It is getting close to that time, ladies and gentlemen. The Wrestlemania card is beginning to take shape and the months of conjecture and fantasy cards will end as the hype train leaves the station for what will actually take place on April 7th. A while back, former main page columnist, RIPBossman (writer of “Ripped to Shreds”), approached me about doing a collaboration on the top babyface matches of all-time. When it became apparent that we would be seeing a rematch of The Rock vs. John Cena, we decided to put together a directory of the top 10 hero clashes in Wrestlemania history. He and I each put together our own lists and we took the average between them to create our definitive rundown, taking into account such matters as the anticipation felt for each match, the height of the popularity of the wrestlers when they faced each other, the placement of the matches on their respective cards, and the match’s critical reception.
Doctor's Orders Gets Ripped to Shreds: The Greatest Babyface Matches in Wrestlemania History
By The Doc
Feb 27, 2013 - 8:12:18 PM
(Doc’s Note – Our individual rankings for each match are in parentheses prior to our personal breakdowns)
(Tie) #10 – Undertaker vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania XXVII
RIP (#8) - In this match, everyone knew Undertaker was going to win. There was no way that Triple H, in the final years of his already illustrious career, was going to end Taker’s streak. He said he would “…end the streak or die trying”. But on that night, throughout the course of several wicked chair shots on Taker, as well as 3 pedigrees and even his own tombstone being used against him, even the biggest of smarks was on the edge of their seat. For some brief moments, the unthinkable looked like it was going to happen. In the end, it looked like they skipped part of what they had planned and went to an early finish. Taker couldn’t even walk out on his own power, being taken away on a stretcher. As exciting as this match was, it is in the shadow of their Hell In A Cell match the next year at Wrestlemania 28.
Doc (#9) – From the moment that Trips and Taker returned on the same night in February 2011 and used no words to announce their match, I was primed and ready to see what they could do. My biggest concern for Wrestlemania, as an event, following Shawn Michaels’ retirement in 2010 was who would step up and give us that slam dunk classic that HBK always had. Taker and Hunter answered the call. Trips blew me away with his attention to psychological detail. Even though it was criticized for being spot heavy, it was billed as a war and a war is what we got. Do not mistake chair shots and finishers to mean that it had no cerebral edge. The Game’s facials were never better. The storytelling, in general, was top notch, before, during, and after the match leading to the next year’s encounter. In terms of match rating, I actually ranked it at #5 (on the babyface match list), but it was my ninth overall.
(Tie) #10 – Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker in a Career vs. Streak match at Wrestlemania XXVI
Doc (#8) – It is taking awhile for me to appreciate just how good the Taker-HBK rematch really was. I’ve told the story of my house losing power that night and my not getting to see the majority of the event until the next morning after all the disappointment had set in and most of the (very high) anticipation had worn off. I think that has been a major factor in my opinion of the match. I can see traces of an awesome tale and, perhaps, one day I can get past my lousy live viewing experience. In the meantime, I still think it was the MOTY in 2010 by a mile. The fact that it was the main-event of its Mania gives it a boost, but both RIP and I both seemed to find it unquestionably near the bottom of the list.
RIP (#9) - This time around, Shawn Michaels and Undertaker had an awesome storyline going into Wrestlemania (I did not care for the Mania 25 angle). Michaels was obsessed with breaking Undertaker’s streak. It consumed him. This time they went on last, and while the match they had was great, it is forever in the shadow of what they did the year before. For whatever reason, this match just didn’t have the same exciting feel to it that they had at Wrestlemania 25. The storyline itself is very memorable. If only their WM 25 match had this storyline, you’d have, hands down, the greatest Wrestlemania match of all time.
#9 – Batista vs. Undertaker for the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania 23
RIP (#7) - I consider this the second coming of the first Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan match. While neither man’s popularity could come close to Hogan’s or even Ultimate Warrior, they were still two of the biggest names of their era. It was unfathomable that either man could lose cleanly to anyone, and they were both put together for a one on one encounter. The match itself was great, and with rumors of Batista being given the approval to break Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak, the outcome was even more unpredictable. On that night, Undertaker defeated Batista and took his World Heavyweight Championship.
Doc (#10) – I want to make it perfectly clear that I think that this was one of the most pleasant surprises in the history of Wrestlemania. Yet, at the same time, I want to reiterate that I did not have high hopes for it. I was intrigued by it on paper, but I assumed that it would struggle to hit the three-star mark based on Batista’s track record. My anticipation was much greater for HBK vs. Cena on the same card and, as such, the level of excitement that I took to viewing Mania 23 was fairly low for Batista-Taker. Furthermore, though I love the match, it rates in the lower tier on my star rating scale above only Hogan vs. Warrior and Hart vs. Piper in comparison to the other babyface matches. Thus, I was happy just to include it on this countdown.
#8 – John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania 23
Doc (#6) – This is where our major discrepancies began, as I had this match rated even ahead of the Trips-Taker Hell in a Cell match that has accumulated such critical acclaim in the last year. It was not my feelings on the quality of the match that led me to ranking it so highly, but rather the anticipation combined with the main-event status and the popularity that both men carried into it. I have always been a huge HBK fan; he’s my all-time favorite performer. I never expected to see him main-event for the title again after Mania XX, so when Trips went down with his quad injury and it became apparent that HBK would step into his spot, I was tickled to death. My first column in the LOP Forums was called “Under the Bright Lights” and, in that column, I once called HBK vs. Cena a “dream” match. I was chomping at the bit to see those two tango with the lights on brightest. I don’t think that I was the only one; many fans from my generation rallied behind Michaels, making the WWE title match a battle of fan bases from different eras. It was not a classic, but it was great (in many ways).
RIP (#11) - This was not the original plan for the main event of Wrestlemania 23. And in my opinion, it seemed out of place. Michaels really seemed like the lesser of the available main eventers as far as credibility goes. He was fantastic in the ring, no doubt, but didn’t seem like the right choice to main event Mania against Cena. This wasn’t even the best match of the night, in my opinion. But that’s very arguable. Cena and Michaels had a good match that night, with the second half of it being especialy good. Their rematch a little later on Raw lived up to any and all expectations, but they didn’t bring that for their Wrestlemania encounter.
#7 – Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels in a Career Threatening Match at Wrestlemania XXIV
RIP (#5) - Let’s just forget that Ric Flair went on to TNA and wrestled a little bit there. I think everyone wants to act like that never happened. This was a career threatening match where if Ric Flair lost, his career was over. Flair is a true legend of the wrestling industry, a living part of wrestling history. Shawn Michaels was the show stopper, and according to Flair, was the best in the business at the time. In this match, it was clear as to why Flair was going to retire. He was a shell of what he used to be in every way. But on this night, Shawn Michaels was able to carry Ric to a match full of emotion and great storytelling. Shawn had to retire his idol that night, and it was a match we’ll all remember.
Doc (#11) – Another big difference in opinion between RIP and I. I am a fan of the HBK-Flair match. I saw it live with my dad (Rest in Peace) and we were like two kids in a candy store, “Woo-ing” our heads off as he rooted for the Nature Boy and I rooted for HBK to pull one final classic out of the Nature Boy. I thought it was a classic, but I consider that to be mainly because of Michaels pulling out all of the stops to do a huge favor for a guy that should have stopped wrestling long before that. Nobody has more respect for Flair than I do, but I had been ready to see Flair’s final match years prior. At 59 years old at bell time, Naitch was awfully long in the tooth to be a headliner. I thought HBK made happen a small miracle having that good of a match that night. Yet, it was not what I’d call one of the ultimate babyface bouts.
#6 – Triple H vs. Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match at Wrestlemania XXVIII
Doc (#7) – Only one finer story has been told in a wrestling ring in Wrestlemania history than Trips vs. Taker last year and that was HBK vs. Taker from 2009, but this was not only about the match quality for me. If it was, then it would be in a tie for second place with Rock vs. Austin (by star rating). I highly anticipated it; no question about that. Where it suffered was in its placement on the card, at just the top match of the second hour (even though I understand that it was placed there as not to steal too much thunder from the Rock-Cena match), and the fact that neither wrestler was exactly peaking in popularity. The match that beat it out for the main-event, and deservedly so, was a great example of putting two popular icons against each other at the peak of their powers. Taker and Trips suffer from not being around much (it’s about the only way that they do, but they still suffer for it, in that regard).
RIP (#4) - This was probably the beautiful display of storytelling you could find. It’s as good as any other out there. Undertaker had suffered a beating the year before at the hands of Triple H in what was actually their second Mania match, but it was Taker who got the win. This time Undertaker wanted revenge for a match he didn’t even lose. Shawn Michaels was the guest referee, and probably did the best guest referee performance of all time. There was so much drama and emotion throughout this match. Undertaker’s limited abilities were noticeable, but regardless, it is still a true 5 star classic.
#5 – The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania X-Seven
RIP (#10) - This match really did not have a memorable storyline going into it whatsoever. Austin won the Royal Rumble that year to earn a shot at the WWF Title. But no one remembers the build up the month before the match with Debra and the face to face interview the two had. But these two didn’t really need it. Austin and The Rock were arguably the 2nd and 3rd best things to happen to the wrestling industry in the modern era. They were two icons going at it. The two faces of the Attitude Era going at it on what many consider the last night of the rebellious time period. The match was great, as these two brawlers have great chemistry and are just flat out fun to watch. The match ended in a way that most people would like to forget, with Austin turning heel and siding with Vince McMahon. But none the less, this was still a match that everyone should watch at least once.
Doc (#1) – I was shocked to see RIP’s assessment of Rock-Austin. Of my four categories, Rock-Austin never ranked lower than second. I have it ranked as the #2 match, the second most anticipated, tied for the best placement on the card as the main-event in one of the greatest WWE Championship matches of all-time, and tops on the list for a babyface match featuring icons at the zenith of their popularity. I will share this with you just to accentuate my astonishment – when RIP sent me his initial list of babyface matches, he completely left off Rock vs. Austin. For me, when we discussed the idea of this column, the FIRST match that came to my mind was Rock vs. Austin. And I was worried that our lists would be carbon copies…
Rock vs. Austin was the only time in history that two legitimate #1 guys faced each other at Wrestlemania during their prime. Austin was #1 in 1998 and 1999. Rock was #1 in 2000. Austin wanted #1 back; Rock didn’t want to give it up (and arguably didn’t even though he lost). To me, it was everything that a babyface match should be; the evolution of the concept past Warrior-Hogan.
#4 – Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania XII
Doc (#5) – You could have cut my anticipation for the Ironman match with a knife. Unfortunately, it has not stood my test of time and the quality has suffered unless I’ve had three glasses of vino and am feeling no pain. The dead crowd has managed to skew my perception of their popularity, but I’ve done my best to attribute that more to Anaheim than to the Hitman or Heartbreak Kid. You could make a strong case that Shawn was never more popular and it certainly has the historical context going for it with this being the one HBK championship victory on the grand stage. In terms of the precedent set with Mania VI, there is no better pure babyface match than Bret vs. Shawn, but I think the long-term mixed reaction to the quality (I often cite the Flair-Steamboat Clash of Champions classic as being infinitely more entertaining) hurts its overall profile.
RIP (#3) - This match is one that I, RIPbossman, am not too fond of. However, I have the utmost respect for it. It is a match that many people consider the greatest Wrestlemania match of all time. Any match that can get so many people to say that about it deserves a spot among the elite in wrestling history. It seemed tough to think two wrestlers could keep the audience’s attention for one hour during that time period. But that night, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels pulled it off. The storyline was almost entirely one sided, but it was still a great one. Seeing Michaels holding the belt in his hands after he won the match certainly was an emotional moment.
#3 – The Rock vs. John Cena “Once in a Lifetime” at Wrestlemania XXVIII
RIP (#6) - A lot of people in the IWC talk about this whole rivalry as being lame. And I’ll be the first to admit that the way everything played out wasn’t as good as it could have been. But the truth is this was a bonafide dream match. Everyone wanted to see it happen. When people name dream matches the want to see, a match between Rock and Cena was usually named. And with a match like that, you can do no wrong. Everyone just simply wanted it to take place. The match was pretty good, and although it wasn’t close to the best worked match on this list, it deserves a high spot.
Doc (#2) – I’ve made no secret of my admiration for this match and the feud that led to it. I have often picked a bone with the IWC on its negativity and I’m not sure I have ever done so with the fervor and sheer relentless aggression toward an opinion opposite of the masses quite like I have for Cena vs. Rock. I flat out don’t get the way everyone else seems to view it on the net. I thought it was the bout that redefined the dream match and delivered in spades. The nitpicking toward it made me roll my eyes, while I, meanwhile, had the time of my pay-per-viewing life watching those two lock horns. Their story was excellent and it was incredibly executed. It was Cena’s greatest performance and every bit the “epic” and “iconic” match that it was billed to be.
#2 – Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker at the 25th Anniversary of Wrestlemania
Doc (#4) – I had it ranked outside of the top three solely based on the fact that I did not think it was a very good representation of what a babyface match should be. I would almost create an aside category for matches like it and Trips-Taker called “Legends” matches. When I think of a babyface match, I think of the two most popular stars in the industry, or involving at least one of the most popular stars in the industry, lacing up their boots for a battle that has something at stake to bring them together. The Streak could be that for HBK-Taker, but it did not have the same intangible appeal as other matches in the “hero vs. hero” category despite being, in my opinion, the greatest match of all-time and the match that told the storytelling masterpiece that will continue to shape what constitutes five-star matches from now until something can out do it.
RIP (#2) - This match really had a lame storyline going into it. Shawn Michaels and Undertaker had differing spiritual lives. And while that is kind of interesting, they didn’t need to go too far with it. They actually had Michaels come down from the top of the stage scenery in a white hat and coat, the complete opposite of the Undertaker. And also, you knew that Michaels wasn’t going to win. But the match itself was incredible. It was unheard of that someone could cleanly kick out of a Tombstone since Kane did it twice at Wrestlemania 14. But Michaels did, and the two went back and forth kicking out of each other’s finishers. It wasn’t a complicated formula, but it worked extremely well. Both Undertaker and (especially) Michaels were able to sell the amount of punishment they had received as the match progressed. Incredible match.
#1 – Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior for the WWE Championship at Wrestlemania VI
(RIP #1) - This is the match that set the bar for all face vs. face matches. It seemed unfathomable that either man could lose. Yet, we knew one of them had to. Hogan was the established icon, the best thing to ever happen to the wrestling industry. Warrior was the first baby face since Hulkamania started to ever rival Hogan in terms of popularity. In a match that was worked well beyond what anyone ever expected from these two, we saw the unthinkable happen- someone cleanly defeated Hulk Hogan. In his prime, no less. People will argue whether or not Warrior should have won, but no one can deny the anticipation going into the match, and the uncertainty that fans had as to who was going to win.
(Doc #3) – Recognized as the first babyface match of the Wrestlemania era, Warrior vs. Hogan was what defined a battle between good guys for the sports entertainment genre. In the pure concept of a match between heroes, Hogan vs. Warrior is always going to be the best. Rock-Austin and Rock-Cena are on different levels, in their own right, but they cannot touch the purity of the model offered by Hogan-Warrior. It’s an amazing match, even watching it back 23 years later. There’s just nothing quite like it in Wrestlemania’s great history.
I want to thank RIP for collaborating with me. This was his idea and he pulled me away from my Wrestlemania series long enough to do something different for a few days. I have been acquainted with RIP for ten years, so it was a pleasure working with him.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: How would you rank the best babyface matches in Wrestlemania history? If you could add other matches from other events, where would they rank in relation to your/our list?