WrestleMania is dubbed “the showcase of the immortals” due to its history of memorable moments, finishes that stick with you, and the once in a lifetime showdowns that define generations. It’s also a show that has grown bigger than itself, becoming now more of a showcase of the aged part-timers than the talent that works their tails off during the twelve months in between, but I digress. The show is known for a handful of marquee matches, highlighted by larger than life personalities, gripping feuds, and spine-tingling main-events, but there are just as many matches that, over the years, have fallen through the cracks and have become forgotten.
Here are four such matches…
The New Age Outlaws vs Mick Foley and Terry Funk
WrestleMania XIV was very much a two-match show. The WWF was just starting to come out of their mid-90’s funk, where ratings were down, WCW was poaching talent, and the company was as close to shuttering as ever. Thankfully for them Steve Austin got hot and Vince rode his coattails heading into WrestleMania 14. They were still, however, on shaky ground.
There are, in the history of WWF/E, a handful of WrestleManias where Vince essentially bet the farm on its success. If the show succeeded the company survived; if not, it would be judgment day. The first WrestleMania is one, as is WrestleMania XXX. This was the other. With his back against the wall, Vince worked his magic to create two compelling matches for the show: Austin vs Michaels (featuring Mike Tyson) and Kane vs Undertaker.
Lost in the shuffle was a tag match between the company’s hottest tandem—the New Age Outlaws—and two of hardcore wrestling’s most infamous competitors. The “Dumpster Match” that followed was one of the wildest and craziest WrestleMania had seen thus far. In the years to come there would be TLC matches, Hell in a Cell matches, street fights and more, but they all owe a debt to this match that has largely been forgotten.
Diesel vs. Shawn Michaels
WrestleMania XI is, easily, a bottom-five show and represents the absolute nadir of the WWF. Desperate for mainstream buzz, Vince whored the company’s main-event out to…Lawrence Taylor vs Bam Bam Bigelow.
Unlike the previous match, which was overshadowed by the great storyline buildups of the top two contests, this match is overlooked simply as a byproduct of the whole show itself being forgotten. Most would prefer to pretend that WrestleMania 11 didn’t happen, which means forgetting a really great WWF Title match between the champion Diesel and the challenger Shawn Michaels.
HBK and Diesel had a good story going into the match, with HBK positioned as the future main-event superstar and Diesel as merely his bodyguard/muscle. Instead, as these things tend to go in pro wrestling, the big guy grew too big to remain in the shadow of the star, the star grew jealous, and the big guy went his own way to great success. A match for the title became the obvious the climax of the story.
The match that followed was a classic big man vs little, with both guys not only in their prime but also fully-committed to making the other look good. Considering the men in question, that was not gimme. The results made for a title match good enough to have main-evented, had the company not been in such dire straits at the time. Instead, like the show itself, it’s a match that’s largely been forgotten.
Chris Benoit vs Kurt Angle
WrestleMania X-Seven is, arguably, the greatest PPV in WWF/E history. Is it the “best?” You can make a case that In Your House : Canadian Stampede was a top-to-bottom perfect show, but in terms of “everything coming together” you couldn’t ask for more than this. WrestleMania X-Seven came at the peak of a perfect storm, lightning in a bottle series of circumstances that will never be replicated: Austin being injured for just long enough to still be hot when he came back, Rock ascending to Austin’s level of popularity in the meantime, setting up the big main-event, not to mention the WWF not just destroying but buying the ashes of WCW (just to piss on them, but I digress) mere days before the show.
You can’t manufacture those circumstances.
On top of that, the entire card from top to bottom is a veritable Greatest Hits of the Attitude Era, with a sold-out Astrodome seemingly knowing they were witnessing a show like no other, cheering wildly for everyone and everything.
Naturally there would be great matches that ended up forgotten, but under normal circumstances Kurt Angle vs Chris Benoit would not be one of them. Under normal circumstances this match would still be talked about today as one of the greatest undercard bouts in Mania history, as one of the greatest technical matches in Mania history, and as one of the greatest matches in either man’s vast catalog of great matches.
But Chris Benoit murdered his wife and child and forever tainted, not only his own history of matches, but the history of everyone he ever wrestled.
Benoit vs Angle is my personal-favorite matchup in pro wrestling history, and their WWE Title Match at the 2004 Royal Rumble is my personal favorite match of all time. Their clash at this WrestleMania is one for the ages and the Attitude Era crowd, so used brawls and hardcore fiascos, sat on the edge of their seats, soaking in every moment of the contest. When it was over, everyone called it a match to remember.
Six years later everyone would be racing to forget it.
Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal I
WrestleMania XXX was a show that, with two exceptions, was better-remembered for its moments than its matches. The show was book-ended by two stellar Daniel Bryan matches, one with Triple H and the other vs Randy Orton and Batista. In between was a bunch of fluff that popped the crowd here and there but ultimately wasn’t anything particularly well-done.
Except for the one match no one cared anything about, going in.
The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal was, on paper, merely a way to get everybody in the pool without having to write compelling storylines to justify their place on the card. A battle royal is, in that respect, a pro wrestling staple: Workers get paid by appearance so multi-man matches are ways to ensure the roster gets paid even when not in a marquee match.
In the years that followed, the Andre match would devolve further into a pre-show nothingburger but credit WWE for, in its inaugural year, doing something that seemed determined to honor the legacy of the match’s namesake.
The action was fast and fun and ended with the moment that should have launched Cesaro to the upper echelon of the company. Instead, his hoisting Big Show up (Andre’s kayfabe son, by the way), literally carrying him across the ring, and throwing him over to win the match, was a wow-moment that was quickly forgotten in the wake of Daniel Bryan winning the championship. And with the further diminishing of the match in subsequent Manias, the specialness of this first one has all but been lost.