I certainly got my $9.99 worth from the WWE Network when researching this particular article and re-watching all 32 main event matches from the WWE’s grandest annual pay per view. Now, while several WrestleMania’s were headlined by “double”, “triple” or “multiple” main event matches, there is only truly one main event and that’s the match that closes the show. If you want this clarified, just ask CM Punk. So, when ranking this list, I have only reviewed the match that closed the show at each event.
The quality of matches and in fact, just the level of spectacle created by Vince McMahon and his creative team has been mastered as the years have progressed. This is reflected in the selection of many of the top matches coming in the last 15 to 18 years. Dave Meltzer, of Wrestling Observer Newsletter fame, would tend to agree with only one match in his top ten Mania main events coming from outside this period.
As the demand for wrestling quality to match WWE’s storytelling becomes insatiable, the rabid fan-base are becoming more clued in to what makes a great WrestleMania match or moment. Sometimes the main event is overshadowed in terms of quality by a match further down the card, but can make up for it with big moments. And sometimes the show closer simply isn’t worthy of the honour bestowed upon it. Let’s hope Bill and Brock give us 8 minutes (at most!) of their very best in Orlando!
32. WrestleMania VII – Hulk Hogan vs Sid Justice
It still boggles the mind that Ric Flair never main evented a WrestleMania and WM8 presented the best opportunity for this to occur. Flair had successfully transitioned from WCW and had won the world title at the 1992 Royal Rumble. The original plan had been to create a main event match between the two megastars, Flair and Hogan, for Mania. But plans changed and a double main event occurred where Hogan faced Sid Justice and Flair fought Randy Savage.
Flair and Savage delivered an excellent match that should have closed the show, but instead Sid and Hulk fought out a dire affair. A botched finish where Papa Shango mistimed his run-in caused all sorts of problems and eventually Ultimate Warrior returned to assist Hogan. A messy match, messy angle and a huge missed opportunity ranks this as the worst Mania main event of all time.
31. WrestleMania II – Hulk Hogan vs King Kong Bundy
The second Mania featured a strange and never to be repeated concept of staging the event across three cities. Matches were held in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and even more bizarrely, all on a Monday night! Each venue had it’s own card and this hampered the flow of the event.
The main event was a steel cage match for the WWE Championship between the holder, Hulk Hogan and the challenger, King Kong Bundy. The build to the match focused on Hulk’s kayfabe rib injury caused by Bundy and his willingness to fight despite being told not to by doctors. The match followed the typical formula of the time and Hogan won following a period of “hulking up”. Following the match, Hulk laid a beating on Bundy’s manager, Bobby Heenan.
30. WrestleMania XXVII – The Miz vs John Cena
For everything good that John Cena has done in his WWE career, this is sadly one significant blot on his copybook. As for The Miz, his main event push came far too soon. His re-invigorated character may not headline another Mania, but I suspect we will likely see another world title reign from Miz as his career renaissance continues.
This match for the world title held by Miz existed only to set up a feud for the following year between Cena and The Rock. This focus rendered the match itself completely irrelevant and added further damage to an already poor title run from Miz. This over-booked match even included Rocky interrupting to read an e-mail from the anonymous Raw General Manager. Despite retaining his title thanks to interference from The Rock, this simply highlighted the fact that he wasn’t a main event player.
29. WrestleMania III – Hulk Hogan vs Andre The Giant
The main event feud at the third edition of WrestleMania centred around Andre The Giants betrayal of his friend, Hulk Hogan. This was portrayed as being down to Andre’s jealousy regarding the spotlight shone upon Hogan after holding the world championship for the past three years. So, a title match between the two was set up for WM3.
As with most matches during this period, the main event was set up purely as a vehicle to promote the superhuman capabilities of the most marketable wrestler on the planet, Hulk Hogan. The story of the match was Hulk’s inability to knock Andre off his feet. Eventually, Hulk managed to knock over the Giant from an Irish whip. He then proceeded to scoop up Andre in a monumental display of strength and bodyslam the 525lb behemoth. A pedestrian match, but an iconic moment as Hulk retained his title.
28. WrestleMania 13 – The Undertaker vs Sycho Sid
This was a slow, monotonous match, which was ultimately determined by multiple interferences from a newly turned heel, Bret Hart. The match also suffered from having to follow an epic encounter between Bret Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin earlier in the night.
Sid entered the match as WWE Champion, having ended a one-night reign for Bret Hart on an episode of Monday Night Raw. The finish to the match was strange as a heel Bret Hart attacked the heel, Sycho Sid. His attack and subsequent distraction allowed The Undertaker to take advantage of the situation and pin Sid to win the championship. Following the match, Sid disappeared from WWE programming and his career never again scaled the same heights. Taker was awarded with a long 133-day title reign before dropping the belt to Bret Hart.
27. WrestleMania X – Bret Hart vs Yokozuna
The tenth anniversary of WrestleMania was the first not to feature Hulk Hogan, which seemed hugely appropriate after the harm he had caused the integrity of the event a year prior. The main event saw a repeat of WrestleMania IX’s main event as Bret Hart battled Yokozuna for the world title.
Following a draw at the Royal Rumble, it was ordered that both Lex Luger and Bret Hart would have title matches with Yokozuna at WM10. Luger’s match was first and he was unsuccessful after he was disqualified. Bret had to wrestle his brother, Owen Hart, earlier on the card and had lost this match.
With both wrestlers already having performed earlier on the card, fatigue played a part in the quality of the main event. Hart secured a fortuitous win after Yokozuna fell off balance and guest referee, Roddy Piper, counted the pin.
26. WrestleMania IV – Macho Man Randy Savage vs Ted DiBiase
WrestleMania IV involved a fourteen-man tournament to crown a new WWE World Champion. After four rounds, the final two competitors left were Macho Man Randy Savage and The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase. This was as close to winning the world title as the legendary DiBiase would get and unfortunately the match wasn’t a classic. As both men had already wrestled several matches (Savage one more as DiBiase received a bye in the semi-finals), fatigue played a major role and this was evident throughout the match.
Interference plagued the match as Andre The Giant’s presence to assist DiBiase was a constant thorn in the side of Savage. Eventually, Hulk Hogan re-appeared to even the scores and it was he who delivered a chair shot that allowed Savage to finish off DiBiase with the elbow drop and win his first world title.
25. WrestleMania XI – Bam Bam Bigelow vs Lawrence Taylor
Depending on who you talk to, tis was either the match that saved WWE and the WrestleMania concept or the match that nearly blew up the whole operation. This was a particularly challenging period for WWE as they faced seriously stiff competition for ratings for WCW and a new demand for edgier content. A lack of star power was also seriously hurting the company and this is reflected in the strange choice for this show closer.
A feud had been concocted between Bam Bam Bigelow and NFL player, Lawrence Taylor and this had garnered much needed mainstream exposure for WWE. Despite Taylor having no pro wrestling experience, he performed admirably and was able to secure a surprise victory over Bam Bam. This was, however, an extremely odd choice as a WrestleMania main event and can be only be attributed to a significant period of transition for the company.
24. WrestleMania VII – Hulk Hogan vs Sgt Slaughter
WrestleMania 7 marked the re-birth of Hulkamania after Hogan had gone a full year without holding the world championship. He had of course dropped the belt to The Ultimate Warrior at WM6 and had been out of the title picture since. In the intervening period, Warrior had lost the title to Sgt Slaughter at the Royal Rumble. To confuse matters further and to cement Slaughters villainy, he had identified as an Iraqi sympathiser and supporter of Saddam Hussein! Ah, pro wrestling in the 90s!
As with most of Hogan’s matches, this was a formulaic affair, which involved Hulk rising from the ashes with an epic comeback to secure victory. To increase the drama, Hulk emerged victorious a bloodied mess and did so ripping the Iraqi flag apart as if it was one of his shirts!
23. WrestleMania IX – Bret Hart vs Yokozuna
This is one of my earliest WrestleMania memories and at the time, I thought it was the most amazing finish I’d ever seen. That was, of course, because the title changed hands twice in quick succession – firstly, Yokozuna won his maiden world title via nefarious means against a brave Bret Hart, and secondly, Hulk Hogan won the freshly minted title from the giant sumo wrestler after an impromptu match. It is only now, with a more cynical take on wrestling history that I fully understand the negative impact this had on the company.
Just as the company seemed to be moving in a new, exciting direction with Hart as it’s flag-bearer, the rug was pulled from underneath him and the torch was passed back to Hogan. A year later, Hogan was gone from WWE. Despite this, Hart pulled a decent match from the behemoth that was Yokozuna.
22. WrestleMania XXV – Triple H vs Randy Orton
The build to this WWE title match far outweighed the resulting main event match at the big show. The match was set up after Randy won his first Royal Rumble in 2009 and challenged Triple H for the title. Orton had really established his character as a predator who would stoop to any lengths necessary to ruffle the feathers of his prey. This led to some exceptional angles on TV as he ravaged a very personal war with Triple H and his family. The two had history, of course, having been brothers during their time together in Evolution.
The bout was disappointing and struggled to follow the exceptional quality of some of the matches it followed, especially the match between Shawn Michaels and Undertaker. Triple H eventually retained his title via a sledgehammer shot and a Pedigree.
21. WrestleMania 21 – Batista vs Triple H
Overall, Mania 21 was a critical and commercial success, but the two championship matches promising a “changing of the guard” failed to live up to the rest of the card. John Cena secured his maiden WWE title from JBL and following this, Batista defeated his former Evolution stablemate, Triple H, to win his first World Heavyweight title.
The story had begun when Batista won the 2005 Royal Rumble and decided to use his title shot against Triple H instead of the SmackDown world champion, JBL. This led to a face turn for The Animal as he left Evolution and aimed to tear down his former mentor. The match itself was a back and forth affair with neither man capable of securing a strong advantage. Eventually, Trips succumbed to a Batista Bomb as The Animal started his multi-year main event run.
20. WrestleMania 2000 – Triple H vs The Rock vs Mick Foley vs Big Show
WrestleMania 2000 provided one of the most self-indulgent McMahon family storylines ever produced by WWE. A fatal four-way match for the world title was hyped further by the addition of “a McMahon in every corner.” After the champion, Triple H and Stephanie’s grip on the company became tighter, the rest of the family intervened. Vince sided with The Rock, Shane with Big Show and Linda with Foley.
The main feud really centred on Trips and Rocky and this became apparent after Show and Foley were eliminated first. Vinny Mac, true to form, turned on The Rock with a couple of chair shots allowing Triple H to retain the title. Rocky sent the crowd home slightly happier though by taking out each member of the McMahon family to close the show.
19. WrestleMania V – Hulk Hogan vs Macho Man Randy Savage
This match between the two biggest stars in the company at the time had been built over the course of a year. Firstly an alliance was formed and The Mega Powers were born. But over time this relationship eroded as tensions grew when Savage suspected that Hulk’s relationship with his wife, Miss Elizabeth, was inappropriate. This mirrored Macho’s real life jealousy regarding Elizabeth.
A heel turn followed for Randy as he turned on Hogan and the match was billed as the explosion of the Mega Powers. A solid back and forth match ended when Hulk kicked out of Macho’s flying elbow drop, hulked up and laid out Savage with the big boot and leg drop. This brought the feud to an end and started Hogan’s third reign as world champion.
18. WrestleMania X8 – Chris Jericho vs Triple H
This was a match that should have been so much better than it was. Admittedly it wasn’t helped by having to follow the epic encounter between Hulk Hogan and The Rock at WM X8. The crowd were spent after investing so heavily in that bout and as a result, the atmosphere during the main event was severely hampered.
This match came during Y2J’s reign as the first-ever Undisputed Champion, a run that promised much but sadly failed to deliver. Triple H had returned from a career-threatening injury and was in the midst of the most popular babyface run of his career. The build to the match surrounded the unusual decision of Stephanie McMahon to defect her allegiances away from her husband and towards Jericho.
17. WrestleMania 32 – Triple H vs Roman Reigns
Last year’s record breaking Mania was a monumental disappointment. It was seriously derailed by the raft of injuries suffered by top stars in the build-up which rendered them unavailable. A slow, plodding show was headlined by the main event that nobody wanted. The Roman Reigns experiment had shown signs of working when he was heavily cheered after de-throning Sheamus for the WWE title in Philadelphia.
This was short-lived, however, and Reigns was forced to defend his title in the Royal Rumble. Of course, Trips entered at number 30 and the evil Authority now owned the championship. Sadly, the crowd didn’t see it that way and vehemently cheered for HHH throughout the match. It was by no means a classic, but the two worked a solid match in which Reigns prevailed. Unfortunately, it was let down by a truly dreadful build and a forced push for golden boy, Reigns.
16. WrestleMania – Hulk Hogan & Mr T vs Rowdy Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff
The first ever incarnation of the annual event that we have all come to know and love took place at Madison Square Garden in 1985. Vince McMahon’s pet project was designed to link the worlds of celebrity culture and professional wrestling. Hulk Hogan’s huge crossover popularity was used to build the event and he was teamed with the star of “The A-Team”, Mr T. These two would face off in a tag team match against the heel duo of Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff.
The celebrity involvement continued as Muhammad Ali was recruited as special guest referee, New York Yankees manager Billy Martin was the guest ring announcer and Liberace was the guest time keeper. The match was everything you’d expect it to be with that supporting cast and after a litany of over-booked moments, Hulk and Mr T won the match. Silly, but a lot of fun to watch!
15. WrestleMania 29 – John Cena vs The Rock
In 2014, the “once in a lifetime” match between Cena and Rocky suddenly became “twice in two years at Mania!”. Fan support for this match was at a serious low particularly due to those sacrificed during the build. CM Punk’s record breaking 434-day reign as WWE Champion was cut short by the part-timer, Rocky, at the Royal Rumble, while Cena would win the 30-man brawl. The legitimately furious Punk was demoted to the undercard, yet still pulled off the match of the night at WM29 with The Undertaker. This was the beginning of the end for Punk’s WWE tenure though.
In terms of the match, the action was good but never fully lived up to the classic from the previous year. Rock seemed off the pace on several occasions and his brief run as champion was only used to segue into a big Mania moment for Cena.
14. WrestleMania XIV – Shawn Michaels vs Stone Cold Steve Austin
This match is often credited as being the true beginning of the Attitude Era as it ushered in a maiden world championship victory for The Rattlesnake. This was also HBK’s final match prior to his 5-year hiatus from the ring as he competed despite suffering from a severe back injury.
Vince McMahon felt it necessary to introduce boxing legend, Mike Tyson, to this match as a “ring enforcer”. In the build to the event, Tyson had displayed his allegiance to HBK’s D-Generation X faction. However, after the regular match referee was inadvertently knocked out during the match, Tyson leapt into the ring to count Austin’s successful pin attempt on Michaels. He celebrated with Austin before dropping Michaels with a punch after he questioned Iron Mike’s actions.
13. WrestleMania 22 – John Cena vs Triple H
After failing to win the Royal Rumble, Trips had won himself a shot at Big Match John’s WWE Championship by winning a Road to WrestleMania tournament. This match is best remembered for two things – firstly, the elaborate entrances of both men and secondly, the resoundingly negative reception that Cena received from the fans in attendance.
Triple H’s penchant for delusions of grandeur were indulged through his Conan the Barbarian- inspired king entrance. Cena, trying desperately to get over with the smarky Chicago crowd, entered to a gangster-inspired 1940’s theme which included an appearance by a then-unknown CM Punk.
The match itself was a very good affair, but the crowd were firmly behind the supposed heel, Triple H (sound familiar?). After a strong 22-minute match, Cena forced Trips to tap out to the STF and was met with a chorus of jeers after retaining his title.
12. WrestleMania 23 – John Cena vs Shawn Michaels
During a WrestleMania that included the current incumbent of the US presidency, two of the best in the business delivered an excellent main event. Michaels and Cena had formed an unlikely tandem in the lead-up to the Showcase of the Immortals and even held the Tag Team titles together. At WM23, the two warriors fought a hellacious match which included HBK delivering a sickening piledriver to Cena on the steel ring steps.
With both men struggling to execute their finishers, Cena eventually caught Michaels in the STFU and retained his title. The feud shifted gears following Mania and HBK turned on Cena the following night on Raw causing the team to drop the Tag Team titles to the Hardy’s. The rivalry became more bitter following this and culminated in a one-hour long non-title match on Raw, which HBK won.
11. WrestleMania XV – The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin
This match was about a year after the ushering in of the Attitude Era and Stone Cold Steve Austin’s coronation as WWE Champion at the previous year’s Mania. His ongoing feud with Mr McMahon had led to The Rock being recruited as The Corporation’s chosen champion. He had won the belt in the Deadly Game tournament at Survivor Series and had endured a long-running feud with Mankind following this. Austin earned his shot at St Valentine’s Day Massacre against McMahon after being screwed out of a Royal Rumble victory.
A crazy no-disqualification affair at Mania included a Mankind referee run-in and The Corporation attempting every trick possible to deny Austin victory. But eventually, Austin would overcome the odds countering a Corporate Elbow with a Stunner and celebrating his victory over a felled McMahon.
10. WrestleMania VI – Hulk Hogan vs Ultimate Warrior
Neither of these men will ever be mistaken for being technical wrestling greats, but they are undoubtedly two of the greatest showmen the sport has ever witnessed. This was Hogan’s crowning moment as a WrestleMania headliner, barring his match with The Rock at WrestleMania X8 which didn’t close the show. This match was billed as the ultimate challenge, a clash between two venerable super heroes to decide which holds the greater power. And for the first time ever two championships would be on the line – Warrior’s Intercontinental title and Hogan’s World championship.
After a typically plodding encounter between two limited workers, it was Warrior who stood tall with both titles and he was embraced by Hogan at the end. Despite their limitations, these two delivered an emotional rollercoaster of a match which still gives fans goosebumps upon watching it. One of the best from the early days of WrestleMania.
9. WrestleMania XXIV – The Undertaker vs Edge
Edge was a great worker whose Hall of Fame career was cut short far too early. He still amassed 11 world title reigns in his career and he probably would have been the second wrestler to surpass Ric Flair’s 16 reigns had his career continued. In 2008, at No Way Out, The Undertaker won an Elimination Chamber match to earn a World Heavyweight Championship shot against Edge at WM24.
The match started at a pedestrian pace with both men delivering multiple counters. As the match progressed, so too did the energy of both competitors. Interferences from Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder and a shot from a television camera weren’t enough to bring Edge victory. Eventually he was dispatched by Taker with the Hell’s Gate submission and the streak was stretched to 16-0. Incidentally this was also Edge’s first loss at a WrestleMania.
8. WrestleMania XIX – Brock Lesnar vs Kurt Angle
After a meteoric rise, Brock Lesnar underwent a successful babyface run after being turned on by Paul Heyman. He won the 2003 Royal Rumble to earn a world title shot at Kurt Angle at WM19. SmackDown had become the wrestling show and it was headlined by two legitimately world class athletes. Kurt Angle’s sneaky heel shenanigans in the build up included using Team Angle and even his brother, Eric Angle, to pull the rug from under The Beast.
Despite being a wrestling clinic, the match is probably best remembered for Lesnar’s heart-in-mouth botched shooting star press. Despite nearly being knocked out, Brock displayed his animalistic toughness and regained his composure to deliver a third F5 to Angle and win his second WWE Championship. The two stars could barely move at the end of the match, but embraced to signify the end to an epic encounter.
7. WrestleMania XXVIII – John Cena vs The Rock
Promoted as a “once in a lifetime” match between two industry-defining stars from different eras, this match promised little, but delivered a lot. The Rock was at this stage a full-time Hollywood megastar and very much a part-time WWE superstar. But despite some initial ring rust, the match more than lived up to the epic occasion. A one-year build to the match helped to elevate mainstream interest and nearly led to a heel turn for Cena.
Most expected Cena to score the victory (this was right at the peak of the “LOL Cena Wins” period), but it was not to be. After a series of near falls, The Rock landed a truly shocking victory by catching Cena with a Rock Bottom after an attempted Peoples Elbow from Big Match John.
6. WrestleMania XII – Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels
The storied rivalry between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels remains one of the most intriguing in the annals of wrestling. Notoriously disagreeable backstage, their personalities were polar opposites. But when placed in a wrestling ring together, they had a unique ability to create magic that still seems current 20 years later.
On this particular occasion, the two Hall of Famers battled for Hart’s WWE Title in a 60-minute Iron Man match. The first 40 minutes was a slow burn, but the last 20 minutes built to an incredible crescendo. With neither man having secured a pinfall or submission at the end of the time limit, the two men were ordered to fight in sudden death. Having lasted 30 seconds in a sharpshooter, HBK hit Bret with two consecutive Sweet Chin Music’s to win his first world title and proceeded to tell Hart to “Get the f@#$ out of the ring.”
5. WrestleMania X-Seven – Stone Cold Steve Austin vs The Rock
Of the three occasions that they met at the show of show’s, this was the most engrossing bout between the two icons of the Attitude Era. The match was pitched as a battle between the two biggest stars in company history, an era-defining showdown for the world championship. Personal issues were played on as Austin’s wife, Debra, was recruited to manage The Rock. In fact, in many ways, Rocky played the heel in the build to the match.
During the introductions, it was introduced without warning that the match would now be no disqualification. The shocking conclusion included turning Austin heel (in Texas no less) by aligning him with his oldest adversary, Mr McMahon. Austin eventually pinned The Rock following a vicious serious of chair shots before shaking hands with Vinny Mac thus securing one of the most inconceivable heel turns of all time.
4. WrestleMania XX – Triple H vs Shawn Michaels vs Chris Benoit
When the World Heavyweight Championship and the big gold belt was in it’s prime, it was at once positioned as the top title in the company. In 2004, this was the case, as a convoluted finish to HBK vs Triple H at the Royal Rumble and Benoit’s triumph in the battle royal itself led to a Triple Threat match at Mania. At the time, Benoit was at the peak of his popularity in WWE and was in the midst of a significant push.
The match itself was a chaotic 35-minute affair that included “crimson masks” being worn by Triple H and Michaels. Benoit survived a kayfabe back injury to eventually put away Triple H with the Crossface and win his first and only world title in WWE. He celebrated in the ring with best friend and WWE Champion at the time, Eddie Guerrero.
3. WrestleMania XXX – Randy Orton vs Batista vs Daniel Bryan
It still makes me sad writing about this match because it will always represent the peak of Daniel Bryan’s WWE career, before it was so cruelly taken away from him. Who knows how the landscape of the company might look today had Bryan not been forced to retire from in-ring competition.
This match was an extraordinary culmination of a year-long story in which Daniel Bryan had been repeatedly trampled on by Triple H and The Authority. Through an unparalleled level of fan support, Bryan was elevated to the main event at WM30. This was his second match of the night, having dispatched Triple H in the opening match in order to qualify for the main event. All three superstars contributed to an outstanding match, but Bryan’s never-say-die attitude was the highlight. His story of overcoming insurmountable odds and winning the title is a landmark moment in WWE history.
2. WrestleMania 31 – Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns (vs Seth Rollins)
Only 2 years have passed since Seth Rollins shocked the world by becoming the first man to cash in his Money in the Bank contract at WrestleMania. The build to 2015’s Mania and the main event itself was hampered by a perceived lack of star power, the start of Roman Reign’s universally rejected push and a WWE Champion who was M.I.A for most of the year, in Brock Lesnar. Despite these odds, WM31 has been heralded as one of the best Mania’s of all time and that is in no small part due to a historic main event.
The match itself was aided by a “big fight” feel after a fantastic show preceding it. An amped crowd ate up every German suplex by Lesnar as he dominated the early exchanges. An unexpected revival from Reigns included shockingly bloodying Lesnar before Rollins cashed in to create a truly iconic WrestleMania moment.
1. WrestleMania XXVI – The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels
Most lists ranking the main events from the Showcase of the Immortals will rank the streak versus career match as the best of all time. And I’m not bucking the trend here, folks. This match is a sports-entertainment classic. Having battled each other at the previous years Mania, in what many rate as the greatest WrestleMania match of all time, HBK and Taker crossed paths again.
This was a story of redemption for Michaels as he put his career on the line, ultimately falling short. Watching these two men in their prime is something to behold and the frenetic pace of the match served as a wonderful underscore to the desperation of both men. HBK’s top rope moonsault on to the announce table is a heart-stopping high spot and the emotional climax is perfectly performed as Taker brutally brings Michael’s storied career to an end with a bone-jarring Tombstone Piledriver.
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