The glorious thing about wrestling is the emotion that a mere 20 minutes can invoke. These WrestleMania main events were the climax of months of story-telling, the showdown of epic proportions between good and evil, David and Goliath or the unstoppable force and the immovable object. The main event is the selling point of the entire show, the talking point of WrestleMania; the WWE’s biggest show of the year.
With the first ever women’s WrestleMania main event on the horizon, it’s high time that we look back through the storied history of the grandest spectacle in all of sports entertainment. Main events can sometimes slip through the cracks when there’s another show-stealer on the card, but then there are those that stand the test of time as some of the best examples of mainstream professional wrestling.
Here are the five best WrestleMania main events of all-time.
5. John Cena vs. The Rock – WrestleMania 28
The modern equivalent to the past vs. the present, Icon vs Icon once again as John Cena went head-to-head with The Rock in Johnson’s first WrestleMania match in almost a decade. A match that was booked a year in advance and teased since 2008, the hype for this confrontation was off the charts — the dream match was happening and generations of wrestling fans were all watching.
The match that was coined as ‘once in a lifetime’ lived up to the magnitude and featured all the signature spots that fans have come to love or hate from both superstars. The Rock proved that he still had it and controversially walked away with the W, leaving Cena in an emotional heap on the ramp. This, of course, led to a championship rematch a year later in the main event of WrestleMania 29. As great as it was to see The Rock in consecutive WrestleMania mains, the ‘once in a lifetime’ factor really put their first match above the sequel.
As a whole, 28 perfectly summed up what makes a special WrestleMania, fantasy meeting reality. Rock/Cena was a phenomenal execution of perfect long-term planning, and was one of the best WrestleMania main events from the PG era.
4. Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar (vs. Seth Rollins) – WrestleMania 31
Honestly, this match was a perfect main event. A lot of fans are pretty harsh on the two Lesnar/Reigns matches from WrestleMania history for both being ‘typical Brock matches’ or ‘bland and predictable’, but personally I can’t fault this match from Mania 31. These two beasts went out there to prove the hostile crowd wrong and put on an excellent main event in spite of the overwhelming criticism.
The result was not only one of the most physical fights we’ve seen in WrestleMania history but also featured one of the most memorable finishes to a championship match in recent years. The biggest heist of the century started a new era for WWE, with Seth Rollins cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase to make the main event a triple threat in the middle of the action.
There was blood staining the canvas and fans screaming for more from all three men involved. Even if you were watching from home, you can’t deny that there was a moment that got you screaming for joy or despair. Emotional investment is the key to a great WrestleMania match, and this match had it all.
3. Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista – WrestleMania 30
The WrestleMania that quickly evolved into YEStlemania, the story of Daniel Bryan fighting against The Authority and earning a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship in the main event is one of the greatest narratives of our time. It’s classic story-telling, the underdog held back from achieving everything by a tyrannical villain.
Daniel Bryan competed in not one but two incredible WrestleMania matches in the same night in order to achieve his dream of taking the gold in the main event. Of course, this match was packed full of drama, with a pro-Yes movement crowd all roaring in support of Bryan in his efforts against the two Evolution stablemates – Randy Orton and Batista. Most memorable of all was the tandem putting Daniel Bryan through an announcers table with a Batista Bomb/RKO combination.
Sometimes the best matches are those that are most obvious. Everyone wanted to see Bryan hold up the two belts in a shower of confetti, and they got that after many twists and turns. Again, the emotions were so pure and humbling that it made for one of the most intriguing and entertaining WrestleMania main events. Big up to Triple H, Orton and Batista for all playing their roles to perfection and to Bryan for changing wrestling for the better.
2. Shawn Michaels vs. Steve Austin – WrestleMania 14
The height of the Attitude Era and WWE as a whole culminated at WrestleMania 14 in Chicago. D-Generation X and Stone Cold Steve Austin were and always have been household names, and this match is one that pretty much every wrestling fan has some connection to. With Mike Tyson acting as the special guest enforcer, this brought the worlds of pop-culture and Pro Wrestling together, much like the initial WrestleMania main event during the era of Rock ‘N Wrestling.
This was the crowning moment for Steve Austin, who since his phenomenal submissions match with Bret Hart a year prior, had been on a massive wave of momentum, signed by Austin 3:16. Fans were so enamoured with Austin’s rebellious nature that this made for a dream match-up against the over-confident champion. It was really the best example of the cream rising to the top, the most popular superstar wins the Rumble and earns his shot in the main event of WrestleMania. A passing of the torch of such.
Austin and Michaels captured the essence of the 90s so perfectly in this match, a chaotic brawl that built to a crescendo – a perfectly timed Stunner, and a count made by Mike Tyson. Austin’s win became one of the most beloved moments in wrestling history, one that will never not be referred to when discussing WrestleMania main events.
1. Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior – WrestleMania 6
The Ultimate Challenge, the first ever babyface/babyface main event to take place at WrestleMania, Hogan and Warrior in the greatest WrestleMania main event of all time. By no means was this any more than a cookie-cutter match, neither Hogan or Warrior could match up to some of the main eventers we see in this day and age, but considering the era and the times, this was quality.
Hogan and Warrior defined professional wrestlin. Kids and adults alike looked up to them as genuine superheroes, before the days of fans reading dirt sheets and knowing all the ins and outs of WWE. The response to these two giants standing in the ring together was fantastic, a perfectly split crowd. The trend within these matches is investment: if the fans aren’t clamouring to see the match or a certain result, then unfortunately it kind of falls apart from there. It can be the most technically sound performance of all time, but the main event of a wrestling show needs to resonate on more than just one level.
For me, this match was the end of the golden era of wrestling, after Hogan spiritually passed the torch onto The Ultimate Warrior and drifted away in his mini-ring thing, it was the Hogan ushering fans away from Hulkamania and into a new generation. WrestleMania can be the beginning of a new era, it can be the climax of the old era, it can be whatever it needs to be. This match was both. I wish I was around for this match, having to pick a side between two immortals in a battle for supremacy.
I can’t even imagine who WWE would vie against each other today to emulate this match. Opinions on these two superstars aside, nobody can quite match the magnitude of their hype.
Which WrestleMania main event stands out to you as the greatest of all time? Do you think the first ever women’s main event will make it onto these lists in the future? Let us know in the comments below.