Ranking The WrestleManias: The Top 10

So here we are. After last weeks Middle 10 (including discussing it on Squared Circle Gazette Radio at this link: http://squaredcirclegazette.podbean.com/mf/play/w7ueqx/SCGRadio32-RankingtheWrestleManias-TheMiddle10.mp3), we have arrived at the Top 10. As Gorilla Monsoon used to say, it has come down to the nitty-gritty. Enjoy.

Grade B:

 #10 – WrestleMania 30 (2014)

The B stands for “BRROOOOCK…”

The B could actually stand for a few things, “Bootista” being among them. But the biggest story of the night was the ending of the Undertaker’s legendary streak at the hands of Brock Lesnar, which, while an absolutely gobsmacking event, and one of my favourite fan experiences in recent years, was questionable at the time, and is even more suspect in hindsight given the uncertainty of Brock’s future. Not even getting to the fact that the match itself was a massive disappointment thanks to Taker’s concussion, and a misguided sense of inevitability about the whole experience, as a standalone moment that produced a unique emotion that we may not see again for years, this was extremely special.

Daniel Bryan was the other big story of the night, pinning Triple H clean in the opener, before winning the WWE Championship in the main event against Batista and Randy Orton in front of an incredibly hot crowd, in two tremendous matches, a result of a landmark negative response to Batista’s babyface return, Bryan’s popularity and CM Punk quitting. And the video set to the tune of “Monster” to set up the story of the show was incredible.

Add in the captivating Hogan/Austin/Rock encounter to start the show and a few other excellent touches sprinkled throughout, and it squeaks it into the top ten past some tough competition.

Not that it wasn’t without its problems. The build-up on Raw for the matches was disappointing almost across the board. Cena Vs. Wyatt dragged, Brock Vs. Taker was a snoozefest until the finish, and when you view this show in the long-term (Brock’s possible leaving, the poor booking of Bryan’s title run, the follow-up to Cesaro’s Battle Royal win being a mess) it does give you a desire to drop it down a peg. But judging it on the night, this does belong in the top ten.

#9 – WrestleMania 28 (2012)

The B stands for “Because I Was There”

And in truth, that may skew this one slightly for me, edging it into the Top Ten. The build-up for the top two matches on this show was the best job the company has done for a long time, the “Once In A Lifetime” dream match of Rock Vs. Cena, with biting promos, fantastic video packages, and a full year to anticipate it, as well as the rematch from Mania 27, the “End Of An Era” Hell in a Cell match with Taker Vs. HHH, with Shawn Michaels as the wild card as referee.

Rock Vs. Cena delivered with a match executed almost exactly as it should have been, right down to the Rock going over in a massive shock that lit up the crowd like nothing I’ve ever witnessed before. Critics that think John Cena should have won, believing he deserved it or that this result was an indictment of Cena’s run are misguided in that belief in my opinion, and hey, I’m the biggest proponent of forward thinking. But if you’re going to do this match, with this promotion, in this location, it’s the only result you can do without pissing off the masses, because a Cena victory wasn’t swaying anybody’s opinion of him, as evidenced a year later. Nothing is going to do that, it’s been too long, and they’ve tried too much. And besides, while the show was already good heading in the finish of the main event, that decision MADE this show from a live perspective.

The Hell In A Cell match wasn’t as good as the match a year earlier, but was still very good. CM Punk Vs. Chris Jericho was the other top match on the card, but to be perfectly honest I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was disappointed by the build-up to this match. Two excellent talkers and storytellers, and whether it was its placement as third match from the top, restrictions or whatever, it didn’t really hook people as expected. The match itself was damn good, though it took a while for the fans to stir since it was following Hell In A Cell.

The elephant in the room here is that the first half of the show was complete filler, ruined by the 18 second burial of Daniel Bryan, losing his World Title in the opener with one move to Sheamus. Surprisingly, this didn’t go over so well, and the crowd seethed to one another for about an hour, looking at Kane Vs. Randy Orton and Big Show Vs. Cody Rhodes like it was a dog taking a slow dump.

The atmospherics were tremendous, and what was promoted hard delivered to expectations…with one exception. Although it is funny how this 18 seconds launched Daniel Bryan’s career as a genuine top guy.

#8 – WrestleMania 20 (2004)

The B stands for “That Third Guy”

In terms of advance promotion, people forget how tremendously well this show was marketed ahead of time. Not only was the heritage of the show, the number, the location (MSG) all a key part of this, but this was the debut of the logo hanging in the arena for almost a full year heading into the show. The company spent $5 million on bilboards, flyering and grassroots cross-promotion. Going in, this show had a massive advantage in that when the first second of this show hit the air, it already felt so very, very special. And that does mark it up.

Flash forward ten years, and not only is it depressing how lacklustre the promotion for 30 was by comparison, but it is kind of hard to enjoy this show the way you did at the time, for the obvious reason that it was built around Chris Benoit winning the World Title for the first time in the main event. Some people may rate this show a lot higher, and there have been times when I felt that it should actually be ranked a little lower. Lesnar/Goldberg, which was a well-built match, ended up as a dud thanks to the crowd burying the entire thing due to the knowledge that both men were leaving. Undertaker’s return was hyped extremely well and was a fantastic entrance, though the match with Kane that followed was crap. But the Triple Threat Match that headlined was possibly the best three way in company history, with Shawn Michaels especially putting in an amazing performance.

Kurt Angle and Eddie Guerrero had a very good match for the World Title, and Evolution Vs. Rock and Foley was wildly entertaining with a great finish and perfect performance of almost everybody in the match (I’ve heard that Foley was down on the fact he was tagging out while Orton was in the ring which he shouldn’t have been doing, which is nitpicky but valid).

The major strength of the show was the warm fuzzy feeling when Guerrero and Benoit embraced mid-ring, kings of their world. Three and a half years later and the moment had gone through the emotional wringer, from beautiful to tragic to tarnished forever.

Elsewhere on the show, John Cena is cheered as a babyface in New York on his rise to top, as he beats Big Show for the US Title, there’s a fun Cruiserweight Open, 2 Four Way Tag Title Matches that didn’t accomplish much, and your token throwaway Divas match.

There are times I’m tempted to rate this one lower for various reasons, but all things considered, I’m happy for it to sit here.

#7 – WrestleMania 23 (2007)

The B stands for “Bald Asshole”

From a business standpoint, this was the biggest buyrate for a WrestleMania of all time, based on the “Battle Of The Billionares” (which also could have been what the B stood for, but mine was actually true) between Vince and Donald Trump. It’s funny how the two guys who actually performed the match, Lashley and Umaga, ended up meaning nothing for the company in the long run. Folks, if you ever wonder why this did so well, watch the build for this on the Raw’s leading up. It was almost inch perfect, apart from the horrible sketch that started the whole thing. The use of Steve Austin, Vince with his best performances in years, the megapush of Lashley, and one of the best stipulations of all time for public interest. On top of that, the match, while nothing classic in-ring, was a lot of fun.

In addition, Shawn Michaels and John Cena had a brilliant main event (which doesn’t get its due), Batista and Undertaker blew away expectations with another excellent title match, and Money In The Bank was another key highlight, won by Mr. Kennedy, a guy who at one point had an incredible career trajectory ahead of him, which promptly fell apart. The real theme of this Mania, beyond the two great title matches that, depending on which way the wind blows, may or may not have had superior rematches within a month, is that the guys that were clearly handpicked to lead the company going forward, all crumbled into nothing.

As is a pattern with “The 20s”, the undercard matches were neither here nor there, with some matches getting some decent build and others serving only to fill a spot on the card, which is perfectly fine, but doesn’t stand out as spectacular either. Taker’s streak was really picking up steam at this point, and a Batista victory would have been inexcusable.

Grade A:

#6 – WrestleMania 21 (2005)

The A stands for “Are You Talkin’ To Me?”

As WrestleMania went Hollywood, it did so by marking a new era, crowning Batista and John Cena the top guys in the company with their respective World and WWE Title wins. Before anything else is said – I’ve taken my fair share of shots at Triple H throughout this thing, so I’ll give credit where it is due: he made Batista. The slow babyface of turn of Batista was not only perfect paced and brilliantly executed, but Triple H put him over clean in the middle on the big show, then put him over again clean in Hell In A Cell. Contrast this to what Triple H did with Randy Orton, it’s night and day. This PPV did the best domestic PPV number in years, and it’s almost all down to the build to this match.

But ultimately, the two title matches weren’t particularly special on the show itself. Underneath, Edge won the original and best Money In The Bank Ladder Match, a bout loaded with fantastic talent (and Kane); Eddie Guerrero & Rey Mysterio opened things well, though admittedly short of expectations; Undertaker and Randy Orton was a hot battle between established guard and rising star (and at the time Orton not winning was quite the surprise); and in the best match on the show, Kurt Angle beat Shawn Michaels clean in the middle with the ankle lock in what is one of my personal favourite matches of all time. Seems a lot of people, while giving this massive credit, are reluctant to heap praise upon it as they have for other Mania matches, and I’m not really sure why. The pacing is phenomenal, the near falls are out of this world, and the finish is one of the most dramatic in the history of the show. Listen to the crowd, it’s a masterclass in setting the groundwork, picking them up, settling them down, yo-yo-ing them near the end, building to a peak, and sustaining that intensity until the perfect moment. Right guy went over as well.

Fun cameos from Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper go over well, though I’d be remiss not to mention Big Show losing yet another intersport battle at Mania, this time to Akebono, a guy well known in his country for his contributions in sumo (and crossover work in MMA and Wrestling), but known by nobody anywhere else.

The top matches didn’t deliver to the standard of the undercard, with John Cena’s win being particularly underwhelming. Much like 23, both title matches would be done again months later, and done much better.

#5 – WrestleMania 19 (2003)

The A stands for “A Broken Freakin’ Neck”

WWE Champion Kurt Angle performs on this show, despite having a broken neck and having no business wrestling. Steve Austin performs on this show, despite a broken neck and a near heart attack the night before. Brock Lesnar almost kills himself blowing a Shooting Star Press that he’d done before a hundred times, and luckily avoids a broken neck himself. Despite all of this, this show is fantastic.

Unfortunately, it was one of the least purchased Manias of this time period, mainly because the top promoted match was, for some reason, Vince McMahon Vs. Hulk Hogan, in a match that on paper sounds like it could be intriguing, and in the ring was actually a damn good brawl, but it had no legs as a draw. Two old guys fighting over old shit. Steve Austin Vs. The Rock Part 3 didn’t work quite so well as a draw as the prior two – this match has to go on top or nothing, and their status as part timers led to a difficult dynamic with heel Rock going over, and almost felt like a nostalgia retreat. But again, a very entertaining match.

Kurt Angle puts in one of the classic performances while injured in history, and paid for it by going into shock after the match, but ending aside, the match with Lesnar was a clinic, even if the crowd was somewhat burned out.

Michaels Vs. Jericho stole the show from an in-ring standpoint, in what was a very difficult show to steal. A lot of people strongly felt Jericho needed the win, and I don’t disagree, but in the big picture Jericho had been stalled so much at this point that it made a negligible difference, and he got to leave with a good bit of heat for double-crossing Michaels on the embrace.

One of the best Manias ever with the amount of star power, entertaining or excellent matches, but does have the shocking decision to have Triple H bury Booker T for saying that “you people” aren’t good enough to be champion, and then HHH wins and turns out to be right. Mysterio and Matt Hardy only going 6 minutes was a travesty – Mysterio was a genuine star at this time, and this was the peak of Matt Hardy as a singles player. Rob Van Dam being left off the show was bullshit. Taker has one of his least memorable Mania victories here, beating A-Train and Big Show in a nothing happening affair.

#4 – WrestleMania 14 (1998)

The A stands for “AUSTIN AND TYSON~! AUSTIN AND TYSON~!”

We’re getting into the very best Manias ever here, and as a lot of the previous shows have had truly classic matches, something this show doesn’t really have, I feel I have to almost justify this one’s place here.

For build-up and for historical significance, there are almost none better than this show. This was the night that stamped WWF’s return to ratings form, and cemented Steve Austin as the biggest star in the wrestling business. The angles leading into this show were fantastic – the 3:16 Machine was at full charge already, but when the Austin/Tyson pull-apart took place on Raw, a wild scene that I saw before it was broadcast on Sky because BBC News ran it the next morning as a lead story, it was very obvious that something special was taking place. Shawn Michaels was a great foil for Austin, but the Tyson element was magic. The segment where he “joined DX” on Raw was a phenomenal idea, and when the pictures of Tyson KOing Michaels made the back page of The Sun and The Mirror the day after Mania, it was incomprehensible to a young wrestling fan like myself, who lived through the bad years and saw just how uncool the product was to the public such a short time before. Times were definitely changing.

That would be enough to place it high, but the six month build to the first Undertaker Vs. Kane match was great as well. The best monster introduction in company history, and the following six months of perfect booking, gave Kane a lifeline he has ridden to this very day. Even still, people fondly remember Kane of this era as being the best he ever was. Video evidence suggests otherwise, as this match really isn’t spectacular, although Kane tombstoning Pete Rose was glorious.

Everything just came into place at this show. A rising superstar known now as The Rock, one year after shitting the bed at Mania 13, put in a stellar performance with Ken Shamrock, who was in his own right extremely over at this time. Booked with such charm, as the slow burn of Rock and Faarooq being at odds is paid off here, Shamrock finally beats The Rock for the IC Title, but the decision is reversed when he continues to kick his ass after the bell, and Rock, while being carried off on a stretcher, raises the title as he is announced the winner in an amazing display of personality unfathomable to those who saw his first IC Title run.

The Dumpster match with the Outlaws and Cactus/Funk is good, and the other standout from the undercard was, seemingly out of nowhere, Sable, who shot to stardom like a rocket (and ended up falling just as fast) based on her performance on this show, as her and real life husband Marc Mero beat Goldust and Luna in a match that not only got an ungodly amount of heat, but was significantly better than it had any right to be.

Were the matches “five star classics”? No, and the crowd not being electric for the top two matches holds it back from a higher spot, but everything was booked so perfectly, and nothing else mattered. If you lived through this, you will understand what I mean when I say that this show changed the face of the WWF forever.

#3 – WrestleMania 10 (1994)

The A stands for “And The Fuck-Up Of Mania 9 Is Corrected”

This is the highest show on the list that had the least significance for the business, it was just an incredible show. Everybody knows why so I won’t belabour the point. This was also the first show I ever saw right as it happened, getting the tape the following day from a friend at school, and this may well be the show that made me a fan for life.

Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon in the Ladder Match was out of this world, and I watched that match so many damn times. If you look at it with modern eyes, it probably doesn’t hold up as spectacular as the TLCs, or are as whacky and creative as the Money In The Bank matches that have become “show me something new”-fests, but in that time, in that place, it was one of the best matches of all time, and changed the way I looked at wrestling.

And amazingly, it’s not the only all-time classic on the show, as the opening Bret Vs. Owen encounter is a Match Of The Decade contender in its own right. Another brilliant encounter, with the shocking ending of midcard heel Owen pinning top star Bret clean the night of his title shot, sets this card on a high enough pedestal, but the booking of the WWF Title is the cherry on the cake. Not only does Lex Luger, the guy who spent most of 1993 on the Lex Express being forced down people’s throats as the new Hulk Hogan, get cast aside after he’s shown up as second best at the Royal Rumble (after a tie-finish, fans vociferously cheered Bret over Lex), but Bret Hart went from losing clean to his brother in the opener, to winning the WWF Title in the main event (never understood what the hell the finish of this match was supposed to be, by the way), beating Yokozuna (one of the worst WWF champions ever, I don’t care what anybody says) to win back the title that he never should have lost the year before. As all the babyfaces celebrate with Bret and lift him on their shoulders (including Lex Luger, whose face looks like he just caught somebody fucking his wife), Owen Hart, the heel that claims he’s better than Bret and never gets the credit, that beat him to start the Pay-Per-View, stands disgusted in the aisle mouthing “What about me?” Fucking brilliant.

The rest of the show was what it was, nothing that stank the joint out or set the world afire either way, though Randy Savage does have his in-ring WWF farewell here beating Crush in a weird falls count anywhere/Texas death match hybrid.

Grade A+:

#2 – WrestleMania 3 (1987)

There are clearly two WrestleManias that are a notch above the rest, and they, in both cases, they are the definitive shows of their respective boom periods. It’s very hard to make a call on which one to put at the top of the mountain, and there are great cases for both.

The build-up to the top feuds on this show was exceptional. Blatant lying of Andre’s record or not, Hogan and Andre was the ultimate mega-match of the time, with the involvement of Bobby Heenan and some incredible Piper’s Pit segments setting this up perfectly. The Savage/Steamboat ring bell angle is one of the all-time best in execution, and in how much gravity it was given at the time. And don’t sleep on Piper Vs. Adonis, which has a great series of skits in Piper’s Pit & The Flower Shop.

When show time came, in front of a packed 78,000 fans (WWF claimed 93,173 famously, it was the show’s promoter Zane Bresloff who revealed it was a legit 78,000), WWF put on the perfect show for their audience at the time. Match quality wasn’t the key factor in Hogan/Andre, the atmospherics and the spectacle was. For Savage and Steamboat, one of the best Mania matches ever, it was a match was for years was considered the gold standard, and will always be remembered as the first true classic in the history of the show.

Beyond the top three matches, rest of the card is fun, with the highlight being an underrated Hart Foundation/Danny Davis Vs. Bulldogs/Tito six man. As a standalone PPV, with modern eyes there are Manias better, but with the historic slam and legdrop, the incredible IC Title match, the huge crowd and the incomparable feeling surrounding the show, this is almost the best of them all. Almost.

#1 – WrestleMania 17 (2001)

This is almost certainly not a surprise to most, and is probably the consensus best WrestleMania of all time, though it underwent a hell of a fight to get here for me.

The best domestic PPV number for a Mania ever was this show, headlined by Austin and Rock, two genuine megastars riding a massive wave of popularity, head-to-head in their best Mania match. However, while Mania 3 defined its era and had the perfect results top to bottom to help make it what it was, the closing scene of this show, with Austin turning heel and joining Vince McMahon, did a hell of a lot of damage to the promotion. The business was heading towards a downturn anyway, but this was the wrong move at the wrong time, and business plummeted immediately. Since I added in the other factors that made me rank the rest of the shows as I did, as opposed to simply standalone PPV quality, the external factors surrounding this one almost made me kick it from its mighty perch.

But alas, it’s just too damn good. Austin Vs. Rock was so anticipated, everybody will remember the amazing “My Way” music video forever, and the card itself is superb. Austin/Rock delivered huge, and may well be the most electric main event in the history of Mania. Triple H and Undertaker had a hell of a match, TLC 2 was an excellent and wild stunt show, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit had a fantastic bout in their first ever PPV match, and Shane McMahon and Vince had arguably the best non-wrestler match ever, filled with twists on turns. The only thing remotely offensive on this show is Chyna’s “offering”, but she was canned two months later, so that worked out okay in the end.

This was the return to the stadium shows as well after a long hiatus, and this, more than any Mania I’ve ever seen, felt special from the second it began. If the Austin heel turn didn’t persuade me to rank this lower, nothing could. As the definitive show of my favourite period of time as a wrestling fan, with a more consistent level of high quality throughout than any other, this is the best WrestleMania of all time.

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