Ranking Wrestlemania Main Events

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Wrestlemania 34 emanates from the Superdome in New Orleans this Sunday, featuring a main event of Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar, at the culmination of a seven-hour show. In the time it will take to watch Wrestlemania 34, one could watch the duration of any two Manias from the first half of the event’s life and still have an hour to spare.

If you’re considering taking on that challenge:
1. You’re an even bigger wrestling nerd than I, and you might require psychiatric evaluation.
2. You can spend some of that spare hour reading The Open Man’s ranking of Wrestlemania main events!

Because of the immense size, which includes several video clips, this is broken into three pages. Simply click the button at the bottom of each page to continue; don’t be lazy. 

33. Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna/Hulk Hogan vs. Yokozuna (Wrestlemania IX)

I owe much of my wrestling fandom to Bret Hart. I began watching in 1992, just as his singles star was beginning to rise. At the same time, Hulk Hogan’s initial main-event run was winding down. Even as a kid, Hulk’s persona felt like a stale relic of the 1980s. It didn’t help that he was in the news as the face of the inquiry into steroid abuse in professional wrestling.

Bret, on the other hand, represented everything Hulk didn’t. The leather jacket and wrap-around shades he wore to the ring oozed a kind of coolness the Hulkster lacked. In the ring, Bret came across less like a cartoon character, and more as an athlete.

Thus, when Hart’s ascent to the top of the card ended so that Hulk could beat an EVIL FOREIGNER, it marked my first exposure to the Hulk Hogan political machine. The short Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna bout, followed by Hogan’s squashing of both (one in the ring, the other out of it), was a fitting dud to end the worst Wrestlemania of all-time.

32. Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice (Wrestlemania VIII)

In another example of Hulk Hogan usurping the spotlight well after his expiration date, a 5-star WWF Championship match between Randy Savage and Ric Flair was relegated to the middle of the show. There was at least some justification at the time, given this was billed as Hulk Hogan’s farewell match — only it wasn’t.

Also, the match was horrible. Slow, plodding, and marred with a miscue at the conclusion — a conclusion that existed only to introduce the ridiculous Papa Shango character, and reintroduce the Ultimate Warrior. This was also illogical in its build, with Hulk somehow the good guy despite having cost Sid at the Royal Rumble in what can only be described as a petulant meltdown from the Hulkster.

31. The Miz vs. John Cena (Wrestlemania XXVII)

When your main event functions almost exclusively as a vignette to build the next year’s main event, that’s a bad sign. Wrestlemania XXVII ranks among the very worst WWE ever produced, and the main event nicely crystallizes why. I was actually a fan of The Miz’s initial main-event push; as an ardent fan of the genre, he had done his homework and knew how to play a genuinely unlikeable heel in an era of cool heels being cheered.

However, John Cena was entering Year 7 of dominating the top of the card; stuck a shovel in the main-event push of who should have been his Mania XXVII opponent (Wade Barrett); and was too divisive to elicit the kind of reaction a mega-heel like The Miz warrants. The Rock costing Cena the match invoked the only pop of a bad match, which was sullied by a nonsensical restart from the overused Anonymous RAW GM gimmick, and by Miz sustaining a concussion on the ending sequence.

30. John Cena vs. The Rock (Wrestlemania XXIX)

The first encounter between WWE luminaries John Cena and The Rock was billed as “Once in a Lifetime,” and two of the greatest performers in American wrestling history delivered with a match that vastly exceeded my expectations.

Immediately reneging on the promise of their initial meeting set a bad tone for the rematch. CM Punk should have been involved in some capacity, but was instead relegated to an admittedly excellent match with The Undertaker (the last good match of The Streak). Punk-Taker saved an otherwise lackluster Wrestlemania, which concluded with a dismal match that garnered almost no crowd reaction.

In their defense, The Rock sustained serious injury early in the match, limiting what they could do.

29. The Undertaker vs. Sycho Sid (Wrestlemania 13)

Speaking of main events hindered due to unforeseen circumstances, urban legend claims Sycho Sid suffered an…accident very early into a 21:19 bout with The Undertaker. Claims vary, some suggesting it occurred on a house show, while others refuting the rumor altogether.

No matter if Sid was working with extra weight or not, the match is sluggish and plodding — much slower than a rumored rematch pitting Shawn Michaels against Bret Hart would have been. Then again, had HBK not lost his smile, Wrestlemania 13 would not have featured the 5-star Bret vs. Steve Austin bout that launched the latter into the stratosphere.

28. Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (Wrestlemania XI)

In the pantheon of celebrity-involved wrestling matches, Lawrence Taylor’s 1995 bout with Bam Bam Bigelow ranks among the better entries. I would hypothesize that has to do with Lawrence Taylor being relatively fresh from a standout professional sports career, but, well…Mongo McMichael and Dennis Rodman.

LT was serviceable, and the stamina issues Jim Cornette described were assuaged with a short window. It was a well-deserved main-event spot for the criminally underrated Bam Bam Bigelow, and a perfectly fine match. However, it was decidedly a mid-card match that had no business closing a Wrestlemania.

27. Roman Reigns vs. Triple H (Wrestlemania 32)

I try not to allow live-audience reaction sway my opinion of wrestling matches, but the openly hostile response to this match from the AT&T Stadium crowd does add a certain aesthetic. Metal detectors going offline as patrons were entering the stadium made for what a friend in attendance told me was a chaotic scene. Once inside, the show itself was underwhelming and way too long — which, apparently, is the plan for Mania from henceforth.

Roman Reigns had been pretty flatly rejected as the face of the company from late 2014 on, and semi-retired Triple H taking the main-event spot did nothing to help. The two had a boring match that went far too long.

26. Triple H vs. Randy Orton (Wrestlemania XXV)

Another boring, slow and plodding Triple H main event, this one also suffered from a ridiculous stipulation. Randy Orton adapted his arrogant Legend Killer gimmick into an edgier persona by late 2008, brutalizing anyone in his path — including non-wrestlers like Stephanie McMahon. The gimmick itself, and the build going into Wrestlemania XXV, were shocking when juxtaposed with the kid-friendly approach WWE adopted in mid-2008. It was also somewhat jarring so recently removed from the Chris Benoit murders.

So what was the payoff to this somewhat disturbing, hate-filled feud? Why, a match in which a disqualification meant a changing of the title, of course!

Following the incredible Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker match was no easy feat on its own, but adding the illogical stipulation that detracted from the entire build of the feud further hampered the duo. Post-2006 injury Triple H rarely had great matches without the kind of smoke-and-mirrors that were barred from this one, and Randy Orton is…well, Randy Orton. The best way to describe this match is sugar-free vanilla.

25. Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Big Show vs. Mick Foley (Wrestlemania 2000)

WITH A McMAHON IN EVERY CORNER!

Multi-man matches were all the rage in the Attitude Era — in fact, Wrestlemania 2000 didn’t have a single, traditional one-on-one bout. The show’s main event suffers as a result of the preceding overkill. In this instance, though, including Big Show in the main event made storyline sense: He never received a rematch after losing the WWF Championship to Triple H in December, and the finish of the Royal Rumble involving him and The Rock was disputed.

It added a needed layer to the Rumble gimmick in order to freshen the challenger’s chase. However, adding Mick Foley just a few weeks shy from an emotional retirement ceremony was completely illogical from a story-telling perspective — and frankly, somewhat insulting as a fan.

What’s more, Triple H winning in a very obvious SWERVE!~ only served to set up what should have been the Wrestlemania main event one month later at Backlash: The Rock beating Triple H one-on-one, in a match that included a Stone Cold Steve Austin appearance.

24. Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff

I suspect the mythos contrived around the first Wrestlemania is dramatically overblown, as is often the case with WWE’s after-the-fact presentation of events. Would Vince McMahon’s effort to broadcast to a national audience via closed circuit and theaters really make-or-break the company? Considering McMahon had already begun the process of gobbling up territories, I highly doubt an unsuccessful Mania would have shuttered the company. It makes for a great story, though.

What’s more, the NWA already succeeded running a pair of Starrcade cards prior Wrestlemania. But where McMahon’s plan deviated from the NWA was he presented a show designed to reach more of a mainstream audience. The first Wrestlemania isn’t for wrestling die-hards, and the main event reflects that.

For it’s intended purpose, it’s perfectly fine. Mr. T helped bring mainstream appeal, evident in his co-hosting Saturday Night Live with Hogan in the lead-up to the event. T is serviceable, despite legitimate issues with Roddy Piper. The match is short enough to avoid exposing Mr. T, but long enough to showcase the main-event players.

23. Roman Reigns vs. The Undertaker (Wrestlemania 33)

Roman Reigns’ character-work may have soured audiences on him as a beloved main-event star, but there’s no question the former All-ACC linebacker is outstanding in the ring. Case-in-point: The Undertaker returned from his yearly sabbatical at the 2017 Royal Rumble — which I attended — and looked immobile. Once the main attraction of any Wrestlemania show, Undertaker appeared in the previous three years as if he should have retired after his 21-0 streak ended in 2014.

In what REALLY, REALLY SHOULD BE (but probably won’t be) his final Wrestlemania match, Undertaker was dragged to an OK showing by Reigns. The length of the show preceding their matchup, coupled with a dubious 23 minutes from bell-to-bell detract from the end product, but Reigns pulled the best he could from the Dead Man.