It’s that time of year again – the time when wrestling fans feel that something special in the air as we approach WrestleMania. Over the past 30 years, Mania has been home to some of the biggest and best matches and some of the most unforgettable moments in wrestling history. Every performer seeks to leave their mark on the grandest stage of them all. However, much like any other prestigious event, there are always debates over which shows stand the test of time and deserve to be considered the best of the best. With that in mind, we felt it might be appropriate this year, with 30 WrestleManias now in the books, to take a look back and determine which shows truly are the greatest in WrestleMania history.
So, we assembled an all-star panel of Place To Be Nation writers and personalities to weigh in. Each participant submitted a list of all 30 WrestleManias, ranked 1 through 30. The list of 10 voters includes Nick Duke, JT Rozzero, Greg Phillips, Todd Weber, Jordan Duncan, Glenn Butler, Jason Greenhouse, Aaron George, Tim Capel and Matt Davis. A points system was utilized, awarding each show 30 points for a first place vote, 29 points for a second place vote, and so on. Once the points were totaled, we came up with Place to Be Nation’s definitive WrestleMania rankings.
15. WrestleMania 22 (172 points)
Lowest ranked by Matt Davis at No. 23
Highest ranked by Aaron George at No. 5
Nick Duke: I’ve got to admit I’m a bit higher on this Mania than most, though I can see why it fell into the middle of our rankings. The good stuff here is only good, with only the fantastic Mick Foley vs Edge hardcore match elevating to great. That match is among my favorites in Mania history and unlike some, it actually holds up very well on repeat viewings. In some ways, it’s like WWE’s farewell to the big bloody brawl before the PG era made them obsolete. It’s also Edge’s first show-stealing solo performance on the grandest stage and Foley’s WrestleMania moment at long last. Just a fantastic piece of work.
The rest of the card either hits or misses, with only the JBL vs Benoit United States title match falling in the category of mediocre. Torrie Wilson against Candice Michelle, a casket match between Undertaker and Mark Henry, the handicap match of Booker T & Sharmell against the Boogeyman and the opening tag title match between Big Show & Kane and Carlito & Chris Masters are all pretty atrocious and kind of drag the show down.
And that sucks because there are some damn fine matches here. The second Money in the Bank is just as fun as the first, Mickie James and Trish Stratus have the best women’s match in Mania history and Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon have a decent Vince garbage match. The only other thing I’d really change would have been to swap the spots of the respective title matches. Given Eddie Guerrero’s death and Rey Mysterio’s Royal Rumble win, Mysterio’s title win over Kurt Angle and Randy Orton should have closed the show and gotten the 20-plus minutes of in-ring time. John Cena and Triple H had a good match in the main event, but Mysterio closing the show should have been the confetti-falling moment that we all saw as the show went off the air.
14. WrestleMania x8 (175 points)
Lowest ranked by Aaron George at No. 18
Highest ranked by Nick Duke at No. 3
Glenn Butler: This is a total one-match show, but that one match is so spectacularly good that it vaults WrestleMania X8 over several more consistent entries, insipid numbering scheme and all.
There are varying opinions on the undercard, but I’ve always found it uninspiring. RVD-Regal is good enough, and it’s nice to see RVD overcome the brass knuckles and capture the IC Title (the last time the title would actually be defended at WrestleMania until XXV, and the last time it’d be defended in a match that’s more than thirty seconds long until XXVIII). Much of the show fails to follow up on the promise of that match, though. DDP-Christian is middling. Maven-Goldust is a three-minute angle to kick off one last WrestleMania hurrah for the Hardcore Title as it nears the very end of its usefulness. Angle-Kane and Edge-Booker are tossed together and don’t gel the way they might have in the best of all possible worlds. JR bills Austin-Hall as “one of the most intense slobberknockers we may ever witness,” and it really, really isn’t, despite Scott Hall’s great sell of the final stunner. You might think Ric Flair vs. Undertaker is something of a dream match, but then it actually happened and the best part came courtesy of Arn Anderson. There are a whole lot of live band performances and they’re not very good. The tag title match has its share of highlights, but it’s fighting against the current after the previous year’s tag title match. And of course everyone knows how much of a mess and a failure the main event is.
It’s a massive boon, then, that this show has Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock, which has a solid case as the second-best match in WrestleMania history, and even if it falls there it’s surely in the top three or four. Intergenerational dream matches are often disappointing because one of the participants is too old or too young, or the historical eras just don’t match up; this match is glorious combination of Hulk Hogan’s amazing longevity running into The Rock in his prime, shortly before he started abandoning wrestling. The Toronto crowd knew it, too, and from the entrances through the entire match the crowd reaction matched the enormity of the moment: the crowd exploded at Hollywood Hogan’s entrance and stayed approximately 1000% in favor of the Hulkster until the match’s final moments. (This was as it should be. It’s Hulk at WrestleMania; you show some respect.) While the WWF might not have planned for the massive crowd reaction in favor of Hulk, the crowd members had put some thought into it: a particular favorite is the fact that someone brought one half of the huge crowd banner from WrestleMania VI. Regardless of the buildup to the match and any attempt Hogan made to play heel in the match, there was just no way, and both men adjusted to the crowd conditions and created a pure epic.
13. WrestleMania 23 (182 points)
Lowest ranked by Nick Duke at No. 23
Highest ranked by Glenn Butler at No. 6
Aaron George: This one should have been bad. When the card was announced all I could think was “Wow, they really don’t have a lot of stars.” And boy was I not looking forward to that Undertaker match….
The show started with possibly the worst Money in The Bank ladder match in WrestleMania history. Think about what that means for a second and you realize that while that may be disappointing it’s certainly still decent enough to be a solid opener. We can argue the putting over of the completely detestable Ken Kennedy, but really at this point it made complete sense as he was going to end up as Vince’s son. What a strange paragraph to type. What a strange storyline. What the hell were they hoping to accomplish?
Kane versus Khali happened.
MVP versus Chris Benoit over-delivered and gave us a competitive contest which saw MVP come out stronger than he was going in. The ECW originals stuff was fun and the women in the title match were hot enough, and their “wrestling” was kept to an appropriate minimum.
The battle of the billionaires went about as well as anyone could have hoped. Lashley was fine and Umaga was always a pretty underrated worker. Say what you will about Trump, but he looked like he was having the time of his life. There should be a special commendation given to everyone involved in the head shaving for not bursting out laughing at Vince’s pleas and protestations. While they would have better matches later, John Cena and Shawn Michaels had a very solid main event which saw Michaels legitimize Cena further and treat him as more of a threat and competitor than his partner in crime (time) ever did.
Holy shit, The Undertaker versus Batista was a fantastic match. Out of nowhere these two just decided to tear the house down. It was a sprint with two guys throwing bombs at each other and I feel that it helped set the template for the next few years of Undertaker’s streak. To me, it’s the match of the night but I can totally see why someone would like Cena/Michaels more. Without the Taker match, it’s a very respectable WrestleMania, but throw that match in the mix and you start to think about making it a sneaky upper tier card. When we sat down to do The Great Wrestlemania Re-Book this one was extremely hard to do because everyone was in the right place. A great testament to strong booking and talent management. What happened to that?
12. WrestleMania XXVIII (190 points)
Lowest ranked by Glenn Butler and Jason Greenhouse at No. 19
Highest ranked by Greg Phillips at No. 2
Tim Capel: Ah, now this is a bit more like it. After what I consider the worst WrestleMania of them all in 2011, we’re back with the event that the disastrous WM XXVII wishes it was. It truly does feel like an apology for its predecessor in a lot of ways, delivering the matches people wanted to see at the time or improving on the ones that did take place. Why, look no further than the opener for proof!
No longer relegated to dark match status, Daniel Bryan and Sheamus meet again here, this time with the World Heavyweight Championship on the line. Their second Wrestlemania encounter is a nonstop, hard-hitting 16 minutes that tears the house down and positions both guys–
Oh. Oh wait. This was the 18-second squash. Uhh, exception that proves the rule?
Granted, that start does make a bad first impression and the rest of the undercard isn’t much help in restoring the crowd’s goodwill. That’s of little consequence, though, since the preliminary matches are dispensed with REALLY fast. Indeed, the first true “anchor” match arrives at the top of the first hour, and is longer than the preceding four (five, counting the preshow) matches combined.
Look, I could’ve done without an Undertaker/Triple H rematch. Given my feelings towards their previous outing and overall distaste for the Triple H Epic Match Formula, I really had seen all I cared to from these two. Nonetheless, the Hell in a Cell manages to please me about as much as another meeting between Undertaker and Triple H possibly could. The cell is entirely unnecessary, but imparts a cool atmosphere that was otherwise lacking the year before. More importantly, there is more, y’know, stuff actually happening and Triple H behaving as if he actually wants to win the match. What a concept. Add the wildcard of Shawn Michaels’ officiating, history with both guys, and the attendant head games, and you have some genuine intrigue as to how this thing might go. It’s a lot a smoke and mirrors, but I can still appreciate that. Even though it’s a match I’m not particularly keen to revisit, this accomplishes exactly what it set out to do. You could do a lot worse if it is a personal favorite.
The huge interbrand tag is a perfectly acceptable follow-up to cleanse the palate. Wise placement, as Punk and Jericho are out next and handily steal the show. It is a beautiful exercise in rising action: they get off to a slow, downright tepid start, but it builds and builds without ever untightening its grip. I’ve noticed this as something of a motif in Chris Jericho matches, which makes me think he really doesn’t get enough credit for his abilities as a conductor. The match just never brakes once it gets going, and pays off all that tension in a hold-and-counterhold climax. It didn’t need the more heavy-handed storyline elements of Jericho trying to rattle the champion by yelling Punk’s family history at him, but even that’s played really effectively. It makes sense that Jericho would pull out every trick in the book to find a crack in Punk’s too-cool-for-you exterior, thereby exploiting the title-change stipulation. Punk no-sells the overwhelming majority of it, which I applaud, and Jericho quickly abandons the strategy. Point being, the in-ring psychology is what does the heavy lifting here. That is storytelling. I. LOVE. This. Match.
Punk and Jericho’s war for the WWE Championship taking a backseat to some other main event would get my druthers up on pretty much any other show. Here, I’m totally cool with it. Doing Rock/Cena in their place just for the sake of putting the title on last would’ve caused Punk and Jericho to die a slow death, and they deserved so much better. Besides, come on. Rock and Cena is the bigger match, title or no. Despite its “once in a lifetime” billing, this practically feels like a rematch on the heels of the ridiculous antics in Wrestlemania XXVII’s main event. You know what, though? I kinda dig this match. Watching largely outside the weekly bubble, I momentarily forgot that the event was taking place in Miami and was reasonably convinced Cena was going over. Rock winning squeaky clean was a real shocker for me (and also made the false finishes all the more effective).
On another level, it’s a result that gives you (hypothetically) what you want, yet somehow doesn’t seem quite right. At its boldest, WWE has always been a company with an eye towards the future. John Cena was the company’s present, and still at that point, future. Rock was decidedly in the rearview. In showdowns of this nature, it’s only fitting for the future to trump the past. But here, NOPE. John Cena’s snatching defeat from the jaws of victory firmly sends the message that the present just isn’t good enough. It’s an acknowledgment that plenty of long-suffering viewers had struggled in coming to grips with, and feels in some sense like vindication. Kind of a hollow victory, since what do you do with that as a fan? It’s a quick fix that doesn’t exactly leave you with any warm-and fuzzy-sentiments, but hey, maybe they’ll get there eventually. The theme still resonates today as the company stubbornly digs its heels in and fumbles in creating compelling new superstars. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see history repeat itself come March 29, 2015.
My ultimate takeaway is that XXVIII is the textbook example of the modern WrestleMania. In fulfilling its remit as the “Superbowl of sports entertainment,” WrestleMania today has something of an identity crisis. Too much of what the diehard fans want (that is, wrestling) and you risk losing the mainstream buys that WrestleMania always draws; too much reliance on celebrity guests and backstage kitsch, and you alienate the core audience. Thus, the event becomes an exercise in time management and balance. The typical outcome is an event with some combination of: a hot main event, the Streak on the line, a Divas whatever, a “special attraction,” and something that works as many guys as possible into a single match for the Wrestlemania payday. Oh, and an undercard. This is the problem – anything you try to do outside of that basic template is basically a race against the clock. It’s why, despite the four-hour runtime for what is notionally an eight-match event, something always draws the short straw. Theoretically, every match should get plenty of breathing room, but that’s not how it works. Not when Wrestlemania has to wear so many different hats in an effort to please all of the people, all of the time.
I won’t say one booking model is inherently better than another; it’s just food for thought. On the upside, the current approach almost always produces at least three very good-to-great matches that get tons of time; on the downside, virtually everything else is a sacrificial casualty. I think WrestleMania XXVIII executes that style better than most. The marquee matches are indeed pretty great, and the crap is kept to a minimum. Sure, there’s the matter of Bryan/Sheamus feeling like a slap in the face to anyone who wanted to see a competitive match. Again, it’s an issue of time management. While you can trim the fat from other matches and segments to give this some time, I would argue there just aren’t enough minutes available to make this the standout it really ought to be. Not when there are so many other boxes to check. It’s a cost of doing business as a current fan – if your eagerly anticipated Wrestlemania Match isn’t at least third-billed, you might wanna brace yourself for disappointment. (Don’t fret, though. The company will make it up to you next month! Or next year.)
Adjust your expectations, and you might still find a lot to like. That was very much my experience with this show. I went in without my heart set on anything in particular, and came out pleasantly surprised. I always hope, whatever my distance from the current product, the one constant I can count on is WrestleMania as a stand-alone event that reminds me of why I ever cared about professional wrestling in the first place. I was starting to doubt that immutable truth after the prior year’s debacle, and so satisfied to find it reaffirmed here.
11. WrestleMania XXIV (196 points)
Lowest ranked by Matt Davis at No. 17
Highest ranked by Jason Greenhouse at No. 3
Todd Weber: Opinions of course vary, but in my eyes, 2008’s WrestleMania XXIV is actually a pretty solid PPV.
The second-ever outdoor WrestleMania (and the first good one) took place at Orlando’s Citrus Bowl, which provided for a remarkable setting that felt even more massive than previous stadium shows. The card was highlighted by a perfect moment (we’ll get to that) and features some pretty great wrestling. The bad matches are kept to an appropriately short length (not unlike WM III) and that always helps too.
The best worked match was an almost perfect closing main event that featured a peak-form Undertaker and an ascendant Edge in a rocking battle for the big gold belt, aka the “World” Championship. Man, Undertaker was just so good at this point, and Edge was great as the douchebag champion. The dive to the floor by UT was such a fantastic spot. After this match, Edge has to go down as one of the most reliable performers in Wrestlemania history.
Sure, the Mayweather/Big Show match is a pretty fun one, and the Money in the Bank was dope too. I know the triple-threat between Orton/Cena/HHH for the WWE title has its detractors, but I enjoy it just because Trips gets punted in the skull. Sue me.
The thing from WrestleMania XXIV that sticks with me the most however, was Flair and Michaels’ performance in the “career threatening match”. Yes, that botched bridge sequence is kind of pathetic, but the symbolism of that sequence (dude just can’t go anymore, but stubbornly hangs on) is profound. What a story they pulled off, and Michaels worked WONDERS to get a watchable match out of Flair, while foreshadowing his own career-ending match two years later (STAY DOWN). It’s the honor of honors for HBK to be the one who put down Old Yeller. The finish remains the greatest and most emotional moment in Wrestling history for me.
“I’m sorry, I love you”, then the superkick, cover, and embrace of the collapsed fallen legend while both men are crying gets me every damned time.
Every. Damned. Time.
That does it for the fourth installment of P2B’s Definitive WrestleMania Rankings. Check back tomorrow for Nos. 10-6!