As we approach WrestleMania 34 this coming Sunday, we’re taking a look at the big event’s best moments from the last 33 years. Up first, the Top 10 Matches that opened up WrestleMania Cards!
The first match on any wrestling event is an important one – it sets the tone for the whole show. A dull first match can take the audience right out of the majority of any big event. But a fast-paced, high-energy battle can carry the excitement over throughout the whole show and prop even dull early matches on.
While a lot of the items you’ll see listed throughout the next week are from older WrestleManias, because I definitely have fonder memories of the shows from my youth, the Top 10 Openers list is dominated by matches from the last 10 years or so (with a few matches from earlier years sprinkled in), because the first match of WrestleMania has taken on an important role in the pacing of the biggest wrestling show of the year, almost as much as the main event.
What better way to kick off WrestleMania Week than to look at the best matches to kick off the show over the years?
** NOTE – The lists being published this week were compiled from the larger list of WrestleMania match rankings done for Scott’s Blog of Doom and Place To Be Nation. Check out those sites for more great WrestleMania content. All rankings are, of course, just my opinion and are not meant to be a definitive list **
10. Edge vs. Alberto del Rio – World Heavyweight Championship match (WrestleMania XXVII)
What better way to start off WrestleMania than with a match for the World Heavyweight Championship? Fresh off his win at the 2011 Royal Rumble, Del Rio was one of the hottest heels in the company. He had an elaborate entrance involving priceless cars and his own personal ring announcer. The Mexican aristocrat was primed for good things, and his first big test was against the multi-time champion, Edge to kick off the show. Despite working with a severe injury that would cause him to retire just days later, Edge was primed and ready to go for this match, and the pair put on a fun match to open the show. Edge was seconded by his former tag team partner, Christian, and kept his title, only to retire as champion the following week, adding an emotional element to rewatches of the match.
9. Chris Jericho vs. William Regal – Intercontinental Title Match (WrestleMania X-Seven)
Just days after the WWF purchased chief rival WCW, the company highlighted why they won the war by putting two former WCW wrestlers whose careers flourished after they jumped ship to the WWF in the late-1990s. Jericho and Regal were good choices to get the Houston, Texas crowd fired up. Regal, serving as Commissioner at the time, was doing whatever he could to dethrone Jericho, who had become a thorn in his side. The match lived up to the enjoyable build, as Y2J managed to overcome his British rival to keep his title.
8. AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon (WrestleMania 33)
Since debuting in WWE two years ago, AJ Styles has set out to prove that he’s one of the best wrestlers in the world – a monicker many would never bestow on him without proving it on the largest possible stage. Opening up last year’s WrestleMania against Shane McMahon, the 47-year-old son of owner Vince McMahon, Styles may have done it. Styles and McMahon had, in my opinion, the best match of the night right off the bat. McMahon’s more chaotic match style meshed perfectly with AJ’s and the match had an intensity that kept the crowd into it for 20 minutes.
7. The Shield vs. Big Show, Randy Orton and Sheamus (WrestleMania NY/NJ)
The trio of Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns took WWE by storm when they debuted at the 2012 Survivor Series. After months of coming down through the crowd and attacking people, The Shield were put in the 2013 opener against three former world champions and they cemented themselves as the future of the company. The match didn’t need to be long, and the 10-minute match allowed the three future world champions to dominate WWE mainstays to get the win.
6. Money in the Bank ladder match (WrestleMania 25)
The fifth Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania – which guaranteed the winner a title shot whenever and wherever they chose – kicked off the 2008 edition with a showcase for former champion CM Punk, who won the match the previous year. Put in the ring with high-flyers like Kofi Kingston and Shelton Benjamin, great overall workers like Christian, Finlay and MVP and brutes like Kane and Mark Henry, the Money in the Bank briefcase could have gone to any of them. Well, maybe not Finlay… In the end, Punk climbed the ladder, threw a vicious series of kicks to Kane and unlatched the briefcase to win the match for a second year in a row.
5. Intercontinental Title Ladder Match (WrestleMania 32)
The second of three ladder matches on the list, as WWE clearly felt like the frenetic action of guys using ladders to jump off of and attack their opponents was a pretty great way to get the crowd excited. Champion Kevin Owens and his feud with Sami Zayn was the highlight of the match, but Zayn hitting a suplex on Owens into the ladder was a pretty scary spot, and effectively ended the champ’s participation in the match. Dolph Ziggler, The Miz, Sin Cara and Stardust all tried to fill the void, but in the end, lovable underdog Zack Ryder climbed the ladder and won the title in a pretty great WrestleMania Moment.
4. The Rockers vs. Haku & The Barbarian (WrestleMania VII)
In 1991, Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty had established themselves as gatekeepers of the WWF tag team division – having a good match with them could mean good things for the future. Haku and The Barbarian were two brutes from the Heenan Family thrown together to give the high-flyers a challenge. You wouldn’t think they’d be able to have such a great match, but the future Faces of Fear were ridiculously agile for their frames. All four men kept the Los Angeles crowd excited and set the stage for a pretty underrated WrestleMania.
3. Intercontinental Title Ladder Match (WrestleMania 31)
This match was all about Daniel Bryan’s return to the ring after he vacated the Undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Title due to injury the previous summer. Fans were still invested in Bryan and seeing him back in action upped the enthusiasm for the match. Of course, he had good dance partners in champion Wade Barrett, Dean Ambrose, Dolph Ziggler, R-Truth, Stardust and Luke Harper. But seeing Bryan climb the ladder to win the Intercontinental Title, though, made the match something special.
2. Bret “Hitman” Hart vs. “The Rocket” Owen Hart (WrestleMania X)
The Hitman was set for a WWF Title match against champion Yokozuna to close out the 1994 edition of WrestleMania, but first he had to go to battle with his younger brother, Owen. The Rocket had developed a chip on his shoulder after being in his brother’s shadow for so long and was determined to prove that he was the best Hart. The siblings meshed perfectly in the ring, and it was clear from early on that the match would be a classic. When Owen stunned his big brother with a counter to a victory roll to pin Bret’s shoulder’s down for the three-count, everyone in New York’s Madison Square Garden knew they had seen something special. In fact, this match would stand as the best opened in WrestleMania history for 20 years, until…
1. Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan (WrestleMania XXX)
Bryan had been working to prove himself as more than just a “B-Plus Player” – the chiding monicker given to him by Triple H and his wife Stephanie McMahon – for close to a year, and every time he touched the main event, the Authority found a way to screw with him. Fans had gotten behind the “YES! Movement” and were chomping at the bit for Bryan to have his opportunity to win the WWE Title, and he had to get through Triple H to earn a shot at the evening’s main event. The tension in the match was palpable, and both men were game to give it their best. When Bryan finally hit Triple H with a running knee to put down the WWE chief operating officer and former champion, the reaction rivaled the one when Bryan won the title later in the evening.
That’s all for the first installment of WrestleMania Week! Check back tomorrow for the Top 10 World Title Matches!