Wrestlers talk about them, announcers laud them, video packages are full of them: Every year, WWE makes a big deal of its “WrestleMania Moments,” those special things that make the annual event so iconic. They’re played seemingly throughout time, never really tethered to the period in which they occurred, more a universal feeling than anything else. Those moments are the backbone of WWE, and why fans keep coming back.
Over 32 events, there have been countless WrestleMania “moments”—Foley and Edge going through a firey table, Shane McMahon jumping off the roof of the cell, blood pouring out of Steve Austin’s forehead. Here, now, are 10 of the most memorable moments in WrestleMania history.
10. “The Ultimate Challenge” (WrestleMania 6)
It’s hard to explain what it was like as a child to watch Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior square off. The match was born out of a confrontation at the Royal Rumble: After a face-to-face between the two men, Warrior later saved Hogan from being eliminated, only to be clotheslined out by Hogan himself. The two men agreed to the biggest match anyone at the time could possibly imagine, a champion vs. champion bout between the two biggest stars in the world. Here were two top babyfaces—Hogan the World Heavyweight Champion, Warrior the Intercontinental Champion—about to wrestle one another, something that hardly ever happened, and certainly never in the WWF. It was jarring, and felt important. A test of Hulkamania itself! And then came the most surprising part: Hulk Hogan actually lost.
The two men wrestled for upwards of 20 minutes, an impressive feat for two guys not generally known for their in-ring prowess. As the match drew to a close, fans got ready for the familiar finish, as Hogan went for the leg drop. But Warrior moved, and followed up with his signature big splash, defeating Hogan clean in the middle of the ring since… when? It seemed like this had never happened before. In hindsight, we know Warrior wasn’t the guy to replace Hogan. In truth, that person wouldn’t really come along until 1997, when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin started to really gain momentum. But for one moment, as two icons embraced, it seemed as if Hogan had truly passed the torch to a new star.—Paul DeBenedetto
9. “She’s Loved Him From the Beginning!” (WrestleMania 7)
It was all over for the “Macho King.” Randy Savage had just lost a match against the Ultimate Warrior, with his career on the line. Savage, after a ludicrous five flying elbow drops, fell victim to the unstoppable Warrior at WrestleMania 9, and was seemingly out the door. As Warrior finished his celebration and walked to the back, into the ring marched “Queen” Sherri, berating Savage and kicking him while he was down.
Just then, from the crowd, came Miss Elizabeth, who had been shown throughout the match via sporadic crowd shots, and who was now bailing out her former love interest. What followed was a truly emotional storytelling moment, with the two former lovers embracing, the camera cutting to shots of fans actually sobbing in the crowd. They weren’t alone: Elizabeth herself couldn’t hold back the tears, as Savage opened the ring ropes for her and the two walked off, presumably never to be seen again.
Sadly, this happy ending was not the reality: Besides the fact that Savage would be back wrestling in months, he was rumored to have been obsessive to the point of emotional abuse in the dressing room when it came to Elizabeth, and the two divorced a little more than a year later. Like so many other things in pro wrestling, it was all just a story.—Paul DeBenedetto
8. Icon vs Icon (WrestleMania X8)
True WrestleMania moments are about fantasy becoming real. Who could argue that two of the most popular pro wrestlers from any generation colliding wouldn’t symbolize everything Mania is supposed to represent? One year after the high-profile buyout of WCW, and following a botched “invasion” angle, the Rock vs “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8 had the world at large hooked. This was a marquee moment for the business, a collision between legends past and present that couldn’t have been made more poignant if Hogan had literally handed the Rock a torch. It took you back to era many of us grew up mesmerized by, with larger than life heroes and villains battling for supremacy.
The Toronto crowd was decidedly behind Hogan, though he was supposed to be working as a heel. Even as Hogan applied rest holds and abdominal stretches, the crowd wouldn’t turn on him, leading the two men to amazingly change this high-profile match on the fly. The reason is simple: It wasn’t really about the angle or the heat. It was never designed to be a technical showcase. This was about nostalgia, and it ran wild, capturing that feeling and further showcasing what WrestleMania could and should be about: The fans.—Paul Mastroianni
7. The Boyhood Dream (WrestleMania 12)
Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart at WrestleMania 12 is probably the most unfairly praised and unfairly maligned match in WrestleMania history. Yes, there are a lot of rest holds. It’s not as filled with high spots as a lot of Michaels’ greatest matches. But it’s also a really well-told story, leading up to its logical conclusion: “The boyhood dream has come true.”
The run-up to the show contrasted Michaels’ and Hart’s divergent backgrounds, a series of workout vignettes showcasing Hart’s rise from his father’s wrestling “dungeon” to the top of the World Wrestling Federation, and Michael’s relationship with mentor Jose Lothario. Shawn was coming off a rough year, both personally and in-story, and was about to get a real main event push against Hart, who was, at the time, the face of the WWF’s “New Generation.”
Michaels’ entrance is still iconic, and the match itself holds up pretty well. Especially the last third, in which both men shift into high gear and the stakes start to mount. Finally, after an overtime period, Michaels is handed the belt, and for a brief moment in time, he’s not the “Heartbreak Kid,” self-destructive backstage politicker. As he holds the belt to his face, Shawn Michaels is a young Michael Shawn Hickenbottom, who really did always dream of this.—Paul DeBenedetto
6. Tyson, Austin and the Beginning of the Attitude Era (WrestleMania 14)
In what was undeniably one of the events that helped turn the tide in the “Monday Night Wars,” Mike Tyson—a longtime WWF fan only too happy to move to a wrestling ring while his boxing license was rescinded—lended his star power to help boost an already exciting main event and help galvanize WWF in 1998. The promise of “Iron Mike” at WrestleMania 14 as an enforcer in the World Heavyweight Championship match between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels was an enticing prospect: Mania is usually good about bringing attention to itself, but this particular year the world was watching with bated breath. Many speculated as to how much of a physical presence Tyson would bring. Whether it be the press conferences before the event or Austin’s “attack” on Tyson during Raw (leading to the now-classic Jim Ross call: “Tyson and Austin! Tyson and Austin! All hell has broken loose!”) the lead-up to the event itself was filled with worked shoot moments that left many fans asking, “was that real?” It was an attribute which came to define “the Attitude Era,” and this match helped usher in the prominent reign of “Stone Cold” as it’s brand leader.
There are precious few moments in wrestling history you can point to and say, that turned the page not just for WWE but wrestling in general. This is one such instance, the changing of the guard as Austin prevailed over Michaels, signaling a new wave of wrestlers leading the charge into a newer and edgier period. Months earlier, the WWF had already begun its “attitude” rebranding, but this match was its true launch pad, a game changer that ended one era and ushered in another.—Paul Mastroianni