Hey Wrestle Fans! It’s Andy Larson back for another one of our patented GotS monthly top 10 list contests. You know, the time of the month when Stew, Chad, myself, and often some guest writer get locked together in the steel cage and have to duke it out for supremacy. Often times you might see one of go off the top rope with a big high risk move such as listing Ramen noodles as a candy, but overall we pride ourselves on delivering the goods each and every month when it comes to solid “top 10” lists that most of our fan base can debate and enjoy.
As you might have guessed from the first paragraph as well as upcoming events this week, it’s all about professional wrestling. In particular with what could the most bizarre Wrestlemania in history coming up in just a few short days with the “Empty arena” event, we thought it would be a good time to look back on some of the other most memorable matches in the annuals of this sports entertainment spectacular.
Of course, I’m going to preface this list by saying I haven’t watched wrestling in years. Not really since my favorite superstar of all time, Shawn Michaels, retired from active status after losing his match with the Undertaker at Wrestlemania XXVI (which by the way was I think the very first time I met my podcasting co-host, Rob Stewart, as we watched that together at a Buffalo Wild Wings with or mutual friend, Chad Smith).
I’ve obviously though kept my finger on the pulse of some of the more major events, given both Stew and my brother, Ethan, are still pretty huge fans, so I’m always asking questions about what’s a happenin’ in that good ol’ squared circle. I’ve even watched some of the more recent ‘Manias as a guest at Stew’s house the past couple of years.
However, if you think this list is going to include any matches from the past 10 years, you are going to be deeply disappointed. That’s just not my wheel house, and I’m not going to fake it. If that loses me points in the final voting, I’ll take that hit.
I will admit though Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan nearly made the list…
10.) Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart: WrestleMania XII
The first of several Shawn Michaels entries on this list, given I feel he is probably the best pro wrestler of the modern era, the 60 minute “Iron Man” match against Bret Hart might not make some wrestling fans lists. Mainly because I’ll fully admit, it’s pretty boring at times. There’s a lot of headlocks, waistlocks, and other moves that are more in line with a traditional wrestling match, which as a former high school wrestler myself does require intense physicality, but aren’t very interesting to watch as an outsider.
However, this match makes my list because of what it represents. It’s one of the few times that these two superstars who arguably had one of the most intense, publicly known, and in terms of the “Montreal Screw Job” incident, infamous feuds in the history of professional wrestling, actually faced off against each other in the ring.
For all of the hullabaloo made up about Hart vs. Michaels over the years, many younger wrestling fans might conclude that the two fought each other as many times as Hogan vs. Macho Man or Austin vs. Rock over the years. But that’s just not the case. This is actually the only time they fought each other in the main event at Wrestlemania and one of the few times they fought each other for the WWE title period.
This is truly a feud that developed off screen and backstage for the most part, with shots being fired at both ends. We could have easily got a rematch for the title at Wrestlemania 13, but egos got in the way, and Michaels “lost his smile” before that could happen.
As a result, this is still the best opportunity to watch these two incredible performers, some of the very best mat technicians in the history of the business, actually fight each other in a match. And the pure emotion of Michaels winning the title in the end is electric!
9.) Hulk Hogan vs. Macho Man Randy Savage: Wrestlemania V
AHHH! THE MEGA POWERS! Squee if you are a 9 year Andy Larson!
Seriously, the Hulk Hogan/Randy Savage Mega Powers Team was one of the most iconic team ups from my childhood, ranking up there with Batman/Robin and Power Man/Iron Fist. All villains fell before the combined power of their leg drop/atomic elbow finishers, and with the beautiful Elizabeth at their sides, it seemed like nothing could stop them. Whether that was The Twin Towers of Akeem and The Big Boss Man or the evil forces of the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase, the Mega Powers filled my heart with hope in the power of good triumphing over evil.
But like all good dramas, ultimately it was the beautiful Elizabeth that came between this epic bromance for the wrestling ages. The seeds of distrust, suspicion, and jealousy festered between the two struggling friends, and when Macho Man finally snapped and attacked Hogan at The Main Event II for allegedly lusting over Elizabeth, the stage was set for a showdown of epic proportions at Wrestlemania V for the title.
The match itself may not have been the absolute greatest from a pure technical perspective, but who cares?!? Few WWE storylines had such drama, intensity, and satisfying payoff as the Mega Powers one. Plus for me at least, it was end of era. A chapter closing on the golden age of the WWE in the 80s and sums up everything that was exciting and wonderful about that period in wrestling. There’s a big reason I stopped watching wrestling for several years after that. Nothing could top that story!
8.) Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle: WrestleMania XIX
The infamous botched moonsault. I’m sure every remembers it.
However, if that’s all you remember from this exciting title match between two former legitimate “wrestling” masters, then you are missing out. Kurt Angle, an Olympic gold medalist and Lesnar, an NCAA champion both had the pedigree to put on a pure mat technician’s dream match, and they did not disappoint.
This is even more impressive when you consider the fact that both superstars were actually injured at points during the match. Angle started the match in bad shape, nursing a pretty severe neck injury, but just threw caution to the wind, wrestling like this was going to be his last Wrestlemania ever. Lesnar, who had to deliver three separate F5 finishers to polish off Angle in the end was clearly concussed after botching the moonsault, but still pushed through to give us viewers an exciting conclusion.
Another reason, I think I like this match so much is because it was early enough on in Lesnar’s career that you didn’t automatically think this was going to be just a one-sided squash match. Sure, Lesner was touted as an “unstoppable monster”, but we hadn’t been beat over the head by it year after year at that point. There was a very good chance Angle could and would defeat him legitimately given he was a “better” amateur wrestler, and that added a good deal of drama and realism that frankly I think has been absent from Lesnar matches since.
7.) Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon: WrestleMania X
It was a weird time for the WWE when Wrestlemania X came out.
Trying desperately to figure out where exactly they should go for the future of the company in the wake of Hulk Hogan leaving for WCW, it’s almost the same problem they had in the mid 2010s as new talent needed to step up and capture the hearts and imaginations of fans who were so used to the characters they had grown to love over the years. It’s the thing about professional wrestling in that every 10-15 years, they have to go through almost a complete reboot with varying success.
As such, the Wrestlemania X card is chalked full of matches featuring WWE Superstars that would become big names in the years to come, but were still working on developing a rapport with the audience. As such you had some really great matches that have been overlooked with passage of time like Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart and of course, this gem between Kliq members and best friends, Shawn Michaels and Scott Hall aka Razor Ramon.
It’s funny that most people think this is the first ladder match in WWE history, but actually the idea was first done nearly 2 years before by Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart on an episode of WWF Wrestling Challenge. Still though, by showcasing the concept at the biggest yearly event for the WWE and by doing it so very well, it’s not surprising it quickly became one of the best gimmick matches the WWE had in its arsenal other than the Steel Cage.
I can easily say that although Michaels would go on to have a laundry list of matches that were just as good as this one, this is Scott Hall’s best. This is almost like his WWE Championship title win, that one match that is etched in the annals of time as the moment he raised the belt in triumph after wrestling his heart out. For a member of the Kliq that hasn’t had the level of success like Nash, Michaels, or Triple H, I think it’s really special he has this match in his resume.
6.) The Rock vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin: WrestleMania X-Seven
The first of two historic matches from one of the best Wrestlemania cards in my opinion back to back on this list. Also known as “Austin/Rock II”, this is in someways the conclusion of a nearly 3+ year story line that first started when the Rock became the corporate champion at Survivor Series in 1998 and started this incredible saga between two of argubly the most famous WWE superstars in the company’s history.
The first time they fought at Wrestlemania 15, it was not really the best match. Sure, it was exciting resolution to Austin’s quest to regain the title after being screwed out of it the previous year, but it was pretty lopsided in that there was no question that Rock would have to take the job to give the fans what they wanted. As a result, the match seemed a bit empty and made most wrestling fans yearn for more from these two charismatic performers.
Unfortunately, that rematch would have to wait for more than 2 years due to injuries sidelining Austin for most of following year. So when it finally happened in front of 67,000-plus jam-packing the AstroDome in Houston, the air was electric!
Both were super popular, established faces at the time, although you could see that Austin was acting a little more vicious than usual, breaking out his old heel finisher from his “Ringmaster” days of the Million Dollar Dream. All this was foreshadowing for the massive shock to come, as Vince McMahon, Austin’s real arch enemy, hit the ring.
At first, we thought we were going to see a repeat of Survivor Series with the Rock turning on Austin, but the swerve heel turn by Austin, delivered something very different. Now Austin and McMahon were allies, and things were never going to be the same…
5.) The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. Edge and Christian: WrestleMania X-Seven
Greatest Tag Team match in history? Yeah. I would say so.
It’s almost like the Empire Strikes Back of Tag matches as it’s one of the few times the sequel is even better than the original. However, that’s what we got at Wrestlemania X-Seven with “TLC Part Deux”, a continuation of the hyper violent, high impact risk taking that we saw in Wrestlemania 2000 between the Dudley Boyz, the Hardy Boys, and Edge & Christian. Only this time, they were really going to turn it up to 11, with a level of insanity, I still don’t think we have yet to have seen replicated in any sort of match since.
Whether it was Edge’s buddy, Rhyno, pushing Matt Hardy and Bubba Ray Dudley’s ladder over on to a stack of tables piled four deep, Jeff Hardy’s massive table demolishing Swanton Bomb from the top rope, or the devastating 3-D delivered by the Dudley Boyz on Hardy Boys valet, Lita, there was non stop excitement and thrills from the begining to the end of that match
And with the match’s capstone being a flying spear from Edge on a hanging Jeff Hardy some 12 feet over the ring floor, there was no doubt this was one for the ages. Although technically Edge and Christian won the match, nobody truly lost as their names passed forever into the history books as absolute summit of what could be achieved in a tag match by folks crazy enough to put everything on the line.
4.) The Rock vs. “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan: WrestleMania X8
Sometimes it’s the intangibles that make for the best matches. The overall pageantry and the real life importance of certain events which just can’t be recreated even with the best story line writers. Such was the case when after nearly 10 years of being absent from the WWE roster during his run at WCW, Hulk Hogan, the man who had helped build the company into the massive sports entertainment giant it was, returned to Wrestlemania.
Of course, he returned to the event as the heel playing the famous “Hollywood” NWO version of his character that had made him the arch enemy of Sting, Goldberg, and other babyfaces while he was toiling away “Down South”. And of course, as a result, he was matched up against arguably the greatest face character the WWE had at the time in the Rock. The stage was set for fans to see the People’s champion to deliver the elbow to the heart of the prodigal son who had jumped ship so long ago. That’s what we wanted to see.
Or…at least that’s what we initially thought…
But then magic happened. Unpredictable magic. We as a community of fans saw something we thought we would never see again. We saw Hulk Hogan, the champion of our youth, standing tall in the middle of a WWE ring.
He had come home.
And we couldn’t help but cheer for him.
It was almost cathartic for some of us. Like we wanted this so badly, but we didn’t know how to express it until it was happening. The Rock knew it too, and he started to slowly but surely flip the script on us mid match, until he was the bad guy, and the Hulkster’s leg drop would all but seal his fate.
It was the most miraculous WWE match ever, but for reasons that I don’t think you could duplicate in a million years. It was the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the WWE becoming purely meta fictional.
3.) Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat: WrestleMania III
Wrestlemania III was known for some spectacular matches that really put the WWE on the map. I mean it’s hard not to immediately think of the championship title match between Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant as the pinnacle of that event. However, despite it being the first “real” main event title match in Wrestlemania history, one with an enormous build up and satisfying payoff, it’s actually not that great of a match. Neither one of those wrestlers were ever great mat technicians, and sincerely Andre was in really ailing health.
Luckily the rest of the card did have some really great matches from a pure technical standpoint, such as the tag match between the Hart Foundation vs. the British Bulldogs, and of course, probably the best Intercontinental Title match ever: Macho Man vs. Steamboat.
Impeccably scripted backstage by the two performers, the match lasts over 15 minutes which for those days was quite a feat. More importantly though, it set a standard for performers behind the scenes to “up their game” when it came to Wrestlemania and actually plot out their matches as to deliver the maximum bang for the viewers buck.
It’s still probably my favorite Macho Man match ever, and one of the few really great matches in which neither performer is actually the face or the heel. Plus it was actually the culmination of a pretty bitter on screen rivalry between the two that started nearly 6 months prior to the showdown when Macho attacked Steamboat and sent him to the hospital with an injured larynx after hitting him with the ring bell.
There was even a reference to that in the match as Macho tried to use the ring bell again, delivering again solid continuity to this wonderful story line.
Yep, it’s those days when the Intercontinental Title actually meant something, and these two performers helped build that legacy.
2.) Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart: Wrestlemania 13
Behold the Birth of Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Second Coming of Pro Wrestling Popularity in America.
Sure, Stone Cold had been around in the WWE for quite sometime prior to this match, and some might say that his winning of King of the Ring in 1996 when he delivered his Austin 3:16 speech was the true “birth”, but for me, this is the match when he made his face turn. Sure, he was a surly, beer drinkin’, foul mouthed face that did a lot of heel type things still, but the importance of Austin, bloody and battered, defiantly refusing to say “I Quit” as he languished in the grips of Bret Hart’s famous sharpshooter, it can’t be overstated.
This was the moment when he first started to embody a spirit which resonated so strongly with the typical American viewer. A hard working spirit which refused to cave or back down, a fierce independence, and a rugged individualism. And it’s that spirit which would lift the character far above the rest and help catapult the WWE into having the highest ratings it would ever have over the next few years. In short, this was the beginnings of the WWE Attitude era, and things would never be the same.
It doesn’t hurt too that this is one hell of a match, with a pre neck injury Austin at the top of his physical prime matching up against as I said before arguably one of the best mat technicians to ever lace up boots in Bret Hart. The two had real chemistry in their matches, and as the capstone to a feud that had been building since Hart returned to the WWE after a months long hiatus following his Wrestlemania 12 defeat, it single handedly saves one of the more weaker cards of any Wrestlemania event.
1.) The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels: WrestleMania XXV
Personally, I’ve always thought the streak was stupid. Then again, I’m one of the few wrestling fans out there that thinks the Undertaker is stupid.
I never liked the guy. I thought his gimmick was lame. I thought he was the king of the squash match, a guy that barely jobbed clean. A near 7 foot freak they would wheel out to choke slam any jabroni that Vince thought was getting to big for their britches. To this day, when I find people that like him and I ask them why, they often just say “he’s one of the greatest big men the WWE had” which means nothing to me as I feel “big men” are slow and not very interesting.
But I will admit that once in a while, the Undertaker would get an opponent which would bring out the best in him. The two that come to mind are Mic Foley (just because he would let the Undertaker kill him for bread and circuses) and Shawn Michaels (the man that could carry anyone to a good match).
And over the years, Shawn Michaels has had a number of terrific matches against the Undertaker such as the original “Hell in a Cell” match and what would ultimately be a sequel of sorts to this match one year later at Wrestlemania XXVI marking Shawn’s final regular match ever as he was forced to retire afterwards. But despite the historical significance of the rematch, their first Wrestlemania bout ranks among the finest performances either of these two men from Texas have ever put on in their long and legendary careers.
Like witnessing any great slugfest between two equally respected combatants, the fans neither booed or cheered for any particular superstar, marking a departure from the classic face vs. heel drama that punctuates most matches. In fact, most of the time they just chanted “This is Awesome!” which indeed it was was. It was historic. No belt on the line. No fancy gimmicks. Just two remarkable talents giving it their all one last time before they no longer had any gas in their tanks left to give.
Whether it was Undertakers suicide jump over the top rope into the cameraman, the kick outs from all the finishers, all the Last Rides, Choke Slams, Flying elbows, Sweet Chin Music Super Kicks, it was all breathtakingly well done.
It’s bullsh*t that ultimately Michaels laid down for Taker with a Tombstone Finisher after a failed moonsault, but that’s the kind of guy Michaels was in the end. The show became the most important thing to him and his enormous ego which halted so many possibly great match ups in his earlier years finally took a backseat.
That’s why he is truly Mr. Wrestlemania and this was indeed one of his finest hours.