'Mania’s greatest matches
JOHN POWELL -- Co-producer, SLAM! Wrestling
Break out the champagne. Pass those cigars around. The granddaddy of pro wrestling pay-per-views is turning twenty.
At one time, WrestleMania was quite the event because the card was made public months in advance. The headlining matches were supported by storylines that had depth and intrigue. Now, the matches are officially announced just a few scant weeks before the pay-per-view itself. It just isn’t the same.
Not that the majority of WrestleMania matches are anything to write home about anyway. Let’s face it: Though WrestleMania should be an outlet for the best the WWE has to offer, it has rarely been the case. Doubt me? Look back at all the previous ‘Mania line-ups and you’ll see what I mean.
What is not in dispute is that the WWE talent does crank it up at WrestleMania and in doing so has logged some of the greatest matches in pro wrestling. Here is a look at the best WrestleMania has offered in its twenty year history...chosen by the great triple tag team of me, myself and I.
Number 15. The Rock versus Hogan (WrestleMania X-8)
It may have not been the best wrestled match of all time but this bout really became something more when the fans at SkyDome took it to another level. The crowd’s reaction changed the course of the match and set the tone for months of WWE storylines proving once again why pro wrestling is one of the only forms of entertainment where crowd reaction can change the direction of a product...well, it used to in the WWE.
Number 14. Kurt Angle versus Chris Benoit (WrestleMania 17)
Two of the greatest technical wrestlers of our time in a textbook encounter. How damn good are Angle and Benoit? They spent the first five minutes mat wrestling and the crowd cheered?!?! Why? Angle and Benoit have gained what only a handful of grapplers do in their careers: undying respect from the fans no matter what role they are playing.
Number 13. Shawn Michaels versus Steve Austin (WrestleMania 14)
Steve Austin’s first WWF World Heavyweight Title win sure didn’t come easy with DX mauling him at every turn. A hard fought match with plenty of backstory to build the anticipation. Shawn Michaels sticking it to special-referee Mike Tyson by not selling his knock-out punch was a riot at the time and a classic ‘Mania moment to be sure.
Number 12. Ric Flair versus Randy Savage (WrestleMania 8)
Once again, volumes of twists and turns in a really heated storyline. Flair’s despicable actions against the beloved Elizabeth and constant interference from his “special advisor” - Mr. Perfect - made him a monster heel heading into the show. This match had plenty of heat and then some. Featuring good technical wrestling and brutal brawling, the bout single-handedly saved the broadcast from being a complete waste of time.
Number 11. Bret Hart versus Steve Austin (Submission Match - WrestleMania 13)
Talking about “brutal”, here comes a match that is as savage as they come. Nobody who saw the broadcast will ever forget the sight of Steve Austin’s blood pumping out of his head and streaming down his face as Hart squeezed him in the Sharpshooter. A slobberknocker worthy of an “ECW!” chant.
Number 10. Steve Austin versus The Rock (WrestleMania 15)
Like them or hate them, Austin and The Rock always went above and beyond the call of duty whenever they were scheduled to meet at a WrestleMania. Their first such encounter paved the road for their future ‘Mania meetings which all featured non-stop rock-’em, sock-’em action.
Number 9. Hulk Hogan versus Randy Savage (WrestleMania 5)
What made this match a success wasn’t Hogan or Savage’s performances - Lord knows they’ve offered better. It was the year-long angle culminating in a single match which was masterfully planned and executed by everyone involved...even though the WWF at the time tried to make it seem like Savage and Hogan had never fought before.
Number 8. Steve Austin versus The Rock (WrestleMania 17)
A surprise that shouldn’t have been when you consider the talent involved. The Rock and Austin at the top of their game. Same fervor these two have exhibited before but with more measured brutality. Hats off to The Rock and Austin for finding a way to bolster a stale in-ring rivalry.
Number 7. Kurt Angle versus Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania 19)
Everything fans hoped it would be and more despite Angle’s two herniated disks. Angle and Lesnar use their amateur backgrounds as a springboard for one of the best technical and emotional pro wrestling matches ever.
Number 6. Ultimate Warrior versus Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania 6)
Okay, this wasn’t a technical masterpiece in any sense of the word. What it lacked in that department though it made up for in hype and absolute uniqueness. Never before had the Intercontinental Champion and the WWF World Heavyweight Champion done a title-for-title deal at a WrestleMania. That decision in itself opened the door for all sorts of possibilities. The fan reaction to Hogan and The Warrior and their portrayals leading up the bout really shook things up as far as traditional heel versus face angles go. An explosive and satisfying pay-off to a one-of-a-kind feud.
Number 5. Edge, Christian versus Dudley Boys versus Hardy Boys (TLC - WrestleMania 17)
As I stated in my review of ‘WrestleMania 17’, "unlike a slew of poorly conceived finishes that plagued and brought down the broadcast, TLC2 was once again a first-rate example of highly creative and superior booking. The inclusion of former ECW hardcore veterans Rhyno, Spike Dudley and Hardy Boys' valet Lita injected some new blood and fresh faces into the mix as well. Considering that the teams had to live up to the death-defying, daredevil feats that made the original TLC match such a fan favourite and an instant classic, TLC2 was undeniably the best match on the card."
Number 4. Razor Ramon versus Shawn Michaels (Ladder Match - WrestleMania 10)
Sure, there have been more insane ones since. That doesn’t at all take away from what Razor and HBK achieved that night when they utterly floored the wrestling world by putting on a show few had ever seen before. They put in death-defying and startling performances in a match that wrote the book on what inhuman effort and what kind of physical sacrifices have to be made in order to execute a Ladder Match properly.
Number 3. Edge, Christian versus Dudley Boys versus Hardy Boys (TLC - WrestleMania 16)
The first is still the best. Shocking, edge of your seat excitement with all three teams raising the bar on what Ramon (Scott Hall) and Michaels accomplished years earlier.
Number 2. Shawn Michaels versus Bret Hart (Iron Man Match - WrestleMania 12)
One of the only matches worth paying an entire pay-per-view price to see. The milestone in the amazing careers of both men. An unforgettable and flawless bout that is not only one of the best a WrestleMania has to offer but the pro wrestling business as a whole. A timeless classic that never loses its impact on future generations of fans and talent alike.
Number 1. Ricky Steamboat versus Randy Savage (WrestleMania 3)
No tables, chairs, cage, or an Iron Man stipulation to act as crutches for Savage and Steamboat. They relied solely on their raw athletic talent to put a truly awe-inspiring and heart-pounding see-saw battle that was only slightly marred by the inclusion of George ‘The Animal’ Steele running inadvertent interference to secure Steamboat’s victory. After 17 years, it is still the crown jewel of WrestleMania and the type of performance any wrestler who has respect for the industry and what they do aspires to attain. Hands down, the best of the best.
We now know Powell's picks for best...what about the worst, you say? Check back for that tomorrow.
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