Monday, March 30, 2009

My Top 20 Wrestlemania Moments

20. Roddy Piper vs. Goldust (WrestleMania XII, 1996)

Hardcore matches and falls-count-anywhere matches that go all over the arena and even outside the building have become pass√©, but that wasn’t the case when Piper and Goldust battled in a Hollywood Back-lot Brawl. In this instance, the match actually started outside – in a Hollywood back lot – and ended inside the Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim, Calif. The fight began with Piper brutalizing Goldust with a baseball bat, but Goldust eventually gained the upper hand, jumped into his gold Cadillac and struck Piper with his car. After Goldust sped away, Piper got into a white Ford Bronco and chased after him.
Later in the show, WWE showed stock footage of the infamous O.J. Simpson low-speed chase, as Vince McMahon did the voiceover and acted as if it was Piper chasing Goldust. Eventually, the match ended up in the ring, where Piper disrobed Goldust, who was wearing black lingerie. The humiliated Goldust ran back to the dressing room and Piper was declared the winner. It wasn’t exactly a wrestling match, but it was definitely unique and entertaining.

19. Edge vs. Mick Foley (WrestleMania 22, 2006)

In the buildup to this hardcore match, Foley talked about how he had accomplished a lot in his career, but he never had a “WrestleMania moment.” He got it during this match, when Edge speared him through a flaming table for the victory. In a brutal encounter that featured thumbtacks and barbed wire baseball bats, another memorable spot occurred when Foley applied the “Socko Claw” – with Mr. Socko wrapped in barbed wire – to Edge's girlfriend, Lita, who received a bloody lip. In the end, Foley did what he has done several times in his career: he helped make his opponent into a bigger star. He also added to his own reputation as a “Hardcore Legend.”

18. Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania XX, 2004)

If this match had occurred a couple months earlier, it would have been a dream match, pitting two powerhouses who had similar meteoric rises to the top against one another. Instead, it was memorable for quite a different reason. The atmosphere during the Goldberg-Lesnar match was surreal. It was widely known for a while that this was going to be Goldberg’s last match in WWE, but then word leaked out just prior to the event that Lesnar also was leaving after the bout to pursue an NFL career.
The crowd never gave either man a chance, emphatically jeering both and chanting “you sold out,” “this match s****,” “boring” and “na, na, na, na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” Goldberg and Lesnar were both visibly frustrated by the crowd’s reaction. The only person in the match who was cheered was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, the special guest referee. Goldberg ended up getting what amounted to a meaningless victory. After the match, Austin delivered stunners to both men, sending the crowd into a frenzy.

17. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XIX, 2003)

This was a dream match for me, as Michaels and Jericho are two of my favorite performers. They didn’t disappoint, putting on what was perhaps the best match of the show. Rarely have I ever wanted to see Michaels lose, but this was one of those occasions. I thought Jericho’s career really could have benefited from a win over Michaels on the big stage, but it didn’t happen. Jericho, who was a heel at the time, did get his heat back after the match, however. When Michaels extended his hand as a show of appreciation for the great match they had just had, Jericho responded with an embrace, followed by a low blow to Michaels, who did a tremendous job of selling it.

16. Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle (WrestleMania XIX, 2003)

Because WrestleMania is the biggest show of the year, wrestlers often push the envelope when it comes to high-risk maneuvers so that they can be immortalized with a “WrestleMania moment.” Lesnar got his moment in this match, but it wasn’t because he hit a spectacular move – it was because he missed. Watching on television, I thought for a few seconds that I was witnessing a tragedy in the ring when Lesnar mistimed a Shooting Star Press and landed right on his head late in the match.
Up until that point, it was Angle’s safety that I feared for. Suffering from serious injuries to his neck and spine, Angle ignored his doctors and delayed surgery until after his WWE title defense against Lesnar at WrestleMania. Angle held nothing back during the match, wrestling his usual high-impact style. I cringed every time he took a bump, but the scariest moment in this match – or perhaps in any match I have ever seen – occurred shortly after Lesnar climbed to the top rope seeking his big moment.
Lesnar did not get full rotation of his Shooting Star Press and he took a sick bump on his head. I thought for sure he had broken his neck, but, amazingly, he escaped with a concussion and a lot of soreness in his neck. “How is Lesnar not dead?” said a stunned Tazz, who was doing commentary. Lesnar, who was scripted to win the match, had a dazed look on his face and was bleeding from the nose, but somehow he managed to get to his feet and hit his F-5 finisher for the victory. After the match, Lesnar still appeared glassy-eyed when he and Angle hugged each other. Six weeks later, I interviewed Lesnar said that he didn’t remember anything that happened after leaping off the top rope.
Lesnar accomplished a lot during his short pro wrestling career, but he also was involved in two dubious WrestleMania moments: landing on his head in 2003, and he and Goldberg getting booed out of Madison Square Garden in 2004.

15. Donald Trump vs. Mr. McMahon (WrestleMania 23, 2007)

Two of the most famous – and cheesy – hairdos in popular culture were on the line in this battle of billionaires. Rather than physically fighting each other, Trump and McMahon each selected a WWE star to represent them in a match in which the losing billionaire would have his head shaved. Trump picked Bobby Lashley, and McMahon went with Umaga. The bout itself was nothing special, but the post-match scene was surreal.
After Lashley emerged victorious, McMahon was forced into a barber’s chair and shaved bald by Trump, Lashley and special referee “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. In a matter of seconds, the WWE chairman’s trademark pompadour was no more. Even though I was certain before the match that McMahon would be the one losing his hair, it still was amazing to actually see it happen. I never could have imagined that Vince McMahon, who for years did play-by-play and interviews but never got involved in angles, would one day be getting his head shaved in the middle of the ring

14. Bret Hart vs. Roddy Piper (WrestleMania VIII, 1992)

As big a star as Piper was in WWE, the “Rowdy Scot” had never held a title in the federation until winning the Intercontinental championship less than three months before this match. Hart, who had made the transition from highly accomplished tag-team wrestler to rising singles star, was a former Intercontinental champ. What made this confrontation even more compelling was the fact that Piper and Hart, both babyfaces at the time, were friends – both on and off camera.
The climax to an exciting back-and-forth match, which perhaps was Piper’s best ever during his WWE tenure, saw Piper grab the ring bell and prepare to smash a fallen, bloody Hart over the head with it. But Piper, once one of the most hated heels in wrestling, couldn’t bring himself to do it, and he tossed the bell aside. Piper’s moment of indecision gave Hart time to recover, and “The Hitman” went on to defeat Piper and regain the title. It was the first pinfall loss Piper had suffered since joining WWE more than eight years earlier, and it was the biggest victory of Hart’s career to that point. Hart and Piper embraced after the match and left the ring with their arms around each other.

13: Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 21, 2005)

Expectations for a match between two of the greatest workers of all time were incredibly high, but Angle and Michaels came through and lived up to the hype. The two ring generals took fans on the proverbial rollercoaster ride, with perhaps the most memorable high spot of the match occurring when Michaels spring-boarded from the middle rope high in the air and onto Angle, who was sprawled out on the announce table.
After Michaels managed to escape from an anklelock a couple times, Angle clamped it on once again. Michaels stayed in the hold for two minutes, desperately trying to free himself before dramatically tapping out. Watching on television, I was stunned. The crowd gave both men a well-deserved standing ovation after witnessing a classic.

12. Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage (WrestleMania III, 1987)

The Hulk Hogan-Andre The Giant WWE title match was the box-office draw for this event, but the Intercontinental title bout between rivals Steamboat and Savage perhaps stole the show. This match between two of the best workers of their era is considered by many not only to be the greatest match in WrestleMania history, but the greatest match ever in WWE.
Steamboat and Savage kept the fans on the edge of their seats with a thrilling contest that had 13 near falls in the final six minutes. In the end, Savage’s attempt to leap off the top rope and hit Steamboat with the ring bell was thwarted by George “The Animal” Steele, who was in Steamboat’s corner. Seconds later, Steamboat caught Savage in a small package to win the match and the Intercontinental title.

11. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania X, 1994)

Ladder matches have become a staple of WrestleMania in recent years, but Michaels and Ramon created the blueprint with this intense, physically demanding match. At stake was the Intercontinental title. There was a dispute over who was the rightful champion, and both men had a belt in their possession. Michaels and Ramon used the ladder as a weapon in one innovative spot after another. The move that stands out the most was Michaels leaping off the ladder and hitting a splash on Ramon.
The finish was pretty creative, too. Ramon knocked Michaels off the ladder, and “The Heartbreak Kid” crashed into the ropes and got his foot tangled. With Michaels tied up, Ramon climbed the ladder and seized both belts for the victory. Although Ramon won the match, it was the tremendous performance by Michaels that people most remember.

10. Steve Austin vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XIV, 1998)
There were several interesting story lines revolving around this match for Michaels’ WWE title. Foremost among them was the WWE’s decision to pay Mike Tyson a reported $3.5 million to be the enforcer referee for the match. That investment – which wrestling pundits predicted would not pay off – turned out to be one of the wisest decisions WWE chairman Vince McMahon ever made. Tyson’s presence spiked the pay-per-view buy rate and played a key role in WWE surging past WCW in the Monday Night War. This match – which Austin won and Tyson counted the pin – was the official coronation of “Stone Cold” as the top star in the business.It also marked the last time that Michaels would wrestle for four years. While most people figured out that Austin was scripted to win, there was a lot of intrigue surrounding Michaels. Because of Michaels’ injured back – which would require surgery and seemingly end his career – there was some question as to whether he was physically able to work the match. There also was speculation that Michaels – who had gained a reputation for weaseling his way out of dropping titles – would refuse to do business. Michaels, however, put on a gutsy performance and put over Austin clean in the middle of the ring.

9. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (WrestleMania XIII, 1997)

The climate in wrestling was changing when this match took place. Fans were turning against traditional babyfaces and getting behind no-nonsense, vicious heels, and Hart versus Austin was a microcosm of this shift. In a no-disqualification submission match, “The Hitman” and “Stone Cold” engaged in an intense brawl that had one of the most dramatic finishes in WrestleMania history.
With Austin bleeding profusely, Hart locked on the Sharpshooter for what seemed like forever. While Hart’s opponents usually submitted quickly to the move, Austin, screaming in pain as blood poured down his face, refused to give up. Eventually, Austin passed out and special referee Ken Shamrock stopped the match.
The double turn was complete after Hart continued to attack Austin after the match before Shamrock stepped in and Hart backed down. When Austin regained consciousness, he refused any assistance as he limped out of the ring and headed back up the aisle while the fans chanted his name. WWE’s “Attitude Era” was officially underway, and Austin was its poster boy.

8. The Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage (WrestleMania VII, 1991)

The feud between the two eccentric former WWE champions came to a resolution in a match in which the loser had to retire. Retirement matches hadn’t been overdone yet back in ’91, so many fans truly believed that one man’s career was going to end with this match. Savage was a tremendous performer in the ring, and on this day, the Warrior rose to the occasion as well.
They battled back and forth for over 20 minutes before the Warrior ultimately prevailed, scoring a clean pin on the “Macho Man.” As exciting as the match was, however, it was the aftermath that truly was unforgettable. Savage’s manager, Queen Sherri, was furious with him for losing. Savage still was shaken up and had yet to get up off the mat when Sherri began kicking him and screaming at him. At that point, Elizabeth – Savage’s ex-manager and former flame who had been estranged from him – charged into the ring, grabbed Sherri by the hair and tossed her out of the ring.
When Savage got back on his feet, he saw Elizabeth, who had tears in her eyes. After a few tense moments of indecision, Savage and Elizabeth embraced and the crowd went wild as “Pomp and Circumstance,” Savage’s entrance music, played. The camera panned the crowd and showed a few women – and even one young man – crying. The emotional reunion of Savage and Elizabeth had completely overshadowed the Warrior’s big win. “What a woman, and what a man!” commentator Gorilla Monsoon shouted.

7. Steve Austin vs. The Rock (WrestleMania X-7, 2001)
The two biggest stars during wrestling’s resurgence in the late ’90s had wrestled each other before – including in the main event at WrestleMania XV two years earlier – but this was their first match against each other with both of them as babyfaces. The atmosphere at the jam-packed Astrodome in Houston was electric for the highly anticipated clash of megastars.
Austin versus Rock in a no-disqualification match for Rock’s WWE title was as good as advertised. They waged a bloody battle and thrilled the crowd with numerous false finishes, including a sequence in which each man used the other’s finisher for a near fall. During the latter stages of the match, WWE chairman Mr. McMahon came down to ringside and – to the shock of everyone – began assisting Austin, his arch enemy.
“Stone Cold” made three unsuccessful pin attempts – twice after chair shots and once after a stunner – before he snapped. Austin proceeded to pound the fallen Rock with 16 chair shots to his chest and back to finally get the pinfall and win the WWE title. Then, in a surreal scene, Austin and McMahon shook hands after the match and drank beer together, as an outraged Jim Ross cursed on the air and said that “Stone Cold is shaking hands with Satan himself.”

6. Shawn Michaels vs Ric Flair(WrestleMania XXIV,2008)
As it got close to WrestleMania XXIV Shawn Michaels came out live on RAW to announce that “The Nature Boy” would be the first inductee into the Class of 2008 Hall of Fame. Flair and Michaels became linked on television and Flair challenged him to a match for WrestleMania. Michaels was hesitant because he didn’t want to be known as the man who retired the legend.The story heated up in the weeks leading to WrestleMania as Michaels made it clear that he would not lie down for Flair, and would come at him as he would any other opponent. Flair responded that Michaels was the best in the industry and if he couldn’t hang with the best anymore then he didn’t need to be in the ring.That night at WrestleMania was emotionally charged from the onset. Michaels managed to “The Nature Boy” to one more great match in his career. It was always said that Flair could wrestle a broomstick to a “three star” match, meaning that Flair was so good in the ring that he could make any opponent look good, and here it was Michaels who helped elevate Flair. Virtually every wrestling fan watching knew that Flair was going to lose this match but these two professionals held the crowd in the palm of their hands with a great story. In the end Shawn Michaels caught Flair with a glancing superkick out of nowhere to gain control of the match. Then as Flair rose to his feet Michaels stood in the corner “tuning up the band” for his patented “Sweet Chin Music” superkick. As Flair arose he left his guard open and challenged Michaels to bring. Michaels, with tears in his eyes, told Flair that he was sorry and that he loved him. Then just like that he kicked Flair’s lights out and got the academic three count.As Flair lied on the mat, Michaels briefly went to him to say give his respects and then quickly left the ring to contemplate his bittersweet victory. Flair came to his feet and received a hero’s welcome from the 74,000 plus in the Citrus Bowl as he embraced his family who was sitting front row ringside.

5. The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania VI, 1990)

For the first time since Bruno Sammartino challenged Pedro Morales in 1972, the top two babyfaces in WWE faced each other for the WWE title. The raucous sold-out crowd at SkyDome in Toronto seemed evenly split in its support for WWE champ Hogan and Intercontinental champ Warrior. While the two larger-than-life figures were anything but skilled technical wrestlers, they put on an exciting match that far exceeded expectations in terms of quality.
After nearly 20 minutes of action, Hogan began “hulking up,” a familiar routine in which he dramatically rallies just as he appears on the verge of defeat, becomes impervious to pain and finishes off his opponent. Hogan knocked down Warrior with a big boot to the face, then prepared to hit his famous legdrop and retain his title – the same finishing sequence fans had been seeing for six years. Only this time, the Warrior moved just before Hogan landed on him. Hogan was momentarily stunned after crashing to the mat, and Warrior quickly took advantage. He bounced off the ropes, hit a splash and covered Hogan to win the title. It was the first clean pinfall loss Hogan had suffered since returning to WWE late in 1983.
After the match, Hogan, with tears in his eyes, presented the belt to Warrior – the symbolic passing of the torch – and the two muscular superstars embraced. “The Hulkster has just taken one giant step towards immortality,” commentator Gorilla Monsoon said. It was an emotional moment for wrestling fans, as Hogan, riding in a cart back to the dressing room, saluted Warrior, who was in the ring basking in his victory. Because fans had such a connection with Hogan, the moment turned out to be more about him losing than as it was about Warrior winning.

4. The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania X8, 2002)

This was a dream match that fans never thought would happen, as sports entertainment’s two biggest crossover celebrities faced off. After appearing in the first nine WrestleManias – and headlining almost all of those – Hogan was returning to the extravaganza for the first time in nine years. It also marked the first time that Hogan was a heel at WrestleMania.
The atmosphere at the SkyDome in Toronto was unlike anything I have ever witnessed, as the crowd was buzzing and flashbulbs were popping during the pre-match stare-down between the two iconic figures. Once they locked up, it was clear that the crowd of nearly 70,000 was overwhelmingly behind Hogan even though he was a heel entering this match. The fans cheered wildly when Hogan was on offense, and booed vociferously when Rock was on offense.
Like most of Hogan’s matches, it wasn’t a technical wrestling classic, but “The Hulkster” and “The Great One” took the fans on a thrilling ride, highlighted by a sensational finishing sequence. After both men kicked out of the other’s finisher, Hogan missed a second legdrop, and Rock hit two Rock Bottoms and the People’s Elbow to score the pinfall.
After the match, Hogan, who was clutching his injured ribs and had a sad puppy dog look on his face, offered to shake Rock’s hand, and Rock accepted the gesture of sportsmanship. Just like Hogan’s match with The Ultimate Warrior 12 years earlier – coincidentally, a match that also was at SkyDome – his humility in losing overshadowed his opponent’s victory.
Rock then began walking back up the ramp, when, suddenly, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, Hogan’s partners in crime in the nWo, hit the ring and attacked Hogan. Rock came back and made the save. Then, when Hogan started to leave the ring, Rock stopped him and encouraged him to do his pose-down routine for the fans, who ate it up. Rock and Hogan then headed back to the dressing room together. From the ring entrances to the post-match activities, Rock versus Hogan was truly something special.

3. Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart (WrestleMania XII, 1996)

The buildup to this 60-minute Iron Man match for Hart’s WWE title was so basic, yet so effective. In Michaels and Hart, WWE had perhaps the two best workers in the business at that time on it roster, and that’s what this match was all about – proving who truly was the best of the best. Both men were babyfaces, but there was a sense of underlying professional jealousy between them – which seemed to be part work, part shoot – that added some tension to the mix.
The winner of the match would be the man who scored the most pinfalls in 60 minutes. Michaels thrilled the crowd before the contest even started when he made perhaps the most exciting entrance in WrestleMania history, as he appeared in the rafters and floated to the ring on a wire. The match gradually built to a dramatic finish, with neither wrestler able to secure a fall heading into the final minute.
With about 35 seconds left, Hart locked on the Sharpshooter, but Michaels managed to hold on as the time limit expired. It was determined, however, that there had to be a winner, so the match went into sudden death overtime despite Hart’s protest. Less than two minutes later, Michaels caught Hart with a superkick to win his first world title. As someone who had been a big Michaels fan since his Rockers days, I got caught up in the moment watching on pay-per-view and cheered as if India had won the World Cup.Vince McMahon said that"Shawn Michaels' Boyhood Dreams Have Come True" and it is still fresh in my memory.

2. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant (WrestleMania III, 1987)

To truly enjoy this match, which took place before an announced crowd of 93,173 at the Pontiac Silverdome in Michigan, one can’t let the facts get in the way of a good story line. Even though Hogan and Andre had faced each other numerous times in the pre-Hulkamania era, and even though Andre wasn’t really undefeated, WWE promoted this match as an epic, once-in-a-lifetime battle between the reigning champion and his former friend, the unbeatable giant.
At that stage of his career, Andre couldn’t do much in the ring, but the match had been built up so well and was so highly anticipated that the crowd was incredibly forgiving. Andre methodically remained on the offensive for much of the match before Hogan made his famous comeback. Hogan stunned Andre and then scooped him up and delivered the body slam heard around the world. “The Hulkster” followed up with his legdrop finisher and pinned The Giant to a thunderous ovation. Having watched Andre wrestle for 14 years at that point, it was the first time I had ever seen him slammed or pinned.

1. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XX, 2004)

If I had compiled this list prior to the Chris Benoit tragedy last summer, this match would still have been my top WrestleMania moment. And while it still is the most memorable WrestleMania moment for me, the reasons for its significance have become more complex.
First, let’s go back to 2004. Having long been an admirer of Benoit’s talent and work ethic, I was thrilled to see him in the WrestleMania main event, and I was especially excited about the fact that he was probably going to win the title from world heavyweight champion Triple H. I’m a big Michaels mark, but this clearly was Benoit’s time. The sellout crowd in New York thought so, too, as it was definitely pro-Benoit even though Michaels also was a babyface.
The three incredibly talented veterans engaged in an action-packed match that featured a combination of wrestling and brawling. To add to the drama, Michaels’ head was busted open, and he bled a gusher. Triple H also was bleeding from the forehead. After Benoit dumped Michaels over the top rope, Triple H grabbed Benoit and attempted to execute a Pedigree. Benoit, however, reversed it into a Crippler Crossface. Triple H stayed in the hold for over a minute before finally tapping out. The crowd erupted, and Benoit immediately began crying.
Eddie Guerrero, who had made a successful WWE title defense against Kurt Angle earlier in the show, then entered the ring and celebrated with Benoit as confetti fell from the ceiling and Benoit’s theme music blasted over the sound system. The two longtime friends had both taken the road less traveled to reach the top of the wrestling world together. Next, Benoit’s family – including wife Nancy and young son Daniel – made their way into the ring, and Benoit hugged and kissed them both. I got chills watching the emotional scene unfold before my eyes.
If only the story could have ended there.
Needless to say, that scene now evokes chills of a much darker nature. Four people (including one child) who were in the ring that night are dead. For that reason, the image of Benoit and his family celebrating in the ring will forever be etched in my mind.


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