Thursday, April 15, 2021

Top Ten Things: WrestleMania Main Events, Part 1 (#40-31)

Welcome to another Top Ten Things, or should I say, Top FORTY Things, here at!  I know WrestleMania 37 is now in the history books, but for the first time in years the WrestleMania mood stuck with me days after the show, so I'm running with it.  To that end I decided to put every WrestleMania main event in order from worst to best, and split it into four parts so as to make it a little more digestible for you folks.  "But Justin," you're probably saying, "How can there be a Top 40 when there have only been 39 WrestleMania shows?"  Well, I'll explain that one in a bit.

WrestleMania is of course the biggest PPV of the year, a time when athleticism and spectacle intermingle on the biggest possible scale for one night a year (or two nights nowadays).  The results over the last near-four decades have been mixed, but when WWE is on their game, they're capable of transcending the art form.  When they aren't, it ranges from uninspired to the drizzling dumpster farts.  This list has a little of everything, as the WrestleMania main event has historically been overshadowed by another match on the card more often than not (roughly two out of every three times by my calculation).  But whether or not the participants deliver in the final match of the evening, the WrestleMania main event is the ultimate goal for just about everyone who throws their hat into the wrasslin' ring.  It's an honor bestowed only on a select few, and even fewer truly make their moment count.  Let's peruse the WWE archives and see which 'Mania main events have measured up and which ones belong on history's scrap heap.....

Click here for Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4

40. Yokozuna vs. Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania IX

Alright, so I said earlier I'd explain why there are 40 entries on this list, and here's the reason.  WrestleMania IX's main event as officially announced was Bret Hart defending the WWF Championship against newly minted monster heel Yokozuna, who earned his title shot at the 1993 Royal Rumble.  That match took place as planned, but immediately afterwards Hulk Hogan showed up to protest the result (Yokozuna beat Bret after Mr. Fuji threw salt in the champ's eyes), and Yokozuna challenged him to a match on the spot.  Nevermind that it made zero sense for the brand new *heel* WWF Champion, who'd just endured a grueling nine-minute match, to challenge a fresh babyface for an impromptu title defense.  Hogan accepted with Bret's blessing (which also made no sense as Bret and Hogan had never really interacted before), dodged an errant salt throw from Fuji that landed in Yoko's eyes (Apparently salt is the deadliest weapon ever, as it was responsible for two title changes in one night), and dropped his big stupid leg to win the WWF Title only two minutes removed from the PPV's official main event finish.  A guy who wasn't even booked to headline the show walked away with the gold (an occurrence which would repeat 22 years later under much better circumstances) while the two new main event guys were made to look like chumps.  This was goddamn disgraceful and entirely counterproductive at a time when the WWF desperately needed to move on from the Hogan Era, and worse, Hogan would take the belt home for two months, reneging on his backstage promise to put Bret over at SummerSlam.  To paraphrase George Carlin, fuck Terry, Terry sucks.  This "match" is the worst main event in WrestleMania history, but I'll be goddamned if I'm not also going to acknowledge that show's true main event on this list.  Hence Bret vs. Yokozuna will appear as well, bringing the total number of entries to 40.

39. Sgt. Slaughter vs. Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania VII

Speaking of Terry and sucking, the main event of WrestleMania VII was centered around the recently returned Sgt. Slaughter, who instead of being the heroic American soldier we all knew and tolerated, announced himself as an Iraqi sympathizer, complete with a Saddam Hussein lookalike manager and a flag burning.  He defeated The Ultimate Warrior at the Royal Rumble, thus robbing fans of a Hogan-Warrior rematch which would've done ENORMOUS business, and setting up this stinker of a main event instead.  Fans were so unimpressed with this bout headlining the show in fact, WrestleMania VII had to be moved from its original 100,000-seat location at the LA Coliseum to the much smaller 16,000-seat LA Sports Arena.  The match in practice was about as good as it looked on paper, which is to say it wasn't good.  At all.  Hogan and Slaughter plodded around the ring for a pretty excruciating 21 minutes before Hogan put a merciful end to Slaughter's title reign, and this match.  Ridiculously their feud would continue until SummerSlam, a full six months after our real-life skirmish in Iraq had ended.

38. Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice - WrestleMania VIII

Speaking of Terry and plodding, the main event of WrestleMania VIII was essentially a cross between the build for 'Mania 5 and the match that headlined 'Mania 3.  Hogan's best friend Sid Justice, tired of Hogan's self-absorbed crap and the company's favoritism toward him (Despite eliminating Hogan from that year's Royal Rumble and being the runner-up, Sid was originally passed over for a title shot, a perfectly understandable gripe from where I sit), Sid abandoned Hogan during a Saturday Night's main event tag match (Hmm, where have I seen this angle before?) and the fight was on for 'Mania.  The original plan of Ric Flair vs. Hulk Hogan for the WWF Title was scrapped and Randy Savage was announced as the #1 contender instead (I'm still not entirely sure why, but I ain't complaining), while Hogan and Sid were put on a collision course.  Unfortunately the company decided to put this match in the main event slot instead of the actual championship (because again, Terry sucks), and we were stuck with another boring Hogan vs. Big Man main event that didn't hold a tenth the gravitas of the Hogan-Andre clash.  An unmotivated Sid Justice, one foot already out the door, stunk the place up while Hogan, himself taking a year off, just went through the motions.  Hogan defeated Sid via a very awkward disqualification; Papa Shango was supposed to run in after Hogan's legdrop but missed his cue, so Sid's manager Harvey Wippleman had to interject himself instead, drawing a premature DQ as all he'd done at that point was enter the ring.  Notable from this match is Sid's kickout after the legdrop to ensure he wasn't counted down.  This match was tripe and belonged in the midcard while Flair vs. Savage should've headlined.

37. The Miz vs. John Cena - WrestleMania XXVII

Oh goody, another WrestleMania main event where the two participants are treated as an afterthought while a third party stands tall at the end.  The Miz in late 2010 was the hottest heel in WWE, having cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase to steal a WWE Title win over Randy Orton (Remember Miz Girl? She was awesome.).  Miz relished his asshole heel persona, proving himself one of the best talkers in the business at that point as the arrogant opportunist fans loved to hate.  It was a no-brainer for him to be slotted into the WrestleMania 27 main event, against the company's posterboy John Cena.  This looked like a perfect present vs. future-type match, where even in a loss The Miz could punch his ticket to a permanent main event spot.  But two things happened.  1) The match stunk.  Whether it was Cena getting his bell rung early on, or just a lack of overall chemistry, these two never gelled at all.  It didn't help that the show was running short on time thanks to a way-too-long Triple H-Taker segment and a bunch of pointless backstage comedy, but still, a consummate pro like Cena should've been able to appropriate a 'Mania-worthy match out of The Miz.  2) The finish was booked as a double countout with WrestleMania host The Rock ordering the match restarted before Rock Bottoming Cena, to give Miz the cheap win and set up Rock-Cena at 'Mania 28.  A good rule of thumb: When the main event of the biggest show of the year is booked as nothing more than a catalyst for a bigger match next year, you've done something horribly wrong.  Of the three principles involved in this fiasco, guess which one took the blame for it sucking.  Yup, poor Mike Mizanin, and his career never reached this plateau again.

36. Brock Lesnar vs. Drew McIntyre - WrestleMania 36, Night 2

Another cosmically disappointing main event took place in 2020, amid a pandemic that necessitated WrestleMania's move to the Performance Center in Orlando, in front of an empty room.  That was one big strike against Drew McIntyre's coronation as WWE's next "it" guy, but compounding things was the booking of this match.  Instead of two bulls stiffly beating the shit out of each other for a good 10-15 minutes like we all expected, Drew and Brock simply traded finishers over and over, in a sub-five-minute, psychology-free sprint that was basically a carbon copy of Goldberg vs. Braun Strowman the previous night.  Eventually Drew won with a Claymore Kick and celebrated as though in front of 70,000 screaming fans, but this barely qualified as a match, and wouldn't even be satisfactory on a RAW episode, let alone as the main event of WrestleMania.  

35. The Undertaker vs. AJ Styles - WrestleMania 36, Night 1

I might take some flak for this, but I don't care.  I more or less hated the Boneyard Match that headlined the first night of 'Mania 36.  This hokey, cheeseball cinematic match allowed the 55-year-old Undertaker one last lurch through a WrestleMania bout, against one of the most respected workers of all time.  The problems for me though were the setup, the result, and the execution.  The setup took place at Super ShowDown in a gauntlet match, where AJ appeared to be the last man standing until Taker made a surprise appearance, pinning AJ after a single chokeslam.  Oh super, AJ got to job to Taker after one move.  Way to make him look like a geek.  Well at least he'll get his win back at WrestleMania, right?  RIGHT?  Nope.  AJ got to lose to Taker a second time in their big 'Mania showdown, and just like every other full-timer granted the privilege of losing to the once-a-year Mark Calaway, AJ was left with nothing to show for it when Taker went home the next day.  Stuff like this is why casual wrestling fans don't care about today's product; they're constantly hammered over the head with the idea that today's stars are inferior to their predecessors.  Anywho, back to the match itself.  This segment played out like a bad, low-budget horror film, with over-the-top lighting, a stupid, creepy-sounding background score, and shots blocked in such a way that it was obvious no actual big bumps were being taken.  But the most egregious offense took place at the end of the match, when AJ had Taker in the Buried Alive grave and was about to cover him with dirt, only for Taker to magically appear behind him, apparently having teleported.  Taker proceeded to Tombstone AJ, toss him into the hole, and bury him to win the match.  So the question became, why didn't Taker do that in every match when he was in danger of losing?  There's only so far you can stretch suspension of disbelief before you feel like your intelligence is being insulted.  So in the end we were treated to a silly bit of horror filmmaking, where the retiring 55-year-old didn't go out on his back and thus hurt the credibility of the full-timer who had to show up the next night.  I didn't like this match at all.

34. Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper & Paul Orndorff - WrestleMania I

The first WrestleMania, a massive mainstream event though it may have been, was a really strange card, laid out more like a house show than a proper supercard.  We were treated to glorified jobber matches, the Intercontinental Champion defending against someone he wasn't feuding with, and for the one and only time in 'Mania's long history, a tag team main event.  Hogan and Piper had recently wrestled for the WWF Title on a special MTV presentation, so instead of a repeat of that big money match we got this one instead.  The match itself was....1985 WWF.  It was all about the spectacle rather than the action; Hogan, Piper and Orndorff did their thing while Mr. T turned in a pretty capable performance for a non-wrestler.  The bout strangely ended with Cowboy Bob Orton accidentally hitting Orndorff with his infamous cast, allowing Hogan to pin him.  Hardly an auspicious debut for the biggest main event slot of the year, but it was inoffensive.  

33. Sycho Sid vs. The Undertaker - WrestleMania 13

Another in a long line of underwhelming big man main events, Sid vs. Taker was put in the unenviable position of not only following the previous year's Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels epic, but being thoroughly upstaged by the Bret Hart-Steve Austin instant classic two bouts earlier.  Undertaker did his best to lead the inept Sid through a good main event, but as Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart had each learned months earlier, there's only so much one can do with this guy between the ropes.  The two behemoths slogged through the 21-minute contest, with the most memorable moments occurring only when an angry Bret Hart ran to the ring to protest his exclusion from the WWF Title match.  Several minutes of boring offense and a Tombstone Piledriver later, and Undertaker had won his second WWF Championship, at least ending the night on a high note in front of an appreciative audience.  But otherwise this match was pretty turd-like.

32. Randy Savage vs. Ted Dibiase - WrestleMania IV

The finals of the WrestleMania IV tournament to crown a new WWF Champion has to be high on the list of most disappointing matches ever.  With two accomplished workers exploding with charisma like Randy Savage and Ted Dibiase, this should've been an 80s classic affair.  Sadly the match took a wayback seat to the outside the ring shenanigans, starting with Andre the Giant and Virgil constantly interfering.  Rather than the referee simply ejecting them from ringside, they had Elizabeth run to the back and get help in the form of Savage's "big brother" Hulk Hogan, who in the closing moments whacked Dibiase in the back with a chair just when Ted was about to win the title.  Wow, what a great way for a new top babyface to become champion....  Instead of the Macho Man getting to fully enjoy his big moment after a blistering main event, he had to share the spotlight with the former champ after an overbooked nine-minute mess.  The sight of Savage celebrating with Elizabeth and the WWF Title on his shoulder was a grand image to end WrestleMania IV on, but the match that led to it kinda sucked.

31. Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy - WrestleMania 2

The first (and for 35 years only) steel cage match in WrestleMania history is one of those silly, cartoonish Hulk Hogan bouts that I shouldn't enjoy nearly as much as I do.  It's a match you love as a kid because two larger-than-life titans are pummeling each other inside a rigid blue-barred steel box.  It's simple and easily digestible, and the good vs. evil dynamic couldn't be clearer - superhero vs. monster.  The match came about after Bundy squashed Hogan's ribs on a Saturday Night's Main Event, and Hogan sold the injury like crazy going into this (up until his dumbass Hulk-up near the end of course).  There's almost no real wrestling going on in this match, but Hogan and Bundy embodied their characters so well the match became a bit star rating-proof (a phenomenon that would be magnified tenfold a year later).  This ten-minute main event is big, dumb, and fun, like a 1950s B-movie.  I can't rank it any higher than 31st because it's actually pretty terrible, but I can't help but get a kick out of it.

Thus ends Part 1 of this four-part countdown.  Stay tuned for numbers 30-21, coming up!

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