There is no doubt that WWE’s annual WrestleMania show is the biggest spectacle of the wrestling year. For over three decades, WrestleMania has been the premier event in sports entertainment, with some of the biggest matches in wrestling history taking place on the grandest stage of them all. While it hasn’t always been an unqualified success, over the years, certain WrestleManias have emerged to stand as the absolute greatest events of all time, with the right mix of pageantry and drama, unforgettable moments, and classic matches. In service of that idea, here are the ten WrestleManias that we’d consider the very best of the best of WWE’s flagship Pay Per View.
10. WrestleMania III – Bigger! Better! Badder!
If only for historical significance, this belongs on the list. The biggest WrestleMania of all time, with over 93,000 (allegedly) crammed into the Pontiac Silverdome to see one of the most anticipated matches of all time: Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant. Make no mistake, Hogan-Andre was a dream match for that generation of wrestling, and a true torch-passing moment. Of course, setting aside the monumental effects it had on WWE and pro wrestling going forward, the match itself was pretty terrible, as Andre was in tremendous pain at that point in his career and largely immobile. But what gets WrestleMania III onto this list ahead of some other worthy contenders is that despite Hogan-Andre being legitimately one of the biggest matches in the history of the sport, the Intercontinental title match between Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat has stood the test of time as one of the best matches in WrestleMania, and possibly wrestling, history, a display of technical mastery that has never been equaled. Those two huge matches are also supplemented by an iconic Roddy Piper-Adrian Adonis brawl, and one of many meetings between the Hart Foundation and the British Bulldogs. Don’t let people tell you otherwise, WrestleMania III is far from a one match show.
9. WrestleMania 31 – The Rise of the Architect
There have been WrestleManias where the build up to the event was far better than the underwhelming show that resulted. This is the opposite of that situation. Heading into WrestleMania 31, anticipation was at an all-time low. The Streak had been broken the year prior, so a lot of The Undertaker’s reason for existing was gone, John Cena was lining up to squash young Superstar Rusev like a bug, Triple H and Sting were wrestling a featured match with a combined age of over 90, and most importantly, Roman Reigns was facing Brock Lesnar in the main event, and fans just hated that idea. To be fair, at that point, we still thought Daniel Bryan had a long wrestling career ahead of him and were more than a little perturbed that he was being clearly pushed aside in favor of Reigns, who had decidedly not lit the world on fire leading up to his big WrestleMania moment. But somehow, from low expectations came a shockingly good show. The Intercontinental title ladder match was a great spotfest won by Bryan, Seth Rollins and Randy Orton put on a surprisingly good match in the undercard, Triple H-Sting was carried by overwhelming nostaglia and silly fun, and Cena-Rusev was also a better-than-expected match. Plus, The Rock and Ronda Rousey were there, and that was pretty cool. And to top it all off, WWE called an audible and had Seth Rollins cash in Money in the Bank during Reigns-Lesnar (which was itself already a decent match thanks to Lesnar’s ability to deliver superhuman beatings and Reigns’ willingness to take one) and left as the WWE World Heavyweight Champion in a moment that absolutely nobody saw coming.
8. WrestleMania 23 – Battle of the Billionaires
This show is probably most remembered for the Battle of the Billionaires, a match in which either WWE Chairman Vince McMahon or future President (Note for future generations: this was actually a joke when we wrote it) Donald Trump would get their head shaved if their champion lost. The wrestlers involved were largely secondary (Trump backed Bobby Lashley, while Vince chose Umaga, if you’d forgotten) to the chaos that erupted with Vince, Trump, and special enforcer “Stone Cold” Steve Austin all involved in the match. The match is given most of the credit for this WrestleMania bringing in the most money and largest PPV buyrate in WWEhistory up to that point, but the rest of the show was nothing to sneeze at as well. In the actual final match of the show, John Cena and Shawn Michaels put on a spectacular WWE Championship match worthy of HBK’s title as “Mr. WrestleMania”, while Undertaker and Batista fought over the World Heavyweight title in one of the best matches of Batista’s career. With several solid undercard matches, including another excellent Money in the Bank match, taking place on the show, it’s definitely a respectable showing that earns its spot on this list.
7. WrestleMania VIII – The Macho/Flair Affair
Of the early WrestleManias, this one probably contains the most marquee matches. While the fact that Hogan-Flair never happened at WrestleMania is probably inexcusable, in its place we got a double main event of Flair vs Savage, which was very good and included an emotional win for the Macho Man (unfortunately, real life intervened, and Savage would separate from his wife, Miss Elizabeth, later that year, so this was her last-ever appearance on a WWE Pay Per View), and Hogan-Sid, which was not very good but still highly anticipated, and signified the start of Hulkamania’s decline as fans grew noticeably tired with Hogan’s act. This was also the Pay Per View which helped set two Superstars on their paths to the main event for good, as Shawn Michaels began his singles push as The Heartbreak Kid in a decent match against the under-rated Tito Santana, and Bret Hart was catapulted into the spotlight as a singles wrestler by defeating Roddy Piper for the Intercontinental title. Michaels would be IC champion by the end of the year, and Hart would actually win the WWE Championship in the same time, with both men becoming a huge part of WWE’s future once Hogan departed roughly a year later.
6. WrestleMania XX – Where It All Begins…Again!
There are those who are going to say this shouldn’t be on the list at all, and those who say it probably should be higher. They’re both right, from their point of view, and we won’t argue with anyone who would disagree with including this show on our list, as it has been doomed to controversy ever since the Chris Benoit incident changed wrestling forever. But lost in the very real tragedy is a really good show, even setting aside the main event (which at the time was almost certainly one of the best WrestleMania main events ever). The show opens with John Cena (probably the last time that ever happened) defeating The Big Show to win the US Title, his first championship in WWE, and just gets better from there. Evolution, Mick Foley, and The Rock combined to have an incredibly entertaining 3-on-2 handicap match, Kurt Angle and Eddie Guerrero had their usual great match, and we even got The Undertaker returning in the Dead Man gimmick after spending the Attitude Era as a motorcycle enthusiast. Plus, there’s bizarre spectacle that was Goldberg-Lesnar, if you want to watch wrestling fans turn on almost every aspect of a match. And then there is the main event, which was an emotional moment for many wrestling fans. Alas, time has not been kind, and it will certainly never get the respect it received when it happened.
5. WrestleMania XXX – Yes! Yes! Yes!
It’s hard not to place this higher, out of our love and devotion for Daniel Bryan, but aside from his involvement in the show, there isn’t a lot else to recommend. From a historic perspective, this is the night when The Streak ended at the hands of Brock Lesnar, but the match was fairly bad due to Undertaker suffering a concussion early on. Cesaro did win the inaugural Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, but that brief shining moment was quickly eclipsed by WWE having no idea how to book him afterwards and basically wasting a golden opportunity to make a new star. And John Cena defeated Bray Wyatt in a match that wasn’t bad, but falls under the category of John Cena winning another match he probably didn’t need to at the expense of an up-and-coming talent. But on the other hand, Daniel Bryan is all over this show, from the opening match against Triple H to the main event against Batista and Randy Orton, and that makes this WrestleMania truly special, in our eyes.
4. WrestleMania X – Ten Years In The Making
Let’s be clear going into this: WrestleMania X is a two-match show. Pretty much everything else on the card is mediocre at best (although Savage vs Crush is an interesting early attempt at a Falls Count Anywhere match where the rule was that you lost if you couldn’t make it back into the ring within sixty seconds of being pinned), and just plain terrible in some cases (we’re looking at you, Earthquake vs Adam Bomb). But those two matches just absolutely steal the show, and are two of the greatest matches in WWE history. The first, of course, is the Ladder Match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, its official debut in WWE, which set the standard for every single match of its type that followed afterwards. The fact that, years later, it still reigns supreme on top of that list is a testament to how incredible it actually was. The second match is Bret vs Owen, a ridiculously fantastic technical ladder match between two competitors with incredible chemistry, and better yet, Owen even beat his older brother, giving him bragging rights for life. All would not be lost for the Hitman, however, who would go on to end the night defeating Yokozuna to become WWE Champion, a triumphant moment made sweeter by taking place inside WWE’s home base of Madison Square Garden, establishing Hart as the face of WWE in the post-Hogan era.
3. WrestleMania 21 – The Champ Is Here!
This Pay Per View is most notable for being the launching pads of two incredible careers, although ironically, the one which became a bigger star did not main event this show. That would, of course, be John Cena, who defeated JBL to become the long-awaited champion and would go on to become WWE’s biggest star for the next decade or so. It’s probably hard to believe years later, but Cena was the unanimous fan choice to be champion, and his win was celebrated by pretty much every WWE fan on the planet. Meanwhile, in the actual main event, Batista, fresh off breaking away from the Evolution stable and turning into a big fan favorite, defeated long-running champion Triple H to establish himself as a future cornerstone of WWE. In addition to those two industry-changing matches, Randy Orton went up against the Undertaker in a surprisingly great match, where Orton actually came closer than most people have to ending The Streak (rumor has it WWE almost decided to have Orton break The Streak, only to change their mind at the last minute), while Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels put on a near-thirty minute clinic in pro wrestling that was one of the best matches of both men’s careers. And just to top things off, this show featured the debut of the Money in the Bank ladder match, where six of WWE’s biggest stars fought in a classic brawl with a guaranteed shot at the WWE Title on the line.
2. WrestleMania XIX – The Battle of Seattle
This show falls under the radar for a lot of people, as it was seen as a financial failure for WWE after the ridiculous highs of the Attitude Era, and was rarely referenced in the years afterwards. It certainly doesn’t deserve to, however, as the card is pretty much stacked with great matches. There’s the first-time meeting between Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho, which was an instant classic. There’s the very last match of Steve Austin’s career, and thankfully, it’s against The Rock (during his awesome Hollywood heel phase, no less). There’s even one of the best women’s matches of the era, as Trish Stratus faces Jazz and Victoria at the height of her popularity. And sure, Hulk Hogan vs Vince McMahon sounds terrible on paper, but they have a pretty incredibly street fight anyway. And then you have the main event, featuring Brock Lesnar, when he was an insane technical wrestler as opposed to the modern force of nature he became, against Kurt Angle, the best wrestler in the planet at that point. Yes, Brock blows the big finish, but everything up to that point is basically flawless and a high water mark for wrestling at that point. You will have to hold your nose and wade through the river of garbage that is Triple H vs Booker T, but everything else on the show more than makes up for it.
1. WrestleMania X-7 – Houston, We Have A Problem
There was very little doubt that this show was going to end up on the top of the list. It is the absolute climax of WWE’s hottest period ever, topped off by two of the industry’s biggest stars putting on an incredible 5-star match that defined the Attitude Era and basically turned the page to the new reality, with WCW gone and WWE running unopposed. But Rock vs Austin is just one of the many incredible matches that run up and down this card, including Chris Benoit vs Kurt Angle in a battle of technical masters, Triple H vs The Undertaker in a brutal brawl that remains one of the best matches of The Streak, and Vince McMahon facing his son Shane in a Street Fight that is just the perfect mix of brutality, chaos, and even humor. And if that’s not enough, there’s also TLC 2, which is probably the best of the entire Dudleyz/Hardyz/Edge and Christian series of ridiculous matches. Even the bad matches aren’t actually bad, punctuated by the enjoyable comic relief of the ridiculous Gimmick Battle Royal. This show personified WWE at that point, with something for absolutely everyone to enjoy, and it maybe, in fact, be the greatest Pay Per View event put on by any wrestling company, ever.