The WWE is obsessed with the concept of a WrestleMania moment. Every year, Michael Cole and his gang of commentators scream at the top of their lungs, proclaiming every pinfall, submission, head scratch, and wedgie a WrestleMania moment to remember. Well, that’s just not true. About 90 percent of WrestleMania matches have been terrible or, worse, forgettable. That’s not a bad thing, though, because it further pushes the cream of the crop to the top. You can usually count on one actual WrestleMania moment for the ages at each year’s show, with some mattering way more than others.
In the 30 years of the Showcase of the Immortals, wrestling fans have seen superstars arrive, legends solidify their legacies, and story lines come to the most epic of conclusions. The 15 moments highlighted here represent the best of the best from the first 30 years of WrestleMania. They provide the answers to the question that the WWE attempts to answer every single year: What defines a WrestleMania moment?
Illustrations by Henry Kaye
WrestleMania III: Hulk Hogan Bodyslams André the Giant
When: March 29, 1987
Venue: Pontiac Silverdome
Location: Pontiac, Mich.
Appropriately, we start with the most famous moment in wrestling history. WrestleMania I was important because it was the first and WrestleMania II showed it wasn’t a one-hit wonder, but WrestleMania III is the real beginning of the Showcase of the Immortals, and it all starts and ends with the main event. Despite not being the best match on the card (that would be the legendary Randy Savage/Ricky Steamboat classic, which could have earned a spot on this list itself), or even a very good match at all (it’s pretty boring), Hogan vs. André was THE match.
The Hulkster and the Giant traded slow blows and lots of plodding movement for 12 minutes before The Moment: Hogan grabs 7’ 4” André, picks him up over his head, and body slams him (something he, and many other men, had done before; ignore that). One patented leg drop later, and Hulk won what is still the most famous wrestling match of all time.
WrestleMania VI: The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan
When: April 1, 1990
Location: Toronto, Canada
WrestleMania had been established as the biggest (if not best) wrestling spectacle of the calendar year, but also the Hulk Hogan-est show. The Hulkster main-evented every WrestleMania from I to IX (except for IV...where he still came out to “help” Macho Man win the title), but he only lost one. That was to the coked-out, spaceship-traveling, ’roided-up madman The Ultimate Warrior. The WrestleMania VI main event was a champion vs. champion clash, pitting the former’s Intercontinental Championship against the latter’s WWF Championship.
While not a great match, it was as wrestling as wrestling can be. It was silly, over-the-top, and it featured two guys who could be definitions 1A and 1B of what wrestling was in the late ’80s. Of all the memorable moments between these two megastars, none has lasted as long as this unintentionally hilarious test of strength, which took up way too much time and featured a camera angle that, well, you can see above what it was implying. Shockingly, Warrior came back from giving an implied blowjob to win the match, as Hogan passed the torch by kicking out at 3.1 seconds and basically no-selling the 23 minutes that came before. Oh, also, Hogan went on to main-event the next three while Warrior...
WrestleMania VII: Macho Man “Retires” with Miss Elizabeth
When: March 24, 1991
Venue: Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena
Location: Los Angeles, Cali.
...had the best match of his career the following year, thanks to Randy “Macho Man” Savage. You see, the real star of the early WrestleManias, at least when it came to the in-ring product, was not Hogan. It was Macho Man, the insane perfectionist who apparently planned out every match, step-by-step. Come WrestleMania VII, however, the Macho Man was on his way out of the WWF, and so he took part in the traditional swan song: a retirement match.
All that context aside, the real story was that of Macho Man and Miss Elizabeth, his longtime manager and real-life wife. To summarize the greatest love story told in a WWE program, Macho Man was an abusive yet protective husband who was jealous of anyone who looked at Elizabeth, and eventually their relationship story line ended when the “pure” manager refused to be associated with Macho’s heelish ways. At Wrestlemania VII, Savage was accompanied by his new manager, Sensational Queen Sherri, but it was shown to the audience that Elizabeth was in the crowd for the first time in nearly a year, nervous for her soul mate’s possible last match. And it was his last match—OK, he came back at VIII but let’s ignore that. After the Warrior beat him, Sherri angrily stomped into the ring and kicked a downed Macho Man...and that’s when Miss Elizabeth sprung to action. Rising from her seat, Liz ran into the ring and defended her man by throwing Sherri out of the ring—her first violent action in WWF ever. A dazed Savage then rose up, grabbed Elizabeth, and put her on his shoulders, creating the iconic image of the greatest couple ever to grace the squared circle. To top it off, as they exited the ring, the Macho Man held the ropes open for Miss Elizabeth as she had for him so many times during their time together. It was the ultimate symbol of their love, finally realized on the Grandest Stage of Them All. How powerful was this moment? When the cameras cut to the crowd, fans were openly weeping with joy.
WrestleMania X: Owen Hart Beats Bret Hart
When: March 20, 1994
Venue: Madison Square Garden
Location: New York, N.Y.
The story was simple: Owen Hart challenged his brother Bret to a match to prove that he could hang with his big bro. Anyone with an older sibling could relate to Owen, while all older brothers could understand wanting to put their little brother in their place.
A beautifully wrestled match ensued between the two Harts, with amateur wrestling transitioning into stiff fighting, before ending with some of the best technical wrestling seen at WrestleMania. One thing to note is that Bret Hart was actually in the main event of this same show, challenging Yokozuna—who won his own match before the main event, beating Lex Lugar by DQ—for the WWF championship. So, imagine the shock when Owen, the little brother overshadowed by his more successful sibling, countered a victory roll attempt by Bret into his own pin. One, two, three, and for once the younger Hart stood proud.
Don’t feel too bad for Bret, though; he went on to have his own WrestleMania moment that night, beating Yokozuna for the title and celebrating with the good guys in the locker room. The only notable absence? Owen, of course. The two brothers feuded throughout the summer, leading to a fantastic cage match at SummerSlam.
WrestleMania 13: Stone Cold Refuses to Submit To Bret Hart
When: March 23, 1997
Venue: Rosemont Horizon
Location: Rosemont, Ill.
Stone Cold Steve Austin. That’s the name everyone knows if they were alive during the Attitude Era boom. Before he was flipping middle fingers and drinking beer, Austin was an upper-midcarder on the rise who taunted Bret Hart into a match at Survivor Series 1996. Bret won that match, but it was not to be the end of their feud. Austin cost Hart the WWF title in early 1997, setting up a no-disqualification submission match at WrestleMania XIII. The entire history of the WWF changed with that match.
It’s important to remember that, entering WrestleMania XIII, Bret Hart was still a face and Stone Cold was a heel. That was no longer true at the event’s end. After one of the more brutal main-event level matches in history, Stone Cold found himself in the unfortunate position of being inside Bret Hart’s legendary finisher, the Sharpshooter. Oh, and his face was bloodied and beat up from the 20 minutes of punishment he’d endured beforehand. Most wrestlers would have tapped out here, but Stone Cold was no ordinary wrestler. Instead, he passed out from the pain, a bloody mess, but not broken, while the Hart, now a heel, did not let go of the hold, a villain even in victory. And with that, the working man’s hero was born.
WrestleMania XIV: Mike Tyson Punches Out Shawn Michaels
When: March 29, 1998
Venue: Fleet Center
Location: Boston, Mass.
In 1998, Stone Cold was a rising star but not yet a champion. To secure his title took one hell of a match against Shawn Michaels—which the Heartbreak Kid allegedly wrestled with an inoperable back, because Michaels was a performer first and a human being second. As if that wasn’t enough drama to tune in to the WrestleMania XIV main event...WWF added Mike Tyson.
Yes, Iron Mike was the guest ring enforcer for the main event, a role that seemingly favored Michaels, as Tyson had been aligned with HBK’s stable, D-generation X, leading up to the event. However, in a twist probably everyone saw coming, Tyson turned on Michaels, and allowed Austin to pin the champ for his first world championship. The most lasting image from the match came after it ended, when a livid Michaels confronted Tyson about his betrayal. Big mistake. One right cross from the most vicious boxer of all time and down went Michaels. The Heartbreak Kid was not seen again until 2002, but with the crowning of Stone Cold, the Attitude Era was born.
WrestleMania X-Seven: Edge Spears Jeff Hardy
When: April 1, 2001
Venue: Reliant Astrodome
Location: Houston, Texas
WrestleMania XV and 2000 both delivered their share of classic moments, but it was X-Seven that was the climax of the Attitude Era. It featured the greatest stars of all time and the most anticipated main event ever (more on that in a second), but it was a Canadian mid-card tag teamer and his proto-emo Carolina counterpart that provided the most exhilarating moment of the night. After a year of insane tag team matches between Edge and Christian, the Hardy Boyz, and the Dudley Boyz, we arrived at Mania for TLC2: Tables, Ladders, and Chairs, the sequel. The format, which had a test run SummerSlam 2000 and featured a weapon from each team’s arsenal (the Dudleyz’s tables, the Hardyz’s ladders, and E&C’s chairs), was deemed fit for prime time, and boy was it.
These six men, plus three associates (one for each team), combined to create a match full of memorable falls, strikes, and slams, but none shone brighter than the match’s iconic moment: As Jeff Hardy reached for the tag belts, Bubba Ray Dudley pulled the ladder out from underneath him, causing Hardy to hang 20 feet above the air. Unfortunately for him, Edge was a few yards away on top of his own ladder, and after what was probably the deepest breath of his life, the future Rated-R superstar leaped through the air, spearing Hardy in midair and dropping him all the way to the ring. The traditional “HO-LY SHIT” chant was not enough here. Edge and Christian went on to win the match, but that was less important than one-upping everyone at the greatest WrestleMania of all time.
WrestleMania X-Seven: Stone Cold Steve Austin Turns Heel
When: April 1, 2001
Venue: Reliant Astrodome
Location: Houston, Texas
The Edge’s midair spear was THE moment at X-Seven, but the main event was no disappointment. Not by a long shot. It was the Attitude Era’s Hogan-Warrior taken to the extreme: the two most beloved and famous wrestlers of the era, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock, one-on-one for the title. Austin and the Rock had faced off in the main event at XV and the second to last at XIX, but it was the X-Seven main event that proved to be the best, most exciting, most dangerous, and most surprising of the bunch. Before even going into the match, you need to watch the pre-match promo video, a.k.a. the best thing Limp Bizkit ever did. Seriously. Watch it, then come back.
How hyped are you to drink beer and call people jabronis now?! Anyway, this was for all the marbles, and Austin and the Rock did not hold back. A brawl in every sense of the word, this main event saw every bit of blood, sweat, and tears hit the ring—and the surrounding seats, as well. Despite a multitude of finishing maneuvers and weapon shots, neither man could put the other away—until Mr. Vince McMahon showed up. Austin’s nemesis, McMahon was definitely going to be involved in screwing the Rattlesnake, right? Wrong. In what is the critical moment of not just this match but the entire Attitude Era, McMahon pulled the Rock off of Austin during a pinfall, before handing Stone Cold a chair. An unrelenting Austin hit Rocky with the chair 16 times in a row to finally put The People’s Champ down and take the title at the cost of his soul. The post-match featured the two enemies, McMahon and Austin, sharing a celebratory beer toast over the Rock’s lifeless body.
WrestleMania X8: Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock
When: March 17, 2002
Location: Toronto, Canada
Unfortunately for WWE, the X-Seven main event was the beginning of the end of the most popular era in wrestling. Vince McMahon bought out his prime competitor, WCW, days before X-Seven. This should have led to dream matches and unprecedented star quality in the roster, but it was badly botched. That’s for another time, but the moral of the story is that WWE dropped the ball on the Invasion storyline and wrestling’s popularity has never been the same. So when WrestleMania X8 came around a year later, the middling card was a disappointment after the previous year’s all-time greatness. That is, except for the matchup of icons Hulk Hogan and the Rock.
You may recall that Hulk Hogan disappeared from WWE/F back in 1993. When he returned nine years later, he was on the tail-end of the nWo explosion, which revived his career in WCW as a heel, something he had never been in WWE. Appearing as Hollywood Hulk Hogan instead of the Real American red-and-yellow Hulkster, he was playing the villain when he faced off against the uber-popular Rock at X8. In what is the most famous crowd interaction of all time, the Toronto audience flipped the script; in their eyes, Hulk was the hero and The Rock was the heel that needed to catch an L. There was a great moment in the match when The Rock realized what was happening and he and Hogan decided, in the ring, to change how the match flowed, allowing the Hulkster to wrestle as the babyface. It was a great bit of storytelling combined with the hottest crowd you will ever see, and it peaked when Hogan did his traditional Hulkin’ Up, shaking his fists wildly and powering to full strength. In that moment, the eras of wrestling collided, and the SkyDome crowd transcended and became legendary. It didn’t matter that the Rock won the match; the moment shined brighter than anything else.
WrestleMania XIX: Brock Lesnar Botches the Shooting Star Press
When: March 30, 2003
Venue: Safeco Field
Location: Seattle, Wash.
After X8, the Rock was pushed out of the main event picture by a rookie beast by the name of Brock Lesnar, who defeated Rocky at Summerslam 2002 and became the youngest ever world champion. He lost the belt that same year at the Survivor Series, but then won the Royal Rumble in January 2003 to earn a shot at the title at WrestleMania. His opponent? Kurt Angle, the 1996 Olympic Gold Medalist who was a wizard inside the ring and a versatile actor outside of it. Despite a card that featured Hulk Hogan vs. Vince McMahon AND Stone Cold vs. the Rock, WWE smartly decided that the WrestleMania XIX main event should have its young beast challenger against its top technical wrestler. It was not a mistake.
The match was a wonderful time capsule for early 2000s SmackDown wrestling, which was the superior brand under the direction of Paul Heyman. There were lots of suplexes and counters, with few finisher kickouts, a growing trend within the Raw brand. That lead to the moment of truth: After countering an Angle Slam into his signature F-5 finisher, Lesnar forewent a pin and climbed to the top rope. Lesnar had never shown off an aerial attack in his time at WWE, but this was his moment, a WrestleMania main event that would be remembered forever. As Lesnar went for a Shooting Star Press (a standing backflip, basically), he slipped a bit off the sweat-soaked rope and, in what is the worst botch in WrestleMania history, failed to rotate fully, smacking the top of his head on the ring. It was not meant to be.
Somehow, Angle managed to improvise an ending, getting a concussed Lesnar to hit him with another F-5 for the victory. Brock never went for the Shooting Star Press again.
WrestleMania XX: Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero, Champions
When: March 14, 2004
Venue: Madison Square Garden
Location: New York, N.Y.
There is no way to talk about WrestleMania XX and its main event without context. The short summary is that Chris Benoit beat the two biggest and baddest dudes in the company, HHH and Shawn Michaels, to win his first World Heavyweight Championship in WWE. As confetti fell down on Madison Square Garden and tears streamed down the new champion’s face while Jim Ross had an orgasm on the microphone, Benoit’s real-life best friend Eddie Guerrero, himself a champion after defending the WWE title earlier that night, came out to the ring, applauding his friend’s win. The two men, crying together, hug in the middle of the ring.
It’s a beautiful moment, a moment where wrestling becomes so much more; it becomes the story of achieving the dreams you had as a child, and doing it with those you love. If this list were ranked, this would be the #1 moment, easily...if there was no context. Unfortunately, within 3 years of WrestleMania XX, both men would be dead. Eddie Guerrero would tragically die of heart failure, while Chris Benoit would become the darkest story in WWE history. You probably know how this goes: Benoit killed his wife and son before killing himself in 2007, in a terrible tragedy that to this day haunts the wrestling business. WWE has since disassociated itself with any history of Benoit, leaving only the unedited and unpromoted video of his matches on the WWE Network. And so, the ending to WrestleMania XX, the greatest storytelling achievement in the company’s history, is the one that we can’t talk about without terrible context.
WrestleMania XXIV: “I’m Sorry. I Love You.”
When: March 30, 2008
Venue: Citrus Bowl
Location: Orlando, Fla.
In 2008, exciting things were happening yet again in the WWE. Edge was solidifying himself as a main-event legend, John Cena was already getting on people’s nerves, and an indy legend by the name of CM Punk was on the verge of winning his first world title. So how is it that the best moment from WrestleMania XXIV came from two old-as-dirt dudes wrestling on the midcard? Shawn Michaels, that’s how.
The Heartbreak Kid came back with a vengeance in 2002, hoping to make people forget that he was a raging asshole in his youthful days, pre-broken back. His last three WrestleMania matches were all grade-A examples of wrestling storytelling, and it all started with the last hurrah of Ric Flair. The Nature Boy is arguably the greatest wrestler of all time. Born out of an era of territories wrestling, where he competed in multiple hour-long matches every week, Flair invented the term workhorse for wrestlers. By the time 2008’s Showcase of the Immortals rolled around, he had accomplished everything you could accomplish in WWE—except to have a WrestleMania match for the ages. And when you want one of those, you call Shawn Michaels.
The feud between the two was simple: Flair wanted Michaels’ best, but due to a stipulation by Vince McMahon, if Flair lost, he would have to retire. The match played brilliantly on this, with Michaels hesitating to throw his full arsenal at his hero, while Flair pulled all his usual dirty tricks to try to win. That backfired, as eventually it infuriated Michaels to the point of hitting Flair with not one, but two Sweet Chin Musics, which Naitch somehow kicked out of. As Michaels tuned up the band for one more kick, Flair begged him to do it. HBK looked at Flair and mouthed the words “I’m sorry...I love you,” before super-kicking Flair into retirement. Flair, his family, and 80,000 people in Orlando cried. They were tears of gratitude for the man who defined modern wrestling. Woooooooo!
WrestleMania XXV: Shawn Michaels Kicks Out of the Tombstone
When: April 5, 2009
Venue: Reliant Stadium
Location: Houston, Texas
There’s no better way to kick off the homestretch of this list than with the greatest match in WrestleMania history. That’s not hyperbole. What the Undertaker and Shawn Michaels accomplished at WrestleMania XXV will live forever as the pinnacle of what WWE’s grandest show is all about.
It was a 30-minute classic in which the mystique of the Undertaker’s undefeated streak clashed against Shawn Michaels’ reign as Mr. WrestleMania, creating intensity and drama that hasn’t been duplicated since, thanks to expert wrestling and even better storytelling. In one corner, you could feel Shawn Michaels’ determination to go down in history as the man who broke “The Streak,” while in the other, the Undertaker’s resolve to beat his toughest challenger oozed into every strike, powerbomb, and desperation dive to the outside. And to think, this match didn’t even main-event the show. Thanks, Triple H and Randy Orton!
The most iconic moment of the match was also its least expected. The Undertaker threw Shawn Michaels out of the ring, but HBK managed to grab ahold of the ropes and tried to pull himself back in. ’Taker caught him and delivered an emphatic Tombstone Piledriver, a worthy finish for a classic match—only it didn’t finish things. Undertaker’s face said it all as Michaels stayed down for one...two...but not three counts. It was in that moment that you started to wonder: Can Michaels do this? Can he end the streak? Unfortunately for him, it was not meant to be. He got caught trying a moonsault off the top rope and fell victim to another Tombstone. But it didn’t matter; what ’Taker and Michaels had accomplished could not be replicated...not even by them, although they tried and got close the following year, in what ended up being Michaels’ retirement match. Mr. WrestleMania went out in style, as only he knew how.
WrestleMania XXX: The Streak...Is Over
When: April 6, 2014
Venue: Mercedez-Benz Superdome
Location: New Orleans, La.
After XXV, Undertaker beat Triple H two times as they tried (and failed) to live up to the Shawn Michaels matches. He then defeated CM Punk in a battle for Paul Bearer, Undertaker’s story line father and real-life good friend who’d passed away just before WrestleMania XXIX. It was rumored that the Undertaker had only a few years left, and that he would retire undefeated at WrestleMania, his streak intact.
When Brock Lesnar was given the task of facing ’Taker at WrestleMania XXX, it was just a matter of time before the Deadman moved to 22-0. After all, Brock Lesnar was one of the least likely candidates to be the one to break the streak. He wasn’t a young star that the WWE could guarantee would be around to profit from breaking “The Streak” for years to come. He didn’t particularly need to be feared as the man who’d ended the Undertaker’s reign; his real-life fighting experience accomplished that just fine. Most important, he had once quit the WWE to pursue other interests in the NFL and UFC, and Vince McMahon is one to hold a grudge, so it didn’t seem likely he would get such an important win. To say we were not excited for this match is an understatement…
...but maybe we should have seen it coming. After all, Lesnar was the real-life scariest man in WWE, the one guy you would not want to diminish in any way. Undertaker was an undead wizard mortician who had superhero powers at WrestleMania but old bones in real life. If wrestling is attempting to tell hyper-real stories, why not let this one play out as realistically as possible?
The match itself was a travesty, nowhere near the quality of ’Taker’s run of WrestleMania instant classics—Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, this was not. It’s even rumored that the Deadman performed the majority of the match with a concussion. But that’s not what we remember. In what will go down as the biggest shock ever to grace a WrestleMania ring, Brock Lesnar picked up the Undertaker and hit his third F-5 of the night. Those who had grown up on Undertaker power-ups and kickouts knew what was coming: one...two...kickout. But when Brock Lesnar pinned the Undertaker, the count hit three with no kickout.
The silence was deafening—outside of Paul Heyman, Brock’s manager, screaming “OH, MY GOD! YOU DID IT, BROCK!” Every other person in the building stared in complete befuddlement. During the silence heard around the world, the WWE cameras panned around the crowd, revealing shock and despair, reminding us that despite all we pretend to know about the wrestling business, we don’t know anything. The cameras finally came to rest on the haunting image of the Undertaker, on his back, looking old, defeated, and broken. And right above, the screen displayed the number we never thought we would see: 21-1.
WrestleMania XXX: The Miracle On Bourbon Street
When: April 6, 2014
Venue: Mercedez-Benz Superdome
Location: New Orleans, La.
It’s hard to believe, given how he’s being shunted off to the side by management in the present-day WWE product, but Daniel Bryan could not have been more popular heading into WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans. The guy who worked his ass off in the independent circuit in order to make it to the top of the business was an Internet darling who’d turned a simple chant (YES! YES! YES!) into an international phenomenon, with celebrities and athletes all joining in the Yes Movement.
Despite months of on- and offscreen sabotage from the Authority and WWE Creative, respectively, underdog Bryan arrived at the Superdome with two tasks: defeat Triple H one-on-one for a shot at the title later that night, then defeat both Batista and Randy Orton in the main event to walk out WWE World Heavyweight Champion. It seemed obvious that he would, because it’s a fantastic story involving the most popular guy since wrestling’s peak in the Attitude Era, but nothing is simple in WWE, so the fans of little Daniel Bryan headed into WrestleMania XXX not sure if he would even make it to the end of the night.
Bryan advanced to face Triple H’s chosen disciples by pinning him, clean as a whistle, in the middle of the ring, after what is arguably the best singles match of the Game’s career. At that point, you almost let yourself be sucked in and believe that this little bearded vegan weirdo could do it. And so, despite being ganged up on to the point of receiving a Batista Bomb/RKO combo through the table, and despite interference from Triple H and his wife Stephanie, and despite his not being as tall or as generically good-looking as the ideal WWE superstar in Vince McMahon’s eyes, Daniel Bryan did it. Not only did he do it, but he called back to WrestleMania XX’s ending by making the golden boy, Batista, tap out in the middle of the ring to complete the Miracle on Bourbon Street. And so the confetti fell yet again, with 70,000-plus people screaming at the top of their lungs while Bryan, the new Heavyweight Champion of the World, chanted along with them. Yes! Yes! Yes!