For the better part of a century, the WWE Championship has represented the pinnacle of excellence in professional wrestling. Established in 1963 when “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers “won a tournament in Brazil,” slash WWE split from the NWA and kept him as their champion, the title has gone through a number of name changes throughout the years, yet the point has always remained the same—whoever wore the belt around their waist was the best wrestler in the WWE Universe. The only thing better than winning the WWE Championship is doing in the main event of WrestleMania (or at least somewhere on the card as space is increasingly given away to part-timers).
Well, so long as the match they win it in is good enough to deserve the spotlight, at least. Unfortunately, a great number of WWE Championship matches that took place at the Showcase of Immortals were memorable for all the wrong reasons. For every great main event the company has held with the title on the line, there’s also been a total bomb, and the state of WWE today means the trend may go downward from here. Luckily, fans will always have the memories of yesteryear, and it also seems likely some great matches will continue to slip through to the top level by hook or by crook. Take the good, take the bad, mix it up and keep reading to see our picks for the 8 best and 7 worst WWE Championship matches at WrestleMania.
15 BEST: André The Giant vs. Hulk Hogan, WrestleMania III
Depending on one’s personal definition of what constitutes a “great match,” the legendary contest between Hulk Hogan and André The Giant at WrestleMania III can be viewed either as an all-time classic or as the slowest epic battle recorded to video. As far as impact and importance, however, there’s no way to deny the influence of Hogan-André, which in many respects felt like the first main event that truly felt like it belonged at WrestleMania. Somewhere around 93,000 fans seemed to agree, packing into the Pontiac Silverdome to create an attendance record that stood for 29 years. The unstoppable force meeting the immovable object is the stuff wrestling dreams are made of, so it didn’t really matter that the in-ring action was fairly slow and plodding. Both men more than made up for it in their charisma and star power, more than justifying the encounter’s place in history as one of the greatest main events and championship matches in history.
14 WORST: The Big Show vs. Mick Foley vs. The Rock vs. Triple H, WrestleMania 2000
Almost 17 years later, it’s still hard to believe that the worst misfire of arguably WWE’s greatest year was came at the Grandest Stage of Them All. The main event of WrestleMania 2000 was hardly the low point of the show, with enough collective star power it couldn’t be a complete miss. However, we still felt the need to put it on this list due to how much of a mess the whole Pay-Per-View was, featuring a sole singles match amidst a sea of clustered tag matches and four-ways like this one. There was also the issue that Mick Foley had retired the month prior, leaving a bad taste in fans mouths when he broke that promise so quickly. To top it all off, Triple H won the match despite everyone assuming it would be The Rock’s big moment, which they bizarrely waited until next month at Backlash to follow through with. That all combined to a failed main event, when WWE should have had an easy home run.
13 BEST: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels, WrestleMania XIV
Oh, hell yeah—part one! Going in to WrestleMania XIV, there was a significant chance the event was going to be a disaster all thanks to the main event. While there has never been a superstar as popular as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin during the Attitude Era, his neck was still in questionable shape, and the WWE Champion Shawn Michaels was suffering intense back pain, about to take four years off to recover. Austin was going to win the belt that night no matter what, but there was no assurance the two would be able to have a traditional, classic match. That is, until they hit the ring, and somehow they both managed to pull it off. Michaels was clearly limited in his mobility, and Austin would go on to have better Mania matches as the years went on (keep reading). The more important issue, though, is that the Austin era had arrived, delivered in a damn fine match despite painful and difficult circumstances.
12 WORST: The Undertaker vs. Sid Vicious, WrestleMania 13
Theoretically speaking, The Undertaker versus Sid Vicious sounds like it could be a main event anywhere in the country, at least if Gorilla Monsoon were describing it. Two of the meanest giants in the WWE Universe, both Sid and Taker were also charismatic and popular on the road to their WrestleMania main event. Despite it all, there was also the issue that neither men were particularly gifted in the ring, at least during that point in time. Both could be motivated into greatness by the right opponent, yet it turned out they weren’t suited for one another, to say the least. While reports of Sid making a mess in the ring may have been exaggerated, the match itself was still a total dud. The so-called Dark Days beginning bored the crowd to an oddly appropriate death, capping off a lackluster Showcase of Immortals where the only highlight came halfway through the show with no gold on the line.
11 BEST: Hulk Hogan vs. “Macho Man” Randy Savage, WrestleMania V
How could WWE go wrong with a readymade tagline like “the Mega Powers explode?” Even the modern day Vince McMahon wouldn’t be able to screw that one up, and back in the late 1980s he was at his peak, meaning everything about the match was built perfectly, from conception to execution. Savage and Hogan were the two biggest WWE stars of the 1980s, with the possible exception of André, and with the added bonus that the Macho Man was one of the most technically gifted athletes in the ring at the time, as well. Flying around the mat in every way André couldn’t at WrestleMania III, Savage was the highlight of the fifth event despite his loss to Hogan, making his partner turned rival look like an even bigger star than the biggest icon in wrestling through his efforts.
10 WORST: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter, WrestleMania VII
Given the right build up and in the right time and place, Hulk Hogan and Sgt. Slaughter actually could have been quite the match up. Both men had a fair share of classics in their day and had plenty of charisma left by the time they squared off, but Sarge especially was suffering from advanced age and diminished ring skills to the extent the match was going to be a bomb, rumored threat or not. Everything leading up to the match was a mess, as well, especially Slaughter aligning with General Adnan and The Iron Sheik, who changed his name to Colonel Mustafa for some reason, turning his back on America to support Iraq in the Gulf War. That’s the same Gulf War that ended a month before WrestleMania VII, by the way, making the whole thing an offensive and outdated failure.
9 BEST: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. The Rock, WrestleMania XV
Oh, hell yeah—part two! Believe it or not, this time around some fans and insiders had reservations going into this one that The Rock wouldn’t be up to the part, barely three years into his professional career and headlining the Grandest Stage of Them All. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s wasn’t one of those people, though, and since he was still the hottest act in wrestling, it was his choice who he got to dance with, and Austin picked Rocky as his partner. The chemistry between the two wrestlers had been evident from their first encounters years earlier over the Intercontinental Championship, and now that things had graduated to the main prize in the company the match quality was likewise increasing in kind. There were a few flaws with the match, such as an ongoing story that meant an excess of referees muddied the waters, but the match was still a classic, albeit one they would soon eclipse. Keep reading!
8 WORST: John Cena vs. The Miz, WrestleMania XXVII
Where does one even begin with this match? Right off the bat, there’s no way around the fact that the biggest problem with John Cena versus The Miz at WrestleMania XXVII was that it had almost nothing to do with The Miz, who entered and left the match as WWE Champion. Cena earned the challenger’s spot by winning an Elimination Chamber match the month prior, and the sole storyline going in to the match was that he and The Rock (back to host after a seven year absence) didn’t like one another. Granted, The Rock was and probably always will be a bigger star than Miz, and the concept eventually paid off with the next two WrestleMania main events, but that doesn’t change the fact Miz-Cena was pointless in retrospect. While the match itself wasn’t a complete disaster, the after effects were, seriously damaging The Miz’s career and the WWE Championship by making them secondary to a part-timer’s still nascent feud.
7 BEST: Daniel Bryan vs. Batista vs. Randy Orton, WrestleMania XXX
Yes! Yes! Yes! Ok, that can wait…on the road to WrestleMania XXX, things weren’t looking good for the WWE Universe, with Vince McMahon and company doing everything they could to ignore that Daniel Bryan was their best and most popular superstar. Bryan wasn’t even in the Royal Rumble, and Batista’s status as a returning movie star meant fans were on track to watch Evolution explode some nine years after the group was initially relevant. Sometimes, however, when fans are loud and unified enough, even McMahon will eventually have to listen, which is how Daniel Bryan was added to the match and managed to turn things into an all time classic. Mostly through his efforts, an incredible match lead to an unforgettable, uplifting moment, so euphoric it hardly matters how shortly the high lasted. All right, now we can say it…Yes! Yes! Yes!
6 WORST: Randy Orton vs. Triple H, WrestleMania XXV
Somewhere along the line, Triple H must have looked in the mirror while wearing his King of Kings get up and decided he was capable of far more than he actually is. Case in point, the main event of WrestleMania XXV, when he and Randy Orton slowly put over 70,000 people to sleep over the course of 25 minutes with a slow, plodding affair that somehow capped an intense and personal feud. What should have been an all-out brawl was more of a beleaguered crawl, Triple H himself blaming things on Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker exhausting the crowd with their incredible match earlier on the show. That doesn’t explain why he and Orton did everything in slow motion, though, or how two boring wrestlers with such high opinions of themselves hadn’t been knocked off their pedestal yet. The amazing thing is, Triple H still had down to go from here, so keep reading to discover his absolute nadir as a performer.
5 BEST: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ric Flair, WrestleMania VIII
Photoshop being what it was in 1992, there was never really any question to whether or not Miss Elizabeth actually dated Ric Flair before meeting Randy Savage. That didn’t stop them from giving their all to the feud, somehow creating a personal and emotional rivalry out of a silly concept, capped off by a fantastic match in front of 62,000 fans. Oddly enough, the biggest flaw of Savage-Flair is that it wasn’t the main event, naturally usurped by Hulk Hogan’s ego in his uninteresting non-title match against Sid Vicious. Of course, this snub didn’t dissuade true professionals like The Nature Boy and the Macho Man in the slightest, if anything emboldening them to put on a fantastic show and prove whom the real main event stars in the company were. Would Hulk Hogan versus Ric Flair have been a more historic affair? Perhaps. In this case, however, we’re more than content with what we got.
4 WORST: Roman Reigns vs. Triple H, WrestleMania 32
It might be a little soon to call it so definitively, yet we have no hesitation in calling last year’s WrestleMania main event between Triple H and Roman Reigns one of the absolute worst of all time. As with everything related to The Big Dog, it was clear from the introductions that the crowd didn’t want to see this match in any way, shape, or form. Instead of trying to prove them wrong, the wrestlers worked a boring, plodding mess lasting nearly a full 30 minutes at the end of a more than seven hour show. Even if the crowd accepted Reigns or just wanted to see Triple H, the in-ring action was so dire they would have lost the support by the end of the match. Worse than the match itself is that Vince McMahon didn’t take it as a wake up call, and it’s still full steam ahead with Roman.
3 BEST: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle, WrestleMania XIX
When Vince McMahon took a genetic freak NCAA Champion and an Olympic Gold Medalist and told them to have a wrestling match, it was pretty obvious fans were going to get a great match. That Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle were also two of the most naturally talented sports entertainers both in terms of in-ring talent and subtle performance charisma ever, and what the 54,000 people at Safeco Field were left with an absolute classic. Almost wholly unique for a WrestleMania headlining bout, Angle and Lesnar relied mostly on their technical skills over the usual WWE style, nonetheless captivating the audience to the very end. While it’s true Lesnar’s botched Shoot Star Press at the end knocked things down a tiny bit, it wasn’t enough to drag the match down from the upper echelon of WWE Championship bouts, be it at the Showcase of Immortals or the smallest house show imaginable.
2 WORST: Hulk Hogan vs. Yokozuna, WrestleMania IX
The absolute only reason anyone would preclude Hulk Hogan versus Yokozuna from being called the worst WWE Championship bout in WrestleMania history would be if they don’t count it as a real match. It wouldn’t be unwarranted to do so, as the advertised main event was Bret Hart defending the gold against Yoko, ending with the monster from Samoa/fake Japan gaining his first taste of glory. Unfortunately, Hulk Hogan’s ego wouldn’t allow him to be on the show and not in the main event, so he pigeonholed himself into things by running out after Hart lost and demanding an immediate rematch, the power of Hulkamania naturally meaning he would take the Hitman’s place for no particular reason. That the match even happened was tragedy enough, and the fact it lasted all of an official 22 seconds before Hogan was cupping his ears for the second time that night, negating Hart and Yoko’s hard work over the past several months. Sound familiar?
1 BEST: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. The Rock, WrestleMania X7
Oh, hell yeah—part—wait, what?! Shocking finish that essentially killed the Attitude Era notwithstanding, WrestleMania X7 still feels like the true Grandest Stage of Them All, the main event between The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin cementing that reputation in a major way. While the two had headlined the show just two years earlier, the amount both men had grown as performers and characters was staggering, leading to an entirely new match that was exponentially more exciting than the last. Rock and Austin beat the hell out of each other with no disqualifications for almost half an hour, capped off by the ultimate swerve to end all twists, Stone Cold teaming up with his archrival Vince McMahon to win the match. For all the negative ramifications involved, the turn was brilliant storytelling, and it in no way diminished the incredible work that went into the match itself. When the curtain went down on WrestleMania that year, fans knew they saw an amazing show and were dying to see Raw the next night. What more could anyone ask for?