Part of the appeal of WrestleMania is that it has always been booked as the culmination of the WWE year. All roads lead to WrestleMania. The Road to WrestleMania takes many paths from winning the Royal Rumble to surviving the Elimination Chamber. Here we will look at the 7 best storylines that have captivated and compelled us to the biggest show of the year.
7) Chris Jericho/Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 19)- Wrestling past vs wrestling present is a simple and old story line. Hell, we’re seeing it again this year with John Cena vs The Rock. And while Hogan vs The Rock the year prior was a much bigger match, Chris Jericho vs Shawn Michaels had a much more compelling hook to it.
The notion of meeting your idol is something everyone can relate to, but its something else entirely to live in the shadow of your idol. And that was what drove the central theme of this feud, Jericho grew up idolizing Shawn Michaels. There was a lot of similarities in their looks and styles. But Jericho felt that he had surpassed Shawn Michaels. Even more to the point, he felt that HBK was done and over the hill.
Jericho set out to prove that he was better than Shawn Michaels at the Royal Rumble by repeating one of HBK’s defining feats, which was entering the Royal Rumble at number 1 and lasting until the end. Of course, HBK took the number one spot, robbing Jericho of the chance, but Jericho took the number 2 spot.. and he out-smarted HBK! And he would do it again and again during their feud even using HBK’s white knight status to lure him into a beat-down.
After the verbal and physical altercations were done, there was the match, and what a match it was. Perhaps, one of the best at a WrestleMania. And this is why HBK/Jericho has made our list.
6) Batista/Triple H (WrestleMania 21)- Sometimes, the WWE has a plan and they stick to their guns no matter what. Other times, the audience reactions can dictate their progress. As was the case with the Triple H/Randy Orton/Batista saga. After Orton’s face turn, things went sour for the up and coming former member of Evolution, but lurking in the background was a man who had grown wise to Triple H’s ways. Slowly, they sowed the seeds of distrust in the group. And this was the key for me, Batista/Triple H wasn’t a match that was forced into the traditional Mania build. Instead, it was something the WWE built up gradually and smartly in the months leading up to the show.
There were other elements at play here as well. This was the first year where the WWE played up the fact that the Royal Rumble winner could choose the title he wanted to compete for. And this lead to a lot of interesting head games between Triple H and Batista as the former attempted to convince the other to go to the other show and win their title. This also led to some headaches for Smackdown’s champion, JBL, as well.
After Batista’s face turn though, the story progressed more normally with both men exchanging words and blows leading up to WrestleMania 21. They even delivered a decent match.
5) Hulk Hogan/Vince McMahon (WrestleMania 19)- To me the best wrestling storylines are those that are entrenched in personal drama. Its easy to fake hate someone, but when you can blur the lines between reality and fantasy, it helps to engross the audience on a whole new level. Vince McMahon vs Hulk Hogan was built on such a philosophy as both men were vital in the early success and growth of WrestleMania. So 19 years after the original, it was only fitting that they would do battle.
Not only was this feud built on the prospect of which was more important to the success of WrestleMania, but real life events surrounding the two of them. Hogan testifying against Vince in the early 90s. Hogan abandoning Vince in the 90s to go to WCW and form the nWo, nearly running him out of business. There was a feeling of personal betrayal in this feud, and it showed. And to add a FINAL wrinkle to the entire thing, Hogan’s career was also put on the line.
And surprisingly for two men who were past their prime, they also delivered one hell of a WrestleMania match. And one of the most iconic images in the 28 years of the PPV.
4) Stone Cold/Shawn Michaels/Mike Tyson (WrestleMania 14)- Involving a celebrity in any capacity is always a tricky feat for wrestling. Sometimes, you end up with infamous moments such as David Arquette as your World Champion, more often than not, you end up with someone who would rather be anywhere else.
Mike Tyson’s presence was different, he was game-d and the WWE worked him into the story fantastically. Not only that, but the Michaels/Austin feud was built up so well from HBK going from a sleazy heel trying to pawn his number one contender off to Tyson to generally being a dick (kissing his bald head at the WrestleMania work-out) he played his part to perfection.
On the other side was Stone Cold, who had the walls closing in on him. Tyson joined DX and would be a special enforcer for his title match. The owner of the company, Vince McMahon, decreed on national TV that he wouldn’t want to see Stone Cold become the heavyweight champion. And he still had to compete at WrestleMania against The ShowStopper, the Main-Eventer, the Icon, Mr. WrestleMania. While the match itself proved to be nothing special, the build to the event was off the charts.
3) Hogan Hulk vs “Macho Man” Randy Savage (WrestleMania V)- Before The Rock/John Cena made it a thing to announce your WrestleMania match a year in advance, the WWF built the Savage/Hogan feud for over a year. The perfect saga started at WrestleMania 4 (hosted at Trump Plaza, important for a reason) in which Randy Savage survived a grueling tournament to be declared the new WWF Champion (with some assistance from Hulk Hogan and Miss Elizabeth). During the course of the next year, Hogan and Savage would go on to form one of the most dominant tag teams/alliances in WWF’s history, The MegaPowers, the two would lock horns with various foes throughout the course of the year.
Now during this entire time, Hogan who was the champion robbed of his title, never asked or demanded a title shot from Macho Man. This would slowly drive Macho mad, who wouldn’t hate playing second fiddle when you are on top of the world? But what really drove him over the edge was the budding friendship between his main squeeze, Miss Elizabeth, and the Hulkster. As Macho put it, Hogan had those “jealous eyes.” It also led to one of the greatest heel turns of all-time. And unlike any other feud on this list, the rivalry came to a head in the same building it began a year ago, Trump Plaza!
2) The Rock/Stone Cold Trilogy (WrestleMania 15,17 and 19)- There’s a golden rule in wrestling that fans don’t remember anything beyond 3 months ago. For most die hard fans that doesn’t tend to be true, and the WWE’s production team is strong enough to tell a story/history through their video packages.
I bring this up because very rarely do we see WrestleMania matches repeated because they tend to showcase the biggest stars of their generation. The Rock and Stone Cold are two of the biggest of all-time, and they proved it by headlining not 1, not 2 but 3 different WrestleManias. Not only did they do that, but their matches built up the foundation laid in all of their previous encounters, and marked each respective man’s growth in their own career path.
Their first match at WrestleMania 15 was the most basic, Rock was the Corporate Champion, Stone Cold the anti-establishment hero. There was little doubt that Austin’s star-power was stronger on this night. Jump forward just 2 years for WrestleMania 17 and both men’s popularity would be at its peak. Neither was seen as a bigger star than the other at this point, and to many culminates the Attitude Era with the two biggest stars of the generation, doing better for the richest prize, on the grandest stage of them all.
And for any coupling that would be enough, but they came back a 3rd time. This match would be historic for many reasons including Stone Cold’s unofficial retirement match. But it was the story… of The Rock who at this point had achieved almost anything someone could ask for in the WWE except for beat his nemesis at WrestleMania.
So for 3 stellar main event matches, and a 5 year long rivalry, The Trilogy is the 2nd best WrestleMania story ever told.
1) The Streak (WrestleMania 7-Present)- This one is cheating, just a bit, but has there been any story in the history of wrestling that has panned as many decades (3 now) and still keeps fans invested? Sure, the Streak didn’t really become a thing until the 2000s, but now that the WWE has put it on center-stage, it can become the spotlight of Mania. It has bought us some terrific bouts vs Shawn Michaels, Edge, Batista, Ric Flair and so many more. When you think of WrestleMania, its hard not to think of The Streak.