Ranking Wrestlemania Main Events

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11. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant (Wrestlemania III)

Sometimes, great wrestling matches aren’t great wrestling matches.

Is Hulk Hogan-Andre The Giant technically a great, or even good wrestling match? While wrestling is largely subjective, I doubt many objective observers would describe this matchup as “good.” Andre The Giant was near the end of his career — and, sadly, approaching the end of his life. To the big man’s credit, he gave it his all to give Hulk Hogan’s rising star one supernova-burst.

Wrestlemania III in general is a must-watch for any fan regardless of age (or rewatch if you’ve seen it before), and the main event in particular is a spectacle rarely matched in the genre’s history.

10. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels – 60 Minute Iron Man Match (Wrestlemania XII)

The storyline feud between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels was fueled by very real personal animosity — oftentimes at the detriment of the business. Nevertheless — and despite a newly turned face HBK acting very heelish at the end of this bout, telling Hart to “get out of my [expletive] ring” — the two rivals put on a clinic at Wrestlemania XII.

Now, the 60-Minute Iron Man Match is subject to WWE’s retroactive myth-making to a certain extent. It’s presented today as a revolutionary classic, WWF’s mid-1990s answer to Misawa vs. Kawada. In reality, the Iron Man Match suffers from lulls and a lack of drama as a result of the lack of pinfalls scored in regulation. Nevertheless, this was such a dramatic departure from the style of the era, and featured two wrestlers who incapable of putting on a match that isn’t at least good.

9. The Undertaker vs. Edge (Wrestlemania XXIV)

The Undertaker’s Wrestlemania Streak was first mentioned after an outstanding face-off with Triple H at X-Seven. It wasn’t until XXI against Randy Orton that The Streak was presented as its own entity. Mania XXIII solidified The Streak as a draw comparable to, if not exceeding, the main event. And while I prefer the previous year’s Undertaker-Batista showdown for the World Heavyweight Championship to entry No. 9, it was that combination of matches that cemented Undertaker’s matches as often being the best on the card.

By 2008, Edge was well-established as a top-flight heel. What’s more, he came into Mania XXIV having never been pinned nor submitted at the Show of Shows (though he lost Money in the Bank the year prior). Regardless, Edge had his own mini-streak of sorts, which gave the impression that maybe, just maybe, XXIV would be the Mania to see Taker lose.

It’s quite humorous to think now, a decade later, that Taker might be winding down in 2008. But, that was my mindset, and it added a layer of intrigue to an already excellent match.

8. Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage (Wrestlemania V)

With the benefit of hindsight, MegaPowers Explode can be described as the unofficial end of the ’80s wrestling boom in much the same way Mania X-Seven ostensibly capped the Attitude Era. The two biggest stars of the period met face-to-face at the culmination of a year-long storyline — though in reality, the seeds were planted almost a half-decade prior to Wrestlemania V. Randy Savage would occasionally sneak shots at Hogan in his promos as Intercontinental Champion way back in 1985.

A feud between the two was inevitable. The build was simple yet effective. Years later and with plenty of examples of Hogan undercutting Savage, I see the rivalry through a different lens: Hogan was hot-dogging and grandstanding and cozying up to Miss Elizabeth, making Macho Man the feud’s face. Kudos to this being the first Rashomon story in professional wrestling.

Randy Savage was incapable of having a bad match in the 1980s, and Hogan showed up with his working boots on that night in Atlantic City to deliver an excellent match.

7. Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (Wrestlemania 31)

Count me among the many fans who bemoaned Roman Reigns winning the 2015 Royal Rumble, instead of Daniel Bryan — and the subsequent decision to put Reigns over the former American Dragon in the lead-up to Wrestlemania 31. Roman Reigns’ initial main-event push rubbed me the wrong way for a variety of reasons: The videos of his recovery from injury in late 2014 were reminiscent of similar vignettes used to build Randy Orton in 2003 (RNN), except Orton was a heel.

Then Reigns returned, still wearing his tactical vest and cargo pants from The Shield. Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins moved on with new gear; Reigns looked like a high school jock still donning his letterman’s jacket at college.

Brock Lesnar, meanwhile, was entering Year 3 on a part-time schedule, and it had been a decidedly mixed bag. Nearly every match that involved Lesnar and John Cena was great during that time (Extreme Rules 2012, Summerslam 2014 and the 5-star bout also featuring Seth Rollins at the 2015 Royal Rumble). However, a motivated John Cena could get a 3-star match out of me, so that’s not saying much.

Lesnar’s performances often hinged on the quality of his opponent, and his own willingness to ramp up the intensity. Basically, every initial indicator said this match should have been terrible. It’s remembered now for Seth Rollins cashing in the Money in the Bank briefcase, but even prior to that OMG MOMENT!~, Reigns and Lesnar put on an excellent, hard-hitting, main-event quality match. Outside of his 2016 encounters with A.J. Styles, this remains my favorite individual Roman Reigns match.

 

6. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (Wrestlemania XXVI)

A year prior to Wrestlemania XXVI, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels delivered what was the unofficial main event of Wrestlemania XXV. It was the second 5-star match between the two, 12 years apart. Rather than ask a new batch of wrestlers to try and follow what was sure to be another classic between the two, McMahon and Co. raised the stakes with a retirement stipulation.

Now, retirement stips in wrestling are about as honest as any tweet from a certain Wrestlemania XXIII performer. But HBK adhering to his retirement nearly a decade later has actually improved this match retroactively. Considering that in real time, Undertaker and Michaels delivered yet another standout showing, that’s lofty praise.

5. Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle (Wrestlemania XIX)

Fifteen years later, Lesnar-Angle’s remembered primarily for the horrifying missed Shooting Star Press Brock attempted late in the match. It’s a shame, because if that spot lands without a hitch, the main event of Wrestlemania XIX is rightly considered a 5-star bout.

WWE was an interesting place in 2002 and 2003. Following the brand split, RAW became a wasteland of 20-minute Triple H promos and storylines that frankly made me consider giving up wrestling altogether. If Mondays were a shot, Thursdays provided the chaser. Smackdown was brilliant TV, emphasizing wrestling over bad comedy and theatrics. To that end, it makes sense that the main event featured a former Olympic Gold Medalist and NCAA champion.

Every time Lesnar and Angle wrestled, it was excellent. Their 60-minute Iron Match is superior to the more-celebrated HBK-Hitman bout referenced above, and they even made magic in 30 seconds prior to Mania XIX. Botch aside, their Wrestlemania encounter remains one of the best show-closers in the event’s history.

4. Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista (Wrestlemania XXX)

Daniel Bryan bucked every stereotype associated with main-eventing Wrestlemania. In Vince McMahon’s real-life comic book world of hulking (pun absolutely intended) beefcakes, the unassuming American Dragon didn’t look the part. He certainly didn’t rise through the ranks in typical fashion, having gained notoriety on the independent scene for putting on classic wrestling matches that deviated from the WWE style.

And try as WWE creative may, the groundswell of support for Bryan was too much to ignore.

Bryan’s shocking rise to the main event of WWE is perhaps the closest the company’s come to recreating the organic ascent to stardom of Stone Cold Steve Austin. Audience reactions became too much to ignore, and Mania XXX got a double-dose of Daniel Bryan — no surprise, then, it’s one of the best Mania cards ever. The main event is excellent, showcasing Bryan’s talent, mixing in the jaw-dropping stunts typical of WWE super-card show-ender, and blending enough intrigue to move the viewer to the edge of their seat.

It’s sad in retrospect, given the injuries that forced him into retirement a year later prevented the Yes Movement from growing into the new Austin 3:16, but the visual of Bryan holding two title belts and confetti reigning down is one of the best in Wrestlemania history.

3. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (Wrestlemania XX)

Compiling this ranking requires a fair bit of separating art from artist. Some choose to complete ignore Chris Benoit’s involvement in professional wrestling, a stance WWE adopted from the moment the horrific details of his death and the murder of his family emerged. I understand and respect such opinions.

I evaluate Chris Benoit as a wrestler in the same capacity I evaluate O.J. Simpson as a running back. One can acknowledge their professional excellence without it being an endorsement of personal atrocities. I have not watched this match in the years since Benoit’s death, but viewing it live in 2004, it was the perfect Wrestlemania main event.

I had misgivings about the insertion of Shawn Michaels into the match going into Wrestlemania XX, but the triple threat dynamic only heightened the drama. Many Manias end with a clear victor being built to the championship standing tall at the end, but there was a genuine sense any of the three could leave the winner. That added to the legitimate sporting event feel. The match itself is almost flawless.

2. Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan – Title vs. Title (Wrestlemania VI)

Hulk Hogan had the capacity to put on outstanding wrestling matches. I may have found the Hulk character corny and disingenuous, and found his in-ring work to be cartoony and goofy — and that’s to say nothing of my thoughts on Terry Bollea — but I will credit Hogan on this: He discovered a formula that worked and didn’t require him to go all-out.

My thoughts on Ultimate Warrior are similar to my opinion of Hogan. I dug the character as a 9-year-old, but the older I got, the more campy it felt. His various returns fell flat as a result of the gimmick not translating after the 1980s. Warrior’s matches, outside of a few exceptions, were formulaic and uninteresting. After wrestling, Warrior’s public attacks on survivors of Hurricane Katrina and the LGBTQ community were repugnant.

As stated in the previous entry, this list separates art and artist.

In the vacuum of this one match in Toronto 28 years ago, Hulk Hogan and Ultimate Warrior set wrestling on fire. Hogan mixed his usual shtick with enough of the athletic prowess he typically only displayed in Japan at Wrestlemania VI to raise the stakes. Warrior has a strange career marked with mostly bad matches, but the few exceptions include two of the single best Wrestlemania bouts of all-time — this is obviously one of them.

The wrestling itself is excellent, and the story told is magnificent. The symbolic passing of the the torch did not come to fruition — that’s always been something of a problem for the Hulkster, BROTHER — but in that vacuum of viewing, the end feels like a touchstone moment for professional wrestling in the same vein as Wrestlemania III.

1. Steve Austin vs. The Rock – No Disqualification (Wrestlemania X-Seven)

The greatest wrestling show in history fittingly concluded with the best main event of any Wrestlemania. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock were the two biggest stars of the Attitude Era, the most lucrative and hottest period for wrestling in America ever, so pitting the two against one another at the biggest event of the era made sense. It’s also fitting, in hindsight, that their excellent bout signaled an unofficial end of the era.

Austin and Rock wrestled several times prior to Wrestlemania X-Seven in the Astrodome, including a prior Wrestlemania two years earlier. Their shared history added to the drama, with each man knowing the other’s tendencies well — and weaving that into the match. The bout featured call-backs to their previous encounters, as well as Steve Austin’s star-making feud with Bret Hart.

The perfect main-event match from start to finish — yes, even the finish, despite the involvement of Vince McMahon later serving to cool wrestling’s hottest period ever.