Finally, we have to the cream of the crop – the best Wrestlemanias of all time. Each of these shows are nearly perfect. From the looks of things, this weekend’s show could very well join this elite group. We shall soon see.
5. Wrestlemania XXII: I was pleasantly surprised by just how good this one was. One of the things that makes this one stand out is the absolutely batty Chicago crowd, and in particular their desire to boo the faces and cheer the heels.
The show stealing match of the night had to be the hardcore brawl between Edge and Mick Foley. What makes this one memorable is that it wasn’t just a spotfest, but a well paced fight that hit all the right spots. It ended with one of the most insane moments in Wrestlemania history: Edge spearing Foley through a flaming table. That was just fricking cool. The other street fight on this one took place between Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon. Opinions vary on this one, but to me it was a typically enjoyable brawl featuring the company’s CEO. (I don’t think it is a coincidence, by the way, that all three of the Wrestlemanias in which Vince fought are in the top five, yet another thing that gives me hope about Sunday.)
As I mentioned, the crowd reaction was interesting. The Chicago crowd just was not buying the force-fed storyline in which Rey Mysterio was supposedly honoring the memory of Eddie Guerrero. Despite the lameness of the angle, and the relative short duration of the match, the world championship triple threat fight was an excellent one carried by Kurt Angle, who made what was up until now his final WM appearance. The crowd also was not willing to take the side of the guy the E wanted them to in the main event, as Triple H was essentially the face and John Cena the heel. In a lot of way it was like the Hogan-Rock match from 18, and the crowd buzz made what was an okay match seem like a classic. As a non-Cena hater, I just loved watching Cena make Triple H tap out to end the show, and the sad, sad faces on all those disappointed smarks.
4. Wrestlemania XIV: Though this show doesn’t have as many memorable individual moments or matches as some of the others listed below it, Wrestlemania XIV stands out because of its historical significance and overall match quality. Simply put, there is not a stinker in the bunch. While none of the undercard matches are particularly awesome, they were all at least decent. The greatest match on the card – and this always helps – was the main event in which the crowning of Steve Austin as the clear star of the WWF finally took place, and the Stone Cold era began in earnest. At the time many thought this would be Shawn Michaels’ last match, and indeed he wouldn’t step into the ring for another 4.5 years. Knowing just how bad the condition of his back was at the time makes Michaels’ performance all the more remarkable.
This ppv also gave birth to one of the great catchphrases ever as the Rock asked, for the first time, if someone smelled what he was cooking.
As mentioned above, this was an historically significant event. The WWF had clearly surpassed WCW in entertainment quality, if not in the actual ratings. With Austin on top, that was soon to end. The next night X-Pac returned, and while perhaps not important in and of itself, it was another example that the tide was turning. Of course I happened to miss most of that RAW as I was busy celebrating my 21st birthday, but that’s another story. By the next week WWF had ended nearly 2 years of WCW domination. While the two companies would battle back and forth for much of 1998, WWF would emerge soon thereafter as the clearly dominant company.
The success of WM XIV also stood in stark contrast to dismal failure of Starrcade 1997. That was the night that WCW had been building to for 18 months. It was such a huge event that it made me buy a wrestling ppv for the first time in almost 6 years, and a WCW ppv for the first time ever. And what did WCW do? They screwed up and ran one of the worst major cards ever, completely ruining the hottest angle they had (two, if you include their complete mismanagement of Bret Hart).
All right, that was a long tangent, but it explains why WM XIV stands out historically.
3. Wrestlemania XIX: Confession time. I have never seen this show in its entirety from start to finish in one sitting. I have, however, seen all matches at one point or another thanks to the miracle of the internet, and in particular Daily Motion. This card was loaded from top to bottom, and there were about five matches on here that had heavy star quality, plus an undercard that was pretty good itself. There really isn’t a clunker on here – hell, I’m one of the few people that finds the Undertaker versus A-Train and Big Show match to be halfway decent. There are several great matches, including a show-stealing affair between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho. This also featured Vince McMahon’s street fight with Hulk Hogan, and the final match of Steve Austin’s career, as he and the Rock battled head-to-head for the third and final time, with the Rock finally winning one. Very few knew at the time that this was going to be Austin’s last match, so that makes this one even more special looking back on it.
Perhaps the most memorable moment was a flub. Brock Lesnar nearly killed himself (literally) attempting a shooting star press and landing on his head. That was a perfect metaphor for the event. For as spectacular as it was, it just fell a bit short. The ascension of Lesnar as the star of the future fell flat when he left a year later. And while this card was awesome, it lacked that special something to really put it over the edge. It also featured yet another crowd killing performance by Triple H. Poor Booker T: not only did he have to endure subtle racial taunts, but he had to lie in the ring for 30 seconds after a pedigree and still take the 1-2-3. That match probably is the number one cause of all IWC resentment towards HHH, and he deserved it for that. Still, a great show overall.
2. Wrestlemania III: I surprised myself with this ranking, but when you combine the historical significance with the big-time atmosphere, along with several great matches and moments, I have no problem ranking this show this high.
If Wrestlemania is supposed to be the Super Bowl of wrestling, this is one show deserving of that comparison. Cramming 93,000 people (disputed, but it’s probably accurate) into a stadium for a wrestling show is an accomplishment in and of itself, and the card lived up to the hype and the expectations. Everyone remembers this for Andre the Giant’s showdown with Hulk Hogan, but there was more to this event than that one match. There were a ton of great moments: Roddy Piper’s “retirement” match and haircut of Adrian Adonis, aided by the freshly face-turned Brutus (soon to be the Barber) Beefcake, is one of those moments that just lives forever. Of course there was Savage-Steamboat, which still ranks right up there with the greatest matches of all-time. There were several other fun tag matches, and the clunkers of the bunch were kept short.
But it all came down to Hogan-Andre. Sure the match itself was boring as hell, but it was Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. It doesn’t get bigger than that, and Hogan body slamming Andre and defeating the Goliath (who was probably only a few inches taller than Hogan, but forget that for the moment) still stands as the best moment, for my money, in wrestling history.
1. Wrestlemania X-Seven: This was an easy call. No wrestling pay-per view combines the big-time feel, historical significance, and overall quality of this show. There are several absolutely brilliant matchups, and some of the stuff that wasn’t necessarily good from a technical standpoint was still markout worthy – McMahon vs. McMahon as a prime example. The triple threat ladder match, Angle-Benoit, Triple H-Undertaker: all four-star (or better) affairs.
But what stands out for me to this very day was the main event. The Rock vs. Steve Austin was Andre vs. Hogan in terms of build and star power, only it was also an amazing match. From the moment it started you could feel the intensity of the two grapplers, and the slow build to Austin’s heel turn was subtle yet obvious. Austin’s mounting frustration as he just could not put away the Rock eventually drove him to do the imaginable: turn to Vince McMahon for help. And while some people feel it ruined the moment, I think that it was the perfect capper to the storyline. There may have been better matches, but none have been close to it in terms of sheer enjoyment. It was the embodiment of why I still watch this junk after all these years.