by Joe Thunder - March 11, 2012
It’s almost time for WrestleMania! It’s the best time of the year to be a fan knowing that we have the biggest show of the year just around the corner. So, I wrote this really cliche list of top Mania matches that you’ve probably seen a hundred times before. The difference for me personally is that some matches really stood out in my mind more than others, and so I’m excited to share with you what I believe are the top 25 matches in WrestleMania history.
For now, here’s part 1!
25. Kurt Angle vs Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Championship, WrestleMania 20: Kurt was the challenger going into this match. Eddie had defeated Brock Lesnar, who was wrestling his last match that night, for the title at No Way Out the prior month. You’ll hear me refer to a lot of matches as wrestling clinics when it comes to this list, and this one is no exception. Kurt and Eddie put on a match just shy of 22 minutes that would set the bar for the main event that night. The match ended with Kurt attempting to apply the ankle lock on Eddie when Eddie’s boot(which Eddie had untied) came off and surprised Angle. Eddie stood up and got the victory with a small package three count. This was Eddie’s big WrestleMania moment, as he would open WM 21 with Rey Mysterio the following year and would pass away later on in 2005. Kurt, as we know had several big WM matches that might just show up on this list later on.
24. Ultimate Warrior vs Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship, WrestleMania 6: Despite this not being the greatest wrestling match, for me it’s still a classic. These two worked their asses off to give their best performance on the grand stage in a face vs face match that would become arguably the biggest match at WrestleMania in the first nine years of it’s existence(I know there are Hogan/Andre fans that would argue). Hogan was the man at the time, and nobody expected him to lose the title. This was Vince’s big test to see if Warrior could handle carrying the company on his shoulders. The company thrived throughout 1990 and it didn’t seem to be much of a problem. Warrior would hold the title all the way until the following year’s Royal Rumble, where Macho Man would cost him his title defense against Sgt. Slaughter. This is the only Ultimate Warrior match on this list and for good reason. He was an entertainer without a doubt, but he wasn’t the greatest wrestler in the world.
23. Batista vs Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship, WrestleMania 21: WrestleMania went Hollywood as Evolution dissolved and Triple H was forced to defend his World Title against the winner of the 2005 Royal Rumble, Dave Batista. This might have been the best match Batista ever wrestled(second being his match with the Undertaker at WM 23). Triple H had really been carrying that Raw brand since the departure of Rock and Austin in 2002(at least full time anyway, they both still appeared but rarely competed. Austin stopped competing in 2003) and had been the top guy defending the title against Shawn Michaels, Kane, Scott Steiner, Booker T, Goldberg, and Chris Benoit. It was definitely a time period where a few new stars were being made. The match Hunter and Dave put on that night was a huge success and the crowd was really behind Batista through the majority of the match. Batista had only been a mid card guy with growing popularity over the course of late 2004. The friction with Triple H grew to the point where these two were going to collide. Batista winning the Royal Rumble was the perfect setup for a championship match at WrestleMania. In a lot of ways, I compare Batista to the Ultimate Warrior, and I’m not trying to insult him too badly when I do that. Batista wasn’t the greatest wrestler in the world, but he appealed to a certain crowd with an excitement factor. I personally wasn’t all that excited by him, but he fit the Vince McMahon big guy mold that sometimes elevates wrestlers prematurely into the main event scene. This match was a war between the two and saw Batista picking up the win with the Batista Bomb. He would go on to a lot more success after Triple H made him a star that night.
22. Randy Savage vs Ric Flair for the WWF Title, WrestleMania 8: This match was supposed to be Ric Flair against Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title. Booking was changed around because Vince wanted Sid and Hogan as the big man main event(they botched the finish of that one too). This match happened during a time period where things were changing in the WWF. Hulk Hogan was about to take a hiatus for nine months. Ric Flair was doing his thing as the top guy in the company but Randy Savage wanted to challenge him for that spot. The backstory to the match was that Flair had been with Elizabeth before she was with Savage, and Flair planned on exposing indecent photos of her to the world at WrestleMania. Savage ended up defeating Flair in a classic match at the Hoosier Dome to once again and for the last time hold the WWF Title. He would lose the title in September to Ric Flair on an episode of Prime Time Wrestling. Savage and Flair would go on to WCW and have many more battles while there.
21. Chris Benoit vs MVP for the United States Championship, WrestleMania 23: This is one that stands out for me personally as a great match. The two would wrestle an even better match the following month at Backlash, but this one was something special. Benoit was one of the three greatest technical wrestlers of our time and really brought out the best in MVP. Mike Lightning and I watched this match together live back in 2007 and were absolutely stunned by the amazing chemistry between Benoit and MVP. Benoit would successfully defend the title in this match by way of the diving headbutt on MVP before getting the three count pinfall. Benoit would go on to lose the title to MVP in May at Judgment Day in a two out of three falls match. MVP saw success by holding the US Title more than once. He feuded with Matt Hardy and the Great Khali and formed a tag team with Mark Henry at one point. MVP asked for his release in 2010. Despite that, MVP worked an amazing match at WrestleMania 23 and will hopefully one day be back to work more memorable Mania matches.
20. Randy Savage vs Ted Dibiase in the finals of the WWF Title Tournament, WrestleMania 4: Again, this was not the greatest wrestling match. This was once again Vince McMahon’s way of letting someone else carry the company besides Hogan. Hogan had lost the title to Andre(see the infamous Hebner brothers incident) and Andre had sold the title to Dibiase. The sale was nullified by Jack Tunney and the title became vacant. WrestleMania 4 saw a tournament to crown the new champion. Hogan and Andre wrestled to a double count out earlier in the evening, and each were in the corner of one of the competitors in the finals(Hogan in Savage’s corner, Andre in Dibiase’s corner). The match wasn’t long but the crowd at the Trump Plaza were really into this match. Savage was able to hit the best flying elbow anybody has ever seen on Dibiase and pick up the win. Hogan celebrated with him and Elizabeth in what was one of the biggest feel good moments of the time period. Hogan and Savage would team as the Mega Powers after that throughout 1988 before they turned on one another, leading into 1989 and their main event match at WM 5.
19. Hulk Hogan vs Randy Savage for the WWF Title, WrestleMania 5: Did Hulk Hogan and Elizabeth hook up? The question has never officially been answered, but I would bet the odds are pretty high that it happened. Anyway, the Mega Powers were a huge tag team throughout 1988 and jealousy in the group is what eventually turned Savage heel and caused him to turn on Hogan. WrestleMania 5 once again took place at the Trump Plaza in Atlantic City where the Mega Powers went one on one for the WWF Championship. Hogan was still in the mode of no selling moves from his opponents and was no different when he stood up after the flying elbow from Savage and did his patented signature moveset with a legdrop for the victory. Hulk Hogan was back on top once again and all was right for longtime WWF fans. Hogan would go on to have one of his best years in wrestling in 1989 as he would feud with newcomer Zeus and find a new storyline friend in Brutus the Barber Beefcake.
18. The Rock vs Hollywood Hulk Hogan, WrestleMania 18: I know what you’re thinking! Another Hulk Hogan match? Well, this is the last one; I promise. Hulk Hogan had dominated WCW as Hollywood Hulk Hogan after the formation of the nWo. When WCW went under, you had to believe Hogan would come back to the WWF and make everything right in the world. It happened. In storyline, Vince brought in the nWo to “destroy” his creation of the WWF when Ric Flair was running the company. The nWo attacked Rock and Austin on Raw and Rock eventually challenged Hogan in a promo on Raw that actually gave me goosebumps when it first aired(“you’ve headlined WrestleMania after WrestleMania; how would like to headline one more WrestleMania…with the Rock?” crowd cheers like crazy). Check this moment out if you haven’t seen it. WrestleMania 18 took place at the Skydome in Toronto. Hogan lost the title to Warrior in the same building. The problem with Skydome for the Rock was that the crowd went nuts for Hogan. They loved him. They cheered him. From a wrestling standpoint, the match wasn’t fantastic. From a hype perspective and the crowd going insane throughout the entire match, it was unbelievable. Rock was able to defeat Hogan in that match and the two would embrace when it was over. It was a classic contest that belongs on anybody’s top WrestleMania matches list.
17. John Cena vs JBL for the WWE Championship, WrestleMania 21: This is where all the Cena haters get angry. That’s okay. John Cena has put the WWE on his shoulders since capturing his first WWE Title in 2005 and has been the company poster boy ever since. Edge recently did an interview where he compared Cena to Hogan and talked about how Hulk Hogan would not have the same success in the business if he did today what he did in the 80s, and that John Cena was picked to do that job despite knowing what it meant for his eventual demise in popularity. Cena defeated JBL in a match that didn’t even last twelve minutes if I remember correctly. What was significant for me at the time was that I didn’t follow Smackdown as much as Raw and wasn’t a huge John Cena fan. I liked what JBL was doing as champion but I had been curious who the new face of Smackdown would eventually be with Brock Lesnar gone and Kurt Angle doing whatever random feud at the time. Cena would be brought over to the Raw brand just a few months later in the draft lottery along with the WWE Title and Batista would be shipped to Smackdown. Cena took the title from a heel JBL and became a huge star. It wasn’t the greatest match, but the crowd was really on Cena’s side and what it represented at that time was a changing WWE. A young guy that had only walked onto the scene in 2002 had worked his way to the top in three short years and was the face of the company. He was fresh, and fun on the mic, and very likeable with his attitude era personality at the time. It was the start of something huge for Cena, and we will see just how huge when seven years later he goes on the biggest stage against one of the best performers of all time at WrestleMania 28.
16. Brock Lesnar vs Kurt Angle for the WWE Championship, WrestleMania 19: Brock Lesnar was a guy that was handed everything before he ever really deserved it. This was partly due to his size, and it was partly due to the fact that he was a solid in ring performer. Lesnar won the KOTR tournament very quickly and won the WWE Title just two months later at Summerslam from the Rock. He lost the title to Big Show at the Survivor Series. Lesnar then went on to win the 2003 Royal Rumble to become the number one contender for the WWE Title. Kurt Angle was the best wrestler in WWE at that point. Lesnar was a quick made star that could perform with the best of them. WrestleMania 19 took place at Safeco field in Seattle, Washington. The crowd was hot. The crowd was given an incredible show. Before the main event, Vince McMahon took on Hulk Hogan in a street fight. Before that, Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels went one on one, Triple H successfully defended his title against Booker T, and The Rock wrestled Stone Cold Steve Austin in what was Austin’s last match ever. After those matches went down, Lesnar and Angle had a lot to follow and they succeeded with flying colors. Lesnar and Angle were both great wrestlers that put on an incredible battle. Brock actually injured himself pretty badly when he botched a shooting star press and landed basically on his head just short of Angle. Lesnar was still able to finish the match and hit the F5 on Kurt Angle to become the new WWE Champion. Kurt and Brock were put to the ultimate test that night of outshining what was put on before them, and they definitely lived up to the hype.
15. The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin, WrestleMania 19: I can’t wait to catch hell for this one. How many people out there are going to argue that Rock/Austin at Mania 17 was a superior match? Well, in terms of being a big match and being for the WWF Championship, Mania 17 might have been a bigger match. However, Mania 17 had a ridiculous amount of controversy surrounding the finish, and that’s not how I like my WrestleMania matches. Rock and Austin had wrestled two big Mania matches up until this point and the Rock hadn’t defeated Austin in either of them. The Rock was actually a heel for this match and worked a solid match all the way through with Austin. The match ended when Rock hit three Rock Bottoms on Stone Cold to pick up the win after Austin kicked out of the first two finishers. This was Stone Cold Steve Austin’s last match ever. This was one of the last few dozen matches the Rock would work at that time. These two define the attitude era more than any other superstars, and they should be recognized for what they did every time they went one on one on the biggest stage of them all.
14. Shawn Michaels vs John Cena for the WWE Championship, WrestleMania 23: Shawn was a part of a DX at the time, and Triple H was gone with an injury. Cena had actually been teaming with Michaels and Triple H before the injury. Cena and Michaels were World Tag Team Champions going into this match. Mike Lightning and I argued over the winner at the time. He said Shawn would win. I said Cena would keep the title. I’m always willing to admit when I’m wrong(though I don’t like it much even though it happens a lot), and I really love when I’m right. Shawn had been one of the final two in the Rumble with the Undertaker and lost. He then won a triple threat match against Randy Orton and Edge to become Cena’s opponent after Undertaker selected to challenge Batista for the World Title at WrestleMania. Cena and Michaels were able to have the best match on the card that night. It was a back and forth fast paced match where neither competitor would slow down or give up. Eventually, Michaels fell victim to the stf that Cena locked in and was forced to tap out. Cena was made to look like an incredible wrestler that night. These two would have another match that was even better just a few weeks later on Raw in London. They battled for nearly an hour. HBK always brings out the best in his opponents and that’s why this is the first, but certainly not the last time you’ll see his name on this list.
13. Razor Ramon vs Shawn Michaels in a ladder match for the Undisputed Intercontinental Championship, Wrestlemania 10: Shawn was suspended for steroids in late 1993 and left the WWF because of it. The storyline goes that Shawn was stripped of the IC Title for not defending it in a certain amount of time. Razor would win the IC Title after being one of the last two in a battle royal with Rick Martel. He and Martel would wrestle a one on one match for the title and he was victorious. HBK returned to the company at the Survivor Series wearing his IC Title from when he was suspended. Shawn claimed to be the real IC Champ, having never lost the title. Michaels and Ramon were booked in the first ever televised ladder match at WM 10 with both their titles hanging above the ring. The winner would be the undisputed IC Champion. Shawn and Razor became the innovators of one of the best ladder matches of all time. They destroyed each other and put it all on the line for the fans at MSG that night(which was a good thing, because there was really only one other good match on the card). Ultimately, Razor was able to climb the ladder all the way to the top and get both titles down before Michaels. The face won that night, but Shawn Michaels showed the world what he was willing to do to put on a show and really propelled himself to the next level with that performance. The only match that I ever felt Ramon had that was better than this would be their last minute booked rematch at Summerslam in 1995. That was definitely another classic worth checking out.
So that’s it for part one. Part two will be out before WrestleMania, and that’s really the best I can do for assurances on that one. As always, feel free to leave your thoughts and feedback below. I’ll be back with an FCW recap and Raw column for my next two pieces. Thanks for reading!
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