What are the indelible images that make WrestleMania unforgettable? This is not a top 10 list of the greatest WrestleMania matches, nor are we counting down the best feuds in WrestleMania history. These are the flashes of unforgettable-ness, if you will, where, to quote Jim Ross, you have an "out of body experience" and think "Wow; this is WrestleMania."
This is a countdown of the most memorable "moments" in WrestleMania history.
Before we have a look at our number one entry, I thought we could recognize five that almost made the cut but didn't.
Presented without comment:
15. CM Punk gets a champion's welcome at WrestleMania 28
14. Ric Flair stylin' and profilin' at WrestleMania 24
13. Undertaker kicks out of Triple H's tombstone at WrestleMania 27
12. Shawn Michaels ziplines into WrestleMania 12
11. "TYSON! TYSON! TYSON! A RIGHT HAND! DOWN GOES MICHAELS!" - WrestleMania 14
1. Macho Man Randy Savage retires, reunites with Elizabeth at WrestleMania 7
"It's okay to cry."
WHY NUMBER ONE ON THE LIST
I look at the number two and three entries as opposite sides of the same coin. Stone Cold Steve Austin's turn atWrestleMania 13 from bad guy people boo to bad guy people cheer is sort of the launching point for the entire Attitude Era. Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant in front of 90,000 people is the launching point for WrestleMania and the WWF as a permanent force to be reckoned with. This moment is different. It's not a beginning, it's an ending, and as such carries far more emotional weight to it.
THE STORY BEHIND THE MOMENT
Randy Savage broke into the big leagues in 1985, with a hype unusual for someone not coming from NWA or AWA, etc. He was called "the hottest free agent in pro wrestling" and was the desire of many of the top heel managers. He chose a new character to the WWF, his real life wife (whom he married months before his debut), Miss Elizabeth, as his manager. Macho's gimmick was to be an abusive (though not outright; more psychologically) bully to this beautiful and delicate lady, forcing her to hold the ropes open for him while he strutted in giving her barely a passing glance. Should, however, his competitor happen to look her way, ooooh yeah, prepare to meet your maker!
Quickly he rose in popularity and prominence in the WWF, winning the then-coveted Intercontinental title within a year of joining the company. A reliable heel, his workrate nonetheless began winning the respect of the crowds (though not yet their affection), retaining his Intercontinental title at WrestleMania 2 before dropping it the next year to Ricky Steamboat in one of the best, most influential matches of all time. Not long after, he entered a feud with the hated Honkey Tonk Man, turning babyface for the first time in his WWF career.
His first moment of glory came at WrestleMania 4 when he competed in four tournament matches to win the vacant WWF title, kicking off a year-long story, with Miss Elizabeth at the center, where he first teamed with and then feuded with Hulk Hogan. He turned full-fledged heel in the run up to WrestleMania 5, accusing Hogan of having eyes for his lovely manager. Hogan would regain the world title from Savage, with Miss Elizabeth standing in a neutral corner. After that, Savage fired Elizabeth and replaced her with Sensational Sherri.
Savage, now dubbing himself "The Macho King" along with Sherri, feuded with Dusty Rhodes and Saphire (with Elizabeth in their corner) in the WWF's first mixed-tag match. Elizabeth helped win the match for The Dream and then largely disappeared from WWF TV. Savage and Sherri continued together through 1990 and into 1991, soaking in the boos, and ultimately challenging Ultimate Warrior for the WWF Championship.
Jim Hellwig began his pro wrestling career as part of a tag team with Steve Borden (Sting). The two had little success together (nor did they like each other much), before going their separate ways. Hellwig found his way to the WWF by way of WCCW, debuting with Vince McMahon's company as The Ultimate Warrior. His cartoonish look and freakish appearance helped him to get a quick push up the ranks. Like Savage, Warrior would win the Intercontinental title less than a year after debuting. Unlike Savage, he was not talented in the ring, but he was protected with short matches and stayed over because of the intangibles of his character (his music, look, fast paced entrance, etc). Warrior would win the title from Hogan in one of Hogan's few clean losses of the era.
Hogan and others had warned Vince that Warrior would not be a good house show draw (still the primary source of revenue for the company), due to his inability to work a long match, not just with respect to technical skills, but his lack of finesse with the crowd, leading them through the story of a contest. His lack of mic skills and general off beat personality backstage were also arguments against pushing him. But Vince believed he could make it work and that he would be the big star of the 90's just as Hogan was of the 80's.
Unfortunately, the warnings proved true. House show profits fell sharply in 1990 compared to 1989. Warrior was still a hit with the live crowds, but they weren't paying money to watch him compete; his reign as champion was a bust. Vince needed to get the title off him without totally killing his shine, while also planting the seeds for the next WrestleMania. The real life Gulf War gave him an outlet to do both.
"Macho King" issued a challenge to both Sgt. Slaughter and Ultimate Warrior, but while Slaughter (now an Iraqi sympathizer a month before the end of the war) agreed to grant Savage a shot should he win the title, Warrior, the champion, did not. Sherri was sent out to promise Warrior anything -- anything -- should he grant Savage a title shot, but Warrior refused. Why? Why would the babyface champ turn down a challenge? Because reasons.
Angered, "Macho King" attacked Warrior with his scepter (yes, he had a scepter) during his title match with Slaughter, costing him the championship. Hogan would go on to win the Royal Rumble and face Sgt. Slaugter for the honor of the United States of oh look at that the war's already over. Savage (still doing great work as a heel) and Warrior (needing to be protected in case they wanted to try again with him) would work the number two match on the card, with the added stipulation that should Savage lose, he would be forced to retire.
Before the match, Bobby Heenan does the best acting you'll ever see, obviously preoccupied with something offscreen while Gorilla breaks down the stakes of the contest. While Fink is giving the intros, Brain suddenly starts pointing; saying "Isn't that Elizabeth?" The camera cuts, and there she is, lovely as ever, sitting there (while all others around her are standing) with a conflicted look on her face. The omen was obvious: This is it for Savage, but her purpose there will go far beyond celebrating the end of a career.
The match was probably the best match of Ultimate Warrior's life, and one of his few truly great bouts (a list not even as long as the number of fingers on your hand). The crowd is clearly behind Warrior, but there is just this feeling while they are cheering, as though they are screaming because they are supposed to be, not because their hearts are really in it. Throughout the match, the camera would cut to Elizabeth, not cheering but sitting stoic. Gorilla sells it for us: Though mistreated for years, she doesn't want to see it end like this.
The final sequence of the conflict is memorable in itself. Savage drops five -- count 'em, FIVE -- elbow drops, each right on the sternum. No one could drop an elbow like Savage. He covers Warrior, 1-2-kickout. Warrior...I dunno...warrior's up? Whatever you call it when he raises the roof and starts shaking the ropes. Savage goes up over Warrior's head, "It's all over but the shouting!" Gorilla screams, but Savage kicks out, and the crowd is solidly split: The women and children boo, but the men cheer.
Warrior does some shtick that had to look so stupid to those who couldn't hear Gorilla narrating it: Something about getting a message from the gods that Warrior shouldn't retire (why is Warrior suddenly contemplating retirement?) Sherri, meanwhile, is pleading for Savage to get up, who does, and the action spills outside. Macho climbs the top rope and jumps outside for a big double axe handle that misses and sends Savage throat-first onto the steel barricade. Warrior rolls him back in the ring, who runs the ropes for a diving shoulder block...which knocks Savage out of the ring. Warrior throws him back in, does it again...and again...and a third time. This has turned into a squash now, and not worthy of either the one squashing or the one being squashed. The final insult is Jim Hellwig, not worthy to spit shine Savage's boots, who merely steps over to the broken "Macho King," puts a foot on his chest and wins the match 1-2-3.
The music plays, the crowd cheers, Sherri shrieks, and the moment begins. Once Warrior is gone, Sherri enters the ring, and begins wailing on the now-defeated "Macho King." Randy Savage was probably not the first bad guy people loved to boo (as opposed to genuinely hate, a la Piper), but he was the first of the television era. Any excuse the Macho Man/King gave the fans to cheer him, they took. This is the ultimate payoff of that relationship between performer and fans.
While Sherri unloads, the crowd immediately starts booing: finally a chance to get behind the beloved Randy Savage. As if representing the whole crowd, Elizabeth decides she's had enough. The usually delicate first lady of wrestling jumps the rail, storms the ring, and chucks the never-as-pretty Sherri out onto the floor. The ovation is the loudest of the night.
Savage gets to his feet and they make eye contact. Estranged for years, manager and client. Elizabeth starts crying and Heenan and Gorilla bring it home: this is love as good as a silly fake sport can give it. The music swells (literally, they start playing Pomp and Circumstance at just the right moment) and they embrace mid ring. Heenan says that everyone is crying and sure enough, it's true. There's a perfect shot of the most colossal nerd the early 90's will ever produce just weeping. If you're out there good sir, it's okay. Let it out.
Savage props her up on his shoulders, his finger pointed high in the air. Vince McMahon always wanted to make movies; and Heenan drops out a hilariously dated "This is better than Love Story!" line while the camera cuts to people all over the crowd weeping.
Elizabeth holds the ropes open for her man like she did for so many years. And had Savage hopped through them like he always did the moment would still be great. It would be symbolic that Savage and Elizabeth are back as manager and talent. Instead, Savage shakes his head and holds the ropes open for her this time.
The crowd goes nuts.
This is the moment you can only appreciate if you know the history. I don't need the history of Hogan and Andre to appreciate the slam, but if I know the years of history with Elizabeth holding the ropes for an unappreciative Savage, then this moment is the moment. No longer client and talent, now they are lovers.
It's the perfect ending.
Savage and Elizabeth got married (in kayfabe) the following SummerSlam. In a hilariously ironic twist, Savage hung around after WrestleMania 7, working as an announcer, and Warrior was soon fired. Savage stayed retired for a few months, until a feud with Jake Roberts led him to campaign Jack Tunney for reinstatement. This gave birth to the awesome (if you say it in Macho's voice) slogan "Reinstatement! That's the plan! Reinstate the Macho Man!" Eventually he would get his comeback, and co-main event WrestleMania 8 with Ric Flair.
For some bogus reason, Vince McMahon kept trying to rush Savage out of the ring and into the booth. He was great on commentary, certainly, and McMahon wanted him to be (in place of the departed Hogan) the public relations face of the company, but Savage had some juice left in the tank and left for WCW soon after WrestleMania 10.
He never returned to the WWF, even after the WCW buyout, and to date is rarely mentioned on television. He was never given a proper farewell after years and years of giving the fans everything he had. So, with all due respect to his work from 1992-2000, when I want to see the farewell to the late great Randy Savage, this is moment I look for: The best moment inWrestleMania history.
So there you have it, Cagesiders: The best WrestleMania moments of all time.
Did we leave your favorite out? Was your best moment too far down?
Let us know!