WWE: The 50 Greatest WrestleMania Storylines
Over 30 years of WrestleMania have given us lots of great moments, from Mega Powers exploding to careers ending.
This article originally ran on March 27th, 2015, and it has been lightly updated/corrected where appropriate.
WrestleMania 33 is upon us, and 33 annual installments is a lot for the Grandaddy of Them All (a description they dropped because it makes it sound too old). There have been hundreds upon hundreds of matches throughout the years with countless wrestlers. It would take several days to watch every one of them in a row. One of the things that makes the show so great is that it’s supposed to be the big climax. The big finale or high point to certain storylines.
So I’m going to talk about what I consider to be the 50 best WrestleMania storylines. I’m going with everything leading up to the match, the match itself, and anything that happens in the rest of the match’s segment. If someone’s attacked after the bell rings, it counts. If something stupid happens on Raw the day after or a week after, it doesn’t count. Got it? Cool.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great matches that won’t be on the list. No Money in the Bank matches, for one. This is about storytelling and build. I mean, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit had a pretty great match one time, but the lead-up was literally, “I don’t have an opponent!” “Fight me, then!” “Okay, sure.” Even Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior – one of my all-time favorites – had nothing much going for it other than a badass Royal Rumble spot and several months of shoving and ridiculous promos.
Also, spoiler alert, John Cena’s only on the list an entire one time. Sorry, I just plain hated the Cena vs. Rock trilogy.
50. JERRY LAWLER VS. MICHAEL COLE
In probably one of the darkest times to be a WWE viewer, Michael Cole was absolutely insufferable as a heel announcer. This came to a head when his Miz fandom caused him to interfere in Miz’s matches against Cole’s broadcast colleague Jerry Lawler. In what was looking to be a really underwhelming WrestleMania (and it was!), the signed match between the two announcers was the only one to truly be excited for. Cole had been running his mouth for months and was protecting himself with a plexiglass barricade at ringside and Jack Swagger as his bodyguard. It was so cut and dry that Jerry Lawler was going to give him his absolute comeuppance and it was going to be sweet. Great selling point.
read more: Everything You Need to Know About WrestleMania 35
Unfortunately, the match just went on and on. Nearly 14 minutes, which is an eternity when a guy who isn’t a trained wrestler is in control for most of it. Lawler won and proceeded to keep kicking his ass after the bell. If it ended right here, this would have been WAY higher on the list, but the stupid Anonymous Raw GM chimed in to say that Lawler was disqualified, meaning the angle would continue. Damn it.
49. CHRIS JERICHO VS. RICKY STEAMBOAT, RODDY PIPER, AND JIMMY SNUKA
Here’s a case of turning lemons into lemonade. The original idea was to have Jericho take on Mickey Rourke as a way to play on the critical success of The Wrestler. Then Rourke blabbed about it on the red carpet way in advance and his people told him not to do it, as it would affect his chances of winning an Oscar. Jericho vs. Flair would have made sense, but Flair just retired a year earlier and they didn’t want to go back on that. The best they could come up with was to have Jericho take on three old-timers at the same time, which didn’t make anyone look good. Either the numbers game would win out or Jericho would be the man who beat up three old dudes.
Luckily, they were able to make a great build out of it. Jericho was playing his Sam the Eagle, suit-wearing heel persona to perfection, railing on The Wrestler and the past-their-prime wrestlers like Piper, Snuka, and Steamboat that inspired it. This worked out in part because of some great work by Steamboat. When Steamboat was announced as an inductee into the Hall of Fame, Jericho walked out and Steamboat backed up like Voldemort or Darth Vader was showing up. Then he proceeded to cut one of the better promos in his career to sell Jericho as a hypocrite. Jericho beat down Steamboat, as he would do to Piper, Snuka, and Flair on separate occasions.
The match was nothing less than a miracle, with Jericho having to go through Snuka (mobile as a walking corpse) and Piper (not much better). Once Steamboat got involved, it turned into an actual fun match, showing that the Dragon still had it in him. Jericho still won, beat up Flair, and then called out Mickey Rourke. We got the big celebrity involvement with Rourke punching out Jericho and the bad guy got what was coming to him.
48. ROCK ‘N’ SOCK CONNECTION VS. EVOLUTION
This wasn’t a blow-off match and wasn’t treated as one, but it’s too good for me to ignore. Mick Foley had appeared sporadically for years and when challenged by Randy Orton, Foley had second thoughts and backed off, even when spat on. He knew deep inside that he couldn’t measure up against this kid. Orton couldn’t leave well enough alone and started producing political attack ads based on Foley being a coward. Having enough, Foley appeared at the 2004 Royal Rumble to attack Orton, finally putting their feud into overdrive. Not only was Foley back, but he was pissed beyond belief.
Foley brought in the Rock, who had been gone for 11 months, to help him in his war and a handicap match was signed for WrestleMania: The two of them against Orton, Batista, and Flair. This gave us a great share of Rock promos and an interesting in-match dynamic that ended with Orton dropping Foley with a surprise RKO.
47. CRUSH VS. DOINK THE CLOWN
With Crush vs. Doink, you get two interesting situations. On one hand, you have the big, tough face handing out justice to the smaller, bullying heel. It’s a great case of “pick on someone your own size!” On the other hand, Doink should have been scared senseless for the match and instead he remained optimistic and full of himself. Doink was kind of badass here.
For months, Doink would pull pranks on kids at ringside, but Crush had enough and reprimanded him. Doink started wearing a cast due to Crush forcefully grabbing his arm and tried to make amends with a flower. Then he removed the rock-solid fake arm and beat Crush over the head with it, putting Crush on the shelf for a little while.
Doink didn’t seem to care that Crush was coming for him, mainly because he outsmarted him via a doppelganger. When the ref was knocked out, the second Doink came from under the ring, beat Crush with the fake arm, and then joked around with his other self. Having two guys dress up the same isn’t a big stretch of logic, but the way they played it up was surreal, creepy, and awesome.
46. TED DIBIASE VS. JAKE “THE SNAKE” ROBERTS/BIG BOSS MAN VS. AKEEM
I’m merging these two together since they intertwine and happen consecutively. Jake Roberts had a bad back and Dibiase went over the line attacking it, giving Roberts an injury. After coming back from surgery eight months later, Roberts stole Dibiase’s Million Dollar Belt and kept it in the same sack where he had his snake Damien. He was able to evade Dibiase and Virgil until Dibiase had Slick sic Big Boss Man and Akeem the African Dream at him. Boss Man cuffed Jake Roberts to the ring ropes and got the belt back, only to be confused and annoyed to see Dibiase paying off Slick. Boss Man thought he was doing this for moral reasons and not because he was being bribed. Having second thoughts, Boss Man stole the belt, gave it back to Roberts, and set him free.
That set up our two matches. Roberts vs. Dibiase went on first and just prior, Roberts gave out one of the most badass promos of all time.
They put on one of the best matches of the night, ending in a count-out victory for Dibiase via Virgil’s interference. Roberts then laid him out with a DDT, getting his revenge. With Boss Man vs. Akeem coming next, Dibiase recovered enough to ambush Boss Man and weaken him. Boss Man was able to still defeat his former partner Akeem in a few minutes, but he already had a new target for his aggression.
45. UNDERTAKER VS. DIESEL
Diesel lost the 1996 Royal Rumble and chose not to take it out on his buddy and winner Shawn Michaels. Instead, he crossed paths with the Undertaker, on the way to challenge for the WWF Championship against Bret Hart. The two had an altercation and were separated. Then when Undertaker had the match won, Diesel interfered and got the match thrown out. He defiantly flipped Undertaker off.
This was the first time Undertaker went with his supernatural mind games outside of turning the lights off and ringing a bell. He kept getting under Diesel’s skin, including one point where a casket was delivered to ringside. Diesel cautiously opened it, expecting Undertaker. Instead, he found himself laying there, dead. Diesel was rightfully spooked.
As they went at it, they appeared to be evenly matched. Diesel could have won it at the end, but his ego got in the way. He delivered a couple of Jackknife Powerbombs and at first egged Undertaker on to get back up rather than go for the pin. Undertaker’s tenacity soon got to Diesel and even Big Daddy Cool lost his cool before becoming another victim of the Streak.
44. RAZOR RAMON VS. SHAWN MICHAELS
There’s very little about this feud that’s built around the two guys physically clashing before the show, but it’s still incredibly well done. Michaels was Intercontinental Champion, but due to some backstage shenanigans, he was stripped of the title for not defending it within the correct window. They did a big battle royal where the two finalists would later have a match for the vacated belt. Razor Ramon ended up beating fellow finalist Rick Martel and became the new Intercontinental Champion, leading to a mini-feud with IRS.
Meanwhile, Michaels came back and was all, “Um, I’m still the champ. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I never lost the belt. See? I still have it here. Whatever, I’m going to enter the Royal Rumble.” He tried to screw over Razor a few times to help out IRS, but Razor came out the winner in the end. Since both guys had their own belts, President Jack Tunney had them settle it at WrestleMania X with a Ladder Match.
The match absolutely rocked and would have unanimously stolen the show if it wasn’t the same WrestleMania as Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart. After a vicious battle, Razor decisively won by climbing the ladder, grabbing both belts, and giving an iconic WrestleMania visual of him holding them with his arms stretched out.
43. HULK HOGAN VS. VINCE MCMAHON
With WrestleMania being as high-profile as ever, it was cool that they built a rivalry based entirely on decades of foundation and the history of WrestleMania itself. Hogan had a match with the Rock and McMahon decided to interfere on Rock’s behalf. He later explained that he outright hated Hogan for leaving him ten years earlier, going to the competition, nearly putting him out of business, and also testifying against him in the infamous steroid trial. The two argued over who was the real figurehead behind Hulkamania and Wrestlemania’s success and this match was put together to settle the score. If Hogan lost, he’d have to retire.
During the contract signing, McMahon busted up Hogan so badly that he was able to literally sign his contract in Hogan’s blood. It was rad.
The match was pretty good, although for some reason McMahon was portrayed as being physically on Hogan’s level instead of only getting by via craftiness. The two destroyed each other, including an actual table spot of all things, but the bloody Hogan came out the winner with three leg drops.
42. RODDY PIPER VS. ADRIAN ADONIS
Roddy Piper had his interview segment Piper’s Pit. He was gone for a while and in the meantime, Adrian Adonis hosted his own segment called the Flower Shop. This caused some friction when Piper came back and they had a crossover segment where both shows ran concurrently. Adonis’ guest was Piper’s former bodyguard Bob Orton, while Piper had “Magnificent” Muraco, yet another wrestling talk show host. While Piper was the face here, he overstepped his boundaries by making enemies of all three men and ended up enduring a massive beating while they tore down the Piper’s Pit set. It’s worth watching for the part where Jimmy Hart punched a hole through a portrait of Piper and wore it like a mascot costume.
Piper later returned from the beating to smash up the Flower Shop set with a baseball bat. He announced his retirement (haha, yeah right), but first he would have a Hair vs. Hair Match against Adonis at WrestleMania. In the match, Piper had some problems due to Adonis and manager Jimmy Hart’s cheating. Then we got a pretty brilliant torch-passing moment.
See, in the lead-up, Adonis was in a six-man tag with Brutus Beefcake and Greg Valentine, otherwise known as the Dream Team. Without really looking at what he was doing, Adonis tried to cut the hair of opponent Rick Martel, only to chop off some of Beefcake’s locks, causing some animosity. Then at WrestleMania III, the Dream Team split up and Beefcake was left alone. Feeling betrayed, Beefcake went to help out Piper in his match and evened the odds. Once Piper had won, Beefcake would get his revenge by cutting off all of Adonis’ hair, showing off his barber skills for the first time.
41. UNDERTAKER VS. RANDY ORTON
Randy Orton’s short-lived run as top face didn’t really cut it and with WrestleMania coming up, he decided that he would be the first to defeat the Undertaker in the ultimate battle of “Legend Killer vs. Legend.” This was actually the first time the Streak had been considered a thing other than a piece of trivia commentators would rarely bring up. Undertaker agreed to Orton’s terms, but then things started to get out of hand. In a mix between ego, desperation, and a need to be at his deadliest, Orton lost his way and lashed out at others, such as RKO’ing Jake Roberts and even Orton’s own girlfriend Stacy Kiebler.
The two taunted each other, including a montage of all the victims to the Streak meant to intimidate Orton. Bob Orton pleaded with Undertaker to show mercy to his son, but it was a setup and the two Ortons brutalized Undertaker. Despite Orton’s best attempts to play mind games, he still failed in the end and Undertaker took him out with a Tombstone at WrestleMania.
40. REY MYSTERIO VS. CM PUNK
This one is mostly pretty by the numbers. Mysterio beat Punk, Punk had his Straight Edge Society stable put the boots to him, and they pushed that into a WrestleMania rematch that Mysterio won. Solid, but nothing too special.
Except for the birthday celebration. Mysterio brought out his family to wish his young daughter Aaliyah a happy birthday. The Straight Edge Society arrived and Punk proceeded to sing “Happy Birthday” in the creepiest way possible while young Aaliyah cried and cowered like Freddy Krueger himself was in the ring. Punk challenged Mysterio to a match right there in front of his family, which Mysterio refused, and Punk dressed him down for being a coward. Mysterio was left with no choice but to leave with his family in disgrace as Punk dropped to his knees and gave us another villainous rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
39. RANDY SAVAGE VS. RIC FLAIR
Ric Flair won the WWF Championship via surviving an hour in the 1992 Royal Rumble. Originally, he was going to face Hulk Hogan, but then they scrapped that because Hogan was REALLY MAD at Sid Justice for reasons. Instead, Randy Savage was named #1 contender, guaranteeing us a good match. Flair proceeded to get under Savage’s skin by revealing a series of photos of Flair with Elizabeth being all romantic together. Flair’s mantra was that Elizabeth was his before she was Savage’s. Even though the photos turned out to be doctored, the whole gesture drove Macho to, well, madness.
Flair even threatened to reveal nude pics of Elizabeth at WrestleMania, but that never came to be and Savage pinned Flair with a roll-up to win the title. It was a short-lived victory, though, as Flair and Mr. Perfect attacked Savage’s knee after the bell. Flair forced a kiss on Elizabeth, who angrily slapped him in retaliation. Savage had the belt, but this was far from over.
38. DIAMOND DALLAS PAGE VS. CHRISTIAN
Christian was having a pretty bad time. After losing his long-running feud with Edge, he couldn’t win a match to save his life. His pre-match pyro fizzled out. He was a huge loser. It broke him and he started having massive tantrums after his matches. European Champion and motivational speaker DDP saw this and decided to take Christian under his wing. In a humorous partnership, Christian was taught lessons in positivity. Things started looking up when they won a tag match together, but that single win went straight to Christian’s head and he turned on his guru. He thought he was on a roll and he was going for that European title.
DDP won the match, but appeared to be proud of Christian despite everything. He pointed out that although Christian lost, he won in a way. He didn’t lose his cool. He didn’t throw a tantrum. Pretty impressive, considering that he just lost a huge match in front of thousands in the arena and millions watching at home. A loss that would be remembered for years to come. Losing at WrestleMania is a pretty big deal, after all! The backhanded compliment got to Christian and caused him to go into a screaming fit yet again while DDP just shrugged and walked away.
37. CHRIS JERICHO VS. WILLIAM REGAL
William Regal became WWE’s heel commissioner and immediately upon getting his role, Chris Jericho showed up to besmirch him. Regal didn’t take too kindly and made it his business to punish Jericho and not let up with nothing but handicap matches. Jericho ultimately got back at him with two classic segments.
First off, Jericho peed in Regal’s tea one time, made amazing by Regal’s brilliant selling of its taste. Second, Doink the Clown was seen interacting with fans right before a Regal match, tying into WrestleMania X-Seven’s Gimmick Battle Royal. Doink ended up attacking Regal after the match and locked him into the Walls of Jericho. The crowd reaction made this, with the fans at first getting excited about Doink making the rescue and then slowly getting more excited once they realized what was really going on. Doink unmasked to reveal Jericho and Regal staggered to the back.
The two opened one of the most well-regarded WrestleManias and Jericho retained his Intercontinental Championship in a quality match.
36. FINLAY VS. JBL
One story that seemed to go on forever and ever was the whole thing about Hornswoggle being Vince McMahon’s illegitimate son. It meant week after agonizing week of various heels trying to get their hands on him only for Hornswoggle to escape using his wits, Finlay, and the occasional cartoon logic. JBL was the one who finally broke the pattern by locking him in a cage and beating the holy hell out of the little guy. Even McMahon, who wanted to teach some tough love, was horrified and wanted JBL to stop.
JBL explained that Hornswoggle was never Vince’s son, but Finlay’s. JBL later showed up to the hospital and beat up Hornswoggle even more (though it did unfortunately feel a little on the rapey side). This led to a Belfast Brawl at WrestleMania where JBL won and threw a trash can into Hornswoggle. Sure, the heel wrestler won, but if you ask me, the true heel was the whole stupid angle with JBL being the face who gave it a much-needed satisfactory ending.
Match was pretty good too.
35. BRET HART VS. RODDY PIPER
Bret Hart lost his Intercontinental Championship when he took on the Mountie while suffering a terrible fever. Although Mountie won, he dropped the belt days later to Roddy Piper. That set up Piper vs. a fully healthy Bret at WrestleMania. While face vs. face wasn’t too unheard of by this point, there was definitely an extra bit of sentiment in there since Piper had known Bret since he was just a baby.
Their talks of mutual respect started to get a bit hairy when Piper’s tone became more patronizing. They finally had it out in the ring in what I’d easily consider the match of the night. With the referee knocked out, Piper had the chance to brain Bret with the ring bell. On commentary, Bobby Heenan yelled at him to go through with it. Piper realized he couldn’t bring himself to do it and discarded the weapon. Bret ended up pinning Piper, meaning Hot Rod lost the belt, but he got to keep his soul.
34. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. KURT ANGLE
Kurt Angle bullied his way into a spot in the Royal Rumble and did pretty well for himself for all of 30 seconds until Michaels superkicked him out of the ring. Angle snapped, returned to the ring, and threw Michaels out before throwing him into the steps and all the other usual anger beatdown tropes. Naturally, the match was on for WrestleMania.
Angle made this feud by deciding to outdo Michaels. For instance, he had a match with Michaels’ old partner Marty Jannetty and made him tap. Then he had Michaels’ old manager Sensational Sherri come back and sing a parody version of Michaels’ “Sexy Boy” theme which involved lyrics about how Angle made Jannetty tap. Then Angle ended up making Sherri tap for the crime of being wistful about Michaels’ career.
The match was lengthy and may have taken too long to get going, but it was still pretty great because it was Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle. Angle won decisively by forcing Michaels to tap.
If anything, I was totally jazzed to see Michaels and Jannetty hanging out on-screen again. They never did bury the hatchet in kayfabe, so seeing them do one last match as the Rockers tickled my heart.
33. EDDIE GUERRERO VS. KURT ANGLE
Eddie and Angle were pretty good friends. When Eddie was having issues with his cousin Chavo, Angle was there to try and keep the peace. The two took part in a 15-man Royal Rumble match for a shot at Brock Lesnar’s WWE Championship and after a very lengthy and nail-biting finals, Eddie got the win. He went on to defeat Lesnar while Angle won another #1 contender match the same night.
Things started out honorable, but once it was convenient, Angle attacked Eddie. He railed on him for being a terrible example, what with all the former drug use and the fact that he’d openly cheat. Eddie viciously attacked him and SmackDown GM Paul Heyman had him arrested. Heyman signed a match of himself and Eddie where Eddie would wear handcuffs. This was all a setup for Angle to tear into the defenseless champ, even if Eddie defiantly spat in his face.
When it came time for the match, it seemed like Angle had Eddie’s number. He kept putting him in the Ankle Lock again and again with Eddie barely escaping. That became his own undoing as Eddie loosened his boot so that when Angle went for the lock one more time, Eddie was able to slip out, roll him up for a pin, and retain. Classic Eddie.
32. JOHN CENA VS. BATISTA
After several years as a vanilla top face, Batista lost his cool on buddy Rey Mysterio for costing him a title match. Batista started kissing up to Vince McMahon, which earned him one hell of an opportunity. In an Elimination Chamber match, John Cena became the new WWE Champion. McMahon came out to announce an impromptu title defense against Batista, who easily won. When Cena wanted his return match on a later episode of Raw, Vince said that he’d get a rematch if he could defeat Batista in a non-title match first. Cena did so…only he won via getting kicked in the nuts by Batista.
In the end, Cena won the belt back in a match that wasn’t anything special, but I have to include it on the list for giving us the magnificent bastard that is heel Batista. The dude tore it up on the mic and became such a douche with his own personal spotlight and everything. He verbally destroyed Cena at one point, making fun of him for, “kissing babies and hugging fat girls.” It also helped that they did have a singles match a few years earlier, where Cena lost and was pretty badly injured from it.
While we’ll never get heel Cena ever again, at least Batista’s few months post-turn would be close enough.
31. UNDERTAKER VS. CM PUNK
This one’s divisive and had a pretty rotten start. CM Punk demanded a match against the Undertaker, as did several other wrestlers. They were put in a Fatal Fourway to earn the spot, which Punk won. Funny thing, the guy who came up with that idea was immediately fired.
Tragedy struck when William Moody, otherwise known as Undertaker’s old manager Paul Bearer, passed away. They started using this as part of the story, where Punk reassured Undertaker that in Bearer’s eyes, Undertaker would always be perfect because he wouldn’t be alive to see Undertaker lose at WrestleMania. Punk would go on to steal the urn – now supposed to have the ashes of Paul Bearer within – and constantly taunted Undertaker. In one of the last shows before the event, Punk disguised himself as a druid and ambushed Undertaker with the urn. With Undertaker down and out, Punk kept hitting him, then opened the urn and poured it out on Undertaker’s face. Jesus Christ.
Fans were split during the match up until one point. Punk had Undertaker in the Anaconda Vise, but Undertaker sat up and glared at him face-to-face looking pissed off on a biblical scale. Suddenly everyone was on the Undertaker bandwagon. Undertaker shut Punk up and avenged Paul Bearer. Friends of Moody would insist that he would have loved this angle.
I hope you like Shawn Michaels because that’s what the next page is all about. Read on!
30. STEVE AUSTIN VS. SHAWN MICHAELS
Steve Austin won the Royal Rumble, earning him a shot against Shawn Michaels’ title at WrestleMania. Vince McMahon announced that boxing legend Mike Tyson would be the enforcer, leading to Austin showing up and starting a fight with him. For a while, that was the last we had heard of Tyson while Austin became regularly trolled by D-Generation X. An eight-man tag match at No Way Out had Austin and his allies face DX, but Michaels wanted no part of it and had Savio Vega of all people take his place.
After the PPV, Michaels called out Tyson and it looked like the two were going to go at it. Instead, Tyson revealed that he was on their side by wearing a DX shirt. Despite Austin’s overwhelming tenacity, he spent the build getting trumped and trolled by Michaels again and again. Michaels had been running his mouth for months and if Bret Hart and the Undertaker couldn’t shut him up, Austin seemed to be the last chance.
Tyson didn’t really come into play during the match, at least not in any way that would help Michaels. Austin landed a Stunner and made the cover. Tyson slid into the ring, made the count, and awarded the belt to Austin, who seemed to finally be cool with him. When Michaels got in Tyson’s face about it, Tyson knocked him out. I’m not sure if they ever explained why he turned on Michaels like that, but it was cool at the time and the entire storyline saved the company.
29. MEGA MANIACS VS. MONEY INC.
Funny thing about this match, even though Hulk Hogan is in it, I consider him the fifth most important guy involved. The story goes like this: WWF Tag Team Champions Money Inc. beat up Brutus Beefcake. Hulk Hogan came back to help him. They challenged for the belts. Money Inc. won by disqualification, but got their just desserts.
Everything boils down to the moment Money Inc. attacked Beefcake. It was honestly one of the first truly great moments in Raw history. Beefcake was in a parasailing accident that destroyed his face and he had to have lots of reconstructive surgery. He took on Dibiase in a singles match and IRS attacked. They ended up smashing him in the face with IRS’ briefcase, which was played up as completely devastating considering Beefcake’s facial issues. A bloody mess, he laid on the mat, clutching his face to keep his skull from falling apart. Amongst all of this, Jimmy Hart – manager to Money Inc. – begged and pleaded for them to stop. The dude became a face because like a normal human being, he thought committing murder on a suffering man was going over the line.
If there’s anything that would make you wish for the WWF’s invisible superhero guy to come back from his year-long vacation to exact some revenge, it’s that. The fact that Hogan made the match about Beefcake (Hogan had…extra plans that night) made it even better.
28. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. BRET HART
I feel bad for Bret on this one. Dude was in a face vs. face title match where the narrative was against him. We didn’t want him to win, but we also didn’t want to boo him.
Michaels had a title shot at WrestleMania XI and ended up losing, which was probably for the better, since he didn’t seem to be quite ready. The year that followed was all about building up his first WWF Championship reign and did a hell of a job. First he turned face and rejoined his buddy Diesel. Then he redeemed himself in a second Ladder Match against Razor Ramon. Then for months, they played up his failing health, where a real-life beating he took was mixed with eating a ton of finishers at Survivor Series and absorbing a nasty enziguri from Owen Hart the night after. Michaels’ concussions were holding him back and came off like a dark cloud amongst any success he had.
Still, he won the Royal Rumble, defended his title shot against Owen Hart, and got his match against Bret. President Roddy Piper made it an Iron Man Match and although the two seemed respectful towards each other, Piper told them that it wouldn’t last (which was pretty true in real life). After a boring 60 minutes that WWE insists was anything but, they ended at a draw. The match was restarted, much to Bret’s chagrin, and Michaels finished him off with two superkicks. Finally, the boyhood dream was realized after a year of fantastic build.
27. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. CHRIS JERICHO
After making his long-awaited comeback and winning the World Heavyweight Championship, Michaels dropped it back to Triple H. Jericho decided to jeer Michaels soon after and made fun of him for his loss, causing Michaels to retaliate with a superkick. Jericho later admitted that he idolized Michaels and tried to be a carbon copy of him in the early days of his career until deciding he was better and finding his own identity.
To prove he was as good, if not better, Jericho wanted to enter the Royal Rumble at #1 and win. To screw him over, Michaels had already chosen #1, meaning Jericho had to settle for #2. Jericho tricked Michaels at the Rumble by having Christian dress up as a decoy. Jericho destroyed Michaels with a chair and easily eliminated him. Much later, Michaels came back and got in a brawl with Jericho, which was enough of a distraction for Test to eject him.
Their match at WrestleMania XIX was a bona fide classic that the two would talk about for years to come. Jericho was desperate to win by any means necessary, even trying to go with a count-out victory that didn’t take. Michaels won with a roll-up and tried to appeal to the devastated Jericho. He offered his hand, they shook, hugged, and Jericho surprised him with a kick to the crotch. This feud would continue.
26. UNDERTAKER VS. SHAWN MICHAELS I
Shawn Michaels trifecta!
JBL wanted to be the one to end the Undertaker’s undefeated streak, but Michaels stood in his way. They had a match and Michaels won. Then Vladimir Kozlov demanded the match. Michaels beat him too. So it was settled. The man who couldn’t be beat at WrestleMania was going to be facing Mr. WrestleMania.
Michaels turned on Undertaker after a tag match with a superkick. Despite Undertaker being the master of mind games, Michaels spent the next few weeks constantly one step ahead of him. By the week, Undertaker’s frustration grew, finally finding catharsis in the match when he caught Michaels’ fist with his hand and glared daggers into him. The two proceeded to wrestle one of the all-time best matches in WrestleMania history where they took each other to the limit, but in the end, the Undertaker won yet again.
I should also mention that this match was built up over three consecutive Royal Rumble shows. They were the finals in 2007, the opening two in 2008, and in 2009, Undertaker gave Michaels some cryptic advice. Very nice touch.
25. REY MYSTERIO VS. JBL
After being mocked by Charlie Haas, JBL had a major identity crisis. Nobody took his seriously anymore. He needed to do something huge. With WrestleMania taking place in Texas, he figured he’d go in as champ and be received as a hero. To make it easier, he hired Shawn Michaels – who desperately needed the money – to be his reluctant henchman.
JBL tried to use Michaels to his advantage to win the WWE Championship. He failed. He tried to earn a spot in the Elimination Chamber. He failed. He wrestled Michaels for the rights to Michaels’ entire name and life. He lost. He wrestled Michaels for a shot against the Undertaker at WrestleMania. He lost. Finally, he got some good news by defeating CM Punk for the Intercontinental Championship. He would be going to Texas as a champion after all!
His match with Rey Mysterio lasted only 21 seconds. JBL lost the title in embarrassing fashion. Standing there before the laughing fans, JBL glared in a stupor, speechless. Then in the heat of the moment, he shouted, “I QUIT!” and appeared surprised at his own decision.
24. HULK HOGAN AND MR. T VS. RODDY PIPER AND PAUL ORNDORFF
I’m sort of obligated to mention this one, aren’t I? In the ’80s, WWF and MTV came together with the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection, where they cross-promoted and helped make each other into household names. Part of this came from an event called The War to Settle the Score. In it, Hogan had a match with Roddy Piper, who was the big antagonist with the whole MTV deal. Though “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff attacked Hogan, onlooker and Hogan supporter Mr. T rushed the ring to even the odds.
The tag match was signed with Jimmy Snuka in Hogan and T’s corner while Piper and Orndorff had Bob Orton. We got all sorts of silly vignettes of Hogan and T training, a guest appearance on Saturday Night Live, and even an appearance of Richard Belzer’s talk show where Hogan accidentally and legitimately knocked out Belzer. What’cha gonna do when Hulkamania runs wild on you? Sue, apparently.
The match was pretty okay considering Mr. T wasn’t a trained wrestler. The end came when Orton accidentally smashed Orndorff in the face with his cast and Hogan got the pin. Piper and Orton left in disgust. When Orndorff came to, he was confused and angry, although Hogan and T tried to calm him down and seemed concerned for his wellbeing. If anything, that little moment was the real highlight for me.
It was a good enough build to make WrestleMania a regular thing, so I suppose they did something right.
23. RIC FLAIR VS. UNDERTAKER
Flair vs. Undertaker was like the Earth-3 version of Austin vs. McMahon. Flair was the co-owner of WWF and didn’t like Undertaker’s brand of bullying. He helped Rock in a match against Undertaker, which caused the big, undead biker to target Flair. He wanted a match, but Flair wouldn’t give in. Undertaker then took out his vengeance on Flair’s loved ones, putting the hurt on Arn Anderson and David Flair. The latter was especially fun to watch if you were a viewer of latter-day WCW.
Finally, Flair gave in. During a brawl between the two, Flair accidentally struck a fan, which got him arrested. Flair had to give up his stake in the company to take part in the match due to that scandal. The two had a violent, vicious match that featured a very welcome appearance by Arn Anderson’s picture-perfect spine buster, but Undertaker still finished Flair off with a Tombstone and continued his reign of terror.
22. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. VINCE MCMAHON
Vince McMahon had a bit of a mental episode, but decided to get over it by going all out and living life to the fullest with heavy drinking, drugs, partying, and so on. Shawn Michaels, trying to be sincere, came to him and suggested that maybe Vince try growing up and acting his age. Vince lost his mind and suddenly dedicated his time and energy to making Michaels suffer in every way possible. At least with Austin, you understood why Vince was out to get him on a business and personal level. Here, he was just being purely evil and vindictive.
In the weeks that followed, Michaels got screwed out of the Royal Rumble. He was forced to kiss Vince’s bare ass. He was drugged and forced to take a urine test in the middle of the ring. He got screwed in several more matches, including one time when Vince did a redo of the infamous Montreal Incident and insisted Michaels gave up.
At WrestleMania, the two had a Street Fight where Vince had his son Shane and the entire Spirit Squad backing him up. Over time, Michaels was able to get past all of them and then tore Vince apart. Michaels put a trash can over Vince, climbed up a ladder, and elbow dropped him, followed soon after with Sweet Chin Music (after audibly telling him, “I’m going to knock your teeth down your throat!”). Vince was wheeled off on a stretcher, but had just enough strength to flip Michaels the bird.
21. UNDERTAKER VS. TRIPLE H III
This match was basically the culmination of the two Undertaker vs. Michaels matches and the Undertaker vs. Triple H match from the year after. Michaels couldn’t get the job done and retired. Triple H wanted to avenge that loss and failed. At the same time, Undertaker only barely won and wasn’t looking all that good in victory. He hadn’t shown up since and Triple H played it up that he sort of won, since he seemingly ended Undertaker’s career.
Undertaker was offended by this and pressured Triple H into a rematch to prove that his victory wasn’t just some fluke. Triple H played the businessman angle and swore that he wouldn’t because he wanted to “protect” the Streak and keep it a viable attraction. Eventually, he relented and said that by taking part in the match, he would reluctantly destroy Undertaker. He made it a Hell in a Cell with Michaels as ref.
The match was kind of a plodding spot fest, but it had some great storytelling in there where Michaels was reluctant to see Triple H annihilate Undertaker, but did briefly help him when they did a Sweet Chin Music/Pedigree combo on Undertaker and he still kicked out. It ended with a beaten Triple H too weak to wield his sledgehammer end up in the clutches of the Undertaker with both of them knowing that it was over. Afterwards, all three guys walked off together, supposedly showing off that it was truly the End of an Era.
Brothers go to war on the next page. Time to break into the top 20…
20. UNDERTAKER VS. KANE II
Undertaker’s run as the American Badass kind of ran its course and to lay it to rest, Kane attacked him during a Buried Alive Match and “killed” him for daring to be a mortal man. For months, Kane talked up how he buried his brother for good, but at the Royal Rumble, the Undertaker’s gong played during the match and distracted Kane long enough to be eliminated. In the months that followed, Undertaker’s presence started haunting Kane. Kane became increasingly desperate, swearing that Undertaker was dead.
At WrestleMania XX, Undertaker returned in his Dead Man gimmick with Paul Bearer in tow, yelling at Kane that he was, “no son of mine!” Even standing in the ring with him, Kane was still unbelieving that Undertaker was real and not just some figment of his imagination. That made it that much easier for Undertaker to handily defeat him in his big return.
19. BIG BOSS MAN VS. MR. PERFECT
A Big Boss Man vs. Rick Rude feud was in the cards where Rude started making fun of Boss Man’s mother. Rude left the company before anything could be done, but they kept it going by having Rude’s manager Bobby Heenan pick up on it. As a commentator on Wrestling Challenge and co-host of Prime Time Wrestling, Heenan relentlessly mocked Boss Man’s mother week after week. The plot wrote itself: Big Boss Man would run through all the wrestlers in the Heenan Family like a knife through butter in order to shut Heenan up.
After dealing with Haku and the Barbarian, Boss Man set his sights on Mr. Perfect and the Intercontinental Championship. The two had a hell of a match and towards the end, Andre the Giant appeared. A year earlier, Andre left the Heenan Family and this was his way of getting his revenge by supporting Boss Man. Haku and Barbarian ended up interfering and getting Perfect disqualified, but Andre and Boss Man worked together to fight them all off. Perfect remained champ, but Boss Man won the war against Heenan while Andre – in his final WrestleMania appearance – gave Boss Man the much appreciated rub.
18. BIG SHOW VS. CODY RHODES
Here’s another rivalry that uses WrestleMania itself to build up the match. Cody Rhodes was Intercontinental Champion and was the closest thing that belt’s had to a legit reign in years. With WrestleMania coming up, he chose to mock Big Show for his less-than-stellar history with the show. Despite being around since WrestleMania XV, Big Show’s record there was rather unfortunate and embarrassing. Week after week, Cody would bring up moments like Big Show losing a sumo match with his ass hanging out or being assigned to hang out at WWF New York instead of actually having a match. In Cody’s eyes, Big Show was the “reverse Undertaker” and he wouldn’t let up on it
Even though it’s never been confirmed, I can’t help but feel that the idea of the Sheamus/Daniel Bryan 18 seconds victory was originally going to be used for this match until Vince changed it on a whim. It would have made way more thematic sense as payoff for Big Show’s lack of a positive WrestleMania Moment. Still, Big Show punched out Cody in five minutes and won the Intercontinental Championship, getting him a happy showing for once.
17. TRISH STRATUS VS. MICKIE JAMES
Mickie James was brought in as a massive Trish Stratus fan who constantly had her back. Months earlier, Mickie earned a title shot for the Women’s Championship and failed to beat her idol. She continued to work closely with Trish, but it started to get a bit weird and very Single White Female. Her compliments got creepy and too personal, she’d visit Trish in the shower, and her affection got physical and unwelcome. Trish wanted Mickie to back off, which only proceeded to set her off and make her violent. As time went on, Mickie became more and more unhinged and her obsession with Trish became more and more in the open and disturbing.
It was the first time when the Divas match at WrestleMania was one of the better storylines and the fact that both could work made it something to actually look forward to. Mickie’s creepy lesbian stalker characteristics actually netted her the win in the end. She escaped Trish’s Stratusfaction by grabbing Trish’s crotch and weirding her out enough to let go of the hold. She capitalized with a Mick Kick and became the new Women’s Champion.
16. THE ROCK VS. STEVE AUSTIN II
Rock vs. Austin was so rad that they were able to make Limp Bizkit seem cool. Really, the pre-fight hype package used “My Way” and made it seem like the most badass thing.
This match became official about a month before at No Way Out when Rock pinned Kurt Angle for the WWF Championship. Austin won the Royal Rumble, so we’d get the two top guys of the Attitude Era as the main event. It was entirely fitting since WCW died and the whole Monday Night War was completely finished. WrestleMania X-Seven was the grand finale to wrestling’s most popular era.
Since Rock and Austin were more about psyching each other out than going at it tooth and claw, Vince McMahon decided to change things up by forcing Austin’s wife Debra to be Rock’s manager. It made Austin jealous and later incensed when Kurt Angle attacked her. As far as Austin was concerned, that was Rock’s fault. The two finally opened up to attacking each other regularly with Stunners and Rock Bottoms passed out whenever possible. In the go-home show, the two had a showdown in the ring where they drank beers that went from passive aggressive to bloodthirsty, leading to the locker room emptying out to hold them back.
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In a sit-down interview between the two, Austin made it apparent that he needed to beat Rock at all costs. He had to win and wouldn’t accept any other way. Right before the match, it was randomly announced that it was no disqualification. Late in the match, Vince walked out and helped Austin. Austin’s obsession with winning and feelings of inadequacy due to aging led to him selling his soul to his mortal enemy. After a ton of chair shots, Rock finally stayed down and Austin ended the show as champion with McMahon applauding him.
Too bad they had to do this heel turn in Texas. Austin could have eaten a newborn baby and people would have cheered for him over the Rock.
15. UNDERTAKER VS. KANE I
The match was lousy, but this feud still ruled. Undertaker was at war with former manager Paul Bearer. Their hate reached such a boiling point that Bearer told the world about Undertaker’s brother Kane, who Undertaker supposedly burned when they were kids. Kane turned out to be alive and showed up at Badd Blood during a #1 contender’s match between Undertaker and Shawn Michaels in Hell in a Cell. Kane tore off the door, stared Undertaker in the eye, set off his pyro, and dropped him with a Tombstone.
Kane was depicted as absolutely unstoppable and invincible. He spent the next few months going through Bearer’s other clients Mankind and Vader. For a time, it even seemed that Kane was having second thoughts and wanted to side with his brother, but that was only a ruse. At Royal Rumble, he helped Michaels beat Undertaker in a Casket Match, then set the casket on fire.
Undertaker didn’t want to fight his own brother (I’m having Half-Baked flashbacks), but that was the last straw. The two colossi went at it at WrestleMania and in the end, it took three Tombstones to keep Kane down for good.
14. BIG SHOW VS. FLOYD MAYWEATHER
Sometimes a promotion needs to listen to the audience and realize that their direction is wrong. This is one of those times when WWE actually listened. At No Way Out 2008, Big Show made his grand return and seemed in great spirits. He showed his true colors by attacking Rey Mysterio moments later. In the front row, Floyd “Money” Mayweather took it upon himself to jump the railing and enter the ring to save Mysterio. Big Show laughed and went down to a knee to let Mayweather get a free shot. With a quick punching combination, Mayweather busted Big Show’s face open and cheesed it.
As the build continued, the fans started to turn against Mayweather and cheer Big Show. Maybe it was because Mayweather is a natural heel. Maybe it was because fans knew that the celebrity outsider was going to go over the mainstay wrestler for the umpteenth time. Regardless, they hated him and the company noticed. The match remained the same, but Big Show was portrayed as more of a fan favorite.
What a match it was, too. Possibly the best guest celebrity match in wrestling history. Mayweather played up the heel persona by having a massive entourage and even taking a break at one point to drink from a chalice. Big Show’s physical dominance did some damage, but the numbers game was too much, and Mayweather cheated to finally knock him out. The bad guy won, but at least they let him be the bad guy.
13. CHRIS BENOIT VS. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. TRIPLE H
Being part of the brand extension had its perks. For months on end, Chris Benoit was at odds with Smackdown General Manager Paul Heyman. Heyman did everything in his power to keep Benoit out of the title picture. After having to qualify for the Royal Rumble several times over, being forced into the #1 spot, and winning, Benoit skipped town and went to Raw to challenge for the World Heavyweight Championship, making Heyman look like an idiot.
Yet at the same time, Triple H was in the middle of a never-ending feud with Shawn Michaels. Considering they just wrestled to a draw at Royal Rumble, Michaels felt that he was still owed a title shot. When they did the contract signing between Benoit and Triple H, Michaels pleaded for Benoit to take his place. When that didn’t work, he delivered a superkick and signed his name on the contract. Commissioner Steve Austin made the two fight for the spot, but since Triple H interfered with that match, he decided that WrestleMania’s main event would be a triple threat.
It worked great on a meta level for fans who wanted to see Benoit succeed. Were they actually going to have him go over? Were they going to just have Michaels win and treat that as a feel-good moment? Or was Triple H going to bury him like he did Booker T a year earlier?
The three had a fantastic battle that ended with Benoit dodging a superkick, throwing Michaels out of the ring, then reversing a Pedigree into a Crippler Crossface. Triple H tried to push his way out of it, but it didn’t do him any good. There was no way out and Michaels was just a bloody heap on the outside. Triple H tapped and a new champ was crowned. That’s when we got the most bittersweet of wrestling images when WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero came out to celebrate with his friend to close the show.
12. JAKE ROBERTS VS. RICK MARTEL
You know, when people do their lists of worst matches in WrestleMania history, they tend to include Jake “The Snake” Roberts vs. Rick “The Model” Martel in a Blindfold Match. I can’t really blame them. It’s a silly gimmick and it goes on for at least five minutes too long. At the same time, it’s the culmination of one of the prime examples of a perfect blood feud.
Like, if you look back at the build to Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins at this year’s WrestleMania, you’ll see this great setup marred by that segment where Orton beat Rollins to death for fifteen minutes. Or how about the build to WrestleMania 25 when Triple H got his revenge by breaking into Orton’s home and terrorizing him? When you do all that bullshit, what’s the point of the match? The match isn’t about pinning the other guy, even if the belt is on the line. The match is about the good guy getting his hands on the bad guy and making him pay. You already made him pay! There’s no reason for us to care anymore!
The feud began with Jake and Martel as guests on the Brother Love Show. Martel was grossed out by Jake’s snake Damien and kept trying to spray it with his perfume. He and Jake got into it and Martel accidentally-on-purpose sprayed him in the eye with his atomizer. In a later edition of the Brother Love Show, Jake returned with a walking stick and sunglasses. Martel laughed at his blindness, but once Jake got close enough, he grabbed Brother Love and DDT’d him. In a badass image that stays with me today, the sunglasses came off and Jake sat there, angrily pointing at his milky, white eye.
For months and months, Jake couldn’t get a piece of Martel. They were opposing captains at Survivor Series and he couldn’t get Martel. They were in the Royal Rumble and he barely got at him. Finally, it was decided that they would have a Blindfold Match at WrestleMania. That suited Jake just fine. “Snakes do it better in the dark.”
Martel was even given his own opportunity to do an earlier Blindfold Match and get used to it, but when his opponent Koko B. Ware put on his blindfold, Martel decided it would be funny to just put the boots to him instead. Probably should have gone with the experience, dude.
The match was all about building up the very idea of Jake getting his hands on Martel, only now the fans got to help out by cheering him on when he blindly pointed in Martel’s direction. Jake ended up DDTing Martel and pinned him before wrapping him up with Damien. Vengeance was sweet and patience paid off.
11. HULK HOGAN VS. RANDY SAVAGE
Since before WrestleMania IV, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage were total bros as the Mega Powers. Together, they took on the likes of the Hart Foundation and the Mega Bucks and Twin Towers and so on. Over time, cracks started to form as WWF Champion Randy Savage became paranoid that Hogan was out to steal the spotlight, his title, and his woman. Considering Hogan was constantly “hotdogging” – as Savage would always put it – it’s hard to blame him. Well, other than being an abusive and possessive nutjob.
When Savage got knocked into Elizabeth during a tag match against the Twin Towers, Hogan chose to bring Elizabeth to the back for medical attention, leaving Savage to suffer. When Hogan returned, Savage slapped him in the face and left him to fight the Twin Towers himself. Then Hogan did exactly that and won, which is the only reason this entry isn’t in the top ten. Jesus Christ. The two argued backstage with Elizabeth pleading for them to stop.
Hogan begged for him to reconsider and even told him that he loved them, but all that did was make Savage so angry that it literally looked like he was about to explode from rage. The two fought in the main event of WrestleMania V, where Savage continued to treat Elizabeth like property despite her attempts to appeal to his good side. Even though Savage hit his trademark elbow drop, Hogan powered through it and beat him with the boot and leg drop.
Finally, we’re reaching the top ten. Who made the top spot? Read on and find out!
10. RANDY SAVAGE VS. CRUSH
For my money, this may be the best blood feud in WrestleMania history. Randy Savage and Crush were buddies back when Savage was a commentator on Raw. In a match against Yokozuna, Crush got demolished and Yokozuna kept hitting him with Banzai Drops. Savage was barred from interfering as a commentator, but he couldn’t take it and finally pulled Crush out of the ring.
On a later edition of Raw, they talked to Crush on the phone from the hospital. Crush seemed in better spirits, but once he realized that Savage was there, he hung up. Crush ended up siding with Master Fuji, since unlike Savage, he visited him regularly at the hospital. The way Crush saw it, it was Savage’s fault, since Savage told him to take on Yokozuna in the first place and claimed he’d have his back. Savage tried to make amends and it looked like Crush was going to forgive him. Instead, Crush clotheslined him and dropped him chin-first on a barricade, messing up Savage’s tongue for a while.
The two remained enemies for months, but the tipping point came from a show where Savage got a title opportunity against Yokozuna. Savage had it won, but Crush interfered. From there on, the two were never allowed to both be in the same building at the same time due to their bad blood. This gave us what I believe to be Savage’s all-time best promo. Watch this.
So good. I love how he even tossed in a sly reference to Hogan and the Mega Powers.
Savage did what he said he would do and beat Crush at WrestleMania X. It was a match with a silly ending, but Savage got the job done in the final stretch of his WWF career.
9. BATISTA VS. TRIPLE H
For several years, Triple H held onto the World Heavyweight Championship as the leader of Evolution. Sure, guys like Goldberg, Michaels, Benoit, and Orton were able to wrest it from his control now and then, but only for a little while. Triple H still had a good thing going as champ with Ric Flair and Batista as his henchmen. Problem was that Batista was starting to get really popular and really successful. He was basically a face even though he was still Triple H’s muscle. They swerved the fans by pretending he was going to turn on Triple H once or twice, but he remained loyal.
Then Batista won the Royal Rumble. That meant he was the #1 contender for Triple H’s belt. Theoretically. As Triple H suggested, Batista could have gone to Smackdown to face JBL for his title, making Evolution more dominant than ever. Triple H even staged an attack on Batista and made it seem like it was JBL. Batista overheard Triple H and Flair plotting and claiming that Batista should be subservient. When it was time for Batista to sign the contract, he pretended to sign to face JBL, but instead went with Triple H. In a total badass moment, he revealed it by giving the thumbs up, slowly turning it thumbs down, then powerbombing Triple H through the nearby table.
With this, one of the all-time best face turns in wrestling, Batista’s momentum carried him to the main event of WrestleMania 21, where he took Triple H out with a Batista Bomb and won his very first world championship.
8. BRET HART VS. OWEN HART/YOKOZUNA
Since Survivor Series, Bret and Owen Hart had some serious friction due to Owen being the one Hart brother to lose their elimination match. Owen had a huge chip on his shoulder from being the younger brother and always being in Bret’s shadow. Bret was able to talk some sense into him and they tried for the tag titles together at Royal Rumble. Due to Bret trying to win the match on a bad leg instead of tagging Owen, they lost, and Owen snapped. Owen beat on Bret’s leg some more and told him off.
Later that night, Bret was the co-winner of the Royal Rumble match with Lex Luger. Since triple threats weren’t a thing yet, Jack Tunney decided to do a mini tournament at WrestleMania X. Lex Luger would fight Yokozuna for the WWF Championship. Bret Hart would get a warm-up match with Owen. Regardless of which Hart brother won, Bret would face the winner of Luger/Yokozuna. Considering Bret still loved Owen and didn’t feel any ill will, he really didn’t want to have to take part in that first match.
Bret and Owen opened the show with an excellent battle. Owen won in the end, clean, with a roll-up. That meant Bret had to go into the main event with a loss under his name to go with his bad knee. His match with Yokozuna was nothing special, since it was mostly just Yokozuna throwing a weak Bret around. Bret endured and took advantage of one of Yokozuna’s mistakes, rolling him up for a pin. Bret was the champ again and redeemed his loss against Yokozuna from the previous WrestleMania. The faces in the locker room came out to congratulate him and hold him up on their shoulders. Everyone was excited.
Not Owen, though. He walked out and stared wide-eyed at Bret. How could he be champion? Bret was a loser. He was less than Owen. If anything, this meant that Owen was the rightful WWF Champion and Bret’s days were numbered. They had to be.
7. ULTIMATE WARRIOR VS. RANDY SAVAGE
As WWF Champion, Ultimate Warrior was cutting a promo about his title defense against Sergeant Slaughter, when Queen Sherri appeared. She tried to seduce Warrior into giving a title shot to the Macho King, but he told her no. Actually, wait, that’s not quite accurate. He vibrated like a bobblehead and said, “NNnnnnNNnNOOoOooOOooooOOOOO!!”
Savage didn’t take it well. During Warrior’s match with Slaughter, Savage ran out and shattered his scepter over Warrior’s head, allowing Slaughter to get the win and become the new champion. Warrior didn’t take THAT well and chased Savage out of the building, screwing over his chances in the Royal Rumble match. The two were definitely steamed at each other and Jack Tunney decided that there wasn’t enough room in the company for the two of them. They’d get their match at WrestleMania and the loser would have to retire.
Just before the match, commentator Bobby Heenan noticed Savage’s former manager Elizabeth was in the audience, sadly looking on. The match went back and forth and was the first WrestleMania match that played up the idea of two guys finding it impossible to put each other away. Warrior went total overkill by hitting Savage with shoulder tackle after shoulder tackle after shoulder tackle to the extent that he was able to pin Savage with one foot on his chest. Vindicated, Warrior left Savage alone with an irate Sherri.
Sherri kicked at the half-conscious Savage, screaming at him for his failure. Elizabeth had enough and ran to the ring to protect her old flame. Savage got up and was first confused and thought Elizabeth was the one attacking him. Then he came to his senses and reconnected with her. After all they had been through, the two realized that they loved each other. With people actually crying in the crowd, Savage hoisted Elizabeth over his shoulder and the two left together.
It was a blow-off match where everyone won. The Ultimate Warrior won one of the biggest matches in his career and got revenge. Sherri remained a terror and was able to move on to other clients. Randy Savage and Elizabeth got to bring closure to their story in an emotional and meaningful way. Despite being one of the most hated villains, Savage got one crazy good sendoff as he walked off into the sunset with his head held high.
6. THE ROCK VS. HULK HOGAN
Vince McMahon and Ric Flair each had an equal share of the WWF and McMahon couldn’t take Flair’s interference anymore. He decided that he would bring in the New World Order as a way of poisoning the well and destroying the company once and for all. Makes sense. That almost happened the last time he pushed Kevin Nash.
Hollywood Hogan made his first appearance in nine years, where he blamed the crowd for his turn to darkness. The Rock showed up and mixed compliments with blaming Hogan for his own downfall. “They LOVED you! They BELIEVED in you! And damn it, the Rock BELIEVED IN YOU!” Rock challenged Hogan to a match and Hogan accepted. Rock thought it would be cute to Rock Bottom Hogan and Hogan responded with an attempt at vehicular manslaughter. He and the nWo beat Rock so badly he was put in an ambulance and then they had that ambulance hit with a semi while Hogan kept yelling about how he was going to, “lay the smackdown on his crippled ass!”
Rock recovered and we ended up with Rock and Austin vs. the nWo for a month. Austin took on Scott Hall at WrestleMania and beat him, even with Nash’s involvement. Hogan told the boys not to join him for his match, saying that he needed to do this for himself. Hall and Nash didn’t take too kindly to that.
The match was incredible. Hogan was over the hill, but the two told a story and improvised like nothing else. The Canadian crowd loved Hogan and gradually turned on Rock as the match went on. Hogan started playing to them while Rock started heeling it up. The young lion defeated the old lion and Rock came out on top. Defeated and humbled (which looked strangely adorable, I might add), Hogan offered his hand in respect. Rock took it.
Nash and Hall attacked Hogan for being soft and losing. Rock evened the odds and celebrated with his hero-turned-enemy-turned-hero. Hogan broke the shackles of the Hollywood namesake and returned to his former glory with the Rock to thank for it.
5. UNDERTAKER VS. SHAWN MICHAELS II
At the Slammy Awards episode of Raw, Shawn Michaels accepted the award for Match of the Year for his failed attempt to break the Undertaker’s streak. In the middle of the speech, Michaels lost his train of thought and then went off about how he knew for sure that he could beat the Undertaker. He wanted another shot, damn it.
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Undertaker had no interest in a rematch and as World Heavyweight Champion champion, he had bigger fish to fry. Michaels entered the Royal Rumble, but lost, causing him to go completely mental. His obsession led to him interfering with Undertaker’s Elimination Chamber match, costing him the title. Having Undertaker’s attention, he suggested that maybe Undertaker was afraid that Michaels would win. Finally, Undertaker relented and offered him a rematch on the condition that if Michaels were to lose, he would retire. Michaels accepted, since beating Undertaker was all that mattered to him.
Despite having two world titles on the show, Undertaker vs. Michaels was the main event. Rightfully so. They once again put on another classic, but this time the ending was more one-sided. Undertaker had Michaels dead to rights. Michaels had no chance to win. Undertaker told him to just stay down. Michaels refused and slapped him in the face. Turning red as his brother, Undertaker picked him up and finished him with a jumping Tombstone. The Streak was intact and Michaels was gone.
The crowd gave him a great farewell ovation and he shook his head, joking that his family was going to get really sick of him within days.
4. BRET HART VS. STEVE AUSTIN
Bret vs. Austin was a match that wasn’t meant to happen originally, but when Michaels “lost his smile” and they changed up the PPV, the two were thrown into a submission match. They had been feuding the past few months anyway, ever since Bret came back. He didn’t like that Austin was successful with his stab-you-in-the-back attitude, while Austin had a hate-on for Bret’s white hat rhetoric.
Bret got a pinfall win at Survivor Series, Austin cheated to eliminate him at the Royal Rumble, and Bret got what looked to be the last word in a four-man battle royal at the following In Your House. Bret won the title in that match, but lost it shortly after to Sycho Sid. That pissed off Austin to no end because he totally had a chance to win the title and Bret screwed it up for him.
Their match was arguably the best match in WrestleMania history and told its story through its unforgettable ending. Bret busted up Austin with the ring bell and Austin was bleeding profusely. Bret locked in the Sharpshooter and Austin had no way out. For a second, it looked like he could power out, but his strength subsided. With blood pouring from his face and a look of pure agony underneath, Austin refused to give up. Instead, he passed out and the ref had to call for the match to end. Bret won, but he didn’t stop. He reapplied the hold and punished Austin some more. Something a heel would do.
Once Bret was removed, the officials tried to help Austin up. Austin shoved them away. He was defeated. He was barely able to stand. But he was going to leave on his own strength. While Bret came out of the match a villain in victory, Austin came out a hero in defeat and it changed the company forever.
3. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. RIC FLAIR
Ric Flair cut a promo about his possible retirement, claiming that had no plans to ever hang it up. Vince McMahon applauded his tenacity and said that as long as he kept winning, he could remain an active wrestler. The moment he lost, he had to retire. That meant months of Flair going up against every two-bit heel that wanted to be the one to end him. Naturally, he won every single time.
Shawn Michaels asked to take him on at WrestleMania. Flair accepted the challenge. Michaels knew that Flair couldn’t keep going on forever and if he was going to lose, it would have to be at the grandest stage with dignity. He didn’t want his career to end in some lame Khali/Umaga handicap match or something. He compared it to putting down Old Yeller, which infuriated Flair to no end.
Their match was as good as you’d expect. Flair gave his all, but Michaels gave…well, almost his all. At one point, he could have nailed Sweet Chin Music, but hesitated and almost lost. The match continued and Michaels once again had Flair dead in his sights. This time, Flair got up, seeing that his tank was empty and he had no recourse. He egged Michaels on to finish the deed. Michaels tearfully told him, “I’m sorry. I love you,” and struck him down. One three count later and Flair’s WWE career came to an end. He walked off to a massive ovation befitting one of the greatest of all time.
2. DANIEL BRYAN VS. EVOLUTION
Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania story is truly special because it’s just as much a real life story as it is a fictional one. WWE gives the little guys a title push and then takes it away all the time, but this was different from the likes of Bret Hart, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Dolph Ziggler, etc. This time they made the mistake of making it part of the narrative. They spent so much time putting it out to the public that Daniel Bryan was going to get screwed over due to his perceived lack of marketability to the point that even the casual fans knew it was bullshit. When the smarky crowds jeered Batista as a face and cheered Bryan when he wasn’t around, everyone perfectly understood exactly why and joined in. The company dared us to!
Bryan wasn’t meant to main event WrestleMania or ever sniff the main event again. He was supposed to have a match with Sheamus or maybe a tag match with Bray Wyatt. Vince McMahon legitimately believed that Batista winning the Royal Rumble on his first match back and getting a main event title shot against Randy Orton was a dream match the fans wanted to see. It was like watching all three Nolan Batman movies, only Batman never recovered from the back injury and Superman showed up out of nowhere to save Gotham instead. The fans outright rejected it and CM Punk’s leaving in disgust only amplified the panic going on behind the scenes.
Through his Yes Movement, Daniel Bryan was able to blackmail Triple H into giving him a singles match to prove that he was good enough to hang with the best. He also wanted to be inserted into the title match if he were to win that match. Triple H agreed and did a wonderful job mixing his fictional persona with how certain fans perceive him. Triple H threatened to bury Bryan. He brought up all the other guys like him who got buried against him. He played up his online reputation beautifully.
The rest wrote itself. Bryan defeated Triple H and was brutalized after the bell. Then he went against all the odds and defeated Orton and Batista, even with Triple H and Stephanie interfering. He came out the big winner. Triple H may have graded him a B+ player, but that night Daniel Bryan taught Evolution.
1. HULK HOGAN VS. ANDRE THE GIANT
There is no story in WWE more classic than this. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant. The Immortal vs. the Eighth Wonder of the World. WWE’s guilty of sliding a lot of facts under the rug. They made up Andre’s 15-year winning streak. They pretended he had never been bodyslammed. They tried to hide that his body was falling apart on itself. It didn’t matter because the angle was so exceptional that it was easy to roll with the lies. That’s kind of how wrestling works, isn’t it?
Hogan and Andre were best buds. Andre had gone on record to say that he didn’t want a shot at Hogan’s title belt. Hogan was given a huge trophy for being champ for three years and Andre was given a smaller trophy for being undefeated for a decade and a half. Andre started to have second thoughts about his decisions and stormed off. Later, he returned under the management of the scheming Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Heenan convinced him to turn on Hogan and demand a title shot. Out of reluctance, Hogan did so, but it broke his heart.
They had a contract signing back in the days when those were pre-taped. Andre stayed completely calm and ominous. Hogan couldn’t sit still. He let loose a promo that was equal parts over-the-top hammy, distraught, and intense. Andre responded with a cold promo about how after mentoring Hogan for years, WrestleMania III would be the final lesson.
Hogan had taken on his friends and he had taken on monsters, but this was both of those put together and far more threatening. Andre was portrayed as a force that Hogan simply could not handle. It said a lot in the opening moments of their match where Andre stood completely sill and silent, glaring down at Hogan while Hogan shook in place and stared back.
The match has been looked down upon for lacking in technical excellence, but I don’t care. It’s a wonderful spectacle. It’s everything it should be. Even though Hogan would hold onto the top spot for years to come, this would always be the true climax to his run. There would never be a more believable challenge to overcome without coming off as ridiculous. Everything from Savage to Zeus to Slaughter to Sid Justice was secondary and cartoonish. When Hogan bodyslammed Andre, it was the exclamation point that defined WrestleMania.
The leg drop, the pin, the post-match celebration, the shot of a depressed Bobby Heenan as Andre got pelted with garbage, and even Jesse Ventura giving Hogan props on commentary were all icing on the cake. Yeah, Steamboat vs. Savage was a far better match, but Hogan vs. Andre was the epitome of what a WrestleMania match ought to be.
Any matches I missed out on that deserve to be on the list? Sound off in the comments and try to enjoy the show this Sunday.
Gavin Jasper listened to that “Whoa-oh, whoa-oh! It’s WrestleMania!” song way too many times while writing this. Follow him on Twitter.