What makes a great match is a big question in and of itself. Some people need a compelling story, a rivalry and a match that has enormous consequences resting on it. CM Punk vs John Cena at Money In The Bank 2011 is the perfect example of this. It’s one of just a handful of WWE matches to be given a 5-star rating by the wrestling observer himself, Dave Meltzer.
For others, it’s all about the in-ring work with chaos, crazy bumps and never-before-seen action like the first Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at SummerSlam 2000. Another branch of wrestling fans prefer the matches of historical significance; the ones that made or ended an iconic career, or revolutionised a match stipulation.
As for myself? Well, frustratingly enough I like a combination of all three. What is the point of a great storyline that doesn’t pay off with an incredible bout between the bells? What is memorable about an exceptional match that has no long-lasting effect? I know my choices here will not match your own, but that’s part of the fun of wrestling. We all like it for different reasons, and we all have ideas for what makes a perfect match. With 32 WrestleManias to choose from, there are going to be some great matches that don’t make the top 10 cut. Here are those that were oh-so-close but just couldn’t crack it.
Kurt Angle vs Chris Jericho vs Chris Benoit – WrestleMania 2000 – 2 falls for the European and Intercontinental Championships
Let’s get this out of the way early on: yes, the final days of Chris Benoit’s life were horrific and despicable, but he was also an amazing in-ring competitor. This match was fantastic. Jericho, who entered the WWE in August 1999, was the company veteran of the three, Angle was the double champion, and Benoit was barely two months into his WWE career, but together they put on a wrestling clinic. Most triple threat matches follow a pattern: one wrestler gets knocked out of the ring, the other two have a match; then the third guy comes in, someone else gets knocked out of the ring, and the remaining two have a match. Rinse & repeat til the finish. That’s how they normally go – but not this one. Sure, there were a few moments of straight one-on-one, but for the most part, these three meshed beautifully to create magic in the ring. This match set up a near year-long feud between Jericho and Benoit established career-long chemistry between Angle and Benoit and announced all three as major players in the future of the company as Benoit left an Intercontinental champion, Jericho left as the European Champion and Kurt was left unpinned but beltless.
The Rock vs Hulk Hogan – WrestleMania 18 (2002)
This clash of icons was not an incredible display of technical wrestling – it was a Hogan match after all – but it was an amazing moment in history. Rock debuted and became insanely popular while Hogan was in WCW getting rich and old. When the Hulkster returned to WWE under the nWo colours in 2002 it was as a heel but the Toronto crowd at WrestleMania 18 had no interest in booing Hogan. He was beloved there, and in his first Mania back in WWE the fans showed their appreciation. Rock and Hogan showed great ring-craft in flipping the script and allowing the match to flow as the fans wanted. The Rock won and ended up saving Hogan from a post-match beatdown by the rest of the nWo. It ended with the two legends sharing a handshake, many flexes and a standing ovation from the crowd. As a moment in history it is iconic.
Bret Hart vs Owen Hart – WrestleMania X (1994)
Rivalries don’t get much better than brother vs. brother, families don’t get much more storied than the Hart’s, and matches don’t get much better than Bret vs Owen. These two opened the show with a classic, exchanging holds and strikes, countering each other and displaying just how well they knew each other. Part of the story for this, other that Owen wanting to step out of Bret’s shadow, was that Bret had a title match later in the night against Yokozuna. Clocking in at 20 minutes, it was a grueling battle, featuring the rarest of sights for modern WWE fans – someone else using a tombstone piledriver! But in a spot echoed years later in every Young Bucks match, that tombstone was far from the finish. Owen ended up winning after countering a victory roll from Bret, setting the two up to feud all summer long, leading to another superb match at SummerSlam.
With those honorable mentions out the way, it’s time to start our Top 10. Matches 10 & 9 are below; keep checking RealSport for parts 2 & 3 of our countdown over the next few days!
10. Chris Benoit vs Triple H (C) vs Shawn Michaels – World Heavyweight Championship – WrestleMania XX (2004)
Like a lot of championship matches at Mania, the story started at the Royal Rumble. Benoit became the second person, after Shawn Michaels, to enter the Rumble match at #1 and win. At the same show, HHH and Michaels fought a hellacious match that ended in a draw, and so as the story on Raw progressed it became clear we would have a triple threat for the World Heavyweight title. Benoit, who was incredibly over, looked like the outsider in this match, with HHH and Michaels being the established and WWE-made superstars. However the Rabid Wolverine’s 18 year career, spanning multiple companies and continents, was highlighted too as he chased the gold. The match itself was sublime (despite too much blood for my liking), opening with both HBK and Benoit working on HHH before tossing him out of the ring and locking up themselves. Benoit and Michaels are two of the greatest in-ring workers ever and it showed in the early stages of this match as they went toe to toe. Throughout the match it had the flow of a usual triple threat, with one person getting hit to the outside and the other two fighting it out, but that is no bad thing. All three of these guys had great chemistry together and put on a show. Michaels hit a top rope moonsault to the outside, Benoit was suplexed through an announce table and the near-falls were electrifying. Any time Benoit looked like winning the crowd exploded, and when he countered a Pedigree attempt into the crossface the pop blew the roof off Madison Square Garden, but that was dwarfed by the eruption when HHH tapped out.
What really makes this match standout is the moment at the end. Benoit with the belt, met by his friend and WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero as the confetti falls. 18 months later Guerrero would be dead, and we all know what happened to Benoit, but the end of WrestleMania 20 is a perfect moment in time for two of wrestling’s all-time great competitors.
9. “Tables, Ladders & Chairs II” – Dudley Boyz (C) vs Hardy Boyz vs Edge & Christian – WrestleMania X-Seven (2001)
The story of this match really starts all the way back at No Mercy 1999 when the Hardys and Edge & Christian competed in the first ever tag team ladder match. Since then the two teams, joined by the Dudley Boyz not long after, had been raising the stakes and excitement of tag team wrestling. At WrestleMania 2000 they had participated in a Triangle Ladder Match which was really a TLC but without the catchy name. “TLC I” came later that year at SummerSlam and now, in the third installment of their three-way matches, the trio of teams were set to raise the bar to unimaginable heights. This incredible, action-packed match was highlighted by Edge climbing a ladder in the corner of the ring and spearing Jeff Hardy in mid-air as he dangled from the tag belts.
Words don’t really do this match justice – some of the spots have to be seen to be believed. There were also run-ins from the three teams’ friends to help carry some of the crazier spots and provide cannon fodder for Jeff Hardy’s dives and table breaks. Eventually Edge & Christian won this match, which is yet to be equaled in its action and sheer madness.
Check back tomorrow for Part Two of our countdown!