So here we go with the next part of Six of the Best for WrestleMania, today covering the WrestleMania’s from XI to XX. This one was really difficult because there were so many fantastic matches to choose from and narrowing them down to six was close to impossible. There are definitely going to be disappointed people when it comes to this one, and all I can is that you aren’t wrong for thinking your favourite match/matches should have been included, because six slots really wasn’t enough. However, thems be the rules and I’m ultimately happy enough with my selections.
One notable exclusion will be that of the Iron Man match from WrestleMania XII. The reason for that is that I just don’t like that match, mainly because I find it rather boring. That’s not to say that the work within it is bad, because it most certainly isn’t, but for me it’s really hurt by the lack of falls during the initial 60 minutes, a sentiment shared by large swathes of the live crowd who decided to leave rather than see the bouts conclusion.
Again, if you disagree then that’s absolutely fine. Wrestling is art and art is subjective, so if you love the Iron Man match and think it’s one of the greatest collisions in WrestleMania history then you’re not wrong. At the end of the day, we can all like what we like so long as we’re nice to each other and there ultimately is no correct answer. I just thought it’d be right for me to explain why the match is missing as I’m sure some will be expecting to see it.
As always, these are just my own personal picks. This isn’t supposed to be some sort of objective list or anything. If I leave out a match that you think warrants inclusion, then please feel free to put it down in the comments section below. As with previous lists, I’ll be listing the matches in chronological order.
So without further to do, let’s take a look at Six of the Best for WrestleMania’s XI to XX!
Bret Hart Vs Stone Cold Steve Austin
This is not only my favourite match from any WrestleMania but it might also be my overall favourite match of all time, as Hart and Austin have one of the best fights in wrestling history and change the path of the business forever in the process. I say fight because that’s what this is. This isn’t about crisp counters or pretty looking transitions, this match is about two diametrically opposed characters doing everything they can to destroy one another, with the goal being to quite literally beat the other into submission.
This match is raw, gritty, and unapologetically violent, as Hart and Austin demolish each other with weaponry and fight all over the ringside area in a quest to inflict as much pain on their rival as they can. One moment that always sticks out for me is where Austin is choking Hart with a cable on the apron. When things look bleakest for Bret, he manages to reach over and grab the ring bell (Which had found its way onto the apron during a previous part of the fight) and blast Austin with it just in time to save himself from certain defeat. It’s almost like a fight scene from a Hollywood movie, something you’d expect the Sean Connery version of James bond to do in a pinch when one of the villain’s heavies has him at deaths door.
This is a match full of gruesome and memorable imagery, such as Austin writhing in agony whilst locked in Hart’s Sharpshooter hold, blood dripping down his face. It’s probably one of the most iconic moments in wrestling and signalled Austin’s official babyface turn, as he gallantly chose to pass out rather than submit to his hated rivals move. This is probably the most important match and moment in Austin’s whole career, and also ranks pretty highly for Hart as well, as the subsequent feud between Austin and The New Hart Foundation kick started the WWF’s resurgence in 1997 and led to them eventually winning the Monday Night War.
This match is genuinely special for me, perhaps even more so because I didn’t see it until I was old enough to have a job and purchase it myself because my parents out right refused to buy the WrestleMania 13 VHS for me back when I was younger because it had an 18 certificate. Thus when I finally bought it on WWE Tagged Classics it felt like some strange kind of achievement. It’s why I generally have no sympathy for parents who complain about violent video games and the like. Stopping your kids from consuming entertainment they shouldn’t is part of being a parent. It’s not the responsibility of the content makers to ensure their content doesn’t get into unsuitable hands; it’s yours to actually be a parent and make sure you know what your kids are watching.
Mike Tyson as Guest Enforcer
Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs Shawn Michaels
I’ve personally suffered with back issues in the past, and they really are no joke, especially when it’s your lower back that’s hurting. You generally feel stripped of all your strength, with the ability to even stand up straight close to impossible. I could barely sit up in bed when I had my back issues, and my back wasn’t anywhere as close to as bad as Michaels’ back was here, so the fact he went on to work over 20 minutes here is almost unfathomable. Prior to finding God, Shawn Michaels was a bit of a wanker (And that’s being polite about it) but he deserves big props for gutting it out here and making a star of Austin whilst carrying such a gnarly injury.
The match itself is fantastic, with Shawn bumping around like a pin ball for Austin in the early going before using his veteran wiliness to take control. The wrestling is on point, with Austin looking great throughout the bout and even busting out his old Stun Gun finishing move from WCW for a call back. It’s far more than just a brawl, which is a tag Austin often got stuck with following his return from neck injury in 1997. It’s true that a combination of neck and knee injuries meant that Austin needed to adjust his ring style somewhat during this era, but there’s also plenty of good stuff in the ring here to go with the brawling elements.
Like his match with Bret Hart the year before, this match was an incredibly important chapter in Austin’s career and contributed hugely to him becoming one of the biggest stars in the industry. Tyson ends up not being much of a factor in the match, reduced to being the highest paid spectator in wrestling history right until the end, but it was hugely important to get the closing shot of Austin celebrating with Tyson. That sent Austin from being a hugely popular wrestling star to being a genuine cross over star, and at that stage there was no stopping him or the WWF from reaching the summit.
Normally I’d consider including this just for Michaels’ heroic effort and the historical significance the match carries, but it genuinely is a great match and my mind races at the thought of how good it would have been had Michaels been healthy, because it’s one of my favourite Mania main events in its current form already! I also love how the finish of Austin blocking the Sweet Chin Music and swinging Michaels around into the Stunner ended up getting recreated right down to every little detail in WrestleMania 2000 for the N64.
Tables, Ladders and Chairs
Edge and Christian w/ Rhyno Vs The Dudley Boyz w/ Spike Dudley Vs The Hardy Boyz w/ Lita
This one just edges out Kurt Angle Vs Chris Benoit from the same show to make the list, but it was pretty darn close. WrestleMania X-Seven is probably the best Mania event from top to bottom, and I don’t even think that’s my nostalgia talking either. There are at least three bonafide classic matches here (Angle Vs Benoit, This match and Austin Vs Rock), along with an entertaining bit of McMahon soap opera in the Shane Vs Vince street fight, a fine Attitude Era brawl from Undertaker and Triple H, a triple threat Hardcore Title match that is far more entertaining than it has any right to be, and a super enjoyable bit of cheese with the Gimmick Battle Royal. Any show with that line up would automatically be a pretty easy thumbs up, with the big stadium atmosphere only making it all the more exciting.
What ultimately made me plump for this match is just how down right pulsating a spot fest it is. The bar had been raised significantly in the previous two matches between the three teams at WrestleMania 2000 and Summer Slam, but they still managed to raise it even higher here, by adding even more ridiculous spots and also bringing Rhyno, Spike and Lita into play. I made a special effort to mention them because in my mind they really are active participants in this one. They don’t just run in, do a move and leave, they really do contribute to the match far beyond the call of duty, taking vicious bumps and just generally giving their bodies toward the spectacle.
There are so many memorable moments in this match, such as Bubba and Matt flying off the super tall emergency ladder through a stack of tables, Lita nearly breaking a chair over poor Spikes head and Edge spearing Jeff whilst he dangles from the belts. People tended to complain back in the day that The Dudleyz and Hardyz would do the lion’s share of the big spots in these matches, only for Edge and Christian to always come out the winners. What people tend to forget is that E&C were always the heels in these matches, so it made perfect sense for them to be the opportunists instead of the instigators. That was the whole point of their gimmick, they were devious cheats, and you were supposed to want one of the other two teams to win as they were more exciting.
This match is a monument to the excess and general nuttiness of the Attitude Era, with huge spots and destruction as far as the eye can see. The original TLC match back at Summer Slam 2000 is probably the best match of the three, but this was by far the grandest and the most ambitious of the lot. A match worthy of WrestleMania if there ever was one!
The Rock Vs Hollywood Hulk Hogan
This one will probably be the most controversial of my inclusions, and I’ll be honest when I say that the general quality of the actual wrestling in this one is considerably lesser than the other five matches. However, this match is a testament to the fact that, whether you love him or loathe him, Hulk Hogan is one of best of all time when it comes to connecting with a live crowd.
And it’s that connection that makes this match so memorable, as the Toronto crowd decide to flip the script and cheer the supposed heel Hogan against The Rock, as Rock gets booed at two WrestleMania’s running. Looking into it, it came to my attention that Hogan had always been a big favourite of the city of Toronto, dating back to his days as WWF Champion in the 80’s, so in some ways it shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise that the audience decided to get behind him here.
I will happily concede that some of the work here is a little ropey, mostly owing to Hogan not only getting on in age by the time this match came around but also because he was carrying a pretty serious rib injury as well. Despite this though, I still really love this match due to the energy of the crowd and the story telling of Hogan doing all his traditional heel spots to The Rock (The weight lifting belt, back rakes etc), only for Rock to throw them back at him, which means Hogan has to essentially turn face mid match so he can start Hulking Up, only for that to ultimately not be enough either due to Rock just being the better man.
I also love the post-match angle of Hogan and Rock fighting off The Outsiders, leading to Hogan posing. I think Blog of Doom head honcho Scott Keith mentioned that the moment needed Real American however, and I’d definitely agree with him on that front. I’m sure this will get the most criticism down in the comments section, and I understand why. Some people really can’t look past the disparity in the work here when compared to other classic matches from Mania, but sometimes a match is about more than the crispness of the wrestling. Sometimes a good story and a great crowd can overcome some dodgy grappling, and this is one of those occasions. I like Hogan Vs Andre for the same reason.
Rock also deserves a special mention for making Hogan look good here as well. I can only imagine what would have happened if Steve Austin had originally accepted the match instead of turning it down. There’s no way he would have been as willing to sell for Hogan like Rock does here and the match wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good. Can you picture Stone Cold selling for The Hulk Up routine like Rock does here? I’m struggling to picture it to be honest.
Shawn Michaels Vs Chris Jericho
This match was essentially the first Shawn Michaels match since his return in 2002 that hadn’t been more of a brawl, so it was a good barometer of what he was going to be bringing to the table. I remember being really disappointed by this Mania back when it happened; with this match really being the only one that really lived up to what I wanted from it. I still find this match to be the best on the show, even though my feelings for the show have generally improved over time (I still hate Triple H Vs Booker T though and it still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth that Booker had to sell The Pedigree for so long before getting pinned)
I’ll be honest and say that I actually prefer comeback Michaels over the pre-injury one. Not being quite as mobile as he had been in the 90’s led to Michaels having to compensate with selling and pacing replacing the wild bumps he used to take, and I actually think that made him a better worker. I certainly became a much bigger fan of Michaels during this period, and the fact he was a tad more deliberate actually made me appreciate what he was doing more.
Jericho is fantastic as a heel in this match, with his building frustration at finding Michaels to be far better than he was expecting being told really well through his facial expressions. Michaels is also an excellent babyface, selling well and timing his comebacks to perfection to get the maximum out of them that he possibly can. This is just a great straight wrestling match, with no gimmicks or silliness, and the crowd are with it all the way. It was important for Michaels to show that he could still deliver in such an environment, and he delivers in spades here.
The post-match angle is one of my all-time favourites as well, with Jericho teasing that he will show respect to Michaels, only to catch him with a sneaky low blow whilst giving his former idol a hug. It’s just a wonderfully snide heel moment that showcases just how good Jericho is at being a detestable villain. It was also good to see Jericho bounce back from the disappointment from the previous year, where a very well worked match with Triple H didn’t get the reaction it deserved due to a burnt out crowd. This time both men have the crowd eating out of their hands, and it’s a treat to see.
Chris Benoit Vs Shawn Michaels Vs Triple H
Interestingly enough, shoehorning someone into a WrestleMania main event when they don’t really need to be is not a new thing, as Shawn Michaels ended up getting added to what was originally supposed to be a Chris Benoit Vs Triple H Title match. Michaels’ claim was somewhat less tenuous than Charlotte’s at least, as he had recently went to a double knock out tie with Triple H. This match does at least give me hope that this year’s main event can rise above a disappointing build to provide a classic bout however.
There’s quite a lot parallels actually, as Benoit’s booking had been less than strong in the build up to this show and people were worrying about what the reaction would be when all three men finally got to the ring. Thankfully those fears were unfounded, as the Madison Square Garden crowd is firmly behind Benoit in his quest to win his first World Title of his WWE run. It also helps that the work from all three men is absolutely spot on, with Triple H playing a blinder as the desperate heel champion trying to hold onto his belt and Michaels embracing the fact that the MSG crowd turns on him for trying to steal Benoit’s moment.
The story of Triple H and Michaels sending Benoit through a table so that they can settle the issue between themselves, only for Benoit to drag himself from the wreckage to eventually prevail is fantastic stuff, and the crowds loses its mind when Triple H finally uncles to Benoit’s Crippler Crossface. Back in 2004 I was genuinely worried that Benoit wasn’t going to win here and I had quite a lot invested in him winning, so to see him succeed meant a lot to me as a fan. The closing image of real life friends Benoit and Eddie Guerrero hugging as confetti falls has taken on far more upsetting connotations now, but back in 2004 it really felt like they’d finally made it after years of their amazing in ring talent being far higher than the level of their push.
Diesel Vs Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XI), Lawrence Taylor Vs Bam Bam Bigelow (WrestleMania XI), Undertaker Vs Diesel (WrestleMania XII). Owen Hart and British Bulldog Vs Mankind and Vader (WrestleMania 13), The Road Warriors and Ahmed Johnson Vs Faarooq, Savio Vega and Crush (WrestleMania 13), Shane McMahon Vs X-Pac (WrestleMania XV), Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs The Rock (WrestleMania XV), Edge and Christian Vs The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boyz (WrestleMania 2000), Kurt Angle Vs Chris Benoit (WrestleMania X-Seven), Shane McMahon Vs Vince McMahon (WrestleMania X-Seven), The Undertaker Vs Triple H (WrestleMania X-Seven), Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs The Rock (WrestleMania X-Seven), Triple H Vs Chris Jericho (WrestleMania X8), The Rock Vs Stone Cold Steve Austin (WrestleMania XIX), Brock Lesnar Vs Kurt Angle (WrestleMania XIX), Christian Vs Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XX), Ric Flair, Randy Orton and Batista Vs The Rock and Mick Foley (WrestleMania XX), Eddie Guerrero Vs Kurt Angle (WrestleMania XX)