Ranking the best WrestleMania matches as WWE performs without a crowd

WWE star John Cena talks about Wrestlemania in Orlando, Florida in 2016. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
WTOP's Jason Fraley salutes the Best WrestleMania Matches

If Hulk Hogan were to cup his ear to the crowd, he wouldn’t hear a thing.

For the first time ever, “WrestleMania” will be held without a live audience.

That’s right, sports arenas may be shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic, but for the WWE, the show must go on in order to continue the high-flying, smack-talking, soap-opera story lines of sports entertainment.

“WrestleMania 36” was supposed to take place Sunday live on pay per view in front of 65,000 cheering fans at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay, Florida. However, it has since been moved to the WWE Performance Center in Orlando, Florida, to be taped, edited and shown over two nights this Saturday and Sunday.

Hosted by Rob Gronkowski, this year’s matches include Brock Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre, Roman Reigns vs. Goldberg, Shayna Baszler vs. Becky Lynch, The Undertaker vs. A.J. Styles, and John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt.

As you gear up for wrestling’s biggest weekend, it’s time to rank the Top 10 WrestleMania matches ever.

10. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant (WrestleMania 3)

Hulk Hogan personified professional wrestling in the 1980s, teaming with Mr. T to face Rowdy Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff at WrestleMania 1, then defeating King Kong Buddy in a cage match at WrestleMania 2. By the time WrestleMania 3 rolled around, fans were starving to see the Hulkster take on Andre the Giant. It was the irresistible force meets the immovable object, until the Hulkster lifted the Giant for the most iconic body slam in wrestling history. The match itself doesn’t hold up to today’s athletic standards, but it has to make our Top 10 for sheer iconic status and the deafening pop from 93,173 fans at the Pontiac Silverdome.

9. Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat (WrestleMania 3)

While Hulk vs. Andre was the marquee matchup, the best pure wrestling match of the night came earlier between “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. Hailed by many as their all-time favorite WrestleMania match, the two showed the fast-paced possibilities of in-ring performance, from Savage’s flying elbow off the top rope to Steamboat’s reversal roll-up for the win. The result left Miss Elizabeth in tears, while Steamboat rode away victorious with George “The Animal” Steele.

8. Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero (WrestleMania 20)

If you want to learn how in-ring psychology can tell a story, check out this instant classic by Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle and “Latino Heat” underdog Eddie Guerrero. Throughout, Angle attacked Guerrero’s ankle as Guerrero slowly loosened his boot to alleviate the pain. However, when Angle went for his finishing move, the Ankle Lock Submission, Guerrero kicked his boot off and rolled up Angle for a surprise small package to win. Note also how he used the ropes to “steal” a win in trademark Eddie style.

7. Owen Hart vs. Bret Hart (WrestleMania 10)

WrestleMania 10 built to Yokozuna’s double title defense against Lex Luger and Bret Hart, but Hart’s best match came earlier that night against his scrappy real-life brother Owen Hart. The two opened the show with such a clinic of tight in-ring work that when Bret won the title at the end of the show, Owen stood on the ramp gazing at his brother with a look that said, “I beat you.” He would never get the chance to face him for the title at WrestleMania, as Bret left the company during the Montreal Screwjob in 1997, and Owen tragically fell to his death in 1999, leaving many to wonder what could have been for Canada’s greatest wrestling family.

6. The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (WrestleMania 17)

The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin were the biggest stars of the Attitude Era, first clashing at WrestleMania 15 (Austin winning the title), then finishing at WrestleMania 19 (The Rock winning with three Rock Bottoms). The 2001 centerpiece of their trilogy remains their best thanks to a classic hype promo video set to Limp Bizkit’s “My Way.” The match would rank higher if not for Austin’s heel turn with Vince McMahon, a conclusion that Austin has admitted in hindsight wasn’t the right move.

5. Tables, Ladders & Chairs: Hardy Boyz vs. Dudley Boyz vs. Edge & Christian (WrestleMania 17)

While The Rock vs. Stone Cold headlined WrestleMania 17, the best match of the night was a triple-threat tag-team classic of Tables, Ladders & Chairs (TLC). The Hardy Boyz brought the ladders, the Dudley Boyz brought the tables, and Edge & Christian brought the chairs for a dazzling display of dangerous high spots, culminating with Edge spearing Jeff Hardy off a giant ladder. It remains the best match of arguably the best WrestleMania ever in front of 67,925 fans at the Astrodome in Houston.

4. Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 10)

Shawn Michaels was known as “Mr. WrestleMania” for a reason, from his hour-long Iron Man match against Bret Hart in 1996, to his classic with Chris Jericho in 2003, to his retirement of Ric Flair in 2008. Still, the one that started it all was his Ladder Match with Razor Ramon in 1994, a first of its kind for WWF pay per view. The story line was that both men held claim to the Intercontinental Title, so both belts were hoisted above the ring, forcing the winner to climb a ladder to retrieve them. The two would use the ladder as a weapon with such creativity that it stole the show. After their infamous “Curtain Call” at Madison Square Garden in 1996, Scott Hall departed for WCW with Kevin Nash to form the NWO, while Michaels stayed with in the WWF with Triple H to form D-Generation X.

3. The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania 18)

They were arguably the two biggest stars of their respective generations. Hulk Hogan had carried the WWF throughout the 1980s and early 1990s before jumping ship to rival WCW as Hollywood Hulk Hogan. In his absence, The Rock rose to become The People’s Champ with the most electrifying mic-skills in sports entertainment. In 2002, The Hulkster returned to the company for a WrestleMania showdown with The Rock billed as icon vs. icon, the young lion vs. the old lion. To this day, I haven’t heard a crowd go this bananas for an entire match. The night launched Hogan’s surprise second run in the WWE, while The Rock became the biggest box-office star in Hollywood today, if you smell what he’s cooking.

2. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 25)

For the better part of two decades, The Undertaker’s unbeaten streak was a highlight of WrestleMania, from entering through druid torches to slay his brother Kane in 1998 to his shocking loss to Brock Lesnar in 2014. The Dead Man’s best remains this 5-star classic with Shawn Michaels, who attempted a top-rope moonsault only to be caught and planted with a Tombstone Piledriver. The match was so phenomenal that Shawn Michaels put his career on the line with a retirement rematch the following year at WrestleMania 26, begging The Undertaker to finish him off by motioning across his throat. Michaels would return again to referee a Hell in a Cell match between The Undertaker vs. Triple H at WrestleMania 28.

1. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart (WrestleMania 13)

If you had just one WrestleMania match to show a non-wrestling fan to explain the power of in-ring storytelling, it would be this 1997 classic between Bret “The Hitman” Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin. The show’s penultimate match eclipsed the main event, as Hart challenged Austin to a submission match. A brawler by nature, Austin had to find ways to make Hart tap out, fighting outside the ring until Austin’s head busted open. As Hart trapped him in The Sharpshooter, Austin pushed up with blood pouring down his face in a proverbial “crimson mask” before passing out from the pain without saying, “I quit.” UFC guest referee Ken Shamrock rang the bell for a “double switch,” turning Hart into a heel while turning Stone Cold into a baby face en route to winning his first title the next year (counted by Mike Tyson). It’s the most significant match in WrestleMania history — and that’s the bottom line, because Stone Cold said so.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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