When WWE tries to cram in hours upon hours of content into their yearly WrestleMania extravaganza, you can expect a couple of unsung heroes to fall through the cracks and into obscurity. A lot of cult favourites do find themselves getting the love they deserve, Bret and Owen from Mania 10 being a prime example, but there are still a load of great matches out there that really pulled things together for their respective WrestleManias.
Whether it be a feel-good victory, an intense brawl or an unexpected title change, these superstars did not waste their opportunity to fire on all cylinders. We want to give those matches their positive just deserts, so here are five classics that you may not remember from WrestleMania past.
5. Rey Mysterio vs. Cody Rhodes – WrestleMania 27
In a confrontation akin to that of a graphic novel, the masked dynamo stood across the ring from a deformed psychopath on the grandest battlefield of them all. I for one really enjoyed this feud and Rhodes’ undashing gimmick that could have been explored a lot more than it was. Cody was finding his feet as a singles star and really put in the work in this match with Rey.
Mysterio is of course one of the all-time greats and is able to work a great match with anyone. There were some truly innovative spots that I think some fans were coming to not expect from the former World Champion at this point in his career. It was a lot of fun to watch, and to see Cody Rhodes be made a star in the process was even more satisfying.
Cody went on to win the Intercontinental Championship for the first time later on in the year and rebranded it as the vintage title that we all know and love. Cody’s rise to the top began with this really fun match that a lot of people snoozed on.
4. JBL vs. Finlay – WrestleMania 24
These two veterans of the ring were considered an unlikely pairing for a WrestleMania opener, but under the sun at WrestleMania 24, they did battle in a Belfast Brawl for the ages. At the time, this was looked at as an incredible example of filler content, but both heavy-hitters went out there to put on a savage display of snug wrestling.
This match could be viewed as a testament to hardcore matches — neither held back when they were lobbing trash cans at each other and hurling themselves through tables. Still within the confines of the PG Era, I’m sure neither man could take this match as far as they would have liked to, but they did a damn good job at making us cringe anyway. I’ll always remember this match for the insane spot from Finlay, who was in the middle of a picture-perfect suicide dive only to be drilled with a trash can lid in mid-air.
Even Hornswoggle got pelted with some steel. Honestly, this was much more than just a filler slot — give it a go and be surprised.
3. Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage – WrestleMania 7
A lot of fans are quick to criticise any match involving the Ultimate Warrior for being an absolute shambles, be that as it may, cast yourself back to the early 90s and try to put yourself in the mind of a naive wrestling fan who just wanted to see two colourful dudes punch each other. Warrior and Macho Man were two of the WWE’s biggest names throughout the golden era, so getting to see them both stand in the same ring and go at it for a good 20 minutes was hella fun.
Getting to see two icons of a generation put a match together will always be WrestleMania quality, and in spite of Warrior’s reputation, I think he did a great job at holding his own against the Macho King. There was a lot of high-octane spots that not a lot of people would expect from guys from that era and the crowd were really into it.
Of course everyone remembers this match for being Savage’s reunion with Miss Elizabeth, which makes for a really sweet moment when you see the reaction shots of the crowd. I think sometimes we all get a little caught up in what we think makes good psychology and judging a wrestler based on whether or not they can execute a springboard Canadian Destroyer. It’s time we all just mellow out and enjoy wrestling for what it is.
2. Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel – WrestleMania 11
Recently, I commented on how 11 had one of the worst main events of all time in Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow. I think it’s safe to assume that everyone from that generation and this would agree that the title match between Shawn Michaels and his best bud Kevin Nash should have headlined the night. HBK is naturally going to get a great match out of whoever he is standing across the ring from and at this point, he was wrestling as his peak. Diesel was holding it together quite well as the WWE’s newest plaything and this was supposed to be his crowning moment with Pamela Anderson (of all people) in his corner.
Nash never really became the shining star that WWE intended him to be, but regardless of his future, this was a fantastic match for him to win the title. He and Shawn really left it all in the ring, perhaps in spite of the decided main event match. You can assume that this was partly down to their chemistry outside of the ring, both notorious for being backstage politicians as part of The Kliq. Say what you will about their behaviour and attitudes, but they proved to the world why Vince trusted them with the title matches.
Shawn was always an adept at putting on cracking matches with bigger wrestlers, and this is a great example of that. So if you want to remind yourself of why WWE Championship matches should always headline a show over a celebrity cameo, look no further than this belter.
1. John Cena vs. Big Show – WrestleMania 20
Before internet memes, Hollywood attraction, and the toupee, John Cena was something to marvel at. His rapper gimmick really connected with the fans on a level that not many other gimmicks could at the time and at Mania 20, he reached the pinnacle that he wouldn’t be knocked off of for years to come. This was in fact the opening match of the night, which as time has told us, is the second most important spot of the night besides the main event. Vince trusted Cena with this slot to take advantage of a very hot, pro-Cena audience, who all wanted to see him capture his first singles title in WWE.
On the other end of this match was The Big Show, a man that seldom finds himself in a WrestleMania classic. At the time, he was the United States Champion and was coming into this match dominant. Cena played the confident underdog so well that I’m sure even the most passionate of Cena haters from this era would end up changing their tune.
This is by no means a 5* classic. Cena and Show have had numerous matches over the years that never quite broke out of their routine that began with this title contest. Cena got battered for the most part, only to come back and hit an impressive feat of strength against the giant, with a shocking F-U.
I think what makes this match the most underrated of all time for me is the passion from the MSG audience and the commentary team. Absolutely everybody wanted Cena to win this and go on to be one of the biggest stars in the company. Hearing Cole and Tazz hammer home how incredible Cena’s comeback and the finish to the match was only made it more of an impressive start to the show. You felt this: you wanted to be in that crowd cheering him on.
Cena has of course gone on to capitalise on that moment and create several more for himself over the years. Big Show, well, he won the ARMBAR that one time.
Honourable Mentions: – The Undertaker vs Randy Orton (WrestleMania 23) – The Shield vs Randy Orton, Sheamus & Big Show (WrestleMania 29) – Rey Mysterio vs Matt Hardy (WrestleMania 19) – The New Age Outlaws vs Cactus Jack & Terry Funk (WrestleMania 15) – Kane vs Raven vs The Big Show (Wrestlemania 17)
What else would you consider an underrated WrestleMania match? Have I missed out any belters? Let us know in the comments below.