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32 years, 10 matches: The ultimate WrestleMania card

WrestleMania

For 32 years, WrestleMania has been the biggest day on the calendar for fans of pro wrestling. Those big shows have given fans hundreds of matches and countless memories and will no doubt continue to do so going forward.

As we head into WrestleMania 33 tonight and having seen all of them, I thought it would be fun to try and compose my ultimate WrestleMania card.

While it’s doubtful that this weekend’s big show will compare to the card I’m going to present here, it’s quite possible that at least one of the currently scheduled matches for tonight could make its way onto this list a year from now.

My ground rules were fairly simple:

  • A 10 match card with the major titles (and one minor one) defended.
  • No individual wrestler can appear in more than one match.
  • No title can be defended more than once.
  • No individual show can have more than one match represented.

With the ground rules out of the way, here is my ultimate WrestleMania card:

Opening match: John Cena vs. The Rock | Once in a Lifetime match from WrestleMania 28

This match was The Rock’s first Mania match in eight years, set up the previous year when Rock hosted Mania as Cena main evented the show against The Miz.

The two had teamed up at Survivor Series the previous fall, which marked Rock’s official in-ring return, but this was the match everyone was waiting for. The match itself was very good, clicking in at ***3/4 according to Dave Meltzer and the show was very successful on PPV, doing 1.253 million PPV buys, a WWE record that still stands and will never be broken with the advent of the WWE Network.

Rock and Cena would rematch the following year for the WWE title with Rock dropping the strap to Cena in a passing the torch moment.

Match two: Kurt Angle vs. Chris Jericho vs. Chris Benoit | IC/European title match from WrestleMania 2000

I cheated a little bit here as this match was actually a 2/3 falls match with the IC and European titles both up for grabs. The titles were both held by Angle, who was in the midst of the most impressive rookie year in WWF history.

Rules of the match were that the IC title would be defended in the first fall and the European title in the second. Because the match was a three-way, Angle could lose either belt without actually taking a fall. In the first fall, Benoit won the title after landing a diving headbutt on Jericho.

In fall two, Jericho scored a pin over Benoit with the Lionsault to take the European title. The match only got a **3/4 rating but has fond memories for me as I was a big fan of all three at the time and still am of two of them as Jericho is still going strong and Angle was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Match three: Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H | WrestleMania 30

This was the show that made Daniel Bryan “The Man” in WWE, if only for a short period of time. Stips here were that Bryan would have to beat Triple H in order to advance into the main event title match between Randy Orton and Batista.

I considered putting the main event of this show on my card, but I had other plans for that title. In this match, Bryan submitted “The Game” and would go on to win the big belt in the show’s main event in an emotional moment that won’t soon be forgotten.

Especially notable was that young Connor Michalek got to witness his favorite wrestler win the gold before passing away later that month. Michalek was honored the next year with the Warrior award in another emotional moment with his family being presented the award by Bryan.

Match four: Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch | Inaugural WWE Women’s Championship at WrestleMania 32

I was at this match live, the only WrestleMania I’ve personally attended, and it was considered by most, myself included, as the match of the night. When WWE Hall of Famer Lita announced earlier in the night that the former Divas title would now be christened the Women’s title, it was a very special moment and I have to admit to shedding a little tear.

The women lived up to the big stage they were put on. Charlotte’s father Ric Flair accompanied her to the ring and rap icon Snoop Dogg rapped his cousin Sasha Banks' theme song as she made her Mania debut. Charlotte won the title and would go on to dominate the title scene for most of the next year and will challenge Bayley this year in a four-way for the Raw Women’s title.

Match five: Vince McMahon vs. Hulk Hogan | Street fight at WrestleMania XIX

The two men most responsible for there even being a thing called WrestleMania met inside the ring for the first and only time. Yes, McMahon is not a wrestler. Yes, Hogan was way past his prime. But, these two actually had a very entertaining match.

The match scored three stars from Dave Meltzer which is much better than anyone could’ve reasonably expected. After winning the Undisputed title the previous year, this was pretty much the culmination of Hogan’s return to WWE. After beating McMahon at WrestleMania, he would have a short run as the masked Mr. America before leaving the company in early summer. It’s been rumored that Hogan may make a return to WWE soon so that’s something else to watch for this year.

Match six: Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz | Three-way TLC match for the WWF Tag Team titles from WrestleMania X-Seven

Now we’re getting to the good stuff. This match scored just short of that elusive five star rating (****3/4 stars), but in my mind, it was a five star match. It was a rematch from WrestleMania 2000 between the same three teams, but this time out, it also included their cohorts Rhyno, Lita, and Spike Dudley.

All nine went all-out in an effort to steal the show and that they did. Just days after the WWF won the Monday Night Wars and following a match between Vince (WWF) and Shane (WCW), the “owners” who would go on to feud for much of that year, the tag teams shone in this epic battle that took the ladder match to another level.

Edge and Christian won the belts after the Dudleyz had come into the bout as champions but all nine of these wrestlers improved their stock. Continuing a running theme here, it’s heavily rumored that Matt and Jeff Hardy will return to WWE this weekend and there is a three-way tag team ladder match scheduled for Sunday’s show as well. While it’s unlikely that will be even close to this classic in terms of quality, if the Hardys chose to make their return during this match, it would certainly be a memorable moment.

Match seven: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels | Career vs. The Streak from WrestleMania 26

This was the second consecutive year these two wrestled at Mania but this time, they main evented the show. This was another instant classic, a ****3/4 match that many (myself included) gave the full five stars to.

If you’re reading this, you know the story. After losing to Undertaker the previous year, Michaels put up his career against The Deadman in order to get a rematch. And in a “heartbreaking” moment, HBK’s career ended after an epic battle.

Undertaker ran his unbeaten streak to 18-0 with the win and would add three more victories to that total before finally succumbing to Brock Lesnar four years later.

Match eight: Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat | IC title match from WrestleMania III

In front of, ahem, 93,000 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome, this match stole the show and inspired a generation of wrestlers including many of today’s top stars. While this match scored “just” 4.5 stars from Dave Meltzer, it’s an easy five stars in my book and for many years, this was the best match I had ever seen.

The story here was almost as good as the match itself. Savage had held the belt for over a year and Steamboat was his most ardent challenger. Savage had injured Steamboat the previous year in a memorable angle and vowed revenge here by taking Savage’s previous gold.

Steamboat had George “The Animal” Steele in his corner to counteract Savage’s manager, the lovely Miss Elizabeth. Steele was obsessed with the lovely Elizabeth and that played a part in the finish here. When Savage attempted to use the ring bell to again injure, Steele interjected, knocking Savage off the top rope. Steamboat would go on to pin Savage after a small package to win the belt after an epic back and forth battle.

Savage would go on to turn babyface later that year and win the WWF World title at the following year’s Mania while Steamboat would leave the WWF shortly after his most famous win before returning at that same show.

Match nine: Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart | Submission match from WrestleMania 13

The only five star match on the card, this was the match that put Austin on the map and would set up the WWF for the most profitable period in its history. Austin came into the match as a heel who was starting to get the cheers of the fans while Hart was the longtime babyface who was hearing jeers after taking on a more whiny persona leading into this matchup.

By the end of this match, a rematch from Survivor Series the previous year, the roles had been reversed. Austin became the anti-authority, hell-raising babyface for the Attitude Era while Hart would spend most of 1997 heading the top heel stable in the WWF, the re-formed Hart Foundation, before exiting the company following the most famous double-cross in wrestling history.

As far as the match itself, it was a thing of beauty. Austin never gave up and the image of him struggling to break free from Hart’s Sharpshooter with blood pouring down his face is an iconic image that no fan from that era will ever forget. Austin never did quit, but after passing out, special referee Ken Shamrock stopped the match and awarded it to Hart. Hart refused to break the hold, cementing his heel turn, leading to he and Shamrock coming to blows.

Austin refused assistance after coming to and struggled to the back on his own power, earning the cheers of the crowd and kicking off the most successful babyface run in company history.

Main event: Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns | WWE Championship at WrestleMania 31

After winning the Royal Rumble much to the dismay of WWE fans, Reigns earned the title match against Lesnar, who had retained his title at the same show against John Cena and Seth Rollins in another classic match.

These two had a physical war, the likes of which has rarely been seen at a WrestleMania. The reactions of the crowd greatly added to the intrigue of the match as Reigns was heavily booed even though he was portrayed as the babyface while Lesnar was cheered just as heavily, despite his heel tactics.

With both men down and after each had kicked out of each other’s finishers, Rollins’ music hit. The Money in the Bank winner from the previous year chose this moment to cash in his instant title shot. After hitting his patented curb stomp on Lesnar, Rollins went for the move a second time but Lesnar reversed it into an F-5 position. Reigns saved his former Shield teammate with a spear but Rollins would thank him by curb stomping Reigns and winning the title.

Hopefully tonight, another classic will be added to the list.