Ranking The WrestleManias – The Middle 10

After last weeks Part 1 looking at the Bottom 10 WrestleManias was the topic of much discussion (including an episode of Squared Circle Gazette Radio taking feedback on it, which can be found here for your listening pleasure: http://squaredcirclegazette.podbean.com/mf/play/aixp2f/SCGRadio31-RankingtheWrestleManias-TheBottom10.mp3), we are part today for Part 2, as we evaluate the pecking order of the WrestleManias that managed to avoid the depths of history, but also failed to soar to the heights of the legendary supershows…

Grade D:

#20 – WrestleMania 18 (2002)

The D stands for “Doesn’t This Remind You Of Mania 6 In Almost Every Way?”

Not only was this held in the Skydome, but it is memorable only for one match, that involved Hulk Hogan stealing the scene in defeat. But unlike Mania 6, the show kept going after Hogan’s match, which was regrettable, and the decision to put Triple H Vs. Chris Jericho on last was a bad call (interesting how both times babyface HHH has closed Mania, it sucked, huh?).

Hogan Vs. Rock was a very unique match, a magic experience, and it’s not really something that will ever be duplicated given the changes in the business since. I imagine that being there live for this was a surreal, amazing experience that the fans will remember forever. Watching at home, captivating as it was, I was extremely confused. Not only did this piss away the nWo angle (that was botched from the start) once and for all, but it marked the first time in WWF history that nostalgia overruled the here and now. And that’s not a good thing. The period of time between this show and King Of The Ring 2002 is nothing short of an unmitigated disaster. Hogan gets the belt based on this. Taker gets the belt in a horrific match against Hogan. The company name changes, the brand split is executed terribly and Steve Austin quits the company. What sucks about all this is that they had an incredible roster during this time, but it sat there, wasted, when it should have been the focus.

And that’s the story of the rest of this show. Kurt Angle, who at this point was probably the best worker in the company, was stuck with Kane. Steve Austin, who never really recovered from the heel turn, wrestled Scott Hall in a forgettable match. Edge and Booker T have a throwaway feud based on a shampoo commercial, and Rob Van Dam, who had main event potential based on his incredible popularity, was stuck in the opener against William Regal in a short match that cemented both in midcard purgatory.

The only other thing of value was a strong Undertaker/Ric Flair match, featuring the best run-in in WrestleMania history from Arn Anderson, who hits his finisher and blades, all before the match ends.

#19 – WrestleMania 13 (1997)

The D stands for “Double Turn~!”

A lot of people would rank this one lower, and I couldn’t really argue if you did. It did the lowest buyrate of any Mania ever, the main event is wretched, and roster depth is very nearly at 1995 levels. BUT…this does have what I believe is the best match in WWF history, and the match that was realistically the turning point of the company. There was a very obvious change in direction that started with this show thanks to Steve Austin catching fire as a babyface, and one year later, they went from getting slaughtered by WCW to mounting a comeback and taking over. Words won’t do justice to the performance of Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler in putting this masterpiece together. Everybody has stories of personal experiences with wrestling, but I distinctly remember my family (parents were not fans, mind) watching this match multiple times and just being mesmerised by it, debating if the blood was real, and if the match was too brutal. In terms of work, presentation, intensity, telling a story and making a star, I truly believe this is the most perfect match the WWF has ever produced.

The undercard isn’t up to much – the four way tag is forgettable, HHH/Goldust is notable only for Chyna ragdolling Marlena, Owen/Davey Vs. Vader/Mankind is a throwaway, and that goshdarn good guy Rocky Maivia defending the IC Title against The Sultan is fairly embarrassing if you consider where both guys ended up. This time saw a lot of turmoil – the pressure of losing the ratings war to WCW was piling up, Shawn Michaels lost his smile, Vince went back to the big guys on top (which stunk), and the undercard was pretty weak. The only other thing worth a damn on the show is an enjoyable underrated street fight with The Nation of Domination against LOD and Ahmed Johnson, very enjoyable at the time, since table breaking and plunder brawls were a novelty.

The feel of this show is not good, it comes off like just another Pay-Per-View and the feuds going in were fairly quickly slapped together due to Shawn vacating the title. The built-in setting and aura of the show, that nowadays make great matches into classic matches, was absent. And that only makes the Austin/Bret encounter even more incredible, that it could be that good in such a setting.

Goddamn that was great.

Grade C:

#18 – WrestleMania 12 (1996)

The C stands for “Can You Find A Better Example Of A One-Match Show?”

So we’ve bumped up the grade, going from bad to average/decent. The Monday Night War had begun, and the WWF decided it was time to go in the direction of Shawn Michaels as the top babyface, as Bret Hart looked to head to the sidelines to rest up, get a new contract and see how the landscape shaped up. Obviously this show in hindsight is all about the Iron Man Match with Bret and Shawn, which is a really hard one to rank. Some people absolutely adore this match and call it the best ever, some say it was boring, views are fairly polarizing. I didn’t like the 0-0 score heading into overtime myself, if they wanted built-in controversy, all they needed was for Bret to get the first fall, do the same overtime scenario, and Bret can say if it was normal match he’d have beaten him.

The work in the match was pretty damn good, but the live crowd isn’t completely along for the ride, and I can’t say I consider this one of the top five matches in Mania history by any means. Both guys had better matches with others at the big event, and funnily enough I think the Iron Man stipulation handicapped this match more than helped it.

That aside, the rest of the show is fairly standard. Diesel/Undertaker is a big man match that exceeded expectations, Austin/Vega was decent, the opening six man got the job done, and Piper/Goldust was…well, unique.

Given the Hall Of Fame induction last year, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the second biggest thing on the show, the return of the Ultimate Warrior, who hilariously no-sold Triple H’s Pedigree and pinned him in 90 seconds. Like the victim of most traumatic experiences, Hunter would overcompensate for the rest of his career, pinning most people in 90 seconds with the Pedigree.

#17 – WrestleMania 25 (2009)

The C stands for “Can Hunter Get Over In A Mania Main Event This Time?”

Another perfect candidate for a C grade is a show that was quite literally the best and worst of the WWE at the same time. On one hand, you had a great TV build-up to Shawn Michaels Vs. Undertaker, playing off their history, leading to one of the best WrestleMania matches of all time. It is the match this show is remembered for, and rightly so, an absolute tour de force by everybody involved.

But the build-up to almost every other match on this show was complete shit. The Hardyz feuding over Matt burning down Jeff’s house and killing his dog. The World Title match is a lame three way where Vickie Guerrero hits on Big Show while still with Edge, and John Cena is also there. Randy Orton was in the middle of a hot heel push, when Shane McMahon comes back and kicks his ass and ruins it. Then HHH breaks into his house. By the time Mania rolled around, the surefire grudge match with the psychotic heel and the pissed off husband looking for revenge was flat, and for the second time HHH wasn’t able to follow an earlier match in his main event.

Money In The Bank was fun, the actual match featuring the Hardyz was pretty good, and Ricky Steamboat reminded us of just how great he was in a gauntlet match with Chris Jericho. I can’t consider it a bad show, but the terrible booking beforehand ruined the main attractions, and neither title match was anything to write home about.

#16 – WrestleMania 26 (2010)

The C stands for “Christ Retires”

The Shawn Michaels swan song, as he gets the absolute perfect goodbye, one that nobody else ever got to have, in going out on top. Headlining the biggest show of the year, Shawn Michaels and Undertaker wrestled in a rematch from the year before. Despite their best effort, this one is a notch below the previous year, in part because I think the audience deep down knew the result, and couldn’t fully invest in the match the way they did at 25. But regardless, still an amazing performance, and the long term planning and build-up to this match was fantastic, with Taker’s “Ain’t No Grave” and Shawn’s “Running Up That Hill” videos among the best the company has done in years.

As for the rest of this show, again we have the modern WWE mix of good and bad – John Cena and Batista completely overachieve with what was actually a hell of a match, and heel douche Batista was the most entertaining he ever was. But the other two top matches were absolute misfires. How they screwed up Bret Vs. Vince I’ll never know. Terrible build and a worse match. And Edge Vs. Jericho absolutely didn’t work, as the crowd, past the surprise return pop, didn’t have any desire to cheer Edge just yet, and nobody cared. Not only that, but in his big climactic return, he lost.

The rest of the show was hit and miss – Punk Vs. Mysterio could have been a classic, but got criminally cut on time. Legacy was destroyed as a stable, and Rhodes and DiBiase firmly slotted in the midcard, as Randy Orton beat them both in a glorified handicap match, and Jack Swagger won Money In The Bank, a notion that seems fairly funny today. Both the quality of the match and the lustre of MITB had fallen by this point.

#15 – WrestleMania 16 (2000)

The C stands for “Clusterriffic”

2000 is arguably the peak of the company’s history with regards to the amount of pure talent they had. The Rock as mega babyface. HHH at his peak as a heel. The Radicalz had just arrived. Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle were in town. The Hardyz, Dudleyz and Edge & Christian were in place.

Yet in what was overall a pretty strong year for PPV in the WWF, this was one of the weakest shows, simply because the company was determined to get everybody on the show. The only one-on-one match on the whole card was a pointless Kat Vs. Terri encounter, and what’s worse, the sure thing main event of The Rock Vs. Triple H that people wanted to see was removed in place of a Fatal 4 Way, adding a floundering Big Show and a retired five weeks prior Mick Foley, which not only watered down the match in terms of promotion, but tarnished Foley’s retirement unnecessarily in the process. And since Show and Foley were eliminated fairly quickly, one can only assume they were so proud of their “A McMahon In Every Corner” idea, that they felt the need to force it on the main event, logistics be damned. And what was more stunning was that Triple H won when the McMahons all aligned and fucked over The Rock, the first heel to ever win the Mania Main Event. Amazing.

The standout match, easily, is the Triple Threat Tag Team Ladder Match, with a surprising-at-the-time result, and a breathtaking display that served to spotlight the three teams that extra notch into becoming real players. The Triple Threat Two Fall Match with Jericho, Angle and Benoit was actually pretty good, but fell short of expectations. I remember the California crowd seeming a little flat throughout much of the show as well, which didn’t help matters.

There is nothing overly atrocious on the show that pulls down the good stuff to an average mark, it’s just that so much of it was just there. The fact that this falls exactly in the middle of this entire ranking is perfectly poetic.

#14 – WrestleMania 7 (1991)

The C stands for “Can We Please Do Less Matches Next Year?”

This is a funny one. So, Vince thought exploiting the Gulf War would be a great idea, and created megaheel Iraqi Sympathiser Sgt. Slaughter to end Warrior’s rocky-at-best title reign, and set him up for Hogan at Mania, basing the show around patriotism and “Stars And Stripes Forever”. The big idea to hold the show in the LA Memorial Coliseum and break the Mania 3 attendance record fell apart when ticket sales for this angle, which drew a hell of a lot of negative press, were slower than glacial retreat. So they made up a story that they even try and pass off on the recent “True Story Of WrestleMania” DVD, that there was a security concern. Yes folks, Saddam Hussein was going to fire a rocket at Hulk Hogan. In reality, ticket sales were very slow, and as evidenced in the post-Mania house shows, Sgt. Slaughter didn’t draw well as a top heel. WWF bullshit aside, this show has some tremendous highs.

The best match on the show is by far and away Randy Savage Vs. Ultimate Warrior, and the post-match only further cements its place in history. Quite honestly, even though everybody considers this a classic, I still don’t think it gets enough credit. I’ve seen it said elsewhere that Randy Savage was the original “Mr. WrestleMania”, and when you look at his record it’s pretty damn hard to argue that.

There are some other high points, as Hart Foundation Vs. Nasty Boys is better than I remembered, and Rockers Vs. Haku/Barbarian is probably the best match of Barbarian’s career by far. But much like the previous Manias, there were a lot of one-sided squashes that go by like a flash. Mountie/Santana goes a minute, Tornado/Bravo is a nothing match of jakked-up guys who sadly wouldn’t live to see Mania 9, Earthquake squashes “the Human Intermission” Greg Valentine, Demolition do a surprise job to Koji Kitao and Genichiro Tenryu, Bulldog beats Warlord in an entertaining enough little match, and LOD crush Power & Glory.

Again, it seems WWF didn’t learn, and crammed 14 matches into this three hour slot, and there is more to discuss. Undertaker starts his historic streak by owning a washed-up Jimmy Snuka, Virgil beat Ted DiBiase by countout in a match only memorable for Roddy Piper throwing a crutch into a referee’s balls by accident afterwards (and how awesome was the Virgil turn at the 91 Rumble, btw?), and Big Bossman and Mr. Perfect, which had potential to be great and started off pretty hot, ends up being a messy schmozz designed to have a returning babyface Andre The Giant endorse the Bossman. Not sure where I stand on the blindfold match with Jake and Martel – a lot of people tend to hate this far more than I do. For its place on the card, it was designed to be different and a little lighter, and hell, the crowd loved it.

Which brings me to the last point about this show – this is one of two Manias called by Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan, and Heenan was fantastic all throughout the show. Jesse Ventura was always great in his role at his specific time, but Bobby Heenan took it to a different level.

And on a sidenote, look at the physiques. Fuck.

Grade B:

#13 – WrestleMania 8 (1992)

The B stands for “Boy, These Guys Got A Lot Smaller In A Year”

A real tale of two shows in a lot of ways, and I feel nostalgia may have played a small part on this ranking, but the good is very, very good. Randy Savage yet again steals the show at Mania by beating Ric Flair (with Mr. Perfect, a fantastic duo) in a match far better than people seem to remember. Not only that, but Flair’s promos in the build-up to this show were top-notch (“She was mine before she was yours, Whoo!”), and with the post-match scene with Flair kissing Elizabeth and getting slapped, the backstage promos after the match by Savage and Flair were out of this world. Watch this match, kids. The crowd is molten-hot, and the pop for the finish is tremendous.

The other great match on the show is Bret Hart beating Roddy Piper, a match made more dramatic, like the previously mentioned match, with the use of blood, which was a rarity in WWF back then (and was unauthorised in both cases). The pre-match promo was fun, and the story in the ring was fantastic with the two family friends going tooth-and-nail, ending with Bret countering Piper’s longtime finisher into a unique pinning combination, and an extremely rare clean pinfall loss for Piper. This match really did wonders for Bret, which would come in handy as he’d be WWF Champion within a year. These two classic matches make this show.

One of the biggest stories of this night, however, was that this should have been headlined by Ric Flair Vs. Hulk Hogan over who is the real World Champion, and the WWF unfortunately dropped the ball, in part by misreading the crowd, and in part by promising Sid Justice the main event of this show as a way to get him to jump. Broad changes were sweeping through the company as steroid and sex charges bombarded them, which led to a lot of the inflated physiques of WrestleMania 7 becoming a slowly decreasing trend. With a ton of bad publicity surrounding him, Hulk Hogan decided to do what he always does – bold-faced lie to the public, then fuck off for a while when it blows up in his face. With Hogan gone, back came the Warrior to close this show in a pleasant surprise after a fucking awful Sid Vs. Hogan debacle (Appropriate that two of the very worst Mania main events featured Sid). Nothing else on this show was standout, other than the Natural Disasters having a bloody awful match against Money Inc, and Jake Roberts is sent packing from the WWF as Undertaker turns him into statistic #2.

#12 – WrestleMania 24 (2008)

The B stands for “Boxing Beats Wrestling”

The show is memorable for two things – the use of Floyd “Money” Mayweather, and the retirement of Ric “No Money” Flair. And when judging how they used both, this Mania has to be considered a success. The unique promotion of Mayweather Vs. Big Show, the angle at No Way Out where Floyd busted open Big Show, is all very memorable and took a match that sounded like a bizarre freak show on paper and hooked a lot of casual fans with it. As a match, it’s very hard to rate. Obviously Mayweather wasn’t losing, but this, once again, did Big Show no favours in his designed position as “next generation Andre”. Though it didn’t do quite the damage that the LT loss did to Bigelow mentioned earlier, when all was said and done, the company made a bunch of money, which is good, but they didn’t have anything else to show for all this promotion and effort when it was over.

In addition, the Ric Flair retirement run, the Hall Of Fame induction, the “Leave The Memories Alone” video, and the interviews with Shawn Michaels, all culminated here, and while the match itself was very good, it was clear that Flair only had so much to give here, which is a shame, but damned if Shawn Michaels didn’t do his very best to try and make this a classic.

I also want to mention how infuriating the booking of the WWE Title was here, as the absolutely perfect scenario was set up six months prior – Randy Orton punts Cena’s father, then injures him and gets the title without beating Cena. Cena returns in a shocker at the Rumble, wins, and faces Orton at Mania in the big revenge match. But no. Once again, Triple H has to worm his way into a match he had no business being a part of, and waters it down significantly into what ended up as a forgettable three way. The show closer, Undertaker Vs. Edge, was anticipated for a couple of years by the hardcore fans, and while they blew the potential “streak Vs. streak” gimmick one year prior, this was a damn good final match. I do cringe at the bump Edge takes from the top rope to the floor for no reason and little reaction.

There was also a very good Money In The Bank which seems to be a little underrated to me, CM Punk’s first (and very surprising) victory on the big stage, and three unremarkable filler matches underneath with Kane/Chavo, Batista/Umaga and Finlay/JBL.

Great promotion, great buyrate, and a good show.

#11 – WrestleMania 22 (2006)

The B stands for “BIG TIME~!”

A pretty damn fun show with a lot of high points. The company was somewhat fighting to find itself at the time on the John Cena situation – he was being booed quite a bit in the run-up, but they clearly wanted to stay the course. Cena was made to look pretty goofy in the build-up to this show in his feud against HHH, but irrespective of that, the match itself ended up being white-hot and was a lot of fun.

The company was also experiencing the painful aftermath of the Eddie Guerrero death, appropriate to mention here as Rey Mysterio won his first World Title in a criminally short 9 minute match against Kurt Angle and Randy Orton, dedicating the win to Eddie. The booking was so stop-start on Mysterio the entire time, and Vince’s fascination with using Eddie’s death for heel heat soured the entire thing for Mysterio.

In addition, Edge had broken though, albeit temporarily, by winning and losing the WWE Title to John Cena two months before. But despite the fact that he was the hottest heel in the company (I sure didn’t like him at the time), he was cast back down solely so that HHH could get his main event. On the bright side, he had an incredible Hardcore Match with Mick Foley that put him over strong and kept him relevant. The selflessness of Foley in these matches shouldn’t be understated; this man was not just in it for himself when a lot of guys at his age and position have been (see Hogan, Summerslam 2005/2006).

The other two highlights were a strong Money In The Bank match won by Rob Van Dam, and Shawn Michaels beating Vince McMahon in a Street Fight, both of which lit up the vocal Chicago crowd. This was also the night when the DX reunion was first teased, whether intentionally or not, with both Shawn and Hunter firing off crotch chops in their respective matches.

On the downside, Undertaker had a below par casket match with Mark Henry, Torrie Wilson and Candice Michelle had a match that was there, and Carlito & Chris Masters opened the show slowly against Big Show & Kane.

Join us next week for Part 3 – The Top 10!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.