So there’s been 30 WWE Championship (World Heavyweight excluded) matches in WrestleMania history, including none at the original, and two each at IX and X. Since WrestleMania XXX is nigh, and people loooooove reading subjective rankings, why not rank all 30 bouts from worst to best? Okay? Okay.
30. Yokozuna vs. Hulk Hogan – WrestleMania IX
Convenience: a 500 pound monster stands winded after capturing the WWE Championship, and his manager challenges a pristinely-fresh worldbeater to an immediate title match. As probable as The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer, and just about as fondly remembered. Hogan would make no live television appearances before dropping the gold 70 days later.
If you look up ‘nervehold nervehold nervehold’ on the WWE Network search engine, you’d find this clunker. Obviously, Yoko had to pace himself for his later title defense against Bret Hart (more on this later), but that meant a drag’s pace in front of a previously hot New York crowd. Marked the end of Luger as a main eventer under McMahon’s roof.
28. The Miz vs. John Cena – WrestleMania XXVII
Poor Miz; the most ‘must-see’ WWE performer was merely third-billing in the championship closer, and he was the defending titleholder. Hidden beneath The Rock’s continental shadow, Miz tried to stretch his five-minute television offense to epic’s length, with disastrous results. Merely a commercial for next year’s WrestleMania non-title mainer.
27. Psycho Sid vs. The Undertaker – WrestleMania XIII
Sid’s prior flirtation with the WrestleMania main event, a snoozer in Hulk Hogan’s 1992 ‘farewell’, wasn’t a prelude to something better. The two previous matches, Hart vs. Austin and the Chicago Street Fight, outdid the hastily-inserted violence of this boring climax. Bret Hart interfering three different times didn’t exactly add a dash of quality.
26. Triple H vs. Randy Orton – WrestleMania XXV
What was supposed to be the culmination of a highly-intense, deeply personal feud, involving attacking a man’s father-in-law and wife, with vengeance in the form of a home invasion, sputtered to the finish line in bland fashion. 70,000+ in Houston sat restless as Triple H insisted on his droning pace, winning clean to the enjoyment of maybe some.
25. Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy – WrestleMania II
An extension of the ‘feed Hogan some sort of killer heel’ MO that the 1980s followed to great success, Hogan triumphed over the massive Bundy one month after the Atlantic City behemoth cracked his ribs on Saturday Night’s Main Event. A decent pace for two giants, and a blade job by Bundy, put this one a cut above some slower 80’s Hogan fare.
24. Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna – WrestleMania IX
Hart seethed in his well-written memoirs about Yoko’s decision to bring the match home early, forcing “The Hitman” to improvise. The entire experience (see #30) left Hart bitter, and he backhandedly said this match was the best Yoko would ever have. That’s disagreed on, as will be seen, but it’s still an average match, and a colossal disappointment.
23. JBL vs. John Cena – WrestleMania XXI
The “you-can’t-wrestle” contingent aimed at roasting Cena from town to town doesn’t have a case these days, as his body of work has improved drastically. Still, his first World Title win, against a sizzle-over-steak JBL, featured a slow build and abrupt ending. Their “I Quit” rematch at Judgment Day two months later was very much a vast improvement over this.
22. Yokozuna vs. Bret Hart – WrestleMania X
Maybe not quite as technically precise (if those are the words) as the rematch from one year earlier, and a suddenly exhausted MSG crowd didn’t help, but the rematch was certainly imbued with its moments of drama. Hart, coming off of a rough night on the whole with the loss to brother Owen, won in unconventional fashion, but the celebration was worth it.
21. Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Mick Foley vs. The Big Show – WrestleMania 2000
2000 boasted one of the deepest WWE rosters of all time, and the company could do no wrong. This show was an exception; an overthought affair with no meaningful one-on-one matches. This match had one McMahon in each corner, and trudged on for nearly forty minutes before Vince turned on Rock, giving a heel (HHH) a rare closing victory at Mania.
20. Sgt. Slaughter vs. Hulk Hogan – WrestleMania VII
Opinions on this one range to and fro, with many being turned off by the ham-fisted inclusion of the Iraq War (the first one) as a trope, and Slaughter siding with Saddam Hussein. Americana reigned in the end following a decent-enough brawl, akin to Slaughter’s 1980s wars with Pat Patterson and Iron Sheik, just with the Hogan touch of flavor.
19. The Rock vs. John Cena – WrestleMania XXIX
About as robotically assembled as anything out of WWE’s dress rehearsal factory, Cena and Rock painted one red, two blue, and three green together before a stupefied North Jersey audience. Still, the match wasn’t terrible, given that the duo can sleepwalk their way through constructing a solid main event. The argument against them: that’s what they did.
18. Chris Jericho vs. Triple H – WrestleMania X8
Per Jericho, Triple H was unmoved by the Hogan/Rock war of the ages that drained Toronto’s emotional till, and said not to fret, because they’d win them over moreso with a ‘wrestling’ match. Didn’t quite work out. The booking was awful, and the match itself a reasonable main event, but Hunter’s never been a likable good guy. The flat crowd proved that.
17. Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Ted Dibiase – WrestleMania IV
The bloated nature of the show (sixteen matches!) restricted these 1980s valedictorians to less than ten minutes in conclusion of the tournament, but they made the most of that reduced space. Perhaps if Hogan didn’t pose for an hour earlier in the night, they’d have produced an all-time classic. Alas, it was epic enough for its cramped block of time.
16. Randy Orton vs. John Cena vs. Triple H – WrestleMania XXIV
The match itself was your modern standard of big spot-contrived spot-big spot-contrived spot that all three men have become adept at, which was fine, but making it a tad more enjoyable were the cheers Orton was receiving. Of the three McMahon made men, Orton seemed to have the most tenuous main event grip by default, so the jaded made him their hero.
15. John Cena vs. Triple H – WrestleMania XXII
Once the silliness of both men’s entrances subsided (Conan the Barbarian vs. Al Capone), and the crowd refused to let Cena be loved in spite of his sucking up to a local Depression-era legend, a decent match broke out. Triple H declared Cena to merely a marketable mannequin that couldn’t wrestle, and Cena finished the story by simply outwrestling The Game.
14. The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin – WrestleMania XV
The Attitude Era cornerstones would have bigger epics in them, especially when they were no longer restricted by the Russorific formula of improbable story shifts and sudden perils every thirteen seconds. Three referees in all were bumped during the match, which thrived largely on the drama of seeing Austin beat the corporate machine for his third title.
13. Diesel vs. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XI
Would Michaels sandbag his own best friend? Bret Hart thinks so, but it’s a little more debatable, I think. With the Hartford crowd not buying into the ‘Diesel Power’ bluster heaped unsolicited upon them, every Michaels hope spot became their sounding board of approval. Michaels was the underdog, and Diesel flattened him to minimal response in a great bout.
12. Batista vs. John Cena – WrestleMania XXVI
Say what you will about both guys, but their match at SummerSlam 2008 had the big match feel that WWE wishes would come more naturally to their selected main eventers. Timing issues forced the two down to about 14 minutes here, but it was a titanic battle for the time frame, worthy of its WrestleMania billing, while Big Dave was on his way out.
11. Shawn Michaels vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin – WrestleMania XIV
Austin’s date with destiny arrived, and a new era would blast off with wrestling’s new drug of choice leading the way. That the match reached this level of the pyramid, even after Michaels wrecked his near-salvageable back halfway through, is a testament to the abilities of both men. Austin’s smile upon Mike Tyson raising his hand was about as legit as anything.
10. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho – WrestleMania XXVIII
As far as build-ups go, you couldn’t reach much further than to have Jericho reveal one by one that everyone in Punk’s immediate family has a life-altering vice. Punk was appropriately angry for the title bout, but blood (though verboten in this era) could’ve helped. The ending of Punk refusing to relinquish the Anaconda Vice, despite Jericho’s strikes, worked well.
9. Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar – WrestleMania XIX
If you think Michaels had problems two entries ago, pit Angle’s frayed spinal column against Lesnar’s end-of-the-match problems, and somehow produce this classic. Angle pushed his way to a main event performance, but all was nearly lost when Lesnar skull-planted on a shooting star press meant to astound. It’s amazing both were able to stand afterward.
8. Ric Flair vs. Macho Man Randy Savage – WrestleMania VIII
Flair taunted the challenger with claims of bedding Miss Elizabeth before Savage ever knew her, and purportedly had image-ruining photos of her that he would unveil post-match. Savage as a madman is unparalleled, and Macho Man ripped Flair apart in a match with no shortage of excitement, drama, and story. Of course Flair hit a gusher for this.
7. Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Hulk Hogan – WrestleMania V
Psychotic rage is a motif that Savage conveys well, apparently because it comes naturally to him. Have him accuse Hogan of lusting after his old lady, and let the rage manifest into an ideal WrestleMania finale. Hogan’s bodyslam of Savage over the top rope, and Jesse Ventura’s intense, pro-Savage commentary only enhanced what was already a classic.
6. Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle – WrestleMania XX
Much like the Punk/Jericho match listed above, this one relied on the use of private real-life matters (in this case, Guerrero’s substance-related disgraces) to build sympathy for the good guy. None of it was necessary, since Guerrero and Angle would be incapable of a garbage match with each other. The one-upsmanship on display was just both men at their finest.
5. Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior – WrestleMania VI
Both the WWE and Intercontinental belts were at stake in front of a teeming horde at the newly-opened SkyDome. Rare then was a match between two forces of good, and to the credit of two men not known for in-ring acumen, it was a well-paced battle of sportsmanship and determination. Warrior’s win was a little shocking, but gives the match legendary status.
4. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XXIII
At this point, all that was missing from Cena’s body of work, besides a Royal Rumble win that’d be his in ten months, was a no-doubt-about-it, all-time classic, and Michaels gave him that over the span of a half hour. The piledriver on the steps remains a sick visual. Even more amazing, the two topped themselves on Raw in London three weeks after this.
Maybe it increasingly gets dismissed as a clinic on how to apply an armbar, but for my money, it’s still a brilliant one-hour match that didn’t need to rely on over-the-top gimmicks to fill blocks of time. Adding to the drama was that Michaels had yet to be champion, in this era where everyone gets a reign, and him thwarting Hart adds a great measure of history.
2. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant – WrestleMania III
Not a technical classic, you say? That’s nice. For some reason, Hulk and Andre remains watchable all these years later, even as lumbering matches such as this would be booed mercilessly by high-expectations crowds. No other match in history taps into the collective pining for youth like this, and the bodyslam will be highlight reel fodder long after we’re gone.
1. The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin – WrestleMania X7
Maybe the ending with McMahon aiding sworn-enemy Austin in victory turned the company a few flavors too sour, but until the shock finish, Austin and Rock assembled Rock’s best match ever, and Austin’s second best (behind him and Bret from WrestleMania XIII), and was the appropriate conclusion to a show considered by many the greatest WrestleMania ever.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.