QUESTION OF THE DAY: What your favorite and least favorite curtain jerkers in Wrestlemania history?
As we near Wrestlemania 34, there is a hot debate going over what match will be chosen to be the opener for the main card. As it currently stands, the three leading candidates are The IC Title Match between The Miz, Seth Rollins and Finn Balor, The Smackdown Tag Title Match between The Usos, New Day and Bludgeon Brothers and as hard as it is to believe, The WWE Title Match between A.J. Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura.
Regardless of which of the abovementioned matches ends up opening the show, it is without question that this year’s opener will be one of the best in the history of the event. Several of my avid “column series” readers have been clamoring for me to do one on the opening matches for Mania. I don’t think it’s the best topic for a full-fledged series, and facts are facts: LOP needs another Fenichel column series like I need a new asshole attached to my elbow.
Nonetheless, I wanted to take on the topic in a one column format. This isn’t going to be an in-depth dive into each of the individual matches, but instead quick hits on where I rank each opener against each other.
Take this for what it is – light reading during a month where they will be PLENTY of dense and meaty columns to choose from. Without further ado:
#33: Tito Santana v The Executioner – Wrestlemania I
I try not to hold the earliest Wrestlemania’s against them for being a byproduct of the era, but this match was a dud on all levels. The WWE basically put a mask on Matt Borne and told him to go lay down for Santana in under four minutes. It’s without question the worst of all matches on the list.
#32: ShowMiz v John Morrison/R Truth – Wrestlemania 26.
There’s a handful of matches that were just absolute trash on this list. It was hard to sort between them for obvious reasons. I ranked this match second to last because with the talent involved, it should have been better. During an era where the opener was considered more important than in the past, there’s absolutely no excuse for 4 established stars to get three minutes and stink up the joint.
#31: Rick Martel v Koko B. Ware – Wrestlemania 6.
This match is bad and completely unmemorable, but my ire runs so much deeper than this. After the amazing Rick Martel heel turn on Tito Santana during The Brainbusters/Strike Force match at Wrestlemania 5, how did the WWE not blow that feud off a year later? Instead, Rick Martel got paired with Koko B. Ware, a de-facto jobber whose only claim to fame is that he had a parrot. Unforgiveable stuff.
#30: The Big Boss Man/Bill Buchanan v The Godfather/D-Lo Brown – Wrestlemania 16.
Wrestlemania 16 was a terrible show so it only follows that the opener was unmemorable dreck. Choosing between some of the matches on the bottom of the list was like choosing between terminal diseases. This one fell between the matches that offended me and the matches that at least had a single redeeming quality to them.
#29: The Big Show/Kane v Carlito/Chris Masters, Tag Title Match – Wrestlemania 22.
I could pretty much copy and paste what I said about the ShoMiz v Morrison/R Truth match here. I bumped this match up a few spots because it was a title match and I was less offended by the treatment of Carlito and Chris Masters than I was for R Truth and John Morrison. This was still far from a shining example of what a curtain jerker should be.
#28: Don Muraco v Paul Orndorff – Wrestlemania 2.
This was largely a throwaway match with a non-finish, but both Orndorff and Muraco were big deals at the time. The match was well-worked, and given the era that it took place in, I’m willing to give it a pass for its shortcomings.
#27: Hercules v King Haku – Wrestlemania 5.
This was another short match without a tremendous amount of quality in ring work. However, Bobby Heenan was involved and the King Haku gimmick had a little bit of juice to it. With Hercules being a former member of the Heenan Family, this match had enough story for it to be left off the very bottom of the countdown.
#26: Lex Luger/The British Bulldog v The Blu Brothers – Wrestlemania 11.
My bias in favor of Lex Luger’s WWE run has been well documented. Even at the end of said run, I still felt that he was a top 3 baby-face in the company. The British Bulldog wasn’t far behind him in that regard, and the crowd was hot for this match as a result. The action itself is garbage, but it accomplished the primary goal of a curtain jerker. It popped the crowd.
#25: The Legion of Doom Battle Royal – Wrestlemania 14.
Sure, they were a shell of their former selves and the match itself was a joke, but nostalgia still goes a long way. The Legion of Doom are the best tag team in the history of the industry. Seeing them upgrade their look and add Sunny as a valet was a really cool way to open Wrestlemania 14, even if the match quality was in the toilet.
#24: The Headbangers v Furnas/Lafon v The Godwinns v The New Blackjacks – #1 contender Match – Wrestlemania 13.
While it will never be mistaken for a classic, this was a surprisingly fun little match with at least a small piece of importance attached to it. This was a tricky one to rank – but it ultimately landed above all of the “flawed” matches and beneath all of the “good” ones.
#23: Sheamus v Daniel Bryan – World Title – Wrestlemania 28.
I suspect most rank this amongst the worst Wrestlemania curtain jerkers ever, but I don’t share that opinion. Sure, the match lasted 18 seconds, the rough equivalent of most of my sexcapades. Sure, many wished that the fantastic 2 out of 3 Falls encounter between the two occurred here instead of a couple months later. However, the angle they executed was unbelievably well done. It was both shocking and memorable, and neither wrestler was worse for wear as a result. I’ll take that over matches that were meaningless drab any day of the week.
#22: Rob Van Dam v William Regal – IC Title – Wrestlemania 18.
This match is remembered for being great when it was merely “good”. Considering the two wrestlers involved, you would have thought that they would have put together a classic. Instead, it was a bit on the botchy side and it just didn’t click the way I would have wanted it to. It was still solid, just not good enough to make it further up the ranks.
#21: The Bad News Brown Battle Royal – Wrestlemania 4.
This was a boring and bland battle royal that easily could have ended up near the bottom of the list if not for one incredibly significant moment in the history of wrestling. This was the match in which Bret Hart turned face. His attack on Bad News Brown post-match was the beginning of one of the best singles careers in history. That alone was enough to vault this match much further up the rankings than it otherwise would have deserved.
#20: The Shield v The Big Show/Randy Orton/Sheamus – Wrestlemania 29.
This match is definitely well worked, but it fell far short of the lofty expectations that I had for it. This was The Shield’s first Wrestlemania. They had TREMENDOUS six-man tag matches against both Team Hell No/Ryback and The Wyatt Family. I was looking for something on par with those matches and instead got a run of the mill tag match.
#19: Shawn Michaels v Tito Santana – IC Title Match – Wrestlemania 8.
HBK is Mr. Wrestlemania for a reason. While his matches at later Wrestlemania’s rightfully have more fanfare, this match was rock solid in its own right. On top of that, this was Tito Santana’s de-facto sendoff, and he went out in style. It wasn’t a classic, but it was a criminally underappreciated effort.
#18: Hardcore Holly v Billy Gunn v Al Snow – Hardcore Title Match – Wrestlemania 15.
I’m a sucker for Attitude Era hardcore matches, and this was a pretty good one. If you’re a fan of the sweet science, this match isn’t for you. If you like wacky brawls full of shenanigans, this Triple Threat is right down your alley.
#17: Chris Jericho v William Regal – IC Title Match – Wrestlemania 17.
This match struggled much in the same manner that RVD v Regal did a year later. Despite the tremendous talent of both wrestlers involved, the chemistry was just a bit off. Nonetheless, this match got the crowd going on arguably the biggest and best show of all time. Thus, it earns a respectable place on the countdown.
#16: Daniel Bryan’s IC Title Ladder Match – Wrestlemania 31.
The ladder match is my favorite stipulation. Sometimes, I need to reign in my love for the gimmick and judge a match solely on its merits. Outside of an amazing moment that saw Daniel Bryan claim victory, this match was a little too spotty and lacked substance. If Daniel Bryan wasn’t involved in the match, this would be largely forgettable.
#15: The Can Am Connection v Don Muraco/Bob Orton – Wrestlemania 3.
Fun fact – this is the first match I ever watched. I was a five year old and completely enthralled by the spectacle of it all. After the first two Mania curtain jerkers were duds, this match set the bar for what a hot opener should be. Although not amongst the best curtain jerkers ever, the Wrestlemania 3 opener was far ahead of its time.
#14: Rey Mysterio v Eddie Guerrero – Wrestlemania 21.
Holy wardrobe malfunction batman! These two have a laundry list of amazing matches together, but this wasn’t one of them. Rey struggled with the fit of his mask for the entire match. He was constantly stopping to adjust it, and it really upset the flow of the match. Because these two could have a 3-3 ½ star match together in their sleep, this still rates highly on the countdown. However, I can’t help but to view it as a disappointment.
#13: JBL v Finlay – Belfast Brawl – Wrestlemania 24.
I was surprised to see this match open the show. JBL v Finlay felt like a throwaway match going in, but it greatly exceeded expectations. We ended up with a wildly entertaining brawl that was easily the best 1 on 1 match of Finlay’s WWE tenure. I’ll chalk this up to an instance where the WWE brass knew better than I did.
#12: The Rockers v The Barbarian/Haku.- Wrestlemania 7.
I’ve always viewed this match as a better version of what we saw at Wrestlemania 3 with the Can Am Connection and Muraco/Orton. There’s a reason that many view The Rockers as one of the 10-15 best tag teams of all time despite never winning the belts in the WWE. Their fast-paced double team heavy act was incredibly far ahead of its time. Perhaps the best compliment that I give them is that their tag matches look like something you’d see on a current edition of Monday Night Raw. This was tag team wrestling at its finest.
#11: The British Bulldog/Owen Hart/Vader v Ahmed Johnson/Jake Roberts/Yokozuna – Wrestlemania 12.
A strong storyline coupled with a strong match is a recipe for curtain jerker success. I was a big fan of the Vader/Yokozuna split. I would have preferred to see the two men go 1 on 1 at Wrestlemania 12, but I cannot dispute the fact that the six-man tag delivered. Ahmed Johnson was a rising star at the time, and the match provided a vehicle for Jake Roberts to have one last Wrestlemania moment. Who can argue with that?
#10: HBK v Tatanka IC Title Match – Wrestlemania 9.
Our very own Samuel Plan recently stated that he thought the HBK v Tatanka IC Title match from Wrestlemania 9 was a better match than HBK v Angle at Wrestlemania 21. I think he needs to lay off the drugs, but he’s not completely wrong about the strength of this match either. It was the lone highlight of the worst Wrestlemania of all time. This match is an off-forgotten gem that really withstands the test of time. It’s not an all-out classic like some of the matches yet to come on the countdown, but it was a very good outing for both men.
#9. CM Punk Wins Money in the Bank – Wrestlemania 25.
Again, I love all ladder matches, but I need to keep things in context. This was a stronger effort than the Daniel Bryan ladder match at Wrestlemania 31, but it still had its flaws. Although very solid by normal match standards, this was one of the weaker MITB matches that took place at Wrestlemania. CM Punk winning for a second year in a row was a cool moment, but this lacked a lot of the big spots that I came to love in other renditions of the gimmick.
#8: Zack Ryder’s IC Title Ladder Match – Wrestlemania 32.
The top 8 curtain jerkers are far ahead of anything else below it for a reason. This was a spectacular spot-fest. This version of the Wrestlemania multi-man ladder match was far superior to its predecessor the year before largely in part to the youth that was served in the match. The Wrestlemania 32 match was full of guys who were either relatively new to the roster or unproven commodities. Everyone in the match wanted to make an impact, and they laid it all out on the line. Ryder’s win was completely unexpected and a phenomenal moment in Wrestlemania curtain jerker lore.
#7: Matt Hardy v Rey Mysterio – Cruiserweight Title – Wrestlemania 19.
The Doc rated this as one of the 50 greatest cruiserweight matches ever, and he was right. This is as good of a 5 ½ minute match as you are ever going to see. Mysterio and Hardy were both red hot at the time, and absolutely tore into each other from bell to bell. Had this match been a bit longer, it likely would have climbed even further up the countdown.
#6: John Cena v The Big Show – Wrestlemania 20.
I was there. We went CRAZY for Cena. It’s ironic to look back at this event and see how organically over he was considering how force fed he’s felt to many during the majority of his time since. One of The Big Show’s unappreciated accolades is that he has played an important role in getting many of the top stars in the industry over at key points in their careers. This match was the epitome of a hot opener, and marked the beginning of the rise of John Cena.
#5: Edge v Alberto Del Rio – World Title – Wrestlemania 27.
This marked the first time that the world title match was defended in the Wrestlemania opener. It was a shocking choice at the time. Although clearly the second most hyped of the two world title matches, I still expected it to be one of the last three matches on the card. Nonetheless, it delivered in a big way. It was easily Alberto Del Rio’s best match of his WWE career, and sadly marked the last match of Edge’s. Edge winning, although negated the following night due to unforeseen circumstances, was not the expected outcome. Excellent crowd involvement and extremely high stakes made this one a no-brainer for the top 5.
#4: Kennedy Wins Money in the Bank – Wrestlemania 23.
Even by ladder match standards, the Wrestlemania 23 version of Money in the Bank was outstanding. This was a car crash from bell to bell, full of breathtaking high spots. I legitimately thought that Jeff Hardy had killed Edge when he swanton-bombed him off a ladder through another one and onto the floor. Revenge for the Wrestlemania 17 spear was his! I tried to not let my ladder match bias rear its ugly head too much. As such, I ranked this behind the three unbelievable masterpieces that lie ahead. Nonetheless, an amazing match it was.
#3: A.J. Styles v Shane McMahon – Wrestlemania 33.
While very few would argue that the Styles/Shane feud leading into last year’s Wrestlemania was anything less than stellar, many were concerned about the potential quality of the match. The idea was that Shane, a non-wrestler, simply wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace that Styles brings to every single match he’s in. Those fears were squashed swiftly and emphatically. McMahon and Styles told a fantastic story over the course of 19 minutes. They managed to blend Shane’s hardcore antics perfectly with Style’s high flying and technical mastery. This match was absolutely epic and not only provided further proof that A.J. Styles is the best in the business today, but another chapter in what is a surprisingly strong body of in-ring work for Shane McMahon.
#2: Daniel Bryan v Triple H – Wrestlemania 30.
It was splitting hairs between the top two matches, and I ultimately landed on the Bryan/Triple H encounter as second choice. I don’t need to explain to anyone reading about the amazing build that was Daniel Bryan’s Wrestlemania 30 story. A+ crowd involvement met by an A+ match. This is one of the ten best matches in Wrestlemania history.
#1: Bret Hart v Owen Hart – Wrestlemania 10.
When choosing between two matches that are pretty much perfect in every way, sometimes you just need to pick a singular character trait and run with it as your sole decision maker. For me, the fact that Daniel Bryan’s win was a foregone conclusion while Owen Hart’s win was a wonderful surprise was the difference between the first and second spots on the countdown. Simply put, The Bret v Owen story and match is everything that I’ve ever wanted in a wrestling product. It’s flawless in every way and is absolutely deserving to be called the top curtain jerker in Wrestlemania history.
That’s a wrap kids. Agree or disagree? Sound off below!
Facebook: David Fenichel