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Ranking Every Wrestlemania Main Event - Part 5

Updated on June 16, 2016
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Undertaker vs. Edge – Wrestlemania 24

Hey, Edge did get his Wrestlemania main event! Wrestlemania 24 was a strange beast in that it was unclear what match was actually going to headline. In addition to this much-hyped match, there was also Cena vs. HHH vs. Orton and Ric Flair’s retirement match against HBK. According to report, Flair’s emotional retirement was supposed to close the show. That would have been an excellent show-closer. Even in hindsight of knowing that Flair did not stay retired, his exit still elicits the feels. So saying that ANY match was worth headlining after that classic is high praise. Let’s not forget it headlined after the star-studded triple threat featuring HHH, Cena and Orton. Edge and Undertaker had A LOT to live up to with the card they were featured on, and they delivered. It can’t be too surprising – Edge and Undertaker were two of the most engaging characters on the roster at the time and they knew how to keep the flow of a match going. Oddly enough, despite the many great things to say about this match is that one of the most memorable spots was the replacement ref doing the 100-yard dash to the ring.

Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart – Wrestlemania 12

There’s a reason iron man matches have been few and far between in WWF/E history. First of all, they are time consuming. While Bayley and Sasha Banks had an excellent 30 minute Iron Woman match, the bulk of the other Iron Man matches have been an hour. That is ONE-THIRD of a Pay Per View and at least half of a televised show. And if anyone expects to hold the attention of live crowds and at home viewers for A FULL HOUR, there had better be some tippy top talent in that ring. So who better to have the first match like this but two of the absolute best ever – Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. This was not the first time these two had a match, and it certainly wasn’t the last… Of course, that is a story for another day. An iron man match seemed like a fresh approach. Both Hart and Michaels were babyfaces so rather than the good guy conquering the evil heel, it was too extraordinary athletes flaunting their athletic chops.

While I agree this match is a classic, it is not one of my personal favorites. First of all, I must reiterate an earlier issue. This match was an hour. As talented as they were, Bret and Shawn did in fact have to pace themselves and fill the match. At least they didn’t make the mistake Orton and Cena made with their Iron Man match – using up all the cool spots in the first half. Despite being a fan of both men, one of my favorite columnists RD Reynolds criticized this match for being too obvious that Hart and Michaels would go 0-0 and then go into overtime. Unlike him, I watched this match in hindsight so I didn’t have that problem, but I see where he’s coming from. You can look at this two ways – maybe you found the way these two avoided the noose suspenseful or maybe you’re of the camp who thinks some falls would have added a little suspense. Shawn winning the world title was a mixed bag as it both does and doesn’t make sense in hindsight. On one hand, he was one of the best in the business who – political backstabbing or not – deserved to be world champion. On the other hand, WWE likes to gloss over the fact that in 1996, Shawn Michaels was NOT over as a babyface. He seemed to have the same problem Roman Reigns has – they pushed him as a babyface and took away everything that was cool about him. Shawn Michaels himself admitted at the time he worked better as an arrogant heel. Even with the problems, this is a great match, and Shawn Michaels winning the world championship was a big moment, sold as “the boyhood dream coming true.”

John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels – Wrestlemania 23

According to one of the WWE-produced WWE’s, this was supposed to be a re-match between Cena and HHH. I’m sure he doesn’t feel that way because of the months he was out, and probably hurt, but HHH’s quad injury that January was a blessing in disguise. Cena and Michaels were two top guys so it should be no surprise they put on a stellar match. They already had some big shoes to fill since Batista vs. Undertaker happened earlier in the show, but these guys still delivered. As good as this match is, I have issues. First of all, the feud between Cena and Michaels was a little too congenial for a match this big. I get that it was babyface vs. babyface, but there’s a right way to do that. Remember how I mentioned Undertaker vs. Batista? They were both babyfaces, and they played a story that they were trying to destroy each other simply because they both wanted to be world champion. Also, this match played the Super Cena card at a time when that trope was particularly egregious. Shawn got a little too much offense when this match should have been more back and forth. Still, we got some insane spots – including a steel stop piledriver – don’t expect anything like again in the E. This match isn’t a personal favorite, but I still tip my hat to the clinic these two put on.

Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan – Wrestlemania 6

Even if not every old school Mania headliner passes the test of time, when they got it right, they got it right. The funny thing is – as much as I love both of these guys – they were not the best workers. I guess it was just a matter of styles clicking. To be fair, it’s more than that. Both men – in their prime – were stellar at telling stories and selling drama in the ring. Fan reaction is the kind of thing that CAN make or break a match, and these fans were pumped. This was the first time the two opponents at Wrestlemania were both babyfaces. While Austin vs. HBK was an unintentional passing of the torch, this was clearly intended as a torch passing match – with the biggest star of the 80’s handing the banner over to what McMahon wanted to be the star of 90’s. While definitely one of the most iconic wrestlers ever, various factors lead to Warrior not being THE flag-bearer the way Hogan was. Regardless, Warrior defeating Hogan was one of the right choice and one of the most iconic Mania wins.

Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins – Wrestlemania 31

Remember how HHH vs. Orton was the amazing feud that lead to an underwhelming match? Well, now we have the yin to that yang (or however that works). Lesnar vs. Reigns was the single lamest Wrestlemania build since HHH vs. Jericho. It was so anemic, it was arguably worse. Reigns – who I think it’s fair to point out USED TO BE a fan favorite – was the most reviled Royal Rumble winner, having dethroned Batista… ONE YEAR PREVIOUSLY! So how does the company rectify that? Do they deliver the feud with Brock Lesnar fans expected? Do they have two beasts tear each other part? No, they just play tug of war for with the championship. It was so bad, the company barely had anything for the pre-match video package.

Despite the limp wristed buildup, the match turned out great. Even before Seth Rollins interfered, this match would have ranked high on this list. Reigns and Lesnar finally had the fight that was expected of them. We even saw a little bloodshed from Lesnar – driving home the idea that these two were trying to hurt each other. Rollins’ interference put this match over the top. Not to brag, but some of us saw this coming. Having said that, it was a brilliant idea. Rollins hijacking the main event to cash in his Money in the Bank was the kind of shakeup the booking team has been doing less and less of, plus the first time in a while ANYONE had done something special with the Money in the Bank. It was the perfect type of heel tactic – “angering” the fans enough to make the fans want to see what happens next.

Daniel Bryan vs. Batista vs. Randy Orton – Wrestlemania 30

By now, I think every wrestling fan knows the story behind this one. Batista won the 2014 Royal Rumble – no doubt because they wanted to capitalize on Batista starring in Guardians of the Galaxy. (On that note, say what you will about Reigns, the guy was at least a new Rumble winner and at least is a long term investment. Batista winning was just a short term cash-grab.) Fan response was apocalyptically bad – so bad it was cited as ONE of the reasons CM Punk left the company (I know there was a laundry list of reasons, but I digress). As damage control, Daniel Bryan was added into the main event scene. An additional stipulation was added, with Bryan needing to conquer Triple H in the opening bout. Bryan’s win in the opening match both helped and hurt this match. On one hand, it limited Bryan – a little bit by making him play tired, and even taken out of the match for a moment after a wicked table bump. Then again, limited Bryan was still several notches above most of the main roster. On the positive side, this match told a brilliant story. Bryan had to beat Triple H, then beat two titans – Orton AND Batista – who were both fresh. Even if it wasn’t planned, even if Bryan ended up on the injured list, shortly after, but this match was the kind of brilliant crowd-pleasing underdog story WWE needs to embrace a little more these days.

Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle – Wrestlemania 19

Wrestlemania 19 is a personal favorite of mine. With only a handful of dud matches (the Miller Lite Cat Fight and Undertaker’s least interesting match once the company figured out they had a streak going on), this was almost a meeting of every era of wrestling from the 80’s to that point. Hogan and McMahon represented the 80’s, Austin and the Rock represented the Attitude Era. Headlining this stellar show was a technical classic between Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle. These were two guys who had several great matches against each other, so when they were facing off at the grandest stage of them all, it should be no surprise they brought their A-game. Without context, fans may not know this, but Brock Lesnar actually had to be extra careful with Angle who was battling severe neck problems at the time (He took time off after this). Despite being a stone classic, this match has the stigma of being remembered for Brock Lesnar botching a shooting star press. What should have been one of the most spectacular match finishes in Wrestlemania history ended up being one of the most notorious botches in wrestling history. For what it’s worth, the mere sight of Brock Lesnar pulling off a shooting star press AT ALL is still impressive and he KIND OF makes it (It’s sort of a shooting star headbutt to Angle’s hips). Botch and all, this is still an amazing match.

Steve Austin vs. The Rock II – Wrestlemania 17

While Rock vs. Cena was duplicated just so the company could artificially make an important match seem more important, this was a re-match for a reason. In 1999, Austin and Rock met up because they were the top heel and the top and the top babyface of the company. In 2001, they were different people – they were the two biggest stars in the business, and bona fide legends. These two knew they had an important match on their hands and delivered on the goods with dozens of memorable spots – both men copied each other’s’ finishers, weapon spots and Austin even attempting the Million Dollar Dream. There was a good story too. Austin’s story was that he was so desperate he would do ANYTHING to be on top of the mountain again – and so he did. He actually teamed up with his former nemesis Vince McMahon to de-throne The Rock. Talking about Austin’s heel turn is a subject on its own (especially since there were good things and bad things about it), and maybe turning Austin heel IN TEXAS wasn’t the smartest idea. (It was a decidedly pro-Austin crowd.) But the storytelling in of itself was damn solid. If I had one nitpick with this match, it does end somewhat anti-climatically. After one of the best Stunners ever – which the Rock sold with a backflip – Austin just whales on the Rock with chairs. I guess they were trying to solidify Austin as a heel, but it’s a low note on one of the greatest Mania main events – and one of the greatest Wrestlemanias – ever.

Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker – Wrestlemania 26

Now THIS is the kind of match that justifies going on ahead of the world title. Part of me finds it hard to shake the idea that they knew the previous year’s Taker vs. Michaels match was such a blockbuster that they wanted to course correct and have it headline for 26. But in hindsight we knew the real reason. This ended up being Shawn Michaels’s final match. In hindsight there was a lot of suspense going into this match. Would the Shawn Michaels really retire or would he end the Undertaker’s streak? After all, Shawn Michaels was showing no sign of needing to retire. He was not only working full time, but he was still putting down good matches. By this point, the retirement match had been somewhat diluted. Foley wrestled every now and then after retiring in 2000. Flair went back to wrestling after retiring in 2008. In fact, in 2008, both the Undertaker and Michaels appeared to retire in what were… admittedly some damn good angles. But as we all know, Shawn Michaels was not victorious and he did retire. One reason it is good he has remained retired? It is hard to imagine a better match to go out on. Highlights included the table moonsault onto the announce table and Shawn telling Taker to just finish him already.

Shawn Michaels vs. HHH vs. Chris Benoit – Wrestlemania 20

I realize this may push a few buttons. I had to talk about this match sooner or later. Hindsight is 20-20, but the sad truth is we can’t ignore the horrible things Benoit did any more than we can ignore what a talented in-ring performer he was. For that reason, I have to be honest, and rank this the best Wrestllemania main event ever. Now, that I’ve addressed the elephant in the room, I can discuss the excellent match in question. Considering all three men were A-performers, it should be no surprise they put on an A-level match. Adding to all three men’s workmanship, they told a great story to boot. Benoit was sold as a great underdog who clawed his way to his position. Both Michaels and Hunter were multi-time world champions and perennial main eventers. After years of being a main eventer (who occasionally hovered into the main event scene), Benoit won the Royal Rumble from the number 1 spot and was caught in the middle of Hunter and Michaels’s then-blood feud. These three men tour down the house, with hardly a wasted moment in the match. Tables were broken, blood was spilled, and the match had a vibe like all three men went through an absolute war. If you can’t watch this match because of Benoit’s later events, I’ll respect that, but for me watching him make Hunter tap out and celebrate winning the world championship with Eddie Guerrero is still a classic moment.

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