Now we're into The Meat of this WrestleMania countdown, as we enter the top 25 on my silly and indulgent list of the 100 Greatest Matches in WrestleMania History. Are you ready? Break it down. If you're ready.
If you missed the first three parts, you can click on these hyperlinks and you will be whisked away: Part 1 (100-76), Part 2 (75-51), Part 3 (50-26).
The first three entries went over 25 matches apiece. Today, we'll do "just" 15 matches, as we enter the top 10 tomorrow, and then there will be a single post for my choice for the best WrestleMania match of all-time on Saturday morning. I do hope, my friends and neighbors, that this has been wonderful fun for the lot of you. If not, you can go straight to hell, I hate you anyway.
ONE MORE TIME, FOR THE THIRD-TO-LAST TIME
25. Edge vs Mick Foley (WrestleMania 22)
Finally, after traveling the world over a long career, all of it filled with sick, nasty bumps, scorched skin, countless concussions, a lost ear, broken bones, and even amnesia and a trip to The Cleve, Mick Foley got the one thing that was lacking from it all: the truly great WrestleMania match and Moment. Foley, who had been at least semi-retired since 2000, had come back and had great matches, notably against Randy Orton at Backlash 2004, but that true, defining WrestleMania match still wasn't there. In 2006, he got that match with Edge, who wound up a great adversary (and ally). This is the bloodiest match in WrestleMania history, as Foley and Edge both left a good mess in the AllState Arena in (suburban) Chicago, and is also probably the most "hardcore" match in Mania history, with thumbtacks, barbed wire, tables on fire, and women being beaten up. Unlike Foley's prior WrestleMania matches, this one was specifically built for his greatest strengths as a performer. He got to transform into the "Hardcore Legend" again in a personal rivalry with a guy who could really go, and wasn't afraid to take chances or a beating. They put on a show, and even if Foley had a lot of matches like this one but better over the years, the passion was still there. Mick got his Moment, and it was well-earned.
24. John Cena vs The Rock (WrestleMania XXVIII)
Arguably the most significant novelty match in WrestleMania history, the first Cena-Rock clash was a really big deal in and on the outskirts of the professional wrestling world, though its relevance within the wrestling world was probably slightly overstated, or at least the wrestling world that we as wrestling fans live in, not the one that WWE has created and molds their own history from for whatever tone a DVD "documentary" needs to have. But however you felt about this match, there's one undeniable fact: the energy in the crowd at WrestleMania XXVIII for this match was off the charts, and in that way, it recalled the great, mega main events of WrestleMania past, like Hogan-Andre, Hogan-Warrior, and Rock-Austin II.
It had been a long time since something felt this big, because once the Attitude Era guys were mostly gone -- particularly Rock and Austin -- there had been nobody else who'd come along who could really match that sort of vibe. And it's not that that's meant to be a knock on the post-Attitude Era years, either. In all of modern WWF history (after Vince took over and began expanding the product's reach), there have been three guys who were the clear biggest stars: Hogan, Austin, and Rock. There are many legends, many great stars. Randy Savage was a big deal, Warrior was really big for a brief period of time, Shawn and Bret were stars, Undertaker is a star, Roddy Piper was a star, but there's Hogan, Austin, and Rock, and then there's everyone else. And Cena's as big as anyone else has ever been, in his own interesting way. He's the No. 1 babyface without getting so much as a 50-50 reaction a really big amount of the time. If Rock was going to come back and face anyone, it had to be John Cena. Nobody else was really qualified for that sort of thing, with all due respect to guys like CM Punk and others who had become the top guys in WWE since Rock's time ended.
The "Once in a Lifetime" tag, of course, was pretty much erased immediately after the match, when the next year's rematch was booked. But what matters is what you sell going in. Rock and Cena had the crowd in Miami roaring and ready to go, and they delivered a big, physical match that played off of the crowd's reluctance to accept Cena as a true equal, and Rock's performance in making him look like one, albeit one who made a fatal, ego-driven blunder that lost him the match. It made the rematch a necessity, and also gave Cena a year to stew over his failure. It was also the biggest pay-per-view seller in wrestling history, which is nothing to sneeze at.
23. Roddy Piper vs Bret Hart (WrestleMania VIII)
I think this is Piper's best WWF match, unless I'm forgetting or have never seen something spectacular from one of the MSG or Boston Garden or Maple Leaf Garden shows or something. It's definitely Piper's best WWF pay-per-view match (it's not close), and also might have been his last good match. Very few men have gotten a clean win over Piper in his career, but he did the favor for his pal Bret Hart at WrestleMania VIII, further establishing the "Hitman" as a top star in the making. Bret had won the Intercontinental title at SummerSlam ‘91 in a classic with Curt Hennig, then stunningly lost it prior to the Royal Rumble against the Mountie.
The storyline was that Bret had been sick, and was also hit with Mountie's caddle prod on a house show, losing the belt. Piper then won the strap to a huge reaction at the ‘92 Royal Rumble, which set up Piper-Hart at Mania, another chance to put Bret over a top star. Piper had phoned in a lot of stuff after he semi-retired from wrestling in 1987, and had phoned in plenty before then, but for this match, he got his working boots on and put in one of his best performances. In a babyface-babyface matchup, someone's got to look like the a-hole, and it made sense here that it was Roddy, one of the WWF's great villains from the mid-80s. He'd been a jovial fan favorite for years, but all wrestling fans know that once a man has been a treacherous, lying bad guy, that's always buried somewhere in their character, and Piper flirted in this match with a full-on return to his roots, then opted against it, and wrestled clean. Hart got the win clean, and then the two shook hands and walked out together. It was such a good match that Bobby Heenan, who one year earlier had stayed so deep in his heel commentator character that he'd stuck up for Iraqi turncoat Sgt. Slaughter against Hulk Hogan, slipped into rare open admiration for a pair of good guys, calling it "a hell of a match."
22. Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior (WrestleMania VI)
By 1990, Hulk Hogan wasn't often going all-out during matches, even his big main events, evidence of which we saw at WrestleMania V against Randy Savage the prior year. Warrior, no matter what he may have wanted to do in the ring, could only do a couple of things. There was every reasonable chance that this match could have genuinely sucked but been a big event, like Hogan-Andre at the Pontiac Silverdome. Instead, these two mapped out their match, cleverly kept the crowd engaged during even their rest periods, and pretty much knocked it out of the park. At the time, this was the best WrestleMania main event of all-time, and the race wasn't close.
This is one of Hulk's storytelling masterpieces, in a very self-preserving sort of way. Knowing that he would be "passing the torch," Hogan took every little shortcut he could to do anything but pass the torch. I'm not blaming him, mind you, in part because as it turned out, Warrior couldn't actually handle the spot that Hogan was ostensibly giving to him. Hogan probably knew that.
It started with Hogan taking a clothesline over the top and to the floor early in the match, after they'd done all the "look how strong we both are" bits with the tests of strength, the no-budging shoulderblock competition, and the bodyslams. If anything, Warrior, the younger, stronger, futuristic star, seemed to have the edge. His bodyslam had hurt the Hulkster, while Hogan's prior slam seemed to have no effect on the challenger and Intercontinental champion.
But once Hogan went to the floor and did the knee injury routine, he began painting the picture that was best for Hulk Hogan. With this, not only would Warrior be defeating a man who had suffered an injury, but Warrior looked like sort of a jerk for kicking Hogan while he was down on the outside. Referee Hebner added to the "Ballad of the Hulkster" by going out and checking on his injury, rather than making the customary 10-count.
"My leg's gone, brother," Hogan told Hebner. "My knee's gone." Then, he added, "I'm gonna try to get back in the ring." Valiantly, he did. So Hogan looked tough and heroic, the brave warrior of the light he'd said he was for years. Never mind that Hogan had never been particualrly averse to taking a cheap shot if the opportunity was there, as that was all part of the Hulk Hogan mythos. It was always sort of a wink and a smile with Hogan, even though Jesse Ventura would always call it out while Gorilla or Vince either feigned ignorance or pleaded an "eye for an eye" case for Hogan, praising his ingenuity and the fact that he would do what it takes to win. After all, against some of the rule-breaking monsters Hogan had faced, he needed to pull out all the stops. They weren't going to play fair, Jess, so why should he?
Hogan didn't overly milk the knee, instead putting the sympathetic thought into the viewer's head. He then took on the role of destroyer, dominating Warrior for several minutes with a hard hitting assault, featuring some substantial clotheslines. Hogan had a good lariat, but didn't use it enough, particularly to its full effect. It was a sort of "special!" move for him; when Hulk broke out the real deal lariat, that meant something.
The rest periods of the match were made to appear to be Hogan using veteran savvy to try and wear down an opponent who to this time had shown boundless energy and remarkable recuperative powers. Hogan dropped some thudding elbows, drove some good knees into Warrior's spine, busted out a shoulderbreaker. Hulk, it seemed, knew the risk he was running with Warrior. In this sense, he made Warrior look spectacular.
But more than just the character aspect, Hogan seemed to know that the crowd could conceivably actually turn Warrior's way. Hogan knew how to combat that and keep it even, if not slightly in his favor. And he also might have gone out with a guy who was just no damn good at all, apart from getting a reaction, and dropped a real turd of a WrestleMania main event with the eyes of the WWF world upon him. He'd gotten away with that against Andre at WrestleMania III, which was all show and less than no go, but this match, big as it was, was not Hogan-Andre. Warrior was something of a phenom, not a legendary figure basically being put out to pasture. In many ways, Andre passed the torch to Hogan in 1987, but Andre was truly on his way out. Hogan was "passing the torch" here, but he was only on the way out if he wanted to be. Hogan was not an old man giving his blessing to a new era, he was just losing his belt and the WWF was going to see how Warrior would do on top, what with Hogan's big Hollywood career starting to form.
And apart from all of that overanalytical bull-dung out of me, it comes down to this: Hogan pretty much kicks out of the finish, making it look like Warrior had perhaps gotten lucky just to get the three count. He then made Warrior's post-match, title-winning, torch-grabbing Moment halfway about Hulk Hogan.
Again, I don't blame Hogan or have anything against him, even if I see it this way. If Hogan had doubts that Warrior could really fill his boots, history has proven him to be 100% correct on that score. Warrior was no Hulk Hogan. And part of it is that Hogan, for any limitations he may have had technically or athletically, was an intelligent professional wrestler who knew how to bend perception to his will. Hogan didn't lose anything by dropping the belt to the Warrior. A year later, he won the title back after Warrior was rather unceremoniously beaten by Sgt. Slaughter at the Royal Rumble. And once more, Hogan was on top of the WWF, though it was clear starting with this match that something was changing for real, and that Hogan's time as the clear-cut, no-doubt No. 1 man in the company was growing short. They picked the guy who seemed the right choice at the time, but it didn't pan out. And there really was no true replacement for Hogan until long after Hulk had left "for Hollywood," and then for WCW, when Stone Cold Steve Austin helped drag wrestling out of a long funk, opposite Hogan going heel and doing a lot of the heavy lifting on that end for WCW with the New World Order.
This is, indeed, a great match, one that has obvious flaws, but works just about perfectly. It's set up nicely, Hogan carries the load admirably, and Warrior does enough to hold up his end with one of his few truly good matches ever, and his first that even approached being this good. ALl these years later, The Moment may not hold up, because it was just not as significant as it was designed to be, but the match really does hold up. This is one of the early matches that turned WrestleMania from the biggest show of the year into The Showcase of the Immortals. Even more than Savage-Steamboat III or Hogan-Andre, this is the first WrestleMania match that really set the stage for the grand scale, over the top WrestleMania main events of more recent years. This was modern WWE epic before "WWE" was even a thing.
21. The Undertaker vs Triple H (WrestleMania XXVIII)
WWE called it "The End of an Era," but I'll get into why I disagree with that in one of tomorrow's entries. Undertaker and Triple H had the unenviable task of trying to follow a match that was a lot better than most expected at XXVII with this Hell in a Cell match at XXVIII, featuring the return of Shawn Michaels as guest referee, thankfully with pants instead of the bicycle shorts. Hell in a Cell is sort of Taker's domain, in that way that things can be a wrestler's domain even if they don't always win, and Helmsley had plenty of cage experience, himself. This might have been better off as a regular no holds barred fight or something, as the Cell wasn't really brought into play much.
The real story of the match was about the lengths these two would go for the win. It wasn't even entirely about The Streak, or about Michaels' conflicted state as the referee, or even the "End of an Era" stuff they pushed. This was about the combatants, warriors, gladiators, all those other words that get thrown around a lot. At various points, both of them were being beaten to a pulp in this match. The real knock on the match, for me at least, is the hammy acting of Michaels in particular, and of Taker and HHH to a lesser extent. All that, "Don't stop it!" "STOP THE MATCH!" "I gotta stop it!" "No, don't!" "Yes, do!" stuff was too much. But like the prior year's match, which we discussed yesterday, I couldn't help but get sucked back into this one on the re-watch last week. Maybe it's corny, but this is pro wrestling, not great cinema. Undertaker wasn't carried out of the ring in this one, as he more emphatically beat HHH this time around, stepping up his game to that next level, one that Hunter simply could not have prepared for heading into the match.
20. Triple H vs Shawn Michaels vs Chris Benoit (WrestleMania XX)
Alright, let me tell you my E! True Hollywood story of my feelings about this match. Even in 2004, when this happened, when I was a big Chris Benoit fan, when most of us internet dork wrestling fans were big Chris Benoit fans, when Benoit was the jacked-up grilled, steroid-fueled man in spandex version of Cinderella for us, I didn't think this match was as good as many of my peers in the dweeb "community" did. Five stars, four-and-three-quarters stars, Match of the Year, Match of My Whole Life, testament to hard work, proof that dreams come true, dedication and passion, on and on.
Don't get me wrong, I thought then and think now that this is a great match, particularly a great triple threat match. I wished then and wish now it had been Triple H vs Benoit without Michaels, but it's not like Shawn hurt anything. If anything, he helped. And we eventually got Benoit against both of them one-on-one, in addition to a rematch of this three-way at Backlash, which Benoit won again to prove it was no fluke.
I alluded to this a bit before, but the world title wins for Guerrero and Benoit have been somewhat overstated in terms of being pure moments. Of the two, Guerrero's felt cooler, but it did come with that little asterisk that Goldberg had basically won the match for him at No Way Out. Benoit won this one fair and square, but I don't know how to say this, it didn't feel like it was as big a deal as I think I wanted it to feel like it was. I reacted to it, sort of, but I felt kind of like I was putting myself on.
And none of this has anything to do with what happened later with Chris Benoit, either. I can't prove to you that's how I feel, like, scientifically, so you'll just have to trust me. I have no issue watching and loving Chris Benoit matches still. I watched and loved this one again a couple weeks back. I'm a big fan of Michaels, I'm a fan of Hunter, I'm still a fan of Benoit the performer. But Benoit winning didn't really change anything, and by the time SummerSlam rolled around and they had him put over Randy Orton, and then never seriously enter the title picture again, it was clear that Benoit had been given a lifetime achievement award that he got to run with for five months. There's nothing wrong with that. Benoit was not going to be a major new draw or anything. At a time when they needed something a little fresh, they chose to give he and Guerrero their times in the limelight, to see what they could do. We did not get industry-changing stuff out of it. What we did get was, in my opinion, a very strong year for WWE in the ring, because Benoit and Guerrero kept delivering good matches, and Benoit went on a real tear after Mania, having a great spring and summer as the champion on RAW. I remember Benoit as a champion in the way that I remember Bret Hart as a champion. Bret, as much as I love him, never moved the needle, either. It was about quality, and he delivered artistically, as did Benoit.
Anyways, this match holds up fine if you're the type who can manage watching Benoit's matches these days, which is fair either way, I figure. I do think HHH was the match's glue and maybe its best performer, but it doesn't really matter. It's a team effort out there, and these guys all put in work.
19. Money in the Bank (WrestleMania 21-XXVI)
I made the choice to list the Money in the Bank matches together for a simple reason: I didn't want six of the top 50 or 60 matches in WrestleMania history to be Money in the Bank matches. It simply meant less room for some matches at the back end, and it also became a little hard to single out reasons that one of these was better than the other, as the years went by, and they all kind of blurred into one big car crash. The best of the six matches is the first one, which featured Edge winning over Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Christian, Shelton Benjamin, and Kane. Pound-for-pound, that is by far the greatest field of the matches, and as it was a fresh concept, it also benefited from being something that hadn't really been seen before, even though crazy ladder matches were nothing new to WWE by 2005. That match alone might even rank in the top ten on this list, or maybe just barely outside of it. It's a spectacular spotfest with some crazy ladder stuff and plenty of innovative, stunning displays of athleticism, particularly from Benjamin.
Some of the stuff done in subsequent years was even crazier, riskier, and more athletically impressive, but the match never had quite the same feeling it did that first time around, which is natural. One thing that sticks out if you go back and watch all of these from year to year is that you are watching the long holding pattern of Shelton Benjamin's career refuse to unfold, as he competed in the match at WrestleManias 21, 22, XXIV, XXV, and XXVI, winning none of them. In order of quality, I would rank them: 21 (Edge), XXIV (CM Punk), 22 (RVD), 23 (Mr. Kennedy), XXV (CM Punk), and XXVI (Jack Swagger).
18. Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XII)
A match that is both underrated and overrated, I guess, though probably more underrated, since so many people seem to believe the match isn't that great, or whatever. Personally, I have trouble getting around the fact that this is an hour of brilliant wrestling from two masters. It's hard for me to see that as something boring, or not worthy of great praise. This is a great match. The old idea that it could have been better if they'd swallowed their egos and done something like a four falls to three finish, instead of a 0-0 tie at the end of the hour and then the overtime period -- I get it, and I feel that way, too. But that doesn't mean that this isn't an amazing match, either. Both of these guys were outstandingly good at the time (though Michaels would actually get better overall in his "second career"), and this may have really been the peak of Bret's career, which makes it kind of a shame that he took a break from the ring following this match.
Yes, it's unfortunate that they disliked one another so much that they couldn't agree to trade falls or whatever, but none of that actually comes through in the match's physical storytelling. It comes out some when they go into the overtime period, when Bret plays up resentment at what he appears to see as favoritism toward Michaels -- after all, the champ only had to last the hour in the tie, not win in the hour, to retain his belt, which is a perk of being the champ. That, though, did make Bret a little less likable than Shawn, because you'd think a true good guy champ would also want a decisive ending. Whether or not Hart meant to look like a bitchy old sourpuss with his reaction, I don't really know, but I think right there the seed for Hart's heel turn a year later was planted. A lot of people wanted Shawn to supplant Bret. A lot of people did not. Shawn had "haters," man, even as early as ‘96.
These two had, as I said before, carried the WWF as best they could through some bad times, and by the time things were just starting to perk up a little bit in 1996-97, with WCW's increased relevance helping everyone, they were both key players in where the company was going to go from that point on, and they both went through some pretty big transformations. Then they were both gone by March 1998, and the Attitude Era truly began. But as far as this match goes, I stand by saying it deserves to be considered a classic. It's a great match. These two didn't like each other, and both have expressed the wish in their later years that they'd had more matches together and built more of a legacy out of what should have been the best rivalry of the 90s in U.S. wrestling, but what we did get out of them here and there was still phenomenal, and that's why we wish there'd been more, I suspect.
17. The Undertaker vs CM Punk (WrestleMania XXIX)
I had some concern about this match when it was first announced, then I remembered that Undertaker and Punk had plenty of experience against one another, and had put on some very good matches in the past, and that we weren't going to get more of the Punk-Rock mess that we saw at the prior two pay-per-views, where a couple of big stars could only rely on getting a reaction, as the chemistry between them in the ring was simply not there. It's pretty incredible that following four huge matches with Michaels and HHH at the prior four Manias, Undertaker came back with this one against Punk, a relevant, in-prime star. Much of the excellence of this match was result of the build-up, giving Taker a truly personal rivalry with Punk, who was at the height of his heeldom in mocking the death of Paul Bearer and stealing the famed urn. In the ring, they put on a match that held its own with just about anything Taker had done in his incredible run at WrestleMania, with the two of them managing to plant just that little seed of doubt still needed for these matches to feel as special as they are great. If you have concerns about Undertaker heading into Sunday's match with Lesnar, go back and re-watch this match. Lesnar ain't Punk, but Undertaker can still go when he's called upon that one time per year.
16. Shawn Michaels vs Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XIX)
Following his 2002 return to action at SummerSlam in a streetfight with HHH, Michaels stuck around and won the world heavyweight championship in the first Elimination Chamber at Survivor Series, and he was clearly, truly back, and immediately one of WWE's best performers as soon as he laced up his boots again, though thankfully he only had that awful brown outfit at Survivor Series. Once WrestleMania came around, it was good to see Shawn back on the stage where he'd built his legend, and in his first match at the show since 1998's loss to Austin, he faced Chris Jericho in something of a dream match that seemed lost to injury and time when Michaels retired in 1998, as Jericho, then a hot young player in WCW, wouldn't come to the WWF until the following year.
Jericho, who called Shawn one of his idols, was in classic heel Jericho form leading up to this match, and was looking to steal the show from "The Showstopper." It's entirely fine to believe this is the best match at WrestleMania XIX, because it's really great, and it cemented Michaels' return to form. Once again, he was Mr. WrestleMania, topping Jericho in a classic that lived up to any hopes from the build-up, or even what you might have imagined way back in the mid-to-late 90s when thinking about the possibility of these two getting this sort of big match with one another. Jericho proved he was up there on Michaels' level with this, and at the same time, Michaels proved he could still put on a great show, and not just against someone like Hunter, a guy he'd known for ever and could trust completely that they'd be able to gel. Both Shawn and Jericho gained something from this match. And then Jericho kicked Michaels in the nuts after the match, feigning respect for the night's better man. Jericho was great.
15. Batista vs John Cena (WrestleMania XXVI)
I expect people will say I'm crazy, doing what I'm doing. Batista-Cena this high? You heard me right, brothers and sisters, and it's not to start no mess nor no fuss, it's just the way I feel deep down in my plums. And honestly, I wouldn't have predicted a week ago that I'd have had this match as high as I do, either. When a match can come right before Undertaker-Michaels II but NOT be totally overshadowed, I think that says a ton about a match. I also enjoyed the build-up to this match immensely, as this was one of my favorite storylines in years, and was I think the best work that both Batista and Cena have done on the mic and in building an angle. Ever. For either one of them.
I see Cena and Batista -- particularly Batista -- as beneficiaries of a fairly weak, often chaotic time in WWE history. They're never going to compare to the elite draws and super-duper stars that came before them, and that's not just me being some old fart and bitching about "back in my day," either. But I think both guys were lucky to be in the right place at the right time. Again, particularly Batista. Either one of them would have been a star in any era, but would either of them have been THE guy in any other era? I don't know, maybe in, like, 1995, when everyone was so hard up that Lawrence Taylor was brought in to save WrestleMania and gotdanged ol' Diesel was reigning as WWF champion and they'd run through an experimental phase where Bob freaking Backlund was brought back as a contender. But during either of the big boom periods? Nah. Nah, man, not really. (Maybe Cena in the 80s, actually. He'd have gotten to yell a lot more, and he's solid at yelling. Batista would have just been a different version of Hercules if he'd been a product of that time.)
They did go well together, though. They were peanut butter and jelly. I guess Cena is peanut butter because he's used more frequently in other recipes and combines better with other things, like chocolate, or whatever. Batista, jelly himself, is mostly just good at being in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. These two went out and brought the heavy-hitting intensity and all that, and wound up putting on a fantastic WWE title match where it felt gritty and desperate on both sides. Batista wanted to prove he was Cena's superior every time they met, and Cena wanted to prove that he was the top dog in WWE, and that the era was his, not Batista's, that dedication and drive meant more than a bad attitude and belly button tattoos and sweet vests and sunglasses.
14. Ric Flair vs Randy Savage (WrestleMania VIII)
Flair's first match at WrestleMania came just a little over two months after he'd outlasted 29 other Super Stars to win the Royal Rumble and along with it, the vacant WWF world heavyweight championship, Flair's first world title outside of the NWA and WCW. It was the perfect way to put the title on Flair. He got to showcase exactly what "The Nature Boy" was all about, for the little kids and potentially the 13 adult wrestling fans who didn't know much about him, and it was booked well enough, too, that Flair was just that little itsy bit lucky to have won, with Sid eliminating Hogan (fair and square), and then that crybaby bald idiot Hogan illegally helping to eliminate Sid. I could write a gotdanged book on just the ‘92 Rumble match alone, you guys. I got hella feelings about that match, straight up.
What should have been Flair-Hogan at WrestleMania was instead Flair-Savage, as Macho Man was drafted in as the top contender after Hogan and Sid signed up to face one another. The big to-do about the other main event (Hogan-Sid) was that it could be Hogan's final WWF match. It wasn't, obviously. Flair-Savage was built around Flair using state of the art photo technology to do what we now call "Photoshopping" himself into photos wherein it appeared he had previously lived the good and sexy life with Elizabeth Macho herself (true fact: WWF had "Elizabeth Macho" trademarked, not "Elizabeth Savage"). This drove the already batdroppings insane Savage even more batdroppings insane than usual, and it turned out to be all a big ruse, as the photos were originally printed in WWF Magazine, and then there was a follow-up later on that showed that they were doctored photographs, as the exact same shots were run, but with Savage in Flair's place. This was so awesome when I was 10. I can't even explain it. I HAD to have those magazines, and by gum, I got ‘em.
Even though Flair had displayed his goods and services in the Rumble, he hadn't gotten a major opportunity to have a big-time singles match on WWF TV by this point, not with stakes like this these, and stakes like these were Ric Flair's bread and butter. They're how he made himself a living legend in what turned out to be not even the middle of his career. Flair says in his book that he was originally supposed to retain the title -- as he should have -- but Savage had a fit, and they changed it to Randy winning his second WWF title. That meant that Flair's initial reign as WWF champion had been done as well as it could have been, and then they followed that up by having him drop the belt a couple months later, never really getting to show what kind of champion he was. This is a terrific match, with Flair on his game on the big stage, and Savage bringing it, too, and both of them had the intensity the situation called for, because they were great pro wrestlers who happened to be in the WWF in 1992, where great pro wrestling still wasn't really a requirement, more a bonus. I love this match, though it pales in comparison to Flair's true best work, but I do think they got almost everything about Flair's late ‘91 to early ‘93 WWF run wrong, and this match is maybe as wrong as they got it, besides not ever truly putting Hogan and Flair against one another.
13. CM Punk vs Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XXVIII)
Punk-Jericho was simply my kind of professional wrestling, from the reasons it happened to the execution of the match. There have, of course, been better WrestleMania matches. Jericho's had better matches in his career, and better feuds. Punk has, too. But these guys were perfect for each other at this point in 2012, as Punk was sort of a new age version of Jericho, which Ol' Lionheart didn't exactly take to very kindly, given that Punk had "stolen" the "Best in the World" tagline that Jericho had previously assigned himself. So they feuded over something very simple: Who was the best wrestler? Was it CM Punk, or was it Chris Jericho? And hey, Punk's WWE championship, the most prized possession in the game, would go to the winner, which would prove beyond a shadow of a doubt which man was, indeed, the best in the world. What's not to love about that?
Their personalities meshed perfectly, they worked on sort of the same wavelength. They were an excellent match for one another, and Jericho was such a good, smarmy heel, trying to drive Punk into angry stupidity by taunting him about his alcoholic father and drug addict sister, that for once CM Punk was a truly great babyface, because he was just the heel version of Punk without all the total nastiness that comes with that guy -- because Jericho was being that despicable and loathsome toward him.
Even if Punk had become terrible, it would have been in return for someone driving him to that point, and that always works, too. The match got sort of overshadowed by the Rock-Cena main event, plus the epic Taker-HHH cage war, but I think now it stands out as the best on the show. In my mind, that is the best three-match collection any WrestleMania can boast. You could argue for some others, without question, but that one gets my vote for the overall best collection of the three best matches on a single WrestleMania. Punk-Jericho, Undertaker-HHH, and Cena-Rock were all special matches, and what's even better, they were all very different matches, and great for very different reasons. This one was pure, angry, personal professional wrestling. That's my very favorite kind. And at the end of it, not only was the a-hole forced to tap out, but he had the antihero standing over him, holding his belt high, and screaming to him that he was the best in the world. I probably have this higher than most anyone else would, but I truly love this match and think it doesn't get the attention it deserves for being simply a great pro wrestling match and story, in a very classic way that we don't see all that often.
12. Bret Hart vs Owen Hart (WrestleMania X)
This is Owen Hart's all-time best match, and one of Bret's better matches, too. The opener for WrestleMania X, this and the ladder match on that show were both instant classics. Bret vs Owen was the best match at WrestleMania since the Savage-Steamboat encounter at WrestleMania III. Like that match, this one stood apart from what the normal WWF expectations of the time were. There had been some great matches, many involving Bret Hart, over the years in the WWF between 1987 and 1994, obviously, but for Mania matches, they were for many years arguably the two best at the event, along with the ladder match between Shawn and Hall later on this show, which obviously I have ranked higher than I have this match. I'm not sure this has aged exceptionally well, considering we've seen similar but often better matches in WWE since this one, but it's important to remember how incredibly superior this was compared to the company's general output at the time.
Owen Hart wasn't really a main eventer, but he was good enough between 1994 and 1997 that he could fill that role when it was needed. The upset win for Owen in this one is what truly sealed it as great, I think. If Bret had just gotten the win while overcoming the leg that Owen kicked out of his leg, and then gone on to regain the WWF belt from Yokozuna later in the show, it wouldn't be remembered the way it is. But the victory roll finish puts this one over the top. It's not often that a marquee, heavily-hyped match ends on a roll-up type move, and not a fluke, either, but a simple outmaneuvering at the exact right time. This is the match that solidified Owen Hart as a man to be reckoned with in the WWF.
11. The Dudley Boyz vs Edge & Christian vs The Hardy Boyz (WrestleMania X-Seven)
A year after they beat the crap out of each other with ladders in front of a largely apathetic crowd in Anaheim, the Dudleys, Hardys, and Edge&Christians got together at WrestleMania once more for the final bout of their three-way rivalry. At the SummerSlam between those WrestleManias, they'd introduced the TLC match, which somehow raised the bar even higher than they'd already had it in their prior brutal encounters. And in the TLC II match at WrestleMania X-Seven, they did it again, going to yet another level of absolute bananas, flying all over the damned place, hittiing each other with various weapons, shortening their careers (though only Edge's career has actually been cut short, and we're 13 years removed from this match now), and generally going ape wild crazy out there. We also got run-ins from Lita, Rhyno, and Spike Dudley, just to bring even more fun to the equation, and they each deserve an honorary mention for this match, I think, as they all added a little something to it.
It's hard to think about any of these teams without thinking about the other two. This was the best American tag team rivalry since the Rock n' Roll Express and Midnight Express were tearing houses down all around the Mid-Atlantic, and it kickstarted the careers of each team, and all six guys in general. This was the last hurrah for three teams and six men who are forever linked in pro wrestling history.
TOMORROW: 10-2! SATURDAY: No. 1!