WrestleMania XXX is less than a month away. Wait, seriously?
If you’re like me, you’ve sat through 29 WrestleManias now and are ready for something special. To help celebrate the big event, With Leather’s taking a look back at 30 years of blood, sweat and ridiculous chairshots with a new WrestleMania retrospective each Monday. This week we’re using a tried and true scientific process to officially and definitively rank the WrestleMania main events, from Mr. T teaming up with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania I to The Rock trading finishers with John Cena at WrestleMania 29.
Each match recap on the list is accompanied by a few paragraphs of thoughts and explanations, but if you want a look inside our theorem we’re judging them based on in-ring action, historical significance and (mostly) whether or not we liked them. It’s totally objective and there’s no room for error. You are not allowed to correct the list. It’s already being submitted to literary journals.
But no, seriously, take a look at what we thought were the best Mania mains ever and let us know what you think in the comments section below. Share this with your friends and get the conversation started.
Let’s see what’s worst! (Spoiler alert, it’s The Miz.)
29. WrestleMania XXVII – John Cena vs. The Miz
A WrestleMania main event used to build another match. SURE, OKAY.
I wanted to rank this higher based on the coolness of the entrances — Miz’s Watchmen-flavored career retrospective set to ‘Hate Me Now’ by Nas and John Cena hugging children while DMX prayed and a gospel choir sang — but even that’s not enough to excuse a horrible match that seemed to permanently damage Miz’s brain (and career) and ended in a double count-out. Uh, the first time. After that, the WrestleMania guest host (who has general manager powers, I guess) declares that WrestleMania can’t end that way, so he restarts the match only to ATTACK THEM BOTH. A guy who wasn’t in the match put himself over the two that were, and a WrestleMania main event is used to set up some other WrestleMania main event. 100% garbage, and somehow even worse years later.
Best: This match was a major reason for the CM Punk “pipebomb” promo later in the year.
Worst: It is also responsible for two consecutive The Rock vs. John Cena WrestleMania main events, making it not only the worst Mania main ever, but the MOTHER of bad Mania mains.
28. WrestleMania IX – Hulk Hogan vs. Yokozuna
WWF Champion Bret Hart has challenger Yokozuna in the Sharpshooter in the closing moments of WrestleMania IX, the one where everybody wears togas and everything’s horrible. Mr. Fuji throws salt in Bret’s eyes, incapacitating him long enough for Yoko to steal a dirty three. That should be the end of the show, but if the eight previous WrestleManias taught us nothing else, they taught us that the only important person in the world is Hulk Hogan. Hogan comes out to check on “his friend” Bret Hart and gets challenged to a match by Fuji, which makes total sense because Yokozuna just won the title, barely beat Hart via outside interference and should totally be impromptu challenging a much-fresher man who NEVER LOSES EVER. Hogan immediately accepts, punches out Fuji, drops Yokozuna with a clothesline and leg drops him to become the new, new champion.
Until the “Fingerpoke of Doom” years later in WCW, this was the ultimate Hogan dick move. Don’t want to put over Bret Hart? Have him lose to someone via condiment, then run out and beat that person as quickly as possible. It was so bad that even WWF knew it had to get its act together and forcibly change its own guard, and Hogan wouldn’t show up at a WrestleMania again for 9 years.
Best: Hogan is wearing yellow cowboy boots.
Worst: Literally everything else.
27. WrestleMania XI – Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Lawrence Taylor
As a kid I always liked this match for its weird spectacle, but time and a functioning adult brain have not been kind. Future NFL Hall of Famer and former cocaine monster Lawrence Taylor main-evented against — and defeated — talented wrestling journeyman Bam Bam Bigelow through some magical combination of lying around gasping for air and brutal, shoot forearms to the face. Let put it this way to give you some historical perspective … imagine of Ray Lewis showed up as a celebrity guest at WrestleMania XXX, they gave him a WWE-themed football jersey and let him destroy Antonio Cesaro in the main event. You’d lose your goddamn mind, right?
Bam Bam vs. LT is basically the exact opposite of Big Show vs. Floyd Mayweather from WrestleMania 24, and we can hope to God WWE learned their lesson about wrestling celebrities enough to keep the ones who can’t put on shockingly wonderful matches into kitschy Raw segments and trios with John Morrison.
Best: Bam Bam scaring the hell out of Salt N’ Pepa on his way to the ring.
Worst: Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat was never involved in a WrestleMania main event, but Steve “Mongo” McMichael was.
26. WrestleMania VIII – Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice
A tall, muscular, soaking-wet blonde guy who won’t stop yelling. Quick, which guy am I talking about?
You can’t put Hogan against Hogan. Sid worked really well in other wrestling environments, but in the WWF he was just Negaverse Hogan and running them against one another in a WrestleMania main event was like trying to multiply zero by zero. We get a lot of rest holds, a nerve hold that seems to go on for 40 minutes, a lot of Sid yelling ancient Chinese proverbs at the ringside camera and a notoriously-missed cue from Papa Shango that leads to Sid kicking out of Hogan’s leg drop and everyone trying to pretend it didn’t happen. The Ultimate Warrior makes his triumphant return to help Hogan fend off Earth-2 Hogan and Avenging Voodoo Godfather to end WrestleMania with … uh, a disqualification and the tease of a match that never happened. Flair/Savage or even Hart/Piper could’ve ended the show and driven Mania 8 up about 20 spots on this list.
Best: Hogan and Sid improvving something with Harvey Wippleman and the camera cutting over to Papa Shango doing a walk of shame down the entrance ramp, complete with Gorilla Monsoon’s condescending PAPA SHANGO, WHERE’S HE GOING?
Worst: Sid trying to remember sayings he “always says.”
25. WrestleMania 25 – Triple H vs. Randy Orton
See that picture? There, you just watched the entire match.
Never before has the blowoff for a violent blood feud been so boring. It’s possible to watch Triple H and Randy Orton from WrestleMania 25 and be unable to recall a single thing from it five seconds afterwards. All I can remember is Triple H stomping Orton, Orton stomping Triple H and some ridiculous shit at the beginning where they more or less no-sold each others’ finishers. Triple H wins with a pedigree according to Wikipedia, but for the last five years I’ve remembered the finish as “Brandon forgetting he’s watching wrestling and getting preoccupied with something else.” Great job being on the same show as Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels I, This Match!
Best: This match is not still happening.
Worst: The big, dramatic wrists to the top of the head Triple H throws before he pedigrees Orton. Somebody thought “lots of punching” was the proper build to a Mania main-event finish. Who put this together, the Road Dogg?
24. WrestleMania I – Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff
“Historically significant” does not always equal “great.” The main event of the first WrestleMania is basically a house show match featuring guys the crowd wants to see tacked onto the end of the most importantly-existing pay-per-view event in wrestling history. Mr. T wrestles like somebody halved Dennis Rodman and gave him ten times human strength. There are moments where he just touches Paul Orndorff’s face and Mr. Wonderful goes flying backwards, flipping ass-over-head and holding his face in agony. It feels like Piper gets bodyslammed 70 times. The image of Cowboy Bob Orton coming off the top rope and accidentally braining his own guy is one of those unforgettable Mania images, but it’s immediately nerfed by the image of Hogan trying to do “jive” handshakes because his partner’s a black guy and it’s 1985.
Best: I wish I could’ve been there for a match involving 80s Hulk Hogan, Mr. T, Muhammad Ali, Liberace and Randy Orton’s dad.
Worst: If that whole “Jimmy Snuka murdered a lady” thing ever goes nuclear, the main event of the first WrestleMania gets all the Benoit disclaimers.
23. WrestleMania 29 – John Cena vs. The Rock
AKA “The Rock vs. John Cena II: Once In A Lifetime, Again.”
Take the WrestleMania XXVIII main event, but remove all the drama of who’s going to win because the guy who lost last year has to get his win back. Make both guys have infinite finishers. Have them do reverse finishes for several minutes (for several dozen minutes) and accidentally make one of the guys’ guts fall out. Remove the giant palm trees. BOOM, you’ve got Rock vs. Cena II, a match that only worked as a dream novelty repeated ad nauseam. There are some cute moments (like Cena getting overconfident and trying out all of Rock’s moves), but it’s mostly two guys going through the motions and making surprised faces at each other and also the motions are chinlocks.
Best: The Rock’s injury and/or good sense prevented WrestleMania XXX from being The Rock vs. John Cena III: Once In A Lifetime Plus Two Other Times.
Worst: Sorry about your guts, Rock, that must’ve sucked.
22. WrestleMania XIII – The Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid
When you think of “WrestleMania 13,” what do you think of? If you’re like 100% of the wrestling-loving population, you think of Stone Cold Steve Austin bloody, screaming, refusing to give up in Bret Hart’s Sharpshooter and making himself a hero. You probably don’t think about Sid vs. The Undertaker, a No DQ match full of throat grabbing and punches to the stomach. I’m of the minority belief that The Undertaker didn’t have a truly good match until he became a biker.
I’m not totally sure why Sid main-evented TWO WrestleManias, but neither is a match you’d want to watch. At least the Taker match is better than the Hogan one, and its finish is only 3/4 as stupid: Bret Hart was unhappy that Sid had cost him the WWF Championship and the Austin match had turned Hart heel, so he interfered a bunch, got powerbombed and came back to basically stunner Sid on the top rope, allowing Undertaker to throw on a Tombstone and win. I had 100% forgotten about Hart’s involvement until I rewatched the match for the sake of this list, so.
Best: The Ultimate Warrior didn’t run down to save Bret Hart.
Worst: Maybe Taker’s matches weren’t better because the gimmick forced him to wear those Captain America gloves? I never understood why a zombie mortician wore gardening gloves and leg warmers.
21. WrestleMania XXVIII – John Cena vs. The Rock
AKA “Once In A Lifetime, The First Time Until The Next Time.” NEVER BEFORE NEVER AGAIN!
It was a match with way too much build up, involved way too much childish name-calling and went about 30 minutes with 29 minutes of grounded bearhugs, but I’ll be honest … during the entire build and through the bad, bad match I was emotionally invested in whether or not Cena would snap out of it and beat The Rock’s ass. I’m not too proud to say Cena/Rock would be a lot different in my brain if Cena had just won and told him to go screw, and if we hadn’t had a SECOND year of build and another one of these finish-reversal wankfests to sit through at the end of our Mania. A running theme of Mania main events is that if WWE decides they’re important, they’re gonna tell you it’s one of the greatest matches of all time until you believe it. And trust me, you’ll believe it.
Best: The Rock’s guts did not fall out, unless you count him taking a dump on the Awesome Truth a few months before.
Worst: I was live for this match but watched it on a video screen because my view was an enormous fake palm tree prop.
20. WrestleMania II – Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy
Beloved, do-gooding babyface Hulk Hogan at his most dickish. In my head for whatever reason this is a “good match,” probably because the sight of that blue-ass steel cage and the VHS clamshell remain solid memories, but it’s everything you could ever hate about the Hulkster. He’s wrestling a guy he doesn’t think should believably beat him, so he’s got an “injury” to amp up the drama. See also: John Cena suddenly having his lower body fall apart because he’s got to fight Bray Wyatt at Mania 30. He wins the match and proves his dominance by … escaping a cage faster than a really fat, really slow guy. Then, after the match, he pulls Bobby Heenan into the ring, punches him repeatedly and atomic drops him. I’m surprised he didn’t pull down his yellow underpants and take a festering orange dump on Bundy’s chest.
Best: I was an NWA kid growing up so “steel cage” to me will always mean “chain link that makes you bleed from your face like a dying animal,” but that goofy blue thing is still pretty special.
Worst: This match did not end with an atomic leg drop from the top of the cage.
19. WrestleMania 2000 – Triple H vs. Mick Foley vs. The Big Show vs. The Rock
The WrestleMania 2000 (aka “WrestleMania 16”) main event was a fourway elimination match is notable for being one of those rare WrestleManias where the bad guy triumphs, and condemnable for being one of the two Attitude Era WrestleManias ruined by a main event suddenly becoming all about the McMahon Family. Instead of four top superstars competing for the championship it became ONE MCMAHON IN EACH CORNER, with Vince, Linda, Stephanie and Shane backing wrestlers in a quest to be the MOST FAMILY PERSON IN THE FAMILY or whatever. The McMahon interpersonal beef has always been one of the most confusing and inconsistent things about WWE.
Also confusing and inconsistent — Mick Foley being brought out of retirement the next pay-per-view after his retirement match, replacing the amazing images of his Royal Rumble face-full-of-thumbtacks street fight and No Way Out fire-and-falling Hell in a Cell retirement with a palate-swapped flannel and a really, really bad elbow off the ropes to the outside that looked like it caved in his rib cage.
Best: I miss when things were called Whatever 2000. I’m also sad they didn’t follow through by calling the next year’s event WrestleMania 2001 and set a precedent for completely, repeatedly jacking up their numbering scheme.
Worst: The quicker summary for this match is “Triple H won everything.”
18. WrestleMania III – Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
To reiterate two important points:
1. “Historically significant” does not always equal “great match,” and
2. If WWE tells you something’s great, eventually you’re gonna believe it.
If you haven’t seen this before or haven’t watched it in a while, I urge you to revisit it. The image of Hulk Hogan slamming Andre The Giant is inarguably the most famous pro wrestling image of all time, but the match is super garbage. Just the most garbage you can even imagine. Lots of standing around, lots of unbelievable offense from both sides, a weird pin on Hogan that was probably a legit three and so much more. The legitimate high point of the match is the post-match celebration, where a smug Hogan poses for 80,000 fans while Andre rides away in a little ring scooter, Bobby Heenan facepalming in a hail of trash as they roll.
Best: It was a great bodyslam.
Worst: Inoki, Kamala, and even Hogan himself had already done it better.
17. WrestleMania 22 – Triple H vs. John Cena
The “Triple H Era” of WrestleMania main events from 18 until … well, now (or 24 if we’re being generous) seem like an indistinguishable blur of increasingly-PG sledgehammer-related nonsense, but a lot of the actual matches are pretty good. His match against Cena at WrestleMania 22 gets solid “star ratings” (or whatever) around the Internet, but it’s mostly a PG retelling of the previous year’s superior Batista match, with Triple H thoroughly putting over the guy who’s supposed to carry the company for the next ten years. The major problem is that while the match is good, it’s the template for every big Cena match we’ve seen since … fighting against the odds, popping up to get his shit in whether he’s supposed to be hurt or not and making a bunch of exaggerated Frankenstein faces during an STF that really needs to close the window.
Still, though, the Triple H of WrestleManias 20, 21 and 22 appeared to be atoning for his sins from the brutal buryjobs from 18 and 19.
Best: It looked like Triple H was gonna try to pull the “pass out in the submission instead of tapping” while he was in the STF, but did the right thing by reviving, then tapping out.
Worst: None of this excuses WrestleMania 19. If that was a main event, it would’ve been behind Miz and Cena.
16. WrestleMania V – Hulk Hogan vs. Macho Man Randy Savage
The Mega Powers EXPLODE~! FINALLY, Hulk Hogan gets a chance to beat up Macho Man Randy Savage and take back the WWF Championship from that guy who’s mad at him for trying to f*ck his wife!
While Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy was the Hulkster at his most unnecessarily dickish, Hogan vs. Savage at WrestleMania 5 is the big man at his most pointedly cruel. Hogan doesn’t just beat Savage and win the belt to cap off a weird story about how he should get to put his junk where he wants, he beats him HANDILY, in front of Donald Trump even, kicking out of Savage’s elbow drop at 1 1/2 and doing the full Hogan comeback. Savage’s elbow triggering Hogan’s comeback response would get an hilarious callback years later in WCW, but here it’s mostly an infuriating refusal of Hogan to accept reality or defeat, and to overcome the odds not by will or determination, but because the script says it’s time for him to win. Agonizing, but higher up on the list than most because Savage is really good at his job.
Best: In Japan, the Mega Powers are about to E.X.P.L.O.D.E.
Worst: Nobody ever responded to Hogan’s comeback by simply refusing to punch him. What would happen? What happens if Hogan starts huffing and puffing and pumping his fists and stomping his feet and nobody stops it with a punch? Does he just keep doing it forever? Does he tire out? Savage should’ve just let him wander around in circles in the ring until he ran out of breath and collapsed, then pinned him.
15. WrestleMania IV – Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase
What should’ve been an unforgettable, Hogan-free tournament final between two of the best in-ring performers of a generation ends up being an underwhelming finale to an exhausting night of wrestling that is just COVERED TO F*CK WITH HULK HOGAN. Macho Man Randy Savage faces off against Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase with the WWF Championship at stake, and instead of just, you know, winning, he relies on a sneaky chairshot to DiBiase’s back by beloved, do-gooding babyface Hulk Hogan, which is apparently a response to Andre the Giant standing near the ring and sorta swatting at the ropes. When Savage finally wins, Hogan runs over, grabs the belt, hands it to Savage and then uses his steel chair to fight off imaginary bad guys who are clearly not trying to storm the ring and interrupt. When the coast is clear, Savage and Miss Elizabeth create the most iconic and lasting image of their love and careers (Macho Man with Liz on his shoulder) and Hogan stand directly in front of them and mugs like he’s taking a selfie. The cameraman has to work overtime to get a shot of the dude that won the tournament without his big ROY color spectrum friend in the way.
Still though, Savage vs. DiBiase. That alone moves it halfway up the list.
Best: Wrestling needs more tournaments.
Worst: Maybe two day tournaments. They’ve got a network we’re all subscribed to now, right? They can run a “pay-per-view” two nights in a row, it’d cost the same.
14. WrestleMania 21 – Triple H vs. Batista
I mentioned this in the Cena write-up, and if you ever wanted to see Triple H put somebody over clean and hard, look no further than his WrestleMania 21 match with Batista. In the Cena match, he fights hard and does his sledgehammer routine and eventually taps out to the STF after fighting it forever. In THIS match, he fights hard and does his sledgehammer routine but Batista BEATS THE DOG SHIT out of him, spinebusters Ric Flair for good measure and uses his “incredible strength” to unrealistically and unbelievably break out of the pedigree en route to victory. Triple H bleeds buckets and Jim Ross gets near orgasm talking about Batista’s strength, and they put the man over so hard that almost a decade later he gets to saunter in from his Marvel shooting schedule and main-event again despite being a breath-deprived Hans Moleman.
Best: Triple H’s ability to bleed is really underrated, and sadly lost in the TV-PG WWE world. If he did one thing as well as Ric Flair, it was bleed.
Worst: Batista does his machine guns entrance on the weird WrestleMania Goes Hollywood star ramp and nothing happens, so he looks like he’s doing an interpretive dance. But hey, at least he still looked like a human here.
13. WrestleMania 23 – John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels
Shawn Michaels did everything he could to have a great WrestleMania match with John Cena, and he almost did it. This is one of those matches that’d be a hell of a lot better (and near-perfect) if Cena was a vulnerable human being with strengths and weaknesses and not an unstoppable WrestleMachine. Cena kicks out of Sweet Chin Music and eats a piledriver on the goddamn ring steps and somehow finds the strength to fight back and lock on his bad STF for the victory. The rub here is that like a month later Shawn and Cena would have a much longer, much much better match on free television and sorta kill this match’s significance themselves. Still, though, it’s a good, entertaining effort that benefitted from Shawn’s ability to have a more engagingly melodramatic match than anyone in the world and kickstarted his awesome “I feel bad about EVERYTHING!” tour that covered the final three WrestleMania matches of his career.
Best: A piledriver on the steps
Worst: Seriously, when you do a piledriver on the steps, the match is over. I don’t care how many dying Troop babies you’ll be letting down.
12. WrestleMania X – Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna
Yokozuna ruled. He’s a wrestler I hated as a kid and grew to nigh worship as an adult for his ability to be 600 pounds and still fly around and superkick you. The guy moved like a 220-pounder, and he adored the “whoops, fat guy fell off the ropes” finish that Bret Hart utilizes to get the pin, win the WWF Championship and make up for that horrible WrestleMania IX shenanigan. Hogan is nowhere to be found so the locker room empties out and carries Bret around on their shoulders … everyone except Bret’s brother Owen, who pinned Bret earlier in the night in one of the very best WrestleMania matches ever.
Seriously though, if you just think of Yoko as that really fat Japanese guy who wasn’t really Japanese and wasn’t really fooling anybody, go back and check out some of his more adventurous stuff. Aside from Vader, I don’t think anyone ever squashed jobbers so effectively. Also, it’s a shame most of Bret Hart’s signature Mania matches — the submission match with Austin, the match with Owen — aren’t main events. The guy should be at the top of this list, and often.
Best: Lex Luger did not win the WWF Championship on this show, and the main event wasn’t Yokozuna vs. Lex Luger.
Worst: Yoko, man, if you’re having trouble balancing on the ropes, stop climbing them. You’re 600 pounds. Just sit down on the guy’s chest. Maybe try jumping a little if you’re worried about the loss of height? I know you can jump. Oh, better idea, when you first climb up on the ropes, don’t bounce a bunch of times, just fall backwards and murder the guy.
11. WrestleMania X8 – Triple H vs. Chris Jericho
The story should’ve been simple. The arrogant, undisputed champion Chris Jericho has to defend his championship against Triple H, a man who used to abuse him and hold him down. Now Triple H is fighting on the side of the angels and wants to prove that he’s still got what it takes to be the best in the business. Instead, undisputed champion Chris Jericho becomes a hapless pet-sitter for Stephanie McMahon’s dog and Triple H CANNOT WAIT to beat the ever-lovin’ shit out of his wife. There isn’t really even a reason to put Jericho in the shot, you know? It’s all about Stephanie interfering and being evil, and Triple H dragging her around by the hair before piledriving her onto her face.
The match itself is really pretty good, although crazy overshadowed in front of a crowd burned out by Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock. Poor Jericho did everything he could with his one chance to main-event WrestleMania, but hey, at least he did better the next year, when Triple H’s best friend pinned him. Shit, wait.
Best: Chris Jericho was the first undisputed champion and no amount of Randy Orton retconning will change that.
Worst: The major plot point of this feud was “Jericho accidentally hurt a dog that belongs to somebody who’s helping him.”
10. WrestleMania XII – Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
Real talk: the Ironman Match for the WWF Championship between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels is the most overrated wrestling match of all time.
That’s not to say it’s a bad match, necessarily, but almost every positive talking point for it is bull. The wrestling is great, sure, because Bret was in the prime of his career and Shawn was in his prime as an athlete, but it’s wrestling for the sake of wrestling. They spend 19 minutes working an armbar. How does that work into the finish? The finish is a kick to the face. The whole “they’re telling a great story in the ring!” is also bull, because none of it is important until the 60 minutes are over. If you watch the match from when Gorilla Monsoon comes out and illogically restarts things on, you get the exact same effect. Did you miss out on 59 minutes of Bret and Shawn doing basic wrestling moves to one another? Do you want to see more backdrops?
The 60-minutes gimmick works if you didn’t grow up in the land of Ric Flair barnburners with Barry Windham. It’s always pissed me off, though, because it’s so skewed for Michaels. The match stipulation says that the wrestler who scores the most decisions in 60 minutes wins, right? Bret’s the champion. The match ends 0-0, a draw, and on draws the champion retains. End of match. But a WWE authority figure comes out and restarts the match for NO REASON other than to allow Michaels to win, which he does almost instantly with a superkick. I don’t blame Bret for spazzing out over the next two years and turning into a huge heel. Shawn telling the ref to get Bret out of the ring for his “boyhood dream” celebration is particularly scummy, too, but I guess “the dream of the petulant asshole who doesn’t appreciate any of this yet” isn’t as good of a call.
Best: There is lots of wrestling in this, and 60 minutes of Bret and Shawn doing nothing important is better than 10 of Sid and Undertaker choking and stomping.
Worst: If you’re mad about this entry, watch the match again. If you’re legitimately entertained and enthralled for the entire 60 minutes, more power to you, brother.
9. WrestleMania XV – Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock
The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XV is the perfect way to begin the homestretch of this list, because it’s the first, most innocent WrestleMania of the Attitude Era. It’s ridiculous fun, with contrived spots around the announce table, beating up referees for no reason, excessive booking of everything and show names like THE RAGIN’ CLIMAX, because wrestling also means YOUR DICK, which you wanna use FOR SEX.
These two would define the era (sorry, Triple H, you didn’t rule over anything with an iron anything) and meet two more times before calling it quits, and this match exemplifies the best of their softer versions. The joyous reaction we had learning we could say damn and hell and suck it and puppies on TV and get away with it. Airbrushed South Park shirts and ladies with unattractive breasts wearing ill-fitting bikinis. The Rock was starting to realize that he could be something special. Stone Cold Steve Austin was headlong into as successful a run as any wrestler’s had ever, and he wasn’t afraid to still work his ass off.
Best: The Rock before he realized he was actually cool and handsome. God, I miss that guy.
Worst: There is a WrestleMania named after cumming. Thanks, the 90s.
8. WrestleMania VII – Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter
My dark horse top 10 choice. I tried to get a brief idea of popular opinion before putting this together, and a lot of people don’t like the Hogan vs. Turncoat Bastard Sgt. Slaughter match from WrestleMania VIII. I didn’t remember liking it either. So I went back and rewatched it, and what I discovered is the most wonderful exaggeration of the Hogan character in WrestleMania history, as well as the WWF in its purest, most homer form.
This is the most amazingly Hogan match ever. Slaughter bumps for him like Shawn Michaels bumped for him, doing these awesome, dead-bodied flops for everything and absolutely eating it on most of Hogan’s offense. He gets shoved and ends up upside down in the ropes for like five minutes. He has outside help from NOT SADDAM HUSSEIN though, and eventually bloodies Hogan in front of a hostile crowd, camel clutches him and tries to pin him after DRAPING AN IRAQI FLAG OVER HIM LIKE HE WAS DEAD. Hogan not only Hulks Up, he Hulks Up bloody, ripping the Iraqi flag to pieces (badly) and getting all Hogan on Slaughter’s ass. All the while, Gorilla Monsoon sings the praises of the United States like he owes it money. It’s every single thing a nation feels when it goes to war in a wrestling match, and I kinda love it.
Best: I want to bring back General Adnan and all him NON-SPECIFIC ADNAN.
Worst: Hogan probably should’ve snipped that flag in the middle before the match and given himself a strong starting point.
7. WrestleMania XXIV – The Undertaker vs. Edge
Note: people were literally on fire during this.
People like to talk up the Undertaker’s WrestleMania matches against CM Punk, Triple H and Shawn Michaels (I will too, a little later), but they often sleep on his WrestleMania 24 showdown with Edge, which is as good as any of them. There’s so much going on, from interference from the Edgeheads to antiquated prop video camera shots to the face and spears into jiu-jitsu submissions causing Ken Shamrock-style internal bleeding, but it all works. It’s one of the best matches of Edge’s career and one of the very best actual wrestling matches to headline a WrestleMania EVER, but it’s total lack of historical significance sorta hurts it. It’s just a brick in the middle of Taker’s WrestleMania legacy … too recent to be nostalgic, but too old to be hyped up on social media.
Best: This was the main event of the first WrestleMania I ever attended live. Spoiler alert: I left after the entrances to escape labyrinthian WrestleMania parking, then immediately felt like crap when I went back and saw how good this was. That feeling of regret kept me in the building for both Rock vs. Cena matches in their entirety.
Worst: Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat was never involved in a WrestleMania main event, but Zack Ryder was.
6. WrestleMania XIV – Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels
The actual beginning of the Attitude Era. Like a lot of people, the match has become its finish … Austin ducking Sweet Chin Music, going for a stunner, being pushed off into the ropes. Michaels going for a second Sweet Chin Music, Austin catching his foot, trash talking, spinning him around and connecting with the stunner for the win. For my money it’s the best finisher-reversal sequence ever. It was so good they animated it into the video game. Austin wins the championship, Jim Ross calls it like only Jim Ross could (or should), and Michaels goes off on hiatus until the Attitude Era is over and he’s a fragile little Christian guy who loves Nitro Girls and hunting.
The urban legend is that Michaels wrestled this match with an inoperable human skeleton. He was just a lifeless bag of flesh, but somehow he got a four-star match out of it and passed the torch to Austin, completing the “make Austin” process Bret started in the submission match at WrestleMania 13. It’s certainly impressive. And hey, only Shawn Michaels can say his pro wrestling career involved retiring Ric Flair and getting punched out by a rapist!
Best: Mike Tyson thinking Steve Austin’s name is “Cold Stone.”
Worst: Mike Tyson thinking Steve Austin’s name is “Cold Stone,” seriously.
5. WrestleMania XIX – Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar
From the minute Brock Lesnar debuted, all I wanted was to see him do a shooting star press.
I became a fan of Brock’s when he was in OVW, and knew he could do it. Hell, I’d seen it before. You can see it too, if you haven’t. When he got called up and instantly became a huge deal, I waited for it. I thought he was gonna do it in his championship match against The Rock. I thought he was gonna bust it out at King of the Ring. Nothing. Then, at WrestleMania XIX, he can’t seem to put Kurt Angle away and turns to look at the top rope. My heart leapt. Brock climbed the ropes and nobody around me knew what was about to happen … I remember sitting in a sports bar with my friends going OH MY GOD HE’S GONNA DO IT, HE’S GONNA DO IT with my hands over my mouth. Then he did it, and the fates decided it shouldn’t be so, and he landed on his f*cking dome. They improvised a finish and it all still played out well enough, but I was crushed. I remember sitting with my head kinda down for the rest of the night. Brock never went for a shooting star press again.
It was my first real lesson in not letting wrestling get my hopes up. Hope for the best, but maybe don’t expect it.
Best: I didn’t mention it because I’m a lousy writer, but the match is really good, even if it’s from that suplex-heavy Kurt Angle era where everybody did Germans and nobody put their dogs in the pool house.
Worst: Maybe Brock will do another shooting star press at WrestleMania XXX to beat Undertaker, right?
4. WrestleMania XX – Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit
If we’re going for a totally out-of-context rating on which WrestleMania main events were the best, WrestleMania XX wins in a walk. The triple threat between Triple H, Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit that culminates in the original “vanilla midget the Internet loves” triumphing in the face of the most evil guy in the world AND his best friend at a milestone WrestleMania in the most famous wrestling arena in the world on the same show his best friend retained the WWE Championship and then HUGGING while CONFETTI FALLS AROUND THEM is the most wonderful and satisfying wrestling match of all time.
Unfortunately, there is context.
So I’m putting it here, at #4. A reminder that it was once my favorite match and made me not only so happy that I cried, but that I ran outside and ran around in the front yard yelling. A great, great wrestling match full of pathos and pro graps excellence pretty much ruined the f*ck forever by some horrible, inexcusable stuff.
Best: The fact that Triple H wants his legacy to be him as the ultimate WWE performer, and arguably his best match and most selfless act as a character and performer ever is one he can never be proud of or show anybody.
Worst: Take a wild guess.
3. WrestleMania XXVI – The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels
I think the cool thing these days is to say that The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels wasn’t as good as everyone thinks, but forget that. Their match at WrestleMania XXV and the career-threatening rematch at XXVI are as good as epic, one-on-one main-event style matches in WWE get.
To the credit of the detractors, the rematch isn’t as good as the original, but it’s great, and builds and builds that weird mutual respect angle more and more until Michaels pulls himself up by Taker’s pants, slaps a 7ish-foot dead man in the face and gets GURL BYE’d with a jumping Tombstone. A JUMPING Tombstone. That shit is an exclamation point. Shawn wrestled in four decades and never learned how to throw a believable chop, but the man was an ace at selling the emotion of a story in the ring, especially when they end with him getting scooped up and tossed through the air and dropped on his head with authority.
On top of all that, the rematch had one (and my vote for) the greatest promo videos ever:
Best: You should’ve watched that video at least twice before moving on.
Worst: Triple H spending two years trying to have a match as good as either Taker/HBK match.
2. WrestleMania VI – Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior
(Like I was gonna use a different shot.)
And now, the best cartoonish WrestleMania match ever. You weren’t alive if you didn’t pick a side in this one … Hulk Hogan was the WWF Champion, The Ultimate Warrior was the Intercontinental Champion, they were on a collision course to meet at WrestleMania 6 and it involved CONSTELLATIONS and CRASHING AIRPLANES and INTERSTELLAR TRAVEL and a homoerotic test of strength that lasted for like TWENTY MINUTES. Hogan was at his Hoganest. Warrior was in full glam rock mode with a helmet of feathered hair that could dice a potato if he headbutted it. They exaggerated everything times 100 and played to the crowd in only the way that people who truly understand the ridiculousness and ridiculous scope of what they do can. It’s not a great match, but it’s the GREATEST match, sorta like a blissfully animated perfection of Hogan/Andre. They got a SkyDome full of people to pop for a nearfall on a BACKDROP.
There is nothing better for stupid characters performing stupid wrestling perfectly. It’s still sorta breathtaking 20+ years later, whether it’s the dueling comebacks, the referee being unable to handle a stiff breeze without collapsing into unconsciousness or Hogan kicking out at three in a match where he’s supposed to be passing the torch. Outstanding.
Best: That test of strength is longer than some Cinemax films, and more offensive.
Worst: I like to think their post-match conversation is Hogan saying, “I’ll call you if I’m ever attacked by a voodoo witch doctor,” and Warrior responding with 40 intelligible minutes about how homosexuals aren’t physically possible.
1. WrestleMania X-7 – Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock
First things first, if we’re talking the best PPV promo video packages ever:
This match was so good it made Limp Bizkit cool. That’s all I need to say.
I mentioned earlier that the WrestleMania XV match between The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin was sorta the “cold open” of Attitude Era WrestlesManias, and that makes The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania X-7 — the best WrestleMania in history, without a doubt — the finale. They had another match (a great one) at XIX, but the X-7 match is everything crazy that we loved about the Attitude Era taken to a dangerous, “real” place. It wasn’t about puppies and suck it and hello ladies anymore … Stone cold Steve Austin, the beer-swilling everyman hero who once saved Stephanie McMahon from a black wedding, was obsessed with the WWF Championship and maintaining his legacy to the point that he’d sell his soul to his worst enemy to keep it. The finish of the match isn’t a pretty exchange of finishers. It’s Austin taking a steel chair and beating the Rock to death with it. Just beating him and beating him and beating him until he stayed down. The fun was over.
I love this match, and I love that it’s the finish of the best Mania ever. It says everything that needs to be said. Paranoid heel champion Stone Cold Steve Austin ended up driving away fans and turning off a lot of people and they retconned it really quickly with a horribly botched WCW Invasion, but God, he was wonderful. The introduction of “what” before it became an obnoxious, decades-long audience participation. The underappreciated “my name is Stone Cold Steve Austin and I don’t deserve this” catchphrase. Looking at an imaginary watch. Tiny cowboy hats. Songs with pals. Heel champ Austin was the SHIT, and he was born in my choice for the best WrestleMania main event ever. And yeah, a little bit of it is just how much I love to see the Rock get destroyed with a chair.