It’s that time of year when WWE programming is officially declared as being “on the road to WrestleMania!” This year, WrestleMania will be on April 6th and the main event will likely be a triple-threat match consisting of WWE Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton, Batista, and Daniel Bryan. I say “will likely be” because technically Bryan needs to defeat Triple H in a one-on-one contest earlier in the card to secure his spot in the main event, which feels like a certainty considering the hostile crowd reactions of late towards the original main event of Orton and Batista. No matter who is in the main event, this WrestleMania will be historic for the simple fact that it’s WrestleMania XXX. Back in 1984 when the first WrestleMania hit pay-per-view it was considered a huge gamble for the then World Wrestling Federation. The fact that we’re approaching the 30th edition of this event is remarkable.
WrestleMania is the big one. For the WWE, it’s the Superbowl of professional wrestling. And as we’ve learned over the years, just because the Superbowl contains the top two teams in the NFL each year, it doesn’t mean we’re about to see the best game of the year. WrestleMania, and its main event in particular, is guilty of that same phenomenon. WrestleMania has been host to some of the best matches in professional wrestling history, some of which have been main event matches, but there have been a whole host of bad ones too. The early events are particularly guilty of this as the main event was dominated by Hulk Hogan. Hogan is arguably the most popular wrestler in history. Kids loved him because he was basically a super hero in the ring, but from a wrestling perspective he was awful. His arsenal of moves was pedestrian and his no-sell antics were cartoonish. For wrestling fans, particularly modern ones, his matches are terrible.
Hulk Hogan was involved in some capacity with the WrestleMania main event a record nine times, all of which occurred within the first nine WrestleManias. WrestleMania IV was the only one he did not compete in, while WrestleMania IX was billed as Bret Hart versus Yokozuna, only for an impromptu match between Hogan and Yokozuna to come together after the fact (it lasted for all of a minute). And in those eight matches Hogan participated in, he only would lose one. Yes, Hogan dominated the early period of WrestleMania. Since his departure, other wrestlers have come close to matching the amount of main events that Hogan amassed. Triple H has logged six main event appearances while Shawn Michaels has managed five. John Cena, who currently is very much active in the WWE and not likely to quit anytime soon, has also managed five giving him a legit shot at matching, or even surpassing, Hulk Hogan for main event appearances.
Hulk Hogan was synonymous with WrestleMania for the better part of its first decade.
As far as the WWE is concerned, Cena or Triple H probably already holds the record. That’s because the WWE often likes to declare multiple main events for WrestleMania (which is why when discussing Stone Cold and the Rock you will often hear it said that Austin vs Rock is the only match to be included in the main event three times at WrestleMania, even though it was the final match of the night only twice). As far as I’m concerned, the main event is a singular phrase, and therefore, there can be only one per card. For this feature, I’ve decided to rank the final matches on each WrestleMania card one through twenty-nine to name a best match. It should be said that a list of the twenty-nine best WrestleMania matches would likely look very different. After all, some of the most talked-about matches in the history of the event did not occur in the main event. I’m talking about matches like Steamboat vs Savage, Undertaker vs HBK, or any of the many ladder matches that have taken place over the years at WrestleMania. Coming up with the thirty or so best matches would just be too daunting a task for me, but with the help of the brand new WWE Network, revisiting and ranking the best main events is a task I think I can handle.
29. Lawrence Taylor vs Bam Bam Bigelow (WrestleMania XI)
When it comes to WrestleMania, one thing fans are certainly assured of is a celebrity appearance or two. Vince McMahon seems to love it when he can get a celebrity to participate in his events as a way of legitimizing what the WWE does, even if most of these appearances are looked-down upon by his hardcore fan base. This trend began with the very first WrestleMania and continues today. When a celebrity takes on the form of a guest ring announcer or valet most fans can excuse it, but when they get in the ring? And when that celebrity is in the main event?! It’s nothing short of awful. To his credit, professional football player Lawrence Taylor doesn’t embarrass himself in the ring against Bam Bam Bigelow, but the two hardly put on on a match worthy of occupying any main event, let alone the main event at WrestleMania.
28. Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. Wonderful Paul Orndorff (WrestleMania)
The very first WrestleMania was the riskiest, and to make sure the event was a success, McMahon recruited any celebrity he could and even found one to include in the main event. Mr. T, star of The A-Team, made numerous appearances for the WWF and was able to attract a lot of attention from the mainstream media. Piper was able to get legitimate heat and people genuinely wanted to see Hogan and Mr. T kick he and Paul Orndorff’s ass. The crowd was into it, which is the only good thing I can say about this main event. Other than that, it’s awful. Mr. T looks the part of a wrestler when he’s standing still, but when he tries to get involved he’s sloppy and out of place. The other guys are unable to direct him and coach him to a decent match. Hogan and T come out on top, but it’s not a fun ride getting to the finish.
Hulk Hogan vs King Kon Bundy at WrestleMania 2 has never been confused with a “classic” Mania match.
27. Hulk Hogan vs King Kong Bundy (WrestleMania 2)
It’s somewhat surprising that WrestleMania has been the success that it is considering two of the first three matches on my list are occupied by the first two WrestleMania main events. Hogan was able to avoid being in, what I consider, the worst main event in WrestleMania history, but the next few spots aren’t going to be too kind to the Hulkster. This match appears in this spot not because it’s awful, but mostly because it’s so uneventful. It took place in a steel cage and I can’t decide if that helped or hurt it as it limited what the already limited competitors were able to do. Bundy was a mountain of a man whose size limited what Hogan could do to him. He was also too big to scale the cage walls, not that he and Hogan were likely to orchestrate a big spot from up high even if he could. At least Hogan won by going over the cage instead of out the door, because it always sucks when a cage match ends without someone at least climbing over it.
26. Hulk Hogan vs Sid Justice (WrestleMania VIII)
If you wanted to find a silver lining for the previous match, at least it was for the WWF Championship so that gives it some buzz. This match between Hogan and Sid Justice was a non-title match, but the fans didn’t seem to care as they were pretty loud and solidly behind the Hulkster. Sid is about as limited in the ring as Hogan, and when two big men with limited arsenals clash there just isn’t much room for a good match. By now, Hulkamania was nearing its expiration date and the Hogan formula was well-established which meant there were no surprises, aside from the match ending in a DQ victory for Hogan. This was a pointless main event at a forgettable WrestleMania.
25. Hulk Hogan vs Sgt. Slaughter (WrestleMania VII)
The main event for WrestleMania VII was supposed to mirror the conflict in Operation Desert Storm with the American aligned Hulk Hogan taking on the champion and Iraq sympathizer Sergeant Slaughter. Slaughter was portrayed as a turncoat and traitor to America, which helped get the crowd into it. In the ring, it was just another Hogan match where two guys wail on each other for ten minutes or so before Hogan “Hulks up” and takes care of business.
WrestleMania VI was hyped as The Ultimate Challenge by the WWF.
24. Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior (WrestleMania VI)
Some things that seem awesome when you’re a kid appear totally different through the eyes of an adult. By WrestleMania VI, Hulkamania was running wild. The super hero thing was working for Hogan, so why couldn’t it work for someone else? Enter the Ultimate Warrior, who was basically an even more cartoonish version of Hogan. He did everything Hogan did but just seemed crazier and looked more wild with his flowing locks and wild tassels. He was impressive looking to me when I was a kid, but when I look at him now he just looks like a steroid junkie. In the ring, he was arguably worse than Hogan as his arsenal consisted of clotheslines, shoulder tackles, and slams with the guerrilla press followed by a running splash being his version of Hogan’s big boot and leg drop. He would even “Hulk-up” like Hogan, often running in place or grabbing the ropes for power, according to the announcers. The whole show of the Warrior was ridiculous, and it’s no surprise he didn’t have the lasting power that Hogan did. This match is now mostly just notable for being the only time Hogan lossed clean as a baby-face to someone. Considering how much of a rip-off the Warrior was, it’s almost shocking that Hogan agreed to it. The match itself is terrible, with Hogan either teasing a heel turn at one point or just plain forgetting that he was supposed to sell a leg injury. Warrior even botches the press slam, but at least his splash looked okay.
23. Brett “The Hitman” Hart vs Yokozuna (WrestleMania IX)
Vince McMahon, and the rest of the wrestling industry, seems to love big men. They’re viewed as attractions on their own and usually don’t even need an interesting opponent to be a draw. Unfortunately, they’re also usually terrible in the ring due to their size. Yokozuna is one such big man. Billed as over 500 pounds, he’s every bit that and more. He was supposed to be a sumo wrestler, though like most gimmicks, this was untrue but it didn’t matter because he looked the part. He was huge and fat, and as a result, he couldn’t do much in the ring, and when he did, he became winded pretty quickly. Brett Hart, one of the all-time great technical wrestlers, deserved better for his first WrestleMania main event. Hart’s the type of performer that can elevate a poor opponent, but there was no elevating Yokozuna. You either liked the spectacle or did not. I did not, and this match is a series of clotheslines and rest holds. Hart did manage to apply the sharpshooter, though it was kind of silly looking. After the match ended in a Yokozuna victory, his manager Mr. Fuji quickly challenged Hogan to a match that the Hulkster would win in less than a minute. This ridiculous finish is why I rate this match as slightly worse than the next one…
Yokozuna was a very big man.
22. Brett Hart vs Yokozuna (WrestleMania X)
A rematch of WrestleMania IX, only with the roles reversed with Yokozuna now the defending champion. Both guys had to wrestle a match on the undercard, and the short-of-breath Yokozuna had even less stamina than usual for the main event. This match is actually probably worse than the one at WrestleMania IX, but without the stupid finish. Instead Hart wins and a bunch of wrestlers come out and celebrate with him. Yokozuna, mercifully, never appears in another WrestleMania main event.
21. Triple H vs Randy Orton (WrestleMania XXV)
This was a joyless match. Both guys are solid technical wrestlers, with Triple H probably being the better of the two. Neither guy is so good that on paper this would be expected to be a classic, but a good, solid match was certainly likely. I don’t know why these guys didn’t try to put on a better showing. It was the main event of WrestleMania XXV for crying out loud! Instead, this was a main even fitting of television. They just don’t do anything to make it feel special, and adding to the lack of atmosphere is the fact that the crowd isn’t into it. Both guys immediately blow through their special moves and a lot of the early part of the match consists of both men laying on the canvas. It picks up slightly in the second half, but never to an exciting level. This match just sucks, and for now, is the last main event Triple H has appeared in at WrestleMania.
20. Macho Man Randy Savage vs The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase
Randy Savage spent the better part of the 80’s playing second fiddle to Hulk Hogan, even though he was clearly the superior wrestler. His match with Ricky The Dragon Steamboat at WrestleMania III is one of the all-time classics. Come WrestleMania IV, the WWF finally saw fit to put the strap on him, but of course, Hogan was involved. DiBiase was one of the great workers of his generation and a classic heel. Given different circumstances, these two could have had a great match, but the format for WrestleMania IV was not conducive to that. WrestleMania IV consisted of a tournament for the vacated title (Hogan and André the Giant battled to a double DQ which is why he wasn’t in the main event) which meant both Savage and DiBiase had wrestled multiple times already. As a result, the main event was pretty conventional, with both Hogan and The Giant getting involved on the outside. Savage would get the win with the flying elbow drop, setting the stage for a year-long storyline that would lead into WrestleMania V.