In a little over two weeks, WrestleMania 26 will take place from the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. This year’s event will be 25 years after the original WrestleMania emanated from Madison Square Garden in front of a capacity crowd and a closed circuit television audience around America. To celebrate the real silver anniversary of the biggest wrestling show on the planet, we are counting down the 25 best matches to grace the squared circle at the granddaddy of them all.
Today, we start with #25 and count down to #16.
#25 Undertaker vs. Ric Flair (WrestleMania X8)
What happens when two legends of the ring get together in a very personal matchup? You get a nostalgia match that included a few fan pleasing moments. The story was that Flair cost Taker a match against The Rock. In retaliation, Taker challenged Flair to a match and beat down his family members until he accepted. Both men got their finishers in during the match. Hell, even Arn Anderson showed up to backup his best friend and managed to throw a spinebuster during the dustup. It may be ranked the lowest on this list but there were a hell of a lot more matches that it did beat.
#24 The Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage (WrestleMania VII)
When you think back to the glory days of wrestling in the late ’80s and early ’90s, there were only two heroes that held the title besides Hulk Hogan were Warrior and Savage. By the time this match took place, Savage was back to being the bad guy after feuding with Hogan over Miss Elisabeth. While Savage held the title only to give Hogan time to film No Holds Barred, Warrior’s title run was supposed to be a passing of the torch. Suffice to say, Warrior failed on that but it’s not like Vince and Hogan did him any favours. Anyway, after Savage cost Warrior the title at the Royal Rumble, they had a career-ending match at WrestleMania. Kudos to Savage for being able to pull out one of the best matches Warrior ever had.
(Sorry, we couldn’t find the full video of this match. When we find it, we’ll post it here.)
#23 Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle (WrestleMania XIX)
I’m going to make a bold statement on this one: I didn’t think it was a terribly good match. Kurt Angle is a great wrestler but he’s very hit and miss when it comes to matches. If he wrestles with someone who grasped the basics of storytelling in a match, he steals the show. Lesnar, however, was never much of a mat tactician so I thought this one was a relative dud. The match did have a very spectacular and memorable spot when Lesnar attempted a Shooting Star Press and landed on his head. How he didn’t break his damn neck, I’ll never know. And now he’s in the UFC and is the Heavyweight Champ there too. No backflips there, though.
#22 Edge vs. Mick Foley (WrestleMania 22)
In his time in the WWE, Mick Foley never had what he would call a “WrestleMania moment.” At least, that was the story heading into this match. He’d been in a couple of matches and reffed a couple of others but never had a real noteworthy WrestleMania moment. The two ended up feuding after Foley was the ref for a match Edge lost. The result was a “Hardcore Match” that, while being a series of neat spots rather than a classic match, provided a memorable moment for everyone that watched the finish of this match. Oh, and Joey Styles is awesome in this match too.
#21 Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon (WrestleMania XIX)
This solid, if unspectacular, street fight had some decent moments. There was McMahon’s leg drop off the ladder and through the announce table on Hogan. The finish was a classic Hogan hulk-up that was punctuated by the face that both men were bleeding profusely. But the real story of the match was the story behind the match. Fans had expected some sort of showdown between McMahon (who claims to have created Hulkamania and that he could have done it with anyone) and Hulk Hogan (who is the biggest star in the world and brought his fame to WCW where he nearly drove Vince out of business). All that history made for a match that would have been just as interesting had it been five minutes instead of 20. Also, this match’s story would seem awfully familiar to anyone who’s checked who Vince is battling at WrestleMania XXVI.
#20 “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XIV)
The importance of this match should have gotten it ranked higher but I’m pretty sure the resurgence of the WWF in its fight with WCW started long before this. Personally, I think the Steve Austin era began twelve months earlier than this match. Still, it gets points because this one another classic Vince McMahon gamble. He paid a hefty sum to get Mike Tyson to appear for several weeks on Raw while he was at the height of his popularity. He also made Tyson the main player in the build-up to this match. The whole story seemed to hinge on Mike Tyson’s affiliation with DX (back when they were a heel stable). Tyson’s involvement is what made this match special, even if he wasn’t involved much until the finish. Some say that the WWF turned the tide of its war with WCW this day but fortunes began to turn long before so that’s why this match is ranked down here.
#19 Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. “Rowdy” Rowdy Piper & Paul Orndorff (WrestleMania)
I’ve mentioned before on the blog that Cyndi Lauper was probably the real celebrity draw for WrestleMania. But the main event of this show was just as important for keeping people interest in wrestling. After all, it was the only match that was advertised and was also the longest match on the card. Apart from Andre the Giant vs. Big John Studd, there was nothing really noteworthy from the actual wrestling on the card. Having entertainment on the card is all well and good but without getting folks interested in the actual wrestling, the carryover to the WWF’s regular television programming wouldn’t have happened and the product would have died eventually. Fortunately, the big main event that Vince risked it all on paid off for him and the rest, as they say, is history.
#18 Hulk Hogan vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage (WrestleMania V)
Back in the day, there were only two types of guys that Hogan feuded with: Giant monsters that could sit on the Hulkster and smother him to death, and friends who turned on him. Savage was one of the latter as they feuded over Miss Elizabeth. The match was the highlight of an otherwise lacklustre show. It really was the story of a raging, jealous man against the misunderstood friend. It would have been a better finish if Liz somehow distracted Macho rather than Hogan kicking out of the elbow drop. Still, it somehow works as for most of the match, you didn’t think either could lose (because Savage kept fighting off Hogan and the Hulkster never loses).
Click here for part two.
#17 Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. “Rowdy” Roddy Piper (WrestleMania VIII)
The last two matches on this portion of the list are proper wrestling matches. This one was childhood friends fighting over the title they each thought was rightfully there. Hart lost the title while fighting a fever and Piper won it back while defending his friend’s honour. The match, though, was a compelling story. Hart gets a lot of praise for his ring work but Piper’s change of heart while holding the ring bell was what sealed this match as great. It’s not often that we see a moral dilemma playout in a wrestling ring, let alone on the biggest show of the year. However, the emotional story of the match plays out better than the actual physical story of the fight. It may have been on the undercard but it easily stole the show.
#16 Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XIX)
The other of what I consider the proper wrestling matches on this list. The build up was a classic wrestling story of the legend against the young up-and-comer who looked up to him. The match itself, which comes as no surprise considering it’s Michaels at WrestleMania, was spectacular. Each man had a counter for the other’s signature moves and even borrowed the other’s most famous moves. The hold-counterhold nature of the match is a classic one that is used the world over and even on Monday nights but seldom to the level demonstrated here.