Professional wrestling is fascinating to me. While bemoaned by many, pro wrestling surprisingly has had multiple boom periods. Professional wrestling helped usher in the early television era (think DuMont Network) thanks to performers like Gorgeous George. The two other times professional wrestling was pop culture chic, it was Vince McMahon at the helm. Most recently, was the period that is refereed to as “The Attitude Era”. Those in their 30s-40s fondly remember the era that birthed legends: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, “The Rock”, “D-Generation X” (of course what Eric Bichoff did with WCW and the success of the nWo). Similar to NASCAR during the same time period, pro wrestling was a television ratings and ad revenue darling.
However, before the heights of “The Attitude Era” could be reached, Vince McMahon had to take a gamble. He foresaw a grandiose event that would put professional wrestling at the forefront of America’s conscious. His brand of pro wrestling (there are different styles) with its zany cast of characters, blended with the MTV (Music Television) boom, sprinkled with a dash of celebrity star power, would be the recipe for event’s success.
On March 31,1985 at the “World’s Most Famous Arena” Madison Square Garden, McMahon unveiled his vision. The first Wrestlemania combined the star power of Cyndi Lauper and Muhammad Ali; along with the hype built around the tag-team main event of Hulk Hogan & Mr.T (The A-Team was really popular) against “Rowdy” Roddy Piper & “Mr. Wonderful” Paul Orndorff. The success of the inaugural event sparked the longstanding tradition of a yearly Wrestlemania.
The upcoming 38th edition of “The Showcase of the Immortals” will be the first to span two nights (with fans in attendance). Being an avid professional wrestling watcher and ex-performer, I have spent countless hours watching plenty of tape. But there is a nostalgia laden spot in my heart for Wresltemania. I have watched every Wrestlemania multiple times, and I am here to give you the five best shows you need to see.
Similar to other sports fans, older pro wrestling fans will claim, “it was better back in my day”. Through the lens of nostalgia the product may seem to have been better. The truth is the best performers evolve alongside the product. LeBron James’ game changed as the NBA evolved. The Undertaker and Shawn Michales have achieved GOAT level thanks to their abilities to adapt to a new wrestling landscape.
Admittedly, this is the first Wrestlemania that I ever attended in person (so I could be a tad biased). Not only did I luck into some great seats, but I was there for the masterclass put on between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels. Their match stole the show! It was two of the best ever, putting on one of the best matches ever in WWE history. An instant classic, the following two title matches (John Cena vs. Big Show vs. Edge; Triple H vs. Randy Orton) could not recapture the crowd. There are plenty of gems scattered throughout the show, but Taker vs. Michales puts Wrestlemania 25 in the upper echelon.
Matches You Must Watch
The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michales
Matches to Glance at
CM Punk winning Money in the Bank
Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy Extereme Rules
Chris Jericho vs. the WWE Legends: Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, Jimmy Snuka, & “Rowdy” Roddy Piper
Celebrities: Micky Rourke
Music: Kid Rock, Nicole Scherzinger
After the highs of the 1980s Rock n’ Wrestling period, the WWF saw a huge slump in popularity. Taste started to change as fans wanted matches that included more fast pace action.The stars of the past were aging out. The steroid trial that involved Vince McMahon, led to changes to what a WWF Superstar equated. Gone were the bulging steroid infused muscle men (like Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior), pushed were smaller but more technically gifted wrestlers. Returning to Madison Square Garden, they set the stage for Bret “Hitman” Hart to usher in the new WWF’s newest era known as “The New Generation”.
Matches to Watch
Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. “The Rocket” Own Hart
Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. Yokozuna; for the WWF Heavyweight Championship
Shawn Michales vs. Razor Ramon (The “1st” Ladder Match)
Matches to Glance at
“Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Crush, Falls Count Anywhere (Macho’s last match)
Celebrities: Burt Reynolds, Donnie Wahlburg, Jennie Garth, Rhonda Shear, President Cliton Impersonator, Sy Sperling
Music: Little Richard
The first Wrestlemania gave the company momentum it needed to continue to grow. By the time Wrestlemania III arrives the then WWF is at its arguable peak. The preceding Wrestlemanias were known better for their gimmicks and celebrity influence. The third iteration is first one to be known for what transpired in the ring, classic matches that have stood the test of time. Combine that with what at the time was the largest indoor crowd to watch Wrestlemania and it is an all-time classic.
Matches to Watch
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant
‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage vs. Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, for the WWF Intercontinental Title
Celebrities: Alice Cooper, Mary Hart, Bob Uecker
Music: Aretha Franklin
After the heights of the Attitude Era the popularity of the WWE’s product could only diminish. The Ruthless Agression era headed by John Cena had its moments. But with the company going public, there was noticeable shift in product. By the time the 30th edition of “Granddaddy of Them All” WWE was still searching for a post Cena identity. The WWE product started to feel more like Saturday Night Live (still does) with its over reliance on gaining crossover notoriety and topping social media trends.
But Wrestlemania XXX gives us one of the best underdog stories of all-time. Daniel Bryan is a master of the artform. Despite trying to be more ‘sports entertainment’ than ever, the most memorable moment of the modern era was a throwback simple pro wrestling storytelling. Watching Daniel Bryan perform is akin to watching Messi play football. The universe lined up, the best wrestler in the world winning the most prestigious title in the world. The WWE gave their fans exactly what they wanted. No swerves, no short comings, just pure joy. YES! YES! YES!
(Extra Historic Note: first Wrestlemania to be streamed via WWE Network)
Matches to Watch
Daniel Bryan vs. Triple HHH
Daniel Bryan vs. Batista vs. Randy Orton, Triple Threat Match for WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker (the end of The Undertaker’s Wresltemania winning streak)
Celebrities: The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Hulk Hogan (They went heavy on Legends who crossedover)
Music: Rev Theory (Randy Orton’s Theme) Mark Crozer and the Rels (Bray Wyatt theme)
The most historic show in WWE history. The wrestling business was at an all-time high (which will probably never be seen again). But most importantly for any professional wrestling fan (we’ve all been mocked… even by family) it was mainstream. We are talking mainstream movie and television crossovers. Playboy putting wrestlers on their covers. Wrestlers as commercial pitchmen for mainstream products. Everyone it seemed had at least a passing knowledge of pro wrestling.
That was starting to come to an end right about the time of the show. WWF was able to win the professional wrestling war by purchasing its rival, World Championship Wrestling. With ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin career of injuries starting to toll and The Rock getting ready to leave to start his rise to Hollywood stardom, X-Seven (yes,written just like that) is the epitome of its time. With a Limp Bizkit soundtrack that perfect capture the rawness of the Jerry Springer infused time period, Wrestlemania X-7 is the perfect show for the perfect time. We can only dream of another period where professional wresltering supersede their magnus opus of Wrestlemania X-7.
Matches to Watch
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. The Rock, for the WWF World’s Heavyweight Championship)
The Dudley’s vs. Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz; Tables, Ladders, & Chairs match for WWF Tag-Team Titles
Matches to Glance at
Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit
Shane McMahon vs. Mr. McMahon, streetfight
The Iron Sheik winning the Gimmick Battle Royal
Celebrities: NONE (unless you count Astros players: Jeff Bagwell and Moises Alou)
Live Music: Mortorhead (Triple H theme)
Will this year’s Wrestlemania (they dropped the numbers, but this is #38) be able to crack my top five for next? Be sure to find out as Adam Wagner and myself bring our tag-team together for the Wrestlemania livestream on Twitch!
Make sure to check out Wags’ Wrestlemania 38 Charity Stream. He and I will giving our predictions and commenting on the matches. Wags will have a few gifts to give away during the stream. All donations will go towards helping semperfifund.org provide resources for wounded, ill and injured service members. You can join the stream by going to Wags’ Twitch channel. The stream will start at 6:45pm CT.