The opening match at WrestleMania is the second most important match on the entire show. Its importance has skyrocketed in the past 5 years as WrestleMania shows have stretched to over 6 hours long. The opening match is now one of the few matches people are likely to remember. The opening match should set the tone and leave the audience more energized than they were for the start of the show. It's usually a fast-paced match with some of the best athletes in the company.
The length of the opening match has expanded in recent years, but length hasn't been a detriment to the matches on this list: the four longest opening matches in WrestleMania history are all on this list. "Mr. WrestleMania" Shawn Michaels wrestled in 3 opening matches 3 years in a row at WrestleMania 7, 8, & 9. Bret Hart has also wrestled in 3 opening matches, but also shares the distinction of wrestling in the opening and closing match of WrestleMania (WrestleMania X) with Daniel Bryan (WrestleMania XXX). The list below highlights the 7 best opening matches in WrestleMania history and includes some videos with the matches presented in full, courtesy of WWE.
7. Shawn Michaels (c) with Luna Vachon vs. Tatanka
Intercontinental Championship Title Match
Shawn had recently replaced Sensational Sherri as his escort with Luna Vachon, betraying his only friend once again. WrestleMania IX paid homage to its location (Caesar's Palace Casino) by leaning hard into the ancient Rome theme. The show began with elaborate entrances for commentators, 'The Macho Man' Randy Savage & Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan. Although he was the champion, Michaels entered WrestleMania IX first and owned it as he strided through the makeshift arena. Luna stalked several feet behind him. Tatanka was on an undefeated streak leading up to this match. Tatanka's winning streak included a win over Michaels in a non-title match. Sensational Sherri entered after Tatanka, looking like she would support the new superstar.
Michaels and Tatanka traded wrestling holds early at a thrilling pace. Michaels made every rest hold an active working hold. The drama between Sherri and Luna on the outside of the ring only got the crowd more excited. Michaels' work was especially outstanding in this match where all four performers delivered a heck of a match with multiple stories being told. A false finish made The Macho Man say "This match should be over by now!" Heenan responded, "This match should've been over 30 moves ago!" This match featured Tatanka catching Michaels, who jumped off the top turnbuckle, power slamming him into the mat. The post-match physicality between Luna & Sherri got the crowd even more hyped for WrestleMania IX.
Seth Rollins' music kicked off the show to raucous cheers followed by The Miz entering to loud boos. Escorted by his "Miztourage" of Bo Dallas & Curtis Axel, The Miz surprisingly told his men to go to the back so he could go it alone. Finn Balor entered third, debuting his rainbow Balor Club shirts and gear in the first positive WrestleMania acknowledgement of the LGBTQ community.
The match began with a series of quick pinning attempts by each man building to Balor executing a tope con hilo on to his opponents outside the ring. The Miz took control after that, slowing the pace down briefly before Rollins & Balor picked it up again. The crowd was with the men for every single move of this match. Each man landed his signature offense followed by another man disrupting the action, preventing a pin. After taking two Coup de Graces from Balor and a Curb Stomp from Rollins, The Miz was pinned by Seth Rollins much to the delight of the crowd. This was Seth Rollins' first Intercontinental Championship win, making him a grand slam champion. This opening match provided everything you could ask for from an opener without emotionally exhausting the crowd early.
5. Daniel Bryan, Wade Barrett (c), Dolph Ziggler, Stardust, Luke Harper, R-Truth, Dean Ambrose,
Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Championship
WrestleMania 31 poetically began the way WrestleMania 30 ended: with the crowd chanting "YES!" for Daniel Bryan. This is the first of two ladder matches on this list. The match began with an all-out brawl to the roar of the crowd. Four different subsequent dives to the outside put every man on the outside of the ring, setting them up to be jumped on by Dean Ambrose from a ladder. R-Truth's fear of heights made for some silly moments in this ladder match while Luke Harper brought a viciousness to his offense, giving this match a greater variety of styles than the Money In The Bank match later on this list.
Harper took out Stardust with a superplex off a 16ft ladder in the center of the ring. Harper subsequently powerbombed Dean Ambrose from the ring to a ladder on the outside. The match finished with Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler trading headbutts until Bryan knocked him off to a very loud pop from the crowd. This match capped off Daniel Bryan's comeback from injury after WrestleMania 30 and gave the audience a hopeful and happy start to WrestleMania 31. WWE followed up on the match later in the show by having a line of the greatest Intercontinental Champions of all time come and congratulate Daniel Bryan on his win to emphasize the importance of the title.
4. AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon
The feud between AJ Styles & Shane McMahon sprouted from AJ's run as "The face that runs the place" on SmackDown conflicting with Shane McMahon being the authority figure on SmackDown. After losing his championship to Randy Orton, AJ went on a rampage backstage assaulting Shane McMahon. The week before the match on SmackDown, Shane McMahon executed a flying elbow from the top turnbuckle onto a prone AJ on the announce table reminding everyone that Shane is dangerous and can incapacitate the former champion with his high-risk offense.
The match began with AJ Styles proclaiming he would embarrass Shane McMahon by out wrestling him. AJ backed up his words by locking up Shane early, limiting his offense to only wrestling moves. Shane shocked everyone by answering with an amateur-style takedown followed by a couple of arm drags leading to some mat work into a pinning combination. AJ answered with the first strike of the match to which Shane answered with a barrage of fists and a knee to the gut. The match moved at a steady pace, allowing the crowd to react to each move & moment.
The match clocked in at 20:31 (it's one of the longest opening matches in WrestleMania history), it includes a ref bump, and every one of AJ Styles' & Shane McMahon's signature moves. The audience's enthusiasm grows throughout the match to a fever pitch at the end. This opening match stole the show at WrestleMania 33, reminding everyone that Shane McMahon was much more than just a guy who jumps off of things and that AJ Styles was the best wrestler in the world at this time. The video above presents the match in its entirety.
3. Jeff Hardy, King Booker, Finlay, CM Punk, Mr. Kennedy, Matt Hardy, Randy Orton, Edge
Money in The Bank Ladder Match
This match was stacked with future Hall of Famers and started with ladder spots early to get the crowd hyped. The 80,000+ people at Ford Field were loud for the beginning of WrestleMania 23 and these men amplified that excitement. This was the third Money In The Bank match of all time, but the first to open WrestleMania. Booker had a great comedy moment by unexpectedly pulling out a 2ft step ladder from under the ring. The Hardys set up a spot with Edge that paralleled the spot where Joey Mercury got his face smashed in by a ladder the previous year.
The crowd picked up on it and reacted loudly. The crowd reacted to every move the men made in this match. The match moved along quickly without feeling chaotic or hard to follow. Edge speared 7 men in a row. Jeff Hardy jumped off a 16ft ladder in the ring onto a prone Edge on a ladder outside the ring. Edge got taken out on a stretcher immediately after the move. Each man took serious damage, save for Randy Orton (who managed to RKO everyone left in the match) & Kennedy. Hornswoggle crawled from under the ring to win the match for Finlay but was taken out in a giant leap from the ladder by Mr. Kennedy. Kennedy won the match to loud cheers - his popularity would wane after getting injured shortly after WrestleMania and forfeiting his Money In The Bank contract.
This match was one of the longest opening matches in WrestleMania history, and it showed that an 8-man ladder match could be performed with coherent stories and spots that blew the roof off of Ford Field that night. The only knock on this match is that it may have been a little too exciting as an opener: the rest of the matches on the card couldn't get the crowd to reach the energy level they had for this opening match.
2. Bret 'The Hitman' Hart vs. Owen Hart
This match had a tremendous amount of drama and build starting from a rift between the brothers at Survivor Series 1993. Owen was the only Hart brother eliminated in the match and he blamed it on a collision with Bret. Owen became obsessed with getting out of Bret's shadow. The two reconciled to team up again at Royal Rumble 1994 to take on the Quebecers. But another Bret Hart injury forced the men to lose the match. Owen attacked Bret in promos leading up to the event. Bret had a rematch with Yokozuna (or Lex Luger) scheduled later in the night to try to regain his WWF Championship after losing it one year prior at WrestleMania IX.
The match started with technical wrestling until Owen yanked Bret's hair, leading to a takedown. While Owen maintained arm control, he gave Bret a little boot to the face. Bret shook it off and pointed to Owen, subtly highlighting their relationship as brothers while keeping up the pace of the match. The match continued with excellent wrestling until Owen was clotheslined to the outside by Bret. When Bret rolled Owen back into the ring, the match shifted strikes before working back to wrestling holds. Cameras flashed wildly and the crowd would shriek at every pinning attempt.
Owen's strikes were met with gasps while Brets were met with cheers. This match was the longest opening match in WrestleMania history at the time and established a new top heel in the company while building fan support for The Hitman. As Owen had Bret in an electric chair, Bret rolled forward to attempt a pin. Owen maintained enough body control to place himself over Bret, pinning him for the surprise victory. This set up drama for Bret going into the main event after having lost his first match of the night and it set up Owen as a threat by holding a victory over the soon to be crowned WWF Champion. The rivalry between the two brothers is one of the most memorable in wrestling history and this match is one of the greatest in the history of WrestleMania.
1. Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H
After losing the opening match of WrestleMania 28 in one of the shortest matches in WrestleMania history, Daniel Bryan began an organic ascent to the main event that captured the hearts of the WWE Universe. The fans wanted Daniel Bryan in the main event of WrestleMania XXX and in spite of being booked out of the championship title picture after losing it to Randy Orton, the fans demanded Daniel Bryan get an opportunity. Triple H was the face of the Authority in WWE, who emphasized Bryan didn't belong and wasn't big enough or marketable enough to be WWE Champion. This match wasn't just Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H, it was the fans' will vs. the will of the corporate authority of WWE. If Daniel Bryan won this match, he would get to compete in the main event against Batista & Randy Orton to be the undisputed WWE Champion.
The match itself is the longest opening match in WrestleMania history, clocking in at just under 26 minutes. The match was preceded by a fantastic video package promoting the story that would unfold throughout the night. Introduced by his wife, Stephanie McMahon, Triple H had one of the most memorable entrances in WrestleMania history on a throne with a golden crown complete with a golden skull face mask. Alexa Bliss, Charlotte Flair, and Sasha Banks stood around him as we were made to "behold the king of kings". Daniel Bryan entered second to wild cheers and "YES!" chants from a crowd ready to will him to the WWE Championship. Daniel Bryan's left shoulder was taped heavily, emphasizing the injury Triple H gave him in an attack a few weeks before WrestleMania.
The match began with Bryan using his speed to counteract Triple H's power. Triple H continued to attack Bryan's injured shoulder, drawing the ire of the crowd while gaining sympathy for their hero. Daniel Bryan used every bit of his arsenal in the match, in spite of having a severe lack of strength/mobility in his left arm. Stephanie McMahon added to the drama of the match with her vocal support of her husband sandwiched between taunts directed at Daniel Bryan and the fans. As the match came towards a close, Daniel Bryan took Triple H's spinebuster and pedigree back-to-back and managed to kick out, electrifying the crowd. The crowd was invested in every single move by these men and they became more and more concerned as the match went past the 20 minute mark.
The explosion of sound at the conclusion of this match is one of the loudest in WrestleMania history. This match not only delivered technically and emotionally, but it provided energy for the crowd that would carry all the way to the main event, where their hero would finally get his chance to regain the championship. The post match beatdown by Stephanie & Triple H planted seeds of doubt that made Bryan's win in the main event even more exciting. In spite of it being the longest opener in WrestleMania history, it built energy in the crowd instead of taking it from them. All of that combined makes this match the greatest opening match in WrestleMania history. The match is presented in its entirety in the video above. Enjoy!
Revisiting classic WrestleMania matches? Check out my pieces on WrestleMania Tag Team matches and Forgotten Main Events.