WWE is going out of its way to bill this year’s WrestleMania main event as the biggest match in wrestling history. Considering the legacies of the Rock and John Cena—and the fact that the Rock has not competed in a singles match in nine years, calling the bout “epic” is not an understatement.
But Cena-Rock has some stiff competition for the title of “biggest” WrestleMania match ever. Here’s my top ten list of the most epic of matches on the most epic of shows. Let me emphasize that this is not a list of the best WrestleMania matches, but rather those with the most gravitas, because of the star power of the names involved, the rarity of seeing them pitted against each other, and the overall anticipation to see them clash.
10. Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon, WrestleMania XIX: Obviously, if it had happened 15 years earlier, it would have been a much bigger deal. But, as it was, having the two men largely credited for WWE’s meteoric rise in the 1980s facing off in the ring at Seattle’s Safeco Field was definitely a “never thought I’d see the day” moment.
9. John Cena vs. Batista, WrestleMania XXVI: It’s a real pity that WWE wasted the first-ever battle between these two Superstars a couple years earlier at SummerSlam, because otherwise this match would have had all the makings of a WrestleMania clash for the ages. Cena and Batista both joined the WWE in 2002, and both won their first world title on the very same night. In Glendale, AZ in 2009, their parallel paths intersected on the biggest stage of all.
8. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels, WrestleMania XII: In 1996, WWE was struggling to hold on to its audience without the star power of Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage, and with a shallow roster filled with cartoon gimmicks. But it had one ace up its sleeve: Pitting the two men widely considered the very best wrestlers in the world against each other in a 60-minute Ironman match. I’ve always thought the match itself was somewhat overrated, but for fans of in-ring action, just the thought of these two locking up gave us chills.
7. The Undertaker vs. Triple-H, WrestleMania XXVII: It’s true that, not only had these two men wrestled each other, they had done so at WrestleMania ten years earlier. But a lot changed over that decade. The Undertaker’s streak became the single most valuable commodity in all of wrestling. And, more than just a main event star, Triple-H became one of the most powerful men in the business, and the heir-apparent to Vince McMahon. Could he be so bold as to book himself to end the streak? That question was a major selling point for 2011’s edition of WrestleMania.
6. Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Savage, WrestleMania V: The Macho Man and the Hulkster had battled dozens of times before in previous feuds, but the stakes were never higher than at WrestleMania V. A year earlier, the two joined forces when Hogan aided Savage in winning the world title. A year later “The Megapowers” exploded, and the WWE world title—and the lovely Miss Elizabeth—were caught in the middle.
5. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, The 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania: Considering the combined 40 years that they had in the WWE, it was pretty amazing how little the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had wrestled each other during their careers. But for a four-month feud between 1997 and 1998, the two WWE legends paths had not crossed each other. So when they finally did in 2009—in both men’s home state and with the precious “streak” on the line, it didn’t get any bigger. Jim Ross accurately described the meeting as wrestling “heaven.”
4. The Rock vs. Steve Austin, WrestleMania X-Seven: Not only had The Rock and Steve Austin squared off once before at WrestleMania in 1999, but they would do so again once more in 2003. Still, never did the pairing of two of the biggest stars in the history of wrestling feel like a bigger deal than in 2001, when both were, arguably, at the height of their popularity and in front of 75,000 rabid Houston fans.
3. Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior, WrestleMania VI: It was this simple: Hulk Hogan was the man. He had been the man for many years, and the thought of anybody overthrowing him as the man was nearly unthinkable. And then came The Ultimate Warrior—a young, energetic, colorful personality whose popularity gave Hulk Hogan’s a run for its money. Both Hogan’s world title and the Warrior’s Intercontinental title were on the line in Skydome, and it was hard to believe that either of them could lose. And that’s what “dream matches” are made of.
2. Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock, WrestleMania X-8: Ten years later, I still have never experienced a louder, more electric crowd than in Skydome for this monumental clash of two of the biggest stars—and greatest showmen— the business ever produced. And even if you didn’t care about “Hollywood” Hogan in 2002, it was impossible not to get caught up in the return of Hulkamania on that one, magical night.
1. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant, WrestleMania III: A quarter-century later, Hogan-Andre remains the bar that every big match aspires to reach. What’s amazing is how simple the booking behind this bout was. Hogan was the top star. His best friend, Andre—overcome by jealously—turned on him. The WWE claimed Andre had never been bodyslammed, and hadn’t been beaten in 15 years (Nevermind that Hogan did both those things just four years earlier.) Could Hogan possibly slay the Giant? A jam-packed Silverdome—and about a million fans watching around the world—couldn’t wait to find out.