10. Hell in a Cell: The Undertaker vs. Triple H (WrestleMania 28)
In a match that was billed as an “End of an Era” match, The Undertaker had his first Hell in a Cell match at a WrestleMania against Triple H, who he beat a year earlier. The twist in this match was that Hunter’s best friend Shawn Michaels, who Undertaker retired two years prior, was the special referee.
The idea of an Undertaker loss was pushed during the buildup of the match while the actual match even had interference from Michaels. That spot where Michaels hit a Superkick on Undertaker leading to a Pedigree by Triple H was one of the best nearfalls in WrestleMania history. When Undertaker kicked out of that, you knew he would find a way to win again. I was at this event and absolutely loved the atmosphere surrounding this match.
9. Career Threatening No DQ Match: The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 26)
Michaels wanted to face Undertaker at WrestleMania for the second year in a row. Undertaker said no, but then Michaels cost him the World Title and Undertaker wanted his revenge. In order to differentiate from the previous match, Undertaker wanted Michaels to put his career on the line. Michaels was desperate to try to beat the streak, so he accepted. Was there anybody watching this match that thought Michaels might win? Probably not. Once again, though, just because it’s obvious doesn’t make it bad.
It was a story where Michaels was on fire for much of the match, but by the end you could tell that he had nothing left in his arsenal to win the match. They had another nearly 25 minute battle where both guys kicked out finishers throughout the match. Then the dramatic ending took place with Michaels slapping Undertaker as if to say “don’t let up” and that led to a final Tombstone by Taker to win the match and retire Michaels for good. A nearly perfect match to end WrestleMania 26.
8. Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart (WrestleMania 10)
This is the only brother vs. brother match on here as well as the best opening match in WWE PPV history. It’s going to be very hard for any opening match to ever top this because it was wrestling perfection by two of the best technical wrestlers ever. In addition to their work on the mat, they told a very interesting story as well. Owen was the younger brother wanting to prove he was better than brother Bret and this was the perfect stage to do it.
While they did go out of the ring a couple of times, it was mostly contested inside the square circle. They didn’t have a match where they hit finishers on the other guy because their finishing move was the same – the Sharpshooter. It was pretty brilliant that they did a finish without using that hold. Instead, it was Owen countering Bret while coming out of the corner, sitting on top of his older brother and winning clean. That match made Owen a star while also setting them up for a memorable feud through the rest of 1994.
7. Intercontinental Title: Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage (WrestleMania 3)
This was the best match in WWE history for a very long time. You didn’t see matches in 1987 that were this good on a regular basis. It stood out from the pack until some of those incredible matches took place at WrestleMania 10, a whole seven years later. That’s because what Steamboat and Savage did was have a match that well ahead of its time.
What made this match special was the build up with Savage as the cocky heel champion that injured the throat of Steamboat. It made them both want to go that extra mile to get the win. That’s why there were over 20 nearfalls in the match. Savage went to cheat by getting the ring bell after there was a ref bump, George “The Animal” Steele prevented it and then shortly after that, Steamboat got an inside cradle to win. When Steamboat won, the crowd went wild because they knew they saw an all-time great match that holds up very well 29 years later.
6. TLC Match For The Tag Team Titles: Edge and Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz (WrestleMania 17)
This was a special match because of the six wrestlers (plus three allies) that put their bodies on the line as they used Tables, Ladders & Chairs to tell a story unlike anything we had ever seen before. All three teams were in their prime, they could always get a reaction from the crowd and they had developed an incredible chemistry because of all the work they did together over the previous year.
There were some memorable spots in the match like when Edge gave Jeff Hardy a Spear off a ladder that was about 15 feet high. Then there was the moment when Matt Hardy and Bubba Ray Dudley went crashing over the top rope through stacked tables outside the ring. We even got to see Lita, Spike Dudley and Rhyno interfere as well. In the end, Rhyno was the difference maker as he helped Edge & Christian win the gold.
5. Ladder Match for the Intercontinental Title: Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 10)
This was a history making match because it was the first ladder match that most wrestling fans have ever seen. The one that Michaels did with Bret Hart a year earlier was only taped for a home video and other companies that did it just weren’t on the same level as WWE. They took a storyline with Michaels holding one Intercontinental Title against Ramon holding the other, put them up above the ring and said the first guy to retrieve the titles is the new IC Champ.
It was a fantastic match for 1994, but it’s another one of those battles that holds up well all these years later. They didn’t do any bumps where they looked like they were going to hurt themselves, but it was still cool to see Michaels crotch himself after a ladder bump, hit a Superfly splash off the ladder and Ramon take a bump over the top to the floor where he landed hard on his shoulder. They incorporated the ladder into the story very well. Michaels ended up tangled in the ropes, Ramon took advantage and he made history as the first ladder match winner.
4. WWE Title No DQ Match: Steve Austin vs. The Rock (WrestleMania 17)
The best main event in WrestleMania history? I think so. In addition to that, WrestleMania 17 is the best WWE event ever because it was the peak of WWE’s very successful Attitude Era. Austin and Rock were the leaders of that run as the biggest draws in the company at the time. They went into the match as faces, with Austin determined to get his hands on the WWE Title after missing the previous year’s WM event due to a severe neck injury.
There was an incredible pace to this match. You don’t see a match too often where guys go out there for 30 minutes, avoid applying a chinlock to take a breather and simply brawl the entire time. They hit each other with everything until Austin realized he couldn’t put Rock away. That’s when Vince McMahon came out. The evil leader of the company hated Austin for the previous three years, yet in this match, Vince helped him win by giving him a steel chair, which Austin used to beat The Rock down to the point that he couldn’t take anymore. Austin got the WWE Title because of his deal with the devil. The crowd didn’t boo Austin as much as the performers had hoped, but it was still one of those visuals we never thought we’d see as Austin shook Vince’s hand. A history making night indeed.
3. Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 21)
It’s hard for dream matches to live up to the hype, yet when the performers are of the caliber of Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels they can find a way. Angle was a top heel from the Smackdown brand while Michaels was a beloved face on Raw. They clashed in the 2005 Royal Rumble with Angle attacking Michaels after Angle was eliminated, so they had their first ever match at WrestleMania 21. There were no titles on the line – it was just a chance to see who the best in the world was.
There were several moments in the match where it could have ended at any time, but both men were too determined to let it end. For 27 minutes it was never boring. There was that moment near the end where Angle was talking trash, Michaels created some space, nailed that Superkick of his and went for a cover, but Angle was able to kick out. One of the best nearfalls you will ever see. That’s the drama of pro wrestling that we love so much. Then Angle applied the Ankle Lock, hooked the leg with his own legs and Michaels tried to fight it off, but he wasn’t able to do it. It didn’t matter who the winner was because they were both better for being in this match.
2. Submission Match: Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (WrestleMania 13)
It sounded like a weird stipulation on paper since Steve Austin wasn’t really known for his submissions, yet the Submission Match he had with Bret Hart at WrestleMania 13 was one of the most important matches in the history of WWE. That’s because it set the stage for Austin to be WWE’s next great franchise player even though he wasn’t like the previous good guys that carried the company. When this story started five months earlier at Survivor Series 1996, Austin was the cocky young guy that called Bret a coward, yet the fans were interested in Austin more than Bret because of the way he carried himself.
They brawled as soon as soon as the match started. Guest referee Ken Shamrock couldn’t keep them at ringside. It set the tone for what was a match that should be studied by fans of the business as an example of what to do if you want to turn a good guy into a bad guy and vice versa. Even though Bret was the hero going into it, he did dastardly things like using a ring bell to knock out Austin, leading to the Sharpshooter. That’s when Austin, who was a bloody mess, showed that fighting spirit that fans loved so much. He just didn’t give up. With blood pouring down his face, he didn’t quit. Then he just passed out. After the match, Bret attacked some more, Shamrock broke it up and it was Austin that received the standing ovation from the crowd. Chants of “Austin, Austin, Austin” cemented his face turn while also setting the stage for what would be known as the Attitude Era. One of the best stories to go along with one of the most memorable matches you will ever see.
1. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 25)
There wasn’t that much that was needed to be done to set this one up. It was the 25th WrestleMania, Undertaker and Michaels were two of the biggest legends in WWE history, they were in their mid-40s by this point and they had never had a WrestleMania match before. Their last televised match was way back at Royal Rumble 1998 when Michaels hurt his back. It took 11 years to get them back together. What a smart decision that was.
Michaels wanted to prove that he could beat The Undertaker at a WrestleMania, which nobody was able to do up to that point. He came so close so many times. They were both so good at not only hitting their signature spots and making us believe that it was the end, but also selling it with their reactions. The Undertaker’s facial expression after Michaels kicked out of a Tombstone was hilarious, yet believable. It was if he was saying “what is with this guy?” and they kept on going. After 30 amazing minutes, Michaels went for a Moonsault, Undertaker caught him in perfect spot for a Tombstone, he connected with it and that was the end of it. In terms of story told in a match, nearfalls, crowd reactions and a clean finish that ended it without a doubt, this was the perfect wrestling match.
When they showed replays of the match after it was over, legendary WWE announcer Jim Ross said it best: “As a wrestling fan how can you ask for anything more?” Nope. We can’t. Best WWE match ever.
Enjoy WrestleMania 32 on April 3. Let’s hope there’s another classic match or two waiting for us on that night too.