We are now just a little over 24 hours away from WrestleMania XXX. Considering it’s the 30th edition of the WWE’s flagship show we should expect something grand and whether we get it or not will surely be debated come Monday. What has come before it has been a mix of good and bad, immortal and forgettable, but these last three main events have all been great, for one reason or another. Though as a sort-of final thought on the WrestleMania main events on the whole, I would offer that they do not represent the best of WrestleMania. In doing this feature I realized that most of the greatest matches of all time occurred during the undercard. I’m not sure what that says about the event, other than that Hulk Hogan was a pretty poor and predictable wrestler, but I suppose it doesn’t matter much in the long-run so long as the entire show is good. That said, these last three matches actually do represent the best of the card from their respective WrestleManias and the fans should have been sent home happy after witnessing these three.
The main event for WrestleMania XV is your classic good guy battles through adversity and comes out on top at the biggest show of the year. It’s a pretty common formula for the industry and that’s because it works. WrestleMania often has the good-guy challenger come out on top in the main event with successful title defenses being pretty rare. Successful heel title defenses are even rarer. For XV, The Rock was the undisputed top heel in the business, and fresh off a long feud with Mankind, he was set to take on Austin. Austin and The Rock had previously battled over the Intercontinental title so a match between the two wasn’t foreign to wrestling fans, but by 1999 both were so huge that it felt like an all new feud. Austin was coming off of his feud with Vince McMahon which had finally resulted in an actual match between the two at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre the previous month. The feud would carry-over in the next pay-per view, Backlash, but was at long last starting to wane.
Austin and The Rock put on a great show for the fans with lots of outside the ring work and humorous character spots. This match strikes a nice balance between wrestling and entertainment. The Rock’s character was so over-the-top that his main event matches needed to have something special added to them to take advantage. Their follow-up WrestleMania match at XVII had a little more of this extra-curricular stuff, but the finish to it was too drawn out and I disliked Austin’s heel turn, which is why I rank this one ahead of it. Hopefully we one day get another match-up between two huge superstars like this in a WrestleMania main event (some would argue we did with Rock and Cena, but Cena’s love from fans is not universal like Austin and Rock’s was in 1999) because it is awesome when the crowd is this into it.
2. Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker (WrestleMania XXVI)
Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker stole the show at WrestleMania XXV in what many fans consider the greatest WrestleMania match of all time. WWE recognized how well-received it was so they did it again at WrestleMania XXVI only this time in the main event and with Michaels’ career on the line as the match stipulation. Other than the career vs streak booking, there were no actual titles on the line in this main event and no one cared. At this point, Undertaker’s “streak” is bigger than any belt when it comes to WrestleMania. Maybe next year I’ll rank his best WrestleMania matches and that way I can find out just when the streak became a major plot device for the WWE. It’s now the only time The Undertaker even wrestles giving WrestleMania this video game vibe where Undertaker is like the final boss of the last level.
I believe I am in the minority when I say the rematch between Michaels and Undertaker is actually my favorite of the two. They’re both excellent, but I enjoy the added drama of Michaels’s career being on the line (though I also love the moonsault-tombstone ending of the previous match) which helps add even greater weight to the whole thing. This match seemed quicker with fewer pauses for rest holds and such (aided greatly by Undertaker not botching a suicided dive to the outside of the ring). Undertaker and HBK just work exceptionally well as opponents. HBK has always been able to effectively sell his own offense despite often being much smaller than his opponents. Michaels is also the perfect size to sell Undertaker’s more high impact offense as he can carry Michaels around the ring and toss him like a rag doll, if he so pleases.
The two go all out, which is something a superstar can do if he knows it’s his last match or that it will be his only match of the year. There’s a nice diving moonsault to the outside by Michaels and plenty of stiff shots. As I mentioned earlier, the storyline ending is just icing on the cake and Michaels gets the send-off he deserves as one of the greatest of all time. This one was a strong contender for greatest WrestleMania main event of all time, but it comes up just a little bit short to the next one.
1. Shawn Michaels vs Brett Hart (WrestleMania XII)
The Iron Man Match. That’s all that really needs to be said to any wrestling fan and they’ll know what you’re talking about. Iron Man Matches had occurred before but most fans had never heard of it. Even today, it’s not a common match type as it requires its competitors be willing and able to wrestle for an hour. I think many guys could pull it off, but not sell it as a great match. Even two guys in excellent physical shape like Shawn Michaels and Brett Hart had to stop for rest holds and such, but the vigor at which they’re able to go at each other impresses me every time I view this match.
For those unaware, an iron match is a timed match in which the competitor who scores the most “falls” in the allotted time limit wins the match. For this contest that meant pinfalls, submissions, count outs, and disqualifications were all on the table. The beauty of this match was that there were no falls recorded during the sixty minute time limit. When it seemed like the match would end in a draw, Brett Hart was ordered back to the ring to continue into overtime where Michaels eventually won via pinfall for his first WWF Championship. The finish is great, but getting to it was better. Yes, there are the previously mentioned rest holds and slow parts, but the match really takes off during the middle stages and the two competitors somehow keep it going. There are great moments of aerial superiority from Michaels, while Hart is able to sink in a sharpshooter at one point as well. Michaels and Hart worked so well together that it’s a shame they didn’t have more main events at WrestleMania (they were supposed to main event WrestleMania XIII, but Michaels pulled out due to injury). Their chemistry in the ring is unrivaled as they’re able to realistically sell each other’s offense and pull off what should be unrealistic counters. They have a flow like two expert dancers and their contrasting personalities help to elevate the show side of the match. The Iron Man Match is not only the greatest main event in WrestleMania history, it’s also the greatest match in WrestleMania history and it will take one-hell-of-a-match to knock it off the top of the mountain.