When it comes to the biggest wrestling show of the year, there’s no doubt that it starts and ends with the spring mega event otherwise known as WrestleMania.
From the start in 1985 at Madison Square Garden, the event has grown leaps and bounds, not only in the production and the fan experience, but also in the quality of the matches and the way the event is booked.
WrestleMania is usually built around the main event, which is defined as the last match of the night. There’s been some argument about that fact, as some say that matches like The Rock vs Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8 and Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker in WrestleMania XXV were really the main events of those cards.
That’s not the case though, and today that’s the subject of our list. WrestleMania has had some stellar matches that were not the main event of the card, a trend that started with the famous match at WrestleMania III between Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage.
Since that, it’s not been uncommon for there to be a match at WrestleMania that outshines the main event, a match that people go back and watch, a match that sets the pace for how good or bad the event truly was.
Today we count down those special non-main event matches that stole the show. You may see the same names more than once on this list, but that also shows the grit and determination these stars have to go out and give their all despite not being the top match on the card.
Sit back and enjoy reliving these historic matches, the “Top 15 WrestleMania Matches That Were Not the Main Event.”
15 Triple H vs Daniel Bryan – WrestleMania XXX
The opener, as far as matches went, for the 30th WrestleMania featured Triple H taking on the most popular guy on the roster, Daniel Bryan. There wasn’t much doubt about Bryan going over in this match, but it was the solid effort and physical intensity that made this match one that really got over with the fans. Bryan being super over with the fans didn’t hurt when they popped for him getting the pin and the chance to move on to the main event, which he also won, later that night.
14 Shawn Michaels vs Kurt Angle – WrestleMania 21
They don’t call him ‘Mr.WrestleMania’ for nothing, and at WrestleMania 21, Shawn Michaels took his greatness to another level. He and Kurt Angle, who by no means is a slouch, put on a magical encounter that went over 27 minutes, with Angle finally getting the win via submission. It was an incredible fight between two of the best in the sport, and while these two had a few return matches, nothing compared to this first battle at the 21stWrestleMania.
13 Bret Hart vs Roddy Piper – WrestleMania VIII
This bout early in the card at the eighth Mania showed off two guys who had a long history with each other on a personal level, but never got in the ring one-on-one. It was for Piper’s Intercontinental title, and Hart was out to prove he could hang with a legend like Piper in a singles match. The bout was given close to 14 minutes and it delivered as Hart was bleeding halfway through, and both men went at it with all that they had in and out of the ring. The end came when Piper put Hart in a sleeper, and Hart used his smarts to kick off the turnbuckle into a pin to get the win and the title.
12 CM Punk vs The Undertaker – WrestleMania 29
Punk felt he deserved the main event at WrestleMania 29 over The Rock and John Cena, and he seemed to bring that chip on his shoulder into the ring with him to try and stop the streak of The Undertaker. Punk had his share of chances in the 22 minute match, and it really looked like Punk was going to be given the honor of stopping the streak. The two warriors went back and forth, with Punk locking in the Anaconda Vice more than once, and Taker putting on his submission move – Hell’s Gate. In the end, Taker’s tombstone secured the win to put him at 21-0. This match lived up to the time it was given and more.
11 Batista vs The Undertaker – WrestleMania 23
It was a match that many felt would underwhelm, but credit Batista for putting on what's likely to be the best match of his career. It was for his World Heavyweight Championship and both men put their bodies on the line. Chokeslams, body slams, power slams and spinebusters were all on display as these two monsters went at it for nearly 16 minutes. It wasn’t a shock to see Taker get the win with aYtombstone and take home the belt, but what was surprising was how good this match came across, and how Batista raised his game to Taker’s level.
10 Edge vs Mick Foley – WrestleMania 22
This encounter was the ‘WrestleMania moment’ that Foley had been waiting for. It came against his good friend in Edge, who agreed to go to battle with Foley in a ‘hardcore match.’ The two put their bodies at risk in this match and, in the end, fans still remember the big moment with the flaming table. Foley lit a table on fire and then was distracted enough by Lita to allow Edge to spear Foley through the table, then gaining the pin. It was a spot that many in Rosemont won’t soon forget.
9 Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake vs The British Bulldogs – WrestleMania II
This match for the WWE Tag Team Titles came on last in the Chicago portion of WrestleMania II, and was the highlight of the four matches in the Windy City. The Bulldogs were at their peak, with Davey Boy Smith supplying awesome power and Dynamite Kid going 100 MPH in each match. They had more than a few encounters with ‘The Dream Team’ of Valentine and Beefcake for the titles, but this bout was the best of them all. With a number of false finishes and near wins for the Bulldogs, they finally captured the titles.
8 Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit – WrestleMania X-Seven
A classic mat encounter that the WWE gave 14 minutes to in the middle of the seventeenth WrestleMania. The match showed off the best of each wrestler, with great action both on the mat and with their aerial maneuvers. It’s another match that the WWE glosses over due to the obvious events surrounding Benoit, as well as Angle’s association with TNA. Angle got the pin using leverage on Benoit to get the three-count. It would have been great to see these two have a long program together and build off what was one of the most underrated matches in Mania history.
7 Bret Hart vs Owen Hart – WrestleMania X
Two wrestlers that shared a bedroom when they were young, the two Hart brothers put on a classic to start the tenth anniversary of WrestleMania. Owen and Bret were very close brothers, and while Owen wanted respect as a singles competitor, his brother brought out the best of him in the ring. Owen’s jealous character was one of the hottest heels in the company at the time, and the program over the summer with Owen and Bret going for the WWE Title was the hottest program the company had in 1994. It got off to a great start with their match at Mania.
6 Triple H vs The Undertaker – WrestleMania XXVIII
This ‘Hell in a Cell’ had not only a great build, but Shawn Michaels as the special guest official, which gave it all the elements for a classic. By now Mania was built around a number of matches, not just one, so it wasn’t a shock for this bout to get 30 minutes, and have a ton of false finishes and near pins. The psychology during the match was excellent and Michaels asking Taker if he wanted to quit was great drama. The near fall at the 23-minute mark when Taker took Michaels’ ‘Sweet Chin Music’ and then a ‘Pedigree’ from Triple H only to kick out was one of the most intense moments in Mania history. All in all a great match that told a great story.
5 Edge and Christian vs The Dudley Boyz vs The Hardy Boyz – WrestleMania X-Seven
This match was a rematch from the WrestleMania the year before, and this time the stakes were higher as it was a “TLC” (tables, ladders, chairs) match. The six wrestlers put it all out there and for nearly 16 minutes took about every risk to entertain the 68,000 fans at the Astrodome. The biggest leap was that by Jeff Hardy, who did a Swanton bomb off a huge ladder which could have done major damage. Just like the year before, Edge and Christian were able to climb up and get the victory, grabbing the titles for the win in an excellent 'take your breath away' match.
4 The Rock vs Hulk Hogan – WrestleMania X8
This match got one of the greatest crowd reactions in the history of WrestleMania. These two legends went at it in a match that clearly should have been the main event, but bad booking led it to being the ninth match on the card, instead of the last. Hogan was able to draw the massive crowd in with his old school ‘Hulkamania’ poses, and the crowd ate it up, cheering for him more than The Rock, who came in as the fan favorite. The final pose down featuring both men after The Rock won was a WrestleMania moment that fans still love to this day.
3 Bret Hart vs ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin – WrestleMania 13
This ‘submission match’ was another match which featured a double-turn, with Hart turning heel and Austin getting the fans love as the new face of the company. The scene that everyone remembers is the blood flowing from Austin's face while in the‘sharpshooter.’ The end came when Austin ‘passed out’ in the sharpshooter, giving Hart the win. The grueling bout went over 22 minutes and saw both guys give it their all as the best match on the card.
2 The Undertaker vs Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XXV
Some feel that this could be the best match in WrestleMania, and even wrestling, history, a bout between two of the best ever that was about as perfect a match as there has been at the event. The 30-minute match was so good, that most felt the final two bouts, the big title matches on the card, were complete letdowns. Their ability to pull fans in and the great risks each wrestler took during this epic turned a good match into a great one. The Undertaker’s suicide dive over the top ropes nearly ended the match and Michaels’ moonsault attempt stopped by Taker were just two of the moves that made the crowd go nuts.
1 1.Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage vs Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat – WrestleMania III
To this day, there isn’t much bad you can say about the all-time classic match that started the famous phrase - ‘WrestleMania moment.’ This is a match that seems to get better every time you watch it, like a fine wine. Nearly 30 two-counts and countless moves that showed off the skills of each wrestler proved just how much each wrestler wanted this match to be labeled as ‘great.’ Savage planned out a lot of the match, and while Steamboat wasn’t crazy about that, the two pulled it off as one of the greatest matches in the history of the sport. The two held the fans attention, to the point that the fans popped twice thinking Steamboat had won. There have only been a few matches that could be defined as ‘perfect.’ This was one of them.