Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Top 30 WrestleMania Matches - Part 3

In case you missed them, Part 1 (30-21) and Part 2 (20-11)

10. The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania XVIII
"Icon vs. Icon" is all you really need to say to describe this unforgettable encounter. After a nine year absence from WWE, Hulk Hogan returned to battle the man who some would say replaced him as the most recognizable wrestler in the world. For years in WCW, Hogan was accused of being washed up and no longer capable of putting on a good match (depending on who you ask, some will tell you he was never capable), but those critics were silenced with this match. 70,000 screaming fans in the Toronto SkyDome welcomed Hogan back to WWE with a thunderous ovation that never seemed to quiet down during the actual match. Hogan and The Rock went out and not only exceeded expectations, they made history.

9. CM Punk vs. The Undertaker – WrestleMania XXIX
This match got off to a really stupid start, with CM Punk winning a Fatal 4-Way for the “right” to face The Undertaker, but as morbid as it’s going to sound, the feud was helped immensely by the death of Paul Bearer. I know, I know, terrible way to word it, but it turned an awkwardly thrown together match that only existed because Punk had nothing else to do after his historic WWE Title reign came to an end and it became a legit blood feud.

And there were more concerns about the match, Taker looked damn near broken in his matches with Triple H in the previous two years and Punk and the Phenom had met years prior in a series of matches that, quite frankly, sucked, at least when you considered the participants involved. But Taker returned to the ring looking better than he had even during his last few years as an active wrestler and Punk had matured into the Best in the World, the two knocked it out of the park. It’s the reason the phrase “instant classic” exists.

8. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart - WrestleMania X
Despite barely making it into the top ten, make no mistake about it, this is a tremendous match and one of my all-time favorites, but it was really just a building block in the bigger feud that was to come. It was the first time two real-life brothers did battle in a WWE ring and they put on a wrestling clinic with Owen Hart sneaking out a surprise victory. The reason I don't have this match even higher ten is it's overshadowed by Bret Hart going onto win the WWE Title later that same night and what I would say is a superior match several months later at SummerSlam 1994, which is also the greatest WWE Steel Cage match of all-time.

7. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair - WrestleMania XXIV
Yet another Shawn Michaels appearance on this list, but this match isn't his story, it's the story of the greatest of all-time, "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair. Flair ended* his 36-year career at last year's WrestleMania in one of those moments that when you watched it, you knew you were witnessing history. One could argue that it's been devalued in recent years with Flair returning to the ring in TNA, but c'mon, it's the Naitch, he'll never retire!

“I’m sorry, I love you” was also one of those moments that instantly went into every video package about Shawn Michaels or Ric Flair that WWE will ever produce. It was everything that wrestling, and more specifically, WrestleMania, are all about.

6. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. The Rock - WrestleMania X-7
I'll let you in on a little secret, WrestleMania 17 is the best WrestleMania, ever. The card is absolutely stacked, it featured this tremendous main event, wrestling's popularity was at its all-time high and WWE was sitting alone at the top of the mountain, having just bought their biggest competitor - Ted Turner's WCW. 

This match is fantastic to watch simply to see the two biggest stars of the 90s beat the holy hell out of each other, but there's a lot more to it than that. Stone Cold vs. The Rock is symbolic to the end of the famous Attitude Era with Stone Cold's shocking heel turn at the conclusion of the match. Austin didn’t just defeat The Rock, he beat him savagely with a steel chair over and over and over and over again because he was so desperate for one last title. Rock had Hollywood waiting, but this was all Stone Cold had and he needed it. Austin aligning himself with his longtime rival Vince McMahon, closed the book on the 90s pro wrestling craze and began a major shift in the WWE landscape.

5. "Macho Man" Randy Savage vs. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat - WrestleMania III
Many call this the greatest WrestleMania match of all-time, and if you're looking at it from a strictly wrestling perspective, they're probably right. In terms of pure wrestling, there hasn't been a single WrestleMania match to eclipse this classic from 1987. The story was simple, Randy Savage was the dastardly heel that crushed Ricky Steamboat's larynx months prior by dropping him throat first on a metal guardrail and Steamboat got his revenge, and the WWE Intercontinental Title, at WrestleMania 3. If you or someone you know doesn't understand the athleticism involved in professional wrestling, watch this match.

4. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant - WrestleMania III
Without this match, I probably wouldn't be writing this list. Every year since the inception of Kick-Out, it’s been #1 on my WrestleMania list, so what gives with the change? It’s my site and I’ll do what I want!

No, it's not a technical masterpiece or anything and Hogan's legacy has perhaps been a bit tarnished over the years, but at the end of the day, this match isn't just the most important in WrestleMania history, this might be the most important match in the history of professional wrestling. When you say "WWE," Hulk Hogan bodyslamming the 500 pound Andre the Giant is the image etched in the memory of millions of wrestling fans around the globe.

I'm a fan of spectacle. I certainly love a good pure wrestling match, but there's something about the drama of wrestling that does more for me than any mat classic. It's why I've always gravitated toward WWE, because they do spectacle better than anyone. They take something that could be a disaster, like a less than proficient in-ring performer working with a broken-down, injury-plagued giant, and turn it into the most iconic image in wrestling history.

3. Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker - WrestleMania XXVI
Which match was better, 25 or 26? Go watch them back-to-back, I don't know if one is "better" than the other it just felt like the final act of a play. Act 1 was their feud in the fall of 1997, Act 2 was WrestleMania 25 and the story came to its conclusion at WrestleMania 26. The matches just go together and the only reason I ranked 25 above it is because the ending wasn't quite as obvious since it didn't have the retirement stipulation. Although I considered putting it above 25 just for the jumping Tombstone!

2. Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker - WrestleMania XXV
HBK's final appearance on this list should show you why he's been dubbed "Mr. WrestleMania." Some might scoff at the idea of this match being so high, especially pushing out other classics on this list, but the bottom line is, the minute the three count was made in this match, it was one for the ages.

The match has everything, a great history between the two performers, but they’d also been kept apart since early 1998. Shawn has something to prove after upping his Mania performances every year, culminating with retiring the great Ric Flair the year before, so what was next? The Streak. The entrances were awesome, the drama was high, Taker makes everyone scream “OH SHIT!” when he does the Mania Dive onto his head, and they wrestle their asses off. What more could you possibly want in a WrestleMania match?

1. Bret "Hitman" Hart vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin - WrestleMania XIII
If WrestleMania 14 was the birth of the Attitude Era, this match at WrestleMania 13 was the conception. The beauty of this match is that it's one of the few times that two wrestlers successfully turned within a match. Bret Hart walked in the good guy, Stone Cold walked in the bad guy, but when it was all said and done, Hart was the most hated heel in the industry and the fans fell in love with Steve Austin. 

This match is what it means to "tell a story" in the wrestling ring, it's not just two guys fake fighting, they're acting out things that would normally be told through scripted dialogue in a movie. The finale of this match, with Steve Austin's face covered in blood as he passes out from the pain of Bret Hart's sharpshooter, is among the most iconic images in the history of professional wrestling. WWE still wasn’t quite where they needed to be until a year later, but this match is the prelude to the most successful period in wrestling history, and it’s the best damn wrestling match to ever happen at WrestleMania.

No comments:

Post a Comment