It’s that time of year again. Wrestlemania is soon upon us. This event has become the most important event in professional wrestling, showcasing the best of the best of the sport putting on the show of their lives. With Wrestlemania appearing this Sunday on the WWE Network, I thought I’d take the time to discuss my ten favorite Wrestlemania matches, matches that to me epitomize everything that is great about the event. Like any list, it is purely subjective so if you disagree with anything or feel I left something out, let’s discuss it in the comments below.
Hulk Hogan vs Andre the Giant- Wrestlemania 3
“The irresistible force meeting the immovable object!”
Without Wrestlemania 3, it’s possible that Wrestlemania could have gone the way of Starrcade. The first two Wrestlemania’s, while star studded and showing some glimpses of what the event eventually became, were more events of their time. The product that Vince was trying to push was not heavy on in ring work. It was more personality driven. Wrestlemania 3 changed that.
Vince McMahon found a way to get 93,000 plus people to fill up the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan with the biggest match in wrestling history. Up to this point, Andre the Giant had been beloved by fans. Unbeknownst to them, Andre had every plan to retire at this point, recently undergoing a painful back surgery. Vince was able to convince him to come back for one more run by doing the unthinkable. Turning him bad.
Aligning himself with the legendary Bobby "the Brain" Hennan, Andre, in a fit of jealousy, challenged Hulk Hogan for the championship at Wrestlemania 3. Hogan accepted of course because that’s what good guy champions do.
While the Ricky "the Dragon" Steamboat vs "Macho Man" Randy Savage match was much better in the ring, 93,000 plus people didn’t pay to see those two fight. They paid to see Hogan and Andre. The match itself wasn’t pretty but it didn’t matter. This was the perfect marriage of in ring superstars, an amazing commentary team of Gorilla Monsoon and Jesse the Body Ventura, and some amazing camera work showcasing just how big these titans were among the sea of people that came to watch them fight.
The match built to a beautiful crescendo. Hogan, after a failed attempt to slam Andre earlier in the match (which saw the referee Joey Marella count three but tell the time keeper that it was only meant to be a two count, thus setting up the rematch in February of 1988 on NBC’s The Main Event), heaved the Giant into the air and slammed him, pinning him for the victory. This was the first match that felt worthy of being in front of such a big crowd. Hogan doesn’t get the credit he deserves either for making Andre seem like a monster. In the later stages of his career, Andre couldn’t really do much in the ring. It was up to his opponent to make Andre look good. Hulk Hogan, thanks to his in ring work, made me scared of Andre the Giant.
Hulk Hogan vs "Macho Man" Randy Savage- Wrestlemania 5
“Lust in his heart.”
For Wrestlemania’s 4 and 5, they went from filling a stadium full of 93,000 plus fans to filling the Trump Tower. If ever there was a step down, it was this. Going from the scale of 93,000 plus fans to the 20,000 or so the Trump Tower filled made the event seem smaller.
The match between Hogan and Savage was set up at the end of Wrestlemania 4. Hogan, thanks to Savage’s manager Miss Elizabeth, helped Randy Savage win the tournament to fill the vacant WWF Championship to become the new champion. From there, the two would become a tag team, forming the Mega Powers. Throughout the year, the WWE planted subtle hints of the eventual turn which, thanks to the WWE Network, you can see in all it’s beauty. You were shocked when Savage attacked Hogan yet when Savage would explain why he turned, he showed the fans video proof of why he felt that Hulk Hogan had “lust in his heart” for Miss Elizabeth.
The match itself was pretty straight forward. While some would argue that Savage should have had more time with the championship, they made the right call on this night with Hogan beating Savage for the title.
Macho King Randy Savage vs The Ultimate Warrior- Wrestlemania 7
"This is a moment for history...if you like this kind of mush."
The Ultimate Warrior is a polarizing figure among wrestlers from his era. Most didn’t care for the guy due to his lack of in ring skills, silly promos, and general attitude backstage. Yet you couldn’t argue that the guy had a way of connecting with the fans. While The Ultimate Warrior would never make it today, he was big at a time in the business where in ring skill was not exactly something you needed to have in order to be big.
Randy Savage will go down as one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. There is a saying among wrestlers that certain stars are so good that they could have a match with a broom and make that broom look like a star. Savage was one of those stars.
These two had an emotional match at Wrestlemania 7. The loser had to retire from wrestling. Both Savage and Warrior fought valiantly, never giving the audience a hint as to who would ultimately win, no pun intended. Once The Ultimate Warrior pulled off the victory, Savage’s manager Sherri Martel turned on him, kicking him in the middle of the ring as he was trying to recover. Miss Elizabeth, Savage’s former manager, had been watching this from the audience and had enough, coming into the ring and throwing Sherri out. Savage rose, saw Elizabeth in the ring, put two and two together, and hugged his former manager, becoming a good guy again.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs Bret "the Hitman" Hart- Wrestlemania 13
"This resembles more of a bar fight than a wrestling match."
Not every Wrestlemania will be good. For every Wrestlemania 17, you have a Wrestlemania 9 where nothing goes right at all and quickly becomes forgettable. Wrestlemania 13 would fit into this category if not for this match.
Stone Cold Steve Austin was just hitting his stride in 1997. While he was fighting it every step of the way, the fans loved him. His Austin 3:16 promo alone is the stuff of legend.
Bret Hart was reaching a cross roads as a character. For over nine years he’d been the good guy. Yet fans were changing. They were getting bored with Bret’s good guy antics. So Vince McMahon in his wisdom did the only thing he could do. Put them in a match and do a double turn. Make Stone Cold a hero to the fans and make Bret a villain.
The match was great. It ended with Austin locked in Bret’s submission move, the Sharpshooter. Earlier in the match, Stone Cold bladed, cut his forehead with a razor blade intentionally, to give the audience the impression it happened during the match. When Austin was in the Sharpshooter, he tried getting out of it. The strain caused the blood on his forehead to flow down his face, giving fans one of the most emotional images they had seen in a WWE ring in a long time. And the blood in the match helped elevate it. It made fans sympathize more with Austin. Once the special referee Ken Shamrock stopped the match after Austin passed out, Austin was set for life as a hero to the fans.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs Shawn Michaels- Wrestlemania 14
“This is what our business is all about.”
The fact that a man with a broken neck could face a man with a broken back and have one of the greatest matches in Wrestlemania history speaks to both performers involved. At the previous year’s Summerslam, Owen Hart gave Steve Austin a pile driver but executed the move wrong, slamming Steve’s head on the mat, breaking his neck. Most thought his career was over but after careful consideration, and many months off to recover, Steve came back for the Royal Rumble in 1998 better than ever.
At that same Royal Rumble, Shawn Michaels faced off against The Undertaker in a casket match. At one point, The Undertaker back dropped Michaels out of the ring. Watching the video of it makes me cringe because you can see the lower half of Shawn’s back slam onto the wooden casket, breaking his back. He was able to finish that match but doctor’s warned him his career was over. He was able to convince them to have one more match however and this was the match.
I loved how it started off, with both performers walking through a hallway before their music hit. Jim Ross did some of the best work of his career, the emotion he felt coming through with every word. Add to that the media interest in the match thanks to the inclusion of "Iron" Mike Tyson as the special referee and when "Stone Cold" Steve Austin’s hand was raised as the victor, the Austin Era had truly begun on a high note.
So what do you think? Does this cover the early Wrestlemania era well? Are there any matches that I should have included? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below. Look for Part 2 coming tomorrow.