WWE WrestleMania 33 will be massive—electricity surging though its bones before it even begins.
The Superstars who take the stage at the spectacle of theater and athleticism can thank the bouts that shaped the pay-per-view’s legacy. Hulk Hogan’s early battles helped establish the event. Shawn Michaels’ excellence upped the ante for the performers who followed him.
“Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Undertaker and bent ladders played their parts, too.
When Kevin Owens steps between the ropes on April 2, he will know WrestleMania’s lights are as bright as they are because of the show’s history-making matches. When Seth Rollins finally gets his hands on Triple H, he will have a legacy of masterpieces to live up to.
WrestleMania has morphed into a showcase of the biggest and best matches on the WWE calendar. It is a stage where star power reigns and where in-ring excellence is the expectation.
The following is a look at the matches that gave WrestleMania that reputation that built the foundation for future editions. These are the groundbreaking and game-changing bouts that made the event what it is today.
Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff (WrestleMania I)
Hogan vs. Roddy Piper would have been a better match from a technical standpoint, but the first WrestleMania may not have led to a second and a third had its main event not welcomed a celebrity to the ring.
Mr. T teaming with Hogan generated a flood of buzz for WrestleMania. The A-Team star’s presence made this bout a pop culture phenomenon, not just another encounter between the ropes.
WrestleMania would go on to fuse celebrity and sports entertainment, building on its inaugural headline match.
Floyd Mayweather, Snooki, Lawrence Taylor and the 1985 Chicago Bears are among the figures from other worlds who later competed at The Show of Shows. Hogan and Mr. T vs. Piper and Paul Orndorff set the stage for those bouts. It was a megafight that made WrestleMania feel like a big deal from the beginning.
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant (WrestleMania III)
Titan met titan at WrestleMania III.
In Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, WWE showcased two megastars on its increasingly grand stage. There have been far better technicians to tangle in the ring at WrestleMania, but this was about star power and icon status, not an exhibition of wrestling excellence.
Hogan was the face of the company. Andre had been an attraction like no other since he arrived in the ’70s.
Their battle had all the trappings of a classic match. It featured a friends-turned-foes narrative, the high stakes of a world title on the line, an undefeated streak in danger and the subplot of Hogan looking to bodyslam the big man for the first time.
WrestleMania would later become known for matchups of this magnitude, as Hogan faced The Rock at WrestleMania X8, and The Brahma Bull took on John Cena 10 years later.
Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat (WrestleMania III)
The Showcase of the Immortals has been home to some of WWE’s greatest matches. It is a show that everyone looks to steal—a place where wrestlers pour themselves on the mat in the hopes of creating contests no one will forget.
Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat for the Intercontinental Championship in 1987 was the event’s first classic.
Steamboat’s burning hunger for revenge paired perfectly with The Macho Man’s mercilessness. Speed and skill powered a compelling in-ring tale that wowed a record crowd. Hogan and Andre brought the buzz; Steamboat and Savage delivered the magic.
The event saw similarly stunning performances unfold in years to come. Bret Hart vs. brother Owen at WrestleMania X, Austin vs. The Hitman at WrestleMania 13 and Michaels vs. Chris Jericho at WrestleMania XIX are among those bouts that followed this tradition of undercard clashes for the ages.
Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania X)
There is no shortage of spectacle at WrestleMania.
Indelible moments occur at every event. Pageantry and violence merge to create lasting images that replay for years to follow.
The Intercontinental Championship ladder match between Michaels and Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X embodied those traits.
The foes created an innovative drama built around the inherent danger of having a ladder in the ring. This gimmick bout has since become a staple, but it was a novelty in 1994. Michaels and Ramon thrilled in a match that pushed the creative envelope.
The Heartbreak Kid’s leap from the upper rungs of the ladder onto Ramon is an iconic image.
Their battle gave WrestleMania a reputation as a home for the original and sensational. The Show of Shows has since featured many a diving wrestler risking their health for the sake of creating a memory in the WrestleMania spotlight.
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XII)
Michaels outlasted Hart in a 60-minute Iron Man match to claim the WWF Championship. The route to that result was anything but routine.
For one, Michaels made sure his approach to the ring would be unforgettable. The Showstopper slid above the audience on a zip line while decked out in a glittery, space-cowboy outfit. At that moment, it was established that even WrestleMania entrances would be grand.
The big-budget, all-out entrance has been a common sight at The Showcase of the Immortals since.
In the ring, Michaels and Hart put on a classic—a work of art on the sweat-drenched canvas. They made it clear how important the smaller, sleeker wrestlers are to the product, as they produced a lengthy thriller that the behemoths would never be able to.
The shape of the ideal Superstar has evolved in the years following this contest, as grapplers thought to be undersized—from Chris Benoit to Daniel Bryan—have flourished on WrestleMania’s center stage.
Shawn Michaels vs. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin (WrestleMania XIV)
Mr. T brought curious eyes to the wrestling world. Mike Tyson outdid him, helping WrestleMania XIV become a financial home run.
WWE’s hottest period began with Tyson serving as a ring enforcer as Austin took on Michaels for the world title. Stone Cold’s victory launched his career and the Attitude Era, all while making WrestleMania an even bigger deal.
Tyson was the biggest celebrity to play a major role in a WrestleMania to that point. His presence helped up the cool factor for the show.
The WrestleMania XIV main event also proved how powerful a win in the marquee match could be. Stone Cold took over WWE from that point on, riding the wave of momentum from that win until injuries forced him to retire in 2003.
Triangle Ladder Match (WrestleMania 2000)
mQdNbtoThere is no better place for a WWE Superstar to put themselves on the map than WrestleMania.
Have a classic on that stage, and one’s career will change forever. Create a major moment at that event, and it will live on for years.
That must have been on the minds of the six men who clashed for the tag titles at WrestleMania 2000. Edge and Christian, The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boyz were all surging midcarders at the time. After they soared and crashed in a mess of ladders and tables, their stocks all shot up.
Their devil-may-care approach not only magnified their star power, but it also set the stage for future risky, career-changing endeavors.
The demolition derby of a match served as the precursor to the Money in the Bank ladder matches that highlighted The Show of Shows from WrestleMania 21 to WrestleMania XXVI and the multiman ladder matches for the IC title that have opened the last two WrestleManias.
Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXV)
When Mr. WrestleMania tangled with the man who had yet to be beaten at that event, sparks flew. Michaels’ failed attempt to end Undertaker’s undefeated streak was an instant classic.
Their WrestleMania XXV bout amplified the spotlight on Undertaker’s run of wins at WWE’s Super Bowl.
More than ever, the fight to take down Undertaker was a bigger contest than any title tilt on the card. This was about more than gold; it was about legacy.
Undertaker’s 21-0 record before his defeat to Brock Lesnar in 2014 is a key component of the story of WrestleMania. He, Hogan, Michaels and Austin are cornerstones of the event.
Michaels and Undertaker managed to build on what matches like Savage vs. Steamboat and Hart vs. The Heartbreak Kid had created before them. The bar was raised that night and raised even higher when they met in a rematch the next year.
The magnitude of WrestleMania inflated after Michaels vs. Undertaker, challenging future generations to top their tour de force. At WrestleMania 33, Rollins, Owens, Charlotte Flair and other stars will be among those looking to do just that.