Just making the card of wrestlemania is enough to fulfil the dreams of some of the members of the wwe roster but then there are others who aim a little higher to pursue a coveted wrestlemania moment and to steal the show with their match on the grandest stage of them all. It is the grandstand wrestling event where the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock watched childhood heroes such as Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage engage in combat and where today’s main eventers such as CM Punk and The Miz were captivated in turn by the likes of Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock.
With so much desire in the air it is perhaps not surprising to discover that Wrestlemania has been responsible for numerous great matches, many of which had to be sacrificed for this elite list but what follows is simply my opinion on the yardstick by which all future Wrestlemania classics should be measured. Featuring streaks, siblings, Iron Men, tables, ladders, chairs and a certain Olympic Gold Medallist this is my word on the top ten wrestlemania matches of all time.
10.) Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit (Wrestlemania 17)
This classic match of one-upmanship saw a cocky, self assured Kurt Angle initially convinced that he would easily be able to outwrestle Benoit only to see the experienced Canadian telegraph all of his amateur wrestling holds and not only foil Angle’s ankle lock attempts but also go onto embarrass the Olympic champion by trapping him in the crippler cross face forcing his opponent to struggle to the ropes and rethink his tragedy on the outside. Angle then changed his gameplan by attempting to outbrawl Benoit and at first succeeded in walloping the rabid wolverine in various corners of the ring but once more Benoit was able to counter with an intensity of his own rivalling Angle’s hard fists and power moves with vicious slaps and his own cruel mixture of supplexes.
Even Angle’s attempt at stealing the show with a moonsault was nullified by Benoit’s diving headbutt rebuttal which made Angle so frustrated that he wound up first lowblowing Benoit with the back of his foot and then holding onto his rivals tights to ensure a winning pinfall shortly afterwards. Thus after a failed attempt to win the match in the purest manner possible, Angle resorted to impure tactics to prevail against an opponent who he had dramatically underestimated. Though it didn’t quite reach the heights that their 2003 Royal Rumble masterpiece did twenty months later, this clash nonetheless told a great story and also helped to make technical wrestling cool again with the early patient building set pieces being heartily applauded by crowd members who had become numb to the balls to the walls, blockbuster style of the attitude era bouts.
9.) Shawn Michaels vs Chris Jericho (Wrestlemania 19)
Whilst the plot going into this grudge match surrounded Jericho’s jealous inadequacies towards the former idol he was desperate to overshadow, the story really centred around Shawn Michaels using his return to wrestlemania to resurface as the show stealing force that had made him famous. The first third of the bout saw Michaels in absolute God mode as he reconnected with his youth through outfoxing Jericho with athletic cunning and assertiveness and treating fans in attendance to some audacious spots such as the moment that saw him hold onto the ropes after Jericho had attempted to throw him overboard before using his free legs to throw Jericho to the outside, skinning the cat to climb back inside the ring and then leaping back out to meet his opponent with a dive all in one seamless movement.
When Jericho then countered a dropkick into a walls of Jericho on the outside however he turned the tides and began to have his own fun in reminding Shawn of his age by ruthlessly attacking the back that had put his rival out of action for four years. Jericho proceeded to mimic Shawn as he danced around in a similar fashion and performed a kip up that was repeated by Shawn behind his back as the original fought back to put the imitator in his place only to then see Jericho regain the advantage when he plastered Shawn with his own finisher.
The build towards the finish revealed a number of tense moments as Shawn saw his own sweet chin music attempt countered into a walls of Jericho and Jericho managed to kick out after Shawn had successfully hit his finisher moments later. After both men had seemingly thrown everything but the kitchen sink at one another it was Michaels superior instincts that enabled him to surprise his opponent with a flying leg roll for the winning pinfall thus presenting the concluding message that whilst you can copy the moves that make someone great you can’t copy the greatness that leads to the pattern of the moves. It might have been Jericho who got the last laugh as he kneed Michaels in the groin after having hugged him post-match but the contest remained a celebration of the night when HBK truly got his groove back as a wwe superstar.
8.) World Heavyweight Championship: Batista vs The Undertaker (Wrestlemania 23)
This relatively short title match made the most of its limited time frame by telling a story of two powerhouses wasting absolutely no time in attempting to wear one another down. Batista got the upper hand to start by overpowering his larger opponent and even taking risks such as executing a rare top rope move realising that he had to go to that extra level to be the man to break the streak. An awesome spot then enabled Batista to assert his authority as he bounced off the ropes following a boot to the face only to pummel Taker with a ferocious clothesline on his return. When the Animal then picked up and slammed Taker with ease the two men had effectively created an atmosphere where a Batista victory seemed that it could genuinely be on the cards.
To the joy of the fans, Undertaker struck back though after ducking a clothesline to strike his opponent with a flying forearm and following it up by smashing the champion against the steel steps, striking him on the face with his outer apron leg drop and performing his top rope plancha to effectively turn the tables in the match. Then just when the Deadman appeared to be in control Batista reversed a whip to send Undertaker flying into the barricade before picking up his opponent on the announce desk and emphatically sending him crashing through the desk opposite with a flawlessly executed running powerslam that enabled him to regain the momentum that he had established earlier on.
From that point on there was a thrilling sense of unpredictability in the air as both men fought back inside the squared circle and worked out some fluid segues into hitting their finishers before Undertaker prevailed with a tombstone to win his first world championship for nearly five years. The Batista clash set up a compelling and even rivalry between the two men that continued for many more months afterwards and also helped to add credibility to the streak by establishing it as an event where fans could now anticipate a great, epic match to accompany the general aura of the streak itself.
7.) WWE Title: Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels (Wrestlemania 12)
The decision taken to wait for sixty two minutes before handing the decisive pinfall to the challenger was deeply admirable in the sense that it promoted how evenly matched the two competitors were and showed the type of fortitude needed to win the world championship in a similar manner to champions who win genuine sporting encounters. An authentic approach was also taken to the layout of the match with the first third suitably slow and tense as both men tersely exchanged holds before gradually picking up the pace towards the hour wherein Shawn and Bret proceeded to let down their guard and started going for broke with aerial moves, opting for the element of surprise with unexpected pinfall attempts and increasing the venom when it came to dealing blows whilst also being careful to constantly sell their escalating fatigue as the match continued without a single fall.
A superbly choreographed, almost flawlessly executed lengthy display between perhaps the two greatest performers to ever step inside a wwe ring was lauded by those within the industry but failed to elicit the desired response in front of a largely uninterested crowd who appeared to be put off by the methodical approach taken to the match and seemed to expect more immediate excitement given the implications of the ticking clock. Based purely on what happened inside the ring however this famous battle remains a truly awe inspiring contest that showcased amazing chemistry between the two athletes and featured some of the best sequence of manoeuvres ever crafted inside a wrestling ring.
6.) TLC II for the Tag Team Championships: Edge and Christian vs The Hardyz vs The Dudleyz (Wrestlemania 17)
Ah the glory days of a once healthy tag team division. Back when exciting, long standing pairings captivated audiences before those who shone brightest began a steady progression towards singles stardom. This year, like last there will be no match at wrestlemania for the tag team titles, a sad new tradition which tastes all the more bitter when you rewatch classic matches like this TLC sequel from the greatest wrestlemania of them all.
TLC II somehow managed to surpass the chaotic nature of the original and was expertly paced so that each new chapter of carnage increased the intensity of the drama. From early relatively safe bumps such as the Hardyz double splash on Christian and all six men falling off the ladder after battling at the top to the mad interference laden section featuring Lita, Spike Dudley and Rhino to the scintillating finale in which Jeff Hardy performed a swanton from a giant ladder on the outside, Rhino sent Matt Hardy and Bubba Dudley crashing into four waiting tables and the flawlessly paced standout moment which saw Jeff Hardy walk from lader to ladder to reach the belts only to have his fate sealed by a mid air sphere from Edge, this epic clash grabbed the crowd’s attention from the opening bell and had them gasping for air by the close.
5.) Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker (Wrestlemania 25)
Both Shawn and Undertaker not only constructed a gripping, unpredictable chain of manoeuvres within this battle but they also excelled with an impeccable range of theatrical expressions and emphatic body language to promote the epic scale of their dance inside the ring and make sure that not one moment passed in which they didn’t appear fully consumed by the action and the implications of losing the fight.
After battling tooth and nail with thorough back and forth strikes and holds the match took on a whole another new level of drama when the action spilled to the outside. First Shawn executed a moonsault only to see his opponent swat him down to the canvas like a fly and then it was Undertaker’s turn to make everyone cringe as he mistimed his annual plancha to land short of his target as his head bounced hard off the ground with a sickening thud. It was a spectacle that should have ruined the match but in perhaps the greatest moment of his career Shawn thought fast on his feet to stay in character and frantically urge the fallen official to count out his dazed rival. With the streak on the line, with the crowd in shock, with Undertaker barely moving on the ground and Shawn nervously fidgeting as he counted along with the referee, the botch somehow succeeded in layering the match in an unbelievable tension that caused the sight of Undertaker just breaking the count as he rolled into the ring followed by Shawn’s visible dismay to instantly emerge as one of the all time great wrestlemania moments.
The last chapter of the match maintained the excitement with several false finishes that saw Shawn Michaels kick out of a chokeslam, last ride and a tombstone with each escape being sold in even more exasperated fashion by the usually cool and collected Deadman and Undertaker himself twice escaping defeat via sweet chin music causing a pale and dumbstruck Shawn to perhaps doubt that the streak could ever be broken despite having come so close to being the man to do so. Finally it was a moment of tired carelessness that caused Michaels to attempt a moonsault with Taker ready in wait to catch him and end his challenge with a decisive tombstone that put an end to a completely epic encounter.
4.) No Hallsbarred Career vs Streak: The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels (Wrestlemania 26)
The wrestlemania sequel between these two icons raised the stakes of the previous year’s encounter as the greatest wrestlemania career of all time was put on the line against wrestlemania’s defining gimmick; the streak. This was also the match where The Undertaker went from being the immortal opponent of all opponents to an ageing, more human force urgently trying to hold onto an immortal wrestlemania legacy. This was never more clear than at the start as Taker ended up badly damaging his knee following a routine aerial move to the outside and spent the remainder of the match hobbling around expertly selling his pain.
As Shawn attempted to take advantage of this injury, Taker proceeded to unveil an animalistic desperation that he had never had to rely on before, brutally kicking Shawn in the face to avoid submitting to a figure four leglock and manhandling a medical assistant that attempted to tend to Shawn after he had delivered a wicked tombstone to his opponent on the outside. Then just like in their original wrestlemania clash a botch actually worked out for the greater good as Shawn’s traditional wrestlemania moonsault went south. After laying the DeadMan on the announce table Shawn went to the top rope and mistimed his jump to land on his prone foe’s injured legs instead of hitting him square in the chest resulting in a fantastic accident that raised question marks as to whether or not Undertaker would be able to recover after his lower abdomen had taken such a hellacious pounding.
As both men exhausted themselves towards the finish with a series of tense near falls, Undertaker again showed his human side as he halted his tombstone hand gesture towards the finale and instead looked down at his fallen foe sympathetic to the fact that he was on the verge of ending his greatest rivals career. The emotion then escalated even further as a weary eyed Shawn heroically climbed to his feet using Taker’s frame for support only to valiantly slap his opponent around the face in a final, blind effort of pride. The slap also regained Taker’s killer instinct as he hoisted Shawn up in the air for the most brutal tombstone ever delivered and ensured that this rematch prevailed as both a suitably epic farewell to the career of Shawn Michaels as well as providing some much needed characterisation for the Undertaker character.
3.) Shawn Michaels vs Kurt Angle (Wrestlemania 21)
The excellent story leading into this truly mouthwatering clash centred around the chip that had developed on Angle’s shoulder concerning the fact that back when he was winning an Olympic gold medal in 1996 all he kept hearing was praise for professional wrestler Shawn Michaels. This was the match intended to put an end to the dispute and it certainly justified the hype as a theatrical masterpiece filled with aggressive respect and passion.
Starting out as a pure wrestling match with both men steadily feeling each other out, it was Angle who upped the ante when he hoisted Michaels up in the air for an Angle Slam on the outside only to cruelly fall backwards into the ring post in order to damage Shawn’s most vulnerable area; an act of malice that was in direct response to Shawn outwrestling him in the early going. From that point on neither athlete held anything back as Angle responded to Shawn’s hard slaps by almost taking his head off with a clothesline and then attempted to back supplex Michaels right off the apron only for Michaels to desperately lowblow his opponent and set up him on the announce table for a rope assisted dive to the outside.
The rough action then climaxed in an incredible finishing stretch which saw Angle counter a sweet chin Music into an Ankle Lock and earn a near fall with an Angle slam from the top rope. As Angle then screamed violently in his opponents face, Michaels struck him out of nowhere with a sweet chin music that tore the roof of the building. It was Angle who recovered fastest from the near fall however, managing to suddenly trap his opponent in the Ankle Lock and hold on tight for dear life as Michaels struggled valiantly to escape until finally submitting to the pain in an outstanding, emotion fuelled conclusion.
2.) Bret Hart vs Owen Hart (Wrestlemania 10)
In the first match of this classic sibling rivalry both brothers went back and forth in a game of chess with Bret attempting to scout his brother’s athletic offence and Owen trying to break Bret’s concentration through a series of elaborate taunts, slaps and pushes intended to take his brother off his steady technical gameplan.
After a breathtakingly precise string of counters, reversals and incredibly timed transitional manoeuvres Owen got the break he needed after Bret damaged his knee on the outside following a rope assisted dive and his younger brother smelt blood as he began to lash out at the injured area. With Bret limping around in pain Owen fiercely threw around his opponents leg with the manic joy of his offence superbly paralleled with Bret’s first rate selling. Typical of Owen he then proceeded to imitate Bret’s hobble in a classic moment of heel doucheness before wearing his rival out some more in order to lock him in the figure four submission.
After one of the all time great sell jobs Bret then worked his way back into the match with an enziguri after Owen had taken too much time in holding out his leg and continued to recover by whipping Owen front face into the turnbuckle and knocking him to the mat with a storming piledriver. After trading sharpshooters, it was then Owen who managed to counter Bret at the opportune moment as he anticipated Bret’s attempt at a victory roll and subsequently reversed into an unexpected and successful pinfall attempt. An endlessly rewatchable masterpiece.
1.) Bret Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (Wrestlemania 13)
After their five star classic at Survivor Series the previous year Hart and Austin repeated the feat at Wrestlemania 13 with a highly charged grudge match that gave birth to the attitude era and with it its biggest star Stone Cold Steve Austin. From the breathless brawling at the start and as the competitors fought tenaciously throughout the aisles the shots of the wild crowd members confirmed that a wave of change was afoot, that the age of cartoon heroes were set to be replaced by a grittier, ruder, louder and more intense parade of characters that would lead the company into its most successful financial period ever recorded.
Whilst the Attitude Era rarely had matches of this quality (nor length) what it did successfully imitate from this bout was its blood and guts mentality and the high octane energy that made each moment compelling viewing. As Hart and Austin wrestled, it appeared that there was a genuine hatred behind each forceful punch, that both men were genuinely dazed as they sold their opponents offence and that the momentum could swing at any moment following on from any small mistake. This palpable sense of tension led to some great venomous scenes such as Austin cursing Bret before attacking him with a clothesline up from the ring apron, Bret trapping Austin in the ring post figure four submission (my all time favourite wrestling move) both men forcing their eyes closed in exasperation as Austin tried to make Bret quit with his boot pressed hard against his temple and Bret mercilessly exposing Austin’s bloody wound with a flurry of punches that offered another glimpse of his increasingly unhinged Hitman character.
Finally all the animosity built towards the much discussed double turn as Bret locked Austin in the sharpshooter and Austin passed out through the pain in a pool of his own blood thus technically losing the match but winning over the crowd through his incredible bravery. Bret meanwhile who continued to attack an unconscious Austin after the match was over saw the crowd turn against him as a vindictive bully who would go onto enjoy his most fruitful promos in his new whiny, anti-American heel persona. The match ushered in a new era and became the blueprint for how a main eventer should give the rub to someone hoping to shortly occupy his position.
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This article was first posted on March 25, 2012