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With WrestleMania 32 ready to rumble in Arlington, Texas — and primed to shatter attendance records — one can’t think of a more appropriate way to reflect on “The Granddaddy of Them All” than by looking back at WWE’s most iconic event in all of its glory and grotesquerie. Here, we go toe-to-toe with WrestleMania history and separate the winners from the losers. Please direct all cheers and boos to the comments section, and avoid throwing chairs.

31. WrestleMania 9 (1993)

Promoted as the “World’s Largest Toga Party,” the event marked the first outdoor WrestleMania. The scene was Caesars Palace, and not only was the card executed without any rhythm or excitement, but the mighty ego of Hulk Hogan reigned supreme in a cheap twist. After Bret Hart lost the heavyweight championship to Yokozuna, Hogan entered the scene to check on Bret, only to be challenged to an impromptu match by Yoko’s manager, Mr. Fuji. Twenty-two seconds later, Hogan would win and become the new champ, immediately prompting the worst ending to a WrestleMania main event.

30. WrestleMania 2 (1986)

Awkwardly spread out across three venues in three different cities, WWE CEO Vince McMahon’s second wrestling extravaganza took the path of most poorly conceived sequels. Not all was horrendous; the night saw a solid tag match between The British Bulldogs and The Dream Team. It was the lone bright spot in a sea of muck. Mr. T would face Roddy Piper in a lame boxing match that ended in a DQ, and Hulk Hogan would wrestle a steel-cage match with King Kong Bundy. Elvira (Cassandra Peterson) guest-commentated the Hogan match, referring to it as “a horror show.” She was not wrong.

29. WrestleMania 11 (1995)

WrestleMania 11 is like the bad tattoo you earned from a heavy night of drinking. With appearances from mid-’90s staples such as Pamela Anderson, Jenny McCarthy, and Jonathan Taylor Thomas, the event’s Hollywood angle took precedence over the in-ring feuds. The card featured a hideous Undertaker match with King Kong Bundy, the then-heavyweight champion Diesel facing Shawn Michaels in a slightly above-average bout, and then the main event: former NFL linebacker Lawrence Taylor vs. mid-card wrestler Bam Bam Bigelow. Enough said.

28. WrestleMania 4 (1988)

A 14-person, single-elimination tournament for the WWF Championship unfolded in robotic fashion during the show’s first four-hour telecast at the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. Highlights were minimal: The Ultimate Warrior made his PPV debut in a throwaway match with Hercules. Hulk and Andre both DQ’d due to chair usage during their rematch. And Randy Savage and Ted DiBiase squared off in the tournament finals, with Savage playing the worn-down underdog to DiBiase’s refreshed heel. Savage won the title in a serviceable but hardly memorable match, eventually leading to a collision between he and Hulk a year later. Give the company some credit for trying out the tournament, which, if attempted again with its deeper roster, would likely breed better results.

27. WrestleMania 5 (1989)

The company’s fifth incarnation returned to New Jersey and ditched the tournament format in favor of “The Mega-Powers Explode.” Unfortunately, the Savage-vs.-Hogan headliner, which received such an incredible build, dwarfing everything else on the card, was just as taxing and inconsequential as its predecessor. The two tussled well enough, but it felt momentous. The match hinted at the notion that Hulk Hogan wasn’t so invincible after all.

26. WrestleMania 1 (1985)

WrestleMania was a cornerstone of Vince McMahon’s evolving, exhibitionist empire. A year prior to the first event, McMahon partnered with MTV on a series of wrestling events, before countering wrestling promoter Jim Crockett’s pay-per-view throwdown, Starrcade. Staged at Madison Square Garden, the first WrestleMania paraded celebs like Cyndi Lauper, Liberace, and Muhammad Ali through forgettable fights before pitting Hulk Hogan and Mr. T against Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff. The main event wouldn’t play to today’s refined wrestling audience, but the crowd reaction, and the amount of heat that Piper and Orndorff drew at the time, were palpable and feverish. McMahon was the real victor. He gambled on an unproven commodity and changed the landscape of professional wrestling forever.”>

25. WrestleMania 16 (2000)

Due to a swell of proven mid-carders plucked from WCW (Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, and Eddie Guerrero), WrestleMania 16 looked promising on paper. The results didn’t follow. The night’s only high came from a triangle ladder match for the tag titles between The Dudley Boyz, The Hardy Boyz, and Edge and Christian. A revolutionary spotfest, the performers placed their bodies on the line as the crowd felt the rush and marked out accordingly. A true dud between Terri Runnels and The Kat remains notable because it was the only singles match on the card. The main event, a Fatal 4-Way between Triple H, The Rock, Mick Foley, and the Big Show carried too many moving parts (a McMahon in each corner) and suffered from being overlong and overbooked. It was the first time a heel (HHH) would leave WrestleMania with the title, but the match failed to capitalize on a hot WWF main-event title scene at the time.

24. WrestleMania 29 (2013)

As will become evident, WrestleMania succeeds when equipped with surprise and a halfway decent main event. No such luck at 29, which offered up milquetoast action that never let up save for an Undertaker-CM Punk pit stop. The Shield made their Mania debut in a six-man tag match to open the show, a fresh sight but an unspectacular match. Fandango went over Jericho, which means absolutely nothing in hindsight. More nonsense followed when Triple H defeated Brock Lesnar, a hilarious result given what Brock would achieve the following year. Cena-Rock II was all about redemption for “Big Match John,” but the general repetitiveness of the match and the endless trading of finishers rendered it null and void.

23. WrestleMania 27 (2011)

More bombast than actual wrestling, 27 is one of WWE’s more middle-of-the-road shows (the arrow trending downward due to the Cena-Miz main event). The company welcomed The Rock back as host of the show, while also setting up future back-to-back Mania matches with John Cena. Highlights that prevented this from being bottom-barrel material: the Nas song “Hate Me Now” backing up The Miz’s video package, Edge wrestling his last televised match, and CM Punk-Randy Orton putting on a nice fight. HHH-Undertaker stole the show in a grueling, slow-burn saga that lived up to hype following both the Taker-HBK wars just years prior.

22. WrestleMania 15 (1999)

There was a strange, perverse feel to this show, which featured the Attitude Era in full thrust, a ton of overbooking (thanks, Vince Russo), a flash of the truly bizarre (the Big Boss Man being hung from a cage in the worst Hell in a Cell match ever), and the laughable (Butterbean vs. Bart Gunn in a Brawl for All match). Everything on the card appeared as if it had weight, but the writing defused such promise. Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock would collide like two pit bulls in a no-DQ match that saw each man trying to pulverize the other. Each would wrestle better matches in the future, but this first Mania brawl would salvage a sloppy, bloated evening.

21. WrestleMania 13 (1997)

A year after losing the title at WrestleMania 12, Bret Hart exited Rosemont, Illinois with a chorus of boos after he and Steve Austin pulled off the most masterful double turn in WWF history. Battering each other in a submission match, the bout still elicits goosebumps for its premiere psychology and the iconic image of Austin wearing a crimson mask of blood in the middle of the ring before passing out. Wisely avoiding near-falls and countless finishers, Bret and Austin doled out pure punishment and hatred. Despite a loss, Austin would earn the audience’s empathy in his star-making moment, carrying the volcanic momentum along with him for the rest of his career. Rocky Maivia (“The Rock”) would make his Mania debut, but was far too green to make an impression. The Undertaker took on Sycho Sid in a lousy main event, another instance of the company placing too much stock in Sid. Thankfully, Bret and Austin’s war remains an all-timer.

20. WrestleMania 25 (2009)

With a lot of sizzle on the card, including Jericho-WWE Legends and Matt Hardy-Jeff Hardy, WrestleMania 25’s title matches smelled like more of the same. Rey Mysterio and JBL’s fight for the IC Title lasted 20 seconds. Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker ran away with the show in a match that proved to be the only must-see of the night. They would successfully rematch a year later, but this was intoxicating from start to finish, relegating all else on the card to a footnote.

19. WrestleMania 6 (1990)

Plagued by matches that couldn’t hit the 10-minute mark, the sixth WrestleMania required significant changes. All roads led to the explosive, title-for-title battle between The Ultimate Warrior and Hulk Hogan. While neither were technicians in the ring, there was beauty to Hogan putting over Warrior, at the height of his fame at the time. Though the match has a plodding and cartoonish feel, it’s Hogan’s most satisfying early-Mania showdown — a true spectacle. The wrestler receives bonus points from us for milking a “temporarily dislocated patella” during the match.

18. WrestleMania 12 (1996)

There are many who herald Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels’ 60-minute Iron Man match as the greatest Mania match ever. I’m skeptical, but I won’t begrudge them. The match comes alive in the latter half. Michaels captured his first big Mania moment after pinning Bret in extended time, sparking a feud that would bring on enthralling and controversial days. Sporting a meager six matches on the card, there exists little else of importance unless you find comedic value in The Ultimate Warrior returning to defeat Hunter Hearst Helmsley (HHH) in a squash match. Fun facts: my brother, at the peak of his WWF fandom, skipped the pay-per-view to attend an AC/DC concert. Also, WWF inexplicably included Razor Ramon on the promotional poster even though he would be absent from the show.

17. WrestleMania 7 (1991)

Ah, yes, early-’90s patriotism and return of Hulkamania. Hogan defeated Iraqi supporter Sgt. Slaughter during WrestleMania 7’s finale, reclaiming the title in front of an amped Los Angeles crowd. But the show-stealing match occurred halfway through the event, when The Ultimate Warrior defeated “Macho King” Randy Savage in a retirement match. The combination of Savage’s guiding hand, the culmination of the greatest romance in wrestling history, and the match stipulation made for Warrior’s best Mania showing. It’s OK if you fought back tears watching this match, really. Other show highlights include the debut of The Undertaker, two solid tag matches, a wonderfully awful Jake the Snake/Rick Martel blindfold match, and Bobby Heenan on commentary proclaiming, “I speak fluent Iraqi!”

16. WrestleMania 8 (1992)

Like that cousin you haven’t seen in years that shows up out of the blue to surprise you, slowly but surely wearing out his welcome, WrestleMania 8 in Indianapolis is the ultimate mixed bag. The show touted two great matches: Bret Hart and Roddy Piper duking it out for the IC title, and Randy Savage facing Ric Flair for the WWF championship. Of course, each took a backseat to a non-title scuffle between Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice (a tedious big man and main-event draw), which ended with an ill-timed interference from Papa Shango, followed by a surprising sprint to the ring from The Ultimate Warrior, who saved Hogan. Aside from the two killer undercard matches, this Mania’s conclusion was woefully misjudged. A silver lining: the rise of Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels.

15. WrestleMania 14 (1998)

There was a lot to digest heading into Boston for the annual spring extravaganza: the birth of the DX tag team (with Mike Tyson in their corner), the build to The Undertaker-Kane, the Montreal Screwjob, and a pissed-off Stone Cold Steve Austin, the company’s top face. The mood and tone of the event was radically different from the years before. A 15-man battle royal popped the crowd early. Other contests couldn’t hold a candle to the main event’s intensity. The Rock and Ken Shamrock’s fight was a major letdown, a dumpster match was novel but largely predictable, and The Undertaker vs. Kane, which put Kane over as a huge heel, was far from extraordinary. The show, and perhaps the future of the business, would ride on Austin vs. Michaels (sporting a braided ponytail). The pace was erratic at times (Michaels’ injured back had been a mess) but their chemistry salvaged the match. Austin’s belt-chasing narrative would culminate in a win, launching him into superstardom and the Attitude Era.

14. WrestleMania 18 (2002)

A journey back to the SkyDome in Toronto, and the return of “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan, turned Mania into a magic show. The Invasion angle arrived without the same luster it had in WCW, coming and going not with a bang but with a whimper due to WWF’s surplus of rising talent. Both fun and brutal, Ric Flair predictably bled under The Undertaker’s elbow, spurring surprise interference from Arn Anderson. Edge and Booker T squared off, but only received a lackluster six minutes. Stone Cold tangled with the NWO’s Scott Hall in one of Austin’s least-rewarding Mania matches. Then there was The Rock and Hulk Hogan, (“Icon vs. Icon”), staged before the main event. Each, along with the crowd, conjured up mountain-moving entertainment that lifted the match into another realm. Hogan’s “You ain’t nothing, meatball!” declaration to The Rock evokes golden memories of Hogan’s Thunderlips character from Rocky III. Triple H and Jericho did fine work in the main event, but the crowd couldn’t muster up the same energy as earlier in the night. Major props are owed to Stephanie McMahon for taking multiple bumps in a garish aqua-colored bodysuit, which in hindsight, slightly improves the match.

13. WrestleMania 28 (2012)

“Once in a Lifetime” would have been a nice tagline if The Rock and John Cena didn’t wrestle the same exact match one year later. Oh well. The Miami-set WrestleMania 28 went down as the highest-grossing pay-per-view event in pro-wrestling history. But, oof, the first hour was dreadful. Sheamus and Daniel Bryan opened the night in a shocking 18-second squash, pissing off the audience and kick-starting the Bryan underdog narrative that would follow. Thankfully, Triple H-Undertaker II took the show off life support. Twenty-eight rolled “End of an Era,” “Hell in a Cell,” and HBK guest refereeing into one. Every ounce of drama and punishment was set on the table — and met. CM Punk-Jericho preceded the main event in a technical gem of a match. While Rock-Cena tried to mimic Rock-Hogan from 18 without reaching the same heights, Rock going for 30 minutes after being away for eight years was fantastic to witness. Sad Cena on the ramp after the match is still a pleasurable sight.

12. WrestleMania 22 (2006)

WrestleMania 22 was sort of like having multiple Pixy Stix poured into your mouth. “Money in the Bank II” was a welcome addition, Edge and Mick Foley fought to the death in a brutal hardcore match that put Edge over, and Mickie James and Trish Stratus wrestled a competent and controversial Women’s title match. Rey Mysterio’s unlikely world-title victory over Randy Orton and Kurt Angle was a fine Mania moment for the cruiserweight, but one that felt rushed given the circumstances. Shawn Michaels and Mr. McMahon’s No Holds Barred match was a one-sided ass-kicking that Jim Ross stole with commentary. John Cena and Triple H’s main event was nicely constructed — no bells and whistles (save for the entrances), just well-rounded wrestling. Twenty-two was nestled in the Cena main-event era, but the night’s most memorable images came in the form of Vince McMahon giving the bird to Michaels while exiting the ramp on a gurney, and Mickie James’ infamous V-lick and crotch grab.

11. WrestleMania 23 (2007)

Twenty-three sent us back to Detroit for the first time in 20 years. Same city. Different arena. “Money in the Bank III” went down a reckless path, squaring Shawn Michaels against John Cena for the WWE title (Cena’s best Mania match). The fight provided firm bookends to a show that also gave us Undertaker’s streak-surviving win against Batista, and the ECW Originals surfacing for a hot second in brief, crowd-pleasing fashion for a match with The New Breed. There would be no gargantuan Hogan-Andre moment this time around, but tomfoolery like Donald Trump shaving Mr. McMahon bald, then receiving a stunner (can we please get a real-life repeat of this?), has endured.

10. WrestleMania 26 (2010)

Shawn Michaels’ decorated career set against The Undertaker’s streak in Phoenix had to follow up Undertaker-Michaels — and did so with effortless zeal and emotion. The rest of the card was shaky, but did feature CM Punk-Mysterio (way too brief), Edge-Jericho (hit its stride late), and Cena-Batista (short but solid). Bret Hart got his revenge over Vince McMahon in a No Holds Barred contest which was mostly rubbish but satisfying for Bret and his family on the big stage. Thankfully, WWE learned its lesson by placing all of the aforementioned fare before Michaels’ fitting sendoff. The added bonus of Michaels honoring his vow to never suit up at Mania again makes 26 memorable.

9. WrestleMania 31 (2015)

The outdoor West Coast Mania setting makes for a less extravagant feel, but last year’s event went down so smoothly, it earns a top spot. Handicapped by injuries, Daniel Bryan’s opening ladder match IC-title victory made the strap feel significant again. Orton and Seth Rollins worked a slower match, peaking with one of the best RKOs “outta nowhere.” Triple H-Sting was overbooked with run-ins from the DX and NWO, but finally seeing Sting in a WWE ring was rewarding, even while being buried. Rusev wasn’t the same after losing to Cena, but the match was at least well worked. Undertaker-Bray Wyatt was predictable and could have been much more, but we’ve seen worse ‘Taker matches in the past. One of the best main-event swerves took place as Seth Rollins cashed in his MITB briefcase and stole the belt at the tail end of a Lesnar-Reigns showdown. The night’s final image of Rollins, laughing maniacally on the ramp and swinging the title over his head with fireworks erupting in the background, was the perfect coda to a show many thought would underperform.

8. WrestleMania 24 (2008)

“I’m sorry, I love you.” WrestleMania 24 was a highly emotional night in Orlando, with Ric Flair ending his WWE career in a stirring bout against Shawn Michaels, who was tasked with retiring the old dog and putting the entire match on his shoulders. No small feat,  but this was Michaels. What followed was near perfect. CM Punk became a real player, winning the MITB briefcase in a match that was tough to screw up. Celeb appearances at Mania aren’t usually my cup of tea — see LT vs. Bam Bam — but Big Show and Floyd Mayweather worked an entertaining and serious angle. Randy Orton, John Cena, and Triple H wrestled a commendable Triple Threat match, but Undertaker and Edge took the stage for a white knuckler that told a great story.

7. WrestleMania 3 (1987)

WrestleMania 3 gave a much-needed shot of pure, unvarnished spectacle right into the company’s muscled arm. While most of the show was filler for what would come later, Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage put on a wrestling clinic in an IC-title match that is arguably one of the best Mania matches ever. Their near-fall-after-near-fall battle is a testament to in-ring psychology and storytelling, standing as a terrific appetizer to the culturally significant showdown between Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant in the main event. The match moved at a lumbering pace before Hogan body slammed Andre in front of a deafening, record-breaking Pontiac Silverdome crowd, resulting in the most iconic Mania image ever.

6. WrestleMania 10 (1994)

Sandwiched between two dreadful events, WrestleMania returned to Madison Square Garden for a show that provided a glimpse of the company at its finest. Bret Hart taking on his brother Owen Hart opened the show in a match littered with pounding drama (and Bret worked overtime, defeating Yokozuna in a serviceable main event). Next came Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon. The first-ever Mania ladder match was equal parts thrilling and innovative, paving the way for the barrage of gimmick face-offs to which Mania is currently accustomed. Two incredible matches featuring young talent, a main-event title change that would right the wrongs of Bret and Yoko’s match a year prior, and no sign of Hulk Hogan… well, it’s hard to ask for much more. Burt Reynolds and Donnie Wahlberg (ha!) glad-handing Bret after his title victory was the obvious cherry on top.

5. WrestleMania 20 (2004)

WrestleMania’s 20th installment wrapped up old stories and shaped new legacies. Future star John Cena made his Mania debut by defeating Big Show; Evolution (Randy Orton and Batista) took down The Rock and Mick Foley, and Brock Lesnar locked horns with Goldberg in a dream match that crapped out due to the crowd’s rightful hijacking of the match. What felt like an overlong show culminated in Eddie Guerrero stepping into the spotlight and claiming the WWE Championship from Kurt Angle. Triple H attempted to stave off Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit in a Triple Threat battle for the Heavyweight crown, with each man leaving it all on the mat in one of the better Triple Threat showdowns you’ll see. Michaels’ bloodied face, HHH’s sturdy work, and Benoit fulfilling his destiny formed a sterling main event. Benoit and Guerrero’s confetti-filled celebration after the match remains a moment of levity before the tragedy that would consume both men in the coming years.

4. WrestleMania 21 (2005)

Lightweight drama makes WrestleMania 21 look like a minor milestone, but historic innovation and visceral thrills save the card. “Money in the Bank” started a mostly exhilarating Mania tradition, Undertaker nearly fell to the “Legend Killer” Randy Orton in an underrated match with a hot ending, and Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle faced off in one of the top-three Mania matches ever (seriously, watch it above). “WrestleMania Goes Hollywood” was the theme, and in a minor miracle, Adam Sandler and Rob Schneider’s ringside presence didn’t curse the show.

3. WrestleMania 30 (2014)

Celebrating nostalgia and pushing new talent was the aim of WrestleMania’s big 3-0. Set in New Orleans, the show over-delivered, beginning with Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin, and The Rock sharing the ring in the opening segment, each wonderfully riffing off one another in a true mark-out moment. The hits kept coming. The Shield’s dominance continued, Cesaro received a sizable push after winning the 31-man battle royal, Cena-Bray Wyatt swung by, and Brock Lesnar would end The Undertaker’s streak in shocking fashion. Occasionally, wrestling can transcend its predictable tropes to become something greater, something close… art. During 30, the “Yes!” movement was in full effect and the odds were stacked against underdog Daniel Bryan, who would finally achieve his ultimate goal by enduring through not one, but two grueling matches to become champion (now bittersweet given what we know of Bryan’s wrestling career). WWE finally gave the fans what they asked for and it was a marvel.

2. WrestleMania 19 (2003)

Change was in the air after WrestleMania 18: WWF had morphed into WWE and opted for two world titles that were the product of a brand split. But 19 is akin to a diverse and wholly satisfying buffet. Add in two Limp Bizkit performances and baby, you got a stew going (half kidding). Shawn Michaels proved he had more than enough juice left in the tank in a match against Chris Jericho — the finest match on the card. There were no titles or gimmicks, just perfect big-stage wrestling with a clear understanding of flow and psychology. Triple H and Booker T told an average story in the night’s first main title match, but had the displeasure of following Michaels-Jericho. Vince McMahon reckoned with his creation, Hulkamania, in a Street Fight; neither man could carry a match at the time but the stipulation made it more than bearable. An influx of countless finishers aside, the Austin-Rock trilogy came to a fitting close with The Rock finally defeating the Texas Rattlesnake (his last match) in imperfect-yet-respectable fashion and bringing their rivalry to a close. A Brock Lesnar-Kurt Angle fight climaxed with Lesnar botching a shooting-star press in horrifying fashion, then F5-ing Angle to win the title. It’s hard to say if this would surpass Michaels-Jericho without the Brock botch, but it’s still plenty accomplished due to the insane athleticism on display.

1. WrestleMania 17 (2001)

Well, here we are. Just a year after WrestleMania 16’s pay-per-view whiff, the WWF reached the zenith of professional wrestling in front of an electric Astrodome crowd. Offering up the first consistent Mania card, the show aligned with Shakespearean levels of drama as the Attitude Era came to a close. The night cast Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle in a physical duel; Triple H took on The Undertaker (‘Taker’s first great Mania match) in a slobberknocker; Chyna tore Ivory to shreds; TLC II upped the ante from WrestleMania 16 with the same players; Shane McMahon butted heads with Vince McMahon; and then there was The Rock vs. Austin II. With shades of Austin-Bret from WrestleMania 13, The Rock and Austin’s second clash for the title carries all the stakes and scope one could ask for. Equal parts over-the-top booking and vicious wrestling action, it was all about expression and emotion as Austin would stop at nothing (turning heel with the aid of Mr. McMahon) to earn back the title. WrestleMania 17 is car-crash poetry surging into outer space at breathtaking speeds.



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