Every year, any match has the chance to steal the show at WrestleMania. When we look back on the 30 years of history the event has built up, we remember many classic matches where no titles were involved. Traditionally though, the WWE Championship match has closed the show at the big event. In fact the only WrestleMania that didn’t involve a WWE title match was WrestleMania I. Several WrestleManias’ main attractions didn’t revolve around the title. However, a common denominator in measuring the truly great WrestleManias is how great the title match was. It’s the richest prize in the industry so an average title match can quickly make a WrestleMania pretty forgettable. WrestleMania XXX is coming soon. It will forever be measured by what Daniel Bryan (or Triple H), Randy Orton and Batista can put together. The classic championship matches stick with you forever. The stakes, the bell-to-bell action, the interest from fans and the impact of the match all have a place in how they’re measured. Here are the 10 best WWE Championship matches in WrestleMania history.
10. Hulk Hogan vs. Macho Man Randy Savage (c) – WrestleMania V
Any title match with the two biggest stars in this era of professional wrestling going at it is bound to be remembered. This feud slowly built from the time Savage won the title in a tournament at WrestleMania IV. Jealousy and tension over Miss Elizabeth caused the Mega Powers to Explode at WrestleMania V.
By the time they got to WrestleMania fans were jacked to see the two men who defined the 80s in pro wrestling duke it out. Going into the match it seemed rather obvious that Hogan would regain the title he had lost a year earlier. The match provided good drama, with Savage performing despite a staff infection in his elbow.
The ending was the typical Hulking up following a kickout from a Savage elbow drop. Hogan came back with the boot and leg drop to send the Hulkamaniacs home happy.
However, Savage, being the great performer he was, got the best out of a limited Hogan arsenal of offence. The 80s didn’t provide us with a lot of technical classics, but this match gave us everything that defined the era. Good story, drama and the larger-than-life characters were on full display.
9. The Rock (c) vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin – WrestleMania XV
This wasn’t the best of Stone Cold and the Rock‘s matches. It wasn’t even the first time they squared off. However, this was the start of an epic WrestleMania trilogy and it cemented perhaps the greatest rivalry of all time.
It also was the main event the company needed to assert their newfound dominance over WCW. The best face and the best heel in the business. As I said, the match itself was surpassed by the future Austin/Rock matches, but it had its memorable moments nonetheless.
It involved four referees, interference from Vince McMahon, Mankind coming back from the hospital to ref and even Jim Ross returning after a few months of absence from commentary. The Rock and Austin brawled around ringside, at the stage and gave some great false finishes in the ring. They each kicked out of each other’s finishing moves. Austin eventually hit a second Stunner after avoiding a People’s Elbow and a third Rock Bottom. He got the three count and celebrated with beer in true Stone Cold fashion.
Again, this was a match that had the elements of the era in it. While it wasn’t their greatest match together, there were certain aspects of this match that were blueprints for their future encounters.
8. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XIV
There was no title change that had greater importance than this one. The WWE was in a battle with WCW and just treading water to survive. Stone Cold had emerged as its biggest star and their only chance to win the war against WCW was making him their champion and beginning the Austin era.
Shawn Michaels was forced to retire prematurely due to a back injury and Austin was primed to become the hottest star in wrestling history. He HAD to win. You add that and the element of Mike Tyson as the special enforcer and the WWE had all the ingredients to fully embrace the Attitude Era.
The match itself was good, but suffered due to the fact that Michaels was in noticeable pain, wincing after every move. It’s a testament to Michaels that he was still able to pull off one of the more memorable matches in the show’s history. It makes you wonder how much better it would’ve been if HBK was healthy. As for the action, after about 20 minutes of good back and forth action, a referee bump ensued. Michaels and Austin wound up exchanging finishing attempts before Austin finally hit the stunner and Tyson betrayed DX and counted Michaels down.
Jim Ross’s usual flawless commentary illustrated how big the win was. First with his signature, “Stone Cold! Stone Cold! Stone Cold!” followed by, “The Austin era has begun!” It indeed had and the era would bring wrestling to unprecedented success.
7. Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Ultimate Warrior – WrestleMania VI
For two men who have longtime been criticized for limited ability in the ring, they put together one classic bout at the Skydome. It exceeded any expectations wrestling pundits had. The WWE was intent on making Warrior the successor to Hogan and wanted him to carry the company into the future. Things didn’t work out as they hoped, but that doesn’t take away from this match.
The bout bucked the trend of a top heel and top babyface. Instead it had two top babyfaces in a title-for-title match with Hogan’s WWE title and Warrior’s Intercontinental title both on the line.
The two played to their strengths, exhibiting powerful, high-impact moves and included plenty of drama. They went toe-to-toe and after Hogan missed a leg drop, Warrior delivered the splash and got a narrow three-count. Hulk presented the belt to the Warrior and rode off into the sunset. As good a match as you could ask for from both men.
6. John Cena (c) vs. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania 23
This was important in the sense that John Cena had yet to have a classic WrestleMania match. While his match against Triple H the year before was good, it falls short of a classic. Leave it to Shawn Michaels to bring out the best in yet another superstar.
The end result was predictable, as it was pretty clear HBK was there to give Cena a great match and his job as the veteran was to put the top guy over. The match had a slow build to a great finish. Michaels hit a piledriver on steel steps. Each had a turn in kicking out of a finishing move. HBK always seemed to know how to build up to a great finish and this was no exception. Cena eventually forced Michaels to submit to the STF.
I think Cena learned a lot as a performer from this match, as contrary to what people think, he is a great performer and has delivered many classics for a guy who supposedly can’t wrestle. It was his finest performance at WrestleMania and it could be argued as being the best WWE championship match at WrestleMania in the past decade.
5. Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle – WrestleMania XX
For some reason, people seem to forget how great this match was. First of all, it caught many by surprise that Guerrero won the title at No Way Out, yet it was clearly a deserving win. Guerrero’s story was one of redemption and overcoming demons. Angle was the clean cut Olympic hero, berating Guerrero as being a disgrace as champion given his past drug issues.
In the ring at Madison Square Garden, they told a great story. Angle used his wrestling ability to launch a relentless onslaught of suplexes, holds and quickness. Guerrero, the resilient underdog champion (and quite the technician himself) kept fighting back.
Angle kicked out of Guerrero’s Frog Splash and it seemed Eddie’s best wouldn’t be good enough to beat Angle. So instead he outsmarted Angle. With Angle persisting and winning via an ankle lock, Guerrero pretended to be injured, loosening his boot due to his ankle ‘swelling up’. Angle pounced like a wolf, again locking in the submission. With the loosened boot, Guerrero slipped out of the hold, and his boot, cradled Angle in a small package and got the three-count. It was a creative ending and showed why the crafty Guerrero had endeared himself to the fans so well.
4. Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle (c) – WrestleMania XIX
This is one any lover of technical wrestling will enjoy. The two most decorated amateur wrestlers in the history of professional wrestling colliding for the richest prize.
Angle risked a lot in this match, competing despite the fact he was in need of neck surgery. He was facing a rookie who didn’t know his own strength. However, he couldn’t pass up getting his chance to star in the main event at WrestleMania.
The crowd got hotter and hotter as the match went on. Lesnar displayed tremendous athleticism to go with his brute strength. Angle showed how much he had truly mastered professional wrestling.
Following Angle kicking out the F-5, a colossal finish was set to ensue. Lesnar hit a second F-5 and went for the shooting star press. Had he successfully hit the move before and had the beast hit it at WrestleMania, it would’ve been an unforgettable moment. It proved to be a near disaster. Angle was too far away from where Lesnar was jumping. The jump missed by a few inches and Lesnar landed on his head. It was a scary moment and many wondered if Lesnar would get up. Thankfully he did, eventually hitting another F-5 for the win. Both men made full recoveries in what proved to be a physically gruelling match.
3. Hulk Hogan (c) vs. Andre the Giant – WrestleMania III
Wrestling clinic? No. In fact if you muted this match on your tv and watched it without context, it’s almost unwatchable.
However, what match defines WrestleMania more so than this one? It was a great spectacle with the most anticipated clash in the history of wrestling. Andre the Giant, a longtime fan favourite, turning his back on Hogan to take his championship.
Hogan was the longtime champion and wrestling’s biggest star. Andre hadn’t been defeated in 15 years. As Gorilla Monsoon so eloquently put it, “The irresistible force meeting the immovable object.” Something had to give.
Early in the match, Hogan failed to slam Andre and was nearly pinned. The hot crowd of 93,000 at the Pontiac Silverdome is what stands out until the end. Hogan picked up the Giant and slammed him, with fans in shock and awe, creating perhaps the greatest moment in wrestling history. After a leg drop, Hogan had slain the Giant and WrestleMania was forever imprinted as the showcase of the immortals.
2. Bret Hart (c) vs. Shawn Michaels – Ironman Match – WrestleMania XII
In an era that suffered from far too many lame, cartoonish characters, its two best performers put on a match for the ages. Two fan favourites squaring off in a very simple story. One trying to live his boyhood dream, the other the wrestling general not wanting to give up what he had earned.
The two men put together the only Ironman match in WrestleMania history and one that has never been matched; a 60 minute slugfest with the man scoring the most falls being declared champion.
With the match being a full hour long, it slowly built with a slower pace at the beginning and it just kept picking up. The two men paced the match well. Many near falls, both showing tremendous resilience with neither man being able to secure a fall.
It seemed it was all over with about 30 seconds left. Hart caught Michaels from the top rope and clamped on the Sharpshooter. Michaels somehow held on and the clock hit zero, the match seemingly ending a a draw. However the match was ruled to continue under sudden death rules. A few minutes in, Michaels hit two Superkicks for the win.
He celebrated in the ring with Vince McMahon proclaiming, “The boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels!”
1. Stone Cold vs. The Rock (c) – WrestleMania X-Seven
This match takes the top spot because it was the perfect storm involving the two biggest stars in the business. The WWE had just beaten WCW and was the king of professional wrestling and the entire business hit its peak on this night.
Two household names had their best match at the best time possible. It capped off the greatest WrestleMania in history. The Rock entered as champion and Austin was set to culminate his return from neck surgery by regaining the title in his home state of Texas. He had 67,000 people firmly in his corner. This night however, would signal the end of an era.
This was the best Rock/Austin match and the greatest chapter of their rivalry. Everything just seemed so perfect this night. The match never slowed down, full of drama with both men pulling out all the stops to win. Austin declared before the match, “I need to beat you Rock. I need it more than anything you could ever imagine.” Those words foreshadowed the biggest shock you could think of.
After it seemed Austin was going to fall short of his goal, his longtime rival, Mr. McMahon began helping him achieve victory. Austin just could not put The Rock away no matter what he threw at him. Hence, Austin revealed he would truly do whatever was necessary to win. A chair shot, The Rock’s own Rock Bottom, Austin’s Stone Cold Stunner. None of it worked. Finally Austin went insane and mercilessly began beating The Rock with a steel chair with McMahon cheering him on. Finally after over a dozen chair shots, Austin scored the 1…2…3. Austin then cemented his heel turn by shaking hands with McMahon, or as JR said, “with Satan himself!”
The fact that it was a mega main event, with a match that managed to exceed the astronomical expectations is what lands it as the top spot. This signalled the end of the Attitude Era and the business has yet to reach the height we saw here. You have to wonder if the WWE will ever recapture the magic they had on that night.