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LOVPODAMANIA: The Best Wrestlemania Matches Part 3

Part 3 in this new series - dive in!

Vince McMahon...

So you've seen parts 1 and 2 - here is part 3 in James' rundown of the Best Wrestlemania Matches of all Time!

50 – Brock Lesnar vs Undertaker – WrestleMania 30: We kick off part 3 with the match I had most trouble ranking. The build is awful. The match is awful. The crowd are dead throughout it. They don’t bite on any of the near falls, the moves are sloppily executed, both guys looked gassed… and then Undertaker loses! The shocked look on fan Ellis Mbeh’s face tells the story better than my words ever could. It is possibly the greatest shock in pro wrestling, something that took 22 years to build. Debates raged on about whether Brock ‘deserved’ the honour but what is undisputed is that he used it to resurge his career and become the ultimate prize-fighter character that to this day, he’s still making money off and headlining WrestleMania’s with. For being a WrestleMania moment that will live on and for Brock’s ability to use it to carve out a three-year run on top, this match makes the top 50. Without it, it’s probably a top 10 candidate for my ’25 worst WrestleMania matches of all-time’ (that *PLUG PLUG* will be posted up soon).

49– Undertaker vs Triple H – WrestleMania 28: Urgh, I hate this match. I hate the tag-line ‘End of an Era’ for a match in which neither guy would retire. I hate Shawn’s hokey overacting as the referee. I hate the fact that this match even exists. But, in the interest of trying to be objective, a lot of people seem to like this match so I included it on the list even if it is just three guys blowing their own trumpets about their contributions to an era, that wasn’t even really headed by any of them.

48 – Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit – WrestleMania 17: A technical masterclass by two of the best to grace a WWE ring. This only ranks so low because the two men would go on to have better contests elsewhere with more at stake. In WrestleMania terms, this was just gravy on an already loaded card but the two men certainly made the most of their opportunity to prove they were some of the best wrestlers on the card in 2001.

47 – CM Punk vs Chris Jericho – WrestleMania 28: The third part of the 3-part main event that endeared WM28 to so many fans, Jericho and CM Punk worked a very personal angle, initially spawning off of who was ‘the best in the world’ but eventually delving down darker tracks into Punk’s real-life family past and his straight-edge lifestyle. This was just one of a series of matches they had that year, the best of them probably coming at Payback, but this one was still very good as CM Punk came out victor for the world title. Sadly, it would probably the closest he’d get to being the ‘marquee’ performer on a WrestleMania show.

46 – Shawn Michaels vs Vince McMahon – WrestleMania 22: This was basically 20 minutes of HBK brutalizing McMahon. Like any Vince match, it was full of bells & whistles, run-in’s and gimmicks. The coup-de-grace coming when Shawn stuffed the chairman in a trashcan, climbed the ladder in shades of WM10, delivered a D.X. crotch-chop (which I remember absolutely marking out for at the time) and jumping 10 feet below to the prone McMahon.

45 – Bobby Lashley vs Umaga – WrestleMania 23: It seems bizarre in 2017 that just a decade earlier, the president of the United States of America was managing now TNA jabroni Bobby Lashley in a WrestleMania showcase match against the sadly deceased Umaga in what was promoted as a ‘battle of the billionaires’ hair-vs-hair match. The hype for this match is largely credited with making WM23 the highest grossing Mania of all-time, pretty remarkable given the two combatants actually in the match and probably a nod, perhaps a warning sign, even back then as to the drawing power and silent popularity of the future Prez’. The match itself is nothing special but for its historical value, this one is a gem. It’s a lot of fun seeing Vince get his head shaved too and he certainly follows through and oversells it with typical Vince gusto.

44 – Lawrence Taylor vs Bam Bam Bigelow – WrestleMania 11: It probably shouldn’t have been the main event, no. But L.T. was a huge sports star at the time and WWE was at its nadir. You can understand McMahon’s justification that Taylor would bring more eyes to the product than a Diesel vs Shawn main event. Debates aside about its positioning on the card, this was a very solid match given who was in it. Not until Floyd Mayweather would a celebrity come in and work a match so effectively. It’s testament to Bam Bam Bigelow, who was always considered a reliable hand and an athletic big-man, but far from a WrestleMania main-eventer that this match held together so well. There have only been 32 matches that can lay claim to having main-evented WrestleMania and credit to these two that this one isn’t anywhere near the bottom tier of those, which on paper it should have been.

43 – Eddie Guerrero vs Kurt Angle – WrestleMania 20: The image of Guerrero and Benoit ending WM20 striken from memory forever, and with good reason, but it is such a shame. This would be Guerrero’s highest point in WWE, defending the title he won in an excellent match against Lesnar a month prior. The workrate is as excellent as to be expected but it is the character work that won him the match. The cheeky ‘lying, cheating and stealing’ Latino countering Angle’s ankle lock by unlacing his boot and claiming the roll up victory.

42 – Undertaker vs Edge – WrestleMania 24: Deep into Undertaker’s ‘streak’ run now and another excellent match however this one was a little bit of a missed opportunity. Had Edge claimed a win at WM23, rather than being a losing participant in the MITB multi-man match, he would have too been undefeated (6-0) and could’ve added a layer to this match. The match itself was solid, upper-tier Undertaker streak defences, but it did lack a little something, Edge never felt like a legitimate contender to Taker’s streak in the way that, on paper, even lesser contenders like Batista and Orton had in the past. He had his cronies, ‘Edgeheads’, Ryder & Hawkins, but ultimately it never felt like enough to mount a serious challenge to the Deadman.

41 – Steve Austin vs The Rock – WrestleMania 15: The first part of their WrestleMania bi-annual trilogy, in 1999 Steve Austin was untouchable. He was a mainstream superstar after a hot year run fighting off the McMahon’s and his last stand to the title was the brash self-styled ‘Corporate Champion’, The Rock. The two would have a back-and-forth brawl that ended with Austin the victor. This one loses points for the silly referee gimmick. No-one can convince me that this match should not have just been a three-way with the other most important cog at the time, Mankind, also inserted into the match. It also loses points for being on a damn bad Mania show, ruined by Russo’s propensity to overbook PPV cards with little rhyme or reason.

40 – Hulk Hogan vs Sgt. Slaughter – WrestleMania 7: Slaughter’s Iraqi-sympathiser character may seem a little dated if you’re watching this in 2017 when jingoism isn’t quite as fashionable but in 1991, he was a hated heel who had turned his back on his country. It was up to the ‘Real American’ Hulk Hogan to save him. The legend is the heat was so strong for this angle that a bomb threat had been called on the LA Memorial Coliseum, forcing WM7 to be switched to the LA Sports Arena (in reality, WWE could not fill the Coliseum in 1991 and changed to a smaller venue). Hogan and Slaughter work a solid, if basic, main event that served its purpose completely. It would be Hogan’s last great WWE performance for 11 years.

39 – Undertaker vs Ric Flair – WrestleMania 18: Ten-years earlier Ric Flair dropped the world title in a classic to the Macho Man at WM8. 2002 Flair was a far different beast than the 1992 version. Years of being screwed around by Bischoff in WCW and the physical signs of age starting to hit his body, Flair had lost all of his confidence, and it was with great trepidation that Flair even took on this match when Shane McMahon informed him that this was the match Vince wanted. It was Undertaker, to his credit, who had personally demanded Flair be his opponent, a show of respect to the living legend. Undertaker was playing the big yard bully at the time and he goaded Flair at every opportunity, memorably beating down his son David in a brutal backstage assault. With Taker guiding him through, the Nature Boy pulled out all the old tricks, low-blows, bleeding all over the ring even a run-in by Horseman Arn Anderson to deliver a signature spinebuster. All in all, the two were able to craft a memorable brawl with Undertaker, in the end, claiming his 10th WrestleMania scalp.

38 – Diesel vs Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania 11: Real life best friends, Diesel and Shawn were already in a bad mood walking into the Hartford Civic Centre at having been passed over for a main event for a mid-card act and an NFL line-backer, their mood did not increase when they saw they saw the dead crowd, poor production quality or shoddy undercard so it was left up to them to salvage WM11. Salvage they did, putting on a 20-minute classic, knowing each other’s spots off by heart helped, as did Nash knowing he could rely on the world class athleticism of his friend to keep the match moving, it is a testament to both men that WrestleMania 11 is not considered the consensus worst WM of all-time, and rather only mentioned in that discussion, because without the quality of this contest, it almost certainly would be.

37 – John Cena vs Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania 23: Another Shawn Michaels match? He will be showing up a lot towards the top end of this list. If Triple H self-served to bury John Cena at WM22 in the process of putting him over, his long-time buddy HBK showed ‘the Game’ how it’s done properly, putting over the champ clean. Cena would do the favour for Shawn less than a month later on a RAW show in Manchester, England in a match that far eclipsed this one.

36 – Undertaker vs Batista – WrestleMania 23: As good as WM23’s main event may have been, the Smackdown main event, which was unfairly pushed into the middle of the show, was better. Taker and Batista were documented as having a pretty big chip on their shoulder at the mid-card placement of this match and went hell-for-leather to have the match of the night and out-perform Cena & Michaels. This was the start of the ‘streak’ of Undertaker having quality WrestleMania matches that lasted, arguably, 7 straight years. A far cry from the Mania stinkers he’d have early in his career with the likes of Snuka, Roberts and Giant Gonzalez.

35 – Edge vs Mick Foley – WrestleMania 22: A match pretty much unlike any other when it comes to WrestleMania, this one played out like something from the Hammerstein Ballroom, with blood, thumb-tacks and flaming tables all part of the spectacle in which Mick Foley finally had his ‘WrestleMania moment’. Excellent build for this one, Edge was a great heel at the time with valet, Lita, in tow and they matched Foley every step of the way in the hardcore elements of this match.

34 – Undertaker vs CM Punk – WrestleMania 29: CM Punk, disappointed he was screwed out of another WrestleMania main event by the returning Rock after a yearlong run with the world title was placated with a shot at the streak. His match was not given the same respect or significance that HBK or HHH’s attempts at the streak were given, but with Punk’s edgy storyline, using the real-life death of Paul Bearer, his rapport with manager Paul Heyman and his ability to carry Taker through a classic, the two combatants were able to put on the best match of the night.

33 – Shane McMahon vs Vince McMahon – WrestleMania 17: The moment when Linda McMahon stands up out of her wheelchair and gets a pop that matches anything peak Stone Cold Steve Austin is amazing. I mentioned in a previous article how by 2000 there was simply too much McMahon inserted into the top storylines, well by 2001 they had found the happy medium and contained the crux of the McMahon family feud into one solid mid-card angle where Vince took on his son Shane. The backstory to this is long and convoluted, Vince divorces Linda, she goes into paralysis, Trish becomes her handler, of sorts, while having an affair with Vince. Stephanie becomes jealous and wants to take out Trish. Foley somehow inserts his way into the drama becoming referee and all these elements collide as father and son kick the crap out of each other for 15 minutes in a highly entertaining garbage brawl. Many see WrestleMania 17 as a last hurrah of the Attitude Era and if it is, its fitting that this match takes place, it is the best example of ridiculous over-booking and McMahon family drama that had dominated the screen since 1998.

32 – Brock Lesnar vs Kurt Angle – WrestleMania 19: The changing of the guard, while Austin & The Rock were battling in the zenith of their active wrestling careers, the WM19 main event was dedicated to the future as college wrestling star and future UFC world champion Brock Lesnar took on Olympic freestyle gold medallist, Kurt Angle in a smartly worked struggle for power and technical superiority, playing off their amateur backgrounds. The two would go onto have classics later in 2003 but the expectations of this one fell just a little bit short, quite literally demonstrated when Lesnar shorted a shooting-star press, which was intended to be the finish of the match, and almost knocked him loopy – credit to Angle for basically putting himself in the F5 as Brock did not have a clue where he was at the end of the match. This is a great main event on a big-time show for the WWE.

31 – Undertaker vs Kane – WrestleMania 14: This one isn’t so much for the match quality, it is essentially two giants moving at 0.5 pace and no-selling each other’s moves, but the build is magnificent, dating all the way back to November ’97 when Kane debuts ripping the cell door off to attack his brother, the ‘I will not fight my brother’ stance, ‘the casket is on fire’ segment, Paul Bearer prancing around making wild claims and accusations, Taker’s return. Love it. It continues past Mania – and the legacy of this ‘brother vs brother’ feud has grown in legend but nothing beats the original angle for quality and execution.

30 – Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff – WrestleMania 1: The main event of the original WrestleMania, this is the perfect example of mixing wrestling and celebrity to create a big event with Mr. T teaming with fellow Rocky III cast member and wrestling superstar, Hulk Hogan. Thunderlips and Clubber Lang teamed to vanquish the evil Roddy Piper and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff. The celebrity involvement was stacked for this one, Muhammed Ali the guest enforcer on the outside (who was original slated to be guest referee until McMahon and Patterson met the former boxing superstar, now onset with Parkinson’s, and realised he would not be able to fulfil the role required) still, ever the sports entertainer, Ali jumps the ring at one point to defend the babyfaces, much to the chagrin of Patterson who has to hurry him out of the ring. Is this match a technical masterclass? No, but it is one of the most important matches in Mania legacy. It was the match that the first show was sold on and everyone fulfilled their role. It helped create Hulk Hogan: the mega-star and was financially successful enough to warrant a WrestleMania 2.

29 – Daniel Bryan vs Batista vs Randy Orton – WrestleMania 30: The story of Daniel Bryan vs the powers that be is more real than WWE will ever admit to in hindsight. The original plan for WM30 was a Batista vs Randy Orton main event with Triple H vs CM Punk. There were no major plans for Daniel Bryan. Probably an undercard match involving the Wyatt family. But then the YES-Movement started. The fans would not accept anything other than Daniel Bryan. They threw off superstar after superstar to a chorus of boos. It was the amalgamation of a decade of being told ‘we listen to you’ and then completely ignoring their wishes, whether it be for an edgier John Cena or a push for CM Punk. Daniel Bryan was the every-man to channel that frustration into. A technical wrestling maestro, an indy darling, someone the company did not see as a main eventer. And so eventually, when CM Punk bailed and Batista was being booed out of buildings, WWE turned to Bryan. This main event delivered a treat with all three guys working to provide a drama and emotion filled contest that left fans on the edge of their seat and in the end, Bryan, raising the titles above his head in a ‘YES’ salute. WWE will re-write history and claim that their storyline had always been Daniel Bryan the underdog who eventually triumphed, but were it not for an unusual set of circumstances, this match and this WM moment would have never happened.

28 – Shawn Michaels vs Chris Jericho – WrestleMania 19: When HBK returned in 2002 he had a locker room full of superstars lining up to work with him, those who grew up idolizing his original WWE run back in the 90s and at the front of that queue was Canadian, Chris Jericho. Now playing a heel role, Jericho’s attitude was that he was the new Shawn Michaels, he could do everything Shawn Michaels has already done but better and what followed was an excellent match of one-up’s-man’s-ship in which the wily veteran, Michaels eventually gained the pin fall. These men would work another angle 5 years later – and by that time both men had evolved and in my opinion improved as workers – but this is an early example of the undeniable chemistry they had together.

27 – Kurt Angle vs Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania 21: This one was almost marketed as an exhibition. Angle the star of SmackDown vs. Michaels the star of RAW. Both guys positioned as 1 and 1A in terms of being best technical ‘workers’ on the roster, they began costing each other in matches, trying to one-up the other to prove who was the greatest and when it came to show-time they delivered a 25-minute classic for the fans in the Staples Centre. Some might consider this a top 10 WrestleMania match, I do have my issues with it – mainly the length of time that Angle has Shawn in the ankle-lock, it went beyond drama and into the realms of unbelievability but it does not detract from the overall match experience. A WrestleMania classic.

26 – Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar – WrestleMania 31: There is a third cog in this match, the winner, in fact, Seth Rollins who cashes in his MITB opportunity towards the end of the contest, however I want to shine praise on the original two combatants. Unlike Bryan, a few spots earlier, Roman Reigns was not the people’s choice. Despite being positioned as a babyface, Reigns was booed in most arenas he went to. He faced Brock Lesnar, an excellent worker but also someone with a record for occasionally tanking on the big occasion and not exactly known for his ability to carry a rookie. What followed is arguably the greatest world title match in WM history. Reigns and Lesnar brutalized each other, bleeding hard-way, stiff punches and throws, Reigns got mean, Lesnar was meaner. It was one of the most realistic wrestling brawls I’ve seen and it was thoroughly engaging, but there was still the elephant in the room, these fans are going to boo if Reigns goes over… enter Seth Rollins. The former Shield member cashes in his money in the bank, and rather than winning quickly like most other cashes have been, wrestles another five minutes of back and forth action and near-falls before eventually finishing Reigns with a curb-stomp.