It’s that time of year again when the biggest stars and celebrities unite for a wrestling extravaganza like no other – WrestleMania 32.
Well, sort of. You see, the hype for this year’s ‘Showcase of the Immortals’ hasn’t been great, let’s be honest.
Roman Reigns winning in the main event could be a total disaster, a multi-man Intercontinental title match seems dumb when you had the Kevin Owens vs Sami Zayn story right there, and AJ Styles vs Chris Jericho would be great, if we hadn’t already seen it a bunch of times.
Still, Shane McMahon vs Undertaker in Hell in a Cell should be a fun stunt match, the women’s title triple threat could steal the show if WWE gives the match the time, and Lesnar vs Ambrose will be all kinds of fun.
The problem is, it doesn’t really feel like WrestleMania season. This is supposed to be the best time of the year for pro wrestling fans and the upcoming card just doesn’t fill you with the same sense of excitement and anticipation as past shows.
After all, it’s tough to see any moment on tonight’s show measuring up to these 20 classic moments from WrestleMania’s illustrious history…
A Legend Begins (Wrestlemania)
WrestleMania was an incredibly risky venture for Vincent Kennedy McMahon. He threw all his eggs into one basket as he attempted to make his unique vision of pro wrestling as a spectacle, a reality. McMahon wanted to bring glitz and glamour to the aging industry, by combining his larger than life stars with the star power of celebrity guests. So he recruited the likes of Mr. T, Cyndi Lauper, Muhammad Ali and Liberace to participate in a new major show to take place at the historic Madison Square Garden. The main event featured Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff, with Jimmy Snuka and Bob Orton Jr. at ringside – plus, Muhammed Ali as special guest referee. If this had all gone tits up, the WWE as we know it wouldn’t be a thing today. Fortunately, the gamble paid off and the event lived up to the hype of being the Super Bowl of wrestling.
Hogan Slams The Giant (WrestleMania 3)
You’ve probably heard of this one, given that Hogan mentions it at least twice in every interview he does. To be fair though, this is probably the ultimate iconic WrestleMania moment (although you probably won’t see it in the hype videos for this year’s show, for some reason). The bout was the biggest in pro wrestling history at the time, pitting the dominant Hulk Hogan against his biggest challenge of all time in Andre the Giant. Andre had turned heel on his old friend in a legendary segment, and aligned himself with hated manager Bobby Heenan, to set up the historic match in the jam packed Pontiac Silverdome. The match itself was no classic but, after Andre dominated the short bout, it set up the incredible moment of Hogan’s comeback, as he finally knocked the Giant off his feet, before picking him up and slamming him to the mat, before hitting the leg drop for the win to a thunderous ovation.
The Ultimate Challenge (WrestleMania 6)
Speaking of dream matches, how about the two biggest babyface stars of their era finally squaring off in the WrestleMania main event with both the WWE and Intercontinental titles on the line? The match between Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior still stands up as a classic, which is pretty remarkable given the in ring limitations of both men. Warrior getting the clean win over Hogan – something almost unheard of at the time – was a huge shock and looked like it created a new top star for the company. Unfortunately, Hogan rather tainted the moment by making it all about himself, but Warrior celebrating with the championship belts as fireworks erupted around him remains an iconic image.
Macho Reunion (WrestleMania 7)
At WrestleMania 7, Macho Man Randy Savage put his career on the line against the Ultimate Warrior. Despite hitting Warrior with five consecutive elbow drops, Savage was unable to put his opponent away. In the end, a dominant Warrior finished the legendary Macho Man off with multiple shoulder blocks, to send Savage into temporary retirement. After the loss, an incensed Sensational Sherri attacked her charge, only for Miss Elizabeth to jump the guardrail and intervene, throwing Sherri out of the ring. Cue one of the most emotional moments in wrestling history as Savage embraced his former manager and real-life wife, and hoisted her onto his shoulders. Fans in the audience were actually crying, the moment was so brilliantly done. Then, as they left the ring, Macho Man held up the ropes for Elizabeth for the first time ever, bringing a brilliant storyline full circle.
The Boyhood Dream Has Come True (WrestleMania 12)
In 1996, Michaels was in the midst of a major push, winning the Royal Rumble and getting his chance to headline WrestleMania. At WrestleMania 12 he main evented the show against the other most respected worker of the time, WWE champion Bret Hart in an Iron Man match. HBK’s entrance is iconic in and off itself, as he ziplined down from the rafters, but his crowning moment is even more memorable. The match itself is one which continues to divide opinion – a mat classic for some, too drawn out and slow paced for others. For 60 minutes, the two revered wrestlers went back and forth in their bid to take home the title, with neither able to get a pinfall or submission on the other. As the time ticked away in the final moments of the match, Shawn leapt off the top rope and was caught in the sharpshooter by Hart. HBK, however, refused to submit and the match was declared a draw at the end of the hour. After the restart, Michaels finally hit Sweet Chin Music and captured the biggest prize in the industry. As an emotional Michaels celebrated with the title belt, Vince McMahon exclaimed on commentary, ‘The boyhood dream has come true,’ creating a fitting soundbite for the classic moment.
The Double Turn (WrestleMania 13)
One of the single most important moments in the history of wrestling. Steve Austin’s loss to Bret Hart and the famous ‘double turn’ was one of the main catalysts for the success of the Attitude Era. Austin was the despicable bad guy going into the match, and Hart the beloved clean cut hero. But times were a-changing in the WWE, and fans were demanding something different. The match itself was a five-star classic, between two of the best ever, with Hart showing more aggression than usual and the rebellious Austin refusing to back down. As the bout progressed, the men’s roles in the story of the match began to shift. In the end, with blood streaming down his face, Austin screamed in pain while trapped in Hart’s sharpshooter, but refused to give up, passing out from the pain instead. It’s an iconic and visceral image and, when Hart attacked an injured Austin after the match, the switch was complete. Hart was now the hated heel, Austin the defiant babyface. This was pro wrestling at its absolute best.
The Austin Era Has Begun (WrestleMania 14)
The WWE were riding an incredible wave of momentum in 1998. The massive popularity of Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the fallout from the Montreal Screwjob, had begun to shift the tide in the WWE’s favour against WCW. Austin was set to become the biggest star the industry had ever seen – he was edgy, vulgar and anti-establishment. It was a far cry from the clean cut babyfaces of the past. WrestleMania 14 was set to be his coronation as the top star in the company, as he took on D-Generation X leader Shawn Michaels. With the addition of a DX aligned Mike Tyson as the special guest enforcer, following one of the greatest Raw angles ever, all eyes were on WrestleMania 14. The only problem was, HBK was carrying a horrible back injury into the show, which would spell the end of his wrestling career – for four years, at least. Fortunately, HBK got through the match. Austin hit the stunner, Mike Tyson double crossed DX and counted the pin, before decking Michaels as Austin celebrated with the WWE title. The Austin Era, and the most successful period of wrestling ever, had just begun…
TLC 2 Raises The Bar Again (WrestleMania 17)
Edge loves a crazy spear at a WrestleMania – this isn’t the only time the ‘Rated R Superstar’ and his finishing maneuver will pop up on this list. Edge & Christian, the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz had raised the bar very high indeed in their triangle ladder match at WrestleMania 16 and Summerslam 2000, so they were determined to top those classic matches with even crazier stunts in Houston. They did. The centerpiece of the match was the insane moment when Edge jumped off a ladder to spear Jeff Hardy out of the air as he hung from the title belts above the ring. It’s the absolute nuttiest thing these guys ever did in their trilogy of TLC matches and, trust me, that’s saying something. Hardy got some measure of revenge on Edge for this crazy moment six years later at Mania 23, when he leapt off a 20 foot ladder and crashed through Edge who was lying on another ladder. You know, just standard Hardy stuff.
Deal With The Devil (WrestleMania 17)
Whether this was the right booking decision is a debate that will likely rage on for years to come. Turning Stone Cold Steve Austin into a bad guy was a bold move and, although it made for some entertaining moments, it never truly paid off. Even so, the moment in which Austin turned was a stunner. His match against The Rock in the main event of, probably, the best WrestleMania ever was a stone cold classic. Austin wanted to win the belt at any cost and selling out to his old foe Mr McMahon to do it was a shocker. The Texas crowd weren’t exactly eager to boo their hometown hero but the image of a bloodied Austin shaking hands with the dastardly boss remains iconic.
Icon vs Icon (WrestleMania 18)
In 2002, Hulk Hogan returned to the WWE for the first time in nearly a decade. It meant that a dream showdown between two of the industry’s biggest icons – Hogan and The Rock – on the biggest stage of them all was finally possible. The match itself certainly wasn’t a mat classic, but as a spectacle it’s one of the best ever. The super charismatic Hogan was ostensibly working heel in the match but, pretty soon, the Toronto crowd were cheering him on like he was in his 1980’s prime, and booing babyface superstar The Rock. The crowd ate up the nostalgia of Hogan’s classic comeback, finger wave and legdrop. The Rock won the match clean in the end in a passing of the torch moment, but Hogan stole the show, especially when he completed his good guy turn and sent his NWO cohorts packing.
Shooting Star Crash (WrestleMania 19)
The highly anticipated showdown between Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle and NCAA wrestling champ Lesnar lived up to the hype in the main event of WrestleMania 19, but the final moments were especially memorable. In an attempt to create a classic WrestleMania moment, Lesnar did just that – but not in the way he intended. With Angle halfway across the ring, and the ropes slick with sweat from the long match, Brock slipped as he attempted a crazy shooting star press and failed to reach his target. It made for a terrifying moment as the enormous Lesnar landed on his head, giving him a major concussion in a botch which would have killed most normal men. Brock, of course, is no normal man but the accident meant that he was unable to enjoy the greatest moment of his career up to that point, as Angle – ever the professional – managed to carry the match to its conclusion, despite having a serious neck injury of his own.
Eddie and Benoit (WrestleMania 20)
The moment may have been tainted and all but erased from history by WWE since 2004, given the tragic circumstances which followed, but it shouldn’t be forgotten how beautiful this was at the time. Eddie and Benoit were the two guys beloved by ‘smart’ wrestling fans everywhere, two incredibly talented workhorses who had travelled the world to hone their talents as perhaps the best two pro wrestlers of their generation. In the WWE’s land of the giants, however, they were drastically undersized and most people never dreamed they would reach the lofty heights they did. As if Benoit winning the World Heavyweight Championship in a classic triple threat match against Triple H and Shawn Michaels in the main event of the Madison Square Garden show wasn’t enough, Eddie Guerrero – who himself had retained the WWE title against Kurt Angle earlier in the night – joined his friend in the ring and the two shared an emotional hug as confetti fell around them in the biggest night of their professional careers.
Edge’s Burning Desire (WrestleMania 22)
Edge was arguably the best wrestler in the entire business come 2006. The ratings for Raw in the weeks after Edge won the WWE title for the first time in January 2006 were the highest they’d been in years. Despite this, WWE had Edge drop the belt back to John Cena, just three weeks after he won it, because they were determined to plow ahead with Cena vs Triple H as the ‘Mania 22 main event. Unsurprisingly then, Edge was pretty pissed off about the whole thing and was determined to steal the show with old pal Mick Foley, a guy who famously never got his classic ‘WrestleMania moment’. Cue a brutal match with the ‘Hardcore Legend’, featuring barbed wire, thumbtacks and a flaming table. The iconic moment when Edge actually spears Foley off the ring apron and through the burning table only gets more batshit crazy each time you rewatch it.
I’m Sorry, I Love You (WrestleMania 24)
Ric Flair is widely regarded as the greatest pro wrestler of all time, certainly among his peers, and Shawn Michaels was one of many wrestlers who idolised ‘The Nature Boy’ growing up. Inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2008, it made sense that Flair’s final match would take place the next night on the biggest stage of them all. Sure, Flair slightly ruined this one by having more matches in TNA, but let’s just forget that ever happened (you know, like WWE has). In an emotional, well worked match, featuring plenty of drama and callbacks to moments from Flair’s legendary career, Michaels frequently sold his hesitation to pull the trigger and be the man to end his hero’s career. Finally, HBK paused, uttered the famous words ‘I’m sorry, I love you’ and superkicked Flair into retirement. We’re not crying. You’re crying!
Goodbye Shawn (WrestleMania 26)
Two years after HBK brought an end to Flair’s career, Michaels’ own time in the ring was over. Following their absolute classic at the previous year’s Mania (maybe the best WWE match ever), the two set up a rematch in the main event of the show the following year, after one of the best build ups in recent history (“You don’t get it; if I can’t beat you, I have no career!”). The stipulation – The Undertaker’s legendary undefeated streak against Michaels’ career. HBK lost but he went out in style with another classic WrestleMania performance from the best Mania performer ever. Most wrestlers can only dream of such a send off.
End of an Era (WrestleMania 28)
The story going into this one had everything, with the history of all three guys (past matches, friendships, retirements, etc) all playing into this End of an Era clash. Considering this was in the PG era, which means no bloodshed allowed, it still managed to be one of the most brutal matches ever, with multiple weapon shots selling the stipulation. HBK’s reactions as the special guest referee pushed this into another level and played into the best false finish in recent history. After a half hour epic, Taker got the win and the three legends helped one another out of the ring and embraced atop the ramp in a special moment of sportsmanship for the ages.
Once In A Lifetime… Sort Of (WrestleMania 28)
WrestleMania is the home to dream matches and few come bigger than the clash between the biggest wrestling stars of two different decades, The Rock and John Cena. Built for more than a year, the hype for this one was palpable and made for quite the spectacle (if not the greatest match). The only problem is, the WWE promoted the bout as ‘Once In A Lifetime’, only to run a rematch the next year in the main event of WrestleMania 29, something which they’d planned from the start of the Cena/Rock angle. A bit cheeky and, by the time Mania 29 rolled around, people really didn’t care about seeing these two clash again. Plus, Vince McMahon’s refusal to insert the red hot CM Punk into the WM 29 match played a huge role in Punk leaving the company just nine months later. Oops.
Three Icons, One Ring (WrestleMania 30)
Given that it was the 30th edition of the ‘Granddaddy Of Them All’, WWE needed something extremely special to kick off the show. It’s safe to say they did just that when they had the three biggest stars in the history of pro-wrestling all stand in the same ring, at the same time. Sure, Hogan may forgotten where he was at one point, but seeing him share the ring with Austin and Rock was very special, indeed. These three would be on WWE’s version of Mount Rushmore (who’d be the fourth? Answers on a postcard, please), so integral were they to the success of the promotion. The sight of these three talking each other up, bantering and sharing a few beers in the middle of the ring will live long in the memory.
The End of the Streak (WrestleMania 30)
For 21 WrestleMania’s, the Undertaker had remained undefeated. It was an unparalleled achievement and one which the WWE had protected and hyped incredibly. Nobody ever thought The Streak would be broken, such was its power and the respect for Taker from everyone in all corners of the business. Then WrestleMania 30 and Brock Lesnar rolled into town, to produce what remains one of the most shocking moments in pro-wrestling history. Nobody in the arena really believed Brock had a chance of getting the win so when he pinned Taker’s shoulders to the mat, after a third F-5, the crowd went eerily silent, such was the shock of the moment. There’s never been a fan reaction quite like it.
YEStleMania (WrestleMania 30)
After the shock of Lesnar ending the Undertaker’s streak, almost all the life had been sucked out of the arena. Into that lion’s den walked Daniel Bryan, Batista and Randy Orton with the task of getting the crowd back into the right frame of mind. After months of being passed over and screwed at every turn – both in the storyline and behind-the-scenes – the beloved Bryan had his chance to win the WWE championship on the biggest stage of them all. He’d defeated HHH earlier in the night in a great match to earn his place in the triple threat main event and, with all the bells and whistles thrown in for good measure, Bryan finally overcame The Authority and closed out the show celebrating as the champ in front of a now rapturous audience. It made for an incredible moment of the underdog triumphing against all the odds – made all the more emotional by Bryan’s recent retirement.
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