A truly great wrestling match must take into account the following:
. The stakes: Something big should be on the line, whether it’s a title, a career, or a major rivalry.
. The stage: The bigger the show, the bigger the match. It’s why you might be able to, right off the top of your head, remember the main events for the last three WrestleManias, but not the last three Smackdowns. Venue and production value also play an important role here too.
. The workrate: A match can be memorable without great athleticism (see Hogan-Rock or Hogan-Andre), but good action is necessary to keep fans entertained.
. The crowd: A hot crowd can make a good match into a great one. Adversely, a dead crowd can make a well-worked match fall flat. It doesn’t matter how hard you work in the ring, if the fans aren’t emotionally invested in your storyline it won’t much matter.
. The starpower: For better or for worse, a match involving the likes of Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin or the Rock will always mean more than one involving Matt Hardy.
. Its place in history: Some matches that may have seemed great at the time (the countless Hardys-Dudleys-Edge & Christian spot fests of the early 2000s) don’t hold up well over time. But everyone still remembers Steve Austin passing out in a pool of blood at WrestleMania 13.
And so, with that in mind, here’s my list of the top 10 WrestleMania matches of all time:
1. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, WrestleMania 25, 2009 – This match had a heaping dose of each of the above ingredients. Heck, it even took place in the home state of both men. An absolute masterpiece of a wrestling match delivered by two of the sport’s greatest legends. If anyone ever questions why you’re a wrestling fan, play this match.
2. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin, WrestleMania 13, 1997 – This match wasn’t even supposed to happen, but was thrown together at the last minute when Michaels had to pull out of the show. The submission match ended up being one of the most dramatic bouts in wrestling history.
3. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair, WrestleMania XXIV, 2008 – The drama in this match was about more than the storyline that built up to it. It was about watching a nearly 60-year-old Ric Flair do his damnest in his “last match” to prove he was the greatest wrestler in history, and along the way pass the torch to the man who may give him a run for his money for that distinction.
4. Steve Austin vs. The Rock, WrestleMania XIX, 2003 – The final chapter of their fantastic WrestleMania trilogy may not have had the best in-ring work, but it was by far the most compelling. And, like Flair-Michaels, what made it work was the real storyline behind the scripted one.
5. The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan, WrestleMania VI, 1990 – In front of nearly 70,000 fans, two unthinkable things happened. 1. Hulk Hogan lost the world title clean to another babyface. 2. Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior had a really good match. Hogan's embrace with the Warrior is one of WrestleMania's most lasting images.
6. Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage, WrestleMania III, 1987 – If this exact same match was put on today, it would be nothing special. But in the WWE of 1987, where workrate wa sa four-letter word, what these two pulled off was unlike anything WWE fans were getting at the time.
7. Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon, WrestleMania X, 1994 – Similarly, the action in this match could hardly compare with the kind of stunts we’ve seen in the hundreds of other ladder matches that have followed it. But this one paved the way for all the others, and at the time, was nothing short of groundbreaking.
8. The Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage, WrestleMania VII, 1991 – The stakes could not get any higher in this career vs. career match. Ever the workman, Savage carried Warrior to the match of his career. And the Savage-Elizabeth reunion angle that followed made it all the more memorable.
9. Steve Austin vs. The Rock: WrestleMania X-Seven, 2001 – Probably the best worked of their three Mania matches, this bout included lots of edge-of-your seat action. The sight of Austin forming an alliance with McMahon at the end was special for the time, although that angle went on to be entirely forgettable.
10. Chris Benoit vs. Triple-H vs. Shawn Michaels, WrestleMania XX, 2004 – A beautifully worked match that was intended to showcase Benoit as the future of WWE. Sadly, it’s remembered largely for morbid reasons.
Honorable mentions: Piper-Hart at Mania VIII, Michaels-Angle at WrestleMania 21, Hogan-Savage at Mania V, Savage-Flair at Mania VIII, Batista-Taker at Mania 23
Consider this: In five days, the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels will go out to the ring with the lofty goal of topping this list. And they very well may do that.