Last night was the summit of the "pro wrestling" year, as WrestleMania 30 took over the pop culture/sports universe for a night. The WWE’s premier event has long been the showcase for the greatest stars of the wrestling industry, and Wrestlemania has been the scene for the matches that made those stars what they are. From Hulk Hogan and Macho Man Randy Savage, to Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, to Triple H and John Cena, all of them became the megastars they are now because of last night’s event.
These stars of yesterday and today have each graced the main event spot on the card and defined those legacies in it. Last night did not fail to deliver on huge WrestleMania moments (some more infamous than others). But in honor of the one-of-a-kind event, here’s my ranking of the 30 main event matches in honor of the 30th time that Mania has taken over pop culture for the evening.
30. WrestleMania 11: Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow
No. Just no. The WWE had for a long time engrained mainstream culture into its product, but it went too far when it bumped a good Diesel/Shawn Michaels championship to put a forced feud with an NFL star and a mid-card wrestler like Bigelow.
29. WrestleMania 2: Hulk Hogan (c) vs. King Kong Bundy — Steel Cage Match
The classic giant vs. giant match-up didn’t deliver with the same punch that WrestleMania 1 or 3 did, but Hogan did deliver a memorable climb to the top of the cage for his signature shirt rip.
28. WrestleMania 13: Psycho Sid (c) vs. The Undertaker
The Undertaker’s first main event and second WWF Championship saw him overtake Sid, who was used as more of a bookmark between the Shawn Michaels/Bret Hart feud of the time. The Undertaker made the most of the painfully stiff Sid and captured the title. However, the most memorable part of this match is the rumor that Sid actually shit his pants before the Taker had to deliver the Tombstone Pile Driver to him … and if you are familiar with that maneuver, it is clear why that would be a huge problem.
27. WrestleMania 29: The Rock (c) vs. John Cena
The rematch of the previous year’s main event had the extra allure of being for the WWE Championship, which The Rock had won at the Royal Rumble a few months earlier. However, any chance the match had of equaling the intensity of the previous year went out the window early when The Rock legitimately tore his pelvic muscles in the early stages of the match and it was forced to be more of an exchange of 1-2 moves than a true classic.
26. WrestleMania 21: Triple H (c) vs. Batista
Batista’s push to superstar level was made complete as he bested his former mentor Triple H in the main event of a rather dull match. Triple H proved he was more than capable of putting over a younger talent to get him to his level on the card.
25. WrestleMania 18: Chris Jericho (c) vs. Triple H
In an overly predictable match-up, Triple H beat the Undisputed Champion Jericho amid his ultra-hot return from a torn quad caused by Y2J 10 months earlier. The most memorable part of the match was two of the best entrances a main event has seen.
24. WrestleMania 27: The Miz (c) vs. John Cena
One of the oddest match-ups in the grand stage of Mania, the WWE’s experiment with Miz at the top of the card saw him face off against Cena and actually come out on top. Over the course of it all, the Miz was actually legitimately knocked out and the Rock ran in to cost Cena the match and ultimately People’s Elbow the victorious Miz. In the end, it was more about the Rock than either competitor.
23. WrestleMania 2000: Triple H (c) vs. The Rock vs. Mankind vs. The Big Show
With a McMahon in each competitor’s corner, the main event of the 16th WrestleMania had a lot, maybe too much, going on. In the end, it was the scene of a first, as Triple H became the first heel champion to leave WrestleMania with the title he entered with.
22. WrestleMania 4: Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Ted Dibiase for WWF Championship
The Macho Man took over the driver’s seat in the WWF by getting four wins in a tournament that stretched over the entire show to award the vacant WWF title — in a match that saw Andre The Giant and Hulk Hogan each interfere.
21. WrestleMania 10: Yokozuna (c) vs. Bret Hart w/ Guest Referee Rowdy Roddy Piper
The second time the Hitman and sumo fighter faced off in the main event happened after both had matches earlier in the night as well. At the end, Yoko slipped off the middle rope as he prepared to finish off Hart, who replied with a quick pin to win his second title.
20. WrestleMania 9: Bret Hart (c) vs. Yokozuna
The first of the two times the duo faced off in the Mania main event was sort of all over the place. Hart ultimately was on the edge of victory until Yokozuna’s manager Mr. Fuji threw salt in the eyes of the Hitman, which broke his hold and allowed Yoko to drop his 600 pounds on to the Hitman to win the title. Yet, the match’s biggest moment happened after it ended when a returning Hulk Hogan came to ringside and somehow challenged — and won — the title from Yoko just minutes after he won it.
19. WrestleMania 25: Triple H (c) vs. Randy Orton
Triple H and Orton hooked up in a match that had a great build from a storyline perspective and even had a solid match stipulation where Triple H would lose the title if he was disqualified. The two put each other through the paces, although it somewhat failed to be the all-out brawl that it had set itself up to be.
18. WrestleMania 8: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice/Ric Flair (c) vs. Macho Man Randy Savage
It was billed as a double main event, with the title to be decided by Flair and Savage in a very good match between two of the best in-ring performers ever at their very best, while still giving Hogan the spotlight of going last on the card. In the end, the WWF Championship match probably should have gone last because it was clearly the superior contest, and the Hogan/Justice match plodded along before ultimately seeing a returning Ultimate Warrior run in to save Hogan and pull out the victory.
17. WrestleMania 1: Hulk Hogan (c) & Mr. T vs. Paul Orndorff & Rowdy Roddy Piper
The match that put the WWF on the pop culture map was the main event of the first WrestleMania that had the newly national superstar Hogan team up with one of the biggest stars of the day in Mr. T. In a match that had Muhammad Ali, Billy Martin and even Liberace play various roles, Hogan and T beat the best heels of the time in Piper and "Mr. Wonderful" and set WrestleMania on the map towards being the social event it is now.
16. WrestleMania 7: Sgt. Slaughter (c) vs. Hulk Hogan
This match was spawned from a heel turn that crossed over from just a wrestling storyline and actually really pissed people off in real life. As Operation Desert Storm raged on, the WWF’s ultimate American icon and real-life marine in Slaughter aligned with Iraqi General Adnan and became as anti-American as imaginable, even saluting the Iraqi flag. Naturally, Hogan interceded, and the "Real American" brought the title back to America.
(go to page 2 to finish our countdown!)
15. WrestleMania 20: Triple H (c) vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit
The now infamous Benoit inserted himself in the blood feud between Triple H and the recently returned Michaels over the World Heavyweight Championship. The result was a brutal showdown between three of the best in-ring performers in WWE history and saw Benoit spring one of the most surprising title wins in Mania history by forcing Triple H to submit mid-ring.
14. WrestleMania 24: Edge (c) vs. The Undertaker
At the heart of his final big everyday run on the regular roster, The Undertaker faced off against Edge in a match-up that saw two performers who entered with undefeated WrestleMania records. Edge had tortured the Taker for months leading in and continued to do so in this match-up, before submitting to the Taker’s "Hell’s Gate" submission hold.
13. WrestleMania 23: John Cena (c) vs. Shawn Michaels
Michaels and Cena entered as Tag Team Champions, despite a clear dislike and lack of trust for each other, and turned in a classic exchange of a main event. Cena held on to the belt against Michaels, but the two faced off again three weeks later on Raw, where HBK beat Cena in what ended up being the match of the year — albeit a non-title victory.
12. WrestleMania 30: Randy Orton (c) vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan
It was the culmination of one of the longest and most trying "man against the world" rivalries that wrestling had seen in years. Daniel Bryan had taken on all comers for over half a year and spurred a motion of the people against the power that had risen to rarefied air. In the end, it all came to a head as he defeated Triple H to start off the show, then won a brutal three-way match where he had to overcome Orton, Batista, Stephanie McMahon, a crooked ref, a no-disqualification policy inserted mid-match and even Triple H, again. It all ended in a moment of rejoice for Bryan and the entire "Yes Movement" that followed along with him.
11. WrestleMania 19: Kurt Angle (c) vs. Brock Lesnar
A showdown of the two best pure wrestlers in WWE history did not disappoint, as the technical savvy and intensity of Angle jived very well with the intensity and equal technical ability of Lesnar. The two delivered a match that actually managed to hold up well in the shadow of the final Rock/Austin match that preceded it on the card, and despite Lesnar nearly knocking himself out cold (legitimately) after missing a flip off the top rope, he held out to deliver an F-5 and reclaim the WWE Championship.
10. WrestleMania 28: John Cena vs. The Rock
It was the rare face-off of two distinctly different eras' top stars in a battle to simply prove who reigned supreme. The Rock returned to the WWE for his first singles match in over 10 years to face off against Cena, who had taken the top spot formerly manned by Rocky. In one of the legitimately most shocking moments in WWE history, The Rock landed a Rock Bottom to beat Cena and make a fantasy match-up come true.
9. WrestleMania 14: Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin w/ Enforcer Mike Tyson
This was the night that the "Attitude Era" found its leader, as Austin and Michaels squared off in one of the major turning point matches in WWE history — with Mike Tyson at the epicenter as in-match enforcer. Michaels was on the way out, as he had suffered a debilitating back injury a few months earlier, while the white-hot Austin was winning the Royal Rumble. Michaels left it all on the mat in his last match for the next four years, while Austin launched his star into the stratosphere by landing the biggest Stone Cold Stunner of his career and Tyson making the three count to hand Austin his first WWE Championship.
8. WrestleMania 22: John Cena (c) vs. Triple H
It was this match that secured Cena as a legit WrestleMania headliner and big-match producer. It was also the match that proved he was capable of carrying the title over the long run, as he was the young and establishing champion facing the then 10-time World Champion in Triple H. He left no doubts of his big-game ability, making The Game tap out to the STFU.
7. WrestleMania 15: The Rock (c) vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin—No DQ w/ Special Ref. Mankind
The first of three times that preeminent stars of the "Attitude Era" of the '90s would face off in WrestleMania saw them hold nothing back. In a match that touched every part of the arena and saw Shawn Michaels, Mr. McMahon and Mankind all make an impact over the course of settling it, it set the course for perhaps the best championship rivalry in the WWE history.
6. WrestleMania 5: Macho Man Randy Savage (c) vs. Hulk Hogan
It was the accumulation of the yearlong battle with Savage and Hogan over both the WWF Championship and the association with Ms. Elizabeth. The former best friends and tag team partners fell out over the ties with Elizabeth, and ultimately it came down to an ego trip over the title that Hogan helped Savage win at the previous year’s WrestleMania. In the end, Hogan won out over Savage to win the title for a second time.
5. WrestleMania 17: The Rock (c) vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin—No DQ
This saw Stone Cold and The Rock at the very height of their popularity and facing off for the second time in two years in the main event at Mania. They went 1000% from before the bell rang, as Austin was energized by his hometown crowd in Houston and The Rock was pushing to secure his place at the top of the mountain in the WWE. In the end, Austin won in a stunning heel turn by aligning with Mr. McMahon at the last second and burying The Rock with multiple steel chair shots to beat the Rock for the Title for a second time.
4. WrestleMania 6: Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior — Champion vs. Champion
It was the WWF Championship of Hogan on the line against the Intercontinental Championship of the Warrior. It pitted the past and present most popular star of the business in Hogan against the rising star of the undeniable Warrior, and with all the marbles on the table, the Warrior went over against Hogan to unite both of the WWF’s most prestigious titles. This was made all the more impressive in that the Warrior legitimately sprained his knee while running to the ring to start the match and was not at 100% at any point.
3. WrestleMania 3: Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Andre The Giant
The most popular match in WWF/WWE history saw the biggest star in the business’s history in Hogan face off against the most dominant star in wrestling history in Andre. In front of a massive crowd over 90,000 at the Detroit Silverdome, Hogan lifted up the Giant and slammed him down in the most memorable moment in WWF/WWE history to defend his title and end the 15-year win streak of Andre.
2. WrestleMania 12: Bret Hart (c) vs. Shawn Michaels — Iron Man Match
The longest match in WrestleMania history went 60 minutes and still could not be finalized. It was a face-off of the best technician in WWF/WWE history in Bret "The Hitman" Hart, against the hottest rising property in the business, Shawn Michaels. It was two divergent styles squaring off, and in the end it saw Michaels survive through the Sharpshooter while the 60-minute clock expired with no falls recorded by either man. This pushed the event to overtime, where HBK connected with Sweet Chin Music and secured his first WWF Championship.
1. WrestleMania 26: Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker — Career vs. Streak Match
Two of the top five or so superstars in the history of the promotion facing off in a defining match in the promotion’s history. The Undertaker’s undefeated streak versus the career of the greatest showman WrestleMania has ever seen. It all came to a head when Michaels faced the Undertaker for the second consecutive year, and they left it all on the mat. After a flurry of near finishes, the Undertaker ended the career of Shawn Michaels via the Tombstone Pile Driver — and put a stamp on both performers’ greatest matches of their storied careers.
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