As an avid wrestling fan, it is my duty to inform you that we are less than 24 hours from WrestleMania 31. As a procrastinating writer, it is my obligation to admit that I meant for this to be up much sooner. I feel like I’ve said that far too often over the past few years, but hey, at least I am getting things up. Progress, right?
Anyway, WrestleMania is well-known as the biggest wrestling event of the calendar year. It is WWE’s version of the Super Bowl, the granddaddy of them all, the showcase of the immortals. I could go on and on, but we are pressed for time. Obviously I am very familiar with the phenomenon that is WrestleMania, and I’ve always wanted to sit down and figure out what my favorite WrestleMania matches of all-time are. After doing so, I now understand why I may never do this again: it takes FOREVER.
It’s important to point out that this is not necessarily the greatest matches in Mania history, because again that is a subject matter. Some matches that you are expecting to see will be missing, others will be ranked too low and there may even be one or two that makes you think, “Seriously dude? THAT match?” Just keep in mind that there have been hundreds of bouts at WrestleMania, my friend, and getting this down to my top 20 was much harder than I anticipated it would be.
So here we go. As good ol’ J.R. would say, business is about to pick up.
20. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant – WrestleMania 3
It seems somewhat strange to start off these rankings with a match that is generally regarded as one of the most iconic main events of all-time, but you should know up front that I’ve never been much of a Hulk Hogan fan. In the words of Brock Lesnar: Eat. Sleep. Hulk Up. Repeat. Eat. Sleep. Leg Drop. Repeat. Eat. Sleep. Hogan Wins. Repeat. Get’s old pretty fast, doesn’t it?
Despite my reservations regarding the Hulkster, there is something greatly nostalgic about watching two of the most legendary wrestling stars in WWE history go toe-to-toe in the Pontiac Silverdome. I doubt that anyone else at the time could’ve sold that place out and you have to give them credit for that. The match itself is as basic as can be, but 93,000 people go ballistic when Hogan slams Andre and hits the leg drop. This was Hulkamania at its apex, and it helped launched WrestleMania into another stratosphere and set the standard for all future main event title matches.
19. Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista – WrestleMania 30
We go from the quintessential WrestleMania main event to one that was anything but. Daniel Bryan was originally slated to face Sheamus last year with Batista and Orton squaring off for the title. However, Bryan’s popularity exploded over the course of 2013 and by the Royal Rumble, it was starting to torpedo all of WWE’s plans. They literally had no choice but to include him in the main event, and what a thrill it was to see Vince McMahon truly give the fans what they wanted to see.
As for the match itself, the Authority really pulled out all the stops to stack the odds against Bryan, as Orton and Batista double-teamed him constantly (including a brutal RKO-Batista Bomb through the announce table) and Triple H and Stephanie McMahon were a nuisance at ringside. And although having a beloved underdog come out on top is hardly the most original way to book a match, the fact that it was Bryan made that easy to ignore. Besides, how sweet was it to see him make Batista tap for the win?
18. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio – WrestleMania 21
Behold, the first match on this list that you never see or hear in the greatest Mania matches conversation. For the life of me I can’t figure out why. This was a fast-paced, acrobatic encounter that featured several near falls and told a great story, as Eddie and Rey were tag team champions at the time but Eddie couldn’t stomach the fact that Rey might just be a better singles competitor than he was. The chemistry between the two real-life friends was on full display and in my opinion, this is the second best opening match in Mania history. As for the first? Well, stay tuned.
17. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho – WrestleMania 28
On a show that already starred five of the greatest WWE Superstars of all-time in the other two headlining contests, it was difficult for this match to avoid being overshadowed. Sure, all the diehard snarks were only tuning in to see Punk that year, and Y2J is always a welcome addition to any event card, but let’s not kid ourselves. WWE put on Rock/Cena last even though this match was for the title, and that’s really all you need to know. Thankfully, Punk and Jericho are two extremely talented individuals who delivered the best wrestling match of the night on the most important wrestling pay-per-view of the year. The fact that Punk entered Mania as the champ will never not make me feel all giddy on the inside, and it’s just too bad that he never had a chance in the main event spot…
16. The Rock vs. John Cena – WrestleMania 28
… but of course, the long-awaited showdown between Rock and Cena had to be the final act of the show. Nothing could follow it. Not when you had an arena full of grown-ass men on the edge of their seats, worried as hell that Cena was going to beat yet another of their childhood heroes. After watching Cena take down guys like Kurt Angle, Jericho, Brock Lesnar, Triple H, Shawn Michaels and others over the years, that was a realistic, and extremely frightening, possibility.
Was this a five-star classic? Of course not, but it was an entertaining and pleasantly surprising battle that saw the Rock get the best of Cena. You don’t know how elated I felt that someone FINALLY whooped his fruity pebble ass at WrestleMania. I chose this over the Rock/Hogan match because it really did feel like that I had a lot more invested in this outcome as a fan. Rock NEEDED to win this match, whereas I think I could have stomached him losing to Hogan. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it very much, but I wouldn’t have lost my faith in all mankind. For that reason, I fondly remember this “Once in a Lifetime” encounter. As for “Twice in a Lifetime?” Don’t even get me started.
15. Trish Stratus vs. Mickie James – WrestleMania 22
You didn’t think we’d get through all this without talking about at least one women’s match, did you? Granted, there isn’t a great selection to choose from, as most matches featuring the WWE Divas at WrestleMania aren’t much more than afterthoughts, but Trish/Mickie was developed for almost half a year before the rivalry culminated in this extremely personal encounter. The match itself is very impressive, with Mickie employing some tactical and psychological strategy in order to topple Trish, but the journey to that point was more of an achievement than the destination. These two proved that, when given a chance, the divas are far more than just eye candy and time fillers for the men, a lesson that the WWE is still trying to learn to this day.
14. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon – WrestleMania 10
Ah yes, the match that first earned Shawn Michaels the nickname of “Mr. WrestleMania.” A lot has been said about how greatly HBK and Razor influenced all future ladder matches, even inspiring guys like the Hardy Boyz to pursue their dream of being WWE wrestlers. As for myself, it convinced me to try jumping off a ladder one time. Let’s just say that after that, I had no desire to ever actually be a wrestler. But hey, it’s still a great match!
13. Mick Foley vs. Edge – WrestleMania 22
Talk about having a lot at stake. After shocking the world by beating Cena for the title in January of 2006, Edge promptly dropped it back to Cena three weeks later at the Rumble and then was tossed into this mid-card matchup with Mick Foley. No offense to Foley, but working with him at that point was a real challenge because of his physical limitations. Edge could’ve responded to this by phoning it in and producing a giant turd of a match, which is what a lot of other guys probably would have done. Instead, he took it upon himself to do what every great WWE wrestler does at least once in their career: steal the show.
Despite his limitations, Foley met Edge halfway and worked his ass off in what was undoubtedly the most barbaric hardcore match in WrestleMania history. Their bodies came in contact with all kinds of things that your body is supposed to avoid, including thumbtacks, barbed wire and fire. The spear through the flaming table at the end triggered the classic, “Ohhhh myyy GOD!” response from Joey Styles on commentary, and it was the defining moment of Mania 22 as well as the spot that catapulted Edge back into the title picture. He most likely would’ve made it back there anyway, but let’s just say that this quickened that process.
12. Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat – WrestleMania 3
In an era where dinosaurs like Hulk and Andre ruled the landscape of WWE, smaller guys like Macho Man and Steamboat where often lost in the shuffle of an exceedingly biased profession. You couldn’t be a main event talent if you weren’t larger than life, and that was the mindset that held far more talented hands down for years. Then this match happened and a big fucking hole was blown right through that theory.
While this is certainly one of the defining matches of WrestleMania lore, I’m not as enthralled with it as some. A large portion of it isn’t much more than a series of roll-ups and kick outs, and I absolutely hate that Steamboat needed an assist from George Steele at ringside in order to beat Savage. Nitpicks aside, this is a technically excellent match and without it, the smaller guys very well may have remained buried.
11. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho – WrestleMania 19
I can only imagine what it must’ve been like for Jericho, to be standing there at WrestleMania 19, living his childhood dream of wrestling in front of a nationwide audience, and when he looks up across the ring, there’s one of his heroes standing in the other corner. Doing what you love is one thing, but getting to share the spotlight with someone you idolized from an early age and absolutely knocking it out of the park. I’m not sure you can put that into words.
This was also HBK’s first match back at Mania following a five-year hiatus. Not that you’d know it from watching, as the Showstopper never missed a beat en route to yet another… ahem… showstopping performance. Everything just felt right about this, from Michaels outlasting Jericho for the win to the respectful embrace the two shared afterward, and of course the swift kick to the nuts by Y2J, at his best as the ultimate sore loser.