We’re a little over a week from WrestleMania 26 from the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Despite what the WWE told you last year, this year’s event will be 25 years after the first WrestleMania that took place at Madison Square Garden. 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 count down from #15 to #6.
#15 Steve Austin vs. The Rock (WrestleMania X-Seven)
I never found the matches between Austin and The Rock to be terribly special in the ring. However, these two guys had off the charts charisma so it was impossible not to get caught up in the match, even if it wasn’t a technical masterpiece. Because of the finish of the match, you could easily rank it anywhere up or down the list. This match featured the shock Austin heel turn to join forces with Vince McMahon. In the five or so years before this, you could never have seen this happen but someone decided it was a good idea. In retrospect, it was a total failure and only lasted a couple of months. Because of the failure of the angle that came out of the match, it could have been ranked lower than this. Then again, the shock of the turn could have easily made this number one. Still, it was an important, though short-lived, moment in the WWE’s history. And this sure as hell beats the invasion angle.
#14 Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXI)
In the first part of the list, I made a comment to the effect that Angle needed someone who understood the basics of telling a story in the ring to have a good match. This match would be an exhibit in my argument. There’s no denying that Michaels has an intangible quality that’s allowed him to have several great matches at WrestleMania. (In fact, I think he makes the most appearances of any wrestler on the list.) It was a battle of youth and aggression against experience and speed. Angle tries to prove his superiority as a technical wrestler but his plan quickly unravels into a brawl. Angle/Michaels was one of those matches that allow both men to come out looking stronger than when they had started which is a credit to both of them.
#13 Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit (WrestleMania X-Seven)
This one is a controversial match for obvious reasons. However, while the WWE understandably has removed Benoit from its history, he was a very good wrestler regardless of what you think of him as a person (which, in my case, isn’t much). Take this match for example, you have two guys that pride themselves as technical/amateur wrestlers trying show up the other. At a point during the match, Angle gets frustrated with being beaten by the supposedly inferior wrestler, Benoit, and turns it into a brawl. A simple yet effective match when booking two mat technicians but seldom seen on the WrestleMania stage.
Click here for part two.
#12 Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart (WrestleMania XII)
I remember a Spike TV special (hosted by Ric Flair) that said this was the greatest match in WrestleMania history. That’s what you get when you watch a revisionist history special. It was an okay match but as far as hour-long matches go, I don’t think it is in the same league as some Ric Flair classics. Maybe the match dragged on because of the feeling of inevitability of the result. It wasn’t until the final minute that I actually thought that Michaels could actually lose the match. Up until then, it was more of a wait for when he would win. The whole story built to a sort of passing of the torch. I just think it could have been handled better than an overtime loss for The Hitman. In the new NHL (and WHL, where the Calgary Hitmen play), though, it would be a single point.
Click here to watch the full match. (Yes, it’s one video with the full Ironman match.)
#11 The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania X-8)
If two legends of a sport met in the same arena in a battle to determine who is the greatest of all time, wouldn’t it naturally be one of the biggest things to ever happen. Granted, The Rock was never as big as Ric Flair but in the WWE’s revisionist history, Dwayne Johnson was the biggest star in the WWE at the time so battling Hulk Hogan was the two best of their eras doing battle. I suppose there’s some truth to that, I suppose. It would sort of be like if Wayne Gretzky and Alex Ovechkin took the ice at the same time right now. Ovi would likely tear the house down and win the day but dammit if the crowd doesn’t will the old man back into the match. That’s exactly what happened in Toronto that night. The crowd tried to cheer Hogan, who was supposed to be a dastardly villain who nearly killed The Rock with a monster truck, to victory. But for the second time as SkyDome, Hogan left empty handed but the winner with the crowd.
Click here for part two.
#10 Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair (WrestleMania 24)
The measure of the greatness isn’t always the quality of the in-ring work, though that wasn’t lacking in this match. Sometimes the circumstances surrounding a match make it great. Everyone sorta figured that given the fact that Ric would have to retire if he lost, this was likely to be his last match. That made this match an emotional powerhouse. It could have ended with the finger poke of doom and people still would have bawled their eyes out at the end. All the little touches with this match made it great. There were classic Ric Flair spots but the whole match felt like a classic Flair match from the old days where you thought that Flair just barely hung on and his opponent could actually win this one. The only difference was that it was HBK playing the role of Flair and you actually thought that Slick Ric could pull this one off. Another interesting tidbit I like about this match is that the ref is Charles Robinson, an admitted life-long Flair fan and Flair’s occasional sidekick in WCW.
#9 The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania VI)
This match was the biggest one that the WWF could have ever thought of putting forward at the time. Like Austin and The Rock in later years, Hogan and Warrior were the two biggest stars in the game for their WWF runs. Well, Warrior is more debateable but at I always considered him the #2 man in the company behind Hogan at the time. Naturally, it was inevitable that the two biggest stars in the company go head to head in the match of the century. The match itself wasn’t a technical classic. It was a series of power moves and “hulking up.” Oh, and there was that iconic double clothesline in the middle of the ring. The match was great for what it represented. It was two of the biggest names in the world going head to head in a dream match. The only problem is that everything after that point turned into a well-documented nightmare for Vince.
#8 Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon (WrestleMania X)
This is a fairly divisive match, depending on who you ask. Bret Hart thought his ladder match with Michaels was better thought out. Ric Flair thought Michaels had the match with the ladder and Razor just happened to be in the vicinity. The fact is, though, that everyone remembers this match. It really was a turning point for the WWF. At the time, this was the most extreme gimmick match that the WWF had. From there, and with a little help from ECW, things just degenerated into absolute bedlam. But at the time, the likes of this match had seldom been seen in wrestling so this was and still is a special match in wrestling history.
#7 Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XX)
Again, I realize that picking a Benoit match is controversial but what he did doesn’t dismiss the quality of the match. The match marked a (temporary) change in booking direction for the WWE. Before this, the Royal Rumble winner took on the champ (after the brand roster split, the champ of the same brand the Rumble winner is on) one-on-one. The Benoit storyline blew that out of the water. This match basically gave free reign to the creative team when booking the WrestleMania main event. The Rumble winner can wrestle for any title and the main event doesn’t even have to be a one-on-one match. The match itself wasn’t too bad either. It seemed as though both HHH and HBK were on the same page and wanted to take out Benoit and settle things between themselves. But that plucky Canuck kept coming back and won what the WWF called his first world title. He actually held the WCW title for a couple hours before walking out of the company. It turns out that the other WWE champ was fellow WCW defector & Benoit’s best friend Eddie Guerrero which made for a pretty cool celebration after the match was over.
#6 Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart (WrestleMania X)
While Michaels/Ramon was the match that everyone remembered, Hart/Hart was the match that was the best of the night. Bret also wrestled that night for the world title but because the winner of the Lex Luger/Yokozuna match would face him, Bret had to wrestle to even things up. Enter jealous little brother Owen who fought to get out from under Bret’s shadow. What resulted was one of the greatest matches in WrestleMania history. You got the sense that Bret only wanted to do just enough to win without hurting Owen but Owen was willing to do anything to win. This angle was already four months in the making and would explode come the summer’s King of the Ring pay-per-view. Amazingly, the cage match at SummerSlam was even better than this match.
Click here for part two.
Click here for part three.
Catch up on part one of the list (#25 to #16) by clicking here.