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Posted in: Doctor's Orders
Doctor's Orders: 10 Underappreciated WrestleMania Matches
By The Doc
Feb 8, 2014 - 10:57:08 PM

QUESTION OF THE DAY: What do you feel is the most underappreciated match in WrestleMania history?

WrestleMania season in 2014 has gotten off to a rocky start with what has not yet happened in the eyes of Daniel Bryan fans combined with CM Punk's walk out. Things are still very much up in the air for the New Orleans "Show of Shows." Yet, it is still a time of the year to celebrate wrestling's rich history. WrestleMania has created a lot of fond memories for us. Customarily, we tend to take a look at the best of the best, but a show like Mania has featured more classic matches than any other major event. Today, let us look back at some of the bouts that do not get the credit that they deserve. Here are ten Mania matches that I feel are underappreciated.

1 - Adrian Adonis vs. Roddy Piper at WrestleMania III - We begin the list with a match that partly suffers in its critical rating from a lack of time provided. As analysts, we often get caught up in "time" as a major factor in a match, just as movie critics do in their ratings for films. Time undeniably helps, so when matches don’t get a lot of time, they get pigeonholed into a category of matches that are placed on a lower specter than their lengthier peers. A sub-ten minute match often gets thrown into a “no higher than 3-star if it's lucky” category by a lot of critics (myself included). Match grading is somewhat formulaic for a reason - 95% of matches fit the formula. Piper vs. Adonis is an exception. It was just 6-minutes long, but it was a great match that told a great story, featuring historical intangibles that boost its profile, one of which was that it was billed as Piper’s retirement match. I often tell fans to look at a match from the perspective of what it was like when it happened, especially in cases where you aren’t that familiar with the talents involved or the era in which they came from. If you go back and watch this again, bearing in mind that it’s Piper’s “last” match, listen to the crowd. Even though the audio quality is nowhere near today’s standard, the crowd comes unglued when Piper’s bagpipe theme hits and they stayed amped for the entire bout. It doesn’t, subsequently, feel like just a six-minute match. One of the marks of a truly great performance is a match in which a critic can lose track of time; Piper vs. Adonis was such a performance.

2- Randy Orton vs. Kane at WrestleMania XXVIII - This match is underrated not just because of the quality of the work, but also because it took place on a WrestleMania’s undercard that was not very appreciated. WrestleMania 28 will forever be marred, to some, by the first hour that featured the 18 second anti-classic between Daniel Bryan and Sheamus. However, the match that immediately followed it is a match that I truly do believe that – in some point in history – will be looked upon fondly. It reminded me much of the Kurt Angle vs. Kane match from 2002, in that the action was very good and featured two clearly motivated talents on the grandest stage of them all, but it merely lacked a suitable storyline to push it into a higher profile. Subsequently, it is not highly regarded or well remembered. Yet, when we look back ten years from now, that may change. Perhaps it will be, then, as it has been for me when I watch Angle vs. Kane today. The only real difference between the two matches will be that Orton vs. Kane had a much better finish. A decade removed, young fans may look at the stature of the stars involved and conclude their viewing of Orton vs. Kane - much as a young Doc did several years ago with Kane vs. Angle – and say, “Damn, that was a good match!” I maintain that it is destined to be a supremely underrated match on a card that may wind up being supremely underrated. Orton vs. Kane, in my opinion, beefed up the historical stature of Mania 28. It was a very strong effort and one that can and will be remembered as something to look back upon fondly.

3 - Shane McMahon vs. X-Pac at WrestleMania XV - In 1999, WrestleMania XV was superlatively well hyped, but not superlatively well executed. There may never have been a better example of the quality of the hype and the quality of the performance failing to match. Yet, there was a match on the card outside of Rock vs. Austin that deserves praise – X-Pac vs. Shane McMahon for the European Championship. Shane was a guy who, when push came to shove, would put his body on the line in ways that a “non wrestler” should not have been willing to do. I have all the respect in the world for him. He was a part of several very good matches in his career. I personally loved the match between him and Pac, who was underrated historically – a major contributor to a celebrated era. Mania XV was the biggest night of Pac’s career. Going up against Shane for a fairly prestigious (at the time) title, he pulled a rabbit out of his hat. I don’t think anyone could have expected the match to do so well. It started a trend for the McMahons being involved in smartly booked matches in which the family did well to hold up their end of the bargain. Shane played his role excellently, as did Pac. Sean Waltman was never a great character, but he was a first class worker capable of turning up the intensity to equal situations that required it. Against Shane, he showed the necessary emotions in taking out his frustrations on a man that had been annoyingly effective at upstaging him in previous situations. It was one of the least talked about matches of the first 15 years of Mania history. One could argue that it and the post-match angle with Triple H turning on DX was show stealing. Mania XV was a disappointing card, overall, but I always will say that Pac vs. Shane helped make it more than a one match show.

4 - The Rockers vs. Haku and The Barbarian at WrestleMania VII - A “Granddaddy of ‘em all” that has been horribly underappreciated over the years is WrestleMania VII. I watched it a few years ago in a state of mind where I was very open to overcoming previous bias. When it ended, I felt I had just witnessed one of the better Manias of the early days. If you look at from the perspective of there being a lot of short, lousy matches, then that’s one thing. Yet, if you look at what was really good against what was really good at other Manias, then it holds up very well against its peers. It reminds me a lot of the recent Manias where there has been just one great match (Manias 29, 27, 26, and 25, for example), but there’s still enough to make the whole card worth a few viewings. You had Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage, of course, plus British Bulldog vs. The Warlord – a very good mid-card match for its era – as well as The Hart Foundation vs. The Nasty Boys and the generally underrated main-event of Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter. The match that needs to be recognized, though, is The Rockers vs. Barbarian and Haku. I could be mistaken, but maybe due to time constraints, I think this match was edited on the original video production. The DVD released a few years back features it in its full length. The Rockers were on their game that night. They were unique for their time, taking what the Rock ‘n Roll Express and Fantastics did in the NWA up a notch, athletically. Their style, heavy on the bumping for a babyface duo of that period, made them a perfect fit for working against bigger guys – especially bigs the caliber of their Mania VII opponents, Haku and Barbarian. In a thrilling opener, those four did their job in setting the tone for the rest of the night. Fitting, indeed, that an underrated match opened an underrated WrestleMania.

5 - Randy Orton vs. Triple H at the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania - This match falls into a separate category than the previous bouts. HHH vs. Randy Orton being underrated depends on your opinion of the match. If you believe that Trips vs. Orton was a great performance, then I think you are overrating it. If your opinion of it, however, was that it was horrifyingly bad, then you have undeniably underrated it. It was a bout for which I have and will always criticize for its finish. I thought that Orton should have won. Booking 101 suggested that he should win. The feud was very even. Triple H got the upper hand numerous times and Orton had the opportunity to become a legitimately strong drawing heel had he defeated him, just as it helped make Trips a very strong drawing heel, historically, to have defeated The Rock at Mania 2000. Sometimes, the timing dictates that a bad guy should win, even though conventional wisdom may suggest that he should lose. Mania 25 was one of those times. Nevertheless, I believe Orton-Trips to be underrated even though it did have a dead crowd exhausted from expending its collective emotion on Undertaker vs. HBK (one of the greatest matches of all-time) and what little it had left on the #1 star in the company (John Cena). They told a tale of a war between two guys that despised each other – that was why they hit their finishers so early in the match. It was a match not just about winning, but about punishing your opponent. They hit their homerun shots so that they could further punish each other. It has been criticized for having used the finishers so early and for its general format. Orton, himself, even came out and suggested that the stipulation was lacking and I agree. However, the match was not bad and it was a perfectly serviceable main-event at Mania that holds up well against the majority of its 28 peers. It was not the best of the best, but it was arguably the best of the rest.

6 - Money in the Bank IV at WrestleMania XXIV - One of the great additions to the WrestleMania cards of the mid to late 2000s was Money in the Bank. It was an awesome, guaranteed 3-4 star match every time out. If you are a fan of the critical side of pro wrestling and enjoy rating events based on the overall quality of the cards, then Money in the Bank enhanced your appreciation of the six Manias in which it took place. My favorite MITB match – though not the best (that title goes to the original) – was MITB 4. Some did not like the fact that, sans for Chris Jericho, the group involved was a bunch of relative newcomers. I’m not that way. Once we got past the first one, I thought it became a great way to give mid-carders a chance to break out to a new level of success on a major stage. Within fifteen minutes or so, a wrestler not well known amongst the mainstream could double or triple his worth. CM Punk was a perfect example. He was not a high profile wrestler before he won two MITB matches. In MITB history, there have been two guys in each match that have stood out – the winner and the man who did the most impressive stunts. I thought Mania 24 was an exception that subsequently made the match exceptional. Amongst the many phenomenal spots, there was the one where John Morrison, Carlito, Shelton Benjamin, and Punk did simultaneous springboards from the ropes to ladders. That was my favorite moment of all the MITB matches. That was awesome. It was young, hungry guys that wanted to make the most of their opportunity and did so.

7 - The Rock 'n Sock Connection vs. Evolution at WrestleMania XX - This match is fascinating. At the time, two of the five men involved (Batista and Randy Orton) were not yet of the stature that they’d eventually achieve. Now, when you look back, Rock ‘n Sock vs. Evolution at Mania XX features 5 of the top 20 stars of the WrestleMania Era…20%!! To watch that match now is amazing. You have the huge personalities of Rock, Ric Flair, and Mick Foley all in the same match combined with the early stages in the careers of two guys that became huge stars for the modern era. It’s one of those matches that I think people will reflect on both now and in the future and will be in awe of the bigness of the match based on the totality of the five careers. I also think that it was a very good match. Initially, I did not know what to make of it. On the night of, I was not very interested. I thought that Foley vs. Orton, which took place at Backlash a month later, should have gone down at Mania. Today, after seeing The Rock’s documentary and hearing Foley talk about how honored he was to have Rock as his partner that night, my perspective has changed. I am a much bigger fan of the match now than I ever was then. It is a match devoid of the requisite near falls often hoped for in a great match, so I don’t think it’s the quality that is underrated. Somewhere between 3-4 stars is right on the money. What makes it underrated is the intangibles and the personalities. It was certainly a nice addition to a pretty good Mania, but someone a decade or two down the line that was not watching then but studies pro wrestling is going to see it and think it’s one of the biggest matches ever.

8 - Jake "The Snake" Roberts vs. "Million Dollar Man" Ted Dibiase at WrestleMania VI - Among the best matches of the first 10 Manias was Jake Roberts vs. Ted Dibiase from WrestleMania VI. It was an instance where nothing was going to be allowed to overshadow the main-event of Warrior vs. Hogan. Subsequently, Roberts vs. Dibiase was not given much of a chance to steal the show as they were certainly capable of doing (an ongoing theme throughout much of their respective WWE careers). If you look at the overall story told and try not to hold the count out finish (which was just commonplace for the time) to a modern standard, then the entire presentation with Roberts finally connecting with the DDT (after the match) and passing around Dibiase’s money to people at ringside was tremendous. The Snake cut one of the best and most believable babyface promos of all-time immediately prior. It was 90 seconds, poignant and to the point, highlighting how great of a storyteller that he was. They had a nice feud going that had started at the previous year’s Mania and they delivered a satisfying payoff. For its era, especially in the WWE where the style did not allow for much in the way of critically acclaimed work, it was excellent. If the WWE Performance Center compiled a list of early Mania matches from which to learn, I would think that Roberts vs. Dibiase would be on it along with Macho vs. Hulk, Steamboat vs. Savage, Warrior vs. Savage, and other great examples of how to tell a story both in the build-up, the pre-match interviews, and the match itself. Roberts vs. Dibiase was not a barnburner, but it was a match that accentuated the little details so well. I would encourage an aspiring pro wrestler to study it. It was a 3-star match and little more, most critics agree, but the overall presentation is so good – please watch it if you haven’t.

9 - Undertaker vs. Diesel at WrestleMania XII - In recent years, I have showered the Undertaker with praise. The “Streak within The Streak” is up to seven matches and he has shown no signs of ending it. It has been a privilege to watch his progression. In my book, I spent a lot of time with his chapter looking at The Streak because I feel that it is his legacy. He has done a lot of great things, but two things stand out to me about his career – that he is the greatest gimmick performer in the history of the industry (a “Dead Man” being relevant in 2014 is astonishing, isn’t it?) and The Streak. From the win-loss and performance standpoint, there’s nothing that can compare to The Streak. 21-0 at Mania is unbelievable! The mere fact that he’s been in 21 of 29 Manias is astonishing, but the quality of the matches he’s had in the last seven years (even the last 12) has been one of the highlights of the last decade. One of the matches that I love that doesn’t get enough credit is his Mania XII bout with Diesel. The storyline was heavy on theatrics, but had an underlying theme accentuated in the match of Big Daddy Cool seemingly annoyed that Taker would be held in higher regard. It led to what I think is one of the shining examples of how to perform a big man match in the WWE. It’s not fast-paced, but it doesn’t drag. When you watch how they approached it and wrestled it, everything seemed to click. The way that Diesel cockily sits there with all the arrogance in the world, propped up against the ropes after hitting the Jackknife Powerbomb, beyond assured of his victory was a thing of storytelling beauty. He looks down at Taker like “this guy? Seriously? You think he’s better than me?” If you look at the little things in that match - and there are a lot of them - it’s just great.

10 - "Macho King" Randy Savage vs. The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania VII - In my opinion, the most underrated match ever is Ultimate Warrior vs. “Macho King” Randy Savage from WrestleMania VII. It’s not that the match is not well thought of, critically. It has been highly rated and, generally, people seem to remember it fondly. To me, it’s underrated in the sense that it was one of the greatest matches ever – the blueprint for the modern WWE main-event with the near falls and the dramatic, intense storytelling – but it doesn’t get included in that conversation. It combined the workrate commonplace in NWA main-events with the theatricality of the WWE. The storytelling from Warrior, who never had a better performance in his life, was absolutely incredible. The storytelling from Macho, Sensational Sherri, and Miss Elizabeth was off the charts. It was aided by commentary that was amongst the best ever offered. Bobby Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon were heavily invested emotionally, adding something extra to the performance. Everything about that match was near perfectly executed by everyone involved. So, given the fact that it took place at Mania and it had a huge stipulation (“Career” match) and it involved two guys who were very high profile, historically, that is a match that, to me deserves to be in the conversation with Taker-Michaels, Hart-Austin, Rock-Austin, etc. Savage vs. Warrior deserves better than sitting back a few notches behind the others. That’s what makes it underrated. I went back, when I first got into match rating as a hobby, and watched all of the old Manias in an attempt to form a new opinion of the matches that I watched as a kid from a new, analytical perspective. When I viewed Savage vs. Warrior against the other top matches of all-time from Mania’s rich history, I felt that it held up, at least, and challenged those matches for their spot at the top of the ladder, at most. Ten years later, I still feel that way. That match was amazing – everything that you would want to see in an amazing Mania performance.

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