WrestleMania week is now upon us, and it’s time to do a little reminiscing about the great battles of years past. Although this year’s card looks as strong as anything in recent memory and certain matches have the potential for true greatness, 2018’s performers will have an uphill battle to achieve the legendary status of the matches on this list.
With 33 past incarnations of this legendary Pay-Per-View, there are no shortage of great WrestleMania matches to choose from. To compile my list, I focused on matches that were a combination of great story, phenomenal workrate, and that somewhat undefinable “WrestleMania Moment” that makes this show one for hardcore and casual fans alike.
Before you go on, know that there was a razor thin margin between the following matches and some others that were left off the list. We’re talking the difference between outstanding and phenomenal here. These matches are my WrestleMania crème de la crème.
5. Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 25)
A true clash of icons. Having already put together a handful of masterworks, both the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had, at this point, reached the peak of their powers. The WWE smartly played up the dichotomy between the two at WrestleMania 25, with Michaels dressed in white, representing his newfound Christianity, and the Undertaker dressed in black, a stand-in for the devil himself.
With each performer focusing on the others’ injuries during the match, the psychology in this meeting was off the charts. Michaels worked Undertaker’s bum knee, while the Undertaker’s attack focused on Michaels’ back. After missed finishers and impressive reversals, the big moment of the match occurred. Among the many wonderful moments of this match, this contest will probably be best remember for Undertaker’s insane dive to the outside. As he flew at Michaels, the Heartbreak Kid pulled a camera man in front of himself, and the Taker crashed into the camera with a sickening thud!
After just barely returning to the ring in time, finishers were hit and kicked out of. The crowd was on its feet. Finally, an Undertaker tombstone piledriver extended the Dead Man’s streak to 17-0 in an absolute barnburner between two all-timers.
4. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (WrestleMania X)
Two brothers face off. It’s the oldest of storylines, and, yet, this sibling rivalry between Bret and Owen Hart felt as fresh and real as anything the WWE had done up to that point.
This brother vs. brother angle began at Survivor Series 1993 after Owen was distracted by Bret during a match, allowing Shawn Michaels to eliminate Owen. Pissed off, Owen began using Bret’s sharpshooter during matches and donning the Hitman’s trademark sunglasses. Bret, however, resisted Owen’s taunts.
The two still teamed up against the Quebecers at the 1994 Royal Rumble. After Bret sustained a knee injury in the match, Owen attacked Bret’s knee with a vengeance. The weeks that followed saw Owen cutting promo after promo on Bret, explaining his jealousy and resentment over his brother’s rise to the top of the wrestling world. Finally, Bret accepted his brother’s challenge for a match at WrestleMania X.
In a strange twist, Bret vs. Owen opened the WrestleMania X card, as Bret still had another match against WWF Champion Yokozuna scheduled for later in the night. After 20 minutes of a technical wrestling workshop, the brothers traded sharpshooters, and Owen was eventually able to pin his brother clean.
Of course, Bret would go on to win the WWF title later than night, so this feud went on for more than a year. Of all the classic battles between the two, this first one was the simplest and possibly the best. For certain, it will go down as one of the best matches in the history of WrestleMania.
3. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania X)
When you talk about great ladder matches, you can begin and end your discussion with Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X. Although implemented initially in the 1970s, the ladder match was a rarity in the 1990s, with much of the WWF crowd maybe having seen only one (Hart vs. Michaels 20 months earlier. But, boy, did they get an introduction.
This match resulted in an angle where Michaels vacated his Intercontinental championship (because let’s just say that Michaels was not a model employee at this time), and Razor won a tournament and resulting match against Rick Martel in September of 1993 to become the new Intercontinental champ. Michaels, then, called Razor out, since Shawn had never actually lost the title. Thus, each man claimed to be the true champion.
In the actual match, the ladder was used to perfection, with Michaels taking some truly spectacular bumps off of it. Michaels was just starting to become the performer he would eventually be, and his pace was especially high on this night. Razor kept up, though, working his ass off to give the match the necessary physicality.
This is a template for a 5 star match. It’s a template for a ladder match. It’s a template for young wrestlers looking to take their game to the next level. One of the all-time great matches in WWE history.
2. Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat (WrestleMania III)
The possible outlier on this list, this match might not be on the tip of everyone’s tongues when it comes to WrestleMania classics. That’s a mistake, though, as the matchup between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III was truly incredible.
While the main attraction of WrestleMania III was undoubtedly Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, that match was practically a cartoon showdown. If you’re looking for an outstanding story backed by an equally outstanding match, the unsung masterpiece of WrestleMania III was Steamboat vs. Savage.
Ricky Steamboat was pretty much the purest babyface possible at this point in time. When Savage attacked him with a ring bell on a November 1986 episode of WWF SuperStars, the Macho Man was established as a truly evil heel. In the storyline, Steamboat spent the next three months recovering from a crushed larynx.
With a long, simmering build up to the match, both competitors wanted to put together something truly special, an all-time classic. They even went so far as to script the entire match on a yellow legal pad, something that rarely, if ever, happens. What result is a match that, instead of looking highly choreographed, looked completely natural, a testament to these legends.
If you’re a younger fan who has never seen this match, go out of your way to watch it.
1. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (WrestleMania XIII)
For me, this is maybe the most important WWE match in history outside of Hogan vs. Andre at WrestleMania III. The reason? It was a match that turned into an angle, engineering a rare “double turn.” Bret Hart came into this match as the champion and babyface, but he had grown less and less likable, often griping about this or that. Austin, on the other hand, couldn’t have been trying harder to be a heel, but his anti-hero character was remarkably over with the crowd. This set the stage for Austin goading Hart, after Hart had taken an “extended leave” from the company.
Upon returning, Hart found a wrestling company unlike the one he left. His wholesome hand-over-sunglasses-to-fans character was suddenly passé. This began Hart’s heel turn. The culmination of the angle, however, almost didn’t happen. WrestleMania XIII was originally supposed to be headlined by Hart and Shawn Michaels. That plan was scrapped once the extent of Michaels’ knee injury was known. The WWF had a backup plan, though, and that was the Texas Rattlesnake.
The result was, in my opinion, the greatest WrestleMania match of all time. In an “I Quit” match refereed by Ken Shamrock, Hart and Austin beat the hell out of one another, even apologizing in advance to one another in real life before the match for what was about to happen. Although the entire match was well constructed, it was the finish that brought the real money shot. Locked in Hart’s sharpshooter, Austin refused to give up.
With blood pouring from his forehead, Austin became a true fan favorite, and Hart became despised. It was a masterstroke, and Austin would go on to call the match “the greatest match” of his career. I would wholeheartedly agree.
Agree? Disagree? What’d I leave out or screw up? Leave a note in the comments or hit me up @JMitchellTGS.