The best WrestleMania is a tricky thing to define. It’s not necessarily the best overall collection of in-ring action, or the WrestleMania with the most memorable or iconic moments. It’s not simply the show that had the strongest or most satisfying stories. Like wrestling itself, it’s a combination of all of these factors. The best WrestleMania is the one where the disparate strands of pro wrestling best congeal into a cohesive, compelling whole, and ideally a whole that captures the zeitgeist of not just the wrestling world but pop culture in general. It’s a tall order, but throughout the annals of wrestling history no show has been better suited to that task than WrestleMania.
This Sunday WWE holds the 33rd annual WrestleMania in Orlando, Fla. Paste will be there, but before making the drive down 75, let’s look back at the big show’s storied history, from 1985 all the way up to last year. What WrestleManias are still worth watching today? Which ones should be consigned to the history books? Flip through this gallery to see one site’s humble opinion.
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32. WrestleMania 2: Vince McMahon's first attempt to outdo the original is just awkward. It's split between three cities, with a series of guest commentators who contribute nothing, and only one passable match (the British Bulldogs vs. Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake). Only watch if you need to see 'em all.
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31. WrestleMania IX: A weird speedbump in WWF's road to the New Generation, WrestleMania IX is best remembered for either Hulk Hogan's unadvertised World title win over Yokozuna (undercutting then-top face Bret Hart) or the togas that Jim Ross and other announcers were forced to wear. Oh, and also for the Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzalez match, which might be the worst in WrestleMania history.
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30. WrestleMania XV: With dull tag matches, meaningless multiman matches for secondary titles set up by incoherent storylines, and an Undertaker / Big Boss Man match that almost single-handedly killed the Hell in the Cell concept (and, uh, left the Boss Man hanging lifeless from a noose in the middle of the ring), check out this WrestleMania for an unblemished blast of the Attitude Era at its most nonsensical.
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29. WrestleMania 12: No match should ever be promoted in advance as an instant classic. That's too much pressure. The Iron Man match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels is great, if occasionally slow, but after weeks of build-up it felt underwhelming at the time. (It's still a good 15-20 minutes too long.) The rest of the card is a mess, and features one of the most embarrassing and inexcusable trainwrecks in wrestling history, the "Hollywood Backlot Brawl" between Roddy Piper and Goldust. One strong (if disappointing) match can't make up for that travesty, or the rest of this lifeless show.
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28. WrestleMania V: The biggest problem with this show is that no match had any time to breathe. When Curt Hennig and Owen Hart (as the Blue Blazer) only get five minutes, you know something's wrong with the scheduling. Only one of these 14 matches went past the ten minute mark, and although Hulk Hogan's title match with Randy Savage is (sadly) one of Hogan's better matches, it's still a bit of a slog, with a finish that unnecessarily damaged Savage's main event viability for a few years.
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27. WrestleMania IV: This is a sentimental favorite of mine—Randy Savage was my favorite wrestler as a kid (I lived in Sarasota, his kayfabe hometown) and this is where he won his first World title. Of course the tournament he won it in is almost impossible to make it through today, with almost no good matches until the main event, which is sullied by Hulk Hogan's interference and spotlight-stealing.
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26. WrestleMania: Sure, it's the first, but it's hardly the best. The original WrestleMania mostly feels like a proof-of-concept today. Despite an unprecedented marketing campaign, and appearances from Muhammad Ali, Billy Martin, Cyndi Lauper and Liberace, this doesn't look or feel that different today from other big shows of the era. It also doesn't have much of note when it comes to wrestling—a twelve-minute Ricky Steamboat vs. Matt Bourne match with no real storyline behind it is the match of the night.
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25. WrestleMania XI: The WWF was in a perilous state in 1995, and the WrestleMania XI card is a quick glimpse at how bare their roster was. '70s/'80s wrestlers like Bob Backlund and King Kong Bundy were exhumed for major matches (Backlund, though, could still have fine matches), and NFL star Lawrence Taylor was enticed into wrestling in the main event. "Best celebrity match ever" means little today but meant even less in 1995—no matter how surprisingly solid LT was in his match with Bam Bam Bigelow, it's still one of the worst WrestleMania main events. (And it's not even the best celebrity match anymore, either.) The actual main event was the World title match between Shawn Michaels and Kevin "Diesel" Nash, which is one of the two or three best matches of Nash's career and easily the high point of his miserable year-long title reign.
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24. WrestleMania XXVII: Atlanta deserved better. From a horrible finish in the main event, to a match between announcers inexplicably going almost 15 minutes, the booking of this show is just baffling. The match that many consider its saving grace, the Undertaker vs. Triple H in a No Holds Barred match, is one of the most divisive major matches in wrestling history. (It's slow, poorly paced and doesn't earn the drama it tries to create over its final third—maybe two and a half stars, if we were the stars type of people?) This is not a very good show.
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23. WrestleMania 29: The Undertaker beat CM Punk in what might be the last great singles match of Taker's career, and in what was easily the best match on this show. Triple H beat Brock Lesnar to nobody's benefit, and John Cena and the Rock had a relatively feeble follow-up to their main event from the previous year.