Monday, March 3, 2014

Ranking the First 15 Wrestlemanias

We are almost a month away from the 30th edition of Wrestlemania; the grandest stage in all of sports entertainment. This years spectacle promises to feature many stars past and present, and with the 30th anniversary of this transcendent event approaching, I thought I would take a nostalgic look back through time and rank the first 15 Manias.

15. Wrestlemania XI (1995, Hardtford Civic Center, Hartford, CT). Many believe this to be the worst Wrestlemania of all time and I am inclined to agree. The show just did not feel "big" to me. The man event featured a retired football player (Lawrence Taylor) and a midcard wrestler (Bam Bam Bigelow) and the WWF Title Match was a bit of a disaster as Shawn Michaels and Disel were really not into the match from the get-go. The rest of the card was extremely poorly booked and forgettable. Wrestlemania XI also took place at the Hartford Civic Center which is hardly a venue that elicits images of grandeur and spectacle.

14. Wrestlemania IX (1993, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas Nevada). The WWF really did a great job with the aesthetic aspects of this event. The ancient Rome theme looked awesome draped around a makeshift stadium at Caesars Palace. The problem is, the actual event did not deliver in the way they had planned. At the time, Hulk Hogan's WWF career was winding down and they were trying to push new stars. Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna was the evening's main event for the WWF Title. The problem is, Hogan wound up interjecting himself in this match after Hart was "cheated" out of a victory. Hogan attacked Yokozuna and actually won the WWF Title as the show went off the air. Just a really weird situation that never did feel right. It was definitely an awkward time for the company as you had veteran guys like Hogan, Beefcake etc hanging around and new stars trying to gain the spotlight.

13. Wrestlemania XV (1999, First Union Center, Philadelphia, PA). This Mania absolute wreaks of WWF Attitude era writing and wrestling. Honestly, it felt like an overblown episode of "Monday Night Raw" with most of the card being extremely forgettable (Bart Gunn vs. Butterbean in a boxing match anyone?) But the saving grace is certainly the title match between the Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin who were both red hot at the time. Austin re-gained his belt which probably saved this show.

12. Wrestlemania II (1986, Chiago, New York, Los Angeles). The second version of Wrestlemania was just as large of a gamble as the first one was the previous year. The WWF put this event on from three different locations and also provided the show on closed circuit television all over the U.S. The card had its moments including Chicago Bears legend William "The Refrigerator" Perry competing in a battle royal and Rowdy Roddy Piper fighting Mr. T in a boxing match. The main event featured Hulk Hogan vs. monster heel King Kong Bundy in a cage match which was solid if not somewhat unspectacular. Overall, this was quite a production for the WWF at the time and it set the standard for what was to come.

11. Wrestlemania XIII (1997, Rosemont Horizon, Chicago, IL). Wrestlemania XIII was all about one thing: Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin. This match would make "Stone Cold" a huge star despite passing out from blood loss in Hart's Sharpshooter. This was supposed to feature a re-match between Hart and Shawn Michaels, but Shawn did not want to lose to Bret so he fore-fitted the title. Sid Vicious vs. Undertaker would headline the card and Taker would win his second WWF Title on this night, but this show was all about Austin/Hart in the "I Quit" match.

10. Wrestlemania I (1985, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY). This was the event that started it all. WWF owner Vince McMahon gambled the future of his company to try to make the WWF a global phenomenon. He definitely succeeded with a star-studded show that featured many celebrities in addition to a loaded rosters of wrestlers. Liberace, Muhammad Ali, Billy Martin, and Cyndi Lauper all contributed their talents to help make this Wrestlemania a resounding success. Television star Mr. T wound up wrestling in the event as he teamed with Hulk Hogan to take on Rowdy Roddy Piper and Mr. Wonderful in the nights main event.

9. Wrestlemania XII (1996, Anaheim Pond, Anaheim, CA). Wrestlemania XII came at an odd time for the WWF. This was pre attitude era and the company was counting on a 60-minute Iron Man Match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels to sell this show. The idea was a huge success as many contend that the Iron Man Match was one of the greatest matches in wrestling history. The athleticism and in-ring-wizardry of Michaels and Hart was astounding during that match and helped establish both individuals as guys that could be counted on to carry the company into the future. HBK would win his first WWF Title on this night and would set himself up as "the guy" for the foreseeable future.

8. Wrestlemania IV (1988, Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, NJ). Wrestlemania IV featured a tournament to crown a new WWF Champion. This was the WWF's attempt at doing something different and trying to move away from Hogan as Champion as he was wanting to take some time off to film a movie. The tournament was a fun idea and the crowning of the "Macho Man" Randy Savage as the new champion was a big step for the company at the time. The atmosphere was not great as the Trump Plaza was filled with high rollers from Donald Trump's casino and the energy in the crowd suffered from that a bit.

 7. Wrestlemania X (1994, Madison Square Garden, New York, NY). This is the first post-Hogan Wrestlemania and the results wound up being tremendous. You had Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon tearing the house down during their ground-breaking ladder match and Bret Hart stealing the show with two unbelievable performances (including a loss to his brother Owen). This show helped catapult the WWF into the "new generation" which featured younger and more athletic stars.

6. Wrestlemania VIII (1992, Hoosier Dome, Indianapolis, IN) This could easily have been the greatest Mania of all time but a huge botch on the WWF's part kept that from happening. Ric Flair had defected to the WWF in 1991 and was clearly on a collision course to take on Hulk Hogan for the title at Wrestlemania VIII. Unfortunatley, things wound up getting changed although we got a wonderful title match between Randy Savage and Flair. Hulk Hogan (billed as his final nope!) wound up taking on Sid Justice in the headlining match which ended with the Ultimate Warrior returning to help Hogan fend off Justice and Papa Shango who had interfered causing the DQ. Overall, this is probably the final "golden era" Wrestlemania as many things would be changed by Wrestlemania IX.

5. Wrestlemania XIV (Fleet Center, Boston, MA). This event certainly helped usher in the "attitude era" of the World Wrestling Federation. Shawn Michaels was on his way out of the company due to injury and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was the hottest thing in the world at the time.Austin would leave Boston that night as a legendary force in sports entertainment after beating Shawn Michaels. Mike Tyson being involved in the main event was a huge catalyst in the WWF's popularity surge around this time. The Undertaker finally meeting his "brother" Kate one-on-one was a giant cherry on top to this tremendous card.

4. Wrestlemania VII (1991, Sports Arena, Los Angeles, CA). The WWF decided to capitalize on the Gulf War which America was involved in at the time. Sgt. Slaughter was billed as an Iraqi sympathizer and it was up to the real American, Hulk Hogan to stop him and to re-gain the heavyweight championship. Slaughter may have been passed his prime, but the storyline was executed beautifully. Wrestlemania VII also featured the tremendous career ending match between The Ultimate Warrior and Randy Savage. The Warrior emerged victorious, but the highlight of the match consisted of Savage being re-united with his former girlfriend Miss Elizabeth during one of the most emotional moments in WWE history.

3. Wrestlemania III (1987, Pontiac Silverdome, Pontiac, MI). There is no questioning that one match alone put 93,000 people in the Silverdome to help break the indoor attendance record. Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant clashing at Wrestlemania III is one of the most pivotal moments in wrestling history. Hogan slammed the giant and won the match which became a defining moment for the WWF as the company had reached a zenith by this time.

2. Wrestlemania V (1989, Trump Plaza, Atlantic City, NJ). In 1989 the Mega Powers did indeed explode! The Hogan and Savage storyline had been a year in the making and was beautifully told. Randy Savage became jealous of his manager Miss Elizabeth and Hulk Hogan's relationship and turned heel forcing a match with Hogan with the title on the line. The hype for this event was massive and the card was stacked. The Ultimate Warrior and Ravishing Rick Rude even had a solid match for the Intercontinental Title, but the Mega Powers would rule the day in the end. Hogan went on to re-gain his title with his theme music "Real American" playing in the background of the epic celebration.

1. Wrestlemania VI (1990, Skydome, Toronto, Canada). To me, this is the greatest wrestling extravaganza of all time! There is something about Wrestlemania VI that makes me feel so nostalgic that it's almost palpable. The build-up for Hogan vs. Warrior was unreal. The venue was perfect (68,000 people in the brand-new Skydome) and the crowd was split right down the middle on who they wanted to win. Something about this production just feels newer compared to the preceding Wrestlemanias. The graphics, lighting, crowd, atmosphere all felt really huge at the time. Of course the wrong person won the match as Warrior clearly was not ready to carry the torch as WWF Champion. Regardless, the ultimate challenge at Wrestlemania VI will certainly live on for eons to come.

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