8. Three main events for WrestleMania 2 (1986)
The second WrestleMania established a number of traditions that continue to this day. Although it was broadcast on closed circuit TV in arenas, bars and movie theatres, the event was the first WrestleMania to be available through pay-per-view. Ray Charles sang America The Beautiful before the first match took place in New York. And although the entire extravaganza was being built around one match, there were three main events, one for each of the three cities that hosted the show.
In New York, Mr. T “boxed” Roddy Piper. In Chicago, The British Bulldogs challenged The Dream Team for the tag team belts. And in Los Angeles, Hulk Hogan and King Kong Bundy went head to head for the WWF title in a steel cage. In the following years, like the first WrestleMania, there would be just one traditional show closer. But that would slowly change beginning in 1992 and continuing off and on throughout the decade.
At WrestleMania 8, there were two main events. The WWF title bout between Randy Savage and Ric Flair took place in the middle of the show while the Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice grudge match ended the evening. Because of the circumstances surrounding the 1994 Royal Rumble, both Bret Hart and Lex Luger, who were the last two men in the match and subsequently eliminated each other in the finish, got title shots against WWF Champion Yokozuna at WrestleMania X. There were two main events at WrestleMania 11, as well. The WWF title match between Diesel and Shawn Michaels and the controversial Bam Bam Bigelow/Lawrence Taylor encounter.
By the new millennium, after a few years where there was only one main event per supershow, all subsequent WrestleManias would be promoted as having multiple main events (at least two but no more than four) even though, in reality, the final match of the show is the true main event.
In 2002, the year after purchasing the flailing WCW, Vince McMahon Jr. decided to split his growing roster into two factions represented by his two prime-time wrestling shows, Raw and Smackdown. That year, the WWF title was renamed the WWE title (to represent the change from World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment) and the World Heavyweight Championship was introduced as a separate belt. From WrestleMania 19 onward, both championships would be defended in separate matches and equally billed as main events regardless of where they were slotted on the card.
Even though John Cena and The Rock will be the final match of WrestleMania 28 this year, three other bouts are being publicized as main events, most especially the Hell In A Cell bout between The Undertaker and Triple H. As long as there are two world championships in play, the multiple main event tradition will live on for some time to come.
9. Hulk Hogan defeats Andre The Giant (1987)
It might not have been the greatest match of WrestleMania III but it was significant nonetheless. Andre The Giant was billed as being undefeated for 15 straight years (although in truth he had lost a few matches here and there) and after apparently waiting in vain for his friend Hulk Hogan to give him a shot at the WWF Championship, he aligned himself with former enemy Bobby Heenan and turned heel in one of the best build-ups to a WrestleMania match in history.
Vince McMahon’s plan was for Andre to pass the torch, so to speak, to Hulk. Earlier in the decade, they worked a different program where Hulk was the villain and Andre was the face. Hogan never beat him. WrestleMania III was a glorious opportunity to revisit that rivalry with the roles reversed and in a much different environment, one with far more scrutiny and intrigue.
In 1980, The Irresistible Force previously met The Immovable Object at the third and final Showdown At Shea supershow in New York’s Shea Stadium. (It was the second-to-last booking on the card. The Bruno Sammartino/Larry Zbyzsko cage match was the main event.) So, in a way, their WrestleMania III encounter was a rematch of that long forgotten stadium battle.
Throughout the whole day, Hulk was deeply worried that Andre wouldn’t put him over. But his paranoia was ultimately unfounded. After that incredible bodyslam and the patented leg drop, the Frenchman stayed down for the three-count. The victory sealed Hogan’s legacy as a WrestleMania franchise player, at least up until the early 1990s. Over the years the torch would be passed again and again during key WrestleMania matches adding to the importance of Andre’s gesture and expanding the mass appeal of not only WrestleMania but professional wrestling itself through the generations.
Hogan himself would personally make sure that on at least two occasions worthy next generation superstars would get put over in a clean, convincing way. At WrestleMania VI in 1990, after missing that leg drop, The Ultimate Warrior splashed him to win his only WWF Championship. It was the only time Hogan didn’t do his usual post-match celebration at the end of the night. And then in 2002 at WrestleMania 18, Hogan, at the tail end of his long running villainous NWO period, jobbed to The Rock. Because The People’s Champion invited him to stay in the ring and do his usual schtick, the Hulkster turned face again.
In 1992, WWF World Champion Ric Flair dropped the title to Randy Savage at WrestleMania 8 to begin his second reign. This time, there was no assist from Hulk Hogan who played a major role in The Macho Man winning the title the first time in the tournament finals at WrestleMania IV in 1988. In 1996, at Wrestlemania 12, Bret Hart, who took 8 years to get a World title push in the WWF, passed the torch to Shawn Michaels, who also needed 8 years to become WWF World Champion for the first time.
Two years later, Michaels put over Stone Cold Steve Austin to make him the new WWF champion at WrestleMania 14, an idea that seemed unlikely in 1996 when The Texas Rattlesnake was saddled with that Ringmaster gimmick. Two more “pass the torch” moments happened at WrestleMania 21 in 2005. WWE Champion JBL put over John Cena and World Heavyweight Champion Triple H jobbed for former Evolution teammate Batista, both first-time champions.
At WrestleMania 28, will The Rock do for Cena what Hogan did for him ten years ago and/or will Chris Jericho strengthen the second reign of WWE Champion CM Punk by putting him over? If so, both will be carrying on an honourable 25-year Wrestlemania tradition.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, March 11, 2012