Since lists seem to go over pretty well, and it is the time of year where WrestleMania looms large, I’ve decided the tackle the history of the biggest show of the year and break down their pecking order. Obviously there are lots of factors that go into a list like this. Match quality, build-up quality, historical significance, critical and artistic success or failure, as well as pesky outside influences like nostalgia, have all played key parts in the decision making. Rather than simply run the list, I’ve grouped them into grades and ranked them from there, from worst to first; makes for an easier list to digest, as well as putting a definitive stamp on its true place in history. So without further ado…
#30 – WrestleMania 9 (1993)
The F stands for “Fuck You, Bret Hart”
Funnily enough, the show that first hooked me to be a wrestling fan, but nevertheless, I am able to take the rose-tinted glasses off long enough to make a sound judgment on it. Roster depth was almost at an all-time low here (see #29 for that), the matches and feuds seemed to lack tangible depth, and Yokozuna Vs. Bret Hart for the WWF Title was the weakest main event in Mania history on paper going in. But despite low expectations, this show was not to be denied, and successfully soared beneath them. Not only were a number of matches as captivating as watching flies fuck (looking at you Razor/Backlund, Taker/Gonzalez and Maniacs/Money Inc), but the booking was absolutely putrid.
In late 1992, Bret Hart was given the WWF Title because they needed a likeable guy to push as a new star, one that didn’t reek of steroids and scandal. Bret was absolutely the guy for the job, and while growing pains were inevitable, he was the guy for the foreseeable future. In his first Mania as the top guy and the future of the company, he is beaten by Yokozuna and treated like a midcard geek as Hulk Hogan moonwalks his way to WWF Title number 5, beating Yoko in seconds in an impromptu match. To hell with the last six months of hard work attempting to move forward, Hulk is back. Time told the story – Hogan wasn’t the answer to the WWF’s problems, and was out of the company a few months later, while massive damage was done to Bret Hart, who, surprise surprise, turned out to be the future face of the company after all, only with a clipped wing thanks to this short-sighted fiasco. People today can easily relate by envisioning John Cena in the role of Hogan, and Reigns or Bryan filling Bret Hart’s shoes, only this was significantly worse because Hogan’s time as difference maker on top was over in the WWF.
Michaels/Tatanka was a good opener, Steiner/Headshrinkers was fine, Crush/Doink was decent (personally dig heel Doink), and Perfect/Luger was underwhelming. But between the general feeling of mediocrity throughout, a parade of cheap or non-finishes, and the Hogan atrocity, this is the worst. The Caesar’s Palace setting is cool and I enjoyed the announcing team of JR, Heenan and Savage more than most, so props to them.
#29 – WrestleMania 11 (1995)
The F stands for “Football Player Beats Wrestler”
1995 is the all-time low point for the WWF. Diesel had just been crowned champion, and needed all the help in the world to be protected. Instead he was the top guy on possibly the weakest roster in company history, and didn’t even main event Mania as champion. Instead, Lawrence Taylor, an NFL legend who was on the downside of his athletic career and reputation, was brought in for a good angle at the Royal Rumble with Bam Bam Bigelow, and a main event match here. Given the tenor of the times, the use of Taylor reeked of absolute desperation, and in a big indictment of the product, he was put over Bam Bam Bigelow in the main event. Instead of this being a great celebrity rub as we’ve seen in certain cases, this pretty much killed Bigelow’s career, and he ended up out of the company by December. The match itself, and the intro by Salt N Pepa, was a hell of an effort, and LT does deserve to be commended for taking it seriously.
The other big celebrity involvement was Pamela Anderson, who led Diesel down to the ring for his title defence against Shawn Michaels in the best match on the show. Despite the Nash megapush, it was Shawn Michaels who earned the fans cheers, as it became apparent that this Diesel as top guy experiment was going to be a challenge. Unfortunately, the dynamic of 7 foot babyface versus cocky heel workhorse felt completely wrong, and didn’t feel worthy of the main event. With these as the top two matches, this show was going to be tough, but the rest of the show blew. Undertaker beat King Kong Bundy in an abysmal match, during Taker’s horrific period of working with every schlub brought into the company. As infuriating as Taker was in his worst periods, the guy does earn sympathy for the amount of shit he’s been fed. Bret Hart Vs. Bob Backlund in an I Quit match was, in Bret’s own words, his worst big show match ever, due to Backlund’s awkward style and Roddy Piper howling like a retard the whole time.
My pick for the most useless tag team of all time, the Harris Brothers, opened the show as the Blu Brothers losing to Davey Boy Smith and Lex “How the mighty have fallen in one year” Luger in a nothing effort, Razor Ramon and Jeff Jarrett go to a pointless non-finish, and Yokozuna and Owen Hart beat the Smoking Gunns for the Tag Titles in a fairly pedestrian encounter. The undercard felt so shallow, and the lack of major league heels with heat in the company shone like a neon light on a dog’s asshole, made worse by the results of this show. As a result, we would look forward to a year of Sid and Mabel main events.
#28 – WrestleMania 4 (1988)
The F stands for “Four Hours of Shit”
First of all, sixteen matches is way too Goddamn many. Especially since none of them are any good. I understand the tournament was a cool idea in theory, but this show feels like such a marathon to sit through, made worse by a crowd that seemed to treat it like I used to treat Geography at school – mild indifference, watching through dead eyes, with the occasional ball scratch to liven the experience. This was the crowning moment for Randy Savage as WWF Champion, and the beginning of the best one year angle in company history. Interestingly, Ted DiBiase was supposed to get the title here, but fate took things in a different direction thanks to, of all people, the Honky Tonk Man. Honky refused to drop the Intercontinental Title to Savage shortly before this show, and as a make good to prevent pissing off the guy who would be the anchor babyface through the summer (as Hogan was leaving to film No Holds Barred), Savage was given the WWF Title instead to do the same feud with DiBiase he was scheduled for anyway. Even more interesting is that the post-WrestleMania house show business with Savage on top was better than it had been for the three previous years with Hogan on top.
I won’t break down match by match, because there are too many and there’s very little to say. The matches were short but somehow still plodding, Steamboat got a raw deal on his way out the company, and the crowd seemed to give up when Hogan and Andre were both eliminated.
Elsewhere, Demolition beat Strike Force to win the WWF Tag Titles in which the crowd the cheered the heels (you could tell which team was cooler from the entrance music alone), Warrior and Hercules stunk it up something rotten, and Bret Hart started a babyface turn attacking Bad News Brown after being double-crossed in the show opening battle royal. Gorilla and Jesse on commentary were tremendous together, Ventura is just so much fun.
#27 – WrestleMania 2 (1986)
The F stands for “Fine, We’ll Do Three”
In response to Jim Crockett doing Starrcade from two locations, ol’ Vinnie Mac decided WrestleMania would take place in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago in an attempt to upstage, and came through with a strong candidate for worst Mania ever. Not only was this show littered with technical errors much like entry #29 on the list, but most of the show is rank. There are two damn good matches with Dream Team Vs. Bulldogs and The Funks Vs. JYD/Santana (a forgotten gem thanks to Terry) that save this from the very depths of the list, but King Kong Bundy pretty much sucked as a challenger for Hogan, and while I didn’t witness this at the time (obviously), I never got the impression that he was all that hot a heel. Granted, that may be because his Mania appearance is sandwiched between white-hot Roddy Piper in 85 and the heel turn of Andre for 87 which did monster business.
1986 was a great year for the WWF, and the company was loaded with talent, but this show just looks like such filler. Mr. T and Roddy Piper had an ugly “boxing” match during which the crowd turned on Mr. T, and the talented workers that would play a pivotal role the following year (Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat and Adrian Adonis) were all stuck against opponents who dragged them down despite their best efforts.
The only other match of note was the Battle Royal, featuring NFL stars such as Refridgerator Perry and Bill Fralic, mixed in with the WWF guys, a pretty novel concept. Still, despite a couple of fun interactions with Perry, who looks like a real megastar with his flabby gut hanging out of his tanktop at one point, it was a vehicle to give a big win to Andre, who was reaching the end of his babyface run and would be very instrumental in next year’s success. Also, the commentary on this show was fuck awful. Nothing more needs to be said about that.
#26 – WrestleMania (1985)
The F stands for “First Time Hogan was in the Match Of The Night”
I’m not sure what people will think of the designation of this show here, but fuck it. Historically speaking, this was the most important show the company ever did, and the final week of build up was so ridiculously good that it not only saved the company from losing their ass, but it gave them the platform from which the next few years of success would develop. Roddy Piper’s performances in the run-up to this show were nothing short of phenomenal, a heel on a different level of anybody of the modern era. The involvement of Mr. T, the hottest television star in America with the A-Team dominating the airwaves and that the general public believed was a legit badass, and Cyndi Lauper bringing the MTV crowd, led to the show that was, to the mainstream, the biggest WrestleMania ever. Nothing since has got as much mainstream attention (14 came close at least), and probably never will. So much of what made it work was novelty – the right thing, in the right place, with the right celebrities, with the right top heel, and the right top babyface, on the right platform at the right time.
With that said, from an artistic standpoint, this show sucks. That’s not looking at things through modern eyes, it’s just a fact. Anything of prominence on this show, from Andre and Studd in the bodyslam challenge to Wendi Richter (with Cyndi Lauper) versus Leilani Kai, was just not good, and the guys on the undercard were either in and out before anything could get going, or didn’t have the goods. Easily the best match on the show in terms of crowd heat and performance is the main event, which featured a cameo from Muhammed Ali as special enforcer, as Hogan and Mr. T beat Piper and Paul Orndorff. Aside from the main event and what this show meant to wrestling, this has absolutely nothing else going for it.
#25 – WrestleMania 15 (1999)
The D stands for “Did You Know Vince Russo Is A Fucking Moron?”
On a different day, I could rank this way lower, and the only thing that saves it from an F Grade is the main event – Austin and Rock, both red-hot, the top two stars in the industry, in their first main event match, in front of a rowdy crowd, hitting a homerun.
Kudos to them for saving this show from landing in the bottom grade. I know people are fond of this time, but if you ever needed proof that Vince Russo couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel, it’s this overbooked sack of shit. Shane/X-Pac is a good match, but its easily marred by Kane/HHH, Tori/Sable, Show/Mankind, and mediocre IC and Hardcore title matches which made no fucking sense, because they switched, for some reason, the Outlaws from their respective matches right before Mania, which ruined the weeks and months of build-up for both. And let’s not forget the worst Hell In A Cell match of all time with Undertaker/Bossman. Elsewhere, Butterbean obliterated Bart Gunn in seconds in a Brawl 4 All match, killing his career, and a makeshift team of Test and D’Lo Brown lost to Owen Hart and Jeff Jarrett in a WWF Tag Title match that nobody could possibly care about.
Big Show turned face, Chyna turned face then heel in the same night which turned heel Kane babyface by proxy (keeping track so far?), and HHH turned heel on X-Pac.
Thank God for Austin and Rock.
#24 – WrestleMania 6 (1990)
The D stands for “Disappointment”
Anybody who loves this show does so for purely nostalgic reasons. Fondly remembered for the ultra-rare face vs. face dynamic of Hulk Hogan Vs. The Ultimate Warrior, the rest of this show consists of every feature match falling way short of expectations, and every other match being a nothing of note glorified squash. Warrior won the WWF Title, and rightly so, in a match that was better than it had any right to be. Hogan had become pretty damn stale by this point, and Warrior was the way to go. But 1990 was not a good year for the WWF, as they’d pretty well stamped every heel they had as far below Hogan and Warrior, and the only fresh hot heel around was Earthquake, who was fed to Hogan instead of Warrior, a decision which ended up dooming the Warrior to an uninteresting title run that was considered a failure by the time it ended. Warrior was stuck in a re-tread feud with Rick Rude, and ended up swimming around with no real issue for most of his run. Reflection on this time period says Warrior flopped on top, but the company itself continued to treat Hogan as the top priority, and the fans could tell. Fast forward one year later, when Hogan got the uninteresting re-tread title challenger (Slaughter) and Warrior got the hot new killer heel (Undertaker), Warrior drew better than Hogan did, in a narrative WWF neglects to tell.
That aside, Jake Roberts Vs. Ted DiBiase was uninteresting, Roddy Piper Vs. Bad News Brown wasn’t close to what was promoted as a wild brawl, and Dusty Rhodes/Sapphire Vs. Savage/Sherri was a total throwaway, memorable only for the sight of Elizabeth doing her best impression of Eddie Murphy’s “white guy dancing” routine at the end. Oh, and Brutus Beefcake was rewarded for knob-slobbering Hulk Hogan by breaking Mr. Perfect’s undefeated streak in an injustice that makes Maradona’s Hand Of God acceptable by comparison. Beyond that, the card was a series of one-sided squashes that just about hold your attention. Had the promoted matches lived up to their potential, this would have scored way higher, just because the main event exceeded expectations, but instead it’s a painful show to watch.
#23 – WrestleMania 5 (1989)
The D stands for “Donald Trump’s Audience Sucks Again”
For the second straight year, Mania was held at Trump Plaza, and much like Mania 4, the crowd really drags this down. Still, this did very well on Pay-Per-View thanks to a glorious storyline where the Mega Powers Exploded, with Randy Savage going heel on Hulk Hogan over Miss Elizabeth, the culmination of months of sideways glances and subtle build that was egged on by the great Jesse Ventura in his role of #1 Hogan Hater. It culminated in this match, another strong effort from Hogan, though you can unquestionably chalk most of it up to Randy Savage. A good match and the end to a fantastic angle.
And much like Mania 4, there were way too many matches. Fourteen of them, to be exact, none of which really had any well-built programs and very little that left any kind of impression, with the exception of Rick Rude’s surprising victory over the Ultimate Warrior in a decent match, although the rematch at Summerslam 89 is miles ahead of it.
Matches with DiBiase/Beefcake, Duggan/Bad News and Jake/Andre all ended in countouts or DQs rendering them pointless. Rockers/Twin Towers was fun, and the Brain Busters/Strike Force was decent. Everything else doesn’t deserve mentioning. Oh, and let’s not forget Piper’s Pit with Morton Downey. They tried. But it sucked a hairy beanbag.
#22 – WrestleMania 29 (2013)
The D stands for “Don’t Take Once In A Lifetime Too Seriously”
It’s hard to rank this one. It was definitely a disappointing show, as while Taker Vs. Punk was a hell of a match, the crowd didn’t seem to really care that much about anything else. Triple H and Brock Lesnar was done solely to allow Hunter to get his win back after losing to Lesnar at Summerslam (and there is no justifiable reason for HHH to ever pin Lesnar on this run, just retarded), and nobody wanted to see that, and so the crowd sat on their hands for the entire match despite a good effort. Ditto the main event, the WWE Title match between The Rock and John Cena, which had a result people didn’t care for, and after so much emotional investment in the first encounter the prior year (which did give them the result they wanted), a lot of fans seemed reserved and more than a little reluctant to support this one live.
Also, the commentary on this show is almost as bad as WrestleMania 2, which is inexcusable because at least that was bad because they had celebrities calling the show – this was Cole, JBL and King, and it seemed as if they had absolutely nothing to say. There are periods in the main event that were screaming for a Jim Ross calling the effort, the fight, the drama, and instead we had absolute dead air. This isn’t fucking tennis, talk you assholes!
Again, the undercard was unmemorable, other than a diabolically bad Mark Henry/Ryback match, but the biggest strike against this show is that the build-up for almost all the main matches was severely lacking going-in. After the incredible hype for Rock Vs. Cena 1, we got a half-assed effort for Part 2, and the crowd reacted accordingly on the night.
#21 – WrestleMania 27 (2011)
The D stands for “Did The Miz Really Headline A Mania?”
The modern equivalent of the old WrestleManias that just don’t do a hell of a lot for anyone. It’s not necessarily that it’s terrible, it is just staggeringly underwhelming. This did mark the return of The Rock as “host”, and was actually a major success on PPV, but even that didn’t really hit the spot, as Rock didn’t have much of a presence on the show beyond opening with a promo and costing John Cena the title in the main event. Before his involvement, Cena Vs. Miz was one of the most painfully poor main events in Mania history. The WWE went into overdrive here, giving Miz a fantastic music video and entrance, and his reactions following this show were that of a superstar. They were actually on their way to getting him over as a top guy. Then they took the title off him two months later and that was the end of that.
There is one great match on the show, as Undertaker Vs. Triple H tore the house down with a fantastic effort. But after that, nothing else on this show is memorable in the slightest. The World Title goes on first (a massive pet peeve of mine) and just serves to get Edge/Del Rio out the way. The only other match of note was Jerry Lawler Vs. Michael Cole, in what should have been the blowoff to what was actually the best built up match on the entire card. Instead, they got too cute with this, the match was a disaster as it went too long and was way too competitive, and then they went with a fuck finish and gave Cole the win via reversed decision, in an effort to milk Heel Cole for two more months, which rendered Lawler’s eventual victory unsatisfying.
Everything else was filler, including CM Punk Vs. Randy Orton, which sounds like it could be tremendous on paper. A negative trend in the later Manias is that, unlike the first 20 which all have a great deal of individual identity to them, the more recent ones tend to blend together due to the WWE’s lack of evolution, and this show is the biggest victim of all.
Depending on the day, I go back and forth on flipping 27 and 29. Mania 27 was a show that should have been so much more, very similar to Mania 6, and so my inclination is to see it as worse than it really was. Mania 29 was just as flat, and with only the Undertaker match as the standout on both shows (though Rock/Cena kills Cena/Miz), I’ll defer to the build, which was far superior going in to 27.
Join us next week for Part 2 – The Middle 10!