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, Justin 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.
For each event, we’ll list the number of points it received and which voter or voters ranked it the highest and the lowest.
30. WrestleMania XI (33 points)
Lowest ranked by Glenn Butler, Nick Duke and Greg Phillips at No. 30
Highest ranked by Aaron George at No. 23
Glenn Butler: It’s said that during a time when the WWF wasn’t attracting the celebrity attendance it once had, Vince McMahon spun it by saying that the wrestlers were the real stars. A viewer who tunes into WrestleMania XI, meanwhile, is treated to a montage of only the celebrities from each previous WrestleMania (with the exception of Jim Ross at IX, because they only had one celebrity clip and wanted to have more shots from the show), followed by a list of the stars of WrestleMania XI: Pamela Anderson, Jonathan Taylor-Thomas, Jenny McCarthy, Nicholas Tutturro, Salt-N-Pepa, and Lawrence Taylor’s All-Pro Team. Oh, and a few wrestlers were tagging along with the big boys.
Not that the WWF roster as it existed in 1995 was worth drawing much attention to. This show features such luminaries as The Blu Brothers, King Kong Bundy ten years after he was relevant, Jeff Jarrett, and World Champion Diesel. Vince McMahon is reaching his nadir as a play-by-play commentator. Bret Hart and Bob Backlund have an I Quit match that lasts for nine minutes and feels like forty. And I’m a proud child of the Nutmeg State, but the Hartford Civic Center ain’t exactly Pontiac, or even Rosemont, as far as wrestling venues go. The whole show is just saturated with the ennui that grew out of and consumed the New Generation era, forcing the eventual transition to a more successful formula.
29. WrestleMania IX (39 points)
Lowest ranked by Todd Weber at No. 30
Highest ranked by Glenn Butler and Jason Greenhouse at No. 25
Todd Weber: 1993’s WrestleMania IX (Toga-Mania? Vegas-Mania? WORSTLEMANIA?) is rightfully thought of as one of the worst, if not THE worst, example of the WWF’s premiere annual event to have ever occurred. When the best (least terrible) match of the event features TATANKA, there are going to be problems.
’Nine’ just plain sucks, and it’s for a myriad of reasons. Vinnie Mac was soon to be indicted on steroid charges, and the company was being run in a schizophrenic fashion. The fed had their best monster heel in years in Yokozuna, and he had been booked as an unstoppable force during the build-up while Bret Hart had been getting a half-hearted look as WWF champ (his title win wasn’t even televised). WM9 was the first WWF PPV to not feature Hulk Hogan in the advertised main event (discounting the title tourney at WMIV) due to Hogan having film commitments and steroid controversy. Also, there’s the matter of Giant Gonzalez and the no good, very bad, airbrushed bodysuit. We shan’t speak of it again. Nearly as depressing is Bret’s pat on the back to Hogan as the orange goblin approaches the ring to conquer the evil foreign champion and his salt-throwing sensei. It pisses me off every time, but without the disappointment of Hart’s loss at IX, would WM10 be as satisfying a pay-off?
WM9 remains a somewhat guilty pleasure for me, though, because I’m a masochistic wrestling fan. I enjoy nostalgic snapshots of terrible eras, and there are some fun moments hidden in there. If there’s anything that could almost redeem WM9, it’s the procession of Bobby Heenan on a camel—truly vintage ‘Weasel’. Still, this show is most definitely an example of the WWF at its least appealing, and deserves its awful reputation.
28. WrestleMania (41 points)
Lowest ranked by Glenn Butler, Nick Duke, Aaron George, Greg Phillips and Justin Rozzero at No. 29
Highest ranked by Todd Weber at No. 22
Nick Duke: It’s an uncomfortable fact that despite being undeniably instrumental in the success the WWF enjoyed in the 1980s and early 1990s, the original WrestleMania is a pretty terrible wrestling show. Nine matches on the card, and none can be called anything better than mediocre.
My own personal bias compels me to defend the main event of Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff, but even the powers of 1980s Hulk Hogan can’t pull the match to great, or even very good. The rest of the card, with the possible exception of The Iron Shiek & Nikolai Volkoff vs The U.S. Express is pretty dreadful, with nothing being as egregious as forcing nearly 12 minutes of David Sammartino on an innocent and unsuspecting public.
The Rock n’ Wrestling connection is on full display here, and perhaps that alone should be enough to pull the show out of the bottom of the barrel. But, stop to consider the presentation of the event. In between matches, we are repeatedly sent to the floor of the arena to have each match introduced by Lord Alfred Hayes. Now, Lord Alfred would certainly get more comfortable in front of and behind the camera in the years that followed, even if he always was a bit awkward. Here, however, he’s absolutely atrocious — stumbling and stuttering over his words, showing a general lack of charisma and staring into the camera as cold sweat runs down his forehead. When you combine bad wrestling with bad presentation, you’ve got a recipe for something of a trainwreck.
Still, it did lay the foundation for greater things to come. In that regard, it’s like your bum uncle who just happened to sire a couple of successful cousins. But, make no mistake, he’s still a bum.
27. WrestleMania 2 (49 points)
Lowest ranked by Matt Davis, Jordan Duncan, Aaron George and Justin Rozzero at No. 30
Highest ranked by Glenn Butler at No. 8
Glenn Butler: What has the world come to? WrestleMania 2 attempts to provide some answers, but they have been largely ignored over the last twenty-nine years due to some unfortunate prevailing opinions about this show.
Ray Charles begins the proceedings at the Nassau Mausoleum before history is made at the Rosemont Horizon, and the show wraps up on the bleeding edge of the United States, moving all the way to the LA Memorial Sports Arena. The early WrestleManias are defined by today’s WWE in terms of their ambition — the first WrestleMania is presented as a humongous risk in terms of moving to a closed-circuit/pay-per-view format, and the ambition of WrestleMania III lies in its placement at such a gargantuan venue — but this canonical history tends to elide WrestleMania 2 simply because the ambition in running three arenas across the country was never repeated. It would be fascinating to see something similar attempted with WWE’s modern production values, actually, though the time for it may have just recently come to an end: they could easily have constructed three regional main events using the WWE Title match, the World Title Match, and the Undertaker’s streak, since most of the modern shows have been sold as triple (or quadruple) main events along those lines anyway.
Regardless, this is a terribly underrated show; it has a reputation for having a series of rotten matches, but its highlights more than make up for some of the less impressive matches. (A historical perspective mediates the less impressive matches anyway: as an outgrowth of the triplicate house show tours the WWF was running in the late eighties and the “glorified house show” feel of the first WrestleMania, there are still some aspects of the show that would become outdated. It would be years before WrestleManias would be completely or even mostly made up of “WrestleMania feuds,” though.) The tag title match between the British Bulldogs and the Dream Team showcases every participant, using Brutus Beefcake most effectively by having him tag in for extremely short bursts of action before letting Greg Valentine back in to carry their end of the match. Roddy Piper’s pre-match promo is one of the very best of his heel run, promising that if Mr. T can knock him out in their boxing match Piper will not only quit professional boxing, he’ll quit professional wrestling, he’ll quit tiddlywinks, and he’ll quit dating girls…but he’ll always stick with Cowboy Bob. (Also, the man has plaid boxing shorts. You’ve got to appreciate that.) Randy Savage vs. George Steele is, unfortunately, not as good as many of their house show matches, but nevertheless offers the requisite pleasures of any of their matches: the explosion of turnbuckle stuffing, the implication that the wild, extremely hirsute ape-man is the babyface when he offers Elizabeth a life free of the Macho Man, and the requisite double-axehandles from the top rope to the floor. Bill Fralic and the Fridge are highlights among the football players in the battle royal, Jim Neidhart’s ninety-degree turn after Andre’s headbutt is a glorious moment in the history of Wrestling Physics, and it’s nice to get the tail end of the “Andre the Giant wins every battle royal” era onto a WrestleMania. JYD & Tito Santana vs. Terry & Hoss Funk already has a pretty good reputation, and the main event is a suitably cathartic victory by the Hulkster over the forces of a quintessential Big Fat Guy wrestler and the ever-devious Bobby Heenan (whose abuse at the hands of Hulk after the match only makes him more adamant that he’s going to do whatever he has to to get a challenger who can best the champ next year). Hulk Hogan reigns victorious over not only the evil of other men, but indeed over the frailness of his mortal human body — his ribs betray him in the leadup to the match and are taped heavily, but the immortal spirit of Hulkamania cannot be denied.
26. WrestleMania XXVII (53 points)
Lowest ranked by Tim Capel at No. 30
Highest ranked by Greg Phillips at No. 19
Tim Capel: My, but this show is a dog.
Alright, placing it dead last is a more than a little indefensible on my part. But hey, where’s the fun in making these lists if not for the overblown, hyperbolic statements! Obviously, there are events with worse matches that are more of a slog to plow through. That is not in dispute. WrestleMania is about more than workrate; more than wrestling. It is the pinnacle of what sports entertainment, in all its forms, represents. If you’ll indulge me a bit of hooey for a moment: to me, WrestleMania is a distillation of professional wrestling as performance art for the masses. The drama, the violence, the humor, the absurdity, the glamor, and the grandeur — or as Vincent Kennedy McMahon himself is so fond of bleating on about, the storytelling. He isn’t wrong; at its finest, WrestleMania magically captures that lightning in a bottle.
So on that level, I goddamn hate everything this miserable, wretched show stands for.
Let’s not delude ourselves into thinking this installment in the mythos is anything more than a trailer for its successor. If nothing else, every WrestleMania should–and does–function on its own as a marker of time and an instructive time capsule. Except this one. That is simply unacceptable. It sucked as a 2011 pay-per-view, and was made all the worse by the well-received subsequent show for which it served as a bloated advertisement. In my assessment, there is no greater chasm of quality between consecutive WrestleManias than XXVII and XXVIII (but more on that down the line).
After a flat, ill-conceived opening… promo… (gah) Del Rio and Edge work a nifty match with a baffling finish, where Del Rio really, really should’ve gone over. I suppose they wanted to keep the crowd hot with a face win in the first match, but can this even be counted as the opener? Rhodes and Mysterio then have a decent, if unmemorable, contest. From there… we fall off a cliff, and it’s a long way to the bottom.
Eight-man tag team dud. Lots of backstage skits with some of the more painfully-forced humor. Then it’s Randy Orton at his face character-blandest against CM Punk in the midst of a rare character rut. Punk had lost a little shine after the sad dissolution of the Straight Edge Society a few months prior, only to suddenly and rather inexplicably seize control of the floundering Nexus – a mash-up that set out to put some heat back on both following some staggering blunders (or, “I’ll take Squandered Potential for $1000, Alex.”) It makes for a boring, inconsequential affair.
We move right along to what should’ve been a slam dunk in the red-hot Cole vs. Lawler. Instead, it is the worst thing I’ve ever seen. This? This is the comeuppance for all those months of enduring Michael Cole’s fucking insufferable heel commentary? In physics, the law of conservation of energy maintains that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. After this “match,” the scientific community was sent reeling, forced to reexamine that fundamental principal. For you see, this 30-minute segment diabolically drained every iota of enthusiasm from the live crowd and entire pay-per-view audience, and then annihilated it without a care. For what nefarious purpose, I do not know. More than being actively bad, Cole/Lawler was a crime against nature. There is no joy to be ironically derived from its failure, as the entire runtime would have been better served by a static shot of an empty ring. This is where entertainment goes to die. Just thinking about it again is extremely re-traumatizing.
It only makes sense, then, to combat such woozy delirium with naptime, brought to you by the Undertaker and Triple H! The nicest thing I can say about their plodding snoozefest is that I know there are people who like it. It’s a divisive, love-it-or-hate-it match, and I fall firmly in the latter camp. The appeal of late-period Undertaker is getting swept up in the gripping suspense of near-fall after near-fall, such that you are able to dispel your disbelief that the Streak could be broken. Let’s just say at no point did I get that feeling here. It’s a mess of weapons, finishers, kick-outs, and Triple H apparently forgetting how to win a professional wrestling match. There’s little in the way of narrative glue here, so the epic moments they are reaching come across as completely unearned. It adds up to an enormous chunk of this show (50 minutes all told, after video packages, entrances, actual ring time, and exits) being given over to a match I really can’t stand.
The hits keep coming, as we are sent out with quite possibly the worst WrestleMania main event, on paper and in practice. I do get what they were going for with this booking of the Miz: here’s a guy who has no business main-eventing WrestleMania, let alone holding the WWE Championship. And he not only retains, but actually defeats the company’s standard bearer in John Cena. I admire the chutzpah that takes, not to mention the audacity of rubbing it in the face of every “serious wrestling fan” butthurt over the Miz’s very presence here. It’s a fine idea (and one the production team does an exceptional job of putting over in the dueling entrance packages).
Unfortunately, the reality is still the Miz as WWE Champion and WrestleMania main-eventer, in a match that would’ve perhaps been adequate to headline one of the old lower-tier In Your House PPVs, but outrageously inferior for the “grandest stage.” Adding salt to the wound, whatever edginess the story might’ve had was completely undermined by the addition of the Rock, who reminded us at every pass just what a joke we were witnessing. It’s an astonishing misuse of a guy whose return genuinely should have been a huge deal. I can’t believe I’m only now touching on the Rock’s involvement here, but the fact is, there simply isn’t much to say. His “hosting” and dusting up the main event just makes us wish we could see him doing something better, and punctuates the pitiful state of the current product. Rather than lifting the main event to his level, the Rock being out there serves as a stark contrast illuminating how hilariously outclassed the WWE Universe had become. It’s a real twisting of the knife.
Oh, also. Get crazy? Get wild? Let’s party? Get loud? If you wanna have fun and do somethin’ CRAaAaAzZzy–then you’re in luck, because Snooki was in a mixed tag match. It was one of the least-offensive portions of this event.
As I said, there are a few other WrestleManias we can point to as being more ponderously dull and with lousier matches. All of those have at least something else to say in their favor, even if it’s just that intangible wonder of “feels like a WrestleMania.” Plus, the historical lens kind of forces me to use a different grading scale in evaluating older shows. I can lend no such benefit of hindsight to WrestleMania XXVII. It is the lowest of the low, primarily because there’s zero excuse for a WrestleMania being so abysmal in the 21st century.
Whatever biases one holds against the contemporary creative forces shaping the direction of the WWE, one thing we should be able to rely upon is the strength of the matches themselves. And when it comes to the “showcase of the immortals,” many past WrestleManias lacking in atmosphere still contain some top-notch performances to recommend. That is not the case here. Not only does this not feel like a WrestleMania, it barely has matches worthy of a disposable b-show PPV. It is somehow every possible thing you can do wrong in mixing quality ingredients. You’re waiting for some kind of reprieve from the constant deluge of shit, in the form of a blow-away match, and it just never arrives. This WrestleMania is a relentless onslaught that gives you nowhere to turn, with nothing to redeem it.
I used to believe that a WrestleMania’s greater sin was to be more forgettable than outright bad. Upon revisiting, this show scuttled that theory by being so aggressively awful. Rather than a celebration, WrestleMania XXVII was the embodiment of everything I despised about the product at the time. Shocking rubbish that deserves nothing better than to drown in a bucket of diarrhea.
That does it for the first installment of P2B’s Definitive WrestleMania Rankings. Check back tomorrow for Nos. 25-21!