And this is the final part. Entries 4 through 1. The list is done!
4) Two All Time Greats, One Epic Trilogy (Wrestlemanias XV, X-Seven, XIX)
During the Attitude Era in the late 90s and early 00s, there was no two stars bigger than "Stone Cold" Steve Austin & The Rock. The immense popularity & notoriety of both men transcended the wrestling business and it was only fitting that they square off at the biggest show of the year. What started as displaying two of the biggest stars together turned into an epic trilogy of matches that would help define Wrestlemania for the modern era.
The first Wrestlemania encounter between these two happened in 1999 and was the culmination of Steve Austin's quest for the title. The real story was Austin trying to overcome the abuse of power of Vince McMahon who had taken every avenue to ensure that Austin lost the title & would never win it back. That rivalry of an employee rebelling against the system and then take down his evil boss was a revolutionary angle for Pro Wrestling at the time. The Rock's role in this match was as Vince McMahon's poster boy champion. Labeled "The Corporate Champion" The Rock became the top villain in wrestling and was the perfect final obstacle for Austin to overcome on his way to reclaming the championship. Austin's road to best Vince McMahon and overthrow The Rock as champion took him through the 1999 Royal Rumble where Vince McMahon entered himself into the match and put a $100,000 bounty on Austin to ensure he would lose. In the end, it was The Rock's interference that led to Austin's defeat & a shocking Royal Rumble victory for Vince McMahon. Austin would take his revenge on Vince the next month in a grueling cage match with the boss that also gave him the Championship match against The Rock. Meanwhile, The Rock survived his feud with Mankind who had challenged him for the WWF Title for months. In the end, his clashes with Mankind would cost him as Mankind would earn his way to being the Special Guest Referee of the main event at Wrestlemania.
It was during this feud that the characters of The Rock & Steve Austin were allowed to flourish on a main event level. True they had both feuded over the IC Title in 1997, but The Rock was still a work in progress at that point. Here we got to see just how opposite to each other they really were. Austin was rugged, rough, & violent, while Rock was more athletic, polished, & flashy. It was a perfect situation to showcase over the top characters that could appeal to the masses. After an exciting battle, Austin won back his championship after a six month journey, but this was not the end of Austin & Rock's rivalry.
Two years later, The Rock was no longer the Corporate Champion. He was now as big and as popular a babyface as Austin ever was. After Austin had neck surgery that kept him out of action for almost a year, Rock was able to step in and fill Austin's role on top seamlessly. By the time Austin returned, it just a matter of time before the two biggest babyfaces in the World would be put against each other. The Rock had spent most of 2000 in the World Title picture and would eventually defeat Kurt Angle to win the championship for a then record sixth time in February 2001. Austin on the other hand had taken vengeance on those responsible for his neck injury (in storyline of course) Rikishi & Triple H, whose partnership kept Austin busy for months. After that was over, it was time to have the showdown. Austin had won his record third Royal Rumble and was set to face The Rock when it was time to jump start the build to Wrestlemania.
They had done an unnecessary element to the story where Austin's wife, Debra McMichael, had been named The Rock's manager by Vince McMahon. Now lets be honest, how is that even possible? I thought managers were independent agents hired by the Wrestlers themselves? How can the owner of the company force a manager on somebody? Oh well, whatever. It didn't matter that much. The real strength in the build up came from the promos and the video packages. It was very similar to Hogan/Warrior, but much bigger. Whenever Austin would give the Stunner to The Rock and whenever The Rock would strike back, it only enhanced the gravity of what was happening. Yes they had already faced off at Wrestlemania before, but The Rock wasn't just McMahon's Champion this time around. He had a level of popularity that rivaled Austin's. It felt like it was brand new all over again and much grander than before. The final hook was on the last Smackdown prior to Wrestlemania where Austin & Rock wished each other luck, but tempers had reached such a high that it ended with a massive brawl between the two.
So the stage was set. Either Austin would finish his comeback with a WWF Title victory or The Rock would avenge his loss at Wrestlemania XV over his greatest rival. The match didn't disappoint as I would go as far to say that its probably one mistake away from being the greatest Wrestlemania match of all time. It was pure energy & excitement from start to finish. In the end, McMahon helped Austin win the title, revealing a new partnership between the two and turning Austin heel. I have huge misgivings about the Austin heel turn, but a fantastic match is still a fantastic match and had The Rock/Austin Wrestlemania experience ended there, it would have been classic.
However, everything works in threes and there was room for one more classic showdown. Now we go to 2003. Austin had walked out of the WWE over personal disputes and it was thought he would never return. The Rock had become a big star in Hollywood and was taking on more and more movie roles, reducing his time spent wrestling. It seemed as though both careers were in the winding down phase. However, both of them returned in February of 2003, the stage was set for one more epic Wrestlemania match.
The Rock was now hated by the fans, mainly for putting his Hollywood career before Wrestling, a move that was perceived as egotistical & selfish. Well, that's what The Rock's character became and it was one of the best runs of his career. The "Hollywood" Rock as its been called by some fans was a Rock that was every bit as entertaining as he ever was, but with such a cocky & disrespecting demeanor that the fans hated his guts. Upon his return, The Rock stated that he would leave Wrestling but there was one more thing he needed to accomplish. The one thing he was never able to do was defeat Steve Austin at Wrestlemania, and once Austin returned, Rock had his chance at redemption.
He immediately challenged Austin and the match was set. A final confrontation between two of the biggest stars in wrestling history. One classic segment that i have to reference is "The Rock Concert" where Rock took over the show to put on a musical display, which involved him singing songs that insulted both the fans & Steve Austin. It was hilarious, and it ended with Austin smashing The Rock's personal guitar signed by Willie Nelson. By the time Wrestlemania rolled around, the story had basically been about whether or not The Rock could defeat Austin at Wrestlemania and that was a great play off of their histories.
For one final time, Austin & Rock collided on the grand stage of Wrestlemania and after another classic encounter, The Rock finally got the monkey off his back and defeated Austin following three Rock Bottoms, symbolizing the number of tries it took Rock to get that huge win. It was really the end of the great runs for both men. It would be The Rock's final one on one Wrestlemania match for nine years, and has only wrestled a handful of times since then. For Austin, it was his final match to date and the loss was the end of his career. In a way, it was fitting. The Attitude Era had come to an end and it felt appropriate to close it out with the two biggest icons that the era produced.
When you have two big stars like Rock & Austin, you can get a lot of mileage out of having them work with each other, and their three matches contributed a lot to Wrestlemania. Their ability to play off of each other and deliver epic promos really made their bouts feel larger than the show itself, & their natural chemistry always made for a great viewing experience. Every Wrestlemania feud was different, each situation was interesting, & all three matches definitely added to the majesty of Wrestlemania.
3) The Rattlesnake, The Showstopper, & The Baddest Man on the Planet (Wrestlemania XIV)
If there was a Wrestlemania feud that jump started the Attitude Era of the WWF/E, it was this one. The WWF had become an entirely different show with a new personality and it was reflected in their top stars and the caliber of their celebrity guest for Wrestlemania.
Steve Austin's rebellious spirit and lack of respect for authority had created a dynamic in wrestling that had hardly ever been seen before. He was a heel, a villain, but the fans loved him. Society was very different in the late 90s and the youth was more jaded & cynical, so it probably shouldn't have been a shock that they rejected the one dimensional smiling good guys and went for a guy that flipped off his boss, broke all the rules, and spat in the face of authority.
Austin's extreme personality not only won over the fans, but also seemed to rub off on the entire company. Undertaker went from being a zombie that hardly ever spoke to being a Hellish Warrior with a dark past. Rocky Maviia went from being a smiling doofus to being the cocky & arrogant jerk we would all come to know as The Rock. Not only did the wrestlers change, but so did the overall presentation of the show. WWF was edgier. It was harsher, more brash, and quite honestly, it was cooler.
Another one of the major aspects in shaping the Attitude Era came in the form of D-Generation X, a faction led by former fan favorite, Shawn Michaels. Also adopting the more rebellious spirit of the time, Shawn went from being a fan loving good guy that danced around to being a jerk that told fans to "suck it" and make phallic jokes every chance he got. In a sense, both he and Austin were two sides of the same coin as they both represented the spirit of the times, but the key difference is that while Austin exemplified honorable traits like courage & perseverance, Shawn was a back stabbing weasel that escaped every situation by the skin of his teeth.
Both paths to Wrestlemania XIV were distinct. After his gutsy performance against Bret Hart at 13 that put him on the map and coming back from a neck injury (a real one) at the hands of Owen Hart, Austin had won the respect of wrestling fans everywhere. It also helped that the authority he was rebelling against, WWF Chairman Vince McMahon, had become severely hated following The Montreal Screwjob at Survivor Series 1997. After Vince had stripped him of the IC Title, it seemed like Austin would have to win the WWF Title against the blessings of management. His chance came at the 1998 Royal Rumble Match in which Austin was a marked man thanks to his attacks on The Nation of Domination and various other entrants. Austin survived and earned himself a shot at the Championship at Wrestlemania.
While Austin overcame all the odds on his own, Shawn found other ways to succeed. As stated before, Michaels' weaselly nature had led to him walking out on top in some high pressure situations. It was only through Kane's interference that he was able to survive his grueling Hell in a Cell & Casket Matches with Undertaker & he was the beneficiary of The Montreal Screwjob as Shawn walked out with the championship. Both characters were cutting edge for the time, but they were using old school booking techniques to keep them on the right path and it worked rather well. Michaels always won in every cheap fashion imaginable, which built up his heat & credibility as long term champion while Austin, won victories & battles the hard way and earned his way to the title. It was about as flawless as it could be. It also helped that both characters were in of themselves wildly entertaining, so it made for great interactions when it came time to plan Wrestlemania.
However, there was a huge X-Factor in this storyline and it was none other than "Iron" Mike Tyson. The most controversial figure in sports at the time was a perfect fit for Attitude Era WWF. I would argue that his inclusion was the single greatest use of an outside personality in the history of wrestling. The segment where he was brought out on Raw only to have a massive & intense showdown with Steve Austin was simply perfect. This storyline found itself a huge selling point and combustible element. As the weeks rolled on it was announced that Mike Tyson would be the guest enforcer for the championship match at Wrestlemania. However, it was not long after that it was revealed that Mike Tyson had actually joined up with DX & aligned with Shawn Michaels. If the main event to Wrestlemania wasn't red hot before, it certainly was at this point because now it seemed Austin would have to contend with not only DX, but The Baddest Man on the Planet to win his first championship.
What happened at Wrestlemania XIV was just one of those perfect moments where the stars aligned, all the right elements fell into place, and everything was executed perfectly. You had a perfectly booked babyface & a perfectly booked heel that were cutting edge, interesting, and engaging. You had an additional element in Mike Tyson and all the media buzz he brought with him, and it all combined to make one of the biggest Wrestlemania main events of all time. The match itself delivered as Austin won & began "The Austin Era", cementing his spot as the biggest star in wrestling. Michaels, who suffered a severe back injury a couple months earlier, would take over four years off from the ring before his eventual return, but had this been the end of Michaels' career, it actually would have been at least an exciting way to end it. I also felt like this storyline brought the magic back to Wrestlemania as it had faded significantly throughout the 90s, and I would argue that the WWE is still running off the success from this show as everything only got bigger and better from there.
2) The Match of the Century (Wrestlemania III)
This was it. This was the rivalry that made Wrestlemania, the WWF/E, and Professional Wrestling in general larger than life. What they were able to accomplish with this storyline would serve as the blueprint for how to build main event match ups in the future. How do you do a best friends turned enemies storyline? Look to Hogan/Andre as they did it perfectly. How do you set up a match where a dominate champion is given the greatest challenge of his life? Look to Hogan Vs. Andre, because it was flawless. How do you make a main event feel likes it is can't miss & an event that is larger than life? Again, look to Hogan/Andre because there was none bigger or more important.
The real genesis for the Hogan Vs. Andre Wrestlemania III encounter began with Hogan's championship victory in 1983, three years before their classic battle. When Hogan defeated The Iron Sheik, Andre was among the first to congratulate him, and it was understood from then on that Hogan & Andre were best of friends. Whenever one of them needed help, they could always count on each other to fill in as tag team partner or back up when facing insurmountable odds.
Hogan held the championship for over three years and survived every opponent placed in front of him including Roddy Piper, King Kong Bundy, Randy Savage, Big John Studd, Paul Orndorff, & everyone in between. His popularity and fame helped take the WWF to heights and national fame it had never seen before. There was no question that Hulk Hogan was the poster boy for the company, but what about Andre? Andre had been dominate throughout his time in wrestling to the point that the WWF said that he had been unbeaten for 15 years (which apparently wasn't true, but whatever, people bought it). And Andre himself had been a star attraction for wrestling and had gained world wide fame & recognition before Hogan did. So why did he never get a title shot?
By the time 1987 rolled around, Andre's jealousy started to show in small ways. The story unfolded on segments of Piper's Pit as Hogan was awarded a trophy to commemorate his three years as champion. Later, Andre was awarded a trophy to commemorate his undefeated streak, but was visibly unhappy to share the spotlight with his friend Hulk Hogan. When he stormed off the set, it was obvious that there were problems between the two.
I should also note that using Roddy Piper's Piper's Pit as the site for this story was perfect. Piper had been a part of some of the most high profile moments during the "Rock & Wrestling" era, especially in building the first two Wrestlemanias. Having him involved just magnified the story that much more. Eventually, it came down to one fateful Piper's Pit where Hogan & Andre agreed to meet face to face only for Andre the come out with Bobby "The Brain" Heenan by his side. The villainous manager announced that he was now managing Andre's career and stated that Hogan used his power to hold Andre down and only kept Andre as a friend so that he would never have to face him. Andre's jealousy had spilled over and caused him to reject his image as a role model. Hogan's pleas that it was Andre who taught him how to be a good role model & representative for the fans fell on deaf ears as Andre demanded a championship match with Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania. In probably the most iconic moment of the build up, Andre then tore the stunned Hogan's shirt & crucifix off and threw them on the ground. Hogan's chest had been scraped as blood dripped down his chest & tears came from his eyes. It was a powerful & symbolic moment that was just perfect on so many levels. But of course, Hogan agreed to the match and the biggest main event of all time was in place.
Like I said earlier, this storyline served as a blueprint for many build ups throughout the years, as there were a lot of firsts. I tried to find other examples, but Hogan Vs. Andre was the earliest example I could find of a contract signing in wrestling. Nowadays it happens so frequently that its pretty much a cliche, but here, it only added to the realism & gravity of what was being presented. It might not have been the first contract signing, but it was the one that made contract signings a stand by for TV segments in building feuds. You had a dominate champion that had held the title for over 3 years taking on a man much larger than him that was billed as having never been beaten. Gorilla Monsoon's comments of "The Irresistible Force Meeting the Immovable Object" was never more appropriate. It was even announced that a new Championship belt was being made to accommodate for Andre's size and it was interesting hear those kind of elements being brought & questions addressed. It demonstrated the confidence of Andre who was definitely planning on having that championship.
It is common now at Wrestlemania to take the two biggest stars that can be offered and putting them together in a match. WWE is doing it this year with Rock & Cena. Well, the first time that was done was here, Hogan Vs. Andre. They had two truly larger than life icons of Wrestling, the two biggest at that point in time, and it was the ultimate match that could be offered as it seemed impossible for either man to lose based on how they'd been presented. It was just the perfect combination of sports logic, great booking, & a personal animosity that made sense for it all to combine together to create a glorious situation. As the build up continued, the story became how could Hogan defeat someone as massive as Andre? Yes he had success against the likes of King Kong Bundy & Big John Studd, but neither man was as big as Andre. Could Hogan slam him? Could Hogan even move him? All these questions only served to make the match that much more interesting and come show time, it was worth every cent just to find out what was going to happen.
What did happen at Wrestlemania III was one of the most legendary matches of all time. What both men lacked in athletic gifts, they made up for in being able to capture atmosphere and big moments, particularly that now famous moment where Hulk Hogan body slammed Andre the Giant in front of a reported 93,000 fans in attendance. It was a moment that was arguably the greatest the art form of Wrestling has ever produced and it all made possible by a brilliantly told storyline. Some have said that was the day Hulkamania became Immortal, & I look at it as the greatest accomplishment for both Hogan & Andre. Wrestlemania may have been born in 1985, but it came to life in 1987, and we can thank this match and this storyline for it.
1) The Undertaker: Undefeated at Wrestlemania (Wrestlemanias VII, VIII, IX, XI, XII, 13, XIV, XV, X-Seven, X8, XIX, XX, 21, 22, 23, XXIV, XXV, XXVI, XXVII)
When The Undertaker, a relative newcomer, delivered the Tombstone to "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka at Wrestlemania VII, there was no way that those within the WWF/E or any wrestling fan could have predicted what The Undertaker's Career & Wrestlemania Legacy would become. Simply known as "The Streak", The Undertaker's unbeaten record at Wrestlemania has been a symbol of Undertaker's dominance and an expected grand attraction for Wrestlemania.
Even the years where the build up to a particular match was underwhelming, it was still a part of a much bigger picture. For over two decades, The Undertaker has gone into Wrestlemania and with every victory added to the record, it becomes a much grander and more powerful storyline. Interestingly, the Streak hadn't even become a story point until his 9th Wrestlemania match. It took nine entries before the WWF/E even realized that there in the midst of something special.
It becomes a bigger discussion every year. Will anyone ever end the Streak? Will Undertaker retired unbeaten at Wrestlemania? Should WWE ever consider ending it and trying to make a new star out of it? I've personally made the comment that defeating The Undertaker at Wrestlemania would mean more than winning a World Championship at this point. Now part of that is because of how devalued Championships have become in recent years, but the other part of that is that you have two decades of build up & credibility put into The Streak and to transfer that over to the superstar that gets that huge win would be an instant star maker (or at least should be).
Through 19 Wrestlemania matches, The Undertaker has had some great personal rivalries that, had I given them separate entries, would have been more than worthy of a place in this list. To highlight those specific examples, my personal favorite was his feud with Kane heading into Wrestlemania XIV. It had the personal brother vs. brother element akin to Bret Vs. Owen, but elevated and more other worldly given the nature of the characters involved. For the first time since the creation of The Undertaker character, we actually got some background information about him. His parents were killed in a fire that may or may not have been Undertaker's own fault. His long lost brother Kane had been raised in an asylum and spent 20 years living with the scars of being in the fire and a deep loathing of his brother. It was a crazy storyline, but one that was deeply personal & well handled.
Everything kick started when Kane eventually arrived after months of hype. In one of the most memorable debuts ever, Kane interfered in the first Hell in a Cell Match and ripped the door off its hinges to attack Undertaker and cost him the match. The Kane character in its early stages had a presentation that was comparable to Jason Voorhees and it was a very unique & well handled character. He was silent, nobody could hurt him, he had a cool looking mask, he was huge, and he was like a force of nature that could destroy anything in his path. It was one of the few times in his whole career that it felt like The Undertaker had no chance of winning when they eventually did face off. In an amazing display of patience on WWF's part, they kept Undertaker & Kane apart from each other by having Taker state that he would never fight his own brother. After months of destroying superstars left & right, Kane finally pushed Taker over the edge at the Royal Rumble when he locked him in a Casket & set it on fire! There were many shocking moments & visuals in the build up to this match and it was, to me, the best of Undertaker's Wrestlemania feuds.
Taker would face Kane again at Wrestlemania XX. That feud was nowhere near as strong as their earlier storyline in 98. The Kane character in particular was nowhere near as interesting (an unmasked, bald, speaking, non-burned Kane...yeah, lame). However, it was the return of The Dead Man Undertaker presentation after years of watching him as a Motorcycle riding American Bad Ass. All the signs of Taker coming back as The Lord of Darkness were growing as the weeks went on. The lights would go out. The Gong would sound. The video packages showcased graveyards, crosses, & every other symbol associated with the original Undertaker. The building of anticipation for the return of Undertaker to his roots made it exciting, and a perfect attraction for the Wrestlemania where "it All Begins Again".
That's not to say Taker hasn't had other great Mania build ups with others besides Kane. I also really enjoyed his feud with Triple H at X-Seven. For that one, Undertaker was in the American Bad Ass character. What made this one work so well though was that it was a great Attitude Era pairing that we hadn't seen before. What would happen if The Game, the man who dominated the WWF in 2000 went up against the biggest main stay for a decade? The part of it that I really liked was Stephanie McMahon putting a restraining order on Taker to protect her husband. On the flip side, Taker had been on the receiving end of some violent sneak attacks by Triple H. By the time Mania rolled around, a violent reaction from Taker & a wild match was almost guaranteed. This was one of the few cases where a one month build up actually worked just as well as a long term one given how strong both characters were & how well established they were by that point.
Another one of my favorites was his feud with Randy Orton heading into Wrestlemania 21. Randy's face turn hadn't worked out well, so it was time to get a return of The Legend Killer as he decided to take on the greatest of all legends at Wrestlemania. I'll be honest, this was the last time I truly felt like the Streak was in jeopardy of ending. Orton was a young talent that the WWE wanted to push up to the main event, and like I said, there probably is no bigger win to give than a win over Taker at Wrestlemania. It stars seemed to be in place for the Streak to finally end. That didn't happen, but at the time, the likelihood of that outcome made the feud very interesting, and it was fascinating to see a young talent constantly outsmart & disrespect The Dead Man the way Orton did.
And the last few entries of The Streak have had The Undertaker taking on the two most prominent members of The Kliq, Shawn Michaels & Triple H. What has really been brilliant here is how great every match has set up the next one from year to year. The build up to the original Wrestlemania XXV Match between Undertaker & Shawn Michaels wasn't much to remember on its own, but the match itself was the starting point of what would carry over into Taker's next few Mania wars. After losing to Undertaker at XXV, Shawn spent an entire year waiting to challenge The Undertaker again. His growing frustrations & questions of whether or not he could defeat The Undertaker led to him deciding to put his Career on the line in order to get his rematch. The stakes got raised in a big way and the match at Wrestlemania XXVI was now much bigger than a battle between legends. Once again, Shawn lost and his career was ended. That then carried over into the next year where Triple H decided that he wanted to avenge his best friend and try to end the Streak himself. That personal element and carry over from the previous two entries made that match seem big as well and its amazing to see how they are still getting mileage out of The Undertaker working with Triple H & Shawn Michaels.
But with all the great individual feuds that The Undertaker has had, they were all chapters in a much larger story and an example of the greatness the WWE has gotten out of sticking with something for two decades. Undertaker's Legacy is defined most by the Streak and one can only wonder where it will go from where it is now and how much more they will try to get out of it in the future.
Recapped Short List
28) Warrior vs. Rude (V)
27) Hogan Vs. Slaughter (VII)
26) Big Show Vs. Mayweather (XXIV)
25) Michaels Vs. Angle (21)
24) DiBiase Vs. Virgil (VII)
23) Piper Vs. Adonis (III)
22) E/C Vs. Hardys Vs. Dudleys (2000 & X-Seven)
21) HHH Vs. HBK Vs. Benoit (XX)
20) X-Pac Vs. Shane-O-Mac (XV)
19) Hogan/Mr. T Vs. Piper/Orndorff (1)
18) Roberts Vs. Martel (VII)
17) Trish Vs. Mickie (22)
16) DiBiase Vs. Roberts (VI)
15) Hart Vs. Austin (13)
14) Savage Vs. Flair (VIII)
13) HBK Vs. Y2J (XIX)
12) Foley Vs. Orton (XX)
11) HBK Vs. Razor (X)
10) Warrior Vs. Savage (VII)
9) Bret Vs. Owen (X)
8) Savage as IC Champion (2 & III)
7) Hogan Vs. Warrior (VI)
6) Hogan Vs. Savage (V)
5) Setting Up The Tournament (IV)
4) Rock Vs. Austin Trilogy (XV, X-Seven, & XIX)
3) Austin Vs. HBK (XIV)
2) Hogan Vs. Andre (III)
1) Undertaker: The Streak (19-0)