We’re now just one week away from WrestleMani XXX, which means I need to get this feature wrapped up!
11. Triple H vs Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XVIII)
WrestleMania XVIII is remembered for pretty much one match: Hollywood Hogan vs The Rock. It was Hogan’s first official match since re-signing with the WWF and the Montreal crowd didn’t seem to care that he was supposed to be the heel heading into it. It was a fun match, but the main event was pretty damn good too. It featured the newly crowned Undisputed Champion Chris Jericho vs Triple H, making his second appearance in a WrestleMania main event. Jericho and Triple H are a natural pairing. Both guys are good, technical wrestlers and Triple H’s more power-oriented offense complements Jericho’s up-tempo maneuvers just fine. The only thing that kind of sucks about this match is that the outcome is never really in doubt as it was pretty much a given that the WWF would put the strap on Triple H after letting Jericho have his fun for a bit. It was nice while it lasted though.
10. John Cena vs The Rock (WrestleMania XXVIII)
The first match-up between John Cena and The Rock is markedly better than the second. The year-long build-up worked well and seeing The Rock back in the ring was a novelty that hadn’t grown stale. Yes, he still wasn’t in great ring shape as the match was plagued some-what by rest holds and the like, but the two guys played off each other well and the finish was well-executed. This was one of the few matches in recent years where I had an interest in the outcome. Would the WWE let its top star get disrespected over and over by a visitor ultimately losing to said visitor in the main event of its most prestigious event? Would The Rock bother making a comeback just to lose to an opponent he seems to genuinely consider inferior to himself? The capper was the event being held in Miami, Rock’s hometown, so I was pretty sure Cena would be asked to take the loss. What I wasn’t expecting was the finish to be a clean loss, with Cena attempting to humiliate The Rock by performing the People’s Elbow only to have Rock bounce-up and nail him with the Rock Bottom for the 1-2-3.
9. Kurt Angle vs Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania XIX)
This match is mostly remembered for Lesnar’s botched shooting-star press towards the end. Lesnar had created a buzz for himself long before he debuted on WWE television by performing the shooting-star press at Ohio Valley. For a man his size to be able to pull off such a crazy maneuver was unheard of. Turns out, big men aren’t meant to fly like that because when he unveiled it at WrestleMania he damn-near killed himself. It overshadows what is a great match of technical excellence. The only low-note for me is the early going where Angle and Lesnar both try to one-up each other with amateur wrestling maneuvers. I never understood why guys would choose to go in such a direction. Pro Wrestling is popular because it’s not the ground-based amateur style. We want flashy! Whenever guys with that kind of background step into a ring though it’s as if they feel they need to acknowledge where they came from. I’m very impressed by the fact that Kurt Angle has won Olympic gold in wrestling, but I don’t want to watch it.
8. Triple H vs The Rock vs Mick Foley vs The Big Show (WrestleMania XXVI)
The only four-way-dance in WrestleMania main event history! The genesis for this match was unconventional. Most had assumed that The Rock and Triple H were destined to headline WrestleMania 2000 as The Rock was the hottest thing going and Triple H was the company’s biggest heel (and Austin was still on the shelf following neck surgery). To keep Hunter’s momentum going, they had him battle Foley for two pay-per-views ultimately defeating him a retirement match at No Way Out. Vince McMahon, in a rare bit of booking with his heart, wanted Foley to realize his dream of main eventing a WrestleMania so he convinced him to come back for this one match just a month after his retirement. Foley was apprehensive, but went ahead with it as it’s just not something any pro wrestler can turn down. And since The Big Show wasn’t doing anything, they added him to the mix as well as part of this four-way feud between the McMahons. It wasn’t a classic match, and the most memorable spot is probably Foley coming up well short on a diving elbow to the announcer’s table, but it ended with Triple H vs The Rock anyways so it’s not like the fans were denied the match they were probably supposed to have. And with Triple H coming out on top it was really the first time in WrestleMania history that the event ended with a bad guy wearing the WWF Championship.
7. The Undertaker vs Edge (WrestleMania XXIV)
For all of the success that The Undertaker has enjoyed at WrestleMania, he really hasn’t appeared in many main events. At least he can say the ones he’s appeared in were all pretty good. This match with Edge is a pretty good representation of a good Undertaker match. Edge and Taker work really well together with Edge being one of my favorite opponents for The Undertaker for that very reason. At this point, The Streak was a plot line so there was little doubt that The Undertaker would come out on top, but despite that, the finish was still surprising and even a bit sudden with Undertaker locking in his Hell’s Gate submission maneuver for the victory allowing The Phenom to hoist a major championship at the show’s close for just the second time in his career.
6. John Cena vs Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXIII)
Shawn Michaels can wrestle a great match with seemingly anyone. Not that John Cena is an Ultimate Warrior or anything, but he’s certainly not one of my favorite workers. This match may not be a WrestleMania classic, but it’s great entertainment. It starts off kind of slow but the two eventually pick-up with the pace with a lot of back and forth momentum swings. HBK is the heel here and it’s the role I’ve always preferred for him. Once again he proves he belongs in the WrestleMania main event and it kind of makes me wish he could be included in all of them. Certainly he should have been in more during his career but at least the ones we have are preserved forever.
5. Triple H vs Shawn Michaels vs Chris Benoit (WrestleMania XX)
Oh boy, how do you rank this one? I suppose the easiest thing to do is to just judge it based on the merits of the match alone, which to probably no longtime wrestling fan’s surprise, is to say it’s fantastic. These are three of the best workers in the history of the business on the grandest stage going all out to entertain the masses. The only negative thing I can say about the match itself is that too often one guy gets taken out for too long of a time. It would be one thing if a guy was taking a piledriver to the concrete and being down for five minutes but it mostly seemed like generic maneuvers were keeping guys down just to keep the match a series of one on one confrontations. Such is the weakness of the triple threat match. Of course, judging the match in such a way ignores the elephant in the room which is that Chris Benoit is a known murderer who committed the unthinkable act of killing his own family. It’s impossible to separate the wrestler from the man when such has taken place, so I do not blame anyone if they have no interest in watching this match today. For me, it does harm the match quite a bit as the big storyline within the match is Benoit trying to win his first major championship in WWE, and at the time, the ending was immensely satisfying and one of the best examples of pure joy being on display in the ring. Sadly, the image of Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit celebrating at the conclusion of the match is beyond bittersweet today.
4. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock (WrestleMania XVII)
WrestleMania XVII is justifiably remembered as one of the best WrestleManias of all time. It’s main event was a pretty big deal at the time too with two mega-stars in Austin and The Rock. The only other main event that even compares in terms of how popular both guys were heading into the match is Hogan vs The Giant; these two guys were just hugely over with the fans. Austin was competing for the Championship for the first time since his return from neck surgery and The Rock was not expected to just role over for the big star. With Rock becoming the top baby face in Austin’s absence, the decision to turn Stone Cold heel at the match’s conclusion was reached. Austin was the main driver behind this as he was concerned his character was growing stale. Plus he liked playing the bad guy. He also admits that if he could push the reset button on anything in his career it would be the end of this match. The two battled and had an astoundingly entertaining match with good in-ring spots as well as out of the ring spots. There was violence and comedy, and the end certainly left people talking. I too think the heel turn for Austin was a bad move. Not because he shouldn’t be a bad guy, but just the way it was done to have him suddenly align himself with Vince McMahon in such a way. It just wasn’t believable for his character. If he had used McMahon to win and then nailed Vince with a stunner or something it would have made more sense and let Austin play a tweener kind of role. Instead he became a sniveling coward which effectively killed his character.