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.
5. WrestleMania XX (241 points)
Lowest ranked by Matt Davis at No. 15
Highest ranked by Tim Capel at No. 3
Todd Weber: Like many fans of the WWE, I have a complicated relationship with WrestleMania XX. Had this vote for ranking the WrestleManias occured around May 2004, I would’ve said XX ranked just underneath WrestleManias III and X-Seven (still groaning about that stupid title), but the perspective granted by the passage of time as well as certain tragic events have knocked the event down a few notches in my rankings.
However, it’s the intangibles (as opposed to the say, workrate) that keep Wrestlemania XX special for me and close to the very top of the rankings.
Take the opener. At the time, we all popped for John Cena giving the AA to the Big Show, but the match has become much more significant given Cena’s dominance (like it or not) in the 11 years since. The match itself was pretty good, and Cena got a bonafide WrestleMania moment in his very first outing.
Similarly, as Dwayne Johnson has become one of the world’s most successful movie stars, and considering that Batista is the second-most noteworthy wrestler-turned actor, the legend of the Rock & Sock vs Evolution match has only grown over time. Since the match, Randy Orton has gone on to be a omnipresent player in the WWE Championship scene, and, oh yeah, there’s inscrutable legends in Ric Flair and Mick Foley to boot.
Who didn’t mark out for the return of the Dead Man….and with Paul Bearer! I had chills, personally. The match was, well, a squash, but historically speaking, Undertaker’s return to his classic look (which set the stage for a terrific run of classic WrestleMania matches) was an undeniable all-time WrestleMania moment.
Consider the raucous MSG crowd, too. They absolutely brutalized the pathetic Lesnar/Goldberg match and confused the heck out of both the workers and management. The match is only watchable as a document of what can happen when the ticket-holders turn against the match. It’s completely surreal. Nobody involved in the WWE wants to see this happen again, as evidenced in how Vince and co. made booking changes to WrestleMania XXX to avoid the fans’ crapping on the match.
Contrastingly, Jericho and Christian put on a fantastic match that I still watch all the time. They’re so evenly matched, and Christian is just such a natural slimeball. The two tell a terrific story, but the debut of Evil Trish pushes it into all-time favorite status for me.
At the time (for me anyway), The WWE Title match between Angle and Eddie seemed anticlimactic. Yes, that finish was absolutely awesome (and has since been recognized as the iconic epitome of Guerrero’s character) but upon first watching, the match seemed too short and didn’t have enough of a build for me to really be invested. After re-watching years later (and after viewing an excellent feature about the match on the WWE Network), now knowing what to look for and really appreciating Eddie’s selling, the match has grown quite a bit in my estimation. The only thing that currently bugs me is how in the build for the match, Angle calls Eddie an unworthy champion due to Guerrero’s addiction issues (never was there a better example of the pot calling the kettle black).
In 2004, I was as blown away as anyone at the outstanding triple threat match for the World Title (what a tremendous chase for the title in addition to a stellar match), but I’ll never watch it again. I can’t be alone, either. It’s just impossible for me to reconcile my formerly favorite wrestler with the man who murdered his family. Knowing what we know today about concussions, and their likely contribution to Benoit’s (there, I said his name) mental state over just the next three years, it becomes even sadder to me. Every jump through the ropes headfirst into the railing, every diving head butt, even every German suplex would be too much for me to watch knowing what eventually happened. So, I don’t watch his matches anymore, and not even this very historic title match. If you can, and you want to, more power to you, I suppose.
The match happened. I loved it at the time. I’ll never watch it again.
WrestleMania XX is still pretty great, though.
4. WrestleMania XXX (244 points)
Lowest ranked by Tim Capel at No. 17
Highest ranked by Aaron George at No. 3
Aaron George: I hope you like Daniel Bryan. Wait? What? Everybody does? No wonder people like this show.
This is a special show in that it probably is the last time to date that the WWE listened to its fan base (universe). Everyone needed Daniel Bryan to beat HHH in the opener and go on to win the title in the main event. Sure, him beating Hunter was a bit of a foregone conclusion, but they had been shitting on Bryan so heavily that you still had that modicum of doubt that the King of Kings was going to be a dick and put himself over. (He never does that, right?) What they produced together was one of the greatest openers in Mania history filled with great action, near-falls and a wonderful performance on the outside from Stephanie McMahon. It probably doesn’t reach the heights of Bret/Owen but it certainly gives you a much greater emotional payoff when Bryan knees that asshole in the face and pins him to advance.
John Cena should have definitely put over Bray Wyatt, but the image of Wyatt kneeling in the ring with the crowd singing “He’s got the whole world in his hands,” was an all-time moment that they failed to capitalize on. The Diva’s match was fine and the battle royale was probably the best battle royale I’ve ever seen. The last few minutes had no business being as good as they were and Cesaro looked like he was beginning his ascent to the top of the industry. Too bad he didn’t connect with the fans…we may have been “stuck” with Cesaro against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania “Play Button.” Speaking of Lesnar…
I love the way they ended the streak. We whine about the WWE never taking risks, and boy did they take a risk here. That moment where Lesnar wins is probably the most legitimately surprising moment in company history. Think about that for a minute… They NEVER surprise anyone and the arena was in absolute shock. The execution post-match was perfect. The reactions of Heyman and Lesnar coupled with the delay in playing the beast’s music all added to one of the more perfect atmospheres they’ve ever created. Look at the fans. They can’t believe what they’ve seen. I get why someone may not like the decision, but it’s impossible to fault the way they did it. I would easily make the same decision again. That moment is worth ending the streak for.
The triple threat later in the night delivers as well. The pop when Bluetista taps to the yes lock is one of the biggest in company history. Let’s face it: it’s rare that the WWE gives us these feel good moments any more. We love Daniel Bryan, and for this one night, the company did too. They did as much for him as they’ve ever done for any baby face in company history. It was awesome and caused the smarkiest of use to mark out like children. That investment matters. If fake pro wrestling can make us jump and cheer and remember why we became fans in the first place, that has value. Daniel Bryan standing in the Silverdome, achieving his dream and making 80,000 people scream yes is a beautiful sight.
3. WrestleMania III (247 points)
Lowest ranked by Jordan Duncan at No. 13
Highest ranked by Glenn Butler and Nick Duke at No. 1
Nick Duke: I must admit that I tend to evaluate a WrestleMania a bit differently than I do any other wrestling show. It’s not just enough to have good matches or even great ones — I also want to see a little spectacle, moments that will stand the test of time. I want to feel like what I am watching is as important as it gets in the annals of WWF/E. Well, using those criteria, it’s impossible for me to put any other Mania above the greatest of them all — WrestleMania III.
The card itself is a pretty damn good one — a few solid tag matches and the midget/fat guys six-man tag anchor the undercard while setting the stage for the main event bouts. Roddy Piper and Adrian Adonis also have a decent brawl in a short, but sweet hair vs. hair match and we get celebrity appearances such as Alice Cooper, Mary Hart and Bob Uecker sprinkled throughout.
Then, of course, there’s the undisputed classic that is Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat. The match often finds its way into the discussion of the best WrestleMania matches of all time, and it’s well-deserved. The two were the first to have a true classic on the grandest stage of them all, and the match continues to hold up to this day. It’s been said this is the match that stole the show in front of 93,000 plus.
However, there was only one match in all of wrestling that could pack the Silverdome the way it was that fateful day in 1987. The collision between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant helped the WWF to set an indoor attendance record that would stand for nearly 23 years. Some are lukewarm on the match itself, but I’ve always found it to be a bit underrated. Hogan sells like a pro, and when it’s finally time for Andre to carry his end of the selling load, he more than pulls it off. Of course, no discussion of this match or this event is complete without a mention of The Slam. I wasn’t alive when The Slam occurred, but it’s a moment that defined my childhood as much as any other. It was the first true WrestleMania moment, and it’s still the greatest moment in the history of the WWF. Watching it today still gives me chills — something very few things in wrestling can accomplish live, let alone after the fact.
Some may prefer the top-to-bottom quality of WrestleMania XIX and others may opt for the ceremonial end of the Attitude Era that is WrestleMania X-Seven, but for me WrestleMania III will always reign supreme.
2. WrestleMania XIX (263 points)
Lowest ranked by Glenn Butler at No. 18
Highest ranked by Tim Capel and Aaron George at No. 1
Tim Capel: Aww, 2 on the list? Come on, PTB! I thought 2015 would be the year when we, at long last, collectively turned our gaze to the WrestleMania XIX sign. A certain OTHER show has collected heaps of praise, and deservedly so, unanimously acknowledged as the greatest granddaddy of ’em all. However, WrestleMania XIX has been quietly working its way up the ladder, a beneficiary of the passage of time. Certainly, 2003 wasn’t the greatest year to be a wrestling fan. That was then, and it’s difficult if not impossible to put myself back in that mindset today. In looking back on that year’s WrestleMania, I find only fond memories and the outstanding performances rising to the top. More than ten years removed from the event itself, I feel strongly that this show has more than earned its inclusion as a legitimate contender in any discussion on the best WrestleMania ever. No longer is that choice a foregone conclusion.
During the Brad and Chad Rewind Special: Ranking the WrestleManias last year (and what better promotion than talking up a podcast almost exactly one year after release, but it really was a great show that you should give a listen if you have not), the guys played “devil’s advocate” in making the case for why XIX could conceivably go all the way. Brad and Chad (and Justin) sang its praises and acknowledged XIX as suitable competition, but couldn’t bring themselves to pull the trigger. Ultimately, it landed in the same spot on their countdown.
I think they actually did their job a little too well.
Watching the event again a few months back, it occurred to me that there really might not be any WrestleMania I like more at this point in my life. If we’re basing the criteria on “pick a WrestleMania to watch on a whim,” WrestleMania XIX wins out every time. It easily makes the wrestling desert island list too. There is no shortage of other ‘Manias near and dear to my heart, but I almost feel like I’ve exhausted my adoration for them. I love WM VIII, yet I’m almost never in the mood to revisit it. X is fantastic, but what more is there to be said or seen there? XX was wonderful and life-affirming, then it became… problematic at best, profoundly sad at worst. And not to take the wind out of anyone’s sails, but X-Seven? Tremendous, riveting, and timeless. But let’s just say there’s a part of me that’s over it. Quite honestly, XIX succeeds on all the same points, but still has an effervescence that leads me to give it the edge.
And let’s quickly examine the event itself, on the surface. There are no actively bad matches to be found here. In fact, there are no matches I would rate as less than “very good.” Yes, that includes Undertaker vs. A-Train and Big Show. It moves at a steady clip and is a model study in maximizing the strengths while minimizing the weaknesses of its respective participants. While the opener and Smackdown tag matches get a little shortchanged (and I would argue that Rey/Hardy didn’t, really), they go balls-to-the-wall in the time they have, with no wasted effort. If their worst crime is leaving you wanting more, that’s pretty damn commendable. The triple threat for the women’s title is something of a hidden gem. It’s good; not just “WWE women’s wrestling good,” genuinely good by any standard. That’s a testament not only to the superb workrate of Trish, Victoria, and Jazz, but their fully-realized characters and compelling motivations that you become invested in as a viewer. (What a concept, and wouldn’t it be something if the WWE of today could take a page out of that playbook? But I digress.)
This is speaking just of the undercard. When we get to the marquee matches, this event easily lives up to its triple main event billing. McMahon/Hogan is gloriously insane, iconic, and cements Vince’s status is the best garbage wrestler of all time (yep). Plus, what does it say for a show so loaded that it features a Rock/Austin match that isn’t the main event? The capstone to Rock and Austin’s WrestleMania trinity is as great as any previous showcase, if for different reasons. Sometimes, it’s even my favorite (and that might be a microcosm to the larger debate, in fact: where you stand on this Rock/Austin bout may very well influence how highly you rank the show overall). Finally, Lesnar and Angle is exactly what you want in a WrestleMania main event: a hotly anticipated, hard-hitting display between two natural rivals in their first one-on-one meeting. I love when WrestleMania provides a truly original match that also functions as the pay-off to a slow-burn rivalry. Sure, Brock whiffs on his big spot. That still makes for a WrestleMania moment, albeit a potentially horrifying one. It was breathtaking, even more so than if he’d landed the move. He dodged a bullet, so I’m fine looking back on that botch with a sense of wonder than dread.
If there was anything holding XIX back for me as a personal favorite, it would be that elephant in the room of Booker T/Triple H. In terms of my particular biases, I honestly wasn’t all too bothered by Triple H’s path of destruction up to that point. He’d cut the legs off of RVD, and Kane, and (if nothing else) aimed the gun that Scott Steiner shot himself in the foot with. Eh, whatever. It somewhat irked me in principle, but I didn’t much care for those three anyhow. But Booker T? Oh, HELL no. Booker was my guy. You do not subject the five-time (etc.) WCW Champion to such ignoble treatment. It was the last straw. Fuck the match, fuck Triple H, and fuck this show.
I may have been a bit hasty in my original appraisal.
The fact is, in terms of the timing, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense for Booker to go over here. The match itself is fine; I’d go as far to say it’s even pretty good. There’s some very effective psychology throughout, with Triple H methodically working over Booker’s knee. This even plays logically into the finish, which I never picked up on until my last re-watch (seething hatred for the angle must have blinded me to it). On that note, too much is made of Booker’s prolonged sell of the Pedigree. After Triple hit the move, detractors (myself included for awhile) would have you believe that you had time to: wait in line at the concession stand, spend $20 for a hot dog, drop it on the floor, move your car, have a conversation with Ben Morse, get shit-faced in the lobby, take a 45-minute dump, return to your seat, and wait another 12 seconds for Triple H to roll over and make the pin. Not so. It was a little drawn out and frustratingly teased a false finish we’re conditioned to expect, that’s all. We hated it because this outcome was paired with a wrong, unconscionable, distasteful story. Said story demanded nothing short of a redemptive ending, and the lack thereof made it all the more offensive. Some real dumb-dumb booking, to be sure. In a vacuum though, this is a decent match. That’s what stands out now a decade later, and it’s hardly enough to be a drag on the show at this point.
Goodness, and all this is to say nothing of Jericho/Michaels, OR the venue itself! That’s fitting, though, because they pair nicely. I’m a sucker for open-air WrestleManias, and Seattle’s Safeco Field is maybe my favorite of them all. Between the fireworks and flamboyance of Shawn’s explosive entrance, you really got the sense that HBK was BACK, even before his part-time appearances had gradually and unofficially shifted to regular status. Not the occasional special attraction, but the perennial showman and superstar, in full form and better than ever. The setting sun at the back of their contest reaching a crescendo is downright poetic. It’s a transition that parallels the show going from “engaging” to “transcendent.” Appropriately, the match they deliver is an all-timer. By its conclusion, the twilight had given way to a clear nighttime sky, signaling that there was no looking back.
Every WrestleMania must also be judged in terms of the mythology; that is, its thematic significance in the lineage of sports entertainment as well as overall cultural impact. A thoroughly arbitrary quality to which WrestleMania III undoubtedly functions as the best yardstick. WrestleMania XIX can’t measure up in that regard, but the buzz surrounding Vince/Hogan does make it more than a blip on the pop culture radar. In terms of its historical context, I see XIX as a blending of sensibilities. I know that a lot of folks consider it the swansong to the Attitude Era, but I’ve personally always thought that ship sailed two years prior. This is different; not quite part of a cohesive, new vision, it takes a “best of all worlds” approach in celebrating the past, with an eye to the future.
The Attitude Era is on total display and given a beautiful send-off in Rock/Austin, sure. But HBK/Jericho? To me, that looks a lot like the promise and potential of the New Generation from years gone by, all rolled up into a single match. Vince/Hogan is an unapologetic Federation Era brawl, complete with an old school rivalry coming full circle in Piper’s surprise return. Vince’s involvement lends it some modern flourishes of course, but I can’t be the only person who got a Hogan/Slaughter vibe from that affair. Finally, the hard-hitting “strong style” dominating the contemporary main event scene and influenced by guys with legit amateur or international backgrounds was best embodied by Angle and Lesnar in the main event. It wasn’t necessarily the greatest match on the card (though certainly no slouch), but it was representative of the then-current product and direction the company was going, for better or worse. As a vote of confidence, putting Angle/Lesnar on last just felt right. This composite approach shows a light, gentle reverence that pays tribute to what had come before, tying a bow on the company’s many identities without getting lost in nostalgia. As intangibles go, it’s an achievement that I don’t think can ever be replicated (nor was deliberate by design).
That alone is enough for me to hold XIX up as the quintessential wrestling fan’s WrestleMania. But I find it to be an ideal pick as well in terms of its appeal to more casual viewers. Beyond the performances, pomp, and pageantry, this show is flat-out entertaining from top to bottom. There are simply no lulls or dead spots, and that’s a rare feat for any event. I know you’re looking at the Miller Lite divas pillow fight foolishness, but 1.) every show needs a cool-down/piss break segment, and 2.) while you can argue that the time would have been better served by something more ‘rasslin-centric, this kind of fluffy bullshit is a WrestleMania tradition. Of course it’s insipid, of course it feels almost immediately dated, but such things only become more endearing over time. Embrace it. Given the four-hour runtime of the modern WrestleMania, these events can live or die on their pacing. The ebb-and-flow is just pitch perfect here.
Pound for pound, it doesn’t get any better than WrestleMania XIX. The weakest links here are still incredibly strong, and the strongest may as well be made of adamantium. It does the impossible in being greater than the sum of its parts, even as those individual parts handily beat out the competition. I could run these metaphors into the ground all day, but seriously, watch this show again. Certainly, there is a safer pick for best WrestleMania. However, the time has come to pass the torch. Another might be your sentimental favorite, and that’s entirely understandable. But WrestleMania XIX is just plain better.
1. WrestleMania X-Seven (284 points)
Lowest ranked by Glenn Butler at No. 12
Highest ranked by Matt Davis, Jordan Duncan, Jason Greenhouse, Greg Phillips, JT Rozzero and Todd Weber at No. 1
Greg Phillips: It’s no real surprise that this show, the pinnacle and culmination of the Attitude Era, ended up atop our list. Heck, it might very well end up atop P2B’s Definitive Wrestling PPV Rankings. It’s just that great, from top to bottom. Rather than harp on about how great the matches, commentary, crowd or production are – and believe me, I could do so for hours – I’m going to discuss why this show is the ultimate fulfillment of Vince McMahon’s vision of “sports entertainment.”
Vince (and, by association, WWE) has always presented his product as more than just professional wrestling. (“That’s what my father did.”) In the eyes of the McMahons (or at least the head McMahon), WWE at its core is a variety show. There must be, in this idealized vision of the company, something for everyone. Well, WrestleMania X-Seven fulfills that need more than any show before or after. For the diehard wrestling purists, there is a technical clinic between Olympic Gold Medalist Kurt Angle and perennial Internet darling Chris Benoit midway through the show. It’s unlike anything else going on in the company at the time, much less on the show itself. It’s pure, classic in-ring competition between two of the best in the world at that style.
For fans of hard-hitting, fast-paced Japanese-style matches, there is an excellent Intercontinental Championship opener between Chris Jericho and William Regal. A recent rewatch revealed this match to be underrated and something of a lost classic. Well, “classic” might be strong given the limited ring time, but it’s one of the better Mania openers of the decade and a great indicator of the level of talent this roster had.
If you’re more into comedy, well, WM17 has you covered there, too. First, there’s a hysterical, goofy hardcore brawl between Kane, Raven and the Big Show that features exploding walls, shattered glass and an incredibly entertaining golf cart chase that nearly costs Raven a leg. If that doesn’t do it for you, there is the wonderful Gimmick Battle Royal, in which Bobby Heenan and Gene Okerlund take you back to your childhood for some nostalgic fun. (Gene: “About four years ago, (Repo Man) got my mother-in-law.” Bobby: “About five years ago, everybody got your mother-in-law!”)
Women’s wrestling got thrown a bone in the form of a good blowoff to a nice storyline, as Chyna squashes Ivory and pretty much puts down the Right to Censor.
For fans of blood, guts and hardcore wrestling, there’s the epic TLC 2 match between the Hardyz, Dudleyz, and Edge and Christian. This match manages to top their previous spotfests by giving us probably the craziest bumps and most memorable tag team bout in Mania history. Just stellar work from all six guys, and some innovative usage of the gimmick that would never be topped.
The Attitude Era Main Event Formula, if that’s your thing, provides the crux of a very good Triple H-Undertaker encounter. They brawl around the ringside, trade weapon shots, milk reactions and bleed around the ring. Ditto for Vince and Shane in a father-son battle for the ages that mixes chairshots and garbage cans with all the soap opera twists and turns that defined that special time in the company.
And then, of course, there is the main event. Much has been written about the Austin-Rock title match and the subsequent Stone Cold heel turn, but I, for one, wouldn’t change a single thing about this night. The storytelling is flawless, from the video package to the backstage shot of Austin looking in the mirror to Austin throwing the first punch to Vince’s interference and even, yes, to the handshake at the end. This is how great WWE can be. This is the rare example of every single detail working out to perfection. Every time I watch this match, it lifts higher in my pantheon of the greatest I’ve seen. Both men trust one another completely, selling without regard for ego or reputation and making sure every move fits the story they’re telling. Austin digs into his five-star matches with Bret Hart from four years earlier, displaying the desperation of a broken man. Rock never dies, never quits, never surrenders until the combined might of Austin’s evil intentions and a steel chair are just too much to overcome. And then, to close it out, Austin lays a beer can at Rock’s head, the symbolic “F you” to punctuate how Rock had humiliated him days prior. This is art. This is beauty. This is wrestling.
That does it for P2B’s Definitive WrestleMania Rankings. To see each voter’s full ballot, click here.