Friday, April 3, 2009

Top Ten Performers Of WrestleMania

This year has seen some of the most bizarre buildups to WrestleMania matches in the history of the event. The hype for Triple H and Orton has featured some of the most laughably bad acting we have ever seen, even by wrestling standards. Scarily, that may not even be as bad as the cheesy soap opera between John Cena, The Edge and Big Show, which has displayed about as much intrigue as a Giant Gonzales match.

Then you have the terrific series of promos between Chris Jericho and the WWE legends that is apparently leading to one of the more apathetic payoffs in memory. Out of all this mess, the most intriguing match-up is without a doubt the historic confrontation between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. Two of the most iconic figures in the history of the industry are embroiled in a feud that is based on the issues of pride and the honor of performance.
Both Undertaker and Shawn Michaels are staking claim to be the greatest wrestlers in WrestleMania history. They each have accomplishments to back up their words, but who are the best performers on this grand stage? The twenty-five year history of the event has featured some of the most significant talent in the annals of the business showcasing their skills under the spotlight of the world. During this time, a few superstars have arisen to the occasion to make this event the annual spectacular that wrestling fans look forward to. This week, I will present the top ten performers in WrestleMania history.

(10) Kurt Angle

When Kurt Angle won the Gold Medal at the 1996 Olympics, even he probably could not have imagined that it would be a precursor for him to become one of the greatest showmen in professional wrestling's biggest event. He may have gotten off to a late start and left the company early, but when he was part of WWE, he was consistently excellent at Wrestle Mania.

Angle's match with archrival Chris Benoit at WrestleMania 17 was a clinic in pure wrestling that would set the stage for them to have greater matches in the future. His battle with fellow former amateur champion Brock Lesnar was one of the greatest main events of all time. The next year, he and Eddie Guerrero put on an excellent WWE main event style match at WrestleMania 20 that featured one of the most creative finishes ever. Not much more can be said about Angle's epic first-time encounter with Michaels that became a critically acclaimed instant classic that has stood the test of time. His last Mania match, as of now, was a short but entertaining triple threat showdown against Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio that could have been a classic if given more time. Angle makes a lot of ridiculous statements, but his claim to being one of the top performers on the Grandest Stage of Them All would be an accurate one.

(9) Edge

Although the buildup to his main event match at Wrestle Mania 25 is not doing him any favors, in a few years, Edge may find himself much higher on this list. He has already participated in some of the greatest matches in the history of the event. Like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, he started off as part of an excellent tag team. Unlike them, he has had landmark matches both with a partner as well as on his own. 

The triangle ladder match at Wrestle Mania 16 brought insanity in the ring to a whole level. He and Christian along with the Hardys and the Dudleys revolutionized the gimmick and took it to a new level from what Michaels and Razor Ramon did years earlier. Incredibly, they managed to top themselves the following year in the TLC match that featured some of the most awe-inspiring spots in wrestling history. Few thought Edge could ever top the absurdity of his spear on Jeff Hardy twenty feet in the air. 
When Edge went solo, the greatness continued as he won the inaugural Money in the Bank Ladder Match at Wrestle Mania 21 to earn his nickname as The Ultimate Opportunist. The Rated R Superstar then went on to have the greatest hardcore match in Mania history with Mick Foley where he topped himself by doing a spear headfirst into a flaming table! He was part of another unforgettable moment at WrestleMania 23 when Jeff Hardy flew off a ladder and nearly shattered him to pieces with a leg-drop onto another ladder. His most recent match was an epic encounter with The Undertaker with a dramatic ending that made us believe that he could end the famous streak. Edge is just entering his prime and we can be assured of many more classic WrestleMania moments and matches from him in the future.

(8) The Rock

The Rock is unquestionably one of the top three most popular superstars in WWE history. While his short reign in the company did not allow him the time to really make a claim to being the top WrestleMania performer, thankfully he provided us with some of the biggest matches of all time while he was here. 

Of course, the centerpiece of his Mania history is the epic trilogy of matches against Steve Austin that elevated the industry to unprecedented heights. They put on a memorable brawl at the height of the company's success at the WrestleMania 15 main event. Then they topped it with the greatest Mania main event to date during the unforgettable WrestleMania 17 epic clash. Two years later, they had a fitting finale to the rivalry as The Rock finally defeated Austin at Mania in Stone Cold's final match.
That trilogy would be enough to put him on this list, but he also had a spectacular clash against Hulk Hogan that was a showcase of the two most famous wrestlers of all time. The atmosphere surrounding that match can never be forgotten by anybody who witnessed it. Finally, his last match to date was also a splendidly entertaining tag match where he and his friend Mick Foley battled Evolution at WrestleMania 20. If he did not become a movie star, he would have provided us with many more Mania memories, but as we have it, his success at the event is something Hollywood dreams are made of.

(7) Triple H

Triple H is often portrayed on WWE television as the end-all-be-all of the wrestling world, but in reality his talent and accomplishments do not live up to his boasts. When it comes to performing on the grand stage, he has been outperformed repeatedly. Despite being one of the centerpieces of the company for nearly a decade, he has rarely had the best match on the card on WWE's biggest show. That being said, he has had a commendable series of matches, including one of the finest in Mania history. 

The Game's first standout encounter was against Undertaker at WrestleMania 17, which I consider one of the more underrated matches when discussing the event. He also had solid showings against Chris Jericho and Booker T at WrestleMania 18 and 19 respectively. In my opinion, Triple H had the best match of his career in an unforgettable triple threat main event against two of the greatest wrestlers of all time at WrestleMania 20. Although Benoit and Michaels were extraordinary in the match, it was The Game doing the right thing and tapping out that made that finale seem epic. 
He helped make Batista a star by losing to him at WrestleMania 21 after one of the best build-ups to a match in recent memory. The following year, he and John Cena had a terrific main event showdown with a rabid crowd and him tapping out to conclude the contest helped elevated Cena's star power. At WrestleMania 24, Randy Orton was added to that mix and they had a very good triple threat World Championship match that made Orton into a monster heel. Despite Triple H's reputation for being selfish, he has repeatedly done the right thing for business at WrestleMania and he deserves to be recognized as one of the top performers in the history of the event.

(6) "The Macho Man" Randy Savage

The Macho Man was the best all around performer during the WWF's national expansion in the eighties and he saved his best matches for the big stage. It is a shame that his legacy has been so erased by the company, and hopefully his new DVD will showcase what made him such a major star because he really was a special talent. 

He had the first great WrestleMania match against Ricky Steamboat in the famous Intercontinental Championship showdown that nearly stole the show from Hogan and Andre. Macho then wrestled a WrestleMania record four matches, including a solid main event with Ted DiBiase, to win the tournament for the vacant WWF Title at the fourth edition of the show. The next year, the biggest storyline of the decade culminated in epic fashion when the Mega Powers exploded and Hulk retained the title.
He had another grand contest with The Ultimate Warrior in a retirement match that ended in emotional fashion with him reuniting with his manager and real-life wife Elizabeth. Savage returned to active competition for another unforgettably intense match against Ric Flair to regain the World Title. His final match was a solid hardcore brawl with Crush that foreshadowed the wild style that would soon become common in the wrestling world.
The fact that Macho Man was having tremendous matches in an era where workrate was not featured in WWF only elevates his status. Against all odds, he carried the other two biggest faces of their era, Hogan and Warrior, to possibly the best matches of their careers. Savage can be considered the bridge between the era of cartoon characters and great workers because he was a combination of both and his performances at WrestleMania were simply magical.

(5) Bret "The Hitman" Hart

Bret Hart may not the best there is, was, or ever will be, but he is not far off when it comes to WrestleMania performances. His storied history at the event saw him evolve from tag team specialist to solo legend. 

He had a series of solid tag team displays with the Hart Foundation, but it was when he branched out on his own that he found his stride. WWF tested his status as a solo performer when he was the runner-up of the battle royale at WrestleMania 4. The Hitman truly came into his own at WrestleMania 8 in a terrific Intercontinental Championship match against Roddy Piper that may have been Rowdy's best match ever. 
Hart's excellent wrestling skills made Vince McMahon choose him to be the performer to transition the company from the cartoon characters of the previous decade. He was the standout superstar of WrestleMania 10 when he put on the best opening match in PPV history with his brother Owen. He then concluded the event raised on the shoulders of fellow babyfaces, symbolically crowning him as the new centerpiece of WWF. 
He then had the legendary Iron Man Match with Michaels at WrestleMania 12 which is an excellent technical showcase between the top two stars of the era. Finally, he had the best match of his career in a brutal submission bloodbath that escalated Austin's status to the top star in the company. Hart thinks highly of his legacy and he rightfully should because at WrestleMania, he truly was The Excellence of Execution.

(4) "Stone Cold" Steve Austin

Steve Austin ignited the wrestling business to its most successful era ever and a huge reason for this was his spectacular WrestleMania performances. He overcame a near crippling injury by adjusting his style and his combination of charisma and wrestling ability was never better than on the annual showcase.

His courageous display against Bret Hart made him the epitome of the anti-hero that fans were thirsting for at the time. The image of the bloody Austin refusing to quit is one of the most memorable in wrestling history. When he faced Shawn Michaels the next year with Mike Tyson at ringside in a very good battle, it turned the tide in the Monday Night War and took WWF to dizzying heights.
I described the legendary trilogy with his greatest in-ring rival The Rock that simultaneously made them household names and reestablished WrestleMania as a cultural phenomenon. When he joined forces with Mr. McMahon at WrestleMania 17, the Attitude Era he ushered in ended. His last match against The Great One was a fitting exit for The Rattlesnake, and though he lost, he left with one final performance that highlighted why he is one of the best performers in the history of the event.

(3) The Undertaker

In kayfabe terms, The Undertaker can call himself the biggest star in WrestleMania history, but given the predetermined nature of the sport, a fixed winning streak is not enough to be the best performer. In fact, a majority of Taker's matches at Mania were mediocre at best. Since his character was so gimmicky for much of his career, his wrestling ability was not showcased. "Contests" against Giant Gonzales, King Kong Bundy, Kane, Diesel, and Psycho Sid left something to be desired.

Thankfully, The Dead Man has a lot of pride and he has progressed his style to improve into a terrific wrestler that puts on great matches on wrestling's grand stage. His first memorable Mania match was an excellent brawl against Triple H at WrestleMania 17. He went on to put on a solid undercard show against a bloody Ric Flair the following year. The Phenom defeated the Legend Killer in a very good match that really highlighted his streak for the first time at WrestleMania 21.
Undertaker's last two Mania matches as of this writing are his best thus far and he won the World Title in both. He and Batista defied the odds and put an excellent main event at WrestleMania 23. Last year, Taker and Edge closed the show with a memorable match that was overshadowed by Flair's retirement. Despite a long list of average displays at WrestleMania, he makes this list because of his desire to get better over time as well as the fact that his unbeaten streak now adds a special touch to each event.

(2) Hulk Hogan

If it were not for Hulk Hogan, there likely would not be a WrestleMania. Vince McMahon staked his own company on the success of the initial Mania, and it was Hogan's mainstream appeal that drew celebrities to participate in the show and make it a massive success. The first decade of WrestleMania centered around his name value and unbelievable popularity. He headlined eight of the first nine events and the Hulkamania phenomenon made the event a part of Americana.

The memorable main event where he teamed with Mr. T against Piper and Paul Orndorff was a worthwhile spectacle match in the first Mania to help ensure the event was here to stay. Of course, nobody can forget Hogan slamming Andre in front of a record-breaking crowd in the biggest match in the history of the industry. It may not have been a well wrestled contest, but it helped take WWF to new levels of mainstream acceptance. 
He had a sensational match against Randy Savage that may have been the greatest of his career at WrestleMania 5. Then he proceeded to have an equally majestic battle in The Ultimate Challenge in Toronto where Warrior beat him to capture the Title. He continued to headline the program in the ensuing years before taking a long sabbatical from the company.
He received a hero's welcome when he returned to Mania in front of a frenzied audience against The Rock. The crowd's reaction to him confirmed his status as the biggest star in company history. Fittingly, the next year he had his final WrestleMania match against the other man who was responsible for the success of the event, Vince McMahon, in a bloody match that was far better than expected.
Hulkamania and WrestleMania will be forever intertwined in the annals of wrestling history because Hogan's appeal was instrumental in establishing the event as the annual spectacular it is today.

(1) "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels

Shawn Michaels is far and away the greatest performer in the history of WrestleMania. In fact, I would go as far as to say that his performances at Mania are as significant to wrestling as any other big-game players are in their respective sports. What Reggie Jackson is to The World Series, Joe Montana is to The Super Bowl and Michael Jordan is to The NBA Finals, HBK is to WrestleMania.

His resume at the event is nothing short of stunning. Like Hart, he began with a series of average to solid tag team contests as part of The Rockers, but few could imagine what laid in store for him. I go back to a symbolic moment at WrestleMania 5 when he did the moonwalk prior to their match with the Twin Towers, because just like Michael left the rest of the Jacksons in the dust, Michaels skyrocketed his career into the stratosphere when he went solo.
His match against Tatanka was one of the few watchable aspects of the atrocious WrestleMania 9 "show." Then came the legendary ladder match with Razor Ramon where he was a human highlight film of sensational spots that were revolutionary for their time. It established the gimmick as a huge money draw for the industry.
The next year, he performed the superhuman feat of carrying Diesel to a great match in a worthy Mania main event. Michaels's entrance and the finale of his Iron Man Match with Hart was the seminal contest of The New Generation Era and one of the most replayed moments in the event's history. An edgier HBK helped usher in the Attitude Era with the DX faction and he played the perfect heel to put over Austin as the centerpiece of the company. The fact that he faced Stone Cold with a broken back and still put on a great show made it one of the most courageous performances in wrestling history. 
If his career were to end against Austin as it appeared it would, he would still be on this list. It is his return to prominence where he miraculously became an even better performer than before his injury that makes him the uncontested Showstopper of this list. The series of matches and feuds he has been showcased in are astonishing. He returned in magnificent fashion with a classic match against Jericho that can be considered the Savage-Steamboat of its day. Then he was the glue that tied together the best match in the careers of Benoit and Triple H in the amazing triple threat World Title match at WrestleMania 20. The next year, Michaels had an even more celebrated contest against Angle in a dramatic battle for the ages.
It was around this time that he began calling himself Mr. WrestleMania and he proved this with flying colors in the ensuing years. He carried a sixty year old McMahon to an incredibly entertaining match that finished with a fantastic dive off an oversized ladder that will go down as one of the event's most memorable moments.
Then he had a very good main event with Cena in front of an enormous crowd to help establish the young champ as the top star of the era. What more can be said about last year's emotional masterpiece with Ric Flair that gave him the fairy tale ending to his remarkable career. One cannot imagine who will face Michaels when he comes to the end of his own storied career. No matter how it ends, the legacy of Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania will live forever.


Post a Comment