Welcome back to 30 Years of WrestleMania: The WWE Championship Matches. This is Part Two of my countdown ranking all 30 WWF/E Championship Matches in WrestleMania History. Hopefully you’ve had a chance to check out Part One already. Let’s dive right into the top 15 WrestleMania WWF/E Championship Matches.
15. WrestleMania XXIV: Randy Orton defeated Triple H and John Cena in a Triple Threat Match to retain the WWE Championship. 14:10 (***1/4)
Back in January at the Royal Rumble, John Cena returned early from a torn pectoral muscle to win the Royal Rumble Match. In WWE’s storylines, Randy Orton was to blame for Cena’s injury. Cena’s genius idea was to not wait until WrestleMania and cashed in his title match at February’s No Way Out. An Elimination Chamber Match was then held at the PPV to determine the number one contender for the title at WrestleMania. Triple H won the Chamber match and Cena was screwed out of his title opportunity after Orton intentionally got himself disqualified. Cena was eventually added to this match after beating Orton in a match on RAW.
This was a signature win for Orton. Orton was only starting to crack the main event scene as a reliable performer as he put a lot of personal demons behind him. The fans didn’t see Orton on HHH and Cena’s level as only 8% of fans voted for him in a pre-match poll asking who would win this match. 14 minutes is a bit short for the WWE Championship match at WrestleMania so they were able to set a good pace and keep the action moving in the match. Triple H looked like he was ready to reclaim the title after he hit the Pedigree on Cena but as he went for the pin, Orton punted him and pinned Cena to retain his title.
14. WrestleMania V: Hulk Hogan pinned Randy Savage to become the NEW WWF Champion. 17:32 (***1/4)
This was one of the best built main events in WWF/E history. The seeds were planted for this feud back at WrestleMania IV when Hogan helped Savage win the WWF Championship. The explosion of the Mega-Powers all came down to one thing: Miss Elizabeth. Savage thought Hogan had feelings for his woman. Leave it to a woman to come between best friends. Savage’s jealousy erupted into a fit of rage on an episode of The Main Event when he attacked not only Hogan but Miss Elizabeth as well.
Elizabeth was at the center of the feud but she played virtually no role in this match. She was ordered to stay in a neutral corner and the referee ended up tossing her from the ring before the go-home sequence to the match. Despite losing, Savage had his working boots on and made sure Hogan kept up with him to provide us with an entertaining main event. In the end, Savage fell to the leg drop and Hulkamania was once again running wild.
13. WrestleMania XV: Steve Austin beat The Rock in a No Disqualification Match to become the NEW WWF Champion. 16:55 (***1/4)
Everybody loved the Attitude Era because it was filled with edgy television and a star laden roster. Truth be told though, there was a lot to dislike about the Attitude Era as well and this match was an example of why you loved and hated the Attitude Era.
This was the first match of the awesome Austin/Rock WrestleMania Trilogy and thankfully things would get much better from here. This was an overbooked mess. It’s a testament to how great Austin and Rock are that the match turned out as good as it did. Mankind won the right to be the special referee in this match but was injured earlier in the evening. The match, which was a wild brawl, featured three referees being knocked out and interference from Vince McMahon before the fourth referee Mankind, who was the man originally slated to referee this match counted The Rock down after a Stone Cold Stunner and Austin reclaimed his spot atop the WWF.
12. WrestleMania 2000: Triple H defeated The Rock, Mick Foley and The Big Show in a No Disqualification Fatal 4 Way Elimination Match to retain the WWF Championship. 26:25 (***1/2)
This was a case of trying to do too much. The original plan for the WrestleMania main event in 2000 was Triple H defending the title against The Rock. They should have left it that way. With Steve Austin and The Undertaker missing a lot of time in 1999 and 2000 with injuries, Rock and HHH were clearly the two top guys in WWF at the time and deserved to main event WrestleMania. They added Big Show and Mick Foley so there would be a McMahon in every corner. Stephanie was with Triple H, Linda brought Foley out of retirement and cornered him, Shane was with Big Show and Vince was with Rock.
For all the need to do the Fatal 4 Way they only had Show and Foley spend four and nine minutes in the match respectively. We wound up with a 15 minute Rock/HHH match which was the plan but by that point it was too much about the McMahons and not enough about the title. In the end, Vince turned on Rock allowing his son-in-law to retain the WWF Championship.
11. WrestleMania 22: John Cena defeated Triple H via submission to retain the WWE Championship. 22:01 (***1/2)
Somewhere between WrestleMania 21 and this match the “smart” fans turned on John Cena and nowhere was that more evident than in this match. The crowd in Chicago hated John Cena. If you watched the DVD version of this match you won’t know how much they hated him because the crowd was muffled on DVD. I watched this match live on PPV and the “F*ck You, Cena” chants that were breaking out made you feel bad for the guy. The crowd really stole the show during this match as they reacted to everything the two men did.
The match may seem slow at times but I think Cena and Triple H called an audible in the ring and worked that style to allow the crowd to react to everything they did since the audience was so into the match. In the end, Cena retained his title by getting the Game to submit to the STF. It was a big win for Cena over a guy that was a multiple time World Champion and had been main eventing PPVs for seven years. Cena was only atop WWE for a year at this point.
10. WrestleMania XIV: Steve Austin pinned Shawn Michaels to become the NEW WWF Champion. 20:01 (***1/2)
Whenever I write about or watch this match I always wonder what could have been. These two had a pretty good match but then you think about how much pain Shawn Michaels was in and you wonder if we missed a chance to witness a classic. HBK was kept out of action after suffering a bad back injury at the Royal Rumble in 1998. It was the very same back injury that kept Michaels out of the ring for 4 ½ years. Say whatever you wants about the way Michaels acted back in 1998 but no one can take away the fact the he gutted his way through the main event of WrestleMania when a lot of guys wouldn’t have even laced up their boots.
The WWF had their “attitude” for about a year at this point but this match is when they crowned the leader of that attitude. Stone Cold Steve Austin was pegged as the man to lead the WWF into this new era and this match was when he would take the throne. The other notable thing about this match is Mike Tyson served as the special enforcer and was even the one to count Austin as the new WWF Champion. It was an incredibly fast count that kind of ruined Austin’s moment of winning his first World Title but it was a public relations home run that Vince McMahon got Tyson to work WrestleMania.
9. WrestleMania 29: John Cena pinned The Rock to become the NEW WWE Champion. 24:00 (***1/2)
Once in a Lifetime. Yea right. WWE knew that tagline was BS a year before the even used it. The Rock even admitted it. He said when he signed on to return to WWE it was to do three WrestleManias and two WrestleMania matches with Cena. The 2013 Royal Rumble cemented what a lot of fans already expected, a Rock/Cena return match. Rock won the WWE Championship and Cena won the Royal Rumble. The build for the WrestleMania XXVIII match was better but the WrestleMania 29 match was better, in my opinion. What I didn’t like about the build to this match is that WWE tried to play it like Cena’s career went downhill after he lost to Rock at the previous WrestleMania. It went so downhill that he beat Brock Lesnar and The Big Show in PPV main events and even won that year’s Money in the Bank. Even when Cena is the underdog he’s not. That’s why I think what they’re doing with him and Bray Wyatt this year is outstanding because he’s actually the underdog for once.
I may have a bias to this match because I attended WrestleMania 29 but I don’t think it’s as bad as a lot of people make it out to be. The beginning was slow but they worked a much better pace than they did the year before. I know a big complaint was Cena kicked out of three Rock Bottoms and a People’s Elbow. Ok, but The Ultimate Warrior kicked out of five Randy Savage elbows at WrestleMania VII in a match that is universally recognized as one of the best in WrestleMania’s history. I didn’t have a big problem with it and neither did the rest of the fans in attendance. Listen to the crowd. Rock and Cena had us in the palm of their hands and they created a dramatic main event and that’s all you can really ask for. When Cena went for the People’s Elbow, a move the cost him the match last year, and Rock kipped up only for Cena to catch the ropes and tell Rock that he can’t see him which got Cena caught in a Rock Bottom, I thought the match was over. I think 90% of the fans in attendance did if you listen to the reaction after Cena kicked out. It was a really cool spot in the match. Cena eventually went on to win after he hit his third Attitude Adjustment of the match. Cena was once again the WWE Champion and we’ve yet to see The Rock back in WWE.
8. WrestleMania XXVIII: CM Punk beat Chris Jericho via Submission to retain the WWE Championship. 22:20 (***1/2)
As soon as Chris Jericho returned to WWE in 2012 I think we all figured he would face CM Punk for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania. It was a much longer route than we all expected. Chris Jericho was the favorite to win the Royal Rumble but finished second to Sheamus. Then we thought he’d win the Elimination Chamber and become the new WWE Champion and Punk would get his rematch at WrestleMania. It didn’t happen. Jericho was knocked out of the Chamber Match. Jericho eventually won a ten man Battle Royal on RAW to earn this match.
The build to the match got very personal. Punk has always maintained he lived a Straight Edge lifestyle but that didn’t mean his family did. Jericho dug into Punk’s past to find out his father was an alcoholic, his sister was a drug addict and Punk himself is a bastard child. Punk was incensed to no end and Jericho used this to his advantage. He figured Punk would snap in their match so he had a stipulation added that if Punk was disqualified he would lose the WWE Championship. Jericho in classic heel fashion tried like hell to get Punk to snap and get disqualified. Punk came close on a few occasions but he realized that beating the snot out of Jericho was the right way to go.
I think we all thought these two would have a classic wrestling match at WrestleMania. It just didn’t happen. They worked hard and put on a good bout but it was far from a classic. I did love the finishing sequence. Jericho reversed the GTS into the Walls of Jericho. Punk countered and they traded near falls with a trio of small packages until Punk locked in the Anaconda Vice. Jericho rolled up Punk and got a two count but Punk quickly reapplied the Vice. Jericho tried to feverishly knee Punk to break the hold but Punk bridged his legs adding extra pressure to the hold and Jericho was forced to tap and Punk retained the WWE Championship.
7. WrestleMania VI: The Ultimate Warrior beat Hulk Hogan to become the NEW WWF Champion 24:19 (***3/4)
This match was dubbed “The Ultimate Challenge”. It was Hogan’s WWF Championship vs. Warrior’s Intercontinental Championship. There was great intrigue leading into this match since these were the two most popular stars in the WWF. Neither man was used to losing on the grand stage so something had to give.
The Hulkster didn’t carry too many guys in his career but he did on this night. He got a great match out of the Warrior, which behind his match with Randy Savage at WrestleMania VII, is his second best match of his career. This was far from a technical masterpiece but it was a dramatic main event fitting of WrestleMania. This match could have been even better had it not been for all the rest holds used. In the end, Hogan missed the leg drop and Warrior hit the big splash and became the new Champion. It was a shocking ending because you never saw Hulk Hogan lose a match clean.
6. WrestleMania XII: Shawn Michaels beat Bret Hart in an Iron Man Match to become the NEW WWF Champion. 61:56 (****)
I must have watched this match literally 15 times the month after WrestleMania XII. My best friend at the time and I were huge HBK fans and we watched this match almost every day after school for the next month. It’s a personal favorite of my but it’s not the greatest match of all-time. I’m sorry to burst the bubble of those of you that think so.
It sounds stupid to knock a match that I rated at four stars but it’s a highly overrated match. I think the Iron Man concept really hurt the match. We had about 15 minutes in this match where they actually pushed the pace. The rest of the time was spent in submissions in order to kill time. Imagine if these guys had a straight up one on one match, it would have been the all-time great we think this is. I just think neither man knew how to fill the 60 minutes because this was never done before. The running clock hurt this match because they had to find a way to get to 60 minutes. I think if they just had a one fall match that happened to go 60 minutes it would have been better than this.
The match ended in a 0-0 tie as neither man was able to score a fall in the 60 minutes. President Gorilla Monsoon declared there must be a winner so he ordered a sudden death overtime where Shawn used two Sweet Chin Music kicks to down Bret Hart and win his first WWF Championship.
5. WrestleMania 23: John Cena beat Shawn Michaels via Submission to retain the WWE Championship. 27:47 (****)
Shawn Michaels and John Cena were the reigning Tag Team Champions heading into this match. Why WWE thought that added something to this feud is beyond me. The rumor back in 2007 is that WWE wanted to do Cena vs. Triple H again but Triple H’s second quad tear prevented that so they slotted in Triple H’s D-X buddy, Shawn Michaels.
This was a real grind-em-out bout. This isn’t the most spectacular four star match you’ll ever see but they worked hard and created a match that is worthy of the WrestleMania Main Event. I remember ordering WrestleMania 23 on PPV and how pissed I was that the PPV feed blacked out right after the Money in the Bank match. It finally came back about ten minutes into this match. I was so into this match. I hadn’t been that invested a match since the last time HBK challenged for the WWF/E Championship at WrestleMania. I wanted Michaels to win the WWE Title so badly because he’s one of my three favorite wrestlers ever. He only had a one month World Heavyweight Championship reign since he returned from his back injury and I wanted HBK to be at the top of the mountain just one more time.
I ended up going to sleep that night disappointed as the mighty Cena conquered HBK with the STF. It was quite the feat for Cena to get both members of D-X to tap out in the main event of consecutive WrestleManias. Cena also became just the second wrestler to successfully defend the WWF/E Title at consecutive WrestleManias. Hulk Hogan had also done it at WrestleManias 2 and III.
4. WrestleMania VIII: Randy Savage beat Ric Flair to become the NEW WWF Champion. 18:05 (****)
The original main event for WrestleMania VIII was supposed to be Flair defending the title against Hulk Hogan with Hogan even being announced the number one contender on WWF TV. Hogan and Flair had a run of House Show matches leading up the WrestleMania and the rumor is that their matches weren’t good and Vince McMahon didn’t feel comfortable having them headline WrestleMania. It would have been a dream match. The long time NWA Champion vs. the long time WWF Champion. I can’t buy that reasoning because I just saw a match between those two from a Madison Square Garden House Show on WWE Network and it was very passable and you could tell there was more they could’ve given had it been WrestleMania.
Whatever the reason is that they passed on Hogan/Flair, I’m kind of glad because we got this excellent Flair/Savage bout. It had the kind of back story that made you want to see the good guy win. At this point, Savage was married to his long time valet, Miss Elizabeth and Flair started to spread rumors that he and Elizabeth used to be an item and as you can imagine, Savage wasn’t happy about it. You could feel Savage’s hatred for Flair coming through the television screen. Flair worked over Savage’s leg to the point Savage was basically a one legged man. Savage got the better of Flair with a school boy and got the ultimate revenge by taking Flair’s title.
3. WrestleMania XX: Eddie Guerrero beat Kurt Angle to retain the WWE Championship. 21:33 (****1/4)
This is a true dream match in pro-wrestling and I believe their only PPV bout that made the match that much more special. Eddie always set a tremendous pace in his matches and Kurt Angle was with him step for step. There was tremendous counter wrestling in this bout including Eddie’s counters to Angle’s two big moves, the Ankle Lock and Angle Slam.
The lying, cheating and stealing Guerrero lived up to that moniker as the match came to its conclusion. Angle relentlessly worked over the Champion’s ankle in hopes of gaining the submission. Guerrero untied his boot to give his ankle some relief and when Angle went for the Ankle Lock again, Eddie jerked his leg free from Angle’s grasp and Angle was left with a stunned look on his face and Eddie’s boot in his hand. A surprised Angle was caught in a small package and that was enough for Eddie to retain his title.
2. WrestleMania XIX: Brock Lesnar pinned Kurt Angle to become the NEW WWE Champion. 21:08 (****1/2)
WrestleMania XIX was the first WrestleMania in the Brand Extension Era and also the first after WWE got the “F” out. Being that it was the first WrestleMania after the Brand Extension this was Michael Cole’s first opportunity to call a WrestleMania Main Event. Sadly, for him all of the excitement of calling WrestleMania caused him to lose his voice prior to this match. It would have been nice for him to not fight through it and let the action in the ring talk for itself because Angle and Lesnar put on a classic.
In the weeks leading up to the bout, this match was in a lot of jeopardy. Kurt Angle’s neck was in real bad shape and there was a contingency plan put in place to put the title on Lesnar during an episode of SmackDown and have him defend it against Chris Benoit at WrestleMania. Angle gutted it out and proved what an insane machine he is.
The two men were decorated amateur wrestlers and they mixed that nicely with the pro style in this bout. It was really a joy to watch these men battle at such a high level until Brock Lesnar nearly killed himself on live PPV. The match was supposed to end after Lesnar hit the Shooting Star Press on Angle for the win. It just shows what an athletic freak Lesnar is that he can do a Shooting Star. Brock was no stranger to the Shooting Star since he used it all the time in developmental. The problem here is that Angle was too far away and in midair Lesnar tried to compensate for that and ended up smacking his head on the mat. They went to an improvised finish that came off very well and Lesnar won the WWE Championship with an F5.
1.WrestleMania X-Seven: Steve Austin defeated The Rock in a No Disqualification Match to become the NEW WWF Champion. 28:09 (*****)
This WrestleMania was the unofficial end of the Attitude Era and it went out with a damn bang. The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin were on top of their game during this match and delivered a performance for the ages in what I have ranked the best WWF/E Championship Match in WrestleMania history. I doubt anyone can logically argue that point.
These two had such great chemistry together and it was on display here. They went nearly a half hour and they didn’t slow down once. It was pure action from bell to bell. Even though Austin and Rock were both babyfaces, the crowd was firmly behind their statesman, Austin. This was supposed to be Austin’s big triumph after returning from neck surgery that kept him out of the ring for a year. Austin needed to win the title so badly that he sold his soul to the devil to do so. His long time nemesis, Vince McMahon actually helped Austin win the bout after delivering what must have been 15 chair shots to The Rock. Austin was set to turn heel after WrestleMania and we all know that the move flopped. The fans didn’t want to boo Austin. That doesn’t take away from how special this match was. This match exemplifies what a WrestleMania main event should be.
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock at WrestleMania X-Seven is the best WWF/E Championship Match ever at WrestleMania. It’s the best WrestleMania main event ever and it took place at the best WrestleMania ever.
If you read both parts of this countdown, then I thank you. This came in at just over 8,000 words which is why I had to split it into two parts. This was a lot of work but also a lot of fun. It’s always cool to look back and watch the matches that helped shape WrestleMania into the spectacle it is today. Be sure to leave a comment below on your thoughts on some of the Championship matches at WrestleMania. Hopefully this Sunday will bring us another memorable one.
(That’s what she said.)
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