WWE’s flagship pay-per-view WrestleMania has provided a plethora of memorable matches in its history. Many have been immortalized and idolized through endless recap packages, fan adulation and critical acclaim. The likes of Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker and Bret Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin rank high in many lists of the Greatest Matches of all time.
However, there are some fantastic matches in WrestleMania history that don’t always get a mention. They’ve sneaked through the cracks of history and aren’t remembered quite as well as the more iconic matches. Well I’m here to shine a light on those matches and uncover some of WrestleMania’s ‘Hidden Gems’ that you might not know about.
1) Brain Busters vs Strike Force – WrestleMania 5
Any match that features half the fFour Horseman is bound to be good and this is no exception. The Brainbusters (Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard) shine as a team of old school, intelligent heels that have been a heavy influence for the Revival. But the success of this match is not just down to workrate. It’s also because of the brilliant story being told in the ring.
The narrative revolves around the team of Strike Force (Tito Santana and Rick Martel). This match practically wrote the book on how to do a tag team breakup. Santana’s accidental forearm to the face of his tag team partner leads to a series of events that ends with Martel walking out on the Mexican. The great thing is how the story unravels over time. At first, Martel just sells his injury for ages so it’s difficult to tell whether he’s actually hurting or not. Over time it becomes clear that Martel is clearly milking it. Martel leaves and delivers a fiery post-match promo that makes him come off as a right heel as well as having some genuine justification for his actions.
In the early days of WrestleMania, storytelling was the WWF’s biggest strength and they showed that off in spades in this fantastic tag team match.
2) The Nasty Boys vs The Hart Foundation – WrestleMania 7
This match was so good I marked out before it even started. That was mainly because Macaulay Culkin was shown in the crowd. Gorilla Monsoon described the Nasty’s manager Jimmy Hart a "little runt" and as quick as a flash, Bobby Heenan responded with "I thought you were talking about Macaulay." The team of Gorilla and Heenan were particularly on fire for what was their first Wrestlemania together as a commentary team.
There’s a point in this match where Bret needs to tag out to the Anvil. The tag is teased several times including a tag that is disallowed as the referee didn’t see it. When the legal tag does happen, Anvil goes ballistic and it’s one of the best hot tags in history. The Nastys completely lose their bearings and keep bumping into each other. Hart and Neidhart hit the Hart Attack and it looks like the win is in the bag for the Foundation. But bloody Earl Hebner gets distracted and Anvil is clocked with Jimmy Hart’s megaphone. DAMN THOSE NASTY BOYS!
The best matches in wrestling are ones that take you back to your youth and turn you into a proper mark. This match did that for me in spades. I wanted so much for the Hart Foundation to win and I felt the Nasty Boys really put the ‘Nasty’ into their name.
3) Rick Martel vs Jake Roberts – Blindfold Match - WrestleMania 7
Blindfold matches aren’t exactly known as classic encounters and I’m guessing that opinion will be divided on this match in particular. But personally, I found it to be a fantastic spectacle thanks to some unique crowd participation and great comedy moments. As the babyface, Jake used the crowd’s reaction to his advantage in the match. As the heel, Rick Martel had to rely on his own instincts which in fairness were not great. Martel ended up beating up the referee and hitting the ringpost with a steel chair as he mistook them both for The Snake. It was pretty impressive how Martel managed to find that chair in the first place considering he was blindfolded the whole time.
Another thing that is so rewarding about this is it actually gives a satisfying conclusion to a Jake Roberts match at WrestleMania. Before his match with Martel, The Snake was involved in four WrestleMania matches in a row that ended with some kind of non-finish. This one manages to end with a signature DDT as Roberts crawls to try and find Martel’s body before the deciding fall.
4) Shawn Michaels vs Tatanka – WrestleMania 9
When people talk about Shawn Michaels being ‘Mr WrestleMania’, maybe more people should talk about his match against Tatanka. Unlike HBK’s other Mania opponents, Tatanka was extremely limited in the ring and Shawn managed to make him look like a million bucks in the opening contest of WrestleMania 9. From corkscrewing off the apron to almost going head first into the steel steps, Michaels sold like a motherf**ker for his opponent. At points he even had me believing that Tatanka was going to win the Intercontinental Title.
Michaels and Tatanka weren’t the only stars of the show though. We also had Luna Vachon, who was Shawn’s manager at the time and Sensational Sherri, Shawn’s former manager who came down to the ring to stop Luna getting involved. The two had a memorable post-match scuffle as Luna attacked Sherri from behind then ran away like she was Usian Bolt. In her several WrestleMania appearances, Vachon always made an impact but more on that later…
5) The Head Shrinkers vs The Steiner Brothers – WrestleMania 9
WrestleMania 9 doesn’t have the best reputation due to that awful Undertaker vs Giant Gonzalez match and Hulk Hogan’s antics at the end of the night. But as far as I’m concerned the first two matches really delivered. The second contest saw the only ever WrestleMania appearance for the Steiners and we got a taste of their hard-hitting and dangerous looking style. Combine that with two tough as nails Samoans and you have yourself all the makings of an all-out war.
There are some spots here that look like they might legitimately kill someone. Samu looked to hang Scott Steiner on the ropes but he completely missed the ropes and Scott landed on the outside right on his head. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he also got clobbered with a kendo stick by Manager Sika for his troubles. But the most hazardous spot of all sees Rick Steiner hit a powerslam on Samu whilst on Fatu’s shoulders! The match is worth a watch just for that moment alone.
6) Alundra Blayze vs Leilani Kai – WrestleMania 10
It’s almost impossible to have a great four-minute match but Blayze and Kai pretty much pull it off in Madison Square Garden. Leilani Kai returns to WrestleMania after 9 years and manages to look even better in the ring then she did at Mania 1. Blayze is also a great worker and her bridging German suplex is a thing of beauty. This match starts at such a pace and maintains that through its 3 minutes, 20 second duration. Neither woman misses a step. It’s a match that could be one of the greatest women’s matches in WrestleMania history. Although sadly that’s indicative of the lack of women’s matches that make it to the Grandest Stage of Them All. In the first ten editions of the event, only four matches actually involved female competitors.
So that’s the end of part one of this list of WrestleMania’s Hidden Gems. Join me for the next edition where we’ll be looking at WrestleMania's 11 to 20.