Wednesday, March 30, 2011

WrestleMania Week: My Favorite WrestleMania Matches


Regardless of the quality of the matches or the amount of setup involved, WrestleMania is the biggest wrestling show of the year. WWE may have forgotten years ago what it means to be a entertaining wrestling company, but they still know how to bring the thunder one Sunday out of 52.
The first WrestleMania I watched live was XIV. It was amazing and exciting and the thing that rekindled my love for the sport after a few spotty years where I only half paid attention (kind of like what I’m going through right now). I have watched every WrestleMania since then live as it happened and have also gone back and checked out the previous ‘Manias just to see what I had missed. I remember watching WrestleMania III when I was a kid. I don’t know if it was a replay or maybe we rented it when it came out on video or what, but I remember watching the whole thing. My dad left the room before the first hour was up. I can’t say I blame him. If you’re not already a fan, the first hour of that particular event is not going to entice you with blockbuster draws like the Can-Am Connection and Billy Jack Haynes.

WrestleManias are always spectacular at the time, but they don’t necessarily hold up in retrospect. Particularly if you break them down match-by-match. I’ve seen every single one of these crazy mixes of grappling, entertainment and spectacle at this point and I definitely have some strong opinions on the matches, superstars and overall events. So what we’re going to do today is take a look at my favorite matches from each WrestleMania.
I’m not using my typical definition of a good wrestling match here. Normally workrate would be the biggest factor for me, but today’s list is all about WrestleMania matches. That means that a big show feel and some sort of major climax factor in just as much as my beloved workrate.
WrestleMania
Hulk Hogan & Mr. T (w/ Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka) versus “Rowdy” Roddy Piper & “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff
This match still seems sort of unreal to me. I was a big-time MTV kid – mostly because my parents hated it – and it was actually a little tough for me to choose between this and the Richter/Kai match. That one was all over MTV all the time to the point where it’s up there with Back to the Future and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure as a major cultural event of 1985 for me.
But the Main Event had Mr. T. And if there’s anything more I need to say, you don’t remember Mr. T and what a massive fucking phenomena he was in 1985. Up to that point he had been in Rocky III, The A-Team, Diff’rent Strokes, Mister T (his own cartoon!) and a Toys R Us grand opening that I personally attended. There was no bigger celebrity to me at the time, not even Michael Jackson. The fact that Mr. T was teaming up with Hulk Hogan was almost enough to make my tiny little head explode. I never even saw this match in its entirety until years later when I had long since torn up my Official Hulkamaniac membership card, but just remembering the hype around the match and how magical Hogan used to seem makes it entertaining to this day. I’m also mature enough now to have an appreciation for just how great Piper and Orton are in this match. Rowdy Roddy Piper was the most evil man on the planet during the early 80’s; and his work at the inaugural WrestleMania is what cemented that. He was depicted as Hogan’s ultimate nemesis on Hulk Hogan’s Rock N’ Wrestling, basically making him equivalent to Cobra Commander in my young mind.
So while this match is ultimately entertaining, most of its relevance to me is wrapped up in (like most things) its ties to the pop culture of the day. It isn’t my favorite match on this list, but it is likely the most successful the WWF/E has ever been at mainstream media crossover.
WrestleMania 2
Hulk Hogan versus King Kong Bundy (w/ Bobby “The Brain” Heenan) in a STEEL CAGE for the WWF Championship
This was the BIGGEST MATCH OF ALL TIME when I was a kid. That dirty rat bastard King Kong Bundy had brutally assaulted the heroic Hulk Hogan on Saturday Night’s Main Event, breaking EVERY BONE IN THE HULKSTER’S BODY. Heedless of his doctor’s advice, the brave warrior Hulk Hogan accepted Bundy’s challenge to fight at WrestleMania 2 FOR THE TITLE!
I don’t remember how I saw this match. I just know that I was still fired up over Bundy’s dickishness (the storyline was that he broke Hogan’s ribs, but I spent years remembering it as his back) and wanted to see Hogan absolutely destroy the fat monster. What happened on that Saturday Night’s Main Event in 1986 affected me to the extent that when Bundy appeared on Married… With Children in 1995 - years after I had discovered the true nature of pro wrestling – I still hated him.
Naturally Hogan prevailed at the Grandaddy of Them All. It isn’t a particularly great match, but the drama of a severely injured Hogan battling pro wrestling’s equivalent of, well… King Kong inside the brutal STEEL CAGE is all it needed.
WrestleMania III
Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat versus “Macho Man” Randy Savage for the WWF Intercontinental Championship
I’m not going to lie – the first time I saw WrestleMania III this match didn’t hold a candle to Hogan versus Andre. Steamboat/Savage mostly registered as, “Wow, those guys sure did jump around a lot and took a long time.” Although I do remember going nuts when George “The Animal” Steele ran out to prevent some Savage chicanery.
This is widely recognized as one of the greatest WrestleMania matches of all time, if not all of WWE history. People talk an awful lot about Steamboat/Flair matches, but I’d take Steamboat versus Savage any day of the week over that. This match still holds up to this day, not only as a solid workrate match, but an example of how to tell a dramatic story in the ring. It would work equally well in Ring of Honor or WWE. Not so much TNA because the match isn’t fucking terrible and embarrassing to watch.
WrestleMania IV
?
I’m going to have to admit to drawing a complete blank on this one. I know I haven’t watched it more than once, but I specifically remember Rick Rude and Jake Roberts fighting to a no contest and Hogan and Savage celebrating at the very end (which led to the formation of the Mega Powers). The whole event was a tournament to crown a new champ, but I can’t specifically recall anything else about it. I must have watched this one sometime around the third week of April back in the day. If you know what I mean.
WrestleMania V
Hulk Hogan versus “Macho Man” Randy Savage for the WWF Championship

Forget the breakup of the Mega Powers – this was a battle for the prettiest lady in the world; Miss Elizabeth.
Hogan and Savage had been palling around for most of the previous year as the Most Dominant Tag Team This Sport Has Ever Seen™. But the pair forgot the crucial “Bros Before Hos” Commandment (I think it’s number ten, as a matter of fact) and got all jealous over Liz. Which is understandable. Hogan was supposedly innocent, but if some So Cal meathead was taking my wife backstage without me I believe I’d feel the need to unleash the Madness, too.
This is easily among Hogan’s best matches, what with Savage being one of the greatest of all time. Hogan won the match, the WWF Championship and supposedly the moral victory; Miss Elizabeth became a non-factor following the pay-per-view for reasons I am still not entirely clear on.
WrestleMania VI
Ultimate Warrior versus Hulk Hogan for the WWF Intercontinental Championship AND the WWF Championship
I actually have specific memories of another match on this card – Dusty Rhodes & Sapphire versus Randy Savage & Sensational Sherri – which means I must have seen at least a portion of WM VI around the time it originally aired. I remember being really caught up in that angle because I loved Dusty.
But you simply cannot dispute the fact that Warrior/Hogan is one of the most WrestleMania-y matches of all time. Utilizing nothing more than a billion gallons of testosterone and more sheer charisma than God bestowed upon any hundred normal mortals, these two living action figures managed to spend over twenty minutes in an epic conflict to rival any Kaiju battle.
I don’t care how fake you say wrestling is, you will be exhausted after watching this match. Granted, it is just as likely to be from laughing as from getting caught up in the drama, but either way you’re going to be entertained. This is truly one of the biggest matches of all time with one of the biggest outcomes of all time.
Of course, what was intended to be a passing of the torch ended up more as a sort of lending; but that hardly tarnishes the event itself. As we’ll see, there are many more historic WrestleMania Moments that didn’t stay as poignant as they first seemed.
WrestleMania VII
The Rockers versus The Barbarian and Haku (w/ Bobby “The Brain” Heenan)
Another tough call. I was sorely tempted to go with the Main Event of Real American Hulk Hogan versus Evil Iraqi Sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter. That was some emotional stuff. I think I was at the point where I didn’t think quite so much of Hogan, and Sarge will always be a Joe, no matter what. But as much as I do remember following the storylines at the time, I know I didn’t see any of the pay-per-view itself until years later. And the match that stands out to me is the opener.
Michaels and Jannetty take on Barbarian and Haku and even now it seems like the little guys have no chance of winning. It’s a great display of speed and agility winning out over size and strength and it is the one match I would choose to watch from this WrestleMania if I had to pick. The five men involved had the tough task of not only warming up a huge crowd, but telling one of the oldest stories on the planet in an exciting way. And they succeeded, big time.
WrestleMania VIII
Macho Man” Randy Savage (W/ Miss Elizabeth) versus “Nature Boy” Ric Flair (W/ Mr. Perfect) for the WWF Championship
WrestleMania VIII happened at a time when I wasn’t really following wrestling too closely, so I don’t have any memories from the time of the event. But any fool can tell you that this match is the best one on the card; and one of the best of all time. It still pisses me off that Hulk Hogan versus Sid Vicious was the last match.
WrestleMania IX
Bobby “The Brain” Heenan calls entire event while shitfaced.
This pay-per-view – live from behind Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas - was a debacle from beginning to end. Heenan’s drunken announcing is the only thing that even comes close to approaching entertaining. WMIX provided what I think is the most offensive ending to a PPV I have ever seen. Poor Bret Hart.
WrestleMania X
Razor Ramon versus Shawn Michaels (w/ Diesel) for the WWF Intercontinental Championship in the first (recognized) ladder match
Back in 1994 people actually needed a reason to have a gimmick match. The reason for this one was that Shawn Michaels had been stripped of the IC belt by WWF president Jack Tunney. Michaels felt this was horseshit, so he had his own belt made and continued walking around with it. In the meantime, Razor Ramon had actually won the for-real Intercontinental Championship. Naturally this situation could not last, so both titles were suspended twenty (storyline) feet above the ring for a match at the Showcase of the Immortals. The only way to win was to climb a BRUTAL STEEL LADDER OF DOOM and retrieve the belts.
The Heartbreak Kid and the Bad Guy put on the best match of the night, providing drama and brutality in a way that nobody had ever seen before. Even after sixteen intervening years of ladder matches, table matches, chair matches, Judy Bagwell On A Pole matches, flaming cricket bat matches, midget in a garbage can matches and Duchess of Queensbury Rules matches; this ladder match remains one of the greats.
WrestleMania XI
Diesel (w/ Pamela Anderson) versus Shawn Michaels (w/ Sid Vicious & Jenny McCarthy)

I saw this one when FOX rebroadcast it with the Bam Bam Bigelow/Lawrence Taylor match. While I will admit that Taylor did a very good job, I have no tolerance for WWF/E whoring itself out to other forms of sports and entertainment. Which it does a lot.
But Diesel versus Michaels was a great match. Big man/little man with two close friends in their prime. A lot of people give Kevin Nash a lot of shit (which he deserves sometimes), but the man can deliver when he wants to. The “when he wants to” is the part that most folks don’t like. Me, I still love the guy.
WrestleMania XII
I was dreading this. There are three matches on this card that I love dearly for entirely different reasons. If every other match from WrestleMania XII wasn’t an utter piece of shit this would probably be my favorite ‘Mania.
The first contender for my love is a Hollywood Backlot Brawl between “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and Goldust. It is utterly retarded and far too gimmicky, but I love the shit out of it. It lasted for most of the pay-per-view and involved Piper chasing Goldust throughout said backlot in order to beat him up. This, obviously, would prove that Piper wasn’t gay. Naturally the match ends with Goldust being stripped out of his golden jumpsuit to reveal some sexy lingerie.
Number two is a contender because I am a big fella and so are Diesel and Undertaker. They fought each other at WrestleMania XII pretty much for that reason alone, and it is still my favorite “Big Man” match. While it doesn’t blow my mind as much now as it did the first time I saw it, I still have a soft spot for this one.
Finally, Shawn Michaels fought Bret “Hitman” Hart for the WWF Championship in the WWF’s first-ever Ironman match. It is the second-best Ironman match of all time (behind Brock Lesnar versus Kurt Angle on SmackDown) and still warrants viewing from time to time. Few hour-long affairs have matched the intensity and pacing of this match. The only thing keeping it from being my absolute favorite from WMXII is the fact that it lasts over an hour, so is something you have to be ready to really commit to if you want to sit down and watch it. So I have to go with
The Undertaker (w/ Paul Bearer) versus Diesel

WrestleMania XIII
Bret “Hitman” Hart versus Steve Austin (I’m not entirely sure he was “Stone Cold” yet) in a No Disqualification Submission Match w/ Special Guest Referee Ken Shamrock
Hart versus Austin is a genuine slobberknocker. Despite being a match that could only be won via submission, it got brutal and bloody. So bloody in fact, that the image of Austin trapped in Hart’s signature Sharpshooter, covered in blood and refusing to tap out, is one of the most famous images of Austin to this day. Eventually Austin passed out from loss of blood and Shamrock had to proclaim Hart the winner. This, to me, is the match that truly kicked off the WWF’s Attitude Era. The action and brutality surpassed anything that had been seen before and the heat between the two characters in the ring was tangible in a way that no feud had been before. It also cemented Austin as a fan favorite and successfully turned Hart heel.
WrestleMania XIV
Stone Cold” Steve Austin versus Shawn Michaels (w/ Hunter Hurst Helmsley & Chyna) for the WWF Championship with Mike Tyson as Special Guest Enforcer
WrestleMania XIV got me back into the WWF. I had been watching WCW regularly for the past couple of years, but Gnoll insisted that WWF was the superior product. We decided to order WM XIV and have some folks over and the thing was crazy go nuts. From the crazy tag team battle royal to Sable’s titties to a fucking dumpster match between what appeared to be two homeless guys and two white gangstas, WM XIV was like nothing I had seen. And then to cap it off with what is still one of my favorite matches of all time – the passing of the torch from Shawn Michaels to Steve Austin. Despite the fact that Michaels was reportedly suffering from major back problems at the time of the match, he still gives everything he has. Austin does no less. This is an epic confrontation between two of the greatest wrestlers ever to step in the ring, and I’ve watched it more times than I can count. I’m still not totally crazy about Tyson’s “I was with Austin all along!” reveal at the end, but it does little to change the match itself. Austin still overcame the odds to finally win the WWF Championship.
WrestleMania XV
While this is an extremely solid WrestleMania with mostly good to very good matches, there is one match from the pay-per-view that transcends WrestleMania to take a place among my favorite events of all time.
The Hardcore Holly/Billy Gunn/Al Snow match for the WWF Hardcore Championship was fun and brutal – a great opener. Mankind/Big Show for the right to referee the main event was a true slobberknocker, with a tremendous payoff at the end – Show knocking Vince McMahon out. The Intercontinental 4-Way was great. Even Shane McMahon versus X-Pac for the European Championship was far more entertaining than it had any right to be, setting Shane-O-Mac up as a new, more physical breed of McMahon heel. And while Rock versus Austin is never anything to sneeze at, this is far from their best outing. At the time it was exciting, but in retrospect there’s way too much bullshit going on in this match for it to be considered a classic.
No, the match of which I speak – and some of you already know where I’m headed here – is
Bart Gunn versus Butterbean
the titanic confrontation between Brawl For All winner Bart Gunn and Toughman Champion and professional concussor Butterbean. In an epic brawl lasting an exhausting twenty-seven seconds, Butterbean knocked Bart Gunn right the fuck out. It is one of the most hilarious things I have ever seen in my life and I have shown it to everybody I can.
The Brawl For All was a semi-legitimate boxing tournament that you can read about here. It was long and drawn out and resulted in one of the most magnificent anticlimaxes I have ever personally witnessed.
WrestleMania 2000
Chris Benoit versus Chris Jericho versus Kurt Angle for the WWF Intercontinental Championship & the WWF European Championship in a 2 Falls match

There is an awful lot to this match. The first fall was for the IC Title, the second was for the European Title. Kurt Angle – who was heeling it up as possibly the biggest douche in the company - entered WrestleMania as the “Eurocontinental Champion”, holding both titles. After almost fifteen minutes of intense back-and-forth non-stop action between three of the best there have ever been, Angle lost both titles. The WM2000 DVD has commentaries on the match from both Angle and Benoit. They’re great to listen to and something that I wish WWE would do more of. I would have bought a lot more of their DVDs if this feature had been more prominent.
WrestleMania X-Seven
The Hardy Boyz versus the Dudley Boyz versus Edge & Christian for the WWF Tag Team Championship
I hate to snub Rock and Austin again, but their Main Event match ended with Austin shaking hands with Vince McMahon in the most poorly advised heel turn since Sting just turned again five minutes ago in TNA. Wait… okay, now he’s a face again. Phew.
But that makes it sound like TLC II is my pick only because of a flaw at the very end of the Main Event. Not so. As many times as I’ve watched Austin/Michaels from WMXIV, I’ve watched TLC II twice as many. It sure as heck isn’t a great technical outing, but it is one of the most exciting matches you could ever hope to see. Just when you think things can’t get any crazier; Lita, Rhyno and Spike Dudley show up to help their respective teams/buddies out and take some of the sickest bumps of the match. This was undoubtedly one of the biggest WrestleMania matches ever.
WrestleMania X-8
The Rock versus Hollywood Hulk Hogan
First, allow me to run down the weirdness – not necessarily suckiness, mind you – that was WMX8:
  • Awful “rock” band Saliva played a song
  • Noted marijuana enthusiast Rob Van Dam won the WWF Intercontinental Championship
  • Noted yoga enthusiast Diamond Dallas Page won the WWF European Championship. His gimmick at the time was a motivational instructor.
  • Maven – an impossibly bland but likeable young man who won a reality show contest to become a wrestler – lost his WWF Hardcore Championship to Spike Dudley, who lost it to not quite so awful rock band Drowning Pool performing live, who lost it to The Hurricane, who won it by swinging Tarzan-like out of nowhere into Spike and pinning him. And then Hurricane lost it to Molly Holly via frying pan attack, who lost it to Christian via Dutch door action, who lost it to Maven who drove away in a cab.
  • Kurt Angle fought Kane in a “Let’s Give Kane A WrestleMania Payday” match.
  • Ric Flair faced the Undertaker. And it was a good match. Like, really good.
  • Edge fought Booker T over who got to do a shampoo commercial.
  • Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Scott Hall had a match that would have been jaw-droppingly awesome if it had happened four years earlier. Instead it was chair-leavingly awful. This is one of the worst matches I have ever seen between two people I genuinely like.
  • Next the Hardyz and the Dudleyz fought one team of men who are known for “Always Pounding Ass” and Billy & Chuck, two gay guys. But not really (but really).
  • Rock versus Hogan was crazy as heck because Rock came in as a face but ended up getting booed and Hogan was supposed to be the heel but was getting cheered so much throughout the match that he ended up crying a little bit on camera. Despite nasty things I might have said about both of these guys, they are very good at what they do and responded to the crowd and gave them what they wanted. Rock acted the heel and Hogan played the face in peril, teasing a monumental comeback before getting pinned by The Great One. It was an emotional match and one that I didn’t particularly care to see going in. Two masters of entertaining – not necessarily sports – turned me around.
  • But I can’t just stop there! Because next up was Jazz versus Trish Stratus versus Lita for the WWF Women’s Championship in what should have been a very strong match but just wasn’t. I’m not sure what happened here.
  • And then your main event, which was all about Triple H and Stephanie and their dog. Chris Jericho lost.
WrestleMania XIX
The Rock versus “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
This is the one I’ve been waiting for, and it’s almost a shame it had to be at this WM because XIX might be my actual favorite one. WWF was now WWE and they also ditched the stupid suffixes. Not that either of those things had anything to do with my enjoyment of the show, they’re just worth mentioning.
WrestleMania XIX brought us “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s last official match in the WWE. We didn’t know it at the time, but the writing was on the wall. He and The Rock went out and gave it everything and had a classic, outstanding match. You need to see it. No words I have can do it justice. I bet you can buy this PPV on DVD for cheap, and you should.
WrestleMania XX
Chris Benoit versus Shawn Michaels versus Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship
Benoit’s victory in the Main Event of this pay-per-view may be stained now, but it doesn’t change the fact that this was an amazing match with an ending that I did not expect; and that it meant everything to those of us who followed workrate and value “go” more than “show”. The hug between Benoit and Guerrero that closes WMXX is now one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve ever seen.
WrestleMania 21
Edge versus Chris Jericho versus Shelton Benjamin versus Chris Benoit versus Christian versus Kane – Money in the Bank ladder match
Despite the quality of (most of) the entrants into the inaugural MITB match I had my doubts about it. It seemed maybe too gimmicky and like just another ladder match. Thankfully, I was proven wrong. MITB is a tremendous concept that lends itself to producing an exciting worker as a contender to the top titles. It is a great way to push somebody that may not have gotten a chance previously, and also the mechanism of having a shot at the title whenever the winner wants creates suspense and interest. Naturally, the gimmick has been so successful that WWE isn’t even doing it this year, instead giving MITB its own PPV, which I disagree with.
Anyway, the first Money in the Bank was nothing short of spectacular. While everybody did their part, Shelton Benjamin stole the match. The spot where he leapt from the ring ropes directly onto an upright ladder would be a highlight reel moment for the next year, until Shelton created an even better one.
WrestleMania 22
Edge (w/Lita) versus Mick Foley
Both Foley and Edge promised the best hardcore match of all time. Nobody thought this was going to happen. I certainly didn’t. They proved me wrong. Not only is it the best hardcore match I’ve seen, it was by far the highlight of WM22.
WrestleMania 23
Shawn Michaels versus John Cena for the WWE Championship
I can’t believe I’m putting a John Cena match on this list. Of course, this is also a Shawn Michaels match. Ric Flair always claimed that he could get a five-star match out of a broom, but the Heartbreak Kid is the only man that I think can legitimately make that claim. I don’t hate Cena as much as I used to, but I still don’t want to see the guy wrestle any more than is absolutely necessary. Five minutes in the ring and he’s given pretty much everything he has. But at WM23 Michaels got almost half an hour of great out of the guy. Granted, an alarming and strange five minutes of that time was spent hanging onto Cena’s dong for reasons that remain a mystery to me and everybody I know; but the rest was pure wrestling gold.
WrestleMania XXIV
Shawn Michaels versus “Nature Boy” Ric Flair
The most beautiful and heart-wrenching match I have ever seen. I was in a roomful of crying dudes after this one. If you don’t know, this was supposed to be Flair’s final match before retirement and he chose HBK to put him down. As things turned out, Flair only retired from relevancy, not wrestling.
Also of note, though not wrestle-y enough to win this one, was Big Show versus Floyd Mayweather. I hated the idea of it, but the match ended up being awesome (apparently thanks to some heavy booking by Mr. HHH).
WrestleMania XXV
Shawn Michaels versus Undertaker
A pattern is emerging. Why is one of the oldest guys on the roster consistently having the best match at the biggest pay-per-view of the year? And this time against another of the oldest guys on the roster. Regardless of age, names, whatever, Mr. WrestleMania earned his name in this one and ‘Taker earned his record once again.
WrestleMania XXVI
Shawn Michaels versus Undertaker
Yes. Seriously. Again. And even better than the last one, if you can believe it. Unfortunately, Shawn Michaels retired after losing to ‘Taker this time, so somebody else is going to have to step up and give us the big WrestleMania Moment that HBK has provided for the past four years.

Until next time, stay creepy
-Phantom

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