Today is the day. Yesterday's countdown of the Nos. 10 through 2 spots gave away the No. 1 spot for today, but now we can get right down to it and talk about it.
Before we do that, though, I want to thank everyone who was kind enough to read this silly ol' project. It started on a whim, and Geno was kind enough to offer running it for the CSS audience, and I'm very appreciative for that. It was genuinely fun to do this, though also occasionally somewhat tedious to go back over 29 WrestleManias. I mean, I could have done some big pile of halfass from memory or whatever, and there were a lot of matches I knew for a guaranteed fact I could skip (and I skipped them), but I'm the sort of person who just had to do it all in the moment, to take that snapshot in time and say these matches, in this order, are my personal Top 100 in WrestleMania History.
So again, thank you to those of you who read along the way. If you missed anything, though, here's a quick batch of links to the previous portions of the countdown:
1. The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXV)
In the last part, I basically made the case for the WrestleMania 13 match between Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin to be considered the greatest match in Mania history. That's because I think the two are neck and neck; 1A and 1B, if you will. The argument for Hart-Austin is a great one. It's a hugely significant match in WWE history, a change in the product's tone that was for the better, overdue and necessary to get the company started on a year-long comeback trail in their war with WCW.
Hart-Austin, too, is a truly great wrestling match. I went with the first Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels match at WrestleMania as the No. 1, though. Why?
When all is said and done someday far, far in the future, the two greatest performers in WrestleMania history may still be Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. As of now, they are absolutely the two best ever on the Mania stage. Of my top 100, Shawn Michaels was involved in 16 of the matches, and Undertaker in 13. Nobody else comes close to those numbers. Though WWE makes up lots of nicknames for guys that are nothing more than marketing, Shawn Michaels truly is Mr. WrestleMania, and Undertaker's Streak is indeed arguably the most amazing feat in the company's history, especially considering how great the matches have become over time with the Streak as the focal point every year.
By WrestleMania XXV, it was pretty clear that Taker was probably never going to lose at WrestleMania. On the one hand, if he did, losing to the greatest WrestleMania performer ever would make sense. On the other hand, losing to a 44-year-old Shawn Michaels who was at the tail end of his career would not really make much sense at all. What would Shawn get from it other than another bullet point on a Hall of Fame résumé that was complete by 1996?
Still, even though there was no very good reason to believe Michaels was going to win this match, the incredible display from both men sucked in anyone who was watching in the stadium, on TV, on some crummy internet stream, or wherever else. Live or on tape, the night of, the night after, or now five years later. The match is simply the greatest example of WWE epic storytelling ever seen. I will stand by this: there is not a better match in WWE history, and there may not be a better match in American professional wrestling history. I'm putting right on par with any Flair-Steamboat match or anything else.
The intros are certainly a bit on the nose -- Michaels descending from the heavens all in white, Undertaker rising from the depths of hell in his trademark black -- but it works because, as I've said before during this countdown, Taker works best as a comic book style character. Undertaker doesn't need to make sense, doesn't need to be "gritty," doesn't need to seem real. He is supernatural, and that's the best way to take him.
He wasn't a villain in this match, though in the more traditional days of pro wrestling's presentation, he certainly would have been. Representing the dark, Undertaker was an antihero, not all good or bad, a chaotic good. Michaels, representing the light, became something he hadn't been for a long time, but in a different way. While there were heel-type tones to what he was doing, he was not all bad or good, himself. He was a cold-eyed character in a spaghetti Western, not quite a vigilante sheriff or the like, no revenge or reckoning his motivation. It was simply the hunt for the biggest game he could find. He was a gunfighter, and he was making his move to be the best there ever was, looking to be immortalized in dime novels.
In fact, I'd almost say that if there was law here, it was Undertaker, trying to guard his town from the reckless gunfighter. Taker was the sheriff who had to strap on the gun belt one more time, against a fast hand of note.
This could have been just another great match, in the way that Michaels-Angle, for instance, was "just another great match." It might have even been truly excellent, the way that match was. But what made this the best match WWE has ever had, and the best match in Mania history, is that even without a title, and a storyline that doesn't breed real contempt or personal feelings, necessarily, they managed to tell the story that this match meant everything to both of them.
I can't say that Michaels and Taker are the two most important figures in WWE history, because that's just not true. Sammartino, Hogan, Austin, and Rock all rank clearly ahead of them. But they are no doubt the two most important in WrestleMania history. Hogan and Piper started it. Hogan and Andre made it a true phenomenon. For years, Hogan was the bankable star. Times changed, the show scaled back, and then you had the Attitude Era, led by Austin and Rock. Triple H and John Cena became flagship figures after that. Through it all, from 1989 to 2010, Shawn Michaels and Undertaker were there. Michaels missed a few years in the middle, but they were the real constants. And as the 2000s advanced, incredibly, they began a run where they put on great matches just about every single year from 2003 to 2010.
This match is a genuine spectacle, with sustained crowd energy that matches anything else in the show's history, and incredible work from Shawn and Taker that somehow matches that response, which is a hard thing to do. The false finishes in this one are unreal. The actual climax is damn near otherworldly. There has never been anything this good at WrestleMania or anywhere else in WWE history. And it stands to reason that there won't be anything this good for a very long time, if ever again. Matches like this, that are true perfect storms of talent, star power, chemistry, timing, and delivery, just don't come around very often. How many more times do you think you'll see a couple of 44-year-old guys who have a huge library of classic matches come out and have their all-time best matches together? It's ludicrous. It's downright crazy.
All of these things are why I went with this match as the greatest in WrestleMania history. It will endure forever. It may not be surpassed, if only because there might never be another Undertaker and Shawn Michaels to come together like they did at WrestleMania XXV.