The SmarK Rant – Best WM Matches EVER

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The SmarK Rant – Best Wrestlemania Matches EVER

– So yeah, Undertaker v. Shawn Michaels ruled, but just how hard did it rule? For sake of comparison, here’s my listing of my current Top 10 best matches in Wrestlemania history.

Honorable mention: Money in the Bank: Edge v. Chris Benoit v. Chris Jericho v. Shelton Benjamin v. Christian v. Kane.

Everyone smartly attacks Kane before he can make it to the ring, but he fights them off, so Benoit and Benjamin suplex him on the floor. Christian makes a try for the ladder in the chaos, but Jericho see-saws it into his jaw as the match starts proper. Benjamin attacks Jericho in the corner, but gets bulldogged for his troubles. Jericho stops to dropkick Benoit and Edge off the apron, and then follows with a pescado on Edge. Christian joins the highspot party with a springboard crossbody, then Benjmain with a tope con hilo, and then Kane, just for the hell of it, with a dive from the top onto everyone. Kane, the only survivor of all that, brings a ladder into the ring and fights off the puny little midcarders, but Jericho dropkicks it in his face. Jericho makes use of the ladder, fighting off the others with it and dropping it on Edge. Benoit then gets the visually amazing spot of the night on any other show, hitting Jericho with a german suplex while Jericho was holding the ladder. The fact that it’s not even the spot of the MATCH is something else. Benoit tries to climb, but Kane catches him, so Benoit calmly takes him down with a crossface. Edge breaks that up, so it’s crossface for him, too. Kane hits him in the face with the ladder to break that up. Minus ten points for subtlety, plus several million for effectiveness. Kane wrecks Benoit’s shoulder in the ladder, but Edge breaks that up, and Edge & Christian briefly reunite for a Ladder Concerto on Kane. Benjamin springs in out of nowhere and clotheslines them afterwards, however. This is crazy, non-stop stuff. He spinkicks the ladder into Christian, but Edge gets the ladder back and sets it up in the corner, whipping Benjamin into it. He tries to follow with a spear, but gets flapjacked into the ladder for his troubles. Shelton follows with the stinger splash into the ladder, another visually amazing spot when you think about it, and he’s left alone with the ladder. Up he goes, but Jericho returns from the ether to climb up there with him and slug it out. Christian sets up another ladder and follows them up, and Benoit slugs it out with him. The crowd is 4 steps ahead of them here and knows what’s coming, which is great. Edge gets his own ladder and heads up, so they start doing highspots, as Christian takes Benoit down with a divorce court (further buggering the arm) and Jericho goes down as well, leaving Benjamin to get the exploder off the ladder onto Edge. Both visually astonishing and relatively safe, which is great to see. So Jericho is the last survivor and he climbs, but Christian tries to hit him with a ladder. It misses and the ladder gets wedged into the main one, making a ramp. Shelton then runs UP that ramp to knock Jericho off, which is just about the most fucking amazing spot I’ve ever seen in one of these matches. I can’t believe the kind of timing it takes to set up that spot without looking more contrived than the plot of Star Wars Episode I, and then pull it off smoothly. Shelton climbs for the spoils, but Christian uses his ramp ladder to knock him off. Kane then returns from the dead and chokeslams Shelton into the ropes, tying him up there, but Tomko interjects himself now. He helps Christian up the ladder with a piggyback ride, but Kane breaks that up and follows him up the ladder. He can’t get him down, so he goes for the direct approach and pushes the whole ladder out of the ring, with Christian on it! Kane now climbs up, but Jericho follows him up and slugs it out with him, and they both go down hard. So Benoit, selling the arm like a crazy man, sets up another ladder in the corner and goes up to the top of it, hitting Kane with the diving headbutt from the top of THAT. WHILE SELLING THE ARM. And then he continues selling it afterwards. His previous forehead injury also opens up again, resulting in a nice flow of blood, but Kane sits up. They fight it out on the ladder, then there’s some nice continuity, as Kane tries another chokeslam off the ladder, and Benoit unleashes the machine gun headbutts this time to block him. Benoit gets to the contract, but Edge hits him in the arm with a chair, knocks him off, and wins the match at 15:22. Probably one of the greatest examples of the carwreck genre that I’ve ever seen, second only to the original TLC matches, which hold up surprisingly well too. ****3/4

Reasons why this match ruled so hard:

– Everyone hit their spots energetically instead of the usual "stop and think about it" of other ladder matches recently.


– Benoit selling injuries from start to finish.

– Innovative spots in a stale genre, set up intelligently without making the audience think that a spot is coming.

10. WWF World title: Bret Hart v. Shawn Michaels.

This is, of course, the famous 60-minute Iron Man match that main-evented Wrestlemania XII. Most falls win. A clock in the corner helpfully counts down the time and falls won by each. Mat wrestling to start. Bret works the headlock, burning up 7 minutes. Shawn tries the armbar as his time-waster of choice, working the arm.

10 minutes gone. Michaels takes Bret to the floor with a flying headscissors and Bret takes a breather. Back in, Shawn goes back to the arm. Matches like these make for easy recapping with all the slow stretches. Bret gets the headbutt to the groin and legdrop, then goes to the chinlock. I’m gonna resist fast-forwarding as long as possible. Shawn goes into a vicious wristlock but Bret doesn’t watch UFC, I guess, because he sells it like a resthold. Bret comes back and tries the Sharpshooter, then clotheslines Shawn to the floor. Bret lands in the lap of the timekeeper, but ducks a superkick and the poor timekeeper is down for the count (nyuk nyuk). Back in, to the chinlock. Bret is working the neck, Shawn the arm. Shawn clotheslines Bret, Bret returns the favor. Back to the chinlock. Must…not…fast-forward.

20 minutes gone. Shawn dropkicks him down, and back to the armbar. That turns into another cross-armbreaker and AGAIN Bret won’t sell. Hmph. To the hammerlock. Bret hammers him in the corner, but Shawn gives him a pissed-off knee to the gut and sends him shoulder-first to the ringpost. I sense some hostility there. Shoulderbreaker and double-axehandle to the shoulder, then hammerlock slam. Shawn “AA” Michaels? Bret fights back but Shawn hits a single-arm DDT and cross-armbreaker. Again, Bret won’t sell. Shawn goes into a NASTY standing armbar, but Bret hits a stungun to escape. Bret catapults him into the ringpost for two. Voila!, the arm injury is magically gone. That is SO unlike Bret. Something’s gotta be up there. I’ve seen him sell knee injuries for WEEKS, and within the story here Bret’s arm should be hanging dead at this point. Shawn misses a blind charge and gets pounded with an atomic drop and lariat for two. Bret gets a bulldog and goes to the top. Shawn tries to stop him, but Bret counters by driving his knee to Shawn’s head down to the mat, bumping the ref in the process.

30 minutes gone. Shawn powerslam gets two. Bret gets a piledriver for two. Shawn takes him down with a rana and sidebreaker gets two. Bret takes the pussy route to escape a superkick, running to the floor. That draws boos. Shawn follows with a SWEET tope. Back in, bodypress-reversal gets two for Bret. Backslide into small package gets two for Shawn. Fisherman’s suplex gets two. Sleeper uses up more time. Shawn puts Bret in the corner and charges, but Bret backdrops him over the top and Shawn takes his patented “HOLY SHIT” bump to the floor in suicidal fashion. Bret tosses him back in and wisely starts working on the back. He drives an elbow from the 2nd rope, then hits the backbreaker and legdrop.

40 minutes gone. Bret banzai drops him on the back and hits a backdrop superplex for two. Bret goes to the rear chinlock. Shawn sunset flips him for two. Bret puts him on top and tries another superplex, but Shawn blocks, then gets nailed coming down. Bret cross-corner whips him and Shawn goes over the top and nails Jose accidentally on the way down. They brawl on the floor and Bret whips Shawn into Jose again, and yells at Jose. What’s up with that? Back in, Bret gets a belly-to-belly for two. Bret hammers him down. Shawn escapes a suplex with a rollup for two. Bret kicks out and sends him to the outside, then follows with his tope suicida. Bret allows the ref to count Shawn out, but then changes his mind and suplexes him. Shawn reverses mid-move, but Bret reverses that and hits a nasty german suplex for two, then does a good ol’ beatdown.

50 minutes gone. Back to the chinlock. Double KO, and Bret gets a quick superplex and goes for the Sharpshooter. He changes his mind and goes into a half-crab instead. He starts the FIVE MOVES OF DOOM, but Shawn kicks him in the face to block the elbowdrop. Standing dropkick sends Bret to the corner, and Shawn comes off with a fivearm. Running elbow and double axehandle get two. Flying elbowdrop gets two. Doctorbomb and moonsault press get two. Flying rana gets two. Shawn goes up with one minute left, but gets caught with the Sharpshooter on the way down, and Bret holds on until the 60 minute time limit expires. The match is a draw.

BUT WAIT! Gorilla Monsoon declares that there MUST BE A WINNER, so Bret comes back…

Overtime: Bret continues hammering the back, hitting a backbreaker, but Shawn gets Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere. He’s too tired to capitalize, and Bret does a half-hearted selling job. Shawn hits it again and that’s enough to put Bret out, and Shawn gets the pin and the WWF World title at 1:47 of overtime. ****3/4 Can’t go the full monty for this one because of Bret’s attitude problems, and the fact that there was about 5 different points where a pin or submission could have feasibly occurred, but neither guy wanted to job first. But the rest is AWESOME. I rated it this low because it has become overexposed thanks to endless DVD releases and the fact that the business passed it by and it really wouldn’t hold up today. But as a product of the time, it more than delivered.

9. Kurt Angle v. Shawn Michaels.

You can already see that Shawn is the guy to deliver on the Wrestlemania stage. From Wrestlemania 21:

Shawn takes him down with a headlock to start and hangs on tenaciously. I always like that spot for some reason. In fact he hangs on for the better part of two minutes, as Angle is unable to escape by any means and the fans pick on the TNA chant of "Let’s Go Angle / Let’s Go Michaels". Angle finally goes to the ropes to break, but Shawn grabs the headlock again, frustrating Angle. Finally he elbows out of it, but Shawn uses the frustration to get a hiptoss and a short-arm scissors. The move was invented only for the visual of seeing someone counter of it, or so my theory goes, and this is no exception. Shawn, however, counters that with a sunset flip instead of taking the bump, and then follows with a backslide for two before going back to the headlock again. They slug it out in the corner until the ref forces the break, as Angle’s frustration is evident again. Finally he batters Shawn down and gets the anklelock, but Shawn counters and takes him out with a Cactus clothesline. Shawn preps the announce table and they slug it out on the floor, but this backfires on Shawn, as he gets Angle Slammed into the post. This was a horrifying-looking spot, until subsequent replays show that his back missed by two feet. Just goes to show: Editing IS important.

Angle works the back over and they head back in, where Angle gets a suplex for two. Angle goes to a bodyscissors and the crowd starts the dueling chants again. Shawn fights out and starts throwing down, but gets whipped into the corner and suplexed out with the overhead belly to belly. I guess it’s legal again now that Brock is gone. Another suplex gets two. Angle goes to a rear chinlock. Shawn fights out and gets into a slugfest, but Angle clotheslines him down again, a rather wicked one too, and they fight up to the top. Angle tries a superplex, but Shawn slugs him back down again and tries dropping the elbow. Well, that doesn’t work so good, and Angle pulls down the straps and goes for the kill. Angle Slam is countered by Shawn with an armdrag, however, and he dumps Angle with a crazy backdrop. Shawn follows with a high cross to the floor, but it looked a little off. Angle recovers fast and tries his often-teased german suplex off the apron, and it looks a lot gay if taken out of context. Shawn goes low to break, however, drawing boos from the increasingly-partisan crowd. He boots Angle to the table and follows with a moonsault, but the table is even more resilient than Michaels and won’t break. If it was 1997 then Shawn probably would have had the table fired and Bischoff would have signed it for Nitro the next night. At this point Shawn has basically opted to start ignoring the back injury, which is one of the only blemishes on the match. Back in, both guys are in rough shape, but they both stand toe-to-toe and slug it out. Good visual. Shawn gets the flying forearm and kips up, making the comeback with a clothesline and going up for the flying elbow. He goes for the superkick to finish, but Angle was just goldbricking him, and counters the kick by catching the ankle and applying the anklelock. Fun fact: According to Bret Hart, that was his original pitch for the ending of the Iron Man match. He even suggesting making a prosthetic foot for Shawn that would "snap", thus giving Shawn a way to submit without looking weak. Anyway, Shawn is right fucked here, as Angle hangs on tight, but Shawn makes the ropes. Angle is PUMPED now and tries an Angle Slam, but Shawn reverses, so Angle coolly reverses to the anklelock again.

Shawn counters with a rollup for two, but Angle puts him down with the Angle Slam for two. Awesome sequence of stuff there. Angle then pulls up the straps so he can PULL THEM DOWN AGAIN, and goes up with the Anglesault. It misses, but really if there was ever a time for it to hit, this was it. Shawn goes up again, having not learned his lesson, and Angle catches him with a Pop-Up Angle Slam for two. That was a hell of a near-fall. Angle picks him up and slaps him around, so Shawn, in another spot of the night type spot, pushes him away and superkicks him out of nowhere, driving the crowd nuts. Sometimes you don’t need a ladder to steal the show. So both guys are dead and buried, but Shawn is alive enough to crawl over and get two. Another hell of a near-fall there. Hell, I’m going nuts watching this again and I’ve already seen it twice. Shawn struggles up, but Angle is goldbricking him again and suckers him into an anklelock. And this time there’s no escape. Shawn tries to fight him off, but perhaps as a callback to the never-ending headlock, Angle counters everything he has and pulls him back into the center, turning into the deadly heel hook that no one has ever countered. Shawn withstands as long as humanly possible and nearly makes the crowd believe that he can escape, and probably longer than was good for the move, but he finally does the right thing and taps out at 26:14. Shawn’s usual selling issues aside, I enjoyed this even more upon repeat viewings, especially Angle’s incredible intensity, as he’s one of the few guys that you really believe CARES about the match he’s in. Just fantastic. ****3/4 It only makes it into the list at #9 because let’s face it, Angle leaving the WWE erased this match from history and people just don’t remember it today. Not the fault of the match, but that’s the way the business goes sometimes.

8. Bret Hart v. Owen Hart.

From Wrestlemania X. This was not only a great match, and one of the three matches generally considered the greatest opener of all time (alongside Pillman/Liger and Mysterio/Psycosis), but it was also the match that turned Owen Hart from mid-card joke to main event threat. The heat for this match is unreal, as the fans are firmly behind Bret Hart’s side of the story. Owen gives Bret the big stink-eye, which makes Bret distinctly uncomfortable.

And now, the match:

They lockup, and Owen pushes Bret off, then celebrates. Cheap heat, but hey, you take what you can get. Owen gets the best of a wrestling sequence and celebrates. Bret retaliates by sending Owen to the floor, which pisses him off and he slaps Bret upon returning to the ring. Bret takes control, working on the arm. Bret gets two off a cradle, then goes back to the arm. After another terrific wrestling sequence, Owen ends up getting tossed to the floor again, and now Bret celebrates. Crowd is much more appreciative of this. Owen has another fit and a shoving match results, off which Bret gets a rollup for two. Bret back to work on the arm. Bret gets a crucifix for two, then back to the arm. Good psychology here. Owen takes control with his SWANK~! leg lariat and sends Bret to the floor. He rams Bret’s back into the ringpost, establishing the back injury for Bret. Owen gives Bret a cross-corner whip (first time I’ve seen Bret sell it back-first, actually) and hits a backbreaker. FIVE MOVES OF…oh, wait, wrong brother. Owen slaps on a camel clutch while trash-talking his brother. Bret escapes, but gets caught with a belly-to-belly suplex for two. Sweet sassy molassy, I love that belly to belly. Another cross-corner whip, reversed by Bret, and Owen comes off the ropes with a bodypress, which is reversed by Bret for a two count. Owen goes back to the back. Resthold from Owen, thus dropping it from *****. Owen tries to slam Bret, but Bret falls back for a two count. Owen’s kickout sends Bret to the floor. Beautiful sequence as Owen suplexes Bret from the apron, and Bret reverses to a waistlock, which Owen reverses again for a German suplex for two. Just gorgeous wrestling. Legdrop from Owen for two. He goes for a suplex, but Bret cradles for two. He goes for a backbreaker, but Owen flips through and tombstones Bret. Nasty one, too. Flying headbutt misses. Inverted atomic drop and clothesline from Bret for two. Wait for it…wait for it….FIVE MOVES OF DOOM! Owen hits an enzuigiri to break it up, then goes for the Sharpshooter. Bret counters. He goes for his own, and Owen counters. Owen cradles for two, but gets kicked out of the ring. Pescado from Bret, but he fucks up his knee. Owen circles in like a vulture, working on the knee and mocking his brother. What a jerk. Dragon screw legwhip (called "Look at that!" by the ever-astute Mr. McMahon) and a submission move of some sort follows. Another dragon screw, then a figure four, which gets a two count. Bret reverses to break the hold. Owen goes back to work on the knee. Another dragon screw legwhip attempt, but Bret counters with an enzuigiri. Crosscorner whip and legdrop gets two. Bulldog for two. Piledriver for two. Superplex, and both men are out. Bret revives long enough to get a two count. Both get up and Bret hits a sleeper. Owen breaks with a Flair uppercut (Where? Down there…) and Bret drops like a rock. Sharpshooter! Bret powers out and applies his own, but Owen makes the ropes. Bret with a cross corner whip, Owen reverses. Owen eats foot coming into the corner, and Bret goes for a victory roll, but Owen reverses the momentum and lies down on top for the pin! The crowd is in SHOCK. ****3/4…oh, hell, who am I kidding? This is the one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. *****, just because Bret continued selling the leg injury to the end of the show. This one isn’t higher because it got overshadowed a little later in the same card…

7. WWF Intercontinental title match: Razor Ramon v. Shawn Michaels.

Oh, c’mon, it’s the FREAKIN’ LADDER MATCH. Shawn and Razor exchange hammerlocks and a hiptoss to start, but Razor gets a chokeslam. Shawn follows with a neckbreaker and stomps away. Ramon gets dumped out, and Diesel sneaks out and lays him out. Hebner objects him over Diesel’s objections that he didn’t see anything. Ramon nails Shawn and sends him upside-down in the corner, then dumps him. Brawl on the floor, where Ramon stops to pull up the padding before heading back in. He goes for the Razor’s Edge early, but Shawn backdrops him out of the ring, and onto the exposed concrete. Sick Bump #1. Shawn grabs the ladder, and Ramon steals it so Shawn heads into the ring and baseball slides it into Ramon’s face. Sick Bump #2. That also draws the first “Oooooooh” from the crowd, of many. Shawn puts the ladder into the ring and nails Razor with it, then pistons it into his ribs from a standing position. He drops it on Ramon’s back, then waits for him to stand up and casually tosses it at Ramon’s back. Sick Bump #3. Shawn makes the first climb, but gets his tights pulled down. He shoves Ramon down and drops an elbow off the ladder. He sets it up in the corner and hits a flying splash off the top, another famous visual. He climbs, but Ramon pushes him over to stop him. They do a headlock/crisscross sequence for a double-KO. Shawn sets the ladder up in the corner, but gets whipped into it and goes to the floor. Ramon follows and makes a Shawn sandwich, with the ladder and the post as bread. Sick Bump #4. Ramon puts the ladder against the apron and catapults Shawn into it. Back in, he puts the butt-end of the ladder right into Shawn’s jaw and Shawn bails. Sick Bump #5. He climbs, but Shawn comes back in via the top rope and knocks him off. The ladder crashes on top of him in the process. Both guys climb and slug it out, leading to Shawn getting suplexed off the ladder. Ramon falls off and climbs back up, but Shawn dropkicks the ladder and Ramon crashes off. Shawn pushes the ladder onto him for good measure. Superkick puts Ramon down, and a piledriver follows. He climbs a folded ladder in the corner and rides it down onto Ramon. Sick Bump #6. Shawn puts the ladder in the middle with Ramon laying underneath it, just to be a jerk, but it backfires when Ramon recovers and pushes the ladder over, tying Shawn in the ropes in the process. Razor climbs unhindered and claims both the real and bogus I-C titles to become the undisputed champion at 18:47. ***** One of the best and most influential matches of the modern era.

That being said, it’s also a match I’ve seen what feels like millions of times, and the modern ladder matches completely blow it away now. The early ones were more about drama and selling rather than the crazy ladder spots, so it’s almost like a different type of match in comparison to the stunt shows that would eclipse it later. Like, for instance, TLC II…

6. WWF World tag team titles: The Dudley Boyz v. The Hardy Boyz v. Edge & Christian

From the classic Wrestlemania X-7. Big brawl to start and the Dudleyz hit Christian with a flapjack, but the Hardyz double-team the Dudleyz. E&C use a ladder and take out everyone else, then hang Matt in the Tree of Woe and stomp on his nuts. The Dudleyz pound on Christian outside while Edge makes a go for the belts, but Matt hauls him down and climbs. Edge clotheslines him off the ladder and tries again, but now Jeff dropkicks him off and the Hardyz baseball slide the Dudleyz on the outside. Matt hits a yodeling legdrop off the ladder, but the Dudleyz get rid of him and it’s Whazzup off the ladders. D-Von gets the tables, and Bubba powerbombs Jeff onto Edge, through a table. Well there’s your first highlight spot. The Dudz set up four tables on the floor while Paul E runs through the family history of the Dudleyz for an unimpressed JR, but they stop and head in. Three ladders get set up in the ring and everyone climbs, and you just know this is going to end badly. And indeed everyone bumps off. This allows Spike Dudley to run in and hit E&C with Acid Drops, leaving Jeff Hardy to climb. But now Rhyno comes in on behalf of E&C and it’s GOAR GOAR GOAR for the Hardy Boyz and Dudley Boyz. And of course Lita joins the fun and pulls Edge off the ladder, before hitting Rhyno with a rana. The Dudleyz hit the Dudley Device on Rhyno and Lita’s so fired up she starts stripping, but the Dudleyz hit her with 3D to get rid of her. That allows Edge to destroy everyone with chairs as this is just unmitigated craziness, and speaking of which Jeff sets up a ginormous ladder and puts both Spike and Rhyno through a table on the floor with a swanton. The super-ladder gets set up in the ring and D-Von races Christian up to the belts, but Matt pulls the ladder out and they’re stuck hanging on the ring. Both hit the mat and Jeff climbs another series of ladders and tries to walk to the belts, but everything falls over and ruins the spot. He tries again and also hangs from the loop, which allows Edge to climb up and SPEAR HIM TO THE MAT. That is fucking epic, man. I’m shocked no one had thought of that kind of spot before this. So next it’s Matt and Bubba fighting up there, but Rhyno shoves them over and they go through the four tables outside. So D-Von is left alone against E&C, as Rhyno boosts Christian up and Edge holds onto D-Von, which allows Christian to claim the tag titles back at 15:45. Total insanity and some of the craziest, most creative ladder match bumps I’ve ever seen, which now looks like a template for Money in the Bank. It set the stage and still delivers! *****

5. RAW World title: HHH v. Shawn Michaels v. Chris Benoit.

From Wrestlemania XX. Setting aside everything that happened to Benoit in the end and the fact that the WWE won’t even acknowledge this match happened any longer, it’s still a great match and one of the most memorable main event moments in Wrestlemania history, so it warrants inclusion here.

Despite weeks of crappy booking, Benoit is clearly the crowd favorite here, as MSG’s traditional hatred of Shawn has kicked in again full force. And what’s with the white boots on HHH? Did Steph buy them for Christmas and withhold sex unless he wore them or something? On the upside, the gay bicycle shorts are gone and HHH is back to regular tights again. Shawn goes after HHH to start, but Benoit pulls him away and they fight over who gets to fight. Benoit takes him down immediately and starts chopping Shawn, to the delight of the crowd, but Benoit whips Shawn into HHH and slugs away. Shawn takes him down with a headlock, and they do the pinfall reversal sequence off that, and Benoit crosses Shawn up with another crossface attempt, which Shawn reverses for two. Northern lights suplex gets two for Benoit, and Shawn clotheslines him down, but HHH returns and lays Shawn out. He tosses Shawn, who skins the cat back in while Benoit pounds HHH, but Benoit gets dumped. Shawn backdrops HHH and throws some chops, but walks into a high knee, which gets two. Benoit fires away with shoulderblocks from the apron, but hits knee and gets sent into the apron by HHH afterwards. Shawn hits both of them with a baseball slide and follows with a moonsault. Guys with torn ACLs probably shouldn’t be doing that. Back in, Shawn gets two. He throws chops on HHH , but puts his head down and eats knee. Pedigree is broken up by Benoit, who goes right for Shawn again with knees, and sends him into the post. Snap suplex and he fires the chops, but HHH sends him into the corner and puts him on top, hanging him in the Tree of Woe to keep him occupied for a bit. HHH whips Shawn into Benoit, and gets two on Shawn. Now why hasn’t anyone thought of that before in a triple-threat match? Another try is reversed, and Shawn rolls up HHH for two. They slug it out and Shawn gets the forearm and kips up, but Benoit promptly clotheslines him over the top to get rid of him. Rolling germans on HHH follow, and he does the SNOT BLOW~! and goes up, only to get crotched by Shawn. Shawn tries to superkick HHH, but it backfires and he gets DDT’d, leaving Benoit hanging on the top. HHH & Benoit slug it out on top, leading to a superplex on Benoit for two. HHH pounds him on the mat, but Benoit fights back, winning a slugfest, but puts his head down and HHH goes for the Pedigree, but Benoit reverses to the crossface, which HHH is able to fight off until Shawn can save. Shawn hits Benoit with an attempt at rolling germans, drawing big boos, so Benoit reverses to his own, which the crowd enjoys more. Back up for Benoit, and the flying headbutt gets two. Shawn knocks him out of the ring with a forearm and comes back on HHH with clotheslines and a slam to set up the flying elbow, and the superkick gets two, as Benoit saves. They all brawl outside and Shawn brings Benoit back in and starts chopping. Benoit reverses him into the corner and takes him down with a catapult into the corner that triggers a gory bladejob, so fast that I couldn’t even see him do it. Benoit takes him down for another crossface, but HHH prevents him from tapping. Benoit and HHH fight outside and head over to the tables, where Benoit gets whipped into the stairs and HHH preps the announce tables. Benoit comes back on HHH, but Shawn recovers and joins them, and Benoit takes a double-suplex through the Smackdown table as a result. With Benoit apparently out of the equation, Shawn calls HHH into the ring while dripping blood everywhere. He’s about 1.0 Muta at this point. He slugs away on HHH and whips him over the top, into a cameraman, and HHH eats post and starts bleeding too, because apparently that’s what all the cool kids are doing at Wrestlemanias these days. Back in, Shawn slugs away, but HHH hits him with the Pedigree as the crowd starts going nuts for Benoit to recover and make the save. HHH gets two, and as desired by MSG, Benoit makes the save. Benoit starts chopping HHH, but HHH goes for the Pedigree, so Benoit reverses to the Sharpshooter. The pop for that would be massive if it was the finish. Sadly, it’s not, as Shawn saves with a superkick. He gets two on Benoit. He goes for the kill, and the crowd chants for Benoit as he sets up for the superkick (ouch, that’s gotta hurt), but Benoit dumps him. He looks like he’s gonna walk into a Pedigree, but he reverses to the Crossface in mid-move. HHH fights it and almost makes the ropes, but Benoit pulls him back. HHH tries one last desperation reversal, but Benoit holds on, and Edmonton goes insane as HHH taps to the crossface to make Chris Benoit the World champion at 24:46. Best three-way match I’ve ever seen, and although that’s not usually saying much, this was truly special, with HHH doing the right thing and everything hitting perfectly on all cylinders. If you can find a fault with this match, you’re nuts. *****

4. WWF World title: The Rock v. Steve Austin

This was of course the main event of Wrestlemania X-7, and if main-eventing the biggest and best Wrestlemania of them all doesn’t warrant inclusion for those reasons alone, this one was also quite possibly the most epic match ever waged at Wrestlemania, the perfect template of "main event style" and the end of the Attitude era. Yeah, I deducted 1/4* for technical reasons (the finish was bad) but the rest is so overwhelmingly great that it deserves this slot.

Austin gets the superstar pop to end all of them. Austin attacks and they immediately try to hit each other with Stunners, but brawl out to the floor instead. Into the crowd and they trade shots into the table, but Austin puts him down with a clothesline and they head back in. Austin chokes away on the ropes and gets two, then gets a superplex for two. Austin, clearly playing a heel despite the cheers, pulls the turnbuckle off, but Rock slugs back and gets the clothesline and belly to belly for two. He clotheslines Austin to the floor, but gets a ringbell in the face as a result. Austin beats on Rock in the wreckage of the tables, then back in for more punishment as the crowd eats it all up. Rock fights back, but Austin gets a neckbreaker for two. He pounds away on the mat and then stomps a mudhole in the corner, but Rock blasts out of there with a clothesline for HUGE boos. They slug it out and Rock sends Austin into the exposed turnbuckle and retrieves the bell while Austin blades. He puts Austin down with that, for two. Rock pounds him down with huge shots and Austin won’t go down, so Rock drags him to the apron and pounds on him to bring him to the floor. They slug it out there and Austin drops Rock on the railing and gives Rock the greatest catapult into the post I’ve ever seen. I mean, Rock bounced off that sucker head-first and flew three feet. Austin follows with a monitor to the head, and back into the ring for two. Rock is up so Austin tries the Stunner, but stops to flip him off first, which allows Rock to take him down with the Sharpshooter. And now Rock’s fanbase gets more vocal as Austin finally makes the ropes. Another try at it, but Rock also makes the mistake of flipping off Austin, and now Austin gets his own Sharpshooter. Rock powers out of that, so Austin goes to work on the leg and does it again. And Rock makes the ropes this time, to big heel heat.

Then we really get old school as Austin hooks the Million Dollar Dream, but Rock uses the Bret Hart counter for two. Austin pounds on the tired Rock, but it’s ROCK WHAM STUNNER for two. And now Vince McMahon heads out as they slug it out, and Austin gets a spinebuster for two. Rock gets his own to set up the People’s Elbow, but Vince pulls him off at two. Rock chases, and walks into a Rock Bottom from Austin, for two. He tries the stunner, but the ref is bumped, so Austin goes low instead. So Austin calls Vince in there with a chair and they blast Rock with it, but it only gets two, so Rock revives and hits Rock Bottom, then goes to beat up Vince. However, it’s KICK WHAM STUNNER and that should have been your finish. It gets two and Vince gives Austin a chair, and he blasts Rock for two. Finally he just destroys Rock with the chair, pounding him into nothingness, and pins him to win the belt at 28:07. Still awesome, still the two biggest stars in the history of the WWF at the peak of their powers. ****3/4 Of course, this was also the moment that officially ended the Attitude Era, with Austin doing an ill-advised heel turn and the company transitioning into the god-awful WCW Invasion instead of, you know, continuing to try to make money.

3. Intercontinental title: Randy Savage v. Ricky Steamboat

This one needs little explanation, I hope. From Wrestlemania III, it’s the very definition of a show-stealer.

No shock here as "Sirius" is edited out of Steamboat’s entrance, since it’s a commercial piece from the Alan Parsons Project and thus would cost a TON of money. You know the story here by now, but if you don’t, Savage was defending against Steamboat on TV and decided to crush his throat with the ringbell,and Steamboat was "injured" for a few months and returned PISSED. They decided to have the greatest match ever and spent three months planning out every spot to the smallest detail. Steamer uses his speed and armdrags Savage, then chokes him out and Savage bails. Back in, Savage suckers him in and chokes him out on the ropes, dropping an elbow for two. Blind charge misses and Steamboat goes to work with a wristlock and works the arm. Ricky Steamboat pops up on a video clip as well, listed as being "Ricky Steamboat," so I guess they must have settled with Bonnie. Also of note: He says "buyrate" for the first time I can remember on a WWE release. Savage backdrops him out of the ring to take over while George Steele pops up and comments in a totally normal voice, which is just totally weird to hear. Steamboat goes to the apron and Savage stomps the crap out of him, then snapmares him in over the top. Elbow to the head gets two. Kneedrop gets two. Steamboat comes back with a chop and Savage gets tied up in the ropes, but escapes, only to walk into a bodypress from Steamboat that gets two. He shoulderblocks Savage down for a pair of two-counts, but Savage lays into him with a high knee to the back and tosses him. Steamboat skins the cat back in, however, so Savage (right on the same level with Steamboat in a nice touch) clotheslines him right back out again. Savage knees him in the back again while he’s regrouping, sending him crashing into the front row, and the Animal rescues him and brings him back in. And Savage tosses him right back out again, and follows with the double axehandle. Back in, another axehandle and he elbows him down for two. Necksnap gets two. Atomic drop gets two. Suplex gets two. They slug it out as Steamboat starts with the chops, but Savage pulls out at gut wrench suplex for two. Backdrop suplex is reversed by Steamboat and he keeps chopping, but puts his head down. Savage charges and Steamboat dumps him, showing that he’s also thinking a few steps ahead, and the flying chop from the top gets two. Running chop gets two. Chops to the head and Savage bails to the apron, so Steamboat hammers him to the floor and chases him. Savage tries to sucker him in again, but Steamboat sunset flips in for two to counter. Rollup gets two. Jackknife pin gets two. Small package gets two. Catapult into the post gets two. Rollup gets two, and Savage reverses for two. It’s so great to see guys just trying to PIN each other and trying a whole variation of moves to do so. Steamboat charges again and hits the post, and the ref gets bumped when Savage sends him into the corner again. Clothesline sets up the big elbow, but there’s no ref. Savage grabs the ringbell in a nod to continuity, but Steele steals it from him in another nod to continuity, then shoves him off the top rope. Savage is dazed and tries to slam Steamboat, but he reverses for the historic pin and the title at 14:34 *****

Many have dubbed this the greatest match in history, and although you can pick nits and offer alternatives, I wouldn’t argue terribly much against any strong case made for it being so. It was pretty much the perfect match in every facet, from the storyline buildup to the execution (with nothing even resembling a missed or blown spot) to the crowd reaction to the historic nature and long-term influence it had on the sport in general. Every fan should see this match at least once in their lives.

2. Shawn Michaels v. Undertaker

And here we are at this year’s Wrestlemania.

Shawn descends from the heavens on a chariot, dressed in white and accompanied by an angelic chorus. Now there’s an entrance. Shawn sticks and moves with chops to start, but Taker grabs his hand and tosses him into the corner to stop that. Shawn throws a crotch chop and fakes a knee injury to buy time, but UT pounds him in the corner. Shawn comes back with chops, but gets backdropped out of the corner as the crowd is pretty seriously torn here. Taker with a press slam (!) and an elbow for two. He works the arm and we go old school, but a blind charge misses and Taker rams his knee into the corner. Shawn with a kneecrusher and he gets an Indian deathlock (which Michael Cole calls a figure-four), but Taker fights up. Shawn dropkicks the knee, but runs into a bearhug, and Taker runs him into the corner and slugs away on him. He follows with a pair of corner clotheslines and Snake Eyes into the big boot, and the legdrop gets two. He goes for the chokeslam, but Shawn takes him down into a crossface. Taker rolls him over for two, but Shawn hangs on. Taker finally breaks with a sideslam for two. Shawn fires back with chops and gets the flying forearm. He comes back with a pair of atomic drops and a clothesline, but he comes off the top and lands in a chokeslam. Shawn tries the superkick and Taker counters to the GoGoDancer, but Shawn makes the ropes and bails. Taker tries the guillotine legdrop and misses, but then Shawn goes up for the moonsault press and whiffs on that as well. OUCH. Taker tries to hit him with the tope con hilo, but Shawn pulls a cameraman into the way and Taker kills him instead. That was a crazy spot. So Shawn hauls the dead ref back into the ring and DEMANDS that he count Undertaker out. The crowd does not like that. He makes it back in at nine.

And now it’s EVIL SHAWN as he cues up the superkick, but Taker kills him dead with the chokeslam…and gets two. Shawn tries another superkick, Taker counters, but Shawn gets it this time and gets two. Taker fights up again for the powerbomb, but Shawn counters to a sunset flip, and Taker hits it on a second try for two. The crowd is just losing their shit now and I can’t blame them. Taker goes up and misses an elbow now for the double count. Shawn is up first, but Taker tosses him, and Shawn skins the cat…but Taker catches him with the tombstone…for TWO. Holy fuck! I would have bet a million dollars on that being the finish. Taker PULLS DOWN THE STRAP and goes for the kill, but Shawn was goldbricking and reverses the tombstone attempt into a tornado DDT. Still selling like he’s dead and just running on adrenaline, Shawn crawls to the top and drops the flying elbow, and sets up the superkick to a MASSIVE heel reaction. Superkick hits clean and gets two. Finally they just fight up and punch the shit out of each other, but Shawn goes down to a big boot. Awesome. Another tombstone attempt, but Shawn slides out and fires more chops. Taker comes back and hits boot on a blind charge, and Shawn tries to go up again. Moonsault is caught and the tombstone makes Undertaker 17-0 at 30:40. FUCKING AWESOME. This was worth the $55 and then some, as it started good and just kept getting better and better. ***** I thought I was gonna have a heart attack with the gigantic strong style near-falls at the end. I think my screen just went black because the show has been STOLEN.

I don’t know how this one will hold up historically, but I can tell you that it got my heart pumping like few other matches on this list did and just by feeling alone I think this one will rank as a legendary classic years later.

But really, there’s only one match that can be called the greatest in Wrestlemania history, as it was the match that created the Attitude era and made Steve Austin into the biggest star in wrestling history, as well as set the stage for the Montreal Screwjob and saved what should have been the crappiest Wrestlemania ever.

1. Submission match: Bret Hart v. Steve Austin.

Ken Shamrock is the guest referee. Brawl outside the ring to start, with Austin crotching Hart on the STEEL railing and clotheslining him to the floor. They brawl into the crowd, with Austin ramming Bret into the boards and pounding on him. Hitman comes back and they brawl up the stairs. Back to the ring, and Hart takes a MAN-SIZED bump to the stairs. Austin clotheslines him off the apron. Austin tries to use the steel steps but Bret kicks them out of his hands. Austin rams Bret to the post. We actually go the ring. Austin stomps on Bret, but Bret pulls out a neckbreaker and an elbow off the second rope. Vince starts badmouthing Bret, nothing that he’ll probably have an excuse if he loses. Wow, I mean, WOW, this shit is brilliant in retrospect. I stand in awe of Vincent K. McMahon. Bret works on Austin’s knee viciously. Austin suddenly hits the stunner out of nowhere, but can’t capitilize fast enough. Big Austin chant. Bret goes back to the knee. The ringpost figure-four makes it’s PPV debut to a monster pop. Bret grabs the bell and a chair, and opts to try the Brian Pillman Maneuver on Austin, to a big pop. Austin gets loose and WHACKS Hart with the chair, to a big pop. Another monster shot and a monster pop. Crowd is INTO Austin, big time. Austin with a slam, cross-corner whip and a suplex. Elbow off the second rope. Austin hits a russian legsweep and applies an odd cross-armbreaker. Crowd is 50/50. Boston crab from Austin to a big pop. Bret makes the ropes, so Austin goes for a Sharpshooter instead. Jerry: "Wouldn’t that have been incredible, to have to submit to the Sharpshooter?" Vince: "Hey, it could happen." No shit. Bret escapes and Austin tosses him to the floor. Whip reversal sends Austin crashing into the timekeeper. Austin rips open a huge gash on his head. Now that’s some high-quality blading. Austin gets rammed to the stairs and the ringpost. Austin is literally dripping blood on the ring. Hart drops an elbow and stomps away. Crowd doesn’t feel so good about Bret now. He grabs a chair and smashes it into Austin’s knee. You can almost feel the crowd changing sides. Bret goes for the Sharpshooter but Austin blocks. Bret pounds Austin in the corner, but Steve counters with a greco-roman ballshot. Austin whips Bret to the corner, then does some stomping of his own. Austin with a superplex. Austin’s face is literally covered in blood. Austin grabs a cable from ringside and chokes out Bret, but Bret grabs the bell that he brought in 10 minutes earlier and rings it on Austin’s head. Sharpshooter. We get the famous shot of Austin bleeding all over the ring and screaming in pain. Austin fights the pain and powers out…but Bret hangs on. He reapplies the move and moves to the center of the ring. Austin passes out and Shamrock stops the match. Crowd is less than thrilled. Austin is DEAD. Bret soaks in some cheers, then goes back to pounding on Austin. Shamrock takes him down and gets a big pop. Hart leaves to huge boos. Austin leaves to the crowd chanting his name. Hogan and Flair WISH they could pull this off. This would set off the Steve Austin v. Hart Foundation war that carried the WWF through all of 1997, and was supposed to culminate in Bret returning the job to Austin at Wrestlemania XIV, but, well, you know…shit happens. *****

So that’s my current list, and I’m sure it’ll change over time, but enjoy it for now!

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