The enduring legacy of WrestleMania — WWE’s annual one-night event that serves as a Super Bowl of sorts for the world of “sports entertainment” — has been the many memorable moments that have stood the test of time. From Hulk Hogan slamming Andre the Giant at WrestleMania III in 1987 to a tearful Kofi Kingston celebrating with his children after winning the WWE championship last year at WrestleMania 35, these indelible images do more than fill posters and video B-roll during retrospectives.
They serve as snapshots in time that allow fans to remember where they were and the emotions they felt when witnessing those exhilarating experiences for the first time. For WWE’s superstars, there’s a name for this a phenomena: the “WrestleMania moment.” Most spend their entire careers attempting to be part of just one.
With WrestleMania 36 — originally scheduled to emanate from Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida — now being housed inside an empty WWE Performance Center in Orlando (along with other undisclosed locations) due to the coronavirus pandemic that has halted mass gatherings across the globe, one wonders whether there will indeed be a “moment” or two to remember.
Nevertheless, it will be memorable. WrestleMania 36 will make history by being both a tape-delayed show and a two-night event, taking place on Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5 starting at 7 p.m. each evening.
How that affects the memories created at WrestleMania 36 remains to be seen, but as we close in on the upcoming two-night extravaganza, let’s look back at the defining and most instantly recognizable moments from each of the 35 cards which preceded it.
WrestleMania I (1985)
Mr. T teams with Hulk Hogan: A major part of WrestleMania’s appeal has always been the A-list celebrities brought in to help market the show on a crossover level to the mainstream. This was never more apparent than the first “Showcase of the Immortals” when WWE chairman Vince McMahon risked it all financially to create a main event pairing then-WWF champion Hogan and Hollywood actor Mr. T against Paul Orndorff and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. McMahon used everything from a strategic relationship with MTV (dubbed the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection”) to having Hogan appear on Mr. T’s popular “A-Team” show to promote the event.
The star-studded main event also had Muhammad Ali serving in the role of outside referee, Liberace as timekeeper and New York Yankees manager Billy Martin as ring announcer. But the major selling point was just how well Mr. T could compete against the big boys. Although his in-ring work was limited, the muscular actor delivered big and provided the memorable image of placing Piper over his shoulders into a spinning fireman’s carry before slamming him.
Honorable mention: Andre the Giant threw cash into the crowd after defeating Big John Studd in $15,000 body slam challenge.
WrestleMania II (1986)
Andre the Giant wins NFL-themed battle royal: History hasn’t been kind to this overly-ambitious show set in three different sites on the same night. The majority of highly-publicized matches proved to be a flop, including a Mr. T-Roddy Piper boxing match. Celebrity appeal once again was the main draw in the form of a 20-man battle royal featuring six NFL players, including the popular William “The Refrigerator” Perry of the Super Bowl champion Chicago Bears. While Perry and Big John Studd enjoyed a memorable dust-up, the enduring image was a laboring Andre overcoming exhaustion and back pain to press slam the Hart Foundation on top of each other to win the match.
Honorable mention: Hulk Hogan climbed over a reinforced steel cage to defend WWF heavyweight title against King Kong Bundy.
WrestleMania III (1987)
The bodyslam heard ’round the world: A record indoor crowd of 93,173 (a figure later reported to have been exaggerated) filled the first WrestleMania inside of the Pontiac Silverdome in Detroit for an epic main event which remains the most anticipated in the event’s history. With Andre the Giant presented as having been undefeated for 15 years, Hulk Hogan defended the WWF championship to complete the passing of the torch from the aging legend following an epic storyline build of good versus evil. If one single moment sums up what WrestleMania is all about, Hogan produced it by lifting his 7-foot-4 and nearly 500-pound foe and slamming him ahead of the finish.
Honorable mention: Ricky Steamboat and Randy Savage co-authored a classic Intercontinental championship match.
WrestleMania IV (1988)
Hulk Hogan helps Randy Savage to WWF championship: Billed as a rematch between Hogan and Andre to draw fans, this event was all about Savage’s ascension to stardom by winning a tournament for the vacant WWF championship. The reason for the tournament format was due to Hogan needing to step away thanks to a burgeoning movie career. In storyline, Hogan subtly stole a bit of Savage’s thunder by attacking Ted DiBiase with a chair while the referee’s back was turned to aid Savage in the victory. Little did fans know this was just the beginning of a year-long angle which just might be WWE’s greatest story ever told.
Honorable mention: Bret Hart destroyed a trophy after Bad News Brown double crossed him to win battle royal.
WrestleMania V (1989)
The Mega Powers explode: Vince McMahon relied on the storytelling trope of top star Hulk Hogan seeing his best friends turn on him due to jealousy in previous years during memorable feuds with Paul Orndorff and Andre the Giant. The angle with Savage, however, was next level thanks to the involvement of Miss Elizabeth and the subtle teases to a love triangle. Smart fans debated whether it was really Hogan who was at fault despite being presented as the babyface. While their main-event match, won by Hogan to reclaim the WWF title, was far from an instant classic to mirror just how great the story had been to promote it, there remains an underrated quality to how hard both wrestlers worked to make it the best it could be. The tension was high and the pace was fast, with a memorable double clothesline spot late in the match to visually explain how close this matchup was in kayfabe.
Honorable mention: Roddy Piper put out Morton Downey Jr.’s cigarette with a fire extinguisher during in-ring interview.
WrestleMania VI (1990)
Hulk Hogan passes the torch: Worried that fans were becoming tired of the 37-year-old Hogan’s wholesome character, Vince McMahon took a chance by playing the hot hand and rebuilding around Ultimate Warrior’s growing fandom. Their main-event match, for the first time placing both the Intercontinental and WWF championships at stake, marked the first time Hogan was pinned clean and without controversy since “Hulkamania” took off in 1984. Despite the limited technical ability between Hogan and Warrior collectively, they went on to produce the match of the year according to Pro Wrestling Illustrated. In front of nearly 68,000 people, Warrior kicked out of Hogan’s patented leg drop ahead of the finish and the two embraced in a lengthy hug after the match with Hogan giving him the rub in a manner which proved to be short-lived.
Honorable mention: Andre the Giant completed babyface turn in final WrestleMania match by attacking manager Bobby Heenan.
WrestleMania VII (1991)
Randy Savage reunites with Miss Elizabeth: It’s among the most underrated matches in WrestleMania history and features an intense connection between performers and the crowd that is rare for even this level. Pushed to the announce booth by Vince McMahon, Savage agreed to a retirement match designed to shine up the far-more-limited Warrior. The fact that Savage was able to carry him to such an incredible duel remains a miracle. The indelible memory, however, is what took place afterwards when Elizabeth, Savage’s real-life wife at the time, emerged from a lengthy absence to jump the guardrail and attack her husband’s new manager, Sensational Sherri. Their on-screen reunion produced legitimate tears from the audience following a truly emotional moment.
Honorable mention: Hulk Hogan regained the WWF title in patriotic main event during the Gulf War against Sgt. Slaughter
WrestleMania VIII (1992)
Ultimate Warrior returns to rescue Hulk Hogan: Billed as his final WWF match and given headliner placement as the second of two publicized main events, Hogan defeated Sid Justice by disqualification. In reality, Hogan was set to take a strategic break to help with the public fallout of the company’s steroid scandal. In order to fill Hogan’s void, Vince McMahon rehired the Ultimate Warrior after the two parted ways one year earlier. Warrior’s surprise return after the match rescued Hogan from a beating at the hands of Justice and Papa Shango. Although the match was far from memorable, the ending scene of Hogan and Warrior embracing amid fireworks inside the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis in front of 62,000 people was. It capped off a sneaky good WrestleMania card which featured an incredible Bret Hart-Roddy Piper match for the intercontinental championship.
Honorable mention: Randy Savage regained the WWF title in co-main event against Ric Flair.
WrestleMania IX (1993)
Hulk Hogan steals the show … and the title: The world’s largest toga party in Las Vegas marked the WrestleMania debut of Jim Ross and a comically bad show — the first of its kind outdoors — that remains in the conversation for worst overall. It also marked the return of Hogan from a lengthy absence and sporting a noticeable black eye from a recent jet-ski accident. Hogan teamed with Brutus Beefcake earlier in the night as their Mega-Maniacs lost a tag team title bout to Money Inc. But Vince McMahon chose to give Hogan a fairly gratuitous push to close the show as he ran in after Yokozuna’s WWF title win over Bret Hart to challenge him to an impromptu match that Hogan won in 22 seconds. The moment may have popped the crowd in attendance but hasn’t aged well years later.
Honorable mention: Announcer Bobby Heenan rode a camel backwards into the arena while wearing a toga.
WrestleMania X (1994)
Razor Ramon, Shawn Michaels climb the ladder to immortality: A return to where it all began at Madison Square Garden, it didn’t take long to realize Ramon and Michaels were on pace to steal the show in their intercontinental unification match. In a legendary affair that was years ahead of its time, two of the best in-ring performers in history let it all hang out with one big spot after another over nearly 19 minutes of action. The fact that Bret Hart closed the show in his second match of the night by regaining the WWF title in a rematch with Yokozuna from the previous year remains just a footnote because of how groundbreaking this ladder match truly was at the time.
Honorable mention: Brothers Owen and Bret Hart put on opening-match classic.
WrestleMania XI (1995)
NFL legend Lawrence Taylor gets headlining role: If you’re looking for the worst WrestleMania card in the most unlikely of venues for an event known for such grandeur, it’s easily this one as WWE hit a virtual financial and creative rock bottom. Unlike the previous year, the match quality was bad throughout and the show featured numerous production errors. Celebrity crossover remained high, however, thanks to the likes of Salt-n-Pepa, Jenny McCarthy, Pamela Anderson and Jonathan Taylor Thomas, among others. This list also included the Pro Football Hall of Famer and former New York Giants star in “LT,” who defeated Bam Bam Bigelow in the main event. With a bevy of fellow NFL stars supporting him outside the ring, Taylor produced one of the best celebrity performances inside a WWE ring.
Honorable mention: Bob Backlund screamed unintelligible sounds to lose “I Quit” match against Bret Hart.
WrestleMania XII (1996)
Shawn Michaels achieves “boyhood dream”: Among the best and most (legitimately) heated rivalries in WWE history, Michaels and Bret Hart combined for an instant classic as their 60-minute iron man match needed sudden death overtime. The story of Michaels overcoming multiple defeats and personal setbacks to achieve his dream of finally capturing the WWF championship was well told in this one, including the use of the man who trained him, Jose Lothario, in his corner. Both performers left everything they had in the ring on this night, showcasing a combined work rate that was off the charts for this era.
Honorable mention: Roddy Piper defeated Goldust in violent Hollywood Backlot Brawl.
WrestleMania 13 (1997)
Bret Hart, Steve Austin complete bloody double turn: This is the match that truly made “Stone Cold” the crossover superstar and face of “The Attitude Era” that he quickly became. It’s also in the conversation for greatest matches in both WrestleMania and WWE history as a bloody Austin passed out while in Hart’s Sharpshooter to lose their submission match refereed by UFC legend Ken Shamrock. The story of the match was so brilliantly told that even though Austin came up short, it was his character who was the biggest winner as he transformed from heel to beloved babyface by showing heart and grit. Austin exited the ring to chants of his own name in a match which far overshadowed The Undertaker’s WWF title win over Sycho Sid in the main event.
Honorable mention: The Rock defended the intercontinental title in WrestleMania debut as Rocky Maivia against The Sultan, with legendary father Rocky Johnson joining him post-match.
WrestleMania XIV (1998)
Steve Austin celebrates WWF title win with Mike Tyson: The final stop on Austin’s journey to his first WWF championship reign saw an unforgettable build and a mini-feud with embattled boxing star Mike Tyson, who was named the special guest ring enforcer for the main event. In what became his final match for nearly four years due to a debilitating back injury, Shawn Michaels did his best to make this one unforgettable by selling out physically. His best bump of the night, however, came afterwards when Tyson laid him out with a single punch before laying Austin’s t-shirt over him. Tyson turned his back on D-Generation X and exited the arena with his arm around Austin.
Honorable mention: Kane hit guest ring announcer Pete Rose with a tombstone piledriver before his match with The Undertaker.
WrestleMania XV (1999)
Steve Austin stuns Mr. McMahon: The culmination of his year-long feud with Vince McMahon saw Austin face The Rock in a main event which served as the first of three WrestleMania classics between the two. Mankind defeated Big Show earlier in the night to secure guest referee honors in the match. The result took a bit of steam out of McMahon’s “corporate conspiracy” in his plot to keep the WWF title around the waist of his corporate champion, The Rock. The two biggest stars of “The Attitude Era” combined for nearly 17 minutes of heat which ended when Austin countered a Rock Bottom into a stunner for the pin. After the match, he hit the same move on McMahon before standing on the boss’ chest and raising his title in the air.
Honorable mention: Pro boxer Butterbean brutally knocked out Bart Gunn in an unscripted “Brawl For All” match.
WrestleMania 2000 (2000)
A McMahon in every corner: Known sequentially as WrestleMania 16, this card turned out to be surprisingly disappointing given how hot business was for WWE at the time. Injuries to Steve Austin and The Undertaker stole a bit of the company’s star power for the moment. Oddly enough, the nine-match card also featured just one singles match — and a catfight at that. The main event was a four-way elimination match for the WWF title with a member of the McMahon family in each corner featuring Triple H (Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley), The Rock (Vince McMahon), Mick Foley (Linda McMahon) and Big Show (Shane McMahon).
The 36-minute match was overbooked, to say the least, but did feature a heel turn from Mr. McMahon against The Rock as his chair shots helped Triple H retain the title while winning over his daughter in the process. The Rock’s post-match return to lay out the entire family even failed to save the event.
Honorable mention: Edge and Christian bested the Dudley Boyz and Hardy Boyz in a triangle ladder match.
WrestleMania X-Seven (2001)
Tables, ladders and chairs: Let’s just face it: this very well might be the best WrestleMania the company has ever produced. From the technical brilliance of Kurt Angle-Chris Benoit to the spectacular instant classic that was the Steve Austin-The Rock rematch to close the show, this card was electric. It even had a gimmick battle royal featuring nostalgic (and heavily faded), forgotten characters of old. But known affectionately as “TLC II,” it was a rematch of the previous year’s triangle match and the original tables, ladders and chairs match from SummerSlam 2000 that is still talked about today.
Edge & Christian once again defeated the Dudley Boyz and the Hardy Boyz in a breathtaking match which saw new standards set when it comes to dangerous spots. The image of Edge spearing Jeff Hardy in mid-air off the top of a ladder to prevent the finish is engrained in the mind of nearly every pro wrestling fan.
Honorable mention: Steve Austin turned heel, toasted beers with Mr. McMahon after regaining the WWE title from The Rock
WrestleMania X8 (2002)
Icon vs. Icon: With nearly 69,000 in attendance providing an intoxicating soundtrack of noise in Toronto, two of the biggest stars in wrestling history didn’t need to do much more than look at each other inside the ring for the place to come unglued. In Hulk Hogan’s first WrestleMania match in nearly a decade and first as the Hollywood Hogan character he made famous in rival WCW, it was The Rock’s decision to play heel — which he claims he improvised on the fly — that saw the 49-year-old Hogan command the crowd’s adoration.
The match, at just over 16 minutes, was far better than it had any right to be and goes down easily among the most memorable in WrestleMania history despite Hogan’s physical liabilities. Although The Rock took home the victory, this was a win for wrestling fans in general as the two icons posed down for the crowd after the match and stole the show in the process.
Honorable mention: Triple H captured the WWE undisputed championship over Chris Jericho in main event.
WrestleMania XIX (2003)
The last dance — The Rock vs. Steve Austin III: The third and final WrestleMania meeting between the two biggest stars of their era was the first to be contested without a title at stake and the only one of the three not to close the show. While it may not have had the same electricity of their WrestleMania X-Seven rematch three years earlier, many fans consider it their favorite given the emotion at stake. In what turned out to be the final match of the 38-year-old Austin’s career due to injuries, The Rock scored his only victory of the trilogy.
Honorable mention (tie): Brock Lesnar pinned Kurt Angle to win WWE championship after near-disastrous shooting star press; Hulk Hogan defeated Mr. McMahon in bloody street fight.
WrestleMania XX (2004)
The forgotten, classic main event: Had it not been for the tragic double-murder-suicide by Chris Benoit which also claimed the lives of his wife and youngest son, we would look at this WrestleMania a whole lot differently. Instead, WWE has understandably removed the main event and the emotional embrace which followed between best friends Benoit and Eddie Guerrero from the history books and highlight packages. Benoit, one of the hardest working and most unsung performers at the time, held off Triple H and Shawn Michaels in a fantastic triple threat match to claim the world heavyweight championship.
Guerrero, his best friend and whose untimely death sent Benoit spiraling, had defeated Kurt Angle earlier in the night to defend the WWE championship. The pair of former cruiserweight stars in WCW had finally conquered the mountain top of their profession and their celebration was once a feel-good moment of brotherhood and dreams fulfilled.
Honorable mention: Guest referee Steve Austin hit stunners on Brock Lesnar and Goldberg following a forgettable match showered in boos.
WrestleMania 21 (2005)
Edge wins inaugural Money in the Bank match: In a card that’s often remembered more for its theme of “WrestleMania goes Hollywood” and a number of movie trailer parodies to open the show, it was an innovative debut of an enhanced ladder match that sparked a new tradition. Before Money in the Bank became an annual tradition and its own pay-per-view event, the first match of its kind was a memorable one as Edge held off a six-man field including Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Christian, Kane and Shelton Benjamin. The idea for the match was originally pitched by Jericho to Raw general manager Eric Bischoff, and Edge went on to hold the briefcase for 280 days until he cashed it in at New Year’s Revolution in 2006 after then-WWE champion John Cena won an Elimination Chamber match.
Honorable mention: Kurt Angle submitted Shawn Michaels in a classic singles match.
WrestleMania 22 (2006)
Edge, Mick Foley get extreme: The last WrestleMania not to be held in a stadium or dome also marked the third time the greater Chicago area played host to the event. The show was almost universally hailed as great, with no shortage of standout matches including Rob Van Dam’s Money in the Bank win, Mickie James vs. Trish Stratus, Shawn Michaels vs. Mr. McMahon and the John Cena vs. Triple H main event for the WWE championship.
The outright show-stealer, however, was a hardcore match for the ages featuring blood, barbed wire, brutality and a flaming table which served as the finish. Edge, who speared Foley from the ring apron through the fire, won the match and gained a tremendous amount of respect for his willingness to match Foley’s lack of concern for his own safety in this insane classic.
Honorable mention: Rey Mysterio captured the world heavyweight championship in a triple threat over Randy Orton and Kurt Angle.
WrestleMania 23 (2007)
Battle of the Billionaires: Nearly 80,000 fans flocked to greater Detroit for a show which set new WrestleMania records for live gate and pay-per-view buys. The main reason was a Bobby Lashley-Umaga match which promised that one of their respective cornermen, future U.S. president Donald Trump and WWE chairman Vince McMahon, would end up getting their head shaved. With Steve Austin returning as guest referee, Trump performed well and even peppered McMahon with punches. The WWE Hall of Famer also seemed to delight in helping Lashley shave McMahon’s head.
Honorable mention: John Cena defended WWE championship against Shawn Michaels in thrilling main event.
WrestleMania XXIV (2008)
Shawn Michaels’ love letter to Ric Flair: Returning outdoors for the first time since 1993, this one remains on the short list of best WrestleMania cards for a number of reasons. Most of all was the retirement match halfway through the card which was executed to perfection, leaving nary a dry set of eyes in the stadium. Flair, at 59, wrestled his final WWE match and left everything he had in the ring. It sure didn’t hurt that he had Michaels, who idolized “The Nature Boy” growing up and has authored more WrestleMania classics than any other, later revealed he called the match from start to finish.
The emotional affair culminated in an unforgettable finish as the camera panned in close to see Michaels voice the words, “I’m sorry, I love you,” before delivering Sweet Chin Music for the pin. Flair was pouring out tears on the mat before the referee even reached the count of three.
Honorable mention: Boxing’s Floyd Mayweather used brass knuckles to knock out The Big Show.
WrestleMania XXV (2009)
A match made in heaven: The two best performers in WrestleMania history combined to author the greatest match the event has ever seen. The only thing that could have made this spectacular affair any more special would have been if it went on last to close the show. The Undertaker improved his legendary unbeaten streak at WrestleMania to 17-0, and he did so by routinely throwing caution to the wind in a match which had more than 72,000 fans eating out of the palm of their hands.
Filled with an equal mix of big spots and dramatic nearfalls, there was no moment more memorable than the 6-foot-10 Deadman doing a front flip over the top rope and landing on his head after Michaels pulled a cameraman into the drop zone on the floor. The match was so brilliant, there was no debate upon its ending as to where it stood in the pantheon of WrestleMania history.
Honorable mention: At 56, Ricky Steamboat turned back the clock to end a 15-year retirement by joining Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka against Chris Jericho in a handicap elimination match.
WrestleMania XXVI (2010)
Streak vs. Career — the rematch: One year after stealing the show in Houston, WWE put the pressure on The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels to do it again, only this time in the first non-title WrestleMania main event in 15 years. While finding a way to best their first meeting was likely never in the cards, the two legends came awfully close as the 44-year-old Michaels put his career on the line and retired after the loss. Although Michaels would go on to return eight years later, he walked having undisputedly cemented his legacy as the greatest performer in the event’s history. The Undertaker, meanwhile, extended his unbeaten streak to 18-0 by hitting a trio of jumping Tombstone Piledrivers to put HBK away.
Honorable mention: In his first WrestleMania performance since 1997, Bret Hart “screwed” Mr. McMahon in an awful no holds barred match.
WrestleMania XXVII (2011)
The Rock costs John Cena the WWE championship: Having fully crossed over to become one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, The Rock made headlines ahead of the 27th WrestleMania simply for being announced as its host. By the end of the evening, he would have secured plans for main event roles in the two WrestleMania cards which followed. After The Miz and Cena originally wrestled to a double countout in the show’s final match for the WWE championship, The Rock overruled both the referee and the Anonymous Raw General Manager to restart the match under the stipulation of no disqualification. Delivering payback for an Attitude Adjustment he was hit with six nights earlier, The Rock hit Cena with a Rock Bottom to lift Miz to victory. One night later on Raw, both The Rock and Cena agreed to a match to settle their score exactly one year later.
Honorable mention: The Undertaker extended his unbeaten streak to 19-0 with submission win over Triple H in brutal no holds barred match.
WrestleMania XXVIII (2012)
The end of an era: In a card which set a new WrestleMania record for PPV buys thanks largely to the first of two main events pairing The Rock and John Cena in consecutive years, it was a Hell in a Cell match which garnered match of the night honors. The Undertaker improved his legendary unbeaten streak to 20-0 by closing out a memorable WrestleMania trilogy against Triple H with a third victory. The inclusion of Shawn Michaels as guest referee added an incredible layer of storytelling to the physically brutal match as HBK played the role of conflicted best friend to Triple H perfectly against the man who retired him the two years earlier. The final shot of all three embracing at the top of the ramp before exiting the stadium felt like the final remnants of the Attitude Era taking a final bow, even though both Triple H and The Undertaker would go on to each main event one more WrestleMania.
Honorable mention: The Rock defeated John Cena in a main event match billed as “Once in a Lifetime” following a one-year build.
WrestleMania 29 (2013)
Twice in a lifetime — the rematch: Admittedly not as epic as the surprise ending of The Rock going over John Cena the previous year, this second meeting between WWE’s biggest stars of the previous and current eras still served its purpose as a headlining attraction. The WWE championship was at stake this time, adding some much-needed gravitas to the second showdown. Cena countered out of a fourth Rock Bottom attempt to hit his third Attitude Adjustment for the win before The Rock gave him the rub as the newest face of WWE by saluting and embracing Cena as the two exited the stadium.
The fact that The Rock, whose status as one of Hollywood’s biggest stars had only grown over the previous year, legitimately tore the abdominal and adductor tendons from his pelvis early in the match played a big role in this being his last legitimate WrestleMania match to date (save for an unannounced squash three years later).
Honorable mention: The Undertaker won the final match of his unbeaten streak to improve to 21-0 in a match of the night against CM Punk.
WrestleMania XXX (2014)
21-1 — The Beast conquers the streak: The first WrestleMania of the WWE Network era was a critical and commercial blockbuster in front of over 75,000 fans in New Orleans. And while there were plenty of contenders for most memorable moments, including Daniel Bryan’s triumphant “YES!” chant to close the show and Hulk Hogan’s Pontiac Silverdome botch, the sheer shock of The Undertaker’s vaunted unbeaten streak coming to a close will never be topped.
This was a “remember where you were” moment as Brock Lesnar, overcoming a sloppy and forgettable match thanks to a legitimate concussion suffered by The Undertaker, hit a third F5 to finish the Deadman. From advocate Paul Heyman’s legendary “freak out” while seated on his knees inside the ring to the jaw-dropping shot of a ringside fan, Ellis Mbeh, in pure disbelief, this was easily the most shocking WrestleMania result before or since.
Honorable mention (tie): Daniel Bryan won a pair of matches, including a triple-threat main event against Batista and Randy Orton, to win the WWE undisputed championship; a trio of icons — Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin and The Rock — open the show with a beer-soaked salute.
WrestleMania 31 (2015)
Seth Rollins commits the “heist of the century”: In a WWE championship match that was already on its way to becoming one of the best (and most physical) in the event’s history, Rollins decided to crash the party. In the first cash-in attempt at WrestleMania since the Money in the Bank concept debuted 10 years earlier, Rollins stole Lesnar’s title by hitting his former Shield partner Roman Reigns with a Curb Stomp for the 1-2-3. The image of Rollins celebrating by swinging the title over his head at the top of the ramp kicked off a memorable reign and closed the show to a surprisingly great WrestleMania which remains in the conversation of best in history.
Honorable mention (tie): UFC champion Ronda Rousey jumped the guardrail to help The Rock take out Triple H and Stephanie McMahon; nWo and D-Generation X members made surprise appearance during the Triple H-Sting match.
WrestleMania 32 (2016)
Shane McMahon’s leap of faith: Record-setting attendance and live gate numbers couldn’t stop this WrestleMania from being an overbooked dud which left fans fatigued by the time the main event rolled around. There were still moments to remember, of course, including a triple threat match for the newly-minted WWE women’s championship between Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks which legitimately stole the show.
The biggest spot of the night is one which will never be forgotten as Shane McMahon, who hadn’t wrestled since 2009 after leaving the company, made his prodigal son return to the family business. At 46, “Shane-o-Mac” only added to his in-ring legacy of being a daredevil by leaping off the top of the Hell in a Cell cage and crashing through the announce table below after The Undertaker rolled out of the way. McMahon, whose three sons accompanied him to the ring, gave a thumbs up while leaving the stadium on a stretcher amid a legitimately scary aftermath to the match.
Honorable mention (tie): John Cena made a surprise return from injury to rescue The Rock against the Wyatt Family; journeyman Zack Ryder embraced his father after scoring an emotional intercontinental title win during a seven-man ladder match.
WrestleMania 33 (2017)
The deafening return of Team Extreme: Want to know what it sounds like when nearly 75,000 fans get exactly what they were hoping for? Eight years since they last appeared as a tag team in WWE, Matt and Jeff Hardy proved a weekend full of hopeful rumors were correct by causing pandemonium inside Camping World Stadium in Orlando when they were added to fatal four-way ladder match for the Raw tag team titles. Not only did the Hardyz win an exciting and spot-heavy match against Luke Gallows & Karl Anderson, Cesaro & Sheamus, and Enzo Amore & Big Cass, the stealth nature of their surprise appearance reminded fans that anything is possible at WrestleMania. The legendary tag team had performed the night before in an even more physically-demanding ladder match at a Ring of Honor of show and appeared at an independent wrestling event just hours prior their WWE return.
Honorable mention (tie): The Undertaker left his hat and jacket inside the ring following a dreadful main event loss to Roman Reigns which falsely teased retirement; John Cena proposed to Nikki Bella following a mixed tag team victory over The Miz and Maryse.
WrestleMania 34 (2018)
Ronda Rousey proves she’s a natural: The former UFC champion had made a well-publicized splash three months earlier by showing up at the Royal Rumble and pointing to the WrestleMania sign, yet Rousey was put in nothing short of a sink-or-swim situation by having her debut match staged for WrestleMania. While she struggled at times in the build-up, particularly on the microphone, Rousey proved to be an instant success inside the ring by teaming with Kurt Angle to defeat Triple H and Stephanie McMahon in a mixed tag team bout.
Rousey was crisp, physical and executed moves at a speed and rhythm that was seemingly unique to herself. She was also significantly helped by the three veterans surrounding her as the match proved to be an instant classic thanks to the storytelling and tiny details which combined to make it special. The match was also a launching pad for Rousey to construct one of the most impressive debut years in company history before stepping away on her own terms to start a family.
Honorable mention: Charlotte Flair ended Asuka’s nearly three-year WWE unbeaten streak to defend the SmackDown women’s championship.
WrestleMania 35 (2019)
Kofi Kingston completes 11-year journey: From the standpoint of organic babyface runs, what Kingston accomplished some 11 years after making his company debut by capturing the WWE championship in such unlikely circumstances remains a humbling backstory. Not even scheduled for such an opportunity even two months prior to the event until an injury to Mustafa Ali opened up a spot for Kingston at Elimination Chamber. From there, the veteran member of The New Day authored one emotional performance after another as the crowd continued to plead for him in a strictly unscripted manner. The fact that he would be paired against a heel Daniel Bryan — the last WWE performer to elicit such a response from the crowd — only made it more special.
Kingston and Bryan went on to deliver a high-energy affair worthy of its booking and made only more special by the post-match celebration as Kingston, joined by his wife, sons and New Day teammates Big E and Xavier Woods, brought the crowd to tears by producing such genuine joy. Kingston became the first African-born WWE champion and just the second black wrestler to hold the same title. He also achieved Grand Slam and Triple Crown champion statuses in the process.
Honorable mention: Becky Lynch captured the Raw and SmackDown titles by defeating Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair in the first women’s main-event match in WrestleMania history.