WrestleMania has, in the past three decades, evolved into far more than just the top WWE pay-per-view of the year. It is a true media event unlike any other, the Super Bowl of pro wrestling, the “Showcase of the Immortals.” That WrestleMania is a yearly scripted event does not keep it from being covered by ESPN and news outlets from all over the world.
And ‘Mania seemingly gets bigger and bigger with every year.
Fan-favorites and heels are made in script-writing and during weekly WWE television programming. Icons and legends, however, are made when performers have “WrestleMania Moments,” those seconds in time that become frozen in our memories and that live on for generations. Some of these helped build the foundation for what WWE is today, while others played roles in creating lifelong fans.
10. The Start – WrestleMania I
Sometimes, it’s best to start at the beginning. Pro wrestling has a long history of big-time cards and big-time main events. The first WrestleMania wasn’t a wrestling card as much as it was a pop culture phenomenon, one that involved celebrities such as Muhammad Ali, Cyndi Lauper and Liberace.
The main event of the first ever WrestleMania provided a snippet of what was and what was to come. Roddy Piper and Mr. T going nose-to-nose in the center of the ring was quite literally pro wrestling meeting entertainment, and that match helped launch an annual tradition that wows fans every spring.
9. Foley’s WrestleMania Moment – WrestleMania XXII
Mick Foley had done it all in pro wrestling. The hardcore icon had performed all over the globe. He was a best-selling author. Foley had hoisted the WWE World Championship.
He had never had a true WrestleMania Moment, however, until his battle with Edge at ‘Mania XXII.
After an entertaining back-and-forth encounter, Foley looked to finish the matter when he poured lighter fluid onto a table. Lita, who had accompanied Edge to the ringside, saved her man by hitting Foley between the legs with a baseball bat that had been wrapped in barbed wire, and she then lit the table on fire. Edge recovered and speared Foley through the table, winning the match.
8. Three Legends Stand Tall – WrestleMania XXVIII
For several years, The Undertaker‘s WrestleMania streak involved three key players; ‘Taker, Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Michaels twice tried and failed to defeat The Undertaker on wrestling’s biggest stage, and the second loss cost The Heartbreak Kid his career. Triple H was unable to get the job done at WrestleMania XXVII, and, after being egged on by both The Undertaker and Michaels for several weeks, the man who is now known for being part of The Authority went for history once more.
Their second WrestleMania match, which featured Michaels as special referee, was a brutal encounter. Both men kicked out of each other’s finishers, including The Undertaker surviving Sweet Chin Music, and ‘Taker remained undefeated at WrestleMania after one final tombstone. Triple H was helped up the ramp and toward the back by Michaels and Undertaker, and, before going behind the curtain, the trio remained at the top of the stage for one “end of an era” salute to an adoring audience.
7. Shawn Michaels “Ends” Ric Flair’s Career – WrestleMania XXIV
WWE had one of the best retirement angles I’ve ever seen going in the months leading up to WrestleMania XXIV. Flair would be forced to call time on his wrestling days upon losing a match, and thus The Nature Boy just kept on winning…and winning…and winning…up through the moment that he chose to challenge Mr. WrestleMania on the biggest stage of them all.
The match itself didn’t disappoint. In fact, it even exceeded expectations. Michaels’ hesitated to take it to Flair at certain points of the contest, not wanting to end the career of one of his mentors. In the end, with Flair insisting that Michaels finish the job, HBK looked at the all-time great and said what are now famous words:
“I’m sorry. I love you.”
What followed was one final Sweet Chin Music, a super-kick that ended Flair’s WWE in-ring days.
6. Donald Trump Shaves Vince McMahon Bald – WrestleMania XXIII
I did not, until looking back, remember that Umaga and Bobby Lashley were the wrestlers involved in the epic “hair vs. hair” showdown. I cannot recall anything about the match other than the ending, and that’s only because of the wonder of YouTube. What immediately came to mind upon reflecting on this WrestleMania moment was Vince McMahon, playing the coward role as only he can, begging for mercy before Trump, Lashley and Steve Austin buzzed the billionaire WWE Chairman bald.
This wasn’t just a throwback to classic pro wrestling feuds of old. It made for historic business for the WWE. WrestleMania was featured on TV news and it made newspaper headlines the following day, and not because of the two big title matches that occurred later in the evening.
5. Shawn Michaels Descends From the Ladder – WrestleMania X
Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon wasn’t the first ladder match in WWE history. It wasn’t even the first time that Michaels was involved in such a contest. Michaels vs. Ramon is the showdown that the WWE tells us “revolutionized ladder matches,” and it’s one move in particular that continues to be showcased in WrestleMania highlights year after year.
Michaels, while in control of the action, rose to the top of the ladder while Ramon was flat on his back. HBK then launched himself into the air and splashed Ramon, something that, while tame in this era of moonsaults and shooting star presses, fans had never before witnessed. Michaels would go on to lose the match, but it was on that night that the legend of Mr. WrestleMania began.
4. Icon vs. Icon Staredown – WrestleMania X8
I remember not loving the build for the match involving Hulk Hogan and The Rock. It included the return of the nWo, Hogan using a semi-truck to crash into an ambulance that contained The Rock, and, for me, a guy passed his prime setting to take on a Hollywood actor. Big whoop.
Then came that special night at the SkyDome.
The match itself is fun to go back and watch, but it was hardly a technical marvel. What lives on isn’t the in-ring action or who won the match. It’s the stare-down that occurred in the middle of the ring before Rock and Hogan touched. The two all-time greats engaging in a face-off set off the crowd of over 68,000 in attendance, so much so that Rock and Hogan acknowledged what was occurring around them.
3. Brock Lesnar Beats The Streak – WrestleMania XXX
I went back and forth on where to rank the latest great WrestleMania Moment. We, as sports fans, have a tendency to overrate recent events merely because they are fresh in our memories. The last Super Bowl champion was an all-time great team. No competition has ever topped the 2014 NCAA Tournament. You get the idea.
That out of the way, the undefeated streak of The Undertaker was sacred for many WWE fans, to the point that even wrestling journalists were convinced that ‘Taker would retire without having ever been defeated at a ‘Mania. Spectators at the Superdome weren’t just surprised when the ref’s hand touched the mat for the third time, and Lesnar was announced the winner.
They were left dumbfounded, shocked in silence.
April 6, 2014 will go down in history as this generation’s Hogan-Andre (more on that later) moment, but in a much different way. WrestleMania XXX didn’t signal the beginning of something as much as it was the end of an era, closing time on what was a hallowed run that will never be duplicated.
2. Stone Cold Steve Austin Bleeds and Passes Out – WrestleMania XIII
Just as an investigation, I went to Google Images and searched “Steve Austin blood.” The first three results were the zoom-in of blood trickling down Austin’s forehead and face as he struggled to find a way out of the Bret Hart sharpshooter. Arguably the biggest double-turn in WWE history occurred that evening, as Austin refused to give up and eventually passed out from the pain, and Hart, the ultimate good guy, then stomped on his unconscious and battered victim.
I came close to putting this at No. 1, as that night changed the course of wrestling history. It was the beginning of a historic Austin run, the beginning of a Hart heel-turn that ended with his leaving WWE for WCW, and the spark that would ultimately leave WWE as the winner of the Monday Night War. The world, not just pro wrestling, could be a much different place had that match not occurred.
1. Hulk Hogan Slams Andre The Giant – WrestleMania III
WrestleMania III remains proof that, even in this modern era, reality and truth can become myth and tall-tale. There are, to this very day, discussions about how many people actually attended that show, a pay-per-view that set an attendance record for a live sporting event held in North America. Even Andre’s weight at the start of the match has fluctuated as stories have been told and retold.
I was just three-years old when I saw Hogan do what I, a naive child, thought to be impossible; scoop Andre up and then, in the same motion, slam the giant to the ground. It was a real-life David vs. Goliath spectacle with the good-guy victory included. I was hooked, as were other youngsters who believed that superheroes did truly exist in wrestling rings.