(Correction: While working on an upcoming post ranking all the previous WrestleManias, I remembered that one other 'Mania ended in a match that did not feature the world champion. At 1992's WrestleMania VIII, Hulk Hogan wrestled Sid in the main event, while the world title was defended in the middle of the card in a match between Ric Flair and Randy Savage.)
It’s an incredibly important decision that can sometimes make the difference between whether WrestleMania ends on a high note, or with a thud. And it’s one that’s been made incorrectly too many times.
What match should go on last at WrestleMania?
Years ago, the answer to this question was a simple one – the world title match. Except for WrestleMania XI, which closed with the publicity-stunt match up between NFL great Lawrence Taylor and Bam Bam Bigelow, and WrestleMania VIII, which closed with Hulk Hogan's alleged retirement match, all WrestleManias have closed in a match featuring a world champion. (Incidentally, the inaugural WrestleMania in 1985 was the only one in which a world title was not defended.)
Things got a little more complicated after WWE created a second world title in 2002 - making it harder to decide which brand’s world title should be defended in the true main event slot. Not surprisingly, a world title match featuring Raw brand talent has closed out the big show on five of the last seven years.
But while the rule of thumb may be that a world title match should go in the main event position, there are certainly exceptions to the rule – although sometimes those exceptions are only apparent in hindsight.
At 2002’s WrestleMania X8, the dream match between Hulk Hogan and the Rock blew the roof off the building like no other match since Hogan-Andre. Chris Jericho and Triple H had a hard time following that act. They put forth a solid effort, but it played before a largely dead crowd. I was in the building and remember watching fans leaving in droves while the bout was still going on.
Seven years later, Triple-H once again found his main event world title victory overshadowed by an epic “mid-card” match at last year's WrestleMania 25. Triple-H referenced not being able to follow the legendary battle between Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker when he presented Michaels with the Slammy last year for best match. There was some truth to what Triple-H said, but the fact is that John Cena, Edge and the Big Show got a fine reaction for their world title match at WM25, which also followed Taker-Michaels 1. The difference was that they actually put on a good match, unlike Triple-H and Randy Orton.
An argument could even be made that Ric Flair’s “career-ending” match against Shawn Michaels should have closed out WrestleMania XXIV a year earlier. The crowd was still hot for the great Undertaker-Edge match that went on last, but in the end, it was Flair’s emotional farewell – and not Taker’s title victory – that the show is remembered for.
And just over a week away from this year’s big show, there may be more options than ever for the main event position – if only because Triple-H is not in a potential main event match.
John Cena remains, by far, WWE’s biggest attraction, and it’s always a good bet to close out a show with your number one babyface celebrating a world title victory. So Cena’s match with Batista may be the front runner for the slot.
No match has more history or that “I never thought I’d see the day”-vibe than Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon. But both men are in no condition to deliver a real match and fans have not responded to the hype as well as WWE may have hoped.
The other world title match featuring Edge and Chris Jericho may not have the gravitas or star power of the night’s other big matches, but closing the show with it may send a signal that WWE is serious about making Edge the top babyface of the Smackdown brand.
But I think it’s clear what the night’s real main event is. Next Sunday, WWE gets a second chance at featuring what will likely be the best match of the year – and, dare I say, WrestleMania history? – in the most important slot of the most important show of the year. And I bet this time WWE makes the right call.