here (of about twice this length as well). That said, the men worked well together and the addition of Miss Elizabeth in the Rhodes corner added a sense of importance to the bout (besides adding some narrative coherence between Wrestlemanias 4-8). In the end, it was a fun match that probably should have meant more, but was harmless enough as it was.
109. The British Bulldogs and Tito Santana vs. The Hart Foundation and Danny Davis at Wrestlemania 3 This match featured five guys who worked exceptionally well in the tag team format, plus Danny Davis. Davis was something of a journeyman wrestler and more than a little out of place among these talents, but played his part perfectly well here. The storyline coming into the match was that Davis was a referee who demonstrated increasingly heel tendencies, culminating in costing Santana the Intercontinental Championship, after which he was banned from refereeing and became a wrestler under Jimmy Hart’s management.
This was very good formulaic tag match with brief heat segments followed by hot face comebacks. Twice, Davis seems to get his comeuppance, eating a flying forearm from Santana, then a piledriver and running powerslam courtesy of Davey Boy Smith, before he clocked Smith with Jimmy Hart’s megaphone to steal the pin. The match ended with two guys looking like stars: Davis, who had probably peaked at this very moment, and Smith, who delivered the heaviest artillery from his team and would go on to singles stardom a few years later.
108. Mankind and Vader vs. Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith at Wrestlemania 13 Tag Team Championship Match There’s a pretty impressive assemblage of talent in this off-beat heels vs. heels tag match. As a fun bit of trivia, though every man in this match was a WWF main eventer at one time or another, Mick Foley was the only one to ever win a WWF World Championship (Vader, of course, did win the top prize in WCW, and ironically spent a good portion of 1993 defending against Foley and Smith).
Probably based more on their relative size than anything else, Hart and Smith played de facto faces as Mankind and Vader took turns mauling them. Smith ultimately got a hot tag and demonstrated just how much better suited he always was to working as a face with that flurry of offense.
The subtext to this match saw Hart and Smith teasing dissension in the weeks leading up to this match, thus conventional wisdom might have seen the monster heels taking the gold off of them. WWE had bigger plans, though, for each of them as singles stars, and Hart and Smith would keep beefing without ever really splitting up, paving the way for Bret Hart to smooth over all of the family rifts in the founding of his new Hart Foundation heel stable.
Thus, this matches wrapped up with a non-finish that focused on Mankind’s brutality as he locked in the mandible claw on Smith only to for them both to get knocked out of the ring, after which Mankind reapplied the hold and kept it on, totally unconcerned about the double count out that followed.
107. John Cena vs. Edge vs. The Big Show at Wrestlemania 25 World Heavyweight Championship In the months leading up to Wrestlemania 25, it was difficult to peg what the main event scene was going to look like—Edge seemed headed for a perfectly fine if uninspired showdown with Triple H over the WWE Championship, and World Heavyweight Champion John Cena looked somewhat directionless.
Then everything changed. Edge lost his title in the opening match of the No Way Out PPV, then inserted himself in the main event Elimination Chamber match to steal the Cena’s belt.
All of a sudden Cena and Edge were on a collision course, and Randy Orton-Triple H was cemented as the other title feud. Cena-Edge made sense for ‘Mania 25—a clash of two long-time and entertaining rivals, each revisiting his best feud up to that point on the biggest stage possible.
Then WWE added Big Show.
Granted, Show didn’t have anything better to do, and he diversified the title match—avoiding a straight up repeat of Cena-Edge matches past. That said, the hokey way in which was incorporated—through a silly angle that Edge’s girlfriend, Vickie Guerrero, was having an affair with Show—added little heat and robbed the match of much sense of severity. The phrase comedy main event is less than appealing, and borderline blasphemous in the context of Wrestlemania.
The match itself was perfectly serviceable—fairly fast paced, but uneventful. As he tends to be in multi-man matches, Show was a gravitational force, alternately dominating, getting teamed up against, or getting incapacitated so he didn’t dictate the action.
For me, this match could be summed up by the closing spot. Edge had a sleeper hold on Big Show. Cena lifted not only Show, but also Edge up on his shoulders in Attitude Adjustment position. This was a tremendous feat of strength and an awesome visual—then Edge slipped away unscathed while Cena slammed Show. Picking up both men was great, but it would have been slamming both that would have made that a Wrestlemania moment. As it stood, it was a cool half-moment, followed by an impressive slam. Seconds later, Cena hit the same move on Edge on top Big Show and got the pin for a victory that was probably the right outcome for ‘Mania, but felt like a bit of an anticlimax.
106. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff at Wrestlemania 1 This match was all about spectacle. Liberace as guest time keeper. Muhammed Ali as guest outside-the-ring referee. Mr. T as an in-ring performer. Major stars Jimmy Snuka and Bob Orton as corner men for the faces and heels respectively.
The first thing that I couldn’t help but notice in re-watching this—the very first Wrestlemania main event—was just how profoundly charismatic Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper were. In the opening minutes of the match, the guys hardly make physical contact, and yet Piper’s smug heel schtick and Hogan’s playing the crowd made for some of the most engaging activity of the whole event. The match to follow was perfectly fine, though a bit strangely booked with the heels dominating the offense, a lack of flow, and the strange choice for the good guys to pick up the win via somewhat nefarious means—using the heels’ own outside interference against them, Hogan pinning Orndorff after Orton accidentally KOed him with cast shot from his perpetually broken arm. An adequate match that over-achieved by power of will from the match’s top stars.
105. Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger at Wrestlemania 29 World Heavyweight Championship Match This match is kind of fascinating from the perspective two failed experiments converging in a high profile spot.
Jack Swagger is a guy with all the tools to be a main event player (arguably, excepting his lisp, but let’s not forget that Dusty Rhodes was one of the greatest promo men of all time), and yet a combination of wishy-washy booking and an ill-timed drug bust meant he’s never broken out when he seemingly had the opportunity, and has otherwise squandered his career in the mid-card.
Alberto Del Rio, despite being a gifted technician and star in Mexico has never succeeded in connecting with an American audience at the level you would think he would—a heel without quite the requisite menace or size to make him loathsome at the main event level, then one of the most vanilla face champions this side of Diesel.
At this point, Del Rio was a face; Swagger was at the start of his Tea Party-esque run with Zeb Coulter that made him a nuanced and compelling villain until he was busted for weed possession and neutered by the WWE brass.
This match wasn’t bad—it was a well-executed, back and forth ten-minute match with each guy delivering some decent offense. Just the same, it was too short to feel epic and the exchange and counters of their signature submission moves reads pretty phony given the inexplicable ease with which they escape each other’s usually unbreakable holds before Del Rio finally slapped on a truly un-counter-able version of the cross armbreaker for the tap out. It was a cool enough idea—but Kurt Angle-Chris Benopit this most certainly is not.
104. Randy Orton vs. CM Punk at Wrestlemania 27 The build up to this match was a bit confusing. Punk and his still-newly adopted Nexus stable had focused its attention on John Cena for a period of time before Punk, with little external provocation, remembered that Randy Orton had cost him his first world championship three years ago, and decided to divert all of his attention to making Orton’s life miserable.
In the more immediate lead up to the match, Orton took on members of Punk’s stable one-on-one leading up to ‘Mania, punctuating each match with a concussion-inducing kick to their heads so that Punk would be left with no allies to interfere on his behalf at the ‘Mania showdown.
The match itself was good, if neither explosive nor especially unpredictable. The ending saw Punk aimlessly jump off the top rope only for Orton to catch him with an RKO in mid-air for the win. I can understand the rationale of booking that ending, as the finish was visually impressive, particularly for the casual fans who only tune in once a year for Wrestlemania. That said, it was also horribly contrived and derivative of other Orton (and Shawn Michaels) finishes in the years leading up to this match.
103. The Hart Foundation vs. The Nasty Boys at Wrestlemania 7 Tag Team Championship Match The Nastys were the hot new tag team in WWF at this point, while the reigning champion Hart Foundation were on the verge of splitting up for good for Hart to begin a singles run that would culminate in five WWF Championship reigns (in addition to two WCW title reigns and assorted runs with secondary titles).
This match was quite good—no doubt one of the best of The Nasty Boys. The Hart Foundation was a well-oiled machine by this point, executing tandem offense well, and with each of the guys breaking out more individual spots—a sign that each was ready for the next step in his career. The Nastys were a little plodding and repetitive in their offense, but have the benefit of working with Hart on the heat segment, at a stage when he was already approaching Ricky Steamboat/Ricky Morton levels of selling offense like he might actually die in the middle of the ring. Good tag psychology by Knobbs and Sags, consistently cutting off tags or positioning the ref so he missed the hot tag. Very nice hot tag sequence with Neidhart running roughshod with some impressive power moves.
It’s a contrivance, but a fitting enough one that the deicing factor for this match was the motor cycle helmet Jimmy Hart conspicuously wore outside the ring. The Foundation nailed their trademark Hart Attack, but the ref was distracted and Knobbs clobbered Neidhart with the helmet to steal the win.
102. Trish Stratus vs. Jazz vs. Victoria at Wrestlemania 19 Women’s Championship Match Re-watching this match from a contemporary perspective is sort of fascinating. In recent years, the prevailing model for WWE’s women’s division has been hiring models, training them on the rudimentary skills and putting them forth to perform.
Two of the core reasons this model persists is the success of Trish Stratus and Victoria— beautiful, athletic woman with no wrestling background who, after just a couple years of training and in-ring experience became legitimately very good in-ring performers.
Then there’s Jazz, who didn’t necessarily have a long route through the indies to arrive in WWE, but nonetheless was a wrestler’s wrestler—a talented monster heel who started in ECW and was a polished act for the length of her WWE career.
This match was fast-paced, showcasing Jazz’s power and Stratus’s underdog pluck. Victoria was the champ coming into this match and more than held her own, but in typical WWE triple threat booking fashion, there was more often than not one performer knocked from the ring and uninvolved in the action, and in this match it was usually her.
Props to Stevie Richards, Victoria’s storyline boyfriend, for interjecting himself in the match in entertaining ways, and showing great humility and selling skills in taking his comeuppance from Stratus in the late stages of the match, setting her up for victory.
101. Randy Savage vs. Greg Valentine at Wrestlemania 4 This was a second round bout of the world title tournament. The set up was quite similar to Savage-Reed in round one, but they got a bit more time and Valentine seemed to have shaken the awkwardness that limited his bout with Steamboat to deliver a much slicker performance here. Solid, if still fairly short match, which helps sell Savage’s weariness and resourcefulness as he squeezed out the win via small package.
100. The Smoking Gunns vs. Owen Hart and Yokozuna at Wrestlemania 11 Tag Team Championship Match Owen Hart had a tag title shot that he took with a mystery partner, and that mystery man turned out to be Yokozuna. This run for Yoko was reminiscent of Andre the Giant teaming with Haku at the end of his career for a pairing in which there’s one workhorse and one physical spectacle with main event credentials. To this team’s credit, Yoko wasn’t in nearly as poor shape as Andre at that point, and Hart was a couple steps ahead of Haku, making for a pretty fun tag team.
The camera cut to a backstage promo with The Smoking Gunns after Yokozuna was revealed. I’m genuinely not sure if he was a terrible speaker or a surprisingly good actor selling his intimidation, but Bart was really uncomfortable for this bit.
The Gunns and Hart went through some good bits of chain wrestling early and Yoko was still mobile enough to be entertaining for his bit of action. I kind of wrote off The Gunns as a kid, thinking of them as a poor substitution for the great teams I had grown up on. No, they were no Hart Foundation or Bulldogs or Demolition, but I’m pleasantly surprised by how fluid their tandem offense was in this match. Billy, in particular showed flashes of the athleticism that would go a long way toward earning him such a lengthy tenure in WWE.
There was a really nice spot in which Hart hit a drop toe hold on Billy and held him in place while Yoko leg dropped the back of his head. This ws the beginning of the end for the outmanned Gunns. While the cowboys get a modicum of offense off the hog tag, Yoko ultimately sealed the deal with a belly to belly and a Banzai Drop—though, in truly classic jerk form, Hart insisted on being the one to pin Billy Gunn, after which he jumped up and down holding both of the newly won title belts.
99. NFL vs. WWF Battle Royal at Wrestlemania 2 In the earlier days of the NFL, with the WWF arguably at its most popular, this unlikely match came together, featuring fourteen WWF wrestlers and six NFL players (most notably William “The Refrigerator” Perry) with Dick Butkus and Ed “Too Tall” Jones as guest referees.
The spectacle of these athletes coming together was special, but perhaps even more interesting was the intersection of generations in this match with fading stars like Pedro Morales and The Iron Sheik performing alongside fresher talents like The Hart Foundation, The Killer Bees, and Dan Spivey. My two favorite encounters:
1) the brief interactions between Bruno Sammartino (who won his first WWWF title in 1963) and Bret Hart (who won his first WWF title in 1992).
2) Watching The Iron Sheik eliminate B. Brian Blair (fans of The Iron Sheik will recall that in his older and crazier years, The Sheik has made a habit of singling out Blair for expletive-laden tirades in shoot interviews and via his Twitter account).
At the time and in perpetuity, though, the biggest star of this match will always be Andre the Giant who proved too immoveable to be eliminated and put his awesome strength on display, particularly at the late stages of the match, to toss his final foes from the ring and be declared winner.
98. Team Hell No vs. Dolph Ziggler and Big E. Langston at Wrestlemania 29 Tag Team Championship Match This match has something for everyone. If you like workrate, Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler delivered in spades. If you like power wrestling, Kane and Big E. Langston had it more than covered from a veteran and young stud’s perspective. There were false finishes. There was a hint of a heat segment for psychology’s sake, but it was short enough not to lose anyone’s attention (in fact, I think a few minutes more heat would have elevated this bout several spots). On top of all this, the match kicked off wit ha really fun nod to Wrestlemania history. One year earlier, Bryan got distracted when he kissed his girlfriend AJ Lee before the match, and then got his head kicked off very a very fast pinfall loss to Sheamus (see 284). A year later, Ziggler kissed his girlfriend Lee right after the bell rang—only to turn around into a kick to the head from Bryan.
This tag match functions as something of a time capsule. It captures the exceptionally fun and surprisingly long-running tag team of Hell No that held the tag belts for eight months. It’s the pairing that set up Bryan for a main event run and may have given Kane his last prime time run as a true player in WWE. It captured Langston as a blue chip prospect with a world of potential in front of him. It captured Ziggler as a fringe-main event talent with a heat magnet girlfriend and a Money in the Bank contract to his name. Things were looking up for every one of these talents at these moments—things changed in the year to follow.
97. Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy at Wrestlemania 2 One of the sad parts about advancements in wrestling structures is that innovations of the last twenty years like Hell in a Cell, the Elimination Chamber, and even the Punjabi Prison have made the old school steel cage strikingly unimposing. Similarly, knowing that bigger and better giants (Andre, Earthquake, Yokozuna, Vader, The Giant) awaited Hogan makes Bundy less compelling as an antagonist (it also doesn’t help that Hogan was taller than him, either, or that, despite Bundy’s girth, Hogan was pretty clearly the stronger of the two).
Putting all of that aside, Bundy was a solid enough old school monster—the type of bully who looked genuinely invested in not just defeating but destroying his opponent. That, and I have a soft spot for Hogan matches of this era because the crowd was positively electric for anything the guy did. You can argue Steve Austin was more popular at his peak, but I don’t think anyone ever garnered a stronger reaction for doing less than The Hulkster. Seriously watch him hulk up in this or any other match from the era and just listen to that pop!
The match probably would have been better were it contested under pinfall and submission rules, rather than the escape the cage caluse which made Bundy look oddly cowardly attempting to leave the cage time and again amidst his offense. It’s a pretty minor quibble, though, for one of the better “standard” Hogan matches of the time.
96. Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow at Wrestlemania 11 I’ll be the first to admit that I overrate this match based on how tremendously it over-performed, less so on actual match quality. That said, it’s not bad at all, and probably the single greatest accomplishment in Bam Bam Bigelow’s career for not only main eventing ‘Mania, but helping to carry a game Lawrence Taylor to an enjoyable outing.
This match was largely about spectacle. Before either of the combatants reaches the ring, we got full introductions for each man’s “team”—Bigelow’s stablemates from Ted Dibiase’s Million Dollar Corporation and a motley crew of football stars backing LT, each running out of the tunnel and down the entrance ramp as they would onto a football field. Cool Easter egg as Steve McMichael had the biggest shit-eating grin running down the ramp, perhaps foretelling his own transition to full-time pro wrestler with WCW a few years later.
Taylor got full star treatment on his own entrance and exit with Salt N Peppa cheering him on from the side of the ramp as he came to the ring and singing “What a Man” upon his triumphant exit.
On to the match itself. Pat Patterson had referee duties to help direct traffic in the ring. LT led off the match gamely with a big slap to the face and an impressive offensive flurry that culminated in a clothesline over the top rope. Fun little gang stand off as each team backed up its man when the brawl spilled outside the ring. Bigelow owned most of the offense to follow, highlighted by an impressive if imperfect quasi-moonsault from the top rope. In the end, Taylor picks up the win with a fine-looking forearm smash off the ropes to get the win.
According to most accounts, Bigelow was supposed to be rewareded for this effort with a huge face push after this match—Dibiase would turn on him and Bigelow would team with Diesel against them, and possibly one day get his own world title reign. We got the beginnings of that storyline, but Shawn Michaels soon politicked his way into that spot. Bigelow would go on to some success in ECW and WCW but never really got this high on the card again.
95. Bobby Lashley vs. Umaga at Wrestlemani 23 Battle of the Billionaires Hair vs. Hair Match The stipulation for this match was that, if Lashley won, Vince McMahon got his head shaved; if Umaga won, Donald Trump got his head shaved. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was the guest referee.
To put it lightly, WWE put a lot of star power behind this match, and it’s generally regarded as the top draw for the most-bought WWE pay-per-view ever. Thus, it probably also should have been a vehicle to catapult Lashley and Umaga to lengthy tenures in the WWE main event. It’s sad to think then, that this would be Lashley’s last Wrestlemania before he left WWE to pursue a career in MMA (and wrestle occasionally for TNA) and Umaga would be released two years later for violating the drug policy, and would then pass away in December 2009 from a heart attack related to drug use.
But as for the match itself—it was perfectly serviceable. The affair was in no way as epic as WWE would have you believe at the time, though. Umaga was a fast-paced, athletic big man; Lashley is a poor man’s Brock Lesnar: jacked up and remarkably athletic with a legit amateur wrestling pedigree. As such, the guys pulled off some good high impact spots, but the whole thing felt a little too choreographed for my tastes, building to a choice few spots like Lashley taking apart manager Armando Estrada, knocking Vince McMahon off the apron, and slamming Umaga off the top rope; or Umaga taking out Austin so Shane McMahom could enter the picture and mix things up with a somewhat gratuitous Coast-to-Coast. The climax, of course, was Trump tackling Vince McMahon and hitting with a flurry of of some of the weakest punches in pro wrestling history. Seconds later, Austin stunned Umaga and Lashley spears The Samoan Bulldozer for the pin.
As heels tend to do, McMahon tried to run, but Austin pummeled him and his son for good measure, leading to an non-consensual haircut in the center of the ring. Not unlike Molly Holly’s haircut three years earlier, the segment was awkwardly over-long, but McMahon was an animated enough victim that the bit was at least some fun. There was an added Easter egg on the commentary in which Jerry Lawler asks Jim Ross why he’s smiling. Ross says he can’t really smile—he’s got Bell’s Palsey (the joke being that real-life McMahon reportedly disfavored and more than once released Ross from his announcing duties because his real-life condition left him uncomfortable to watch on camera—thus Ross didn’t mind seeing McMahon humiliated, particularly when it was his physical appearance that took the hit).
94. The Blue Blazer vs. Mr. Perfect at Wrestlemania 5 Wow, does it feel tragic to revisit this match in 2014. Perfect was one of the great in-ring performers of all time, whose career was clipped by back injuries before his life was cut short due to a cocaine overdose. And then there’s The Blue Blazer—the uber-talented Owen Hart working beneath a mask in a gimmick that he would revisit for comedic effect in the late 90s, only to die when the mechanism by which he had intended to rappel from the ceiling malfunctioned, sending Hart plummeting to his death in front of a live pay per view audience.
But we still have this match to look back upon, a crisply executed encounter, offering an impressive balance of technical wrestling, high flying, and brawling moments, culminating in a Perfectplex for the finish. The match was too short to place any higher on the list than it falls here, but nonetheless it was an enjoyable little moment in time for two performers who should have accomplished much more.
93. The Rockers vs. Haku and The Barbarian at Wrestlemania 7 The Haku and Barbarian singles-wrestler experiments were pretty much over this point, thus the two were paired together for a brief a tag team run in WWF which they would reprise five years later in WCW. The Rockers, on their last legs, performed as well as ever on the verge of Shawn Michaels’ big break as a singles star.
As you’d expect, the story of this match was all speed versus power, exemplified by a pair of spots in the first half of the match: first, Jannetty was perched with his crotch in Barbarian’s face and Michaels dropkicked the big man from behind to feed into a hurricanrana. Minutes later, Jannetty found himself in the same spot, only for Barbarian to spike him down, throat first on the top ring rope.
I’m pleased WWE gave this one a full ten minutes to develop. The match probably could have remained entertaining for another ten on top of that, but was, just the same, one of the premier tag team outings in ‘Mania history.
92. Rey Mysterio vs. Matt Hardy at Wrestlemania 19 Cruiserweight Championship Match When it comes to delivering a fast-paced match that will appeal to casual and hardcore fans alike, there are few better go-to performers in WWE than Rey Mysterio. While they only got a few minutes to do their thing in this match, Hardy proved a near-ideal complement to Mysterio, perfectly capable of keeping up with him, making many of the little man’s most contrived spots look feasible, and doing a fine job of slowing down the pace in convincing fashion without killing the crowd. This was an excellent choice for a ‘Mania opening match, and even served up a little tribute to Bret Hart-Owen Hart at Wrestlemania 10 in the finishing sequence.
91. Edge vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 26 World Heavyweight championship Match I’ve already discussed the main event match involving these two that I would have preferred for this Wrestlemania 26 (see 200) so we’ll move past that. This one had the makings of a fantastic title match between two top tier performers with a very logical issue between them. It didn’t quite live up to that potential.
This match revolved around the spear, Edge’s signature maneuver and the subject of a kind of obnoxious chant that never really got over leading up to this match. Edge went for the spear time and again, and suspecting this would be the case, Chris Jericho dodged and countered times and again. Y2J ultimately tried for the spear himself only to get a boot to the face for his troubles.
The other staple of this encounter was submission holds which Jericho applied over and over to slow the pace in a way that fits his character perfectly, but could only engage a crowd up to a certain point.
The match ended strangely with Jericho giving Edge a belt shot while the ref was down. He couldn’t score the pinfall off that, but did with The Codebreaker seconds later and get not entirely unclean victory. A strange and somewhat anticlimactic choice. In the post-match, Jericho tried to re-injure Edge’s Achilles, but Edge fought him off and then executed a spear off the announce tables through the barricade in what was probably supposed to feel like a Wrestlemania moment but, to be frank, just wasn’t that noteworthy in the grand scheme of things—a middling aftermath to a middling ‘Mania title match.
As a little Easter egg, there’s a great shot of Edge on his way down the entrance ramp for this match fighting back a smile, then wiping his face to generate the appropariate look of intensity for the story. You could argue this was a knock on Edge for struggling to keep character, but I dug it as a very real manifestation of a life-long wrestling fan relishing the opportunity to challenge for a world title as a face in front of a Wrestlemania stadium crowd.
90. Floyd Mayweather vs. The Big Show at Wrestlemania 24 No Disqualification And so we arrive at the single best celebrity match in Wrestlemania history—and maybe in pro wrestling history, period. There was plenty of spectacle heading in, with Mayweather as a legit badass from the boxing world squaring off against a man almost three times his weight. WWE made the very good call to make this one no DQ, thus allowing weaponry and Mayweather’s entourage to become factors.
One of the interesting factors here was that, despite being an underdog for size, Meayweather’s heelish boxing persona and status as a wrestling outsider split the fans, if not outright turning them to support Big Show. Mayweather frustrated the big man early on, peppering him with punches. Big Shows seems to to catch Mayweather a couple times, only for Mayweather to Princess Bride the giant with a sleeperhold.
Show did eventually get control, though—wailing onand dominating Mayweather for an extended heat segment that May weather sold well. His handlets tried to pull him from the match then, and Show gave chase, bowling over most of Mayweather’s associates. This set up the plunder section of the match as Mayweather slammed Show with a steel chair before ultimately KOing him with a set of brass knuckles.
89. Goldust vs. Hunter Hearst-Helmsley at Wrestlemania 13 Goldust debuted in the upper mid-card and managed to hang out there—neither elevating nor sinking—for the duration of his first WWE run. Triple H had more recently risen to that level. This was Helmsley at the nexus of becoming a serious heel and being a young stud desperate for success—hence, he was pretty fun to watch at this point and the guys combined for a solid outing.
The match started with Goldust on fire before Helmsley launched a lengthy heat segment. Fun sequence where Goldie tried to steal pins off a series of roll ups before Helmsley leveled him with a stiff clothesline. In hindsight, it’s pretty easy to see Triple H’s victory coming, but at the time, this probably looked pretty evenly matched. The subplot of Chyna menacing Marlena added an extra bit drama to the encounter and the finishing sequence was pretty hot as the two men repeatedly countered each other’s finishers before Helmsley knocked Goldust into Marlena. Marlena ended up in Chyna’s arms for a brutal bearhug; Goldust turned right into a Pedigree for the finish.
88. Savio Vega vs. Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 12 For its era, this match wasn’t so different from the seemingly endless cycle of Kofi Kingston-Dolph Ziggler matches in the early 2010s. Savio Vega never had quite the look or personality to exceed the WWF mid-card. Steve Austin was seen as a mechanic—a talented in-ring worker without the charisma to ever make it to the main event either.
Or so the WWF thought.
This is a pretty strange match to watch in retrospect. In the years to follow Austin would, of course, become one of the (if not the) most popular stars in the history of the company. Vega would turn heel and join The Nation of Domination, then head up the Los Boricuas during the gang warfare period of the Attitude Era, still locked in the mid-card, albeit as an evolved character.
In any event, the guys cut a pretty wicked pace in this match, with Vega’s flashy martial arts kicks peppering the match against Austin’s ground and pound attack that was starting to show hints of his fiery Stone Cold character, for example, hitting a Lou Thesz Press and wailing on Vega with punches rather than going for the pin.
In the end, Austin clobbered Vega with Million Dollar Championship belt to KO him while the ref was down, then locked in a rear chinlock for the referee to count out Vega (oddly, and despite the announcers’ claims, he didn’t use the Million Dollar Dream finisher that he had been employing regularly at the time).
87. Rey Mysterio vs. CM Punk at Wrestlemania 26 Gosh darn it, CM Punk’s cultish leader of the Straight Edge Society character was fun. In the build up to this match, Punk antagonized not only Rey Mysterio but his whole family, adding some awesome old school heat to this Wrestlemania encounter.
This match really should have had the benefit of fifteen minutes, but to the credit of both men, they squeeze in as much action as you could reasonably imagine in six and a half minutes. One of the signature elements of a great worker is his ability to adjust everything about himself from his look to his move set to fit his character. Here we had Punk long long-haired and bearded, and demonstrating a legitimate mean streak with stiff kicks, flurries of punches and a sweet wheelbarrow inverted powerbomb into the ring steps. Mysterio more than held up his end of the bargain, too, though, pulling off plenty of his traditional high-speed, high-flying offense, highlighted by a pretty remarkable springboard back flip into a DDT. The ending sequence was a ton of fun as well with Mysterio going for the 619 only for Punk’s sidekicks Serena and Luke Gallows to block his way. Mysterio ultimately hurricanranaed Punk right into Gallows to get him out of the way, and did
This feud would continue and attain further highs, including a mask versus hair match out of which Punk had his head shaved, then started sporting a luchador mask. My only real knock against this feud was that Mysterio won the thing so decisively. Punk was clearly the star on the rise and though he’d climb past Mysterio to the top of the card anyway in a year and a half, I thought the character deserved more validation out of this proram.
86. Christian vs. Matt Hardy vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Evan Bourne vs. Kane vs. MVP vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Jack Swagger at Wrestlemania 26 Money in the Bank Ladder Match This was probably the weakest Money in the Bank Match ever, though it’s sort of a testament to the brand that even the worst was still a fun, solid top-100 outing. Part of what was interesting about this match is comparing the talents involved to the ones who appeared in the very first edition five years earlier, when the majority of the guys were borderline main eventers. Going into this one, Christian and Kane were probably the closest things to top of the card guys, but neither really seemed like natural fits for a MITB push. The rest of the cast seemed firmly entrenched in the mid-card, with Drew McIntyre working an angle under which he earned the favor of Vince McMahon, which made him the closest thing to a favorite going into this match.
From a spot perspective, Evan Bourne joined Shelton Benjamin and Kofi Kingston in the role of highlight reel waiting to happen, and didn’t disappoint, hitting a shooting star press off a ladder bridge and taking a hip toss off the top of a ladder. The moment of the match, though, definitively belonged to Kingston who used the two halves of a broken latter as makeshift stilts to climb for the briefcase.
In the end, Jack Swagger was the surprise victor of this match. Swagger’s an odd talent in that he has demonstrated many of the qualities of a WWE main eventer, but never quite got over at that level. On this first trial, he cashed in within a few weeks and got a World Heavyweight Championship run that was inoffensive, but was cut conspicuously short, amounting to little more than a footnote. He would get another shot at the main event three years later with an Elimination Chamber win that set him up to challenge for the same strap at ‘Mania—only to get busted for marijuana possession and de-push himself back to the mid-card. In any event, the way Swagger won may be emblematic of that journey to follow as he turned back his last rival, Christian, not with a cool or innovative maneuver, but a blunt shot with the briefcase itself while it hung overhead; then, rather than assertively claiming the briefcase, Swagger struggled a couple beats too long to get it off its carabiner for an awkward, slightly anticlimactic finish.
85. Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 19 Street Fight There’s no small irony in the fact that Hulk Hogan, the most famous wrestler of all-time, had his last ‘Mania match pitted against a non-wrestler in his mid-50s—and that it was one of his better outings. This match was ostensibly all about the marquee (what long time fan wouldn’t be intrigued with the prospect of a fight between McMahon and Hogan?), Hogan was his charismatic self, and McMahon offered up his trademark willingness to get his ass kicked. The result was kinda-sorta the bastard lovechild of Hogan-Rock and Vince-Shane from Wrestlemanias 17 and 18. The match featured some memorable plunder between chair shots galore on both sides, utilization of a steel pipe, and McMahon leaping off a ladder to legdrop Hogan through an announce table.
Yes, there were shenanigans—as anyone should expect from a McMahon match—with Roddy Piper and heel ref Sylvan Grenier inserting themselves in the proceedings, and as tended to be the case for McMahon’s Wrestlemania matches, the interference arrived at just the right times to add drama and a bit of comedic value to the encounter. The match ended with a hulk-up and a legdrop. You can call it predictable. You can call it inevitable. You can call it perfect. None of these answers are inherently right or wrong—it’s just a matter of perspective. Harmless good fun to close a bloody, if a bit too long showdown.
84. Owen Hart vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 14 European Championship Match As you might expect from the parties involved and the time period, this was a tight little piece of business—a solidly executed back and forth match that built as it went.
In a sense, the match felt like a coda to the Montreal Screwjob, as Bret Hart’s real-life brother challenged Shawn Michaels’ real-life (and on-air) best friend. As was the case in genera for Attitude Era clashes of The Clique vs. The Hitman and friends, it was Michaels’s crew that came out on top. To put this match in context, Trips was on a steady track toward the main event; Hart was headed toward a stop over in the tag team ranks, before he became entrenched an angle for which he lost his mind and started wrestling under the cartoonish mask he had worn when he first appeared in WWF as The Blue Blazer—the gimmick that tragically led to his very real death.
In any event, the action was hot and heavy for this bout, and complemented by the subplot of Chyna, Triple H’s bodyguard, being handcuffed to Sgt. Slaughter outside the ring. The once Wrestlemania main-event drill sergeant was, at this point, a hapless old authority figure, trying to keep DX contained. At the climax of the match, Chyna blinded Sarge with white powder so she could sneak up on the apron and give Hart a low blow, thus allowing Trips to score with the Pedigree for the win. Cheating aside, it was a fun spectacle of a finish to cap a stellar match.
83. Bret Hart vs. Bob Backlund at Wrestlemania 11 I Quit Match I really wanted to love this match. It was the capper to a feud that had stretched about six months at this point, between the modern face of technical wrestling expertise, Bret Hart, and his spiritual predecessor of 15 years prior, Bob Backlund, who was, against all odds, doing some of the best work of his career at the age of 45, playing a sublime crazy old man character, bent out of shape over losing his world title and spot in the sun ten years earlier.
There were pieces of this match that work quite well, including Hart’s ferocity on the opening, combining brawling tactics with some slick submission maneuvers, and Backlund’s verity of threatening holds when he was in control, and very good, authentic counter wrestling when the situation demanded it.
The biggest problem with this match would have to be guest referee Roddy Piper. As great as Piper has been in so many contexts over the years, his part in this match just did not work, holding a microphone and constantly asking Bakclund and Hart “What do ya say?” to check if either man would submit, which got to be comic in a way that undercut the gravity of the match, then grew just plain painfully annoying.
Nice bit of poetry on the finish when Hart reversed Backlund’s attempt at his signature crossface chickenwing. By the opening instructions, the match could only end when one man spoke the words, “I quit.” Hart reinforced this point in his memoir and talked about how Backlund was hurting so badly from the legitimately painful crossface chickenwing hold that he forgot what he was supposed to say, thus ending the match in a less climactic cry of “Yeah!” So, the finish wasn’t quite what it was supposed to be, but nonetheless clearly communicated the superiority of Hart’s character, setting him up for bigger things while Backlund prepared to ride off into the sunset.
82. John Cena vs. The Big Show at Wrestlemania 20 United States Championship Match Though I’m sure there are more egregious examples out there, John Cena vs. The Big Show stands out to me as one of the most over-exposed feuds in modern wrestling history. It’s fair enough I suppose, considering Cena’s longevity as the face of WWE (nine years and counting) and Show’s marked durability as an upper card player (over fourteen years). The problem is that I don’t think the guys have ever been as interesting against each other as they were in this, their first high profile one-on-one encounter.
Putting the many iterations of the feud aside, this particular match was quite important as Cena’s informal coming out party as one of WWE’s biggest players. See, at this point in time, the United States title was an important one, still used to groom future main eventers. Moreover, Big Show was a fringe main event talent himself—thus, for Cena to hang with the giant, much less beat him meant huge things for his career (fun fact: for ten years running since this match, Cena has spent every Wrestlemania competing for a world title or wrestling in the main event). This was not Cena’s coronation, but it was the first clear indicator that that was direction WWE was headed in.
The match itself wasn’t perfect. Big Show was at one of the more portly points of his career, and Cena was too green to yet be a main event level performer. That said, it was fun to watch young Cena try out his aerial offense and sell more like Ricky Steamboat than today’s Super Cena (OK, maybe not that much like Steamboat, but he was at least a consistent underdog for the bulk of the match).
Fun finish with shades of the Attitude Era as Cena clocked Show with brass knuckles to stun him, en route the impressive accomplishment of FUing Big Show for the pin (and yes, even now that we’ve seen it dozens of times, it’s still darn impressive that he can execute that move on a man that big).
81. Edge vs. Alberto Del Rio at Wrestlemania 27 World Heavyweight Championship Match Every now and again there occurs a significant moment in wrestling history for which no one recognizes its importance until well after the event. No one guessed that this would be Edge’s last match, but shortly thereafter (or before, according to some…) he was diagnosed with cervical spinal stenosis, meaning he could only continue wrestling with imminent risk of being crippled or dying in the ring. Thus ended what quietly amounted to one of the most distinguished WWE careers in history, highlighted by a pretty ridiculously high number of title reigns (31, 10 of them world titles).
As last matches go, this one wasn’t exactly epic, but neither was it bad one to go out on. The action was fluid, the outcome in doubt, and the finish red hot with the men trading submission finishers before Edge got the duke via his signature spear. Another nice bit of poeticism to the match—the reunion of Edge and Christian as Edge’s old running buddy staved off outside interference to allow for a clean finish, and the duo teamed up to smash Del Rio’s car on the ramp afterward (I feel a con-chair-to on opposite windshields would have really sealed the deal, but you can’t have everything). Good match. Great legacy.
80. John Cena vs. Triple H vs. Randy Orton at Wrestlemania 24 WWE World Championship Match Though this match was not as good or long as it probably should have been, it was actually much better than fans typically remember it to be.
Randy Orton was the heel champion for this match, defending against arguably the two top faces of the day. Triple H had been chasing Orton since he screwed him out of the title in the fall; John Cena returned to win the Royal Rumble that year after having been legitimately injured (Orton was given storyline credit for hurting Cena).
The match to follow had a good level of intensity, though it fell into a frequent WWE triple threat trap of one guy getting incapacitated so the other two can operate as though they’re in a one-on-one match before it’s someone else’s turn to rotate in . The match was at its best when all three guys were in the mix, including a fun spot in which Triple H had Cena on his shoulders and Orton crossbodied him off, only for Cena to roll through and hoist Orton onto his shoulders while fighting off Triple H. There was also a fun double hanging DDT spot by Orton.
The ending was really well done with Triple H hitting the Pedigree on Cena, then Orton punting Trips in the head and pinning Cena for the win, thus getting himself over as a sleaze ball, opportunistic heel and retaining his strap.
My one real complaint about this match was the chosen outcome for the venue. Cena and Triple H each looked poised to win and, in fact, in a fourway match with the same competitors and JBL at the following month’s Backlash PPV, Triple H did win. Thus, it felt like the outcome of the ‘Mania match really only accomplished two ends: a surprise for the sake of a surprise, and saving a big moment for the following show. People buy ‘Mania for big moments, thus I call BS on each of those rationales.
79. Roddy Piper vs. Goldust at Wrestlemania 12 Back Lot Brawl With the Attitude era still one-to-two years away (depending on how you count it) this match was a pretty clear harbinger of things to come, focusing on batshit crazy characters and the hardcore style (which WWE hadn’t quite yet figured out how to successfully execute). The storyline headed in was that Goldust was ambiguously gay and kind of rapy around his opponents. Piper was the WWF president and sort of a homophobe, and thus deadset on kicking Goldy’s ass.
The early brawl was stiff and heated, leading to a lengthy car chase meant to mimic the OJ Simpson police chase. The chase ended back at the arena where Piper pounded Goldust all the way into the ring, ultimately stripping his beaten younger foe down to his women’s lingerie at which point Goldust retreated to the locker room and we were left to assume Piper won, despite the lack of any obvious conclusion. Lots of folks hate this match. I liked the brawling and thought the overall presentation was fairly innovative for its time.
78. The Undertaker vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 17 There are quite a few people who love this match, and that’s their prerogative. Me? I just don’t get it.
Don’t get me wrong, this wasn’t a bad match. It’s just remarkable that it’s no better than the match they put together ten years later (71), well past their respective primes; much less the very good match they worked at Wrestlemania 28 (25).
The set up for this match was sound, with Triple H arrogantly proclaiming himself to have beaten everyone in the WWF and ‘Taker calling him out on the fact that he never beat him, and the two playing a game of psychological one-upmanship en route to their ‘Mania showdown. The ensuing brawl was executed with decent intensity, but nonetheless felt rather plodding—particularly the fight outside the ring which seems to go on forever. It didn’t help matters that the false finishes all revolve around a downed referee, not close call kick outs. The silver lining here was the finish—a rare ‘Mania win for ‘Taker via Last Ride powerbomb, which I always liked a finishing maneuver, but which tended to be treated as little better than The Dead Man’s chokeslam as a fake-out move, secondary to the Tombstone and Hell’s Gate.
77. Roddy Piper vs. Adrian Adonis at Wrestlemania 3 Hair vs. Hair, Piper’s Retirement Match This one was billed as Piper’s last time in the ring as he set his sights on an acting career. Needless to say, he’d be back before long. Regardless of the false retirement and the fact that Piper was one of the greatest heels of all time, this match showed just how fun Piper could be as a face, as the crowd ached the cheer him on after years of phenomenal performance. This match started as a wild brawl as the men traded shots whipping each other with Piper’s belt, then Piper used Jimmy Hart (Adonis’s manager) as a weapon, flinging him into his opponent from multiple angles. The story became Adonis dominating, and Hart interfering to maintain his advantage, while Piper refused to say die, and ultimately made his comeback and took the duke with their mutual finish, the sleeper hold.
The real story here was the completion of Brutus Beefcake’s face turn, which started earlier in the event, and completed when he roused Piper when he was about to lose and then took the lead on cutting off Adonis’s hair. One would have to imagine WWF viewed Beefcake as something as a successor to Piper as an upper card face while Hot Rod moved on to Hollywood. It’s debatable how well that took. Just the same, an enjoyable match with a satisfying conclusion.
76. Triple H vs. Sheamus at Wrestlemania 26 The storyline here was that young Sheamus was in his Wrestlemania debut, going after Triple H with much the same brand of viciousness and mind games with which Triple H approached rivals in his younger days—and Triple H begrudgingly respected him for that. Sheamus just wanted to beat up Triple H. The real-life, not totally dissociated story was that Triple H was a big proponent of Sheamus as an up and coming star and was an advocate for pushes such as Sheamus winning the WWE championship four months earlier, and getting elevated into a feud with The Game leading up to the biggest show of the year.
The match to follow was good. Though it’s a bit slow paced with the middle section driven by Sheamus locking Triple H into holds, The Celtic Warrior does a lot of little things right like grinding a hand or forearm into Triple H’s face to sell that he was actually trying to hurt him and finding dickish heel ways to make his holds even a little less pleasant.
In the end, the guys traded signature spots and counters for a very good final few minutes, before Triple H finally played possum and suckered Sheamus in, only to beat him with a Pedigree. It’s easy for Triple H haters to say that The Game built up Sheamus just to he could get himself over at ‘Mania. While I don’t think that criticism is one hundred percent off point, to his credit, Trips did put over Sheamus in the rematch at Extreme Rules, even selling serious injury after the Irishman beat him down post-match.
75. The Big Boss Man vs. Mr. Perfect at Wrestlemania 7 Intercontinental Championship Match Here we have an example of a solid match that might even be remembered as great, had it not ended in a schmozz DQ finish. Manager Bobby Heenan has been trash talking Boss Man’s mother, thus Boss Man systematically went through every wrestler “The Brain” managed, leading up to this showdown with the crown jewel of the remaining Heenan Family, IC champ Mr. Perfect.
The action was good. Boss Man was always one of the most dynamic big men of his era and Mr. Perfect was all but incapable of anything less than a three-star match during this period of career. So the two have a solid outing with Boss Man hammering down Perfect with righteous indignation, and Perfect countering with the combination sleazeball tactics and stellar technical wrestling he built his name off of.
In the late stages of the match, Heenan distracted Boss Man, giving Perfect the advantage one more time, only for Andre the Giant to resurface. Andre hadn’t been seen on WWF programming since Wrestlemania 5 when he split ways with Heenan, turned face, and presumably retired—thus, the appearance here marked a pretty shocking return. Shortly after, Boss Man seemed primed to win only for Haku and The Barabarian to charge the ring and cause the disqualification so Perfect wouldn’t lose his title. Afterward, The Big Boss Man and Andre collaborated to clear the ring, then celebrated in the aisle.
It was a well-executed ten minute bout, complemented by the feel-good moment of Andre’s comeback. The WWF really could have sealed the deal here, though, with a Boss Man title win. No, I wouldn’t want to give him a lengthy run—Perfect needed to have the title to pass the torch to Bret Hart four months later at SummerSlam (a key match in legitimizing Hart as a singles star). But I think winning the championship would have sealed the deal on making this bout a Wrestlemania classic as opposed to a mostly forgotten “good” match, and Perfect could have taken the title back by nefarious means a few weeks later on TV to lead to the same end result.
74. Ahmed Johnson and The Legion of Doom vs. Faarooq, Crush, and Savio Vega at Wrestlemania 13 Chicago Street Fight At this point in its evolution, The Nation of Domination was already kind of a black power group, with the uncomfortable inclusion of white rappers PG-13 and Crush, plus Puerto Rican Savio Vega. The racial identity of the group would narrow when Crush and Vega broke off to form their own gangs of white bikers and Puerto Rican… dudes in the months to follow (only to muddy again when Owen Hart joined them). In any event, The Rock hadn’t yet joined the team, so they were firmly entrenched in the mid-card.
Johnson and Faarooq were engaged in a blood feud at this point, and Hawk and Animal were shrewd enough picks to saddle up with him for a street fight—particularly in front of a live Chicago crowd.
This match may have been a little too faithful to the street fight rules for its own good. Yes, it was fun to watch the guys brawl with plunder aplenty (particularly the brutal use of a noose twice in the middle of the action), but it was also a little difficult to follow six guys fighting without much clear direction, plus a half dozen or so extra Nation members interfering at intervals. I get the impression the guys in the match were puzzled at points as well, either waiting (for no clear kayfabe purpose) for their pre-planned spots to come into place, or hesitating to hit one another, I can only assume, because they struggled to keep track of everyone involved and who they should treat as enemies. Two separate instances of fire extinguishers being sprayed also muddied the action. A two-by-four facilitated clothesline ended the match in favor of the LOD and Johnson, somewhat anticlimactically, if with reasonable realism. The post match brawl actually ended a bit more coolly with Johnson and Animal each lifting a member of PG-13 on his shoulders for Hawk to deliver a double Doomsday Device clothesline on the pair.
In the end, this was a good, but not quite great match, indicative that the WWF was still figuring out the hardcore style. More individualized encounters, with better defined high spots, that sprawled the arena were on their way.
73. John Cena vs. Batista at Wrestlemania 26 WWE Championship Match This match featured one of my all-time favorite promo taglines, in which John Cena attempted to spell out the difference between him and Batista by claiming, “You do this for money. I do this because I love it. I do this for the moment.” For all my smarky cynicism, that one still gets my blood pumping.
The set up for this match was that Batista was jealous of Cena being the face of WWE despite Batista’s near equal on-paper resume. In the lead up, Vince McMahon facilitated Batista challenging a beaten and battered Cena for his WWE title immediately after winning an Elimination Chamber match in February, thus Batista walked into ‘Mania with the strap.
Though it’s not an exact comparison for any number of reasons, this match was sort of like a contemporary reimagining of Hulk Hogan-Ultimate Warrior—the two biggest names of the day, two powerhouses, squaring off for a world title in an epic encounter that saw each man kick out of the other’s finisher. On one hand, this match was quite arguably objectively better than its spiritual predecessor, and yet, whether it’s the nostalgia factor, the fact that these guys had already had a pay per vie main event match against one another, or the fact that it was less of a passing of the torch moment than a confirmation of Cena’s place as WWE’s top dog—this one didn’t resonate quite as well for me.
Still, it was a good match in the WWE main event style, building to high impact spots and chock full of counters. It doesn’t rank among the all-time great Wrestlemania title matches, nor is it a match to laugh off or ignore. Worth the re-watch.
72. The Rock vs. Mick Foley vs. The Big Show vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 16 Elimination Fatal Fourway for the World Championship This match gets a lot of hate, particularly because the general consensus is that it should have been a one-on-one match between The Rock and Triple H. Furthermore, popular opinion holds that the booking as it stands was largely ego-based—putting the McMahon family front and center by putting one member of the family in each corner for the main event, and having Triple H, newly married into the family, become the first heel champion to ever retain the world title at ‘Mania.
I won’t dispute that this match should have been one-on-one between Rock and Trips and that it probably should have been the crowning Wrestlemania moment that, for all his renown, “The Great One” never really got at the WWF’s biggest show. Putting all of that aside, the match was a fun spectacle, and I actually liked the McMahon in every corner angle, in part because nothing about their pairings felt disingenuous. You had Linda McMahon, the soft-hearted traditionalist backing Mick Foley’s (purportedly) last bid for a world title before retirement. You had Shane McMahon, the hotshot young promoter backing Big Show as the top young prospect. You had Stephanie McMahon, logically backing her shoot and kayfabe husband Triple H. And you had Vince McMahon, the businessman, supporting his top meal ticket The Rock (paired with a shrewd “I’m the devil you know” storyline to explain Rock’s willingness to trust his unlikely cornerman).
This match benefited from one of the key strengths of the Attitude Era—fast-paced main events. Fast and furious eliminations gave way to the Rock-Helmesley showdown we were all waiting for. The twist, as I’ve already alluded, was that heel champ Triple H did not get his just due. On the contrary, Vince McMahon swerved The Rock to set up Trips for the win. No, it wasn’t the most satisfying ‘Mania finish, but it was important for establishing the precedent that wrestling’s top heroes don’t always prevail at ‘Mania, placing doubts in the minds of the fans for years to follow.
71. The Undertaker vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 27 No Holds Barred Match The match lands where it lands, but before we get into that I have to say that this one had one of my all-time favorite initial set ups, and it was one that could really only be pulled off by two stars who shine at as brightly as Triple H and ‘Taker.
After a series of cryptic videos foreshadowing his return, The Undertaker made his first appearance on Raw in months. Before he can speak a word the music for Triple H—who also hadn’t been seen for months—pulsed from the arena speakers. Soon enough, both men were in the ring. They stared one another down, then looked at the Wrestlemania banner in the rafters.
And that was it.
After that badass initial interaction, the guys traded more conventional promos. I remember feeling lukewarm on this match after what I felt was a pretty underwhelming outing from the two a decade earlier at ‘Mania (see 78). Whether it’s the way in which each man’s legacy swelled in the decade to follow, shrewder booking, or not having quite as stacked of a card of matches to compete with, this match did end up sitting better with me.
The match started as a brawl. One of my favorite spots saw Triple H ramming ‘Taker straight through “The Cole Mine” a protective glass enclosure Michael Cole had used for protection from Jerry Lawler leading up to their match earlier in the night (see 287). This particular moment seemed like a metaphorical tearing down of that awful storyline—or at least a temporary reminder that the time for comedic shenanigans was over and this match was all business (given the Lawler-Cole feud did continue post ‘Mania against all logic and discernible interest from the fans).
Triple H went on to dominate much of the match, hitting three Pedigrees and a bevy of chair shots. Triple H spent a period of the match yelling at ‘Taker to stay down, then hitting him with more offense. ‘Taker tried to goozle him, but Trips was dominant enough at that point to brush him off. This segment culminates in Triple H hitting a Tombstone of his own. Still unable to score the pin, he went for the sledgehammer.
The Game seems poised for destruction when ‘Taker locked in Hell’s Gate. Triple H teases recapturing the sledgehammer to break it up and teased powerbombing out, but ultimately had to succumb to the hold. The Streak lived on.
70. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 23 World Championship Match By most accounts, Cena-Triple H 2 was supposed to headline this Wrestlemania, but then Trips went down to injury and Michaels got subbed into his place. Perhaps it was that late change in plans, or the fact that Michaels had been booked a half-notch below main event status for the preceding two years, or the pretty clear expectation (which proved true) that this would be a mere speed bump in Cena’s dominant title reign, but this program and this match never quite clicked for me.
That said, the booking team and Michaels himself did a good job of at least trying to make the impromptu build work, with Michaels losing his mind and running roughshod over the field at the Royal Rumble, then winning a triple threat match against Edge and Randy Orton in decisive fashion to earn this match.
The start of the match was solid enough with Michaels playing both grizzled veteran and quicker small man as he outwrestled and out-quicked Cena in the opening minutes until Cena scored with a big clothesline. From there, it was back and forth action, with Michaels serving as de facto heel, working Cena’s knee and controlling a majority of the offense.
This was not a bad match. The psychology was sound and there were some good spots. Just the same, I consider it an example of WWE main event style gone wrong—when big dramatic moments lead to lengthy bouts of guys staggering around or lying on the mat to sell the impact of the preceding move, grinding the overall pace of the match too far down for it to be entertaining anymore. The match landed as high as it does on the countdown for the professional workmanship and sound execution of the big spots (Michaels’ moonsault on the announce table and his piledriver on the ringsteps), but it won’t land any higher on my list for the aforementioned issues.
69. Marc Mero and Sable vs. Goldust and Luna Vachon at Wrestlemania 14 While Goldust was one of the truly great mid-card acts of nineties, Marc Mero was a good hand, and Luna Vachon was something of an minor icon for women’s wrestling in her era, let’s make no mistake about it—this match was all about Sable. Sable debuted a year earlier alongside Triple H and wound up on (her real-life husband) Marc Mero’s arm by the end of the night. Over the year to follow, Mero did his best Randy Savage impression as a loyal boyfriend turned mysoginist bully, and Sable became a modern day re-imagining of Miss Elizabeth—not just beautiful and not just a victim, but also a fighter (not to mention a complete sexpot).
Goldust and Vachon were the most clearly defined heels in this match, thus Sable was really on her own as the bout’s heroine. The booking was shrewd and reserved—keeping Sable out of the ring for most of the match and building the anticipation of her first appearance as a werstler. While Sable’s punches were pretty lousy, her kicks were decent and she ended up winning the match for her team with a pretty awesome power bomb spot, followed by a nicely executed TKO. This was one of those matches that’s far more about moments than sheer, continuous action, but the moments were deeply satisfying and set up the year to follow, when Sable would officially supplant Sunny as the alpha-female in the WWF.
Quick side note that never occurred to me until I rewatched this match to write this countdown: Sable has been married twice in real life, first to Marc Mero, then to Brock Lesnar. The two men have little in common when it comes to wrestling legacies, but their finishing maneuvers—the TKO and the F5—are mirror images of each other. I’m fairly certain it’s pure coincidence, but it’s still an interesting bit of trivia. At least to me. Moving on…
68. The Rockers vs. The Twin Towers at Wrestlemania 5 After feuding on and off with The Megapowers throughout the preceding year, The Big Boss Man and Akeem got a major kayfabe demotion here to face the lower-midcard Rockers. On the positive side, in terms of in ring ability this was, at worst, a lateral move (probably a promotion) being booked against young Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty, about three years shy of Michaels’s breakout as a singles star.
You can see hints of HBK’s bright future as his explosive, up-tempo offense, particularly when operating in tandem with Jannetty carried so much of the match. Of course, it’s a testament to Boss Man and Akeem, too, that they sold convincingly for men half their size; and their fat monster heel offense was actually much more interesting and diversified than what we got from the musclemen of the day.
Very fun closing sequence with The Rockers nailing a top rope double dropkick, only for Boss Man to follow up with a pretty sick powerbomb, setting up Akeem to win with a splash.
67. Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero at Wrestlemania 21 Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio may well hold the dubious honor of having the greatest disparity between match quality and storyline of any long-running WWE feud. They once had a classic ladder match—over the custody of Rey’s son. Here, they were reigning tag team champions, but Guerrero was wildly jealous of his partner who he couldn’t seem to prove he was as good or better than.
This match was far from the best in the Mysterio-Guerrero catalog, but it was pretty cool that this pairing that started in Mexico and progressed through ECW and WCW ended up opening a Wrestlemania card. And let’s be honest, these two on their worst day were still better than most guys at their best. A part of what made Guerrero such an all-time great was his ability to just as fluidly work as the bullying big man in a match like this as he could pull off the diminutive under dog part in his feud a year earlier against Brock Lesnar. Guerrero worked suplexes and submission holds here against Mysterio’s speedy hit and run offense and roll ups. It was a thing of beauty when Guerrero transitioned his Three Amigo vertical suplex series into a an Alabama Slam attempt, which Mysterio reversed into a headscissor takeover, into a 619 attempt, which Guerreroo dodged en route to a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. This was a throwaway sequence in a Mysterio-Guerrero match, the likes of which so few guys of equal or bigger stature could ever engineer. In the end, Mysterios got the shock pin off a hurricanrana out of a power bomb attempt, capping an elite ‘Mania opening match.
66. Crush vs. Doink at Wrestlemania 9 This match is often maligned for having occurred at one of the weakest Wrestlemanias, and for featuring Doink—a character who, to some, represented an apogee in WWF’s cartoon booking of the nineties. That said, I consider the match, and all the more so the surrounding angle, to be criminally underrated.
This wasn’t a classic, but it’s a perfectly entertaining romp with villainous Doink getting his shots in amidst a flurry of power offense from Crush. Then there was the key moment when the ref was down and Crush thought he has Doink thumped only for a second Doink to sneak from under the ring and KO Crush with a prosthetic arm. Yes, from an outsider’s perspective, Doink was a joke, and the character was certainly watered down to that reality in the years to follow. But at this moment in wrestling history, the Doink character was fresh, different, and edgy—a unique villain that fans hadn’t quite figured out. The addition of a body double only enriched the plot and opened all sorts of possibilities for the sinister character (and Crush, despite his Hawaiian tan, was the perfect white bread face to play off of him). This match is a forgotten gem in the Wrestlemania pantheon.
65. Randy Savage vs. Crush at Wrestlemania 10 Falls Count Anywhere Match The WWF had not quite figured out the falls count anywhere stipulation at this point, thus this match was sort of a weird hybrid of Last Man Standing and, well, contrived rules that seemed custom built to service the planned finish of the match. The rules were that the guys could pin one another anyplace in the building, after which the guy who scored the pin had to get in the ring. The guy who got pinned then had one minute to get back in the ring himself, or he’d lose the match.
The story heading into this match was that Savage and Crush were pals, but Savage didn’t come to Crush’s rescue quickly enough when Yokozuna was destroying him after a match on Monday Night Raw. Thus, when he returned from injury, Crush aligned himself with Yokozuna and Mr. Fuji and viciously attacked Savage, dropping him throat first on the steel barricade at ringside (an indirect, but appreciated nod to how Savage took out Ricky Steambaot with a steel ring bell shot to the throat seven years earlier).
The best thing this match had going for it is Randy Savage’s wild man intensity on offense and ability to sell like he had been mortally wounded when Crush was in control. To his credit, while he wasn’t exactly an elite technician, Crush was incredibly strong and used that power to good effect at several points in the match, including scoring the first fall when he press slammed Savage so his throat hit the barricade again. Ultimately, Savage takes the brawl back stage and prevented Crush from getting back in the ring by tying him to a pulley and hanging him upside down from a makeshift scaffold
After all manner of Hardcore Matches, Street Fights, and TLC matches that we would see in the decade to follow this match, it’s easy to write off Savage-Crush as kind of lame and under-realized. It’s important to recognize how innovative the bout was for its time, though, when WWE really hadn’t yet seen plunder-fests of any scope. The success of this bout (as well as the ladder match later that night (see 12) paved the way for bigger, wilder brawls to follow.
64. Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna at Wrestlemania 9 This match marked a major turning point for WWF booking. After an exodus of major stars, Bret Hart garnered his first World Championship reign based on healthy combination in-ring merit, curiosity, and, in the aftermath of the WWF steroid trial, an interest in putting the strap on someone who didn’t look like he was juicing.
Wrestlemania 9 marked the first time when a face world champion would enter a match as both the storyline and real-life underdog, paving the way for what looked to be the first Wrestlemania with an unhappy ending (until Hulk Hogan said otherwise (see 211)). Moreover, there were plenty of questions about whether up-to-that-point career mid-carder Hart could thrive in a main event against an opponent known better for his 500-pound frame than his in-ring ability.
While Yokozuna would, in this match and more so in others to follow, prove himself as surprisingly agile and fully competent in the ring, the story of this match was all about Hart working circles around an enormous opponent—dodging, ducking, diving, and contriving technical solutions to get Goliath off his feet. In the late stages of the match, Hart was in full control, and watching at the time, there was plenty of reason for hope that he might actually pick up the win. The match suffered a bit from a dirty finish that saw Mr. Fuji blind Hart with salt for the eyes, setting up Yoko to steal the pinfall. Just the same, the finish made sense, allowing Hart to save face and keeping him a believable contender when he returned to the main event scene a year later, and also giving Yoko his first title win while demonstrating he was beatable. A little short for a main event, but still a fun bit of history.
63. Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter at Wrestlemania 7 World Championship Match Evil foreigner versus American hero was once a staple in pro wrestling programming. While I doubt we’ll ever see the storyline die out entirely, this feud between Slaughter as an Iraqi sympathizer and Hogan as patriot in 1991 was not entirely in good taste, and the audience responded in kind, never quite getting behind it the way they did for Hogan’s previous ‘Mania programs. Of course, there’s also the elephant in the room that no one really bought Slaughter as a match for Hogan at this point in time, thus making the result of the match a foregone conclusion.
All of that said, it was a decent match for its time, with Hogan running wild early before Slaughter busted Hogan open with a steel chair and locked in his finisher, the camel clutch. The finish was academic, though. Hogan rose out of the clutch and, after Slaughter tried to cover him with an Iraqi flag, hulked up and annihilated Sarge to take home his third world championship.
62. The Rock vs. John Cena at Wrestlemania 28 And so we arrive at one of the most unconventionally built matches in wrestling history. The Rock returned to WWE after a seven-year absence (during which time he became one of the biggest movies stars in the world). His first duty was to “host” Wrestlemania 27, which put him into direct conflict with the show’s main eventers, John Cena and (to a lesser extent) The Miz. Rock cost Cena the match and the following night, the two men agreed to the ‘Mania main event one year out—an instance of farsighted booking, unseen in WWE since Wrestlemania 4 twenty-four years earlier, when the seeds were clearly planted for Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage to wage war over the title a year later.
So, the start to this feud was fresh and red hot. The continuation—more lukewarm. See, Rock was still very, very part time so most of the year-long build happened over Twitter, with Rock making just one in-ring appearance, teaming with Cena at Survivor Series.
The match itself wasn’t bad. Rock pulls off a few simple, if impressive-looking bits of chain wrestling early on to sell that he’s “The Great One.” Cena dominated most of the offense from there, which made sense given he was the current biggest name in WWE and Rock hadn’t had a one-on-one match for nearly eight years. The whole match pivoted on the finish—after Cena had totally beaten Rock down, he got a heelish smirk on his face and aimed to finish him off with his own People’s Elbow. Cena bounded off the ropes. Rock kipped up and shocked Cena and the collective audience with a surprise Rock Bottom to steal the win.
No, this match wasn’t anywhere as epic as WWE would have you believe. But it was a fun, unique, and perfectly fine main event with a big-time feel on account of Rock’s return.
61. Finlay vs. JBL at Wrestlemania 24 Belfast Brawl Every now and again, a poor storyline begets an excellent match, and this is one of those special occasions.
See, in 2007, WWE plotted one of its most ambitious storylines, which started with a limousine exploding, presumably killing Vince McMahon. The story was reportedly intended to lead to a period of mourning, then investigation, and culminating in a main event level push for a new talent who would either be found responsible for the assassination or in cahoots with Mr. McMahon in perpetrating a massive conspiracy for some diabolical purpose. Most reports suggest Mr. Kennedy was being groomed for the role.
Then real-life Chris Benoit killed his real-life wife and son, and committed suicide.
All death-related angles were cut off.
In an effort to salvage some of the drama of the “Who killed Mr. McMahon?” mystery, WWE re-booted with the story of McMahon’s mystery son, who he never knew he had. This, too, was reportedly going to be Mr. Kennedy.
The trouble is, Mr. Kennedy’s bones seemed to be made of glass during his WWE run, so despite great charisma and good in-ring skills, he got injured every time he was up for a big push, until WWE gave up on him altogether. Rather than Mr. McMahon’s mystery son becoming a major player, the story was all but written off as a comedy angle when leprechaun Hornswoggle was revealed as McMahon’s heir.
JBL appealed to McMahon as his fellow wealthy businessman, and through a convoluted series of intuitive leaps suggested Hornswoggle was actually Finlay’s son, not McMahon’s. JBL went on to beat up Hornswoggle pretty badly, setting up a grudge match between him and Finlay for ‘Mania.
So, in a nutshell, a cartoon-y, comedy storyline results in a brutal, stiff brawl, between two talented vets. This wasn’t quite as whacky as the Rey Mysterio-Eddie Guerrero ladder match for the legal custody of Rey’s son, nor was the match itself quite as good, but it still holds up in that canon of unlikely setups to quality matches.
A wild eight-minute fight followed, with as much use of plunder as actual wrestling, resulting in an off-beat and deeply satisfying opener to a really underrated Wrestlemania. Solid stuff, with JBL pulling off the convincing win via his trademark Clothesline from Hell, and moving back up to fringe main eventer status for the months to immediately follow.
60. The Steiner Brothers vs. The Headshrinkers at Wrestlemania 9 While Money Inc. ran at the top of the tag team division in this era, based on a combination of technical prowess and sleazy heeldom, here you had one great and one very good tag team that made their way based far more on sheer brute force. This was exactly the smashmouth match you’d expect from these two teams and was a true hidden gem on a lackluster ‘Mania card. The best spots included The Headshrinkers spiking Scott Steiner over the top rope to the floor head first and hitting their own version of Demolition Decapitation.
For their part, the Steiners were their usual suplex machine selves in the early going, Rick looked great off the first hot tag, and pulled off a truly spectacular power slam spot from Fatu’s shoulders in Doomsday Device position. A Frankensteiner finished things off to cap one of my all-time favorite traditional tag team matches.
59. The Big Show, Sheamus, and Randy Orton vs. The Shield at Wrestlemania 29 The Shield debuted in November 2012 by assaulting Ryback to cost him a world title. A month later, the three-man unit of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns delivered one of the best matches of the year, beating Ryback and Team Hell No. In February the team accomplished another unanticipated feat, beating the team of John Cena, Sheamus, and Ryback.
And so we arrive at Wrestlemania, when the Big Show forewent his heel alignment to go after the pack of young wolves that had dared cross him. The idea heading into the ‘Mania was that, despite having no greater star power than the teams that challenged The Shield before him, combination of Show, Randy Orton, and Sheamus was united in its goal, and strong enough in its giant that they would turn the tables on the heels.
The match exemplified everything great about The Shield as team. Between Reigns’s power game, Ambrose’s mean streak, Rollins’s innovative offense, and their uncanny ability to work fast tags and tandem offense between the three of them, The Shield was just so much fun to watch, and it’s remarkable to watch them go head to head with a team of better established main eventers and watch them more than hold their own.
The psychology on the finish was pretty brilliant. Sheamus plays face in peril. Show awaited the hot tag. Orton intercepted and entered the match on fire. Despite a valiant effort, Orton eventually got outnumbered and Show, feeling disrespected for not getting his tag, didn’t move a finger to break up the pin. The Shield built its cred one step further and the match planted the seeds for new feuds amidst Show, Orton, and Sheamus. Brilliant stuff that probably would have been even better with another five minutes or so to develop.
58. Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 14 Make no mistake about it—this was one of the top ten most important main events in WWE history. This was Shawn Michaels’s last match before a three-year hiatus from the ring. This was the onset of Stone Cold’s first ever world title reign. Triple H’s interference sets the stage for an epic, multi-year rivalry between Austin and Helmesley. And on top of all of that, there was the presence of guest enforcer referee, Mike Tyson—the masterful stroke of celebrity booking that played a huge role in attracting attention to WWE and turning the tide of the company’s Monday night war with WCW.
All of that said, the match itself was good, but not great.
Austin worked in his trademark flurries of offense and Michaels was in very good dick heel form, focusing on the leg, and jabbing at Austin in a nod to Tyson outside the ring. Just the same, the limitations of Michaels’s injured back put him at less than peak form and, as good as most of the action was, the bout never seemed to develop a true flow. Nice poetry on the finish with Austin and Michaels taking turns countering one another’s finishers until Austin finally connected with the Stunner to take the win.
Michaels, even with an injured back, was fun to watch, and Austin, despite a hut neck, flew at this match with reckless abandon.
57. CM Punk vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Christian vs. Finlay vs. MVP vs. Kane vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Mark Henry at Wrestlemania 25 Money in the Bank Ladder Match This one had its moments. There was a fun battle of the giants as Mark Henry and Kane attempted to scale a ladder, got beaten back, then each return to peel back two ladders, casting superstars asunder, so they could square off again. Moreover, this was arguably the passing of the torch match as Kofi Kingston supplanted Shelton Benjamin as WWE’s alpha spot monkey (though John Morrison arguably remained in close contention). Yes, Benjamin got the spot of the match with a senton off a super ladder onto a group of guys at ringside, but he later botched his next biggest spot—a would-be sensational sunset flip powerbomb front the top of a ladder on MVP. Kingston got more moments, including leap frogging a ladder into a clothesline, dropkicking Finlay through a ladder, and scaling a collapsed ladder as Mark Henry held it in the air. He’d build on this legacy in future Money in the Bank matches and Royal Rumbles.
In the end, though, while this match more than its share of fun moments, it also felt especially contrived to me as Money in the Bank matches go, with a series of planchas and crossbodies and splashes to the outside dominating the action for a stretch, then a series of moves off and around a ladder-bridge contraption the guys just happened to assemble.
My favorite bit of the match was probably the finish, at which point CM Punk got caught by his leg, hanging from a ladder, much the same way he trapped Chris Jericho one year earlier to get the win. Christian looks to have the match won, only for Kane to reappear and chokeslam him. Punk got himself untangled and looked like he was going suffer a chokeslam, too—only to kick his way free and take the final step to claim his second, more significant Money in the Bank briefcase.
56. Strike Force vs. The Brain Busters at Wrestlemania 5 Tag Team Championship Match
This was a pretty great little forgotten gem of a tag team match. The Brain Busters were on their way to WWF Tag Team Championship contention and Strike Force had more or less run its course, so the writing was on the wall about how this match would go. Still, it was an enjoyable journey. Rick Martel and Tito Santana were fiery pair of faces at this point. Though their offense wasn’t as flashy as a team like The Rockers, even their basic kick-punch offense got delivered with enough conviction to make it compelling and the applications of Santana’s signature figure-four leglock and Martel’s signature Boston crab brought the crowd to its feet.
Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard should probably rank among the top ten, if not the top five greatest tag teams of all-time. Re-watching them in 2014 isn’t altogether different watching a contemporary match featuring the Shield in which, despite not having a man-advantage, they always seemed to have the numbers game on their side, strategically breaking up holds to save one another, cutting off hot tags, and working tandem offense.
The real story of this match was two-fold. For one, Strike Force went out with a bang when Santana accidentally nailed Martel with a flying forearm and Martel walked out on him. Granted, there was a significant logical gap that the whole scenario was set up when Martel blind tagged into the ring, but Santana somehow remained the legal man. Putting that aside, it was a clear, logical moment to set up a splintering that had been foreshadowed for weeks, and that got Martel’s new Model persona off to a hot start, while reasserting Santana as a gutsy face singles contender. The other story was the rise of Anderson and Blanchard who nailed a sick looking spike piledriver for the win.
It’s a real shame this was Anderson and Blanchard’s only ‘Mania match and that, largely on account of Blanchard’s drug issues, the two would go on to wrestle their final match as a unit within that calendar year.
55. Rey Mysterio vs. Cody Rhodes at Wrestlemania 27 While Rhodes was a reasonably entertaining rookie, and started to come of age as part of the heel Legacy stable, he made the next step in his evolution via this feud with Rey Mysterio. After seemingly to have been saddled with a lame Rick Rude knock off persona as “Dashing” Cody Rhodes, he suffered a storyline broken nose at the hands of Mysterio. Afterwards, he took on a creative mock-super-villain identity, thinking himself horribly disfigured, and wearing a protective mask to the ring (that, in the tradition of Bob Orton Jr.’s arm cast, was far more useful as an offensive weapon than it was for its protective properties).
The match was rock solid, with both guys cutting a frenetic pace, culminating in Rhodes dodging a 619, en route to clocking Mysterio with the mask to pick up the pinfall victory—possibly the biggest of his career to that point (a prior tag team victory over DX the only real competition for that superlative).
54. Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James at Wrestlemania 22 Women’s Championship Match Although this was not the first time, and may well not be the last time WWE plotted an angle in which one female performer was infatuated with another, I’d argue that that particular plotline has never been better executed than in this particular feud. James debuted as a marginally maniacal uber-fan of Stratus. The margins diminished over a period of months until James’s obsession was clear and Stratus had clearly rejected her, paving the way to a heated feud.
Stratus and James were quite arguably two of the best female performers WWE employed in the 2000s, both as in-ring performers and on-air personalities. Their chemistry in interviews and in the rings was top-notch, facilitating a near-ideal situation for a Wrestlemania showdown, which I would call the single best women’s match in ‘Mania history. The back and forth action was solid, but the match may be most (in)famous for its ending, in which James counters the set up for Stratus’s Stratusfaction bulldog finisher by grabbing her in nether regions, then licked her fingers. Classy? No. Captivating? No question. The spot was edgy enough to actually be censored out of the subsequent DVD release. The end result was the right one, with crazy James winning the first of several women’s championships. Stratus would only linger in wrestling for another year or so, and make scattered one-off appearances afterward, but make no mistake about it—this was the passing the torch moment for women’s wrestling, leaving the last vestiges of the Attitude Era behind en route to the PG period that is ongoing to this day.
53. The Rock vs. John Cena at Wrestlemania 29 WWE Championship Match Historical perspective will probably diminish just how much this match had going against it, and I expect critics will look upon it more positively with some distance than they do now.
Rock-Cena 2 suffered from a lackluster storyline build, further diminished when the undercard ran long and WWE didn’t even get to show the polished promo videos they were set screen for each man directly before the match. Moreover, the two had wrestled at ‘Mania just one year earlier in a match that, by Wrestlemania main event standards, was pretty middling.
No, this match was not significantly better, but I maintain that it was better, period. Decent back and forth action, leading to an ending sequence that was not only well-booked and well-executed, but that played off of the previous year in clever ways. Just like the previous match between these men, Cena looked to have Rock beat, and bounded off the rope to deliver his own People’s Elbow. Just like the last time, Rock exploded to his feet. Only this time, Rock did not catch Cena with the Rock Bottom. Instead, Cena held onto the ropes to keep from getting lured in. The men jostle for control, trading finisher positions before Cena finally scores with the Attitude Adjustment. The finish offered just the right level of storyline continuity and surprise to charm a faithful fan and deliver a slightly above average ‘Mania main event.
52. Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania 29 No Disqualification Match This was a high-level match, misbooked in virtually every way.
One night removed from Wrestlemania 28, Brock Lesnar made his surprise return to WWE. This development pretty much blew the wrestling community’s collective mind (not the moment of the return itself, which had leaked about a week earlier, but the sheer fact that the dude was coming back after his high profile and largely dominant tour of UFC). Here you had the most imposing physical specimen in wrestling since Sid Vicious, plus he was actually a very good in-ring worker—and on top of all that, he now had real-fighting legitimacy to elevate his star power and sell the fact that he was one of the baddest human beings walking the face of the earth.
Lesnar was used as a special attraction, only working two matches in 2012 (and cutting a similar schedule in 2013). In a questionable booking choice, Lesnar lost his first match back to John Cena, but at least he battered and bloodied Cena enough that the finish looked like a fluke—even if he was beaten, no one could argue he hadn’t destroyed the WWE’s poster boy first. Lesnar went on to main event SummerSlam against Triple H, and rightfully pull off the big win.
That should have been the end of that feud and we should have seen Lesnar move on to another fresh, interesting match up at ‘Mania. Instead, we just had to have the re-match. That’s the first strike against this match, long before the bell rung—each guy could have been used better.
Say what you will—Triple H and Lesnar were two of the top ten (and probably top five) biggest stars in the contemporary wrestling world, and I’d argue that as total packages they were each most likely top twenty (and probably top ten) all-around performers in wrestling. With all of that covered, they were not going to have a bad match at ‘Mania—and they delivered on that expectation, electrifying few, but delivering an engaging match in the WWE-style, full of false finishes and more than a smidge of overbooking with weapons and interference galore. But the match lacked that moment to elevate it to mythic status. In the end, I don’t think anyone can make a compelling argument that the match measured up to their initial encounter at SummerSlam—and if you’re going to book a re-match for Wrestlemania, you need that moment. That’s strike two.
And then there’s the finish. Had Lesnar one, he could proclaim his supremacy, truly brush off the Cena loss as a fluke and continue as the most intimidating figure in WWE by long shot. But he lost. Thankfully, he didn’t tap out to Triple H’s kimura—my greatest fear watching the match in real-time. He did, however, succumb to the all-mighty Pedigree, Triple H’s signature move. Triple H doesn’t wrestle any more often than Brock, but he was on TV every week. As big of a superstar as he may be, he wasn’t at Brock’s level at that point—this finish did a lot more to tarnish the already tenuous standing of The Beast than it ever could have to have helped The Game. That’s strike three.
In a vacuum, this match was quite good. Thinking about all of its ramifications, it’s one of the more frustrating matches in ‘Mania history.
51. Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle vs. Randy Orton at Wrestlemania 22 World Heavyweight Championship Match I have very little objective reason for saying this but, regardless, this match featured one of my all-time favorite hype videos.
Moving along, this was a fast-paced and fun triple threat that was sadly under-realized and a bit anticlimactic. Yes, Rey Mysterio winning his first world title was inherently a big deal, but the post-match celebration offered little to write home about, and it’s bittersweet now to remember how little Mysterio was permitted to accomplish as champion.
Just the same, the match itself featured some cool spots—a tremendous double-German suplex with Angle tossing Orton who tossed Mysterio, followed by a sweet alley oop hurricanrana through which Angle propelled Mysterio upward to catch Orton, seated on the top turnbuckle. Angle was a beast throughout this one, dominating much of the action and making each of the other men tap out when the ref was distracted.
In the end, though, this was Mysterio’s night. Neither the match, nor its celebration may have been quite as epic as it should have been, but it was still a cool piece of history to watch Mysterio West Coast Pop his way to his very first world title win at ‘Mania.
50. Shawn Michaels vs. Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 22 No Holds Barred Match Not unlike Randy Savage before him, Shawn Michaels had a habit of giving big names with limited in-ring skill the best matches of their careers—particularly on the biggest stages available.
This is a prime example.
As a hallmark of any good McMahon match, this is a very sports entertainment-y affair with no shortage of outside interference and plunder. Michaels’ athleticism and vigor took it to the next level, though. Jim Ross’s commentary was particularly good, too, after having repeatedly been dicked around by McMahon, he eagerly laid the smack talk on the Chairman, urging Michaels to not only break a blown up portrait of a McMahon magazine cover over his head, but also to “shove it up his ass!”
The Spirit Squad got involved to add both drama and comedy to the match, first beating Michaels down, then being single-handedly dismissed by Michaels, which in turn distracted him long enough for McMahon to mount some offense. Later, Shane McMahon inserted himself with a kendo stick to temporarily subdue Michaels.
In the end, though, this is the prototypical Michaels vs. broomstick match whereby HBK needed little more than a warm body to pull off a borderline four-star match. This bout culminated in one of my all-time favorite HBK moments as Michaels stuffed McMahon’s upper body into trashcan and loaded his unconscious carcass on a table in the middle of the ring. From there, Michaels looks straight at the camera with a sheepish smile as if to say, “Can you believe I’m still doing this shit?” scaled a supersized ladder, flashed the DX crotch chop he hasn’t performed in eight years, and elbow dropped McMahon straight to hell.
Most indications pointed to this match being a blow off to the Michaels-McMahon program, but this storyline was all about achieving exhilarating highs, then running for far too long. Yes, this match was good, but it gave way to a hokey Vince and Shane McMahon versus Shawn Michaels and God tag match the following month. After the McMahons mugged Michaels, it set up Triple H’s face turn and a pretty thrilling re-visitation of the Degeneration X team—only for the DX-McMahon feud overstay its welcome by a couple months, too.
Just the same, if we look at this match in a vacuum, it was a very fun piece of business—and for countdown purposes, that’s enough.
49. The Undertaker vs. Randy Orton at Wrestlemania 21 This match marked the point when The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at Wrestlemania transitioned from trivia to the stuff of legend as young Randy Orton, frozen just outside the world title picture, targeted The Undertaker for the very purpose of being the first man to deal The Dead Man a loss at the big show. The build up to this one was pretty sharp, with Orton starting as a frustrated face and getting more and more heelish as ‘Mania approached, culminating in delivering an RKO to on-air girlfriend Stacey Keibler to cement his place as a dude who was one hundred percent focused on ‘Mania (not to mention a jerk).
Unlike so many wrestlers who get better with age, I actually liked Randy Orton best as a performer around this era (though he was allegedly a real dick backstage). The guy brought a level of energy and arrogant polish to his ring work that I just don’t see in him these days, while playing a youthful character who got distracted in his own arrogance. Props to Cowboy Bob Orton for a cameo appearance, nailing ‘Taker with his arm cast (that he, at that point, had been wearing for over twenty years—dude’s arm must have itched like crazy).
My absolute favorite spot of this match, and a top five false-finish for the streak, came when Orton countered a choke slam into a mid-air RKO. This was an upper-tier Streak match in general, as we were just getting into the era when Streak matches were can’t-miss television.
48. Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy at Wrestlemania 25 Extreme Rules Match This was only the second one-on-one match between real-life brothers in Wrestlemania history. In the first incarnation, older brother Bret Hart was reticent to fight his younger brother Owen and kept the action technical until he was forced to brawl. Owen ultimately won via beautiful reversal of a victory roll. In the opening minutes of this match, older brother Matt Hardy wailed on Jeff with a steel chairs and a vacuum cleaner. Jeff returned the favor with crutches and a trashcan, minutes later placing his brother between two tables and splashing his way through to bury Matt in the wreckage. Such were the differences between the Harts and the Hardys.
As I’ve referenced throughout this countdown, Wrestlemania 25 is the lone ‘Mania I’ve attended live. I recall that early in this match, extra security mobilized to the area adjacent to our floor seats, and I went on to spend most of this match suspecting the brothers would brawl their way to our section of the arena, and I remember being disappointed that they never ended up venturing past ringside. Re-watching this brawl without any such expectations, it was much better than I gave it credit for at the time.
Per their signature style, the brothers ran the gamut of plunder in this match. Jeff provided the prettier, more aerial offense. Matt’s was a bit more brutal. In the climactic spot, Hardy leap frogged one ladder, from the top of another in an attempt to deliver a truly spectacular leg drop. Matt rolled out of the way and delivered a sick chair-assisted Twist of Fate for the win. Few WWE stars have done extreme in a more exciting fashion than the Hardys. While I wish they’d had about five more minutes to get even more creative, this was still a satisfying, off beat piece of business.
47. The Undertaker vs. Diesel at Wrestlemania 12 Five ‘Manias into The Streak, and ‘Taker finally got a stellar match. For anyone who needs convincing that Kevin Nash worked better as a heel than as a face, this is a prime example, as his cocky dick character was a near perfect contrast to the solemn Undertaker here. Furthermore, Diesel’s physical stature made him more than believable as a threat to The Undertaker. How about that Jackknife Powerbomb? Better yet was Diesel’s complete no-sell when ‘Taker sits up. Randy Orton, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and CM Punk would later follow in this mold, but here we had one of the first challengers to the Streak who would not be intimidated and truly believed he was going to win.
Of course, Diesel suffered the same fate as all those who came before and after him, Tombstoned in the middle of the ring to lose the match. This would be the beginning of the end of Diesel’s first tour of WWF. That summer, he would debut in WCW, teaming with Scott Hall to found the original NWO.
46. Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy vs. CM Punk vs. King Booker vs. Finlay vs. Mr. Kennedy vs. Edge vs. Randy Orton at Wrestlemania 23 Money in the Bank Ladder Match I loved the first Money in the Bank Ladder Match (see 11) and very much liked the second one (see 41). Yes, I liked the concept of the winner getting a world title match at the time of his choosing and all of the creative options that opened; equally so, I liked the matches themselves—high caliber car crashes involving top tier talent. This edition, though, marked the first time when I resented the set up. I felt strongly that Edge and Randy Orton should have been facing off one-on-one at this Wrestlemania or else packaged into a fatal fourway main event with John Cena and Shawn Michaels. To cluster them with all of these other talents both took the spotlight off of the guys who were a notch lower on the card and meant we’d never get a truly proper blow off to the story fermenting between those two characters for the preceding half year. On top of that, eight guys filled the ring just a little too far, making the roster seem less elite than a way of making sure they could give all of these guys time on the Wrestlemania card.
Enough about the set up—fortunately, the match itself offered plenty to admire. Yes, there were clusterfuck segments, particularly the opening when there was just so much going on that it was hard to follow anyone in a coherent fashion. The first fun spot arrived when Finlay uncharacteristically dove off the top rope onto a cadre of his peers, quickly establishing at once that everyone was going to go all out in this match. I also liked the dynamic of several performers rushing up the ladder early on, selling the entirely realistic impulse for the guys to try to win this high stakes and highly dangerous match as quickly as possible.
One of the most memorable parts of this match wre the repeated “king of the mountain” spots where one guy ran wild, hitting his finisher on several consecutive men. I can understand the booking as it popped the crowd and gave different performers slivers of the spotlight. Just the same, these sequences came across as particularly contrived to me, undermining much of the otherwise solid booking.
That said, this match was at its best when it’s faithful to the characters at hand and played to their histories and realistic priorities. First, there was a brilliant moment when Booker had every opportunity to win the match, but Matt Hardy threatened to Twist of Fate his wife, and even the heelish King needed to be loyal to his woman and sacrifice the win to come to her rescue. Then there was the most iconic spot of the match, in which Jeff hardy had the opportunity to win, but instead helped out his brother in jumping off a supersized ladder to sitdown splash Edge through another ladder—the first time WWE used that particular spot.
In the end, it was Mr. Kennedy who gets the win and, in theory the push of a lifetime. This would lead to the first of the man’s ill-timed, career-limiting injuries, as WWE elected to have Kennedy lose the briefcase before he could use it, and Edge ended up cashing in for the second time in his career—furthering his own legacy as “the ultimate opportunist.”
45. John Cena vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 22 WWE Championship Match Leading up to Wrestlemania 20, John Cena caught fire as one of the hottest acts in wrestling. At Wrestlemania 21, he was marginally less molten, but still seemed to attain his storyline peak when he won his first world title.
By Wrestlemania 22, things had changed.
Cena started to get as many boos as cheers, largely along gender and age lines (female fans and kids still loved him, grown men hated him). Many of us were ready to declare the Cena experiment a failure, and even though he was the good guy headed into this match, and Triple H the heel, it felt as though traditional main event player Helmesley was going to storm into Chicago and set things right by shunting Cena back down from the main event picture.
The match to follow felt alarmingly high stakes with divergent wrestling philosophies and the future of wrestling’s top spot hanging in the balance. The Chicago crowd, notorious for ignoring WWE booking and cheering whoever they liked was squarely behind Triple H, and came unglued for this main event.
The men traded high impact move after high impact move. If Cena were to escape with his title, the popular theories of the day saw him turning heel in order to do so, or else stealing a lucky pin.
Then the unthinkable happened. Cena locked in his STF, the submission finisher that was still a relatively recent addition to his repertoire. As Triple H crawled toward the ropes, his energy seemed to flag more with each belabored movement. It looked like he might pass out in the hold. And then he tapped.
After a fairly epic struggle, Triple H, one of the most dominant stars of the preceding decade, who had few clean losses on his record in the preceding five years, and even fewer by submission tapped out to WWE’s seemingly failing new poster child.
The match concretized Cena as the man in modern day WWE. Though the men would go on to wrestle several more times, and Triple H would achieve victory down the road, the fact remains that their first collision, on the highest profile stage in wrestling, went to Cena, and he became a star without compare in the wrestling world.
44. Randy Savage vs. Ted Dibiase at Wrestlemania 4 World Championship Tournament Final The musclehead-laden late 80s WWF main event scene demanded a few workhorses to prop up the less-wrestling oriented big guys (Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Zeus) and here were the two guys to add some sense of legitimacy and work rate to the top of the card.
Though it’s a shame these guys only got ten minutes to work in the main event, it was about all you could reasonably ask of Savage in his fourth outing of the night. The story of the first half of this match was Andre the Giant, cornerman for Dibiase, repeatedly interfering to give Dibiase to the advantage, until Savage sent his manager, Miss Elizabeth, to the back to fetch Hulk Hogan for backup. Thus, this match set up the next year of storylines as Hogan not only proved an equalizer but an offensive force, slamming a steel chair against Dibiase’s back to facilitate Savage’s victory. This would lead to months of Hogan and savage teaming together in main event matches, followed by a heated feud between the two, culminating at Wrestlemania 5 (see 16).
Nonetheless, for this match itself, we had a fun blend of fast-paced main event style wrestling, combined with sports entertainment shenanigans for a reasonably iconic, if not quite great match.
43. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho vs. Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 16 Intercontinental and European Championships Match Allow me to lead off by citing the definitive hidden highlight to this whole affair—amidst the pre-match gab, Kurt Angle locked a crossface chickenwing on Bob Backlund. Talk about your dream scenarios. Can you imagine Angle versus Backlund in a wrestling match during their respective primes? They guys would have to try not to pull off at least a four-star match. Can you imagine Angle versus Backlund in an oral debate today? Throw in The Iron Sheik as moderator (or just go ahead and make it the triple threat it would inevitably become) and it might just be the most bat-shit crazy encounter you’ve ever heard.
Oh, right… the match.
Earlier in the countdown, I referenced Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko as two of the greatest workers in the WWF when Wrestlemania 16 went down. Here wwere the other three top players from an in-ring perspective. The stipulation was that Angle was defending both his Intercontinental title and his European strap in two separate falls against both men. Part of the brilliance of Angle was his abilty to not only go like a madman in the ring, but also play comedy so well. No question, kayfabe Angle got positively screwed in this instance with Benoit pinning Jericho, then Jericho pinning Benoit so Angle never got beat, but nonetheless lost both of his championships. In between, there was some pretty exceptional work from all parties involved, mixing technical prowess, brawling, and high-flying moves the way so few performers—much less three in one match—are capable of. Very strong mid-card match, foreshadowing all three men’s ascension to the main event in the years to come.
42. Steve Austin vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania 15 No Disqualification World Championship Match Contrary to their later ‘Mania encounters, in this match, The Rock was Vince McMahon’s in-ring proxy in his on going war with Steve Austin. That’s not to say Rock was a poor talent—he probably was, legitimately, one of the five biggest star in the company at that point, and at just twenty-five years of age, there was every reason to look forward to a bright future for him. That said, the guy was just not in Austin’s stratosphere at this point, despite walking into the match as champion.
This match started with one of my least favorite Attitude Era conventions—a lengthy brawl all around the ringside area. That said, the brawl was, at least, characteristically energetic on the part of both guys with Austin playing unstoppable ball of rage and The Rock outsmarting him periodically via spots that gravitated around working Austin’s knee.
Much of the intrigue coming into this match centered on who would referee the match, with Mick Foley and Big Show competing for that right earlier in the night (see 161), and Vince McMahon trying to supplant them. Commissioner Shawn Michaels appointed Mike Chioda right before the match started, only for him to get knocked out and replaced by Tim White, who was followed by Earl Hebner (the combined effect of these substitutions presented a pretty fun “who’s who” of referees for the era). Foley ultimately returned to direct traffic, though, and was the one to count the fall after Austin connected with a Stunner.
This one was a bit less intense, a bit less fluid, and a bit more convoluted than the latter two chapters in the Austin-Rock ‘Mania trilogy (see 19 and 6) but nonetheless holds up on its own merits as a middle of the road ‘Mania main event.
41. Rob Van Dam vs. Ric Flair vs. Matt Hardy vs. Bobby Lashley vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Finlay at Wrestlemania 22Money in the Bank Ladder Match This match offered up one of the best-rounded Money in the Bank rosters, ranging from crowd favorite veteran Ric Flair who had no business climbing a ladder (and got super-duperplexed off one when he tried) to athletic phenom Shelton Benjamin. It was performances like this that simultaneously made the fans believe big things were ahead for Benjamin, and may have sealed his fate as a WWE mid-card act—the guy was innovative, fearless, and capable of wildly entertaining physical feats: a perfect recipe for young midcard sensation, but rarely WWE’s formula for a main eventer.
Benjamin got the spot of the match with a running senton off a ladder ramp,over the top rope onto a bevy of competitors. Flair got the most dramatic moment for returning from injury to re-enter the match and nearly steal the win. It was RVD who took hom the briefcase, though, setting up his lone true main event run as WWE and ECW champ—which he promptly blew when he was busted for possession of weed and subsequently demoted down the card.
40. Diesel vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 11 World Championship Match There are two prevailing, conflicting opinions around this match. There’s the camp led by Pro Wrestling Illustrated in its day that called this the best match of Diesel’s nearly year-long title reign, the best match of the year, and, if we’re going to be a bit bold about it, the best match of Kevin Nash’s career. Then there’s the camp that includes Bret Hart that feels Shawn Michaels put on such a fan-friendly in-ring performance that he completely neutered Diesel as a face champion—essentially ‘going into business for himself,’ to set himself up as the bigger star and the next face of the company.
There is something to Hart’s argument. Listening to a recent shoot interview, The Hitman discussed his Wrestlemania 10 match with his brother Owen and how they stripped down all of Owen’s aerial artistry because he was supposed to be the heel, and thus refocused on Owen delivering cheap shots and vicious holds. Meanwhile, Michaels wrestled this match like a heel only in name, constantly outhustling Diesel and hitting him with splashes and bulldogs and elbows off the ropes.
On a side note, this period may have represented the best use of Psycho Sid for his career. He was acting as Michaels’s bodybuard which, for storyline and aesthetic purposes, offered Michaels an equalizer to Diesel’s enormous size advantage, not to mention a poetic layer to this feud, because Diesel was Michaels’s previous bodyguard before he broke out on his own. In addition, there was the uncomfortable fact that Sid had as good of a look as any pro wrestler has ever had, but was also a pretty miserable in-ring worker, thus having him in a bodyguard role was near perfect. On top of all of that, there was a longer narrative at play—after ‘Mania, Sid turned on Michaels to establish himself as a main event heel and to turn Michaels face, setting different permutations of Michaels and Diesel vs. Sid for the months to follow.
Back to this match, I’d have to say neither camp was really wrong. Michaels’s performance did little to help Diesel’s standing as champion, but just the same, the match itself was a solid outing, and the fact that Diesel successfully defendeded the strap at ‘Mania didn’t necessarily hurt his standing.39. Yokozuna, Jake Roberts, and Ahmed Johnson vs. Vader, Owen Hart, and Davey Boy Smith at Wrestlemania 12 Jim Cornette was the Bobby Heenan caliber heel manager of mid-nineties WWF. He had a falling out with Yokozuna, thus facilitating the big man’s face turn. The stipulation for this six-man tag was that if Yoko’s team won, he got five minutes alone in the ring with Cornette. As a side note, Mr. Fuji turned face with Yoko and it was sort of surreal to see him waving a US flag at ringside after building a heel career around playing off of the fans’ xenophobia.
The featured showdown of this match was Vader vs. Yokozuna. Three years earlier, when they were the respective world champs of WCW and WWF, this would have been a legit dream match. By this point, Yoko has packed on additional weight and lost a lot of mobility. More due to WWF booking than any fault of his own, Vader was not quite the monster he once was.
All that said, the collection of talent in this match was pretty remarkable—all guys who at one point were or really should have been main eventers. (For the record, Jake Roberts never quite got there. Some might balk at me placing Ahmed Johnson in that stratosphere, but the dude was on fire for a period of time before a combination of injuries, booking and showing up at not quite the right time got the better of him (the dude’s power act-plus-agility might have made him a Hogan successor if he showed up a few years earlier)).
Owen Hart was the clear cut MVP of the match, constantly inserting himself in the action and scoring with big aerial maneuvers and interesting technical holds to off-set the more brawling intensive style that surrounded him. It was Vader, though, who picked up the win by laying out Jake Roberts with a Vader Bomb to bolster him en route to his world title feud that summer. Very good opener for the 1996 ‘Mania.
38. The Rock ‘N’ Sock Connection vs. Evolution at Wrestlemania 20 First things first, this match had the benefit of being led off by arguably the greatest pre-match promo in Wrestlemania history, with Mick Foley modestly, intensely selling the importance of the match and Rock entering the scene to jack up Foley and the crowd to unheard of levels with a pep talk about the immensity of Madison Square Garden, the immensity of Wrestlemania 20, and the immensity of their team reuniting for one night (ironically, the only better pep talk at ‘Mania that I can recall happened less than an hour later, when Eddie Guerrero pumped up Chris Benoit for the biggest match of his career (see 3)).
That said, let’s consider the sheer combined star power of the men involved in this match. At the time, everyone was high profile, with Rock and Foley each as recent main eventers, and Ric Flair, of course, standing tall as one of wrestling’s all time greats. But then there we had Randy Orton and Batista. Re-watching this match ten years later, it’s hard to a fathom a time when neither of these men had yet won his first world championship. And yet here we were. Thus, between these five men, you quite arguably have three generations of main event talent level—Flair, one of the biggest stars of the eighties and early nineties, in the twilight of his 30-plus-year career; Foley and Rock, premier players in the late nineties and early aughts, transitioning out of their active wrestling careers; and Orton and Batista on the cusp of a six-year span during which, alongside John Cena and Edge, they would re-define the WWE main event scene.
The match lived up to the hype, with sound tag team psychology, two heat segments and two hot tags, and a ton of fun moments, particularly when Flair and Rock riffed off each other, mimicking one another’s in-ring mannerisms. The finish, too, was spot on, as Foley seemed primed to run the table on Evolution, only for young Orton to catch him out of nowhere with an RKO. That finish was unexpected, slickly executed, and perhaps most importantly established Orton as guy who had every right to perform with Foley and The Rock. Excellent stuff.
37. Batista vs. The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 23 World Heavyweight Title Match Of the three main event-ish matches of Wrestlemania 23, this one garnered the least fanfare heading into ‘Mania and, accordingly, was placed in an inauspicious point smack dab in the middle of the eight-match card. After all, John Cena needed top billing, and a match involving Donald Trump and Vince McMahon surely warranted more attention.
‘Taker and Batista did not agree with these arguments.
By accounts at the time, both big men were insulted with the notion that they were mid-card in anyway, and that they’d only get half of the time of Cena-Michaels, and thus busted ass for 15 minutes to deliver the superior product. The result was one of the great smash-mouth encounters in Wrestlemania history, complete with ‘Taker and Batista trading powerbombs, Batista offering up a running power slam through a table, and reversals a-plenty, all culminating in a Tombstone finish. I’d say this wasprobably the best match of Batista’s career to date, and the first in a string of top tier streak performances for ‘Taker.
36. Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 20 WWE Championship Match WWE can be surprisingly good at booking meta-narratives. For this match, you had Kurt Angle, a legit Olympic gold medalist who, although he was an outstanding all-around performer, was also booked to the top of the card at startling speed, arguably handed his main event push on a silver platter. Then you had Eddie Guerrero, a seventeen-year veteran of the business who was, in 2004, getting his very first taste of the main event.
The storyline and reality converged: Angle was the golden child main event fixture. Guerrero was the redheaded stepchild, and how dare he purport himself to be world champion?
Thus, although Guerrero entered the match as champ, he was also the decisive underdog. Perhaps the only thing to make this match even better was that despite having been booked as a midcard talent his whole career, Guerrero was actually probably among the top five in-ring workers in the US at this point. Pair him up with Angle and the results were electric.
The match that followed was a scintillating technical wrestling affair, with sprinklings of brawling and aerial stylings tossed in for good measure. Best of all was the uniquely booked finish. After having his ankle worked over, Guerrero loosened his boot, ostensibly to relieve pressure. In actuality, the next time Angle locks in his signature ankle lock finisher, Guerrero caught him by surprise by slipping all the way out of his boot so Angle lost his grip and his balance. Guerrero caught a confused Angle with a small package for the surprise victory, in an ending that celebrated Guerreros crafty, resourceful character, while also protecting Angle’s character based on the unconventional nature of the loss. The feud would continue, culminating in a rematch at SummerSlam that year, which played brilliantly off of the psychology of this first encounter.
35. Ric Flair vs. The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 18 No Disqualification Match Re-watching this match twelve years after it happened, it struck me that this match was a lot like a retelling of Ric Flair’s classic showdown with Big Van Vader at Starrcade 1993, when Flair played broken down old man trying to make a go of it against the dominant monster of the day. Undertaker slipped into the Vader role nicely, playing a rough and tumble bully character during the brief heel period of his biker phase. And Flair—well, over eight years later he was actually starting to look like an old man.
I consider this match a bit of a forgotten classic, rarely brought up in conversations around the best matches of Wrestlemania, or even the best matches of The Streak. It wasn’t perfect or polished, but even at three-quarters speed, Flair was fun and fiery, and though Biker ‘Taker tended to get a lot of flack, he played this incarnation of his character well, resulting a fun brawl.
Ultimately, this was a match of moments. Not the more contrived moments of more choreographed matches, but organic ones—‘Taker’s huge superplex on Flair’s injured back, Flair cutting off a chokeslam by kicking Undertaker square in the nuts, a surprise appearance by Arn Anderson to deliver a spinebuster on The Dead Man. This was a pretty special encounter and one that’s more than worth revisiting.
34. Chris Jericho vs. Christian at Wrestlemania 20 This may well be the most unlikely, least remembered instant classic in Wrestlemania history. Take two outstanding all-around performers, both staunchly planted in mid-card purgatory, put them in the soap-opera-est of scenarios with your best female performer of the day. What happens? Pure magic.
Jericho and Christian were sleazy heel tag partners leading into this match before they made a friendly wager about which of them could get laid with one of the female stars of the day first. Jericho tried to seduce Trish Stratus, then, like Freddie Prinze Jr. before him, fell in love and turned into a head over heels goody-two-shoes school boy trying to prove his love. Christian countered by playing the dickiest heel he could manage, assaulting both Jericho and Stratus to set up the grudge match at ‘Mania.
The match that followed was a crisp, clean fifteen-minute affair. I think most of us suspected a storybook finish with Jericho getting the win and the girl; or losing valiantly but proving himself to Stratus. It was, therefore, a legit shocker when Stratus turned heel on Jericho, costing him the match and making out with Christian on the ramp after the match. Heel Stratus and Christian probably should have been a power couple, but alas they didn’t get much of a run. Nonetheless, this was a perfectly executed mid-card surprise to put the cherry on top of a very solid match.
33. Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior at Wrestlemania 6 World Championship vs. Intercontinental Championship Match This was a truly iconic match for its era, and though neither of these guys were particularly known for in-ring work, it really did deliver at a pretty high level. By most accounts, Pat Patterson was the backstage architect of the match, plotting it all out to play to each man’s strengths and lend an epic feel to the encounter.
When this one went down, I remember feeling convinced the showdown would end in a draw to save face for each of the WWF’s two biggest names. In retrospect, can you imagine how poorly a no-contest would have gone over in a ‘Mania event like this?
The match started slow with the guys moving from collar and elbow tie ups to a test of strength to demonstrate they were more or less equals when it comes to physical strength—or, perhaps more importantly, to demonstrate that, yes, The Warrior was on Hogan’s level. The action really got started when Hogan delivered his first body slam to Warrior, only for Warrior to return the favor moments later and then clothesline him out of the ring to injure Hogan’s knee.
Like many of Hogan’s matches, this one was largely about Hogan’s charisma and the crowd’s reaction. It was interesting, though, to see Hogan get into more grappling than he traditionally would, using chin locks and even a small package. Warrior countered with a bearhug as his wear down/rest hold of choice, then used double axe handles off the top rope to demonstrate more agility than he was typically credited with.
The ref went down to add a bit of drama and chaos to the bout as each man appears to have the other beaten once while there was no one around to count the pin. Very good false finish to follow when Warrior hit his press slam and splash only for Hogan to hulk up. Following the tit-for-tat story of this match, Hogan took over from there and scores with his big boot, only to miss the atomic leg drop, setting up Warrior to deliver one more splash and score the pin..
This was, by most accounts, intended to be the great passing of the torch to Hogan’s successor as top dog in WWF programming. While the moment itself worked, the transition would ultimately not be as successful. Whether Warrior wasn’t the star WWf really needed, or WWF sabotaged itself by continuing to book Hogan as a bigger deal than Warrior even without the belt, this version of the Warrior experiment wrapped up in just under a year when Sgt. Slaughter took the title off him so he could lose it back to Hogan at the following ‘Mania.
Despite the match not having the long-term implications it might have, it remains a pretty iconic piece of business and one of the best matches of either man’s career.
32. The Undertaker vs. CM Punk at Wrestlemania 29 Leading up to the spring of 2013, CM Punk was coming off a historic over-a-year-long WWE Championship reign and was pretty red hot as a heel. The Undertaker resurfaced after being gone most of the year, and retained his aura of legend and unbeatable divine force at Wrestlemania.
CM Punk was not the reluctant, weary warrior that Triple H had played the year before, or the desperate, obsessed persona that Shawn Michaels had espoused when he chased The Streak. On the contrary, he was more of a smug heel in the style of Randy Orton or Edge—confident and challenging The Streak less as a matter of necessity or historical perspective than for the sport of the hunt.
The match got some extra heat on account of the real-life passing of Undertaker’s long-time manager, Paul Bearer. Punk would go on to deliver one of the best promos of the year, breaking up ‘Taker’s memorial tribute by saying that he wanted to express his sorrow, condolences and apologies for The Undertaker’s loss “… at Wrestlemania.” In the ensuing build, Punk would steal The Dead Man’s urn and pour the ashes over him.
Another fairly shrewd part of this story line was that Punk was exactly enough of a sniveling, dishonorable heel that he saw no need to pin The Undertaker or make him tap out, but was rather very clear in his intention to get The Phenom so incensed that he would beat Punk brutally enough to get himself disqualified, or lose his bearings and get counted out of the ring. Punk was not invested in asserting his supremacy, but rather adding another statistic to his own legacy—the longest reigning world champ of his generation; the only man to ever score a win over The Undertaker at Wrestlemania.
The ensuing match was good, but not quite at the level of some of the more epic Streak matches to precede it. Punk exhibited wonderful character work, for example being so arrogant as to try Undertaker’s Old School ropewalk routine once and succeed, then proving arrogant enough try it again, at which point ‘Taker clipped his leg and sent him crotch first onto the top rope. Similarly, it was after Punk mocked The Dead Man’s cut throat gesture that The Undertaker slipped out of a Go To Sleep attempt and connected with his second Tombstone to seal the deal on this match.
31. Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 19 WWE Championship Match This is a truly remarkable match in wrestling history for the fact that it was simultaneously better and worse than fans expected.
On the exceeding expectations side, there was the reality that real-life Kurt Angle entered this match with a brutally injured neck, to the point that popular belief among the insider crowd was that the match wouldn’t happen at all. WWE played with this expectation by scheduling a bout between the two early on Smackdown, ostensibly so Lesnar could get a quick win without the fans feeling ripped off, and go on to a thrown-together title defense for ‘Mania. Only, in reality, Angle’s brother contributed to extended hijinks, allowing Angle to steal a quick, painless victory, keeping the ‘Mania showdown intact. Thus, with the match still on, insiders foresaw a short, low-impact contest.
On the other side of things, without any reports on Angle’s neck, you’d expect this to be a downright epic match between Angle, arguably the truest wrestling machine of his generation against Lesnar, a monster of a man with the amateur wrestling pedigree and athleticism to make him the odds on favorite for megastar of the aughts. The match was truer to this expectation than anyone might have expected—until the closing moments.
I don’t know that there’s been a more memorable blown spot in Wrestlemania history than Lesnar’s botch at the end of this match. Yes, the idea of Lesnar winning with a shooting star press was spectacular and could have made for an incredible Wrestlemania moment. But the inexperienced Lesnar went for the move when Angle was way too far from the corner. Thus, Lesnar missed the splash without Angle moving a muscle. The announcers tried to cover, claiming Angle had dodged the move, but the damage was done. In what probably should have been the career-making moment of Lesnar’s first WWE run, he instead looked like a big idiot for going for a flashy, unnecessary finisher, and missing badly.
Putting the closing moments aside, though, this was a very good match. Lesnar demonstrated good psychology by selling his kayfabe injured ribs consistently throughout the match and Angle struck a brilliant balance between cowardly heel and tenacious suplex extraordinaire/submission specialist.
At the time, I remember thinking the match probably would have been better with Angle as the face underdog and Lesnar as the monster heel (really, I don’t get Lesnar as a face at all), and the gentlemen proved that that dynamic worked when they revisted their feud a few months later.
30. Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 17 Speaking purely of in-ring work (not accounting for mic skills, look, or how lucrative the men’s careers proved) Benoit and Angle were two of the top ten wrestlers in WWE history. Accordingly, this match was quite good—though I wish it were better.
Make no mistake about it, this one was a worthy chapter in a series of tremendous matches between these two men. It started with some tremendous chain wrestling, switched directions to a heated brawl, became an aerial showdown when Angle went for his moonsault and Benoit scored with the top rope head butt, and the match got borderline epic as the men exchanged trademark submission maneuvers (including each man trying his hand at the other’s signature hold). There was a brilliant piece of psychology when Angle willingly tapped out when he knew the referee was down and he wouldn’t lose the match. The only thing to really take away from the bout was the finish, which saw Angle get a roll up out of nowhere, with a handful of trunks, to steal the pin. Give this one five more minutes and build to a proper conclusion—probably via submission—and you may very well have had a top ten match in ‘Mania history. As it stands, the guys would wait two years have that match at The Royal Rumble.
29. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 19 I imagine there are plenty folks who would rank this match higher, and I can’t necessarily blame them. It’s a well-executed, unpredictable, technically and psychologically sound affair between two all-time greats. That said, in re-watching it to write this list, I couldn’t escape the sensation that the match was missing something.
Yes, there was a compelling story going into this match of Jericho emulating Michaels, and in many ways being a modern day replication of him. And yes, the finish with Michaels snagging the pin off a beautiful roll up and offering Jericho a handshake, followed by Jericho tearfully embracing him, followed by Jericho giving him a low blow in a terrific piece of character work. All that said, for every movement of this story, I couldn’t help feeling that there could have been something more.
Hindsight can lessen a great moment. 2008 would see the rekindling of this feud amidst a complex web of jealousy and deceit, in which Jericho punched Michael’s wife to kickstart one of the best old-fashioned blood feuds WWE has ever seen, culminating in an epic ladder match between the two. As great as the Wrestlemania 19 feud and match were, I don’t think they compare to the work that an evolved Chris Jericho and edging-toward-retirement Shawn Michaels pulled off a little over five years later. Great match, but there were better things to come.
28. The Undertaker vs. Kane at Wrestlemania 14 While I don’t mean to take anything away from The Undertake, one of the greatest superstars in wrestling history, I can’t help but say it: the dude is lucky.
The Undertaker gimmick itself was arguably the last great cartoonish gimmick of late 80s-early 90s WWF. Upon his debut, there was every reason to think the gimmick would fail, or at best run its course over a period of five years or less. Certainly it couldn’t survive into the more realistic Attitude Era.
And yet it did.
I’d argue that a big part of why ‘Taker did last so long was that it happened to be just the right character for just the right performer at just the right time, and the character of Kane—his kayfabe younger brother—was perfect the accessory to bolster The Undertaker and extend his run well past what may have otherwise been its expiration date. To his credit, Kane proved to be just the super-sized and super-athletic big man foe to complement ‘Taker.
The Wrestlemania 14 bout between The Brothers of Destruction was their first one-on-one encounter, and a milestone in their first of several feuds. People expect matches between two seven-footers to be spectacles, but not to actually be any good.
As it turned out, ‘Taker-Kane was a near perfect dueling monster showdown. The big guys threw the heavy artillery at one another, from brawling to power moves, to a pretty remarkable aerial display (including a relatively early instance of ‘Taker’s over-the-top rope, hands-free plancha). It was a fifteen-minute war in an age before The Undertaker’s streak made the outcome of his ‘Mania matches a foregone conclusion, and thus a great piece of drama for its time.
But perhaps the best parts of all to this match came in the closing seconds. The Undertaker needed to hit his brother with not one, not two, but three Tombstone piledrivers to get the pin. For perspective, the Tombstone has to rate among the top ten deadliest moves in WWF history—hardly anyone gets to kick out of one, much less two. Best of all, Kane was just a fraction of a second late in kicking out of the third tombstone, proving that ‘Taker hadn’t destroyed Kane—he’d stunned him just long enough to steal a pin.
Undertaker and Kane would go on to wrestle many more times, never quite recapturing the magic of this encounter. It was an excellent match, and a true highlight in the lore of ‘Taker’s streak.
27. The Undertaker vs. Edge at Wrestlemania 24 World Heavyweight Championship Match This match has a lot going for it.
The Undertaker had been undefeated since Wrestlemania 7. In a less celebrated statistic, Edge quietly built his own ‘Mania undefeated streak from Wrestlemanias 16 to 22, during which ‘Taker-Edge became something an intriguing quasi-dream match for a future Wrestlemania. (Things got murkier at Wrstlemania 23 when Edge didn’t so much lose as he didn’t win in the Wrestlemania 23 Money in the Bank ladder match.)
Furthermore, this feud was well built with Edge serving as pesky antagonist, inserting himself in the Undertaker-Batista big man war, and ultimately escaping with the WWE World Championship—only to lose it early in the Elimination Chamber PPV, and then insert himself in the Elimination Chamber match at the end of the show to end up World Heavyweight Champion. The series of events portrayed Edge as a brilliant schemer, manipulator, and strategist to keep getting the better of stronger warriors and legends. Thus, the stage was set for this match to perhaps offer his comeuppance.
This match was an important bit of wrestling history in serving as the launching pad for a lengthy, epic, and awesome one-on-one feud between these two men that wouldn’t truly culminate until their Hell in a Cell match at SummerSlam. This match was a more than worthy first chapter.
You also have Edge’s pre-match promo—a brilliant piece of work which recalled young Adam Copeland watching Wrestlemania 6 live, and having his heart broken when he saw his idol Hulk Hogan lose—he talked about how he was going to break the hearts of this generation’s children by ending The Streak.
This match had the odd distinction of featuring my all-time favorite Wrestlemania referee performance. With the original ref down, Charlie Robinson sprinted the supersized entry ramp from backstage to the ring to count the pinfall, ending in a painfully close two-count. It was thus not the just the fans and the wrestlers who sold shock and dismay at the near fall, but the ref himself who appeared disappointed and exhausted.
Putting all of that aside, this was just, plain and simple, a very good back and forth match—more brawling than anything, but also featuring a bit of flight from each performer, Undertaker’s trademark power moves, and the exchange of some nice technical holds. One of the coolest subplots to this match was the idea that Edge had Undertaker’s every move scouted, thus he came up with counter after counter to keep The Dead Man off his game. The match also included multiple callbacks to early encounters between these men, with Edge attacking The Dead Man with a video camera to recall The Rated R Superstar’s return at the preceding Survivor Series, and The Edgeheads, Zack Ryder and Curt Hawkins, attempting to get involved only for ‘Taker to chokeslam one atop the other.
In the end, The Undertaker won, of course, to stay undefeated, and earn his first ‘Mania win via submission using his Hell’s Gate gogoplata—a perfect way to end the reign of a cowardly heel champion.
26. CM Punk vs. John Morrison vs. Chris Jericho vs. Mr. Kennedy vs. Carlito vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. MVP at Wrestlemania 24 Money in the Bank Ladder Match Mr. Kennedy made a point of running beneath a series of ladders to open this match. It’s the kind of moment that makes you wonder if superstitions are true given the dude’s track record with injuries that ultimately got him released from WWE as one of the bigger busts of his generation. Of course, to be fair, his string of bad luck had already started by this point.
There were two odds on favorites heading into this match—MVP, who had been gathering serious momentum leading up to this point, and Jeff Hardy, who was suspended shortly before Wrestlemania for a drug violation. Popular theory is that CM Punk more or less inherited what was supposed to be Hardy’s push when he won this match.
On to the match itself, fun start with everyone but MVP leaving the ring to get a ladder, as he looked on, confused. Soon, MVP became the king of the mountain, though, using a ladder to repel all comers. There were some neat spots to follow with MVP and Chris Jericho jousting with ladders, and John Morrison teasing the same with Y2J, only to out-think his foe by just throwing his ladder in Jericho’s face. The follow up? Morrison scaled the ropes with the ladder in hand and executes a spectacular moonsault onto a bevy guys outside the ring. And we were just getting started, with Shelton Benjamin performing more than one of his trademark super hero spots in the minutes to follow before ultimately getting heaved over a ladder in the middle of the ring, through a ladder outside the ring. Mr. Kennedy brought his trademark blunt offense to the game, and CM Punk playing plucky never-say-die face. Jericho got in his signature Walls of Jericho on a ladder spot, which is always a spectacle. Carlito played Shelton Benjamin junior with multiple high spots akin to things Benjamin would do, but not quite on that level, before weaving in an awesome dick heel moment by scaling the ladder and spitting an apple into Y2J’s face.
The drama deepened when MVP got in the ring with everyone else down and seemed like a shoe-in to take the win, only for a returning Matt Hardy, who MVP had previously put out of action, to make a surprise return and execute a slick Twist of Fate off the top of the ladder. Many, myself, included, felt it could have been an interesting twist for Hardy to have subsequently scaled the ladder and stolen the briefcase, despite not being an official match participant, but WWE opted, instead, to focus on the Hardy-MVP feud there—screwing over his opponent was more important to him than his long-term career goals, which actually was logical enough to the story being told.
Yes, this was a spotfest—not entirely psychologically sound and with a few flubbed moves, but the reason I admire this match so much, and more so than any Money in the Bank match other than the original, is that the spots were so fast and furious, and, in an age when I think most of accepted that we had seen about everything a ladder match had to offer, still offered a lot of fun, innovative, unpredictable moments.
The long-term impact of this match is up for debate, which is a part of why I didn’t rate it a few notches higher and, particularly, why I rated it behind the first Money in the Bank that catapulted Edge to the main event. Yes, the outcome facilitated Punk’s first main event push and he’d go on to be a major player. That said, Punk’s first title reign was more or less a foot note relative to his second Money in the Bank-facilitated title reign a year later, which was also a relative footnote compared to the Summer of Punk angle that wouldn’t come up until 2011 and really cemented him as an elite figure in WWE. Did Punk’s earlier pushes help establish him as a star? Probably. But might he have arrived at the same end without this first Money in the Bank win? I think it’s quite possible.
25. The Undertaker vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 28 Hell in a Cell Match Lots of folks take issue with his match being billed as “The End of an Era,” since neither Triple H, nor Undertaker were really through at this point. It was, however, what I can only assume to be the last match between these two guys, and likely the last main event-level match we’ll see between two guys who main evented during the Attitude Era. Better yet, it featured Shawn Michaels as the guest referee, adding layers of intrigue and drama to the match since, on one hand, Triple H was his best friend, but on the other, Undertaker ended his career and he seemed reticient about the idea of his best friend doing what he could not—end The Streak.
This match started as a pretty wild brawl, then there was a lengthy heat segment in which Triple H dominated only for HBK to start physically restraining Trips and motion as though he was about to call the match because ‘Taker couldn’t defend himself. Things went back and forth from there, culminating in the single best fake-out false finish in The Undertaker’s streak when Michaels and Triple H nailed Undertaker with a tandem superkick and Pedigree for a painfully long two count.
In the end, though, this was Wrestlemania and this was The Undertaker. The Dead Man came back with a vengeance in the closing minutes of the match, beating The Game across every corner of the ring. Triple H kicked out of a Tombstone, ‘Taker kicked out of another Pedigree. A battered Triple H told ‘Taker to suck it, and The Dead Man responds with a sledgehammer shot and one more Tombstone to collect the victory.
At one of the best overall ‘Manias ever, this match offered the night’s biggest spectacle, drama , and nostalgia factor all in one shot. It was an epic encounter and a modern classic. Plus, secondary kudos go to guest commentator Jim Ross, who Triple H and Undertaker reportedly each lobbied to call their big match.
24. Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper at Wrestlemania 8 Intercontinental Championship Match One of the keys to Bret Hart’s success as a major player in WWF history was his ability to make every match and storyline feel personal from defending his family’s honor against Jerry Lawler, to his country’s honor against Steve Austin, to his pride against Shawn Michaels, to engaging in unavoidable wars with his own kin in battles with Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith. This match Roddy Piper was a legit passing-the-torch moment as Piper played an all-but-family avuncular figure who didn’t really want to hurt young Hart, but who also was not about to lie down. The result was a match that ranged from highly technical to pure brawl, culminating in a dramatic conflict of conscience when Piper had every opportunity to cheat to win and decided to take the high road instead. Piper seemed to have the match won with a sleeper hold only for Hart to push off the ropes and steal the pin off a beautiful reversal, perfectly illustrating the technical prowess that would take him all the way to his first world title run inside of a year.
23. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho at Wrestlemania 28 WWE Championship Match To fully appreciate this match, you need to have watched it live and as a CM Punk fan.
See, the thing about being a CM Punk fan in 2012 was that part of you loved WWE for giving your boy a lengthy and legitimate run with the top title. Just the same, part of you lived in a constant state of distrust that that title reign would unceremoniously end at the hands of a more established or more mainstream name (a sensation only bolstered by WWE’s insistence on John Cena still getting more main event appearances than Punk, despite not holding the title).
Thus, when Jericho challenged Punk at ‘Mania 28 I had high hopes that it might be Punk’s shining moment. That he might be one of those special few performers who walked into Wrestlemania with the strap and walked out with his reign intact, and that he might achieve this feat against a much more established Chris Jericho (who also had the in-ring game to give Punk a memorable outing).
And then… it all happened the way it was supposed to.
Punk and Jericho wrestled and intense, fast-paced, back-and-forth match and Punk ultimately made his opponent tap out clean on the highest profile stage possible to retain his world championship.
In retrospect, the match seems like a bit of a speed bump en route to Punk’s over year-long reign, and amidst one in a series of Jericho comeback tours built primarily to put over younger stars. Without the suspense, this was a polished, upper tier ‘Mania match. Add the suspense back in, though, and it was a legit classic.
22. Shane McMahon vs. Vince McMahon at Wrestlemania 17 Street Fight Take a real-life father and son duo, as close to real-life royalty as there is pro wrestling, and have them book themselves into a grudge match at the biggest show of the year, despite neither of them being trained wrestlers. You might expect a shit show. You’d certainly never expect how great this match turned out to be.
After years of being an ass, Vince had turned his evil intentions to his own family. He made out with new girlfriend Trish Stratus right in front of his catatonic wife Linda. He bullied his son like he had so many wrestlers over the years.
And finally, Shane had had enough. He stood up to his old man both in fisticuffs and in the board room, storyline-buying WCW right out from under Vince’s nose to position himself as not only Vince’s storyline arch-rival but now a pseudo-proxy for Eric Bischoff on the heels of the Monday Night Wars.
This match wasn’t pretty, but as both McMahons tended to deliver, it was a brutal, stiff brawl. Moreover, it was masterpiece of overbooking, with Stratus finally giving Vince and his daughter Stephanie their comeuppance after weeks of being talked down to and humiliated, and Linda rising from her wheelchair to give Vince the kick in the nuts he so richly deserved. Mick Foley played his part to a tee as roaming guest referee—equal parts moderating and contributing to the chaos. This all led to the big finish—the debut of Shane’s Coast-to-Coast move in which he stood on the ring ropes while Vince lay prone with trashcan in front of him. Shane took flight, dropkicking the trashcan into Vince’s face with remarkable agility for a suitably thrilling conclusion to a true spectacle of a match.
21. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge and Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz at Wrestlemania 16 Triangle Ladder Match for the Tag Team Championship It’s a shame that the best match of Wrestlemania 16 should be such a forgotten classic. Just the same, it’s understandable given that one year later the same three teams battled again, added tables and chairs to the equation, and blew their previous work out of the water.
This one wasn’t as polished TLC 2, but it was more or less equally brutal with the guys wailing on one another with ladders for the duration. The highest spot saw Jeff Hardy swanton bomb Bubba Ray off a super-sized ladder through a table on the entrance ramp. The simple, but perfectly fitting (and sadistic) finish saw Matt Hardy with his hands on the title belts, only for Edge to haphazardly shove him all the way down, through a table and to the mat so he and Edge could pick up their biggest win up to that point of their careers.
20. Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair at Wrestlemania 8 World Championship Match One year after he was forced to retire, Randy Savage returned to ‘Mania to challenge for a world championship. What can I say? In the world of wrestling, these things happen. The well-crafted story going into this match was about Flair having had an affair with Savage’s wife, Miss Elizabeth, before she met Savage, and threatening to expose revealing photographs of her. Thus, in addition to the title being at stake, we got the joy of seeing insane Randy Savage, out for blood.
It’s funny to think that WWF originally planned on Flair-Hogan for this match, and, indeed, the prevailing logic for surrounding years was that that was the match that should have happened, not so much for match quality, as to deliver on the dream match of the preceding five years of NWA/WCW’s top gun (Flair) vs. the best the WWF had to offer (Hogan). The match didn’t draw particularly well at house shows, though, so WWF got cold feet. On top of that, Hogan’s alleged retirement after Wrestlemania 8 made him a less attractive candidate to win the title, so things shifted around and this was the result—perhaps a slightly less compelling dream match, if a far superior in-ring product.
Part of what was awesome about this particular match up was that both guys were so good on offense and so good at selling, particularly in the respective face and heel roles they were playing for this night. The match probably would have been even better about four years earlier, but both guys were still close enough to their primes to deliver here. Savage was particularly good on his first comeback, bloodying Flaiir and suplexing him outside the ring; he excels on defense when he was selling the injured knee to set up for Flair’s figure four leglock. Flair was near-perfect in working the leg, demonstrating better psychology than continuity than you’ll typically see nowadays (or even those days) in addition to being a consummate enough dick heel to hit on Liz whilst abusing her husband.
Mr. Perfect, Flair’s manager, was quite good, if a little over the top with his physicality against Savage. Miss Elizabeth added her own brand of drama, storming to ringside when she sensed Savage most needed her support.
Savage got the pin with a somewhat anticlimactic roll up—sudden enough to seem a little out of place, though there was also some appeal to the surprising finish to keep the fans on their toes. Flair kissed Liz after the match, leading to a wild brawl and all the confirmation anyone could ask for that this feud would continue.
19. Steve Austin vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania 19 This was Steve Austin’s retirement match, and the most interesting part of it was that no one knew that was the case. Yes, the writing was on the wall that Austin’s career was winding down as he spent more time on the DL and became less of a fixture at the main event level, but he went into this match with no fanfare around it being his final performance. Austin heads down the ramp, subtly clad in a vest with the letters “OMR,” which he later revealed to stand for “One More Round”—the beer-swilling, bar-closing, bad ass’s final match.
Not so different from their Wrestlemania 17 encounter (see 6) this match started hot and continued at a frenetic pace between two performers with every bit of the necessary charisma to make audiences thrill at the sight of simple punch-kick offense. While the face-heel alignments were clear for this match, there was also a collective understanding that these were two all-time greats performing at a high level, and thus it was hard to really root against either man.
The ending of the match was pure poetry as The Rock hit Austin with no fewer than three Rock Bottoms to get the pinfall victory, his first ‘Mania win in three attempts against his arch-rival. Afterward, Rock put a hand on Austin’s chest and thanked him for doing him the favor—the ultimate show of respect between two great titans. It was Austin’s last outing, and turned out to be Rock’s final one-on-one Wrestlemania match for nine years. It was a truly special moment between two truly special performers, capping a top-level match.
18. Mick Foley vs. Edge at Wrestlemania 22 Hardcore Match Mick Foley was a special performer in modern wrestling history. In addition to his innovative character work, unabated willingness to endure physical punishment, and good skills in the ring and on the mic, I feel his truest legacy will always be his unique capacity to facilitate the rise of new main event level stars. It’s arguable this legacy started with his work with Vader in WCW, but there’s no questioning his impact on the main event landscape of WWE, as he was instrumental in the elevation of The Rock, Triple H, Randy Orton, and Edge.
You see, when Wrestlemania 22 rolled around, Edge had already concretized a spot in the upper midcard and was on the fringe of the main event, having taken on Lita as his femme fatale sidekick, decisively winning his feud against Matt Hardy, and cashing in the very first Money in the Bank contract to win his first world championship. The problem was that in a raw main event scene with John Cena, Triple H, and Shawn Michaels (with Mr. McMahon lurking on the periphery) there wasn’t a clear place for Edge at the top of the card. Thus, it seemed he was shunted a step down the ladder to face off with a semi-retired legend at the biggest show of the year.
What followed was the slightly surprising best match of a surprisingly good ‘Mania. The tone was set from the very beginning, starting with brash young Edge assaulting old man Foley at the onset of the match, culminating in a spear—only to reveal that Foley had wrapped his body and barbed wire beneath his shirt, and thus impaled his overeager foe. A wild brawl ensued, which included Foley locking a barbed wire wrapped mandible claw on Lita.
It’s been said that the difference between great, mainstream hardcore and indy hardcore is all about timing and set up. Indy hardcore sees a lot of huge bumps with little setup, little selling, and consequently little drama. When WWE achieves hardcore at its mainstream finest, it’s a spectacle. A table got set up mid-match, but the guys weren’t able to successfully use it. Thus, it was there and waiting, and not overly contrived when it came time for their big moment. Lita got the assist for dousing the table in lighter fluid and setting it on fire. Foley earned major credit for agreeing to go through said flaming table. And Edge had a career making moment by going bare-chested, face first into the flames in order to spear Foley straight to hell for the win. It was a truly epic Wrestlemania moment for Foley’s presumptive last ‘Mania match, and it’s little wonder that Edge would spend four out of the next five Wrestlemanias performing in world title matches.
17. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 26 Career vs. Streak Match The story here is that after a truly epic encounter at Wrestlemania 25, Shawn Michaels was desperate for one more shot at breaking The Undertaker’s Wrestlemania undefeated streak. Desperate enough to challenge ‘Taker over and over again, before costing ‘Taker his shot at the World Heavyweight Championship at The Elimination Chamber by sneaking out from under the ring to superkick The Dead Man. Finally, ‘Taker called out HBK and said he could have his match—if he agreed to put his career on the line, retiring if he lost.
So, the stage was set for something pretty epic.
The main knock against this match is that it just wasn’t quite as good as their encounter one year earlier. The comparison may not be entirely fair, and thus I may be underestimating this match. But there’s no mistaking the case that at Wrestlemania 25, I expected a very good match and got a five-star, all-time great. For Wrestlemania 26, I expected a five-star all-time great, and got a match that was “just” great.
It is what it is.
The match started with a fury as the guys brawled across the ring. One of the narrative threads of the match was that ‘Taker injured his knee early on, setting up Michaels to target the leg with a figure four and later an ankle lock. While the knee injury didn’t disappear (‘Taker did a nice job of selling it throughout the match) it became less of factor as the match progresses through Tombstones (one on the floor, two in the ring), superkicks, a Last Ride powerbomb, and a spectacular if *slightly* off target moonsault through an announce table.
The match ended, not with quite the same level of poetry as Michaels-Flair at Wrestlemania 24 (see 10) but a comparable level of symbolism, capturing the spirit of Michael’s lengthy WWE tenure. After the second Tombstone, he could only stand by leaning against The Undertaker’s body, desperately scaling his way up. Michaels mocked ‘Taker’s signature cut-throat gesture, then slapped The Dead Man in the face in a gesture that echoed HBK’s younger, rebellious days as a brash new heel and as the leader of Degeneration X . The Undertaker answered with a leaping Tombstone to drive the final nail in the metaphorical coffin of Mr. Wrestlemania’s career.
The match was a worthy sequel to its predecessor, and a more than worthy Wrestlemania main event.
16. Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage at Wrestlemania 5 World Championship Match As the late stages of this countdown will attest, Shawn Michaels has earned the moniker of Mr. Wrestlemania, contributing to so many of the greatest matches in the history of wrestling’s greatest show. That said, the oft-overlooked hero of early Wrestlemanias was no doubt Randy Savage. When he wasn’t wrestling four times in one night (Wrestlemania 4) he was giving some of wrestling’s biggest names some of the best matches of their careers. In this case, Savage gave Hogan his best in-ring match to culminate the best all-around feud of his first WWF run.
Hogan gave Savage a huge assist en route to winning his first world title one year earlier and the two worked together as tag team partners for the months to follow. Then Hogan carried an injured Miss Elizabeth back to the locker room, “with lust in his eyes,” which drove The Mach Man absolutely insane, inciting a red hot feud. This was a truly classic grudge match in which two larger than life personalities went to war over the gestalt of a year of professional jealousy, the love of a woman, and, not least of all, a world championship.
Yes, Savage worked his rear end off here—wicked on offense and playing the cowardly heel to perfection when he hid behind Miss Elizabeth at ringside. Hogan brought his working boots, too, though, cutting a pretty fast pace for much of the match and never failing to sell the smaller Savage as a legitimate threat. Elizabeth, herself, contributed to the match in her own way. Demonstrating shades of gray that were otherwise unheard of in mid-eighties WWF, Elizabeth couldn’t choose between long term boyfriend, heel Savage and face Hogan, instead opting to stand in a neutral corner. Better yet, at a critical juncture of the match, she stood in Hogan’s way to keep him from smashing Savage into the ring post, inadvertently creating enough of a distraction for Savage to take control of the match. And what did that jerk Savage do thank her? He grabbed her face and berates her, sending her backstage alone.
A top rope elbow, a hulk up, and a leg drop later, Hogan won his second world championship in what was quite possibly the most emotionally satisfying match of his career. Simply classic stuff.
15. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 12 Iron Man Match for the World Championship I had a tricky time ranking this match.
On the pro side, it’s a technical masterpiece, wonderfully executed from end to end with virtually no human error or gaps in its internal logical—a remarkable accomplishment for a match that lasts over an hour. In addition, the match was historically important, marking Michaels’s first ever world title win, not to mention a high point in one of the greatest rivalries in wrestling history. Add onto all of that that the match was sharply booked to end in a 0-0 tie while Hart was in control, only for Michaels to steal the win in overtime in such a fashion that both men came out looking like champions.
All of that said, even as a devout fan of Hart and an apologist for this unpopular era in WWF programming, I have to admit it: the match is kind of boring.
With a full hour to work with, the guys used a lot of headlocks, hammerlocks, and other holds that they worked and sold quite well, but, particularly with a 2000-teens perspective of work rate, it’s hard to stay fully invested in a goodly portion of this match.
Thus, I deem this the ultimate one-watch match. Every true fan should see it at least once (all the better if he or she doesn’t know the outcome going in) and that one viewing will be a pretty special experience. That said, it’s a bit of a slog to get through once you’ve seen it all before, lacking the rewatchability factor of most matches in this sector of the countdown.
14. Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 21 Here we have an instance of a match being billed for exactly what it actually was—it was built as a match between two of the best in the business, looking to find out who was really better, and the match delivered in spades with a half hour mat classic.
Though Angle had started in WWE is an equal parts serious and comic heel, by this stage he was all business—a stark counterpoint to Michaels who, as good as he was, still played for laughs where he could.
The match itself was rooted in technical mat work, with some pretty fantastic spots woven in, including a modified Angle Slam into a ring post, Michaels scoring with a top rope crossbody, Angle’s missed moonsault (he may have the best looking, least frequently successful moonsault in pro wrestling history) Angle’s super Angle Slam, and Michaels responding to Angle’s trash talk by superkicking him in the face.
The guys did an excellent job of setting up and repeatedly teasing the use of an announce table. There was a thrilling bit in which Angle tried to back suplex Michaels through it, only for Michaels to flail with desperate elbows and finally a mule kick to get out, before setting up Angle for a spring board spinning splash off the middle rope onto Angle on the table (the table didn’t give way, unfortunately, but it was still a pretty sensational sequence).
The finish was classic Kurt Angle, revisiting similar work he had done with Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero. Angle went for ankle lock after ankle lock, hanging on with all the tenacity of a pit bull before finally latching on and forcing Michaels to tap. Excellent match.
13. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart at Wrestlemania 10 Here’s the single greatest opening match in Wrestlemania history. The story was a classic—mid-carder Owen was jealous of his main-event-level older brother Bret. After a series of miscommunications and arguments they arrived at a one-on-one confrontation for all the world to see at Wrestlemania.
This may have been the most complete match in Wrestlemania history, starting with a very clean and simple amateur wrestling exchange in which Owen, perfecting his heel act, celebrates even the slightest victory as if he just won a world title. The match progressed and the moves got stiffer, including each man piledriving the other, moments of brawling, a killer superplex by Bret, and some pretty brilliant technical exchanges in which Owen worked Bret’s injured knee and locked in a Sharpshooter, only for Bret to reverse it.
The end of the match, too, was pure poetry, as Bret gained momentum and went for a victory roll—a move he had used as sort of a secondary finisher over the preceding year, most notably pinning Bam Bam Bigelow with it to win the King of the Ring tournament final. Only Owen blocked the roll through, kept his balance and, after twenty minutes, trapped his brother in an inescapable pinning predicament for the huge upset win.
On par with an excellent match were the implications of this bout on WWE’s main event booking for the months to follow. With a clean win over his brother at Wrestlemania, Owen had instant credibility as a world title contender—thus, when Bret won the strap off Yokozuna at the end of the night, it set off an entirely logical summer-long feud between brothers that culminated in a steel cage at SummerSlam. The two would feud on and off from there until their kayfabe reconciliation in 1997 when Bret turned heel and the two became partners in his Hart Foundation stable.
12. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 10 Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship This was one of the toughest matches for me to rank. I remember watching it at ten years old, and that it blew my mind. Similarly, if you consider the impact this match had on wrestling for the twenty years to follow, it’s an unmistakable classic.
But then, watch it in a vacuum in 2014—frankly, it’s not especially good.
In 1994 the idea of a ladder match was a revolutionary concept in WWF, with Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels having test-driven the idea at house shows and a straight-to-video release a couple years earlier, but the match never appearing in front of a mainstream television or pay-per-view audience.
I remember thinking that the concept was silly—that two stars would race to see who could climb a ladder fastest to determine the champion. I had not considered the myriad ways in which a ladder could be used as a weapon.
The match that followed offered some of the most innovative spots of acrobatics and brutality WWF fans had ever seen, with the two guys smashing the ladder into one another, and Michaels in particular jumping off of it, and finding creative ways to make the ladder fall onto Ramon.
Nowadays, performers have found newer, more visually impressive ways of using ladders, and these more contemporary offerings have a tendency to make Ramon-Michaels look pretty tame. But considering that none of those matches may have happened had Michaels, in particular, not sold the fan base and the company on how thrilling this concept would be, you just have to consider this match one of the best in Wrestlemania history.
As an added bonus, this was one of those special matches that managed to advance the careers of the winner and loser more or less equally and significantly. For Ramon, it was his triumphant moment as a face, and arguably one of the signature matches that made him so identifiable and valuable when he jumped to WCW years later to form the original NWO. Meanwhile, Michaels’s inspired showing demonstrated to the world that he was ready to be a main event player. He would spend three out of four of the next Wrestlemanias contending for the World Championship.
11. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho vs. Kane vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Edge vs. Christian at Wrestlemania 21 Money in the Bank Ladder Match Some of wrestling’s most influential matches are rooted in near-perfect execution. Some result from a new concept or gimmick. This is a rare match that benefits from both.
The ladder match concept itself was proven on the grandest scale eleven years earlier at Wrestlemania 10 (see 12), and we’d seen ladder matches with up to six men involved during the tag team ladder wars of the Attitude Era (see 21 and 5), but this marked the first occasion when WWE promoted a six-man ladder match free-for-all, much less one for the unlikely prize of a guaranteed world title shot whenever the victor should choose to claim it.
While Shelton Benjamin was the most visible star of the match, running up ladders to deliver clotheslines and performing acrobatics off of them, the more seasoned remainder of this match’s roster provided more than its share of foundation, featuring a rugged, stiff action, complemented by their own death-defying stunts, such as Benoit’s flying headbutt from the top of a ladder. While no fan could quite know it at the time, the match ended with the perfect result—Edge battering Benoit’s injured arm with a ladder, only to steal the victory for himself. Edge would go on cash-in his title shot in iconic fashion, defeating a battered John Cena after he had survived an Elimination Chamber match to kick start his first world title run and mark his official arrival as a main event player.
The Money in the Bank concept has delivered many good matches, and many electric outcomes upon cash-in, but I would argue that neither the match itself nor its results have ever matched this initial outing.
10. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair at Wrestlemania 24 Flair’s Retirement Match In Michaels-Flair, you have one of the truly great pure wrestling matches in Wrestlemania history. The story going into the match was that Vince McMahon declared Flair would have to retire the next time he lost a match. Flair proceeded to engage in a winning streak, topping folks like Mr. Kennedy and MVP, McMahon himself, and even making reigning champ Randy Orton tap out in a tag match right before ‘Mania.
The buck stopped with HBK.
This showdown fundamentally worked on so many levels. Two of wrestling’s all-time greats squared, each well past his prime, but both wise and ready to give his all for one last spectacular showdown. In the storyline, as in real-life, the two men were acknowledged as friends. Michaels told Flair he didn’t want to retire him. Flair was insulted that Michaels assumed he would.
The match to follow was the best of Flair’s last WWE run, and I would argue the best performance he had given in at least twelve years. HBK more than held up his end of the bargain. It was a great back and forth encounter that pivoted on Michaels going for and missing a moonsault outside the ring onto an announce table, storyline injuring himself in the process, and perfectly setting up Flair to finish him off with a figure four leglock.
It wouldn’t be Flair’s night though. Michaels dominated the late stages of the match, then, in a truly iconic moment, stared down the old man as he rose to his knees. Michaels hesitated. Flair told him to come on. Michaels mouthed, “I’m sorry. I love you,” and proceeded to superkick The Nature Boy into next week for the pinfall victory.
Second only to the number one match on this list, I’d rate that the most emotional moment ever at ‘Mania. I can’t justify including the hero’s sendoff WWE gave Flair the next night as a part of this match, but let’s just say it was fitting epilogue to a wonderful capstone match to an amazing career.
9. Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania 18 The wrestling world is no stranger to hyperbole along the lines of “legend versus legend” and “icon versus icon,” but I don’t know that the hype was ever more true than for this showdown.
You can’t talk about Hogan-Rock without acknowledging the “third man” in this encounter: the crowd. Watch this one with the sound muted and it may just barely crack to the top 50 percent of this countdown. But drink in the atmosphere of the crowd losing its mind on the initial stare down, coming unglued when Hogan hulked up, or celebrating the aftermath of the match, and you understand why this one is an all-time classic.
The Rock was The Rock, wrestling competently and brawling full throttle. I’d actually argue this was one of Hogan’s better ‘Mania in-ring performances from a purist perspective, as Rock forced him to keep the work rate up and he held up his end of the bargain as a superficial heel, with enough hints of his face self to shore up that the crowd would be in his corner during the post-match fracas.
So let’s get to the aftermath. Yes, Rock won the match, in no small part due to Hogan ordering his NWO buddies Hall and Nash not to interfere. The Outsiders were upset with Hogan’s loss and went after their comrade. Rock made the save and, all at once, it was Hogan and Rock battling side by side to clear the ring, and they shook hands not unlike Warrior and Hogan in Toronto 12 years earlier. There were poses to follow, and the crowd’s explosive reaction to the whole event rightly unleashed a brief return of Hogan as superstar face and world champion that spring into early summer.
Rock-Hogan was less about the match, more about the moment—and it was s, without question, one of the greatest moments in Wrestlemania history.
8. Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage at Wrestlemania 3 Intercontinental Championship Match In an otherwise cartoonish WWF landscape, Steamboat-Savage was the feud for wrestling purists to latch onto. Yes, it was a program centered on two men competing over a championship, but all the more so, it became a blood feud after Savage drove a ring bell into Steamboat’s throat on TV, putting him out of action for a period of months.
Steamboat returned with revenge on his mind.
Thus, the stage was set for two of the great in-ring performers of the day to square off.
The ensuing match was a classic on every level—fast-paced, technically beautiful, and featuring enough aerial moves and brawling to offer a taste of something for everyone. The match featured no fewer than nineteen two-counts, threatening to end time and again before Steamboat pulled off the final pinfall to have his revenge and his richly deserved title belt.
While fans love this match, it may be even more notable for its influence upon wrestlers themselves as contemporary stars like Chris Jericho continually cite as the template they aspired to in becoming wrestlers themselves, and making every effort to build a more compelling in-ring product for generations to follow.
7. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania 3 WWF Championship Match And so we arrive at arguably the most famous match in wrestling history. With an audience of 93,000 plus looking on, the hero off of whom WWF had built an empire clashed with the largest wrestler in the world.
If this countdown were based on work rate alone, this match would not crack the top 100. But considering the drama, the build, and the moment when Hogan bodyslammed Andre (not for the first time, but on the biggest stage imaginable) the match became the stuff of legend—the moment that, more than any other, apotheosized Hogan and cemented Andre’s status as a legend. When it comes to pure drama, this was the greatest match of all time, and an easy pick for the top ten in this countdown.
6. Steve Austin vs. The Rock at Wrestlemania 17 No Disqualification WWF Championship Match In the pantheon of icon versus icon matches in which the legit top two performers of the day go head to head, this match succeeded as not only a spectacle and the subject of drama, but as an unforgettable match. There was no stare down. No feeling out period. No stalling. From the moment both men were in the ring, they went at one another, fists flying for a heated brawl that evolved into a wrestling match, culminating in a legitimately shocking finish when Austin turned heel, teaming with Vince McMahon to steal the title.
Yes, this match was great, and yes the aura around it was near peerless. Perhaps best of all, the match was symbolic of a unique time in wrestling. This was a clash between the two icons of The Attitude Era, the two parties most responsible for WWF winning its war with WCW, and two men who remarkably rose to prominence concurrently and each solidified a legacy as one of the top five biggest stars ever in wrestling history. Matches don’t get much bigger than that. And what on earth can you say when a match is that significant and that good, and it’s still reasonable to debate whether the match or the iconic promo video WWF used to sell it was more successful.
5. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. Edge and Christian at Wrestlemania 17 Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match for the Tag Team Championship In the fourth spot we have my pick for greatest six-man match of all time. At the heart of this encounter were six dudes who wanted very badly to entertain the crowd, make a moment, and, perhaps most prominently, get themselves noticed.
Various permutations of these three teams had feuded for over a year, trading the titles between them many times over and winning over the crowd in ways that few tag teams ever had, or would up through modern day. You had The Hardy Boyz—reckless daredevils who loved to jump from high surfaces (and had a particularly affinity for jumping off of ladders onto opponents). You had The Dudley Boyz, the old school bruisers who weren’t flashy, but seemed like spiritual successors to teams like the Miracle Violence Connection and Demolition (and they loved to throw opponents through tables). And then there were Edge and Christian, legit best friends since childhood, storyline brothers who could take risks like the Hardys, but were more technically sound than them, and positively oozed obnoxious-heel charisma (and their trademark move was the con-chair-to, in which case they stood one to an opponent’s right, the other to an opponent’s left and slammed steel chairs against opposite sides of his head at the same time).
The teams had a very good three-way ladder match at Wrestlemania 16 (see 21) and a phenomenal TLC match at SummerSlam 2000. This match was the follow up—TLC 2 and, in theory, the epic conclusion to an epic rivalry.
The guys didn’t disappoint, staging a thrilling match that seamlessly intertwined chaos, brutality, and high spots. Men went through tables and were hit with ladders and smashed with chairs. Then came the spear.
Jeff Hardy climbed the ladder and had his fingers on the title belts, while Edge scaled an adjacent, taller ladder. Bubba Ray stole Hardy’s ladder right out from under him, leaving him hanging from the mechanism that suspended the belts of above the ring. And Edge speared him—a full on shoulder tackle from 15 feet in the air all the way down to the mat for the most electrifying physical spectacle ever at a Wrestlemania.
The TLC gimmick isn’t a favorite of traditionalists, but in its purest form—as it was demonstrated here—it can capture the imagination like few other match-types. The Hardys, Dudleys, and Edge and Christian made art out of the least likely form, and in this match cemented a new institution in the lexicon of specialty matches.
4. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 13 I Quit Match Ladies and gentlemen, the art of the double switch.
Step one: recognize the flagging popularity of one of your biggest heroes.
Step two: recognize the swelling popularity of one of your top villains.
Step three: capitalize.
The story of this match was Hart’s character growing increasingly whiny after he fell victim to numerous screwjobs (foreshadowing?). Austin’s character represented a younger generation that threatened to pass Hart by—not to mention an asshole who Bret could not comprehend the fans cheering.
Austin—well, he just didn’t give a damn.
And so Hart as a submission specialist went head to head Austin as a man with a never-say-die attitude in a match that could only be won via submission (incidentally, refereed by newly debuted MMA star-turned pro wrestler Ken Shamrock). A truly special match followed with the guys interspersing perfectly executed submission holds between periods of wild brawling.
Then came the iconic moment. Austin had been reduced to a bloody mess and found himself trapped in the middle ring, locked into Hart’s signature sharpshooter hold. There wouldn’t have been much shame in Austin submitting at that point. Instead, the Texas Rattlesnake pushed up on his arms, screamed and bled.
The match ended after Austin had passed out and Shamrock had to call for the stoppage. In that moment, Austin became the most courageous of figures, living up to his word and never giving up. Meanwhile, Hart became not only a complainer, but a heartless bastard as he first refused to release the hold, then went so far as to kick Austin when he was down and completely defenseless. He teased a brawl Shamrock, only to back away like the chiken heel he suddenly was. Like puppets on strings, the fans booed Hart out of the building and formally anointed Austin as their new hero.
When it comes to sheer drama and impact, it’s hard to rival this moment. Austin would go on to become the biggest star in WWF history. Hart’s career would find new life for the year to follow as a villain. The war between the two sides would function as a vanguard for the wildly successful Attitude Era.
3. Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania 20 Triple Threat Match for the World Heavyweight Championship There are plenty of factors working against the inclusion of this match at such a high place in a countdown of this nature.
Chris Benoit is the perpetual elephant in the room in conversations of wrestling’s greatest stars and matches on account of his final days on this earth—the period in which he apparently lost his mind, murdered his wife and young son, then committed suicide. It’s hard to canonize a man after such actions, and thus, difficult to celebrate this match since it was the crowning moment of Benoit’s career—the point at which he finally, with no qualifiers or controversies, won a world championship (contrary to his phantom WCW title win the night before he left the company).
Meanwhile, wrestling traditionalists tend to balk at multi-man matches. While the thinking that all matches should be one-on-one is a bit archaic, and the thinking that “the more wrestlers the better” is a recipe for success was a late 90s/early 2000s fad, this matche standss as a perfect example of a match that logically warranted the participation of three performers.
And it’s one of the greatest matches of all time.
In the lead up to this match, Chris Benoit won the Royal Rumble, beating the odds by surviving all twenty-nine other competitors from the number one spot. Storyline logic would suggest that he would use the win to challenge long-time rival Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Championship at Wrestlemania. Instead, in the relatively early days of the brand extension, Benoit opted to jump shows, switching from the Smackdown roster to the Raw roster to challenge their champion, Triple H.
One problem: Shawn Michaels.
Michaels and Triple H were in the middle of a blood feud peppered with indecisive finishes, thus Michaels was campaigning for his own world title shot at ‘Mania. Benoit effectively blocked his chance. Michaels tried to reason with “The Rabid Wolverine,” but Benoit brushed him off. So Michaels superkicked him unconscious at his contract signing and signed his own name in Benoit’s place.
In anything resembling actual contract law, the idea that Michaels could squeeze his way into the match via such means is pretty absurd. Through the wonder of wrestling logic, though, putting his name on the contract was enough to throw the whole situation into turmoil. The final ruling was that all three men would square off against one another, which presented two compelling stories. Yes, this was long-time friends turned long-time rivals Triple H and Shawn Michaels squaring off in the main event of the biggest show of the year. But this was also the story of Chris Benoit, a small, unlikely wrestler who, in real-life had learned his trade through apprenticeships in Canada, Mexico, and Japan, survived the political chaos of WCW, and made his way to WWE finally getting his shot at the most significant wrestling title in the world, at the biggest event of the year. In doing so, he would challenge the establishment—a pair of guys who between the two of them, had dominated the WWF/E main event scene for nearly a decade.
Got goosebumps yet?
The resulting match was epic. There were moments of Benoit and Michaels, as faces, working together to punish the dastardly Triple H. More telling were the moments when Michaels and Triple H formed an unholy and uneasy alliance to take out their common enemy, so they could settle their own issues uninterrupted.
In the most epic moment of the match, Michaels and Triple collaboratively slammed Benoit through a table outside the ring, apparently incapacitating him for good. A bloodied Michaeled rolls into the ring, stood at centerstage and pointed at Triple H to make one last challenge, one-on-one, with their titles and the legacy of their rivalry on the line in the middle of Madison Square Garden.
Michaels and Helmesley got their brawl, but in the end, Benoit proved too tenacious to keep down, not only returning to action, but ultimately locking Triple H in his signature Crippler Crossface. Triple H—arguably the most established star of the day and the guy with the most political clout—tapped out clean, in that single motion making Benoit the new supreme player.
The aftermath of the match was the third emotional moment ever at a Wrestlemania (see 10 and 1). Confetti rains from the rafters. Eddie Guerrero, who won the WWE World Championship one month earlier and retained it earlier that night snuck into the ring and embraced his long-time real-life and storyline best friend, Benoit. Finally, two of wrestling’s last great traditionalists, and two of the very best in-ring performers of their day also held the two most important wrestling titles in the US. And WWE had, uncharacteristically, elected to venerate a pair of undersized, underdog workhorses, rather than a couple of muscle heads, in the finale to their twentieth annual big show.
Tragically, both Benoit and Guerrero would be dead inside four years, and thus this match has been largely erased the annals of WWE history. But those who lived the moment can’t forget what it meant at the time, and that this match itself stands out as truly exceptional.
2. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels at Wrestlemania 25 No one expected this match to be bad. It’s just that, contrary to most of the other bouts in the top ten, I don’t think anyone expected it would be this darn good.
I attended Wrestlemania 25 live and it was one of the most fun experiences of my life. Even a lackluster Wrestlemania is still Wrestlemania, and sitting amidst 70,000 fellow fans on the biggest night of the year for your chosen form of entertainment is pretty special.
And then this match happened, and the event went from objectively forgettable to historic.
Michaels and ‘Taker had a history, feuding on and off in the early days of the Attitude Era and then coming to blows consecutive years at the Royal Rumble. Michaels, even at the tail end of his career, was still among WWE’s top five in-ring performers and top five men on the mic. Undertaker had cultivated his aura of invincibility over the course of eighteen years as a WWE star at that point, and of course, carried his vaunted undefeated streak into this Wrestlemania.
The lead up was epic. Though both men were faces, Michaels edged toward de facto heel, taking physical cheap shots at ‘Taker, and taking several measures to mock “The Dead Man’s” persona in the weeks leading up to the show, all under the pretty logical excuse that he wanted ‘Taker angry and unfocused.
Despite now standing at 21-0 at Wrestlemania, in the best of The Undertaker’s streak matches, WWE still manages to create a sliver of doubt about whether his foe might actually beat him that year. No one played that part better than HBK, unloading his full artillery on The Phenom.
Michaels wouldn’t stay down. In the match’s greatest moment, Undertaker finally managed to hit his opponent with the ultimate finisher—the Tombstone piledriver. The referee counted one. The referee counted two. And just before he could count three, Michaels kicked out, shocking us all in Houston and giving way to the greatest Undertaker facial expression of all time as he went wide-eyed and all but said, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”
The war raged on with false finishes galore, and competing audience chants of “Under-taker” and “HBK,” for a full half hour before another Tombstone connected and Undertaker finally scored the pin. Yes, my perspective on this match is skewed by the sheer electricity of observing it in-person with such an awesome crowd. That said, there’s no doubt in my mind it’s worthy of a top five spot on this list. I hereby declare it the second best ‘Mania match ever.
1. Randy Savage vs. The Ultimate Warrrior at Wrestlemania 7 Retirement Match A clash between two icons? Check.
The greatest match in The Ultimate Warrior’s career? Check.
The culmination of the greatest love story in wrestling history? Check.
The end of an era? Check.
To revisit the criteria for this countdown, if I were to rank matches purely on in-ring action, this match would be a borderline top 50 candidate. But when you take into account everything that the match meant in its original context, paired with the match itself—there you find its apotheosis to my pick for the greatest match in Wrestlemania history.
From roughly 1988 to 1992, “The Macho Man” Randy Savage was in elite company as one of the top three biggest names in WWF alongside Hulk Hogan, with Andre the Giant, The Ultimate Warrior, and arguably Ted Dibiase occupying the other spot. Moreover, of all of these huge stars, Savage was the runaway choice for best in-ring performer.
Then there was Warrior. The handpicked successor to Hulk Hogan who didn’t quite thrive in the role of champion enough to really cut it as the company’s top star, but who remained a big enough name to hang out among the big three. In many ways, Warrior was more Hogan than Hogan himself—a ridiculously muscular dude who got by on charisma, stage presence, bonkers promos, and a unique look without ever actually being an exceptional wrestler.
But on to the storyline. In the short-term, these guys established a collision course when Savage challenged Warrior to a world title match and Warrior said he wasn’t worthy. Savage proceeded to attack Warrior mid-match when he was defending his title against Sgt. Slaughter at Royal Rumble 1991, costing him the match and his championship. Thus to the two set off on a heated feud, leading to the ultimate stipulation for their Wrestlemania encounter: the loser would be forced to retire.
Retirements don’t mean a ton in wrestling, as evidenced by the fact that both of these guys were in the ring again one year later at Wrestlemania 8. Just the same, the circumstances around the match felt grave, and by all indications WWF actually did intend to transition “The Macho Man” out of active performance to a broadcasting role.
That’s the short-term, but there’s an important, longer story arc at play here. See when Savage debuted in the mid-80s, he brought along his real-life wife Miss Elizabeth as his manager. In his early WWF career, Savage was a mean-spirited, vaguely misogynistic character and the presence of good and pure Elizabeth at his side only underscored his villainy by contrast. Then Savage made a face turn, and he and Elizabeth were the most popular couple in company history. Savage went on to win a world title with Elizabeth by his side, and it was Savage’s protectiveness of Elizabeth against his new buddy Hulk Hogan that ultimately led to his heel turn. With “The Macho Man” playing a villain, Elizabeth played conflicted, refusing to turn her back on him, while she also no longer accompanied him to the ring or demonstrated any visible attachment to him.
Fast forward a couple years. Savage lost his title to and his feud with Hogan, but proceeded to win the King of the Ring tournament and rechristen himself “The Macho King,” taking on Sherrie Martel as “Queen Sherrie,” his new manager.
That all set the stage for Wrestlemania 7. Just prior to the performers entering the ring, the camera panned the audience, and the commentators made note that Miss Elizabeth, unseen in WWF TV for a year, was in attendance to watch her ex’s highest stakes match.
In real life, Savage was notorious for choreographing matches, wanting to plot out every move and practice it. Critics, including a number of his contemporaries, knocked his approach because it didn’t allow for spontaneity or for them to react organically to the crowd. The fact remains that Savage’s planning resulted in a number of fantastic matches, including this, the best Warrior ever had. The action was fluid, dramatic, and built logically to ebb and flow, with the momentum vacillating between the two performers, culminating in Savage dropping five consecutive elbow drops from the top rope, only for The Warrior to take over and dominate the finish.
Post-match, a disappointed Queen Sherrie kicked Savage when he was down. A simplistic response would have been for Warrior to have saved Savage to demonstrate their mutual respect and end Savage’s career realigned with the good guys. The more nuanced, sublime choice was for Miss Elizabeth to get involved.
For over five years, Elizabeth had been a peaceful, dignified bystander to all of the mayhem in the WWF ring. On this night, she jumped the barricade, stormed the ring, grabbed Sherrie by her hair and flung her out to ringside.
Savage rose to his feet, at first confused and disoriented. Then he hugged Elizabeth. Lifted her up on his shoulder like he had in the old days. Held the ropes so she could leave the ring in a gesture akin to holding the door. The camera cut to audience members actually weeping with joy.
Nowadays, it’s rare to see a wrestling love story go longer than a couple months. This story played out over a span of over six years, peaking at this moment. Fans would go on to observe the proposal on TV, the Macho wedding at SummerSlam, and Savage’s return to the ring and top-notch feuds with Jake Roberts and Ric Flair in the year to follow—each ignited when Savage’s rival dared to dishonor Elizabeth (more specifically, in Jake’s case, attacking her with a snake).
But that was all in the future. For one night, The Warrior reigned supreme and looked poised to challenge the world. And Savage looked ready to ride off into the sunset, a humbled version of The Macho Man, at peace with his career, the fans, and the love of his life. That my friends, was the greatest story Wrestlemania has ever told.
Read stories and miscellaneous criticism from Mike Chin at his website and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.
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