WrestleMania is the biggest annual wrestling show in the entire world, and as such, it has a laundry list of excellent matches. There have been extraordinary technical exhibitions, hard-hitting brawls, and artistic spotfests of the highest caliber. Careers have been made, and ended, on the grandest stage of them all. Trying to choose the absolute best, and rank them in any sort of order, would seem to be an impossible task, but it’s what we’ve endeavoured to do with this list. Hopefully we didn’t screw it up too badly.
10. Shawn Michaels vs Ric Flair, WrestleMania XXIV
Honestly, from a technical standpoint this isn’t the greatest match, because Ric Flair was, at that point, a shadow of his once-great self. He was still good for one more fight, but it was never going to be the 5-star classic of his younger days. With that said, this match is at least partially carried on the back of the emotion it instilled in the fans. Ric Flair has, at one time or another in his legendary career, been the most hated, the most beloved, and the most respected wrestler on the planet. Shawn Michaels has found himself in all three spots as well, albeit on a shorter timeline. Although at that point Shawn was no spring chicken, it was likely that he still did look up to Flair, who, by any measure, set the standard for professional wrestling excellence. The sheer heart and fortitude both men showed in this match is immeasurable, one knowing it would be his last, and the other only two years away from the same fate, both determined to have the best match that they possibly could. The details of what really was a pretty good match are generally forgotten by most wrestling fans, a blur of action leading up to a very poignant final few moments, underlined by five simple words: “I’m sorry. I love you.”
9. Daniel Bryan vs Triple H, WrestleMania XXX
While this wouldn’t be the match where Bryan won the WWE World Heavyweight Title, in a way, this match was what the whole Yes! Movement was really all about. After months of being derided by The Authority for being a B+ player, Bryan went one-on-one with The Game and not only beat him, he did so cleanly, in a great match, where Triple H sold Bryan’s offense like Odin himself had descended from Asgard to lay the smack down. It was a lengthy match, a classic David vs Goliath battle, with the crowd on the edge of their seats, still unsure that WWE would actually give Bryan everything we’d wanted after denying it for so long. When Bryan actually pinned Triple H, you could feel the energy in the arena rise to a fever pitch, because the feeling was that Bryan had already overcome his biggest obstacle. Winning the title later in the evening was just the icing on the cake, an assumed eventuality once Bryan showed that he could beat Triple H, cleanly, in the center of the ring. What hope would Orton and Batista have after that?
8. Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels, WrestleMania XII
This match has earned detractors in the years since it happened, mostly due to the dirty laundry that became a permanent fixture in the intertwined careers of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Some say it was too long, that the lack of any falls during the match was unrealistic, and that the first third of the match is actually pretty bad. Due to its incredibly long runtime, it’s definitely not a match most people will ever watch more than once. At the time, however, we can tell you that this match was lauded for being one of the best Pay Per View matches that anyone had ever seen. Hart and Michaels wrestled for over an hour, with the first and only fall happening during the sudden death overtime period, and they kept the crowd engaged for an entire time. The very idea that WWE would give more than an hour of their biggest show to a single match seems ludicrous now, and even then, it was hard to believe, but if any two wrestlers during that period deserved that chance, and delivered exactly what was expected, it was Hart and Michaels. Perhaps one of the worst things the Montreal Screwjob and all the mess that came about surrounding it did was to forever deny us the chance to see those two men try and top what they’d accomplished here.
7. Bret Hart vs Owen Hart, WrestleMania X
It’s hard to remember that before this match, Owen Hart was basically nobody, a low card wrestler who was only getting a brief time in the spotlight thanks to a storyline that had begun at Survivor Series, which had clearly been designed to elevate his brother Bret to the WWE Championship that he would win later that same evening. But Bret and Owen used the chemistry that comes from growing up in a wrestling family and their combined insanely high level of technical ability in the ring, and put on an instant classic, likely the best opening match at any WrestleMania, ever, and in the process turned Owen Hart from a whiny afterthought into one of the best heels in WWE. It was a showcase of an evolving WWE, moving from the land of giants like Hulk Hogan into a world where actual wrestling started to become appreciated on a more widespread level. Oh, and let’s not forget, in a well-planned bit of forward thinking, Owen actually won the match by being just a little bit smarter than his brother, meaning that not only was he a much bigger star as a result, but he was set up as the obvious first challenger to his brother’s newly won title.
6. TLC II, WrestleMania X-7
Of all the matches The Dudley Boyz, The Hardy Boyz, and Edge & Christian would have with each other, in uncountable permutations, this was probably the peak. After having the first Triangle Ladder match at WrestleMania 2000, and the first TLC match at SummerSlam, they had clearly figured out exactly what worked and what didn’t. Then, they proceeded to up the ante with even crazier highspots (Edge spearing a dangling Jeff Hardy remains a fixture in WWE highlight reels to this day), and by adding even more outside factors, as Lita, Rhyno, and Spike Dudley all made their presence felt during the course of the match. This match was the ultimate form of the spotfest, with crazy things happening from start to finish, nearly without stopping. Ultimately, Edge and Christian emerged victorious, which continued their trend of always winning these matches, but in something that’s not often remembered, this victory served as the team’s last big hurrah before Edge transitioned into a singles star, on his way to multiple World championships and a Hall of Fame career.
5. Randy Savage vs Ricky Steamboat, WrestleMania III
For many years, this was the gold standard by which all WrestleMania matches were judged, and for some people, it still is. At a time when WrestleMania was all about a lot of short matches leading up to an epic main event, this match for the Intercontinental title, which should have been overshadowed by the absolutely massive Hogan-Andre bout, became the first of many undercard Mania matches that ended up stealing the show. It is a technical masterwork between two of the best wrestlers in the industry at that time, featuring an absurd number of near-falls that, and this is important, all could have believably ended the match. In addition, many people actually forget that it had a pretty good story leading up to the match, with Savage crushing Steamboat’s windpipe with a ring bell in an infamous episode of Main Event, and Steamboat getting this match to enact his revenge. Unfortunately, things fell apart for Steamboat backstage, and he would be gone from WWE shortly afterwards, with this match often swept under the rug by the company while he was putting on incredible matches in WCW with Ric Flair, but real wrestling fans still remember this match for what it was: one of the best WrestleMania matches of all time.
4. Steve Austin vs The Rock, WrestleMania X-7
This match will always have a caveat on it because of what happened afterwards, with Austin turning heel and aligning with Vince McMahon after fighting him for years, in what is largely seen as a bad booking move by WWE in retrospect, but that aside, it still represents the culmination of the greatest period in WWE history, with two of its biggest stars putting on an absolute classic at the best Pay Per View WWE has ever had. Sure, there were booking mis-steps leading up to it, but the underlying theme of Steve Austin “needing” to beat The Rock and re-assert himself as the biggest star in WWE after having been gone for a year was suitably epic, and ultimately telegraphed the heel turn (keep in mind, we would have been far happier without the heel turn, but it did technically make sense). Austin and Rock had fought each other many times before, and would again, and that familiarity gave them a synergy that only exists between a few wrestlers, the ability to work so well together that even your bad matches are better than average. And make no mistake, this is an awesome match, a full-on brawl that lasts nearly thirty minutes and is full of energy the entire time, with Rock and Austin just beating the hell out of each other to the cheers of a massive and enraptured audience.
3. Shawn Michaels vs Razor Ramon, WrestleMania X
The biggest compliment that can be given to this match is that, after years and years of ladder matches, after TLC and Money in the Bank and every possible permutation of the gimmick, this match, the very first (not actually, but officially) ladder match in WWE history, still stands up as probably the best ladder match ever. All ladder matches ever since this one have attempted to match it in quality, and while many have come close, in our minds, this one remains on top of the heap. It had an excellent story going in, two great wrestlers whose careers were just starting to take off, and a gimmick that the wrestling world at large had never seen before. It combined great wrestling and truly innovative ladder usage to craft a match that was as technically perfect as it was breathtakingly spectacular. And all of it is done in the days before a ladder match required multiple ladders of varying heights (they actually only used one for this match), extra weapons, tables, and all manner of ridiculously dangerous bumps just to make sure that the audience believed that someone could stay down long enough for their opponent to climb a ladder. In fact, the bump that ended the match was Michaels falling off the ladder and getting tangled in the ring ropes, preventing him from stopping Ramon. And nobody complained that he didn’t fall off a twenty-foot ladder through two double stacks of tables on the floor, because it made sense as a finish!
2. Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker, WrestleMania 25
While others would put their second match in this place, and it is an excellent match, we prefer their first meeting simply because of the lack of inevitability. In the sequel to this match, it was pretty clear that Michaels would be retiring, but for this one, there was no dark cloud hanging overhead, just one of the biggest challenges to The Streak up to that point. While Undertaker had fought some big names at WrestleMania, none could match up to the man who had miraculously returned from a crippling back injury to truly cement his legacy as one of the best wrestlers in history. Others had seemed like legitimate threats to dethrone Undertaker and end The Streak, but this match was the first time that many people truly believed it could happen. It was reasoned at the time that if Shawn Michaels, Mr. WrestleMania himself, could not end The Streak, then absolutely nobody could. The result was a match featuring two of WWE’s greatest wrestlers putting on their best possible match at the biggest show of the year, with an audience fully invested in the idea that either one could actually win.
1. Bret Hart vs Steve Austin, WrestleMania 13
There’s almost a delicious irony that this match took place on the lowest-bought, only non-sellout, and therefore least-watched WrestleMania of all time. Although he’d been steadily making waves in the months leading up to this show, this match was the moment when Steve Austin became the biggest star in professional wrestling, as part of a masterful double turn that also saw WWE’s top face for the past several years, Bret Hart, turn heel for the first time since his early days in the Hart Foundation tag team. For those who only know Austin as the man who brought barfight-style brawling to the WWE main event, the fact that this match was fought under “Submissions Only” rules might surprise you. However, before neck injuries took their toll, Austin was one of the best technical wrestlers in North America, and Hart’s credentials in that arena are well-established. But this wasn’t just a display of technical mastery, this was a fight between two wrestlers who hated each other, and included plenty of punching, kicking, and weapon use, as both men attempted to brutalize each other in order to force a submission. As the match went on, Hart became even more brutal, while Austin simply showed heart and resilience, leading to the crowd, which had already been leaning in Austin’s direction, eventually fully taking his side. Ultimately, Hart won the match when Austin passed out in the Sharpshooter, but Austin won the audience’s hearts and minds, and would ride that fervent emotion to the top of the wrestling world. This is not only the best match in WrestleMania history, it is one of WWE’s best matches, period.