This weekend will mark yet another first for WWE, as the company will not only spread out its biggest annual event, WrestleMania, across two nights but also without a single fan in attendance. 35 years ago, when WrestleMania debuted, it’s likely a lot of Vince McMahon’s pundits thought the day would come when no one showed up or that, perhaps, there wouldn’t even be subsequent events but McMahon proved them wrong. And the 74-year-old has turned WWE into a global entertainment phenomenon, one that even COVID-19 couldn’t tap out in these unsettling days.
Saturday and Sunday will be an unprecedented event for an equally unprecedented time and will stream live on the WWE Network and also be available for pay-per-view purchase. No one quite knows what to expect or how the match quality will be for the show, which will be presented from the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, but in one way or another, it’s sure to be unforgettable. Ultimately, that’s what WrestleMania has always been about – the moments. Since there’s been plenty of great moments, it’s time to look back on the 10 most memorable matches in the event’s history. It’s not necessarily what match had the best in-ring work but about the moments each one created and how it changed the business of professional wrestling.
10. An Instant Classic At WrestleMania III
The first match took place at the Pontiac Silverdome in from of 90,000-plus when “Macho Man” Randy Savage defended his Intercontinental Title against Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. It’s the first classic – and one of only two matches that eclipsed the 10-minute mark that evening. WrestleMania III will always be remembered for Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant but Savage and Steamboat were the workers that night.
9. The Boyhood Dream At WrestleMania XII
If you were to paint a picture of what a WrestleMania moment looks like, it would be Shawn Michaels painted in exhaustion and celebration, clutching not only the WWE title but his boyhood dream. It was a bout that was the first of its kind, in that it came in an era where the marathon match – what was labeled the Iron Man Match – was considered passé. But when the WWE put Michaels against Bret Hart, two of the best workers the company has ever seen, it was bound to deliver. To this day, it’s still talked about and considered the one that put Michaels on the map to becoming one of the greatest wrestlers of all-time.
8. The Ultimate Challenge At WrestleMania VI
Ring psychology is an important aspect of professional wrestling, so putting two babyfaces (good guys) against each other doesn’t typically work in the favor of a big box office draw or match quality. People want someone to root for and someone to root against. At the time of WrestleMania VI, Hulk Hogan was the biggest of all babyfaces and the Ultimate Warrior was right behind him. However, in front of a packed house at the Toronto Skydome, Hogan and Warrior delivered in a big, big way and surpassed any and all expectations that night. It was one of Hogan’s best – and it was definitely one of Warrior’s best. What makes this such a great moment though, is that Hogan did the honors for Warrior and, at the time, it was considered as a passing of the torch.
7. Showstopper Versus The Streak At WrestleMania XXV
As soon as rumors circulated that this match could be a reality, the initial thought was that it would be one to never forget. Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker hadn’t faced off against each other since 1998 in a Casket Match, a match that would take four years away from Michael’s in-ring career. But every time these two touched, it was always a classic. From the entrances to the story building up to this match, to the match itself, this, in my opinion, is the greatest WrestleMania match, bell-to-bell, to date. And they would meet again the next year at WrestleMania XXVI.
6. Two of the Greatest At WrestleMania X-Seven
Though the two faced off at WrestleMania XV, The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s first WrestleMania encounter is often a forgotten one but their second one, at WrestleMania X-Seven, was monumental. It’s remembered for several reasons. You had two of the greatest superstars in the history of the entire business in the ring facing off against each other with a packed house at Houston’s Astrodome. This is when WWE made its return to the big stadiums. The match was a thriller that had an ending still debated to this day. Stone Cold was red hot at the time and his joining forces with arch nemesis Vince McMahon was a head scratcher. And no one forgets the build up to this match as it was retold in an unforgettable video package with the Limp Bizkit song “My Way.”
5. Icon Versus Icon At WrestleMania X8
When WWE purchased WCW back in 2001, the excitement grew for all the potential dream matches. Of course, this didn’t happen and the invasion angle turned into a flop. All the big name WCW stars chose to sit out and finish out the rest of their large AOL/Time Warner contracts. Who could blame them? So it wasn’t until the next year, when the invasion angle was over, that Hogan and his fellow nWo members Scott Hall and Kevin Nash returned to WWE. Most expected a Stone Cold and Hulk Hogan match, but it was The Rock versus Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8. The match lived up to its iconic making, where a Skydome crowd surprised everyone with their cheers for the heel Hogan and boos for the babyface Rock. It’s the only dream match of its kind that took place in that era.
4. The Switch At WrestleMania 13
Stone Cold versus Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 is one of the most unique matches of all time. It’s truly one of those beautiful moments in all of professional wrestling. It had everything a wrestling match is supposed to have – great characters, intense physicality, cinematic storytelling and a little bit of twist. By match end, Stone Cold and Bret Hart had completely switched roles. Stone Cold had become the babyface and Hart the heel. Much like others on the list, this match is extremely revered amongst fans and critics and given to many up-and-coming wrestlers to study in regards to ring psychology and how to construct a match. Plus, there’s hardly a WrestleMania highlight video without a shot of a bloodied faced Stone Cold from this match on it.
3. Stone Cold Era Begins At WrestleMania XIV
By WrestleMania XIV, the industry was taking a massive turn into becoming one of the major attractions in all of pop culture – and Stone Cold was the leader. It was arguably the hottest time in the industry where box office records were being broken left and right. WrestleMania XIV felt big. It felt like a big fight with big stakes at hand were taking place between Stone Cold and Shawn Michaels for the WWE title. It was worthy of whatever pay-per-view or ticket price tag was made for it then and a lot of that had to do with Stone Cold, who cemented the start of his legacy at WrestleMania XIV. And who could forget Mike Tyson’s appearance, which garnered major media attention toward the event.
2. The End of the Streak At WrestleMania XXX
I was sitting in the SuperDome that night for WrestleMania XXX when Brock Lesnar ended The Undertaker’s streak and let me tell you, I’d never experienced anything like it in my life. The utter shock and dismay plastered all over 70,000-plus fans’ faces, including my own, when the third count hit the mat, is something that will never be replicated. No one saw this coming – no one. For so long, WrestleMania had been built around The Undertaker and it was his show. So, to see something that had been built for over two decades suddenly come to an end was not only surprising, but dang near earth-shattering.
1. Hogan And Andre At Wrestlemania III
Yes, it’s cliche – but cliche doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s hard to argue this one, honestly. Even if you weren’t alive in 1985 or too young to remember it or watch it at all, you know about this match and the importance of WrestleMania III. The Hogan and Andre bout, in front of 90,000-plus fans, will be discussed until the end of time – it’s the very pulse of WrestleMania, the measuring stick for all other WrestleMania moments. It was no clinic of a wrestling match by any means, that is hold-for-hold. But if you’re talking about breaking viewership and attendance records, look no further than to this match. This moment is WrestleMania, what McMahon was trying to create from the very beginning, and what he’s looked to recreate ever sense.