Wrestlemania is the biggest event in wrestling; this has always been clear, even during the very first event. Of course, being the biggest does not always mean the best, but some of the very best wrestling matches to ever take place have happened on the grandest stage of them all. In the spirit of Wrestlemania weekend, I have compiled a list of what I think are the top 20 wrestling matches to take place at Wrestlemania.
For clarity, when assembling this list, I based it on a combination of pure technical quality, storytelling and overall importance. I myself am more of a fan of pure wrestling, so I am going to have to estimate that the formula was about 50% wrestling, 25% storytelling and 25% importance. Hopefully that can explain why certain matches are where they are on the list.
Now, let us begin the list with some honorable mentions and remember to come back here tomorrow for part 2 of the top 20 Wrestlemania matches!
If it wasn't for all six of these guys going out and topping their performances a year later, this match would have definitely cracked the list, and probably placed pretty high. Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon brought the ladder match to the big stage, but these three tag teams pushed the potential of the ladder match into what we expect it to be today. Traditionalists may scoff at the idea of a match filled almost entirely with high spots and few technical holds, but for what it was, the match delivered on all accounts, especially when it came to entertaining the fans.
Honorable Mention: Shawn Michaels vs Stone Cold Steve Austin- Wrestlemania XIV
From a pure atmospheric standpoint, this is one of the greatest matches to ever take place. The crowd in Boston was 110% behind Austin and was frothing at the mouth to see a new champion. The match, its buildup and subsequent fallout are what really got the WWF back on top in the wrestling wars with WCW and eventually turned Vince McMahon into an honest-to-god billionaire.
With all that being said, the match falls short for a few reasons: First, it was extremely obvious that Austin was going to win the match. Michaels was on his way out of the WWF and would not be seen at Wrestlemania for another five years. The WWF would have to show some real lack of intelligence if Austin was not going to pin Michaels in that ring in Boston. Secondly, the match itself was quite bland and short. Michaels' back was in shambles and he was in obvious pain throughout the entire contest. Stone Cold himself was only several months removed from a broken neck as well. Although the match was a key moment in wrestling history, it just didn't have the overall substance to crack the top 20.
Honorable Mention: Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant- Wrestlemania III
Similar to the HBK vs Austin match in that the importance and scope of the match far outweighs the quality of it. Hogan vs Andre solidified Wrestlemania's reputation as being the biggest wrestling event of the year. 75,000 (not 93,000 Vince) packed inside the Pontiac Silverdome to witness the top wrestling draw at the time face off against the man who he usurped. If the match had not been so wildly successful, the rest of the Wrestlemanias after it might not have been as important.
But from a quality standpoint, let's face it, the match was mediocre at best. Andre was more or less retired at this point and had to wear a heavy back brace for the match and Hogan of course is no Karl Gotch. Disaster was narrowly avoided from the get-go when Andre accidently fell on top of Hogan and could not get off of him quickly. If it wasn't for the quick thinking of referee Joey Marella the match might have been over before it had barely even begun.
Also like HBK vs Austin, it was incredibly obvious that Hogan was going to defeat his opponent on that night. Andre's sheer size and reputation of course made him a viable threat, but any fan with a smidge of insider knowledge could figure out that Hogan was going to win. Still, the importance and overall magnitude of the match cannot be ignored.
This was great work from two legends that were at the height of their athletic prowess. Undertaker had just recently unveiled his "American Bad-Ass" gimmick and Triple H was riding a wave of momentum as the company's top heel. The two men brawled all over the Astrodome in a match that featured a slew of weapons and false finishes.
The match also had a really good build-up with Triple H saying that he had beaten all there is in the WWF and that he was now the top dog in the company. Naturally, this did not sit well with the Deadman who got his revenge on the Game by pinning him at Wrestlemania.
#19 Hulk Hogan vs The Rock- Wrestlemania X-8
There were a lot of dream matches that were predicated to happen when the WWF bought out WCW in 2001, most of which either did not happen or were disappointing. The one that did deliver on all cylinders was The Rock vs Hogan at Wrestlemania X-8 in Toronto. Booked as an Icon vs Icon match, the crowd turned on the previously popular Rock in order to cheer for the man they loved in the 1980s.
Although it was not the most artistic match, it was still probably Hogan's best match in at least five years as The Rock truly solidified himself as a top-flight in-ring performer. Unlike Hogan vs Andre, it was really a toss-up as to who was going to come out on top, with many fans grumbling that the WWF choose the wrong winner and that Hogan should have come out on top.
#18 Shawn Michaels vs Bret Hart- Wrestlemania XII
It started off with HBK gliding down into the ring from the rafters and ended more than an hour later with him kneeling down in the ring clutching the WWF Championship. The 60-minute Iron Man match at Wrestlemania XII between the champion Bret Hart and the challenger Shawn Michaels was one of the best examples of endurance in pro-wrestling history. Although not always exciting, Hart and HBK were able to keep the fans interest for the entire 60 minute period, even though not a single fall could be determined.
Shawn Michaels had main-evented a few ppvs here and there along the way and contended for the WWF Title on several occasions, but finally capturing the belt indicated that the WWF was ready for HBK to take the lead. His title reign may have been undermined by weak opponents or just an overall lack on interest, but that should not hurt the significance nor the brilliance of his match with Hart at Wrestlemania.
#17 Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker- Wrestlemania XXVI
The rematch of the masterpiece from Wrestlemania XXV did not top the original, but it sure as hell came close. The drama of the match was enhanced when HBK agreed to put his career on the line in hopes of ending the streak once and for all. He came up just a little bit short, but few performers have ever gotten as good of a sendoff.
The best thing about this match was that it was given the main-event spot that it deserved. A big mistake the WWE made the previous year was that they did not put the HBK/Undertaker match into the main event, meaning that John Cena, Edge and Big Show along with Triple H and Randy Orton had the impossible task of following up such a great match. This year, the WWE allowed HBK and The Undertaker to put on their best at the top of the card, which was only fitting for the last match for Mr. Wrestlemania (as we will see later).
#16 Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock- Wrestlemania X-Seven
Their match at Wrestlemania XIX was probably a better pure match, but the storytelling and shocking heel turn of Stone Cold Steve Austin is what really makes their second Wrestlemania encounter a true classic.
Looking back on it, the heel turn of Austin is often viewed as a mistake, and would eventually lead to one of Austin's many departures from the company, but at the time nobody suspected that Austin would embrace Vince McMahon and beat the hell out of The Rock with a steel chair. It just was not plausible at the time.
#15 Triple H vs Shawn Michaels vs Chris Benoit- Wrestlemania XX
This is a match that I personally feel is overrated. It is a really good match, but not one of the top five greatest matches in Wrestlemania history. The three guys in the ring were supremely talented and the match was well booked, but it just seemed to lack that extra something that makes a match truly special.
That being second, Wrestlemania XX was all about the culmination of two guys who were told they never had the tools to be main event level talents. Eddie Guerrero retained his WWE Championship over Kurt Angle and Benoit won the World Heavyweight Championship in the main event. Triple H tapping out to the crossface was a surprising move, and something that is never brought up when people complain about HHH never doing the job. Unfortunately for Benoit, he would lose the title at Summerslam and be back in the mid-card a year later, so in the long run, Benoit's title victory did not mean a whole lot.
#14 Bret Hart vs Owen Hart- Wrestlemania X
In the history of wrestling, probably no two competitors locked up more times than Bret and Owen Hart. The best of their long history can be found at the 10th Anniversary of Wrestlemania in possibly the best match to ever open a Wrestlemania.
Although they would meet in a much more hyped cage match at Summerslam the following August, the brother's match at Wrestlemania X is still their best encounter. In a time that was a rocky transition period for the WWF, Owen and Bret put on one of the smoothest performances in the company's history. Bret would go on to win the WWF Championship later that evening, but it was Owen who shined, finally breaking out of his brothers shadow and pinning Bret with a beautiful Victory Roll out of the corner for the victory.
#13 Mick Foley vs Edge- Wrestlemania 22
One of the best street fights to ever take place in the WWE happened on the grandest stage of them all in Chicago. Foley's athleticism was basically non-existent at this point and few technical holds were exchanged, but both wrestler's went all out taking hideous shots and bumps to entertain the fans.
In my opinion, this is one the most re-watchable matches of all-time. Everything about it, from Foley wearing the barbed wire around his waist to block the spear, to Mr. Socko being wrapped in barbed wire, to Edge spearing Foley off of the apron and through the flaming table accompanied by Joey Styles' vintage "OH MY GOD!!", was perfect.
This match really showcased just how versatile of a performer Edge was. He had just finished his first run as champion and instead of sulking about being forced to work with a veteran at Wrestlemania, Edge got the absolute best match out of a limited worker, which is a really underrated aspect of his Hall of Fame career.
Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat was the first undercard match to gain national acclaim, but it was still dwarfed overall by the main event between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. The first match to really "steal the show" at a Wrestlemania was the retirement match between Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior.
Both Savage and the Warrior were former WWF Champions and had large fanbases and the stipulation of the loser retiring was a big deal. The match also featured the return of Miss Elizabeth who reunited with Savage after Sensational Sherri dumped him after the Macho Man came up short in the contest.
A case can be made for this being the pinnacle match for Savage's career. It's one thing for Savage to work a great match with someone like Ricky Steamboat, it's another to get a great one out of someone as historically terrible as the Ultimate Warrior.
#11 Randy Savage vs Ric Flair- Wrestlemania VIII
For the second year in a row, Randy Savage had the best match at Wrestlemania. And for the second year in a row, Savage got pushed out of the main event because of Hulk Hogan. This time, he wrestled the Nature Boy for the WWF Title.
Flair had won the title at the Royal Rumble and was originally scheduled to face Hogan at Wrestlemania, but tensions between the two mammoth stars caused the match to fall through, and in came the Macho Man to wrestle Flair in an anti-climactic match that took place during the middle of the ppv.
Savage and Flair shook off the shaky build to have a tremendous encounter where he recaptured the WWF Title for the second time. Despite the lack of build-up, the crowd of over 60,000 was vocal throughout the whole match as it still featured 2 of the 3 biggest stars of the past 10 years.
Don't forget to check back here tomorrow for the Top 10 Wrestlemania matches of all time!