If you’re not a pro wrestling fan, then let me quickly enlighten you: This weekend is the biggest weekend of the year if you’re a professional wrestling fan, or at least, if you’re a WWE fan, the biggest company on the planet. Even non-WWE fans I think enjoy this weekend because it just hits different. You have WrestleMania, of course, which is two days now, but there’s also quite literally dozens of shows around those two big shows. Anyhow, last night, I had the occasion to re-watch Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart, the Iron Man match, at WrestleMania 12, for the first time in years. And it still held up. Watching that again made me wonder: What would be my top five list of greatest WrestleMania main event matches? To be clear, by main event matches, I don’t mean matches that get called main event matches, but don’t close the show. I mean, the match that closes the show, whether that’s when WrestleMania was one night or two nights. If it closed, it counts.
Let me just say, it was tough to leave a few off.
- Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 19 (2003). Notwithstanding the botch with the shooting star press at the end, I love this match as a straight wrestling clinic.
- Edge vs. Undertaker at WrestleMania 24 (2008). One of my all-time favorite matches, probably my sixth favorite WrestleMania main event. Great story of Edge being prepared for everything Undertaker threw at him.
- Edge vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns at WrestleMania 37 (2021). Another great WrestleMania main event triple threat match, but somehow, there is one better. Still, this one is epic in its own right, with an unbelievable finish.
The following list is in order, although my usual caveat with this, is that the number one is a clear, unequivocal number one, but I could change my mind on the others’ order tomorrow
5. Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX (2014)
Somehow, arguably, this isn’t even Daniel Bryan’s best match that night, but it’s nonetheless, one of the greatest WrestleMania main events of all time. It’s one of those matches where you could argue it was predictable (Daniel Bryan would win), but you were still in a tizzy to see if it would actually happen. The Orton and Batista team-up to powerbomb-RKO Bryan through the announcer’s table is an all-time great WrestleMania spot. HHH, Stephanie, and the dirty referee interfering was a great fake-out. There’s never a dull moment with this one.
4. “HBK” Shawn Michaels vs. Bret “Hitman” Hart at WrestleMania 12 (1996)
As I said, I just finished re-watching this last night. When I first watched it years ago, I thought to myself: this is classic professional wrestling; it reflects wrestling psychology 101. Watching it again as an older and more experienced viewer of pro wrestling, I think my prior opinion was only reinforced! I believed everything HBK and Hitman were doing to each other. They sold the gimmick of the Iron Man match itself — that an hour fight with someone should be taxing. No falls through an entire hour necessitating sudden death overtime was surely unexpected for the time and added to the story. I have no doubt this match influenced a generation of wrestlers. I was never bored watching this hour-long match.
3. Bianca Belair vs. Sasha Banks at WrestleMania 37 (2021)
Often my memory of a match is influenced by how I felt watching it at the time. The way I felt watching Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks main event WrestleMania as the first all African American women’s main event and only the second WrestleMania women’s main event, made it an instant classic. You know when you’re watching a movie and a few minutes in, you just start getting a vibe that this is going to be great? I had that feeling with Sasha vs. Bianca and that feeling only increased as they competed. Top it off with Bianca using her braid to whip Sasha in one of the all-time great WrestleMania spots, and this was indeed an instant classic.
2. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 31 (2015)
This is probably my hottest take for a pick; I’m sure most wouldn’t even consider this main event, much less in the top ten, much less in the top five as I have. But I love this match because of the story it tells. Brock Lesnar was a year removed from ending The Undertaker’s vaunted WrestleMania streak and was seemingly unstoppable. He came into the match like the beast he is against the upstart “next big thing” (see what I did there?) in Roman Reigns, even if the fans were beginning to reject him. Lesnar was dominating the match, but couldn’t put Roman down. Roman started laughing and begging for more from Lesnar, astonishing Lesnar. Then Roman started an epic fire babyface comeback, with Brock selling with his all-time great selling abilities, to where the crowd was in a frenzy thinking Brock (who was also bleeding, a rarity in WWE in those days and now) would lose. Instead, Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract, turning the match into a triple threat and won the match in one of the most epic finishes in the history of WrestleMania. But I think because of that, people sometimes forget how great the main event and the story being told was prior to the cash-in. Add in the cash-in, and it’s an easy top five WrestleMania main event ever.
1. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. The Rock at WrestleMania X-7 (2001)
The two greatest ever at the absolute peak of their powers in 2001 having their best match ever on the biggest stage ever at the peak of the Attitude Era. What more needs to even be said? The story of Austin desperate and increasingly being devilish until going full nefarious in aligning himself with his archnemsis Vince McMahon of all people because he’s so hell-bent on winning back the WWE World Title, with the Rock playing the ultimate underdog kicking out of each of Austin’s (and McMahon’s) attempts to destroy him, was drama at its finest. Of course, you gotta love JR and Paul Heyman on the call, too. There is not a WrestleMania main event I’ve seen more times than this one and I never tire of it. In fact, I find new things to love about it each time. That’s a testament to two all-time greats going at it.
For fun, how about the most underrated WrestleMania main event of all time?
I actually think it might just be HHH vs. Chris Jericho at WrestleMania 18 (2002). It is overshadowed by Hulk Hogan’s return to the company against The Rock, but I think on its own merits, the match is actually quite good and tells a great story of HHH perserving as babyface through his injured leg to win. JR also caps off the story with a goosebumps call, “What a bad-ass son of a bitch!”
What do you think of my list? What would you put in your own top five? What is your own most underrated WrestleMania main event?