I don’t know all of you on a personal basis, but I’m comfortable in assuming that most of you were able to figure out what this column is about based on the title alone. For the rest of you, let me break it down here.
This is all about my list of the 38 most memorable moments in WrestleMania history. The words “my” and “moments” are the key things to focus on. This is MY list. Some of this might not be that great to you, while some of the items on your own lists might not be too memorable to me. Also, we’re talking about MOMENTS here. This isn’t about the greatest MATCHES or anything like that. I’m talking about specific things. Maybe a match itself was only decent, but for one reason or another, a specific spot or the match finish is in highlight reels for the rest of eternity.
Simple enough concept, right?
I’ll be counting it down in reverse order, from 38 to 1, and for you long-time readers of my columns, I’m waiving the golden rule. You know the rule I’m talking about. For special occasions, I reserve the right to do away with it on a temporary basis.
Let’s journey down WrestleMania Memory Lane, shall we?
38. The Flaming Table (WrestleMania 22): There were a lot of “international objects” used in the match between Mick Foley and Edge at WrestleMania 22, most of which looked especially crazy in a WWE setting, where those types of weapons aren’t exactly common. When a table at ringside got absolutely soaked in lighter fluid and set ablaze, though, that’s when you knew shit was really getting wild. Seeing the flames rise while Foley stood on the ring apron made you get a pit in your stomach. Once Edge began charging right at Foley, that pit only grew. When Edge hit Foley with a Spear through the ropes and they both went flying through the air and crashing through the table, you simply held your breath and waited to make sure they were relatively okay. Seeing Foley writhe around in pain, and Edge’s arm quivering as if he were in shock, was quite the visual. Can you imagine how the viewers who had never seen any sort of “Death Match” wrestling before felt watching this?
37. Batista Pins Triple H (WrestleMania 21): The way WWE handled Batista’s face turn and splitting from Evolution was perfect. Just… perfect. From the moment he first joined the group, it always looked like he was going to be a major player in the future, but it happened in such an organic way, and that’s what made it so good. Over time, everyone just started loving the guy. Half the audience loved the way he looked, and the other half of the audience loved the way he was, if that makes sense. To see the seeds planted for a face turn, and to be able to connect the dots to the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania, was a lot of fun for me, as a viewer. That’s the perfect scenario for the beginning of the year stretch that WWE goes through. It shouldn’t happen every single year, but it’s brilliant when it’s done right. Take someone with momentum, have them win the Royal Rumble, put them in a feud with the champ, and have them beat said champ at WrestleMania to finish the creation of a new mega star. That’s what happened here.
36. Randy Orton RKO’s Seth Rollins Outta Nowhere (WrestleMania 31): I think this particular RKO gets overrated a bit by wrestling fans. Don’t get me wrong… it looked incredible. It looked great in-person, and it looked great on television. However, I think Orton has delivered the RKO in more spectacular fashion before this, and he has done so after this. The fact that it took place at WrestleMania, and not in the third match on a random episode of Smackdown in September, is what makes this get the extra love. Again, do not get me wrong… this was great, hence its inclusion here. I just felt the need to explain why it’s probably going to be rated a lot lower than it is on many of your lists.
35. Cody Rhodes Returns (WrestleMania 38): Recency bias? Maybe. To me, that doesn’t matter, though. The story of Cody returning “home” to a huge ovation is important, whether it happened a few days ago, a few months ago, or a few years ago. He left WWE on bad terms, at a low point in his in-ring career, and built himself up into a big star after he and the rest of the AEW Executive Vice Presidents rolled the dice and took chances on themselves. Returning to WWE with the look, music, and everything else that he created after leaving the company in 2016 was beautiful to watch. It sounds weird to say about the biggest wrestling promotion on the planet, but they could really use the extra star power on their roster, and he’ll provide that moving forward. The “He’s heading to WWE, maybe he’s not, he probably is, he might not be, he is, he’s not, he is, he might not, he could, he probably won’t, he is” nature of the rumors that came out over the last two months helped to make this an even bigger return. Even if you were expecting him to show up as Seth Rollins’ mystery opponent, there was still a little nagging feeling in the back of your mind that it might not happen. So… thank you, multiple reports from different people with different sources… I guess.
34. Drew McIntyre Pins Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania 36): You really have to feel for Drew McIntyre. To close out 2019 and starting 2020, he was being built up as the “next big thing” in the company. He got the major “rub” by eliminating Brock Lesnar from the 2020 Royal Rumble, and it looked like he was about to get the rocket strapped to his back… until COVID shut the world down. Yes, Drew would still go to WrestleMania and pin Lesnar to win the WWE Title, but it happened in front of zero fans instead of 80,000+ in attendance like the original plan would’ve seen. He had a nice seven-month reign as the champion, but again, all of his defenses, while being entertaining, had no fans around to see it live and in person. The man even had a second reign as WWE Champion that lasted for three months, but that, too, took place in front of no fans. By the time WWE was doing shows in front of limited crowds for WrestleMania 37, Drew was the challenger for the WWE Title and losing in the opening match of the card. Once the company returned to regular touring in front of live crowds, Drew was stuck in matches where he either lost, or he was in the middle of feuds that nobody cared about. He has yet to truly have a “WrestleMania Moment” in front of live crowds, which is a shame, as he was one of the top reasons to tune in to WWE programming during the pandemic. He still gets to say he was able to pin Brock Lesnar, though. Fans or no fans, Drew is one of only seven people who can say they’ve pinned Lesnar since Brock returned to WWE in 2012. That’s pretty impressive.
33. Linda McMahon Literally Stands Up To Her Husband (WrestleMania 17): If there’s one thing you know you’re going to get with a match that features a McMahon, it’s a lot of overbooking. You’re going to get ref bumps, interference, weapon usage, heel/face turns, returns, debuts, and all kinds of shit. The thing is… it usually works. While they aren’t going to be technical classics, the matches involving McMahons are, far more often than not, entertaining to watch. Shane McMahon vs Vince McMahon at WrestleMania 17 might be the perfect example of that. Not one, but TWO McMahons in the match?!? We got involvement from Stephanie McMahon and Trish Stratus. Mick Foley was the Special Guest Referee. Television monitors, kendo sticks, tables, chairs, and garbage cans were all used as weapons. The biggest pop of the match came when Linda McMahon simply stood up, though. It was in the middle of the storyline where Vince asked Linda for a divorce, causing Linda to suffer a nervous breakdown and end up in a coma-like state, so Vince continued to heel it up by having an on-screen affair with Trish, and he would flaunt it in front of Linda. At Mania, it all continued, and Vince brought Linda into the ring in her wheelchair, because he wanted her to get a close look at him beating the hell out of their son. As Vince is going in to attack Shane even further, Linda rises from the chair, revealing that she is perfectly fine. The roof on the Reliant Astrodome nearly blew off when she stood up. It was such a ridiculously overbooked story, but it was so ridiculous that it ended up working out. People loved it.
32. The Undertaker Sneaks Up On AJ Styles & Launches A Million Memes (WrestleMania 36): We didn’t know what to expect from the Boneyard Match between The Undertaker and AJ Styles. One, the whole “Cinematic Match” thing was brand new to us. Two, Taker was a 55-year-old man whose last singles match (I don’t count his 20-second match at Super Showdown 2020) was almost ten months earlier, and that match (vs Goldberg at Super Showdown 2019) was one of the worst of the year. It turns out that the cinematic style was perfect for Taker, accentuating his positives and reducing, if not outright eliminating, his negatives. The match itself was so much more fun than I thought it would be, but this moment was the highlight for me. AJ has Taker dumped in a pre-dug grave, and he hops onto a tractor to start pouring the dirt onto Taker’s carcass. Suddenly, the camera pans over as spotlights appear behind AJ, and Taker is standing behind him. Instantly, the creative folks out there starting making meme after meme. You know the ones I’m talking about. It’ll be like “AJ = Me thinking 2020 is going to be my year, Taker = COVID” and stuff like that. There were SO MANY MEMES. To this day, I’ll still see memes created with that moment as the template. Watching it “live” made me laugh. It was the perfect amount of camp for what we were witnessing.
31. Rey Mysterio Does It For Eddie Guerrero (WrestleMania 22): I’ve said it before, but no wrestling death has affected me more than Eddie Guerrero’s did. He is one of my all-time favorite wrestlers, and on top of that, I’m not sure that I’ve ever met a celebrity of any sort, let alone a wrestler, who was nicer and more humble. When this “Do It For Eddie” story first began, I wasn’t sure it would work. Obviously, Rey Mysterio is an all-time great in-ring performer, and he was always super over with crowds all over the world, but having him in a tag team or as a midcard guy is one thing. Having him in the main event scene was a different thing entirely. When he won the Royal Rumble, it was like a switch flipped for me. Partially because I was thinking that this was now the point of no return and that they were really going to do this, but also because it really was working. Live crowds loved Rey, and loved Eddie, so much that they were getting behind the whole thing. We all saw Rey winning at WrestleMania coming a mile away at that point, but we wanted it. Once Rey pinned Randy Orton here and won the World Heavyweight Title, it was a tremendous “feel good” moment. Yes, the Eddie Guerrero aspect of it was special, but it was also further evidence that you didn’t have to be a mountain of a man to be successful in WWE. Now, let’s move on to the next moment before I start ranting about how piss poor Rey’s title reign was.
30. Arn Anderson Hits The Undertaker With A Spinebuster (WrestleMania 18): Such a simple moment. In the middle of Taker’s match against Ric Flair, he was sent into the ropes. Unbeknownst to him, Arn Anderson had snuck into the ring and caught Taker on the way back with one of his patented, picture perfect Spinebusters. It made perfect sense in the story. Not only was Flair presented as Arn’s longtime best friend, but Taker had attacked “The Enforcer” and left him bloodied three weeks earlier in an attempt to goad Flair into facing him at WrestleMania after Ric initially turned him down. It was just cool to see Arn, who hadn’t been an active wrestler in a few years, get physical again, and do it on the “grandest stage of them all.”
29. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin Returns (WrestleMania 38): Again, you can call it recency bias if you want, but the wave of nostalgia that came over people my age after seeing Steve Austin return to the ring was incredible. The glass shattering, the music, the mega pop from the crowd… everything. Pro wrestling had never seen anything like “Stone Cold” Steve Austin before he came along, it hasn’t seen anything like him since he left, and it probably won’t ever see anything like him again.
28. Becky Lynch Pins Ronda Rousey (WrestleMania 35): Ronda Rousey debuted in WWE with the label of being the “baddest woman on the planet” and she was pushed like it from the start. From April 8th, 2018 (her debut at WrestleMania 34) to January 21st, 2019 (a tag match on Raw), she did not see the losing end of any match she was in. The Raw tag match saw her partner, Natalya, come out as the person involved in the finish, so Ronda still hadn’t been pinned or made to submit. She looked unstoppable, and rightfully so. The Winner-Takes-All match at WrestleMania 35 involving Ronda (the Raw Women’s Champion), Charlotte Flair (the Smackdown Women’s Champion), and Becky Lynch (arguably the most over person on the roster) was huge. It received the honor of being the main event of the show, making it the first time women were given that spot. Forget the fact that WrestleMania 35 started before WrestleMania 32 and ended slightly after WrestleMania 36. Also forget the fact that the match didn’t quite live up to the hype. Just focus on the end of the match. Becky really got launched into the stratosphere by beating what was being presented as unbeatable, and we wouldn’t see Ronda Rousey performing in a WWE ring again for nearly three years. I loved it. Maybe I was just delirious from sitting and watching such a long show, though. *shrug*
27. Roman Reigns Stacks Edge & Daniel Bryan Up (WrestleMania 37): Clearly, Roman Reigns has been presented as being on an entirely different level than the rest of the roster during this Universal Title reign. I don’t think that fact was ever more evident than for the finish of this match. Going in, the general opinion was that Bryan was added to this match so that he could take the pin from Reigns and “protect” Edge. Well, that line of thinking was partially correct. Bryan did take the pin from Reigns… but so did Edge. It was glorious, disrespectful, dominant, and expected, all rolled into one. If we didn’t already know it, that was the moment we figured out that this Universal Title reign was going to be something special. Here we are, a full year later, and Reigns is up to 584 days (as of the day this column is posted) as champion.
26. Madison Square Garden Shows Their Love For Goldberg & Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania 20): There have been a lot of rowdy crowds in the history of wrestling. Maybe they were super loud and super engaged in a show, match, or a segment. Other crowds were firmly behind one person in a match and were venomous in their dislike of the other person. On this night, Madison Square Garden decided to hold the first meeting of the “Fuck Goldberg, Fuck Brock Lesnar, and Fuck Everyone They Love” club. The fans in attendance were smartened up to the rumors that this would be the last match for both men, at least for the foreseeable future. Goldberg’s contract was up, and Lesnar was leaving wrestling to try and join the NFL. Perhaps feeling betrayed, the crowd let both men have it from the beginning of their entrances all the way to the end of the match. They were vicious. They were ruthless. Simply put, they did not care about anything Goldberg and Lesnar did that night. Were it not for Special Guest Referee “Stone Cold” Steve Austin getting cheers, I wonder how much worse this could’ve been. Both Goldberg and Lesnar were clearly thrown off their game by the crowd, visibly reacting to chants and boos on several occasions. We wouldn’t see Brock in WWE again for eight years, and it would be 12-and-a-half years before Goldberg would be back. That had to sting.
25. Chris Benoit Makes Triple H Tap Out (WrestleMania 20): I really don’t want to get too deep into conversation about this. We’ve been there and done that when it comes to discussing Chris Benoit, the final weekend of his life, and how he should and shouldn’t be remembered today. This is still an epic moment that I fondly remember 18 years later. As good as Benoit was in the ring, he surely wasn’t going to win the World Heavyweight Title in front of the world by defeating both Triple H and Shawn Michaels in the same match, was he? It was such an unexpected surprise to see him win, but for me, it wasn’t even the best thing involving this match to happen that night. More on that later.
24. Shawn Michaels Pins Bret Hart (WrestleMania 12): All these years later, I still question the idea of having Bret and Shawn compete in a 60-minute Ironman Match. Not because the match sucked. Quite the contrary, actually. It was everything you could want out of these two. I just don’t think the WWF crowds in 1996 were ready for such a long match. It just wasn’t the style of match that the company was presenting at the time. Other than Royal Rumbles, the last WWF match to top the 30-minute mark was 16 months earlier, when Bob Backlund won a Submission Match against Bret Hart for the WWF Title in 35:11. I completely get the point of putting the match together, but I just don’t think it was the right audience to do it for. There were numerous stretches of the match where the crowd was quiet. Call it being tired, call it being a boring match, or whatever you want… it’s just not a good thing for a WrestleMania main event to be done in front of a quiet crowd. Seeing Michaels finally get the win after a Sudden Death period was still a thrill, though. It was a shift in what the company was doing, who it was pushing, and what it wanted the product to look like. I could see that back then, even as a young fan in the infancy of online wrestling rumors, reports, chats, and message boards.
23. The Undertaker Returns (WrestleMania 20): Some people felt The Undertaker’s character had gotten “stale” by the time 2000 had rolled around. I don’t know if I would necessarily consider myself one of those people, but when he returned from a torn pectoral muscle in May 2000 with the new “American Badass” character, I enjoyed it. It was so different than anything he had done to that point, so it was cool to see. Fast forward four years later, and fans were already clamoring to see the original “Deadman” character return. They got their wish at WrestleMania 20, and it was worth the wait. He was accompanied by the Paul Bearer, who was making his own return after four years away from television. As much as people were entertained by “American Badass” Undertaker, there’s no denying that “Deadman” was where the money was with the character, and he’s been using it ever since.
22. Bianca Belair & Sasha Banks Take A Moment To Soak It In (WrestleMania 37): There was so much hype that went into this. Two women getting the main event spot of a WrestleMania card was cool enough. The fact that it was two black women, in a company (and in an industry) that hadn’t exactly been kind to black women through the years, made it even more special. The icing on the cake was being able to perform in front of a large amount of fans for the first time in over a year since the pandemic began. Both Sasha and Bianca knew how special this was, and they couldn’t contain their emotion. At the opening bell, both woman stood across from each other in the ring overcome with the magnitude of it all. They fought back tears as the crowd’s applause grew and grew. It was a special moment. They just needed to take a little bit to let everything sink in, and then they went and had one of the best women’s matches in WrestleMania history, but it all started with this.
21. John Cena Pins JBL (WrestleMania 21): John Cena’s career path was been quite the roller coaster. He went from white meat babyface on the verge of losing his job because there was no connection with crowds to becoming a rapper that was a “cool” heel to being an “edgy” face and moving into the main event scene to becoming a face that nobody liked to becoming a face that fans began to respect to becoming a face that fans really missed because he was wrestling less and less. WrestleMania 21 was where it all came together. After making waves the year before by beating Big Show to win the United States Title at WrestleMania 20, Cena made the natural ascension here by beating JBL to win the WWE Title. Everything… the cheers, the boos, the demands for a heel turn, the earned respect… was all due to this. He became a “made man” on this night, and as we see a lot in wrestling, fans began looking at him differently once he finally reached the top of the mountain.
20. The Ultimate Warrior Pins Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania 6): As a very young wrestling fan who loved both Hogan and Warrior, I really didn’t know what to do when I watched this match live on pay-per-view. Face vs Face matches were a tough sell for a long time in wrestling, because there was a fear of splitting the audience and leaving people not reacting because they don’t know who to root for. I don’t remember who I wanted to win this match going in, but I do remember going nuts when Warrior pinned Hogan. To that point, I had never actually witnessed Hogan take the pin in a match. The historic feel to it, and the insane crowd pop that Warrior got, made this one of the coolest moments in my young wrestling fandom.
19. The Undertaker Kicks Out After Sweet Chin Music & A Pedigree (WrestleMania 28): If you look at the first 21 matches that The Undertaker competed in at WrestleMania, this is the time when most people thought “The Streak” was coming to an end. Even if you thought Taker was going to win the match going in, this moment made you change your mind. Special Guest Referee Shawn Michaels had been calling the match down the middle, even though he was clearly emotionally rooting for his best friend to win. At one point in the match, according to Jim Ross on commentary, Michaels looked like he was getting ready to stop the match because Taker had been beaten so badly, so Taker decided the only option was to… lock Michaels in Hell’s Gate? You’re afraid that your streak is going to come to an end at the hands of this ref, so you decide to attack the ref, in what should’ve been an automatic disqualification loss for you? Makes sense. Later in the match, with emotions running high, Triple H sends Taker into the turnbuckles, where Michaels is waiting with a Sweet Chin Music. Taker turns around and staggers right into a Pedigree for a 2.99999 count as the crowd exploded. Michaels was absolutely beside himself, knowing that he risked it all for that moment, and it didn’t work. Wonderful storytelling, wonderful tension, and an all-time great moment.
18. “Macho Man” Randy Savage & Miss Elizabeth Reunite (WrestleMania 7): Pro wrestling has long been referred to as a “male soap opera.” There have been a billion examples of it throughout the years. This, however, is one of the earliest examples in my fandom where it actually seemed like the soap opera part was being catered to women. Don’t frame that as a “sexist” comment. It was a shift in wrestling, going from showcasing the barbaric action where people are, obviously in kayfabe, trying to put each other in the hospital, to showing that love can conquer all. Savage had turned heel two years prior, dumping Miss Elizabeth and replacing her with Sensational Sherri. At WrestleMania 7, Savage was facing The Ultimate Warrior in a Retirement Match, where both men put their careers on the line. After losing the match, Sherri began to attack a fallen Savage, seeing that her meal ticket was done. As Sherri was putting the boots to Savage, Miss Elizabeth hopped the guardrail to a huge ovation, ran into the ring and threw Sherri out. When Savage got up, he was shocked to see Elizabeth standing there. After several moments of trying to decide what to do, Savage opened his arms and embraced a tearful Elizabeth to an even bigger ovation. We got several camera shots of different people in the crowd crying, and the WWF got everyone hook, line and sinker.
17. The Double Turn (WrestleMania 13): In an all-time classic match, Bret “The Hitman” Hart had just defeated “Stone Cold” Steve Austin after Special Guest Referee Ken Shamrock called for the bell when Austin had passed out in the Sharpshooter. That was great enough to be mentioned here… more on that later… but it didn’t end there. After the match, Bret, who was a face, kept beating on a defenseless Austin, who was a heel. The crowd began to loudly voice their displeasure until Shamrock stepped in and delivered a takedown, sending Bret crashing to the mat. Shamrock would challenge Bret to a fight, but Bret simply left the ring, and just like that, he was a heel for the first time in several years. Once Austin finally got back to his feet, he delivered a Stunner to a ref and left the ring to a loud chorus of fans chanting his name. Just like that, he was a face for the first time in the WWF. There have been double turns throughout the history of the business, but this was the best one, as it didn’t require much writing. This was the case of the WWF listening to the fans, who were already starting to sour on Hart a bit, and were already seeing Austin as the “cool” heel. Beautiful work.
16. Hulk Hogan Bodyslams Andre The Giant (WrestleMania 3): It’s impossible to overlook this one. It doesn’t matter what you think of Hulk Hogan as a wrestler, or of Terry Bollea as a human being. Without this moment, I don’t know if any of us would even be talking about this stuff right now. WrestleMania was already quite the phenomenon, but this show… specifically this moment during this match… helped to launch WrestleMania and the WWF into a different level. Even now, 35 years later, you still see Hogan bodyslamming Andre in all sorts of highlight reels about the sport. Everyone recognizes it, even if they’ve never seen the match itself.
15. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin Pins Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 14): We might not be talking together right now if not for Andre The Giant taking a bodyslam from Hulk Hogan. You might be able to say the same thing about this moment, where the “Austin Era” officially began, as he won the WWF Title from Shawn Michaels and kickstarted the greatest run anyone has ever had in the business. Vince McMahon really hit a home run with this. Not only do you have your usual major gate and pay-per-view numbers for WrestleMania, but then you add Austin’s popularity to the whole thing, and you sprinkle in the inclusion of “Iron” Mike Tyson to the storyline. Mix it all together and you have a major reason why the WWF turned the tide in the Monday Night ratings wars, ending WCW’s 83-week win streak only two weeks later.
14. Edge Spears Jeff Hardy (WrestleMania 17): The TLC Match at WrestleMania 17 between Edge and Christian, The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boyz was an absolute train wreck, but in the greatest possible way. Lots of wild moments and spots, but none more memorable than this one. Jeff Hardy climbs a ladder and attempts to retrieve the WWF Tag Team Titles, but he can’t maintain his balance, and now, he’s partially hanging from the apparatus used to hold the belts as Bubba Ray Dudley grabs the ladder and tries to pull it away from Jeff. Bubba brings the ladder to the corner, swinging Jeff along with it. Meanwhile, Edge has climbed almost all the way up a giant ladder in the opposite corner. Jeff’s legs become untangled from his ladder, and momentum swings him back to the middle of the ring, just as Edge jumps from his ladder and creates absolute magic, hitting Jeff with a Spear in mid-air, 15 feet off the ground, sending them both crashing to the mat below. It was an incredibly dangerous spot, but my goodness, did it look beautiful. Another moment that remains on all sorts of highlight reels and video packages, two-plus decades later.
13. Eddie Guerrero & Chris Benoit Embrace (WrestleMania 20): At the time, this was awesome to witness. Now, it is one of the most bittersweet moments in wrestling history for me. Chris Benoit wins the World Heavyweight Title, and is openly weeping in the ring as he celebrates. He soaks in the reaction on the middle turnbuckle, then turns around to see his best friend, Eddie Guerrero, standing there. Guerrero, the reigning WWE Champion, claps for his friend and they embrace, tears streaming down both of their faces. If that was the end of the story, it would still be one of the most memorable moments in WrestleMania history, just as a testament to hard work, believing in yourself, and fighting through the challenges that are placed into your life. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end of the story. 20 months later, Eddie Guerrero passed away. 19 months after that, Chris Benoit was dead. In the span of just over three years, both men who shared this beautiful moment together were no longer with us. It still doesn’t seem real sometimes. I’m shaking my head as I type this sentence out.
12. Shawn Michaels Kicks Out Of A Tombstone (WrestleMania 25): I want you to think about your years of wrestling fandom for a moment. Think about a match that you watched and were absolutely, positively, unequivocally SURE that it was about to end right then and there. Wrestler A hit Wrestler B with their finisher, and bah gawd, NOBODY kicks out of Wrestler A’s finisher. That’s what this moment was for me. I remember watching this on pay-per-view with my homie, C. We watched Michaels kick out of a Chokeslam and a Last Ride, the other two finishers that The Undertaker has used in his career, but a Tombstone? At that point in time, the list of wrestlers who have kicked out of a Tombstone was four… Kane, Batista, Edge, and Triple H. Could we have expected Shawn Michaels to be added to that list? Yes, probably, but we didn’t. When Taker landed it, that was it. It had to be. Michaels kicking out not only blew the roof off of Reliant Stadium, but C and I both jumped up off the couch yelling “holy shit” and staring at the television in amazement. Every now and then, when pro wrestling is done right, even the most grizzled of “smart mark” veterans can be pulled in and get caught up in what is happening in front of them, and it’s a great thing to see.
11. Brock Lesnar’s Shooting Star Press (WrestleMania 19): We nearly watched a man die in the middle of the ring on pay-per-view, before an audience of 54,097 in attendance and millions watching at home. Now, that might seem like oversimplifying things a bit, but it’s the truth. Brock’s hesitation before he jumped off the top rope caused him to just miss out on getting the full rotation in, and he slammed, neck-first, into the mat and into Kurt Angle’s side. At best, you watched that and thought Brock’s career ended, but at worst, yes, you thought you just watched a man die. Someone, somewhere, was looking out for Brock on that night, as he only ended up with a concussion. It was still scary to see him work the last few moments of the match with glazed over eyes, clearly not having any idea of what was happening. These men and women step into the ring to entertain us, knowing that they’re an inch away from tragedy at any point. I will forever respect them for that.
10. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin Makes A Deal With The Devil (WrestleMania 17): If you were to ask 100 wrestling fans to name the greatest feud in wrestling history, a large chunk of them are going to choose Steve Austin vs Vince McMahon, and for good reason. Week in and week out, month after month, they had people tuning in to watch Monday Night Raw and see what would happen between them. What kind of dastardly plan would Vince have this time around to get rid of Austin? How would Austin find a way to overcome the odds and thwart this latest plan? Just how many Stone Cold Stunners would Austin hand out? How many beers would Austin drink? So, to see them working together to screw The Rock out of the WWF Title was as shocking as it gets. However, I think the whole angle loses points because it shouldn’t have taken place when it did. The crowd was STRONGLY pro-Austin in Austin’s home state, and I’m not sure the reaction that the WWF was looking for here was more cheers for Austin. Instead of “this son of a bitch just sold his soul to the devil” being the reaction, it was “our guy is the champion again” from an overwhelming majority of those in attendance. This wasn’t Hulk Hogan turning heel and joining the nWo, immediately being under attack by hundreds of objects being thrown into the ring by angry fans. It certainly wasn’t Larry Zbyszko turning heel on Bruno Sammartino in 1980 and not only receiving endless death threats from fans because of it, but actually having fans try to take his life on multiple occasions. It wasn’t even Triple H and Randy Orton turning heel to screw Daniel Bryan out of the WWE Title at SummerSlam 2013, which had people ready to RAGE online. This was the most shocking heel turn in WWF/WWE history, but it wasn’t received as such when it happened. Had WrestleMania 17 taken place somewhere else, would that have changed things? It’s possible, of course, but we’ll never know.
9. Brock Lesnar Ends “The Streak” (WrestleMania 30): Sometimes, when you witness something shocking, you’re able to react to it immediately. “What the fuck just happened?!?” Things like that. Other times, when you witness something shocking, you’re unable to react at all. When Brock Lesnar defeated The Undertaker at WrestleMania 30, it was the latter for wrestling fans. The proof of that is in the crowd reaction. You remember the shots of people in the crowd, wide-eyed and mouths agape. Then, the “21-1” graphic flashed on the big screen, and there was a LOUD gasp from the crowd, as if that was the moment they finally processed what had happened. The Undertaker’s lengthy win streak at WrestleMania… a streak that most fans didn’t think was ever going to end… had come to a conclusion. This is one of wrestling’s “you’ll always remember where you were when it happened” moments.
8. “I’m Sorry, I Love You” (WrestleMania 24): Try to picture this moment without those five words. Everything else was exactly the same, but when Shawn Michaels was lining up for Sweet Chin Music on Ric Flair, he didn’t mouth anything. He merely “tuned up the band” and delivered the move, picking up the pin and the win. How much do you think that would change how history views this moment? I think it would make a ton of difference. Imagine watching Old Yeller, and during the infamous death scene, Travis takes the gun from his mother and shoots Old Yeller without a word? Sure, the scene would still be dramatic, but it was Travis saying “I know, mama, but he was my dog. I’ll do it.” that really added the feels to it. That’s what the line did for Michaels and Flair. “Travis” putting “Old Yeller” down was dramatic enough, but delivering the line beforehand brought the tears out. Both Flair and Michaels have gone on record to say that the moment wasn’t planned at all, so kudos to HBK for being able to come up with that the way he did.
7. The Hardy Boyz Return (WrestleMania 33): There was plenty of buzz that weekend that Matt and Jeff Hardy would be returning to WWE. It had been six-and-a-half years since Matt had performed for the company, and seven-and-a-half years since Jeff was there. Hearing/reading that they might show up turns into believing that they might/will show up, but actually seeing them show up is a different thing. The plan was very well put together. The Hardy brothers had already competed twice that weekend, defeating Penta El Zero M and Rey Fenix at the WrestleCon Supershow on Friday night, and then losing to The Young Bucks at Ring Of Honor’s Supercard Of Honor 11 on Saturday night. That was enough to throw some doubt into the idea of them actually returning to WWE, at least for that weekend. The roar from the crowd in Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida when they emerged as the surprise entrants in the Ladder Match for the Raw Tag Team Titles was dumb loud. It was one of those special moments that only work during WrestleMania weekend.
6. Seth Rollins Commits The Heist Of The Century (WrestleMania 31): Brilliant. Genius. We’ve seen Money In The Bank title shots used in a lot of different ways, to varying degrees of success. Seth Rollins sitting back and watching Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns beat the shit out of each other for nearly 15 minutes, and then deciding to cash in while the match was still going on? It was so unique, at a time when people were wondering if there were any new ways for someone to cash their shots in. In kayfabe, you could debate whether or not it would’ve been “smarter” to just wait until the match was over, but I really loved it. Brock and Roman were prepared to face each other, but once Rollins inserted himself into the match, both Lesnar and Reigns were scrambling to try and focus on him, and it ended up costing them both dearly. Sprinting to the ring, cashing in, winning the WWE Title, and then running away again? That Seth Rollins is a clever, clever boy.
5. Bianca Belair Pins Sasha Banks (WrestleMania 37): The beginning of the match was very special, but it was the end of the match that really sticks out to me. Bianca had become such a popular performer, standing out as a huge star from the beginning, and wrestling fans were truly and honestly ecstatic to see her win here. She nearly burst into tears as soon as the bell rang. Her father was nearly jumped by Security because his immediate reaction to seeing his daughter win was to try and jump the guardrail. Montez Ford surprising his wife by running to the ring and celebrating with her. Then, there was the fan footage of Sasha sitting at ringside and not being able to help but to smile like a proud sister who was watching Bianca achieve her dream. The whole package, wrapped up nicely, is something I’ll never forget.
4. KofiMania Is Running Wild (WrestleMania 35): Kofi signed a developmental deal with WWE in 2006, and spent the next 12-plus years making a name for himself as one of the top performers on the roster. Before winning the WWE Title, he had 15 total title reigns with WWE, finding success both as a singles wrestler and as a tag guy. For years and years, even with all that success, fans felt that Kofi could’ve/should’ve been used better, and were upset that he never really had a chance to shine as a main event wrestler. His first shot at a World Title would come in 2010, as part of the WWE Title Elimination Chamber, but he was unsuccessful in his bid to win the title. He got the same feature in 2012, competing in the WWE Title Elimination Chamber, but once again came up short. 2016 saw him as an entrant in the Royal Rumble that featured the WWE Title on the line, but he didn’t win that, either. Another Elimination Chamber in 2019 saw him fail to win the WWE Title for a fourth time. That was it. No random World Title shots on television. Not even a random match for a World Title at a house show in his hometown or something. To watch him get a groundswell of support from the WWE Universe for a main event run was wonderful to see. Seeing WWE actually work with that and push him to the top was even better. When Kofi pinned Daniel Bryan to win the WWE Title at WrestleMania 35, there were a lot of tears shed all over the world, for multiple reasons. Don’t be afraid to admit that you were responsible for some of those tears. I’m not.
3. Yes-tleMania Is Running Wild (WrestleMania 30): Hey, speaking of emotional journeys that finally culminated in success… here you go. Wrestling has never seen a story like what we got out of Daniel Bryan in 2012, 2013, and 2014. For fans to get so far behind someone, only for the company to be so adamant about not pushing that person to the top, is something we’ve seen before. It was just the level of passion on both sides that made this unique. The WWE Universe fully and actively “hijacked” show after show, and moment after moment, because they weren’t getting what they wanted. WWE saw the reactions and they doubled down on trying to avoid giving the people what they wanted. At some point, though, it simply cannot be ignored anymore, because doing so is harming your other wrestlers… hello, Rey Mysterio at the 2014 Royal Rumble. This was such a special story, which turned into such a special moment on the sport’s largest stage. The world celebrated right along with the Superdome when Batista tapped out to the Yes Lock here. It’s a damn shame that multiple tragedies and injuries would soon follow the title win, and at one point, we thought we would never get to see the man wrestle again. For that one night, though, everything was simply perfect.
2. The SkyDome Loses Their Minds (WrestleMania 18): I have been watching wrestling for a long, long time. I’ve seen just about everything you can think of. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like what we saw when The Rock faced “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 18. The Rock was one of the most popular wrestlers in the world at the time, and arguably THEE most popular. Hulk Hogan, as a member of the nWo, was one of the most evil heels to ever step foot inside a wrestling ring. Hogan had tried to murder Rock on multiple occasions in the build to this match. None of that mattered to the fans in Toronto on this night. They welcomed Hogan back and treated him as a God, giving him some of the loudest and most raucous reactions you’ll ever hear. It’s a popular running gag that Canada is “Bizarro World” when it comes to wrestling, as they’ll often cheer and boo who they want, not who they’re “told” to. We’ve seen Canadian wrestling fans cheer for heels before, but never to this extent. You could tell that both Hogan and Rock were expecting some wackiness with the crowd, but they were both taken aback almost immediately. It wasn’t just the reactions that made this stand out. No, it was how long the reactions lasted. This crowd was molten hot for the entire match! It was almost like a party atmosphere in the crowd, who were jubilantly reacting to everything in the match… finishers, counters, rest holds, people standing there, breathing, finger pointing, eyebrows raising… ev-er-y-thing. As I said, I don’t think I’d ever seen anything like that before, and I haven’t seen anything like it since. Even the rowdiest of crowds took breaks at points during matches. Not this one. They helped turned what was a relatively pedestrian match as far as workrate is concerned into an all-time classic that is a must-see for anyone that calls themselves a wrestling fan.
1. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s Bloody Face (WrestleMania 13): Full disclosure… Bret Hart vs Steve Austin at WrestleMania is my all-time favorite wrestling match. I already wrote about the match a bit in this column, but my most memorable moment is simply Austin’s face as he is locked in the Sharpshooter. He’s screaming in pain, and blood is pouring down his face, dripping into his mouth and pooling on the mat below. It is a visual that I will never, ever forget. This is the match that really put him on the map, but this was the moment that really made that happen. Even in a loss, he could not have looked any more like a badass, and that’s what helped to get wrestling fans behind him. 25 years later, those fans are still there, rooting and cheering for him as he shows that he is the world’s toughest S.O.B.
Your turn, ReaderLand. I want to know about some of your favorite moments in WrestleMania history. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to list 38 moments, but please tell me what some of your most memorable are, especially if they aren’t on my list. As always, hit me up in the comments section below, or on Twitter (@HustleTheSavage), and let me know what’s on your mind.
Weekly Power Rankings
- The Briscoes vs FTR: It was a very busy weekend, so I haven’t even come close to being able to sit and watch it all. I will say that this was one of the best tag team matches that I’ve seen in a long time. Easily a Match Of The Year candidate for me.
- Becky Lynch vs Bianca Belair: No need to get too in-depth on matches I’ve already discussed in Running Diaries. This was just a great “ugly” match that, on several occasions, crossed over from looking like a wrestling match to looking like a fight.
- Carmelo Hayes vs Cameron Grimes vs Solo Sikoa vs Grayson Waller vs Santos Escobar: As always, when Cameron Grimes comes up in conversation, I am legally and contractually obligated to mention the fact that he nearly broke my leg at an independent wrestling show a few years back. The spotfest that it was expected to be. You can argue on whether or not the “right” man won, but he was certainly the “feel good” pick and will make a very good champion.
- Cody Rhodes vs Seth Rollins: Eric Bischoff said it best… Cody’s entire return was simply magic.
- Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns: It was never going to be a 30-minute technical classic, but it was everything it needed to be. Now we wait to see if Reigns appears twice a week from now on, or if Raw finds a way to get a new World Title into the fold.
- Cody Rhodes’ Promo On Raw: It was very well-done and emotional. In one shot, he was able to get across exactly why he returned to WWE, and it made perfect sense. He didn’t have to take shots at AEW to do it, either. I know a lot of people were expecting some sort of venom from him about his departure there, but he says that’s not something we’re going to get.
- “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs Kevin Owens: What an incredible nostalgia ride. Nothing more to say.
- Dolph Ziggler vs Bron Breakker: Damn near everyone was surprised at the result, but nobody was surprised at the quality of the match itself. Dolph continues his mini-renaissance in NXT, and Bron continues to show that he deserves to be the future.
- Imperium vs The Creed Brothers vs MSK: The match was a lot of fun, but today’s news that Nash Carter has been released in the wake of the allegations of abuse by his wife kind of put a damper on this being included here. Some will be quick to point out that Kimber Lee has gone back and forth recently when it comes to bashing her husband, then supporting him, then bashing him again. That’s not my business to decipher right now, but it does make WWE look really bad. Again. She made accusations against him, but the company still went ahead and gave MSK the win here to give them the NXT Tag Team Titles. Now, she makes another batch of accusations, making the result of this match useless four days later, and leaving Wes Lee without a tag team partner. There are more important things to wonder about, but for right now, the question is what happens with Lee. Does he get a new tag team partner? Will MSK get stripped of the titles? Does this make Lee a bit of a “lame duck” with a release in his future, too?
- Jon Moxley vs Jay Lethal: It was pretty surprising to see Lethal getting a good chunk of face reaction here. He’s over with crowds and all, but he’s not on Jon Moxley’s level. Another good performance by Lethal, but it continues his streak of losing every match he has on Dynamite or Rampage, while winning everything he’s in on the YouTube shows. That’s weird.
- Johnny Knoxville vs Sami Zayn: I missed it during the live viewing because I had Daddy Duties I needed to attend to, but after I got to watch it, I loved it. It certainly wasn’t for everyone, but it was perfect for those who not only love the Jackass franchise, but also love silliness in their pro wrestling. Not everything has to be SUPER CEREAL all the time. You gotta love Sami Zayn. He and Kevin Owens both secured the bag and are able to do newsworthy things at WrestleMania.
- RK-Bro vs The Street Profits vs Alpha Academy: The fun, rapid-paced match we all expected it to be. Can’t ask for more than that.
- AJ Styles vs Edge: Look, I like Edge, and I’m glad he’s back. I’m still very confused over the random heel turn and complete change in character out of nowhere, but I know that doesn’t take away from his skills as an in-ring performer. With that said, does he have it in his contract that every match he wrestles in needs to be a 30-minute epic at bare minimum? Tone it down a bit, guys.
- Bron Breakker vs Gunther: This was one of the weirdest episodes of NXT I can remember when it comes to storylines and “why did they do that” questioning. Bron Breakker vs Gunther could’ve been a SummerSlam or WrestleMania weekend main event for NXT. Instead, it was put together without any promotion and then Gunther took a clean loss, which isn’t exactly something he has done a lot over the last few years. Even if Gunther is getting the main roster call, you could just… you know… not make this match. It was good and all, but you didn’t have to make Gunther lose on his way out the door like this. Also, don’t even get me started on Joe Gacy apparently being Bron’s next challenger.
- Top Flight vs The Young Bucks: Top Flight has so much potential together, and they sure do get to show that potential off when they face the Bucks. So much fun here.
- Samoa Joe: He made a surprise appearance at RoH’s Supercard Of Honor show, and it was announced that he has signed with AEW to appear on both AEW and RoH programming from here on in. Hopefully, he finds some better luck when it comes to his health and is able to stay active.
- Bron Breakker: Two-time NXT Champion. A clean victory over Gunther. Not much to complain about there.
- Pat McAfee vs Austin Theory: If you’ve ever heard an interview with Pat McAfee from his days in the NFL, you would’ve said he was born to be a pro wrestler. I’d say that has turned out to be accurate. He’s so much better in the ring than he should be at this point, and of course, that doesn’t even count his off-the-charts charisma and mic skills.
- “Stone Cold” Steve Austin: Not only did he get the good match with Kevin Owens to (most-likely) send him off into retirement on his own terms, but the nostalgia ride continued the next day with him coming out to ruin whatever plans Vince McMahon decided to put together.
- Wheeler Yuta vs Bryan Danielson: Yuta continues to look impressive in the ring, and it’s clear they’re doing SOMETHING with him in this storyline. It just remains to be seen exactly what that something is.
- Triple H & Tommaso Ciampa: It was being promoted and insinuated that this was Ciampa’s final match with NXT, so of course Triple H had to return and show Ciampa some love. I love the real emotion that Ciampa shared, letting out tears when he saw Trips on the stage.
- Sasha Banks & Naomi: The WWE Women’s Tag Team Titles have had a bit of a rough history thus far. Congratulations to the new champions, though. Now we see if they become the next victims of the “curse” with these titles, or if they’re able to overcome the shitty booking that is inevitably about to come their way.
- Toni Storm: Congratulations to the 948th person to sign an AEW contract! In all seriousness, she is someone that SHOULD be able to see major success in a women’s division that could really use the extra star power.
- Triple H: Not only did he get to do the stuff with Ciampa, but he got to retire from in-ring competition on his own terms, leaving his boots in the middle of the ring and being congratulated by his family, friends, and fans.
- Veer: After a dangerous experimental surgical procedure, the man has finally stopped coming. He looked like a monster as he destroyed the Mysterios. We’ll see how his booking is from here on. As an added bonus, his Cervical Clutch submission looks REALLY good and REALLY painful.
- Logan Paul: Another celebrity that WWE brought in and trained properly so that they didn’t look like a doofus in the ring for the world to see. He looks like he could have a future in the business if he wants to, and apparently he does, as he reportedly had it inserted into his contract that he’ll have a face run. That explains the post-match angle with The Miz turning on him, I guess. I’m not sure the WWE Universe is ready to cheer for any member of the Paul family, but we’ll see.
- Keith Lee vs Powerhouse Hobbs: If there’s one thing that Keith Lee excels at, it’s having really good matches against fellow “hoss” wrestlers. Add Powerhouse Hobbs to a lengthy list of massive men that Lee has had entertaining matches with.
- The Creed Brothers vs Imperium: Hey, I was right about who was behind the attacks on The Creed Brothers! As I said before, I don’t really get what the hell is happening in NXT when comes to Imperium. The rumor is that Gunther and Marcel Barthel could be heading to Smackdown soon. Yes, Gunther and Marcel Barthel. Not Gunther, Marcel Barthel and Fabian Aichner. We saw the beginning of that split on NXT, but… why? Imperium, as a whole, could’ve been great for main roster with the same formula… Gunther as a major singles guy, with Aichner and Barthel boosting the tag scene, and the six-man matches being ready-made. I don’t get it.
- Toxic Attraction: Speaking of things that I don’t get… Toxic Attraction won the NXT Women’s Tag Team Titles, mere days after dropping them, which brings me to…
- Dakota Kai & Raquel Gonzalez: What the hell was the point of putting them back together and giving them ANOTHER insanely short run as the NXT Women’s Tag Team Champions? They’ve had two reigns as champions, with a combined time as title holders of four days. Why? What?
This Week’s Playlist: “The Night Does Not Belong To God” by Sleep Token… “The Offering” by Sleep Token… “Dark Signs” by Sleep Token… “Higher” by Sleep Token… “Sugar” by Sleep Token… “Say That You Will” by Sleep Token… “Blood Sport” by Sleep Token… “Hypnosis” by Sleep Token… “Mine” by Sleep Token… “The Love You Want” by Sleep Token… “Alkaline” by Sleep Token… “Descending” by Sleep Token… “Telomeres” by Sleep Token… “Leave You Alone” by Ella Mai… “Hunting Season” by Ice Nine Kills… “Black Cow” by Steely Dan… “Natural Born Killaz” by Dr. Dre & Ice Cube… “Teenage Dirtbag” by Wheatus… “99 Red Balloons” by Goldfinger… “My Friends Over You” by New Found Glory… “Girl All The Bad Guys Want” by Bowling For Soup… “Right Now” by SR-71… “Gone Away” by The Offspring… “Want You Bad” by The Offspring… “Prelude 12/21” by AFI