This year marks the 20th anniversary of the WWE putting on ladder matches. The first ladder match that was featured on main WWE programming was between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X.
Legend has it that Bret Hart initially proposed the match idea to Vince McMahon, as it had been used in Calgary’s Stampede wrestling. Hart and Michaels had the ‘pilot’ ladder match if you will, on the WWF Wrestling Challenge in 1992. Hart claims in his book, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling that he proposed the match but made McMahon promise that if they did a ladder match at a pay-per-view that only Bret could do it. Of course, we then saw HBK and Ramon square off in 1994. Nevertheless, the winners have been wrestling fans, as we’ve been treated to countless classic ladder matches in the last two decades.
It’s also the only type of match where there’s always something on the line, whether it be a title, a contract, etc… You have to put something above that ladder.
Here are the top 10 ladder matches in WWE history. In order to avoid confusion, we’ll strictly adhere to ladder matches and not include TLC matches. That’s a whole other list.
10) The Rock vs. Triple H — SummerSlam 1998
The Rock and Triple H were longtime rivals and the summer of 1998 was all about proving they were capable of being the top stars in the business. Their feud for the Intercontinental Title was so good that many realized they could eventually feud for an even richer prize. It was the ideal way of elevating both guys to the main event scene.
Their feud boiled over in a ladder match at SummerSlam 1998 in Madison Square Garden; what better place to make a name for yourself?
While the Stone Cold vs. Undertaker clash was the much anticipated main event, it was the Rock and Triple H who stole the show with an amazing ladder match, putting the Rock’s Intercontinental title on the line.
The Rock and Triple H staged a physically gruelling match, each using the ladder as a weapon.
This was also a way of climaxing the stable feud between D-Generation X and the Nation of Domination, so we saw interference from both sides, with Mark Henry on behalf of the Rock and Chyna on behalf of HHH.
The Rock displayed a nasty side to him, actually getting the New York crowd on his side at certain points. The “Rocky Sucks” chants were dying out and The Rock was proving he had found a way to connect with the audience.
It all ended with Chyna delivering a low blow to the People’s jewels, allowing Triple H to snatch the title. However this match made The Rock a bigger star and both men showed they deserved more.
9) Jeff Hardy vs. The Undertaker — RAW 2002
This match proved a superstar doesn’t necessarily need to win to get the admiration of the crowd. Jeff Hardy was pitted the ultimate underdog going up against the Undertaker for the Phenom’s undisputed WWE Championship, looking to earn respect and the title.
It wasn’t the Undertaker’s finest year in wrestling, but he redeemed many substandard performances with this match. This was an easy story to sell, and boy did they ever.
This match was all about the near finishes, with fans gaining more hope by the second that a miracle win by Jeff Hardy might just happen.
All hope was dashed when the Undertaker chokeslammed Hardy off the ladder and took his title home. The heel Undertaker then shockingly raised Hardy’s hand, indicating the gutsy daredevil had earned his respect.
8) Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon — SummerSlam 1995
Like many sequels, this match disappointed compared to their first encounter, but if you never watched the WrestleMania X edition, this match stands well on its own.
Michaels was the cocky heel in 1994, but now he was turned a fan favourite, so he and Razor didn’t quite have the hot feud going that they did a year prior.
However, SummerSlam 1995 needed a match like this, as Bret Hart was stuck feuding with Isaac Yankem and Diesel and Mabel were set to clash for the WWE title; yes, that happened.
Razor showed a darker side to his ‘bad guy’ persona, garnering mixed reactions from the crowd, as a way to further get Michaels over as a babyface. Razor attacked Michaels’ knee for most of the match, making it hard for HBK to climb the ladder. However HBK’s knee miraculously recovered for his big comeback and he would in fact retrieve the IC title hanging above the ring.
7) The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge & Christian — No Mercy 1999
This was a sign of things to come. Before the Dudley Boyz joined the WWE, it was Edge & Christian squaring off against the Hardys. The Hardy Boyz had replaced E & C in the Brood and had Terri Runnels as their manager. Edge and Christian were beginning to form their own identity as a tag team.
Just like they would do for many of their encounters, they held nothing back in this ladder match. Safety be damned. The tag team picture received a huge shot in the arm from this feud and reminded wrestling fans of how great tag team wrestling could be. In a card that featured Triple H vs. Stone Cold for the WWE Championship, this one stole the show.
The Hardy Boyz ultimately won this encounter, but every superstar benefitted from the spotlight.
6) Money in the Bank Ladder Match — WrestleMania 22
The Money in the Bank concept proved to be a huge success from WrestleMania 21, so the WWE decided to continue the concept the following WrestleMania. As we know, the Money in the Bank match guarantees the winner a shot at the WWE title at any time of his choosing within the next year.
Shelton Benjamin as usual displayed his tremendous athleticism, spring boarding himself onto RVD from the top of the ladder. Matt Hardy grabbed a second ladder and joined the fray up top. RVD eventually managed to push both men off their ladder and retrieved the briefcase. Rob Van Dam became Mr. Money in the Bank, winning the biggest match of his WWE career up to that point. It proved to be especially big because his cash-in later that year was successful against John Cena.
5) Rob Van Dam vs. Eddie Guerrero — RAW 2002
Eddie Guerrero had recently been brought back by WWE after being released due to his drug and alcohol addiction. It was time for him to prove that WWE was right to give him a second chance.
He had a great opportunity to showcase his skill in a ladder match on RAW against Rob Van Dam. Their styles proved to compliment each other very well.
The RAW crowd in Edmonton probably didn’t anticipate witnessing a classic such as this, but they got one.
The two went back and forth for 20 minutes, before RVD regained his championship. Bonus; the match also includes a fan running into the ring and Guerrero taking a swing at him.
4) Money in the Bank Ladder Match — WrestleMania 21
The funny thing is, Edge has said in interviews he hated this match idea, but it proved to be the big break in his career. We know the concept of this match has been a great success for nearly a decade now, but it was an unknown back in 2005.
Shelton Benjamin shined in this match, proving he may have been the best pure athlete in WWE at the time.
The ending of the match was phenomenal. Benoit was climbing the ladder, battling an injured arm, suffered at the hands of Kane. Edge, the ultimate opportunist saw this and gave a bone-crunching chair shot across the arm, sending Benoit down to the canvas. Edge then climbed the ladder, snatched the title and won the first Money in the Bank match. Nine months later, he would cash in on John Cena for the win.
3) Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon — WrestleMania X
It may sound sacrilegious to not have this match in the top spot, since it was the innovator for every other ladder match following it. But bell to bell, it’s not the top one.
This was a match to settle who was the Intercontinental champion with both Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels holding a valid claim to the title.
Michaels began to earn his reputation as Mr. WrestleMania in this match, making you wonder whether he was wrestling Razor, or the ladder. He used the ladder in every way imaginable, launching himself off it, using it as a shield, etc…
Michaels finally saw himself trapped in the ropes after being pushed off the ladder. That allowed Razor to grab both titles. This match set the tone for every ladder match to follow and when rating a ladder match, everyone will always compare it to this one.
2) Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels — No Mercy 2008
It may have been the best feud of the PG Era, as Chris Jericho had reinvented himself as a narcissistic, cold-blooded heel. Michaels was as great as ever and this feud was red hot in 2008.
It climaxed at No Mercy 2008 with the World Heavyweight Championship on the line. This match won the Wrestling Oberserver’s Match of the Year in 2008 and HBK and Jericho won Top Feud.
This was a violent ladder match, with blood and teeth falling to the canvas. Two of wrestling’s best all-time performers delivering when they needed to.
The finish was also unlike any ladder match we’ve ever seen, with Jericho and HBK playing tug-o-war with the title at the top of the ladder. Jericho would catch Michaels with a headbutt, securing control of the title.
1) Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz — WrestleMania 2000
Tag team wrestling has yet to match the rivalry between these three teams. Since we’re not including TLC matches, the triangle ladder match at WrestleMania 2000 makes the top of this list.
WrestleMania 2000 was a pretty messy card, but messy was good in this case. While it was technically a ladder match, tables and chairs were in fact used, which ultimately gave the WWE the idea for a TLC match.
These three teams held nothing back in their encounters. Jeff Hardy did his Swanton Bomb from the top of a ladder. The ending saw a table bridging two ladders on top of the ring and Matt Hardy was thrown off the table bridge and into a table on the canvas.
Edge and Christian began their dominance of the three-team ladder match concept, winning the titles.
If there’s one match to remember from WrestleMania 2000, it’s this one.
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