Although he may have featured in only one true Wrestlemania main event, and a fairly lacklustre one at that (Vs HHH, WM XXV), Orton deserves a place on this list for his consistently entertaining performances in mid-card matches from Wrestlemania XX to XXVII.
Whether it be in Triple Threat (Vs Kurt Angle & Rey Mysterio, WM 22; Vs Cody Rhodes & Ted DiBiase WM XXVI), Singles (Vs Undertaker, WM 21; Vs C M Punk WM XXVII) or Money In The Bank, Orton has proved himself an engaging and highly adaptable worker, often putting others over and making everyone else in the ring look better in the process. Given that he has potentially another 10-15 years in the upper card in WWE, he could well end up a Top 5 performer of the future.
Best match – Vs The Undertaker, Wrestlemania 21 2005
Giving ‘Taker his best ‘Mania match in years, Orton proved the perfect opponent to reinvigorate the Deadman and remind us all what a great wrestler he is. That he lost here but didn’t come out looking any weaker (something he managed at several ‘Manias) shows what a skilled performer Orton is too.
9. Triple H
Frequently main-eventing Wrestlemanias for a whopping 12 years now, HHH mostly deserves praise for selflessly helping cement others as top stars in their battles; at WM 22 he sold generously and then lost by tap-out to Cena in a bout much more watchable than the usual Cena rubbish, put over Batista in the ring and in angles throughout their feud and in their bout at WM 21, and in perhaps his finest moment, lost clean by submission again to Benoit in an utterly gripping Triple Threat (with HBK) at WM XX. An awesome display by all three men, it was a fitting main event to the 20th anniversary of Wrestlemania.
Conversely, HHH is lower down on the list due to his thoroughly self-serving performances in other top bouts on the super-show; he set Booker T’s progress back a few years by taking 15 seconds between delivering the Pedigree and making the winning pin at WM XIX, and flat as a pancake match with Jericho at WM X8 followed a feud in which Jericho was rendered invisible by the focus on HHH/Steph issues in the story.
That being said, HHH seemed to be having an awkward patch 2002-2003, and has been nothing but an asset to Wrestlemania and WWE since, repeatedly putting on high quality bouts and enhancing stars in the making.
Best Match – Vs Chris Benoit & Shawn Michaels, Wrestlemania XX 2004
Making Chris Benoit seem both his equal and his better, HHH did everything in his power to make Benoit the wrestler of the moment. Although he never had the charisma to stay at the top, for this match you believed Benoit was the biggest star in the company. An under-rated classic, and in the Top 3 Wrestlemania matches ever.
Virtually bursting with personality and an absorbing promo man, Roddy Piper was also aggressive and fearless, if occasionally sloppy, in the squared circle. One of the most popular wrestlers, as both a heel and face, of the 1984-1992 period, Piper participated in some huge WM moments.
Feuding with Hogan meant he was in the main event tag match of the inaugural Wrestlemania in 1985, and he whipped the crowd into a state of frenzy in his interactions with Hogan, Mr T and even boxing legend Muhammad Ali. He excelled in his place in the spotlight and it secured him a legendary Wrestlemania moment. As well as this, his wild Hollywood Backlot Brawl with Goldust from WM XII was much better than you’d expect and his thrilling match with Bret Hart was the show-stealer of WM VIII and the sharpest in-ring performance Piper ever gave.
Paying homage to WM history, Piper also made a roof-raising special appearance in the Hogan Vs Vince nostalgia-fest from Wrestlemania XIX. Spitting on both men and then laying out Hogan with a steel pipe, Rowdy Roddy proved to be as unpredictable as ever and gave long-time fans a huge kick in the process.
Best Match – Vs Bret Hart, Wrestlemania XVIII 1992
Combining technical wrestling and brawling, expert selling and psychology, and superb pacing and timing, Piper and Hart riveted the audience and sent Hart on the path to main-event stardom. And the ending is a real stroke of genius.
7. The Rock
Dwayne Johnson could justifiably be on this list based purely on his Wrestlemania Trilogy with Stone Cold Steve Austin, which I have discussed in this blog before. Suffice to say it represents the pinnacle of the Attitude Era of WWE and is a Wrestlemania accomplishment unlikely to be equalled any time soon.
However, The Rock also made history when he met the biggest star of the 1980’s, Hulk Hogan, at WM X8. Hogan went in as heel but the 80,000+ live crowd got behind their beloved icon and the reaction was magical; The Rock received more boos than cheers (ever adaptable, he switched to subtle heel mannerisms) whilst everything Hulkster did tore the house down. Although the action itself was not anything special, the incredible reaction to it and the electric atmosphere are something rarely witnesses in wrestling, and is what Wrestlemania moments are all about.
Best Match – Vs Steve Austin, Wrestlemania X7 2001
Superbly booked and worked in front of pumped up audience, Austin and The Rock delivered a powerful, engrossing brawl filled with memorable spots. The pace never slips for a second, even up to the shock twist ending.
Hogan is the icon that launched Wrestlemania, and made starring appearances in the first nine events. Hulkster’s popularity, which increased exponentially after the original show, took WWE to new levels of mainstream awareness. His match at WM III with Andre the Giant, in front of a (somewhat disputed) 93,173 people, is considered by many to be the greatest Wrestlemania moment so far. What this bout illustrates though is why, on a list of Greatest WM Performers, Hogan is only number 6 – whilst the crowd reaction to it is phenomenal, the in-ring action really sucks. In fairness, Andre was extremely limited by this point due to his worsening health, but then the ring work in the majority of Hogan’s other ‘Mania matches rarely rises above OK; his tedious battle Vs ‘Iraqi sympathiser’ Sgt. Slaughter from WM VII and his awkward and uneventful tussle Vs Sid Justice from WM VIII stick out as the worst.
Hulkster’s conduct was occasionally questionable too, especially when he stole the spot-light from stars on-the-up Ultimate Warrior (WM VI) and Bret Hart (WM IX) – he admitted to sabotaging Warrior by handing him the belt after Warrior had won, and making sure all eyes were on him as he left; in coming to Bret Hart’s aid after Hart lost his main-event against Yokozuna, Hogan overshadowed the Hitman when he challenged and defeated ‘Zuna for the belt in 12 seconds.
But to be fair, sometimes Hogan was able to get the combination of gripping ring action and his amazing, charismatic crowd-working abilities perfect – despite the aforementioned gripe about the ending, the Hogan Vs Ultimate Warrior battle plays in front of an enraptured audience and is well put together, whilst Hogan Vs Randy Savage (from WM V), which had slowly engrossed the fans building the story over a whole year, is the most thrilling and action-packed match of Hulks career.
These two bouts, and the fact that Wrestlemania probably wouldn’t even exist, let alone been as successful, without Hogan have given him an iconic status in the early history of the show and thoroughly deserving of his place on this list.
Best Match – Vs Macho Man Randy Savage, Wrestlemania V 1989
Driven by the very personal feud in which Savage accused Hogan of having designs on Miss Elizabeth (Savages long-time manager and wife), the crowd were on the edge of their seats for this hotly anticipated clash. The two delivered as well, their unique chemistry creating a classic and possibly the best main-event of Wrestlemania’s early years.