Note: This should have gone up Sunday
Ok, so historically my posts about on pro wrestling on this blog have not really proven terribly compelling to anybody outside of me and pretty much guarantee me a reply from Rickey saying something along the lines of “I have no idea what you just wrote,” but heck, it’s Wrestlemania (I think you’re supposed to capitalize the “M” but I never do) Sunday, the card looks pretty darn good this year, and I’ve been inspired by the Mania countdown over at 4thletter! to believe perhaps there is room for wrestling on a comic-centric blog.
So here are my 25 favorite Wrestlemania matches of all time. Mind you they are not the matches I necessarily think are the best per se, but my personal favorites, often affected by my own inclinations towards certain competitors, the atmosphere where I saw the match, etc.
Also, of the 25 Manias to date, I’ve still yet to see XXII or XXIII, hence the lack of matches from those two cards (sorry, Bobby Lashley).
25. THE NEW AGE OUTLAWS vs CACTUS JACK & CHAINSAW CHARLIE (XIV)
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen this one on any “Best Of” lists, but as Wrestlemania XIV in Boston was the only one I’ve ever attended live, I can say from experience that we were all going nuts in the Fleetcenter when Mick Foley and Terry Funk beat the stuffing out of the Outlaws and took their Tag Team titles in a Dumpster match.
24. GIMMICK BATTLE ROYAL (XVII)
Yes, the “match” was crap, but the entrances plus Gene Okerlund and Bobby Heenan making their WWF returns to do commentary make this an easy gimme.
23. AHMED JOHNSON & THE LEGION OF DOOM vs THE NATION OF DOMINATION (XIII)
Not sure how this one has stood the test of time, but Ahmed’s custom LOD shoulder pads and Hawk actually using a kitchen sink as a weapon were enough to wow me at age 15.
22. THE STEINER BROTHERS vs THE HEADSHRINKERS (IX)
Sometimes you want a mat-based wrestling classic, sometimes you want a high-flying spotfest, and then sometimes you just want four bad dudes throwing each other around and beating the crap out of one another—this was the latter.
21. TAKA MICHINOKU vs AGUILA (XIV)
A true forgotten Mania classic, but being in attendance, I remember the crowd going nuts as these two flipped and somersaulted around and outside the ring with Taka’s Light Heavyweight title on the line.
20. MONEY IN THE BANK I (XXI)
The first time is generally the best in my experience when it comes to pro wrestling gimmick matches, and the inaugural multi-man Wrestlemania ladder match featuring Chris Jericho, Edge, Chris Benoit, Kane, Christian and Shelton Benjamin in 2005 remains a staple in my mind. The crazy stunts Benjamin alone pulled off with that ladder make this a classic.
19. RIC FLAIR vs SHAWN MICHAELS (XXIV)
At his advanced age, Ric Flair can’t exactly pull out five-star classics at will like he used to, but put him in the ring with a skilled buddy like Shawn Michaels and the old man can still go. The actual wrestling took a back seat to the drama in Flair’s “retirement match” though, with that unforgettable image of a defiant Nature Boy putting up his dukes and HBK mouthing “I love you…I’m sorry” before delivering the kill shot.
18. VINCE MCMAHON vs SHANE MCMAHON (XVII)
Impressive though it was that two non-wrestlers—one of whom was pushing 60 at the time—could go in the ring like the McMahon boys did, I actually appreciate how they utilized sideshow elements like Mick Foley as special ref, the Trish Stratus-Stephanie McMahon catfight, and Linda McMahon getting revenge on her husband to really garnish this one. And yeah, Shane’s version of the Van Terminator was rad.
17. SHAWN MICHAELS vs STEVE AUSTIN (XIV)
A pretty good match, but considering that Shawn Michaels practically had a broken back going in, that alone is a minor miracle. Really it was the historical significance of Steve Austin taking his place as World champion and the fact that I was there live to see it that makes this one stand out to me.
16. THE UNDERTAKER vs TRIPLE H (XVII)
Locked out of the World title picture in favor of Steve Austin and The Rock in 2001, Triple H and The Undertaker decided to go out and give stealing the show a shot, in a wicked all-over-the-place war with every stop pulled out and both guys hustling at a pace not everybody was sure they could pull off—but they did.
15. THE UNDERTAKER vs RIC FLAIR (XVIII)
There was no earthly reason why at age 53 and several years removed from a full-time wrestling schedule Ric Flair should have been able to go out and throw down with The Undertaker in a helluva nasty brawl, but hey, that’s why he’s Ric Flair. From The Nature Boy gushing blood to Arn Anderson’s cameo spinebuster to ‘Taker needing multiple finishers to end things, this was just fun.
14. EDDIE GUERRERO vs KURT ANGLE (XX)
A slick, fast-paced confrontation that saw Eddie Guerrero retain the WWE title at the biggest show of the year, but I’ll always remember it for the classic finish where Latino Heat loosens his boot laces, suckers Angle into using the anklelock, then slips out into a rollup—vintage Eddie.
13. HULK HOGAN vs THE ROCK (XVIII)
During a period when not many matches had that classic “big time” feel that qualified them as true Wrestlemania classics anymore, this one did. Hogan was way past his prime and Rock couldn’t carry him physically, but boy could these guys tell an epic story just in the way they stared one another down, and the hot Toronto crowd put it over the top.
12. BRET HART vs STEVE AUSTIN (XIII)
Some call this “the match that changed everything,” as the fans turned Bret Hart heel and in the process made Steve Austin the unlikely candidate to be possibly the WWF’s all-time biggest hero. Aside from the cheers and boos, these two put on an intense clinic of a submission match, with blood pouring from Stone Cold’s forehead becoming a landmark image of the forthcoming Attitude Era.
11. SHAWN MICHAELS vs CHRIS JERICHO (XIX)
I was so excited when Shawn Michaels returned from his four-year “retirement,” and probably my biggest dream match for HBK at the time was with Chris Jericho, the guy who had supplanted him as my favorite wrestler in his absence. They finally went one-on-one in a classic at Wrestlemania XIX that saw Michaels proving he could still hang, Jericho showing he could do anything HBK could do, and a great post-match cheap shot.
10. THE ROCK vs STEVE AUSTIN (XV)
I remember this one less for the match, but more for the atmosphere, as an eclectic group of my friends from high school came over to my basement and we set up mats on my floor so we could drop each other with Rock Bottoms and Stone Cold Stunners between matches. My buddies were pretty split between who they were rooting for here, so the back-and-forth cheering, while it must have driven my parents nuts, made for a good time, capping off with Austin regaining his World title probably nearly causing my neighbors to call the cops.
9. THE UNDERTAKER vs SHAWN MICHAELS (XXV)
Just watched this recently and didn’t feel like it quite lived up to the hype it got with way too many slow periods as both guys recovered from the beating they were giving their bodies for my liking, but it’s got my favorite wrestler ever in Michaels against another of the best in ‘Taker, plus the drama is through the roof; I wish I could have watched it live, as I feel like not knowing in advance that HBK would fail to break the streak would have bumped it up big-time for me.
8. KURT ANGLE vs BROCK LESNAR (XIX)
I watched this match at my buddy Jay’s apartment with him and my friend Jordan our junior year of college and I don’t think we jumped as high off his couch or gritted or teeth as much with anticipation over any real sports game as we did here. From all reports, Angle’s neck was legitimately held together by a thread as he went into this and not only his career but life may have been on the line, but he still went in there and defended his WWE title in this brutal war with Brock Lesnar, the scariest-looking motherfucker we had ever seen. After Lesnar botched a Shooting Star Press, landed straight on his head, then got up and won the match, we decided he was clearly a robot and if we dropped him in Iraq, he’d have the place cleaned up overnight.
7. HULK HOGAN vs THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (VI)
One of my very first memories of watching wrestling as a little kid is The Ultimate Warrior beating Hulk Hogan for the World title and feeling like I had just witnessed history; even two decades later, this match still feels more momentous than anything outside of Hogan-Andre The Giant and was also a really solid outing between two guys who didn’t always deliver in the ring but clearly could go when the chips were down.
6. RAZOR RAMON vs SHAWN MICHAELS (X)
I almost feel bad ranking this out of the top five, but the fact is that in the 15-plus years since Shawn Michaels challenged Razor Ramon for his Intercontinental title and the two of them revolutionized the Ladder match in the process, the gimmick has become both so improved upon and overlooked, it doesn’t have the same impact on me it once did. However, the groundwork they laid here can still be seen in any Ladder match you watch, plus I dig both guys as performers, so it still ranks high for me.
5. TRIPLE H vs SHAWN MICHAELS vs CHRIS BENOIT (XX)
It’s not just hard to look back at Chris Benoit’s big World title victory without having the shadow of what he eventually became cast over it, it’s impossible. Nonetheless, even though I doubt I could ever sit through it (or any Benoit match) ever again, there’s no question that at the time, watching Wrestlemania XX at home in Newton during my spring break senior year of college, watching this incredible underdog somehow pull it out in probably the best three way match ever and then celebrate with his best buddy mid-ring was quite a moment.
4. THE DUDLEY BOYZ vs EDGE & CHRISTIAN vs THE HARDY BOYZ (XVI)
Most people name Wrestlemania XVII’s TLC match as their favorite in the series of gimmick triple threats between these guys, but the original Ladder match for the Dudleys’ Tag Team titles at XVI (or “Wrestlemania 2000”) remains my favorite. At the time, stuff like Jeff Hardy doing Swanton Bombs off 15-foot ladders and Edge pulling out mid-air spears were fresh enough to be the high spots on their own as opposed to needing new and different takes. This match was innovative and I fondly remember watching it breathlessly with my high school buddies.
3. THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR vs RANDY SAVAGE (VII)
Decent enough wrestling with this one, but incredible storytelling in the finish and post-match antics make it one of my favorite bits of rasslin’ business. The Ultimate Warrior was the type of ridiculous, over-the-top character who could only excel in the cartoony WWF of old, but his persona worked perfectly here as neither he nor Savage could find a way to beat each other and he had to “look to his gods” for an answer, making for an absurdly awesome visual. However, nothing tops the newly-“retired” Savage being berated after his loss by his harpy of a manager, Sensational Sherri, then being saved by his former love and “wrestling’s first lady,” Elizabeth, a true Wrestlemania moment and, as Scott Keith put it (more or less): “Proof that it can be Shakespeare sometimes.”
2. RANDY SAVAGE vs RICKY STEAMBOAT (III)
Most purists will probably argue this as the match deserving of the top spot, and I wouldn’t argue from a detached and analytical perspective, but I barely knew what wrestling was in 1987 and have more respect than affection for the guys involved, so it barely misses on my list. However, it’s definitely a breathtaking piece of artistry to behold, and one of those matches you’d show a non-wrestling fan to prove to them there is indeed quite a bit of athletics involved. Both guys are incredible performers and the match itself is flawless, if a bit lengthy for my impatient tastes, and if I were dong a different sort of ranking it would probably be tops.
1. BRET HART vs OWEN HART (X)
The top Wrestlemania match I could just watch time and time again is the opener of the show’s tenth edition featuring the Hart brothers putting on a seamless technical clinic that really showcased the “wrestling” part of the business. Some siblings or longtime partners prove a disappointing match once they finally lock up, but Bret and Owen were smooth as silk, busting out an exciting, compelling back-and-forth that told a great story over its course. The match definitely benefitted from Owen wanting to really shine in his chance to do so on such a big stage and Bret wanting to help his baby brother do so however he could. I also award my top marks based on the contest being the perfect length—not too long to let you get bored, not so short it didn’t seem to matter—and that for my money nobody ever did the tried and true “jealous brothers” storyline better than the Harts.