‘Sup, Lords of Pain? After what seems like doing a million collaboration columns recently, I am finally back to writing on my own. A lot of the IWC are less than enthused with the build up to Mania so far. Unlike some, I don’t have a huge problem with big matches on the card (wouldn’t have been my first choice though) but the build towards April 7th has been very slow so far outside of the World Heavyweight Championship match. As such, that usual feeling of being on the Road to WrestleMania which starts at Royal Rumble and hits top gear after Elimination Chamber has just been a bit flat. I am pretty confident that we will end up with a great show at Mania 29 and that things should really step up these next couple of weeks but in the meantime, I had to find something else to build up my Mania hype levels... Nostalgia.
Ranking the Talent - Mania Moments
Mar 6, 2013 - 7:03:05 PM
When I decided I would list my favourite moments in the history of WrestleMania, I was planning on making it a top ten. The more I thought about it however, the more popped up that I just couldn’t stand to leave out. I probably could have got up to fifty and I briefly considered doing one a day in a series leading up to Mania before realising I just wouldn’t have the time. In the end however I settled on twenty. You will likely see plenty you wouldn’t have expected to see and there are definitely one or two very high profile omissions but hopefully you enjoy the trip down memory lane to Manias past.
TWENTY MOMENTS IN TIME
20. Twenty-One Seconds
The start of 2009 was an interesting one for John Bradshaw Layfield. He was determined to create a legacy for himself at the wrongly dubbed “25th Anniversary” of WrestleMania. When his original plan of enslaving Shawn Michaels and ending The Undertaker’s (get used to seeing those names on this countdown) streak failed, he had to revert to plan B. To the surprise of everyone, that would include winning his first Intercontinental Championship in March and going to defend that title against Rey Mysterio at the Granddaddy of them all. Twenty-One Seconds after the opening bell however we had a new IC champion. After the match would be the big moment though as a pissed JBL would say the words “I Quit” to huge cheers from the crowd. I can only assume that they, like myself, thought that meant he would have found himself back at the announce desk a lot quicker. In the end though, despite a lot of turns in the road, Bradshaw certainly had his moment at Mania 25.
19. Kiss of Death & Life
When I think back to last April, I can’t help but laugh. The IWC pretty much had their dreams come true when Daniel Bryan walked into Mania as World Heavyweight Champion. Of course, the very nature of the IWC meant they wouldn’t be happy for long. Some kicked off prematurely when they realised that DB and Sheamus would be curtain jerking (although I am not really sure what they wanted instead). Anyway, as a chorus of “Yes!” chants rang out in the Sun Life Stadium, the bell rung and Bryan kissed his girlfriend, kissed Sheamus’ boot and kissed his title goodbye, all within 18 seconds... And my Twitter timeline went mental. Wrestling fans were absolutely outraged that the best performer on the roster was totally squashed. Personally I thought it was hilarious and would be a lot more memorable than having Bryan drop the title in an 8-12 minute match. And it proved to be a catalyst for Bryan to become the most over man on the roster. Don’t get me wrong, the crowd were definitely into him before Mania but the Yes-No phenomenon just grew and grew and I get the feeling in ten years we will look back at those 18 seconds as the most important in a career of a WWE legend.
18. Production Difficulties
Not all moments are planned of course. I mean most of them, particularly these days, are aimed at making highlight reels for years to come but sometimes they are just a pure fluke, and not necessarily a good one at that. WrestleMania 8 is always a strange one for me. We were treated to two excellent title matches but I always wonder what could have been on that night. The main event would see Hulk Hogan take on Sid Justice. Now Sid seemed to make a career out of out-popping huge faces and he had the crowd firmly behind him when Hogan screwed him at the Royal Rumble. By Mania however, Sid was squarely the villain of the piece as the Hulkster obviously went out to make a point. Anyway, the match was due to end in a disqualification following a Papa Shango run in. However, Shango must have got sidetracked by some hos backstage as he was late, and Hogan had already hit his Atomic Leg Drop and made the cover. This led to Sid having not much choice but to kick out at two. And that is the shocker in it all. Today I know the full story behind it but at the time, seeing anyone kick out of that leg drop was unheard of. When you consider that the DQ ending came moments later it made it even more head scratching. Of course there was very much a “it never happened” vibe around it but as a kid who wanted to see Hulkamania taken down a notch or two, there was no way it was going to be ignored.
17. Ticker Tape Parade
I guess you know exactly where I am going with this one. I am sure that for many fans out there this will be number one on their list. The reason that Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero’s Mania XX celebration barely makes the top 20 for me isn’t actually anything to do with what The Crippler would go on to do. The reason it is at 17 is because quite simply, at the time, I wasn’t a huge fan of either man. Don’t get me wrong, I did have a strong appreciation for their ability (which has continued to grow since then, even after they have both died) but they weren’t wrestlers I’d mark out for. As such, it probably ages better as a moment for me than it did at the time. Whilst the emotional culmination of their respective journeys is very touching, I am just not a guy that connects to it as much as a lot of the IWC do.
16. Worst. Frogsplash. Ever.
This one however, is a tribute that I absolutely love. The place is WrestleMania 26.
The match was a clusterfuck of a ten diva tag. Vickie Guerrero was well and truly the evil witch of the heel team. But then something amazing happened. With Kelly Kelly prone on the mat, Vickie with the help of LayCool went to the top rope. She proceeded to tap her chest and point to the heavens before landing Eddie’s trademark frogsplash. In that moment, for me, all storylines fell to one side. This was just a wife paying tribute to her dead husband in a very special way. It was a very unique Mania moment and definitely one of my favourites. It’s just a shame that the frogsplash (and the pin that followed it) looked absolutely horrible. I guess she kind of set a precedent for awful looking tribute top rope moves (hi Phil!).
15. Sophie’s Choice
WrestleMania is a place for huge feuds to be settled but for me, none were bigger than Hulk Hogan vs Vince McMahon at 19. If there were two people who made WrestleMania a success it was these two. You are talking about the guy that created the event and the guy that headlined it for the first decade. Add in their history and it made the match a must see. Whilst a brutal encounter, unfortunately it didn’t go down as one of the greatest matches in the history of the event. It was not without its highspots though but for me the highest was when, with both men down, Rowdy Roddy Piper made his way to the ring. His history with both men was well documented but, with a steel pipe in hand, everyone wanted to know which guy he hated more. It turned out it was Hogan as he nailed his opponent from the very first Mania main event. It’s a shame that didn’t end the match really as it kind of made the run-in irrelevant but watching him work out which guy he was going to hit was a very fun moment in a very good WrestleMania.
14. A Legend Breaks Free
So much of Andre the Giant’s legendary career came before WrestleMania became a thing but he was still a huge part of the first half dozen events. This moment however comes from WrestleMania VI. Fans today know Andre as the monster heel who battled with Hogan at Manias 3 and 4 but the fact his that he was a huge (literally and figuratively) fan favourite throughout most of his career. Bobby The Brain Heenan was the mastermind of Evil Andre but he would find out you can only push a giant so far in Toronto. Andre and his partner Haku went into the event as tag team champions but lost the straps to Demolition. Heenan blamed Andre for this after the match and levelled his client with a slap. The Giant responded in kind, but with a much bigger hand before taking out his own partner. He left the ring to a huge face pop that had probably been waiting to come out for the previous three years. Andre would go on to make more appearances for the company over the next year or so but I like to look at this moment as the perfect way for him to say goodbye.
13. In the Spotlight
When it comes to WrestleMania, everybody wants to end up on a highlight reel. Every year you can be guaranteed you will see somebody go for a spot that will have the fans in attendance screaming “Holy Shit”. There were a lot to choose from here but one that sticks out more than any for me came from TLC II at Mania 17. I am actually surprised it’s not JR’s awesome announcing where he uttered the words “Lita is jerking Edge off” (“a ladder” followed it but still) that got in for the match. It was however the moment where Edge, standing on a ladder, nailed Jeff Hardy, who was hanging next to the titles, with a Spear. I have never been a massive fan of Copeland’s version of the Spear but you won’t get any criticisms from me regarding this one. Edge went on to make a career out of huge Mania spots with Spearing Foley through a flaming table and Jeff getting his revenge years later in Money in the Bank by legdropping him through a ladder, but to me that Spear was a thing of beauty and one of the greatest spots of all time.
12. Whoops Upside Your Head
Of course, not all moves turn out as planned. Sometimes you get to the pinnacle of the industry, the main event at WrestleMania and it all goes horribly wrong. You put on a clinic with an opponent but you want to do something really special. You go to the top rope, somewhere the fans aren’t used to seeing such a big dude. But you don’t got for an elbow or a splash. Oh no. You decide to do a flip in mid air and come down on your opponent with a moonsault. Only instead of you opponent, you came down on the back of your head. I remember watching Mania 19 live and the moment Brock Lesnar landed I honestly thought he would not be getting up. Although clearly almost out of it, Kurt Angle did a great job of getting it to a finish and it still holds up as one of the strongest main events in Mania history. Of course now we know he didn’t end his career with the move, it is absolutely hilarious to watch again and again. We also now know it is a spot he successfully pulled off on numerous occasions whilst in OVW but you wouldn’t have thought a guy of that size would have any business attempting such a move. What chances he marks 10 years since the botch by trying it again on Triple H on April 7th? Not very good would be my guess!
11. Sore Loser
Lesnar and Angle ended Mania 19 with a show of mutual respect and a hug. I have always been a huge mark for this kind of ending. It makes sense in face vs face matches but I honestly believe there is nothing wrong with it happening in a more traditional match. If it is an epic encounter it is a vehicle for the smoothest of face turns and if that’s not the goal, it is pretty easy for the bad guy to go back to his old ways, albeit with a new respect from the fans. Earlier in the night however, something even more awesome had happened at the end of a match. Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho had put on one helluva feud based on the latter claiming to have surpassed his idol, the former. After a brilliant match it was the old dog who squeezed out the victory. The crowd clearly appreciated the substantial efforts of both men and Jericho was on the verge of becoming a highly over fan favourite as the two men “hugged it out”. If there is one thing however that Y2J likes more than playing the crowd for a huge pop, it’s playing the crowd for some major heat. Following the hug up with a huge kick to the nads was just the thing he needed to achieve that, and boy did he oblige. When it comes to controlling a crowd, there are few better than Jericho and this may be the greatest example of his trolling abilities.
10. Crimson Tide
Some moments need little in the way of explanation. All I have to say is “WrestleMania 13” and you can be sure that it’s either the double turn, or Sid shitting himself. Of course it is the former that I am talking about here. The double turn of Stone Cold and The Hitman was pretty much a foregone conclusion by the time Mania rolled around but it was still handled in a perfect way by everyone from the crowd, to the bookers, to Bret and Steve and even special enforcer Ken Shamrock. They all hit everything just right and it became the biggest moment in making Stone Cold a megastar. Whilst everything seemed to go perfectly, there is one image that shall forever be associated with that night in the Rosemont Horizon. That is a busted wide open Steve Austin passing out in the Sharpshooter. In fact I’d say that it is one of the most iconic images in wrestling history.
Despite such a huge moment, it still took Austin a whole year until he reached the very top of the mountain. Today we expect instant success for our favourites but there was definitely more of a slow burn feel back in the mid-90s. It was almost two years between Austin making his infamous 3:16 speech at King of the Ring and him winning his first WWF Championship. To put that into perspective it would be like CM Punk finally winning the title next month at Mania 29 after his pipebomb moment. Anyway, the match and the feud between Austin and Shawn Michaels at Mania 14 was pretty underwhelming. There was of course one other man involved who really added some sparkle to things. Mike Tyson was signed by Vince as special guest enforcer for the match and almost everything memorable in the build up was centred around the “Baddest Man on the Planet”. Iron Mike had seemingly become a part of DX but on the night he was doing Shawn no favours and even fast-counted Austin to victory. Michaels took offence to this and ended up getting hit with a knockout punch from Tyson which he apparently couldn’t get up from for four years. With HBK and Stone Cold involved, you’d say Tyson had no business stealing the show that night, but he did and if you ask me it’s a damn shame he hasn’t been used in another big angle because his enthusiasm, reputation and clear love for wrestling just seems to be a perfect recipe.
8. Mr Mania’s Last Stand
Retiring just the twice is actually pretty low by industry standards but you’ve got to give it up to Shawn for doing it twice at the Granddaddy of Them All (what odds on a third time down the road?). The second time however he definitely left us with a better lasting memory. I am sure it is still very fresh in most of our minds. After their classic at Mania 25, Shawn put his career on the line for one more shot at the streak the next year. The match wasn’t quite as good as the previous year but you couldn’t fault the legends as they put everything out there. Once the dust had settled, Taker had moved to 18-0 and Michaels was done as an in-ring competitor. But after the match, the respect was given as The Deadman lifted HBK to his feet and they had one of those good old big emo hugs. Sure, it would have been better if Shawn had kicked him in the nuts but never mind. In typical Michaels fashion he went on to totally oversell being sad but that moment when Taker stood up the guy he had just retired will definitely be one of Mania’s most memorable.
7. The Longest Two
Even in retirement, Shawn’s obsession with the streak was far from over. The next year it was his buddy Hunter’s turn to try and end it. Michaels played a key part in the storyline, telling Trips that he couldn’t get it done. He was right, but it didn’t stop The Game trying again last year. This time however it would be in a cell and Shawn would be the guest referee. It was a great display from all three guys as we arrived at the end of an era, but the final scorecard unsurprisingly read 20-0. Whilst I love the moment when Shawn and Taker carried Hunter to the top of the stage where all three posed in the glory of a phenomenal foursome of matches, that isn’t the one I am choosing here. Whilst wrestling is all about suspending belief, I am a huge cynic when it comes to the streak. Since The Deadman’s win-loss record at the Granddaddy of them all became a thing, I have never even entertained the fact that anyone would break it. During all those false finishes with Shawn, I never once flinched in that belief. The same goes for the two matches with Hunter... except for one moment. Michaels had passed out after being caught in Hells Gate. When he came to, he was pissed and nailed the Deadman with Sweet Chin Music. Taker was superkicked straight into a Pedigree and as HBK made the count, I was so engrossed in what was happening I thought the streak was done. When The Deadman kicked out, the smark in me was full of self-loathing for even entertaining the idea of Trips winning. Of course Shawn went and over hammed things up afterwards but that SCM-Pedigree combo is, for me, the most exciting moment in the history of the streak.
6. Wall of Noise
From one set of icons to another. The original plan for WrestleMania 18 was to have Austin vs Hogan and although there is absolutely no doubt that match would have been huge, you have to say that everything worked out brilliantly. The rumour is that a finish couldn’t be agreed on and in the end the WWE went for the back up plan. As far as back up plans go, Hulk Hogan vs The Rock might just be the greatest ever. It’s hardly a secret that a crowd can make or break a match. Lack of fan interaction can make an excellent in-ring story seem extremely dull whereas a hot crowd can make an average affair look like a five star classic. Rock-Hogan was no Angle-Benoit in terms of quality but that Toronto crowd made it one of the greatest in Mania history. They actually did the same twelve years earlier when Hogan battled The Ultimate Warrior but for me that match didn’t have the same moment as this one did. I am of course talking about that famous image as a Hogan and Rocky faced off and looked out at the crowd who seemed it be in a total frenzy. The emotion they both portrayed was something else. Hogan had come into the match as the heel leader of the NWO reboot but he could see Hulkamania coming back to life before his eyes and you could sense him becoming the Real American once more. The Rock was the face who had a storied history of being booed as the good guy. It’s what made him and whilst the millions (and millions) were still represented, you could tell he knew he was going up against a force in Hulkamania that had been buried for years. Even if that match was nothing but them looking at each other and the crowd, it would have been... well... strange, but I am sure you see what I am getting at there.
5. I’m Sorry, I Love You
Once again I find myself talking about Shawn Michaels and retirements. This time however it wasn’t his own. The rumours on Shawn retiring Ric Flair at Mania 24 started a good while before the event. The build to it was great with Ric picking up some goodbye wins against midcarders in career threatening matches but the writing was very much on the wall when he was booked to face HBK at Mania. To be honest, the emotion and storyline surrounding the match make it a bit overrated, but there were clearly always going to be limitations. Emotion is the key word however when it comes to the match and there have been very few that can get you welling up like this one. The moment to top it all off though comes late in the match. Everyone can tell that the last bit of fight has been taken out of Flair. As he gets to his feet in the middle of the ring, Shawn starts to tune up the band. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind as to what will happen next. Before Michaels delivered that final Sweet Chin Music however, just before that he delivered those parting words of “I’m sorry, I love you”. He’d then of course go on to ham it up to ridiculous levels, as per, but when you are dealing with Flair I guess OTT can be forgiven. Of course Flair went on to take out some of the meaning of that big night but even so, that emotion is all real and should always be how we remember the legend that is Naitch leaving the ring.
4. The Slam Jam
There are many moments scattered throughout WrestleMania history that could be viewed as key to the success of the event. I strongly believe however that this moment could be the most important and without it Mania may not have ever been such a huge deal. I am talking about the moment where Hulk Hogan’s 24 inch pythons lifted The Eighth Wonder of the World off his feet and slammed him to the mat. The first two editions of WrestleMania were obviously really important but it was at Mania III where the event really formed into the same one we know today. It’s an event I watched again and again growing up and it has all the hallmarks you hope a WrestleMania can have. And the main event was absolutely humongous. The WWF couldn't have booked anything bigger than Hogan vs Andre and whilst not a great technical encounter, it was absolutely intriguing to watch. These days we are used to watching phenomenal feats of strength on a regular basis but The Hulkster finally managing to slam the Giant was such a brilliant visual. It really worked into the storyline of the match too with Hogan having tried and failed early on in proceedings. Back in a day when psychology ruled over flashy moves, this really was the definition of a great main event and that slam was easily the piece de resistance.
3. Deal With the Devil
When it comes to my favourite WrestleMania, 17 is the leader and by quite a distance. That is thanks in no small part to the main event. Rock-Austin II finds an almost perfect blend of storytelling and brawling with that all so important main event x-factor. Whilst an all face affair, Rocky, as usual, was the man sacrificed by the crowd which isn’t really surprising when you consider Austin was in his home state. With the night drawing to a close however, we got a surprise as Vince McMahon made his way to ringside. Well, on one hand it wasn’t very surprising at all as he had developed a taste for getting involved in Mania main events over the previous couple of years, but on the other hand he had taken a whooping earlier in the night and hadn’t been particularly invested in the feud beforehand. Whilst Vince was definitely not one of the millions and millions and had even screwed the Rock over a year earlier, the thought of him coming out to side with Stone Cold was just too out there. But that’s exactly what happened. Despite Rocky bravely fighting the odds, McMahon, Austin and sixteen chairshots being on the same page was just too much to overcome. We had witnessed the most unlikely alliance wrestling could have thrown up (as well as a brilliant heel turn) and that vision of Vince and Stone Cold shaking hands and drinking a beer together once the dirty work had been completed makes my top three Mania moments of all time.
2. Look Behind You
What made that Austin-Vince alliance particularly shocking was the fact that Mr McMahon’s character was at its most disgusting around Mania 17. He had caused Linda to have a nervous breakdown after demanding a divorce and carried out an affair with Trish Stratus, demeaning her at every possible opportunity. This caused Shane to return to television to sort his old man out, including purchasing WCW out from under him. A street fight was made for Mania and Simba and Musafa put it all out there. It was a gruelling battle, during which Trish wheeled a “comatose”
Linda to ringside. Stratus had had enough of Vince however and gave him a slap, resulting in her and Stephanie brawling to the back. Daddy Mac took control of the match and brought Linda into the ring to have her watch him finish off their son. As he looked to level him with a trashcan, Linda stood up and the arena went absolutely mental. Shane-O pointed at his dad to look behind him and Vince took a kick to the grapefruits from the missus. Wrestling has always been about the bad guy eventually getting their comeuppance and to me there is no finer example of that than this moment. I know a lot of people have their complaints about the McMahons being all over the product but Vince, Shane and Steph clearly have the business pumping through their veins. They get it and can put on a show to rival the very best the industry has ever seen. This street fight at X-Seven was their finest family outing but it was surprisingly Linda who got the biggest moment of that night. To this day, whenever I see her get up from that chair, it gives me chills, and that’s when you know that wrestling has done something extremely well.
Those of you who have followed me for quite a long time will have probably guessed what would be taking the number one spot here before I even started. I have gone on record more than once as calling Randy Savage the greatest performer in Mania history and as such there was always going to be a Macho Man moment towards the top of this list. No prizes for guessing what it is either. Randy Savage had reached the height of his heeldom at Royal Rumble 1991 when he cost The Ultimate Warrior his WWF Championship but smashing him over the head with his sceptre (not that random, he was the Macho King at the time!). The feud reached a point where it had become so personal, that they had a loser leaves the company match at WrestleMania 7. After dragging Warrior to the finest performance of his career, Savage would come up short. With her meal ticket gone, Savage’s manager Sensational Sherri started putting the boots to him. Old girlfriend/manager Elizabeth was in attendance however and came to make the save. The story of Randy and Liz was a long and complicated one (on and off screen) but they were without a doubt a couple that the fans were desperate to see make it. By accepting Elizabeth back when he had hit rock bottom, Savage immediately went from the most hated non-Iraqi sympathiser in the company to being universally loved. There was no build to this turn, it just happened in an instant. It takes somebody very special to be able to pull that off and Savage was the man. The whole of that post match segment was full of moments but the image that will forever be associated with it, and my all time favourite mania moment is this one...
So there we are ladies and gents. Elizabeth and the Macho Man from WrestleMania VII tops the list. To this day I can’t watch that without a tear coming to my eye. Anyway, I hope you have enjoyed this countdown of my twenty favourite WrestleMania Moments. I think that is probably the longest Ranking the Talent to date but I have loved every minute of reliving some of these great memories. I’d love to hear your thoughts. What would have topped the list for you? What major moments would you have left out? Which often forgotten moments would have made your top twenty? As usual you can use the comments section below or holla at me by mail, Twitter or Facebook. I shall be back again soon with a very special case in Smarks Court featuring the rookies currently competing in the NXT competition in the Columns Forum. Until then however, Peace!
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