THE SPECIALISTS MAGIC, MEMORIES AND MANIA: Top Ten Moments in WrestleMania History - Hogan vs. Andre, Austin vs. Hart, I'm sorry, I love you
Mar 11, 2009 - 3:04:43 PM
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By Shawn Valentino, Torch specialist
That most special time of year is here. While baseball fans have the World Series, and basketball-lovers have the NBA Playoffs, in the wrestling world, there is no more exciting time than The Road to WrestleMania. Even if the rest of the year is plagued with jumbled storylines, lame characters, and atrocious skits, somehow WWE usually seems to get its act together to build memorable programs leading up to their biggest show of the year.
While it is true that the build to the two title matches this year has left something to be desired, and has been entertaining mainly for the unintentional comedy, we are guaranteed to have one epic match in Undertaker versus Shawn Michaels. That should be a true WrestleMania moment.
As a young child growing up in suburban Michigan, I still remember the buzz surrounding the city when the record-setting audience witnessed WrestleMania 3 in the Pontiac Silverdome just a few miles away from my home. My dream as a child was to someday attend a WrestleMania in person. I have been fortunate to be in the audience for six of the last seven WrestleManias, and I will be in Reliant Stadium in a few weeks for the 25th edition of this spectacular.
The amazing thing about this event is that every moment seems that much bigger on The Grandest Stage of Them All. Matches seem more important, and each moment seems more magical. In the following weeks, I will recount some of the special memories that make us all love this incredible annual happening. Today, I will recount ten of the most memorable moments in WrestleMania history. These are the instances that captured our hearts and are imbedded in our minds forever.
(10) The Mega-Powers Crown a New Champion: WrestleMania 4
In the mid-to-late-eighties, Hulkamania ran wild all over the wrestling universe and ignited professional wrestling into the mainstream consciousness. At the height of Hogan's popularity, a new superstar emerged in the industry, one who was equally as colorful and charismatic as Hulk, but unique and dynamic in his own right. "Macho Man" Randy Savage was one of those superstars that had a magnetic presence that had the audience glued to his every action. When he joined forces with Hogan at a Saturday Night's Main Event, the Mega-Powers were born, and it was the wrestling equivalent of Superman and Batman uniting.
Although WrestleMania 4 was not a good show from a wrestling standpoint, it provided fans with one of the great moments in wrestling history. When Savage won his fourth match of the night against Ted DiBiase to win the WWF Championship in the infamous tournament to decide the title, Hogan was there to put the belt on his shoulder. The image of Macho Man with Elizabeth on his shoulder crying while holding the belt, and the Hulkster pointing at him in "approval," was one of the most unforgettable pictures in wrestling history.
Savage shattered the glass ceiling that prevented anyone other than Hogan from holding the title during this boom period for the business. It also foreshadowed the inevitable breakup between the two biggest stars of the decade. Hogan's insatiable thirst for the spotlight and Savage's innate jealousy and overprotective nature with Elizabeth would lead to their downfall. For this moment, however, all was right with the world and Macho Madness ruled the wrestling landscape.
(9) A New Era Begins: WrestleMania 10
The first decade of the WrestleMania years were built around muscle-bound larger than life cartoon characters such as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, and the Ultimate Warrior. With the steroid trial in the early nineties, the WWF needed to take a new direction. Ironically, their choice to lead the next generation of superstars was one that had been around for years. Bret "The Hitman" Hart had shown signs of being a great solo performer during his time with the legendary tag team The Hart Foundation. When the Excellence of Execution was given his opportunity, he delivered a series of memorable encounters with his unparalleled in-ring storytelling ability.
Although he already had world title reigns, it was at WrestleMania 10 that he was officially anointed as the man that would be the centerpiece of the company. He had a wrestling clinic with his brother Owen earlier in the event but it was after his championship win over Yokozuna to finish the night that he enjoyed his moment in the spotlight. His fellow superstars hoisted him up on their shoulders to symbolically showcase that a new era had begun. With Bret Hart leading the way, workrate soon became much more important in the WWF than being a comic book superhero, and his WrestleMania moment set the path for this new direction.
(8) Shawn Michaels Leaps Into Superstardom: WrestleMania 10
The same night that Bret Hart was crowned the new World Champion, another young former tag team specialist climbed the ladder to superstar status. While Hart was a relatively conservative performer, Shawn Michaels was a dynamic daredevil who raised the level of athleticism in the company. Nowhere was this more apparent than during his legendary ladder match with Razor Ramon. It was the first time the gimmick was showcased on a grand stage, and Michaels delivered a performance for the ages.
The moment that everyone remembers, and has been endlessly played on WWE highlight reels, is when Michaels flies off the top of the ladder for a splash. Although it looks fairly tame by today's absurd risk taking standards, at the time, such maneuvers were not witnessed on the mainstream wrestling scene. Michael's aerial display raised the bar for in-ring maneuvers, and put the ladder match on the map as a big-event spectacle match. At the same time, he raised his own star status, and it was the first of countless Mania moments for Mr. WrestleMania.
(7) Mike Tyson Raises Stone Cold's Arm: WrestleMania 14
In late 1997, the WWF was in danger of going out of business as WCW (and the NOW) ruled the wrestling landscape and took much of their top talent. Smartly, the company decided to shift its focus to building younger, hipper stars and changed the philosophy of the company to an edgier, more adult product. Acts such as DX, The New Age Outlaws, Sable, and The Rock reflected this change, but nobody personified WWF Attitude more than Stone Cold Steve Austin. With Bret Hart gone to WCW, it was apparent that WrestleMania 14 would be the night that Austin would be officially crowned the new champion.
While Stone Cold battling for the title against The Heartbreak Kid, who was also a hot character as the leader of DX, would be a worthy Mania main event, Vince McMahon realized that he needed something extra to combat the WCW juggernaut. Enter Mike Tyson, who was at the peak of his fame after coming out of jail and literally biting a piece out of Evander Holyfield's ear. Tyson's charisma and volatility made him the top pay-per-view draw of the era, and his rebellious personality made him a perfect fit for WWF Attitude. Austin winning the title was inevitable against the injured Michaels, and when Tyson lifted his arms in triumph, the Stone Cold Era began. Austin would soon be the biggest draw in the history of wrestling, and the involvement of The Baddest Man on the Planet gave the moment incredible mainstream attention that would pave the way for wrestling becoming the hottest thing in popular culture.
(6) It All Begins Again For Two Friends: WrestleMania 20
WrestleMania 20 was hyped as the night "where it all begins again." The WWE returned to Madison Square Garden, where the event was born. By this time, The Attitude Era was over and the company was looking for new stars to build around. Amazingly, they chose two superstars that few had ever envisioned would become the type of champions Vince likes. Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero were two of the best pure wrestlers in the world for years, but did not have the traditional main event look or size that WWE liked to have as their centerpiece talent. Eddie broke that barrier the month before by winning the WWE Championship against Brock Lesnar.
While Guerrero was a charismatic performer, Benoit was more of a quiet, no-nonsense tough guy that had never quite grabbed "the brass ring." After Eddie put on a terrific wrestling contest against Kurt Angle, Benoit finally grabbed the gold in one of the greatest matches in the history of the sport against Shawn Michaels and Triple H.
The moment that everybody remembers, and one that has obviously taken a bitter turn in retrospect, was when Benoit and Guerrero stood at the center of the ring as best friends who became World Champions. They were not the only ones in tears, as the sight of these two underdog champions sharing a moment in the spotlight was truly emotional for all of us that witnessed it. Although each encountered a tragic ending, it should not erase the memory of a truly magical Mania moment.
(5) A Reunion of Wrestling's First Couple: WrestleMania 7
As of this writing, we are a few weeks away from WrestleMania 25 and the card just began taking shape a short while ago. In contrast, in the late eighties and early nineties, when I first began watching wrestling, stories were planned months, even years in advance. Nowhere was this more apparent than the epic love story of "The Macho Man" Randy Savage and Elizabeth. The dynamic and chemistry between Savage and Liz was unparalleled in the history of wrestling couples. The overbearing and brutish Macho Man and his diminutive and shy manager made for an electric pair that connected with the crowd like few other acts have been able to do. When the Mega-Powers of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage exploded at WrestleMania 5, Savage and Liz were also split apart.
Instead of immediately pairing them up a couple months later like it would probably happen today, the WWF took its time to building an unforgettable moment for a reunion. Savage, who was then managed by Sensational Sherri, was to face The Ultimate Warrior at WrestleMania 7 in a retirement match. Before the match, Bobby Heenan and Gorilla Monsoon spotted Elizabeth in the crowd in her first appearance on television in months. Her presence foreshadowed a special happening that was to follow.
After a classic battle between two of the company's biggest stars, Savage was defeated in grand fashion. Sherri, ever the evil witch, kicked her man while he was down. In came Elizabeth to the rescue, for the first time in her career showing some physical prowess. When Savage realized who had saved him and he reconciled with his former manager and real-life wife, sparks flew around the arena, and one of the most moving moments in wrestling history occurred. Fans in the crowd as well as at home were in tears, and wrestling's first couple was back together again.
(4) I'm Sorry. I Love You: WrestleMania 24
Ric Flair was considered the best pure wrestler of the eighties. Shawn Michaels is widely regarded as the best wrestling performer of the nineties and two-thousands. When it was announced that the two would meet at WrestleMania with the added stipulation that Flair would be forced to retire if he lost, we knew we were in for a magical moment. The winner of the match was a foregone conclusion, as it was obvious that Flair had a majestic setting to end his storied career.
What one could not predict was the quality of the match. It was a sensationally wrestled contest chock full of heavy emotion as fans, and the wrestlers themselves, knew it was the end of an era. The ending of the match was straight out of a classic Hollywood film. After twenty classic minutes, Flair knew he had given it his all and he motioned the hesitant Michaels to finish him off. HBK, who idolized The Nature Boy his whole life, knew it was time to heed his hero's wishes. Before giving him the superkick that would end his career, Michaels told him, "I'm sorry, I love you." It was a poignant moment between two legends and makes even the biggest Flair fan hope he never returns to the ring, because it was an absolutely perfect conclusion to a brilliant career.
(3) Icon Versus Icon and Electricity in the Air: WrestleMania 18
A wrestling match is more than just the work that takes place in the ring. Although the matwork and the story that is told in the squared circle is an important part of an event, the atmosphere and the crowd is equally as vital in making a contest unforgettable. Nowhere was this more apparent than when the two biggest mainstream superstars in the history of the industry faced off for the first time in front of an electric Toronto crowd. The Rock and Hulk Hogan lead their respective companies in the Monday Night War but had never crossed paths. When Hogan came back to WWF as part of the NWO and the Rock challenged him to a match at WrestleMania, we knew that it was the making of something extraordinary.
I was in the crowd that unforgettable night and the excitement in the air during this generational showdown was absolutely unmatched. More than anything, this is what wrestling is all about, two larger than life characters battling on the grandest stage of them all. The wave of nostalgia over Hogan's return to the event he essentially built made for a frenzied atmosphere where many of us were taken into a time capsule into our childhoods. The Rock won the match, but this was one battle where the winner was really irrelevant, because the spectacle alone of seeing these two icons face off assured a captivating memory that none of us would forget.
(2) A Bloody Finish, an Unforgettable Beginning: WrestleMania 13
WrestleMania 13 was arguably the worst Mania of all time, as any event where Sid is featured in the main event can lay claim to that dubious dishonor. The argument against that lowly distinction is that it featured an image that is imbedded in the minds of all of us that saw it. Steve Austin and Bret Hart were in the midst of one of the greatest feuds in wrestling history, putting on numerous memorable struggles. While Hart was the babyface at the beginning of the rivalry, the rebellious Austin soon developed a sizable following. It was a time where anti-heroes were in vogue and Stone Cold perfectly represented the counter-culture movement.
When they were slated for a submission match at WrestleMania, fans knew they would see a terrific encounter, but few knew that they would witness the birth of the biggest era in wrestling. The match itself was a brutal battle between two of the greatest ring generals in the world, but it was the finish that truly gives it legendary status. The portrait of a bleeding Austin locked in a sharpshooter, unable to escape but unwilling to give up, is one of the iconic representations of WrestleMania. The Hitman won the match, but Stone Cold won the crowd with his courage and his badass persona. Although it would take almost a year for the Monday Night War to shift, this unforgettable moment can be pointed to as the beginning of The Attitude Era, and Austin was on his way to wrestling immortality.
(1) Hogan Slams a Giant: WrestleMania 3
If one moment can be looked back on as putting WrestleMania on the mainstream consciousness, it would have to be the ending of a legendary battle of the titans in front of a record-breaking crowd. When it was announced that Hulk Hogan would face off against his long-time friend Andre the Giant at WrestleMania 3, the stage was set for mythical clash between two men that were bigger than the sport. Hogan had held the WWF championship for over three consecutive years, and Andre was billed as having never been defeated in his career. In reality though, the match transcended hype.
Although the quality of the match was nothing particularly memorable, the very sight of these two bigger than life warriors in the ring in front of a massive audience was enough to shed chills down the spine. When Hogan lifted Andre in the air and slammed him to the mat, the universe stood in awe at the spectacle. It is probably the most replayed moment in wrestling lore and the most memorable one as well. For those of us who were growing up at the time, it is a seminal part of our childhoods, and time has not dimmed the spotlight on this spectacular image. The success of this event assured that WrestleMania would be an annual happening for years to come. For all of this and more, Hulk Hogan bodyslamming Andre the Giant deserves its place as the biggest moment in WrestleMania history.
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