Sunday, July 21, 2024

WrestleMania 40: WWE’s greatest moments from each of WrestleMania’s first four decades

WWE’s WrestleMania 40 comes to Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday and Sunday. Ahead of the historic event, WWE business is red-hot, managing to build momentum despite Vince McMahon recently resigning from the company in disgrace after another round of allegations of sexual abuse.

Much of that momentum has come from The Rock returning to WWE, where he’s now set to team with Roman Reigns to take on Cody Rhodes and Seth Rollins in the main event of WrestleMania Night 1. But The Rock’s return is just one reason this year is setting up to produce several legendary moments as WrestleMania enters its fourth decade.

WrestleMania has produced so many classic moments since the event debuted in 1985, often signifying massive shifts in the business.

With that in mind, and with such a historic event coming up, we looked back to identify the most significant moment from each decade of WrestleManias so far.

WrestleMania 1-10: Hulk Hogan bodyslams Andre The Giant at WrestleMania III

In all honesty, the most significant moment of the first 10 WrestleManias is the moment WrestleMania I went live on March 31, 1985. It was a moment that forever changed the entire industry. But when considering an individual moment from the first decade of pay-per-views, the image that always stands out is that of Hulk Hogan bodyslamming Andre the Giant in the main event of WrestleMania III.

WrestleMania III was a massive success, even if WWE and Hogan himself have attempted to overly mythologize the event by inflating the paid attendance numbers and Hogan repeatedly claiming Andre was 700 pounds that night — among other Hogan lies about the match — but nearly four decades later, the image of Hogan scooping Andre up and hitting the leg drop to retain the WWF championship remains a staple of WWE highlight packages and is a moment that signifies wrestling’s boom period in the 1980s like no other.

Hogan was, of course, the star upon whom Vince McMahon focused the company as he expanded WWF and dismantled wrestling’s territory system. Andre was the perfect foil for Hogan, a friend-turned-enemy who, even with his body broken down by 1987, was such a unique presence that a simple 12-minute match with Hogan still stands out as one of the biggest matches in company history.

WrestleMania 11-20: The Steve Austin and Bret Hart double-turn at WrestleMania 13

There are so many amazing moments and matches from this stretch of WrestleManias, but the majority of them can’t happen if Austin and Hart don’t execute a near-perfect match and double-turn at WrestleMania 13. Austin vs. Shawn Michaels (with Mike Tyson as guest referee) at WrestleMania XIV was certainly in the running as Austin winning his first WWF championship truly cemented the Attitude Era.

But if Austin and Hart didn’t play their parts so well in their submission match a year earlier, the ripple effects could have changed everything. Maybe Austin still goes on to become “the guy” anyway but it’s hard to see things being quite so hot without Austin vs. Hart.

Fans were already buying into Austin as an antihero and Hart, the longtime babyface who helped WWF endure some dark years, was losing the fans and unraveling as everything was suddenly going against him. After previous meetings where the two men were shown to be each other’s equals, with Austin even proving he could go hold-for-hold with Hart, WrestleMania 13 was a fight. And Hart went to dark places in that fight to get the job done, eventually forcing special referee Ken Shamrock to stop the match after a bloody Austin passed out in Hart’s sharpshooter. The image of Austin, face covered in blood, pushing off the mat and screaming while Hart pulled back on his legs sits alongside Hogan slamming Andre as one of WWE’s most iconic moments of all time.

The match, which is one of the best in wrestling history and the best in WrestleMania history (apologies to fans of Michaels vs. The Undertaker), was not about who won, it was about Austin proving himself as a top guy and Hart proving the depths to which he was willing to go to get the win.

Matches don’t get any better than Austin vs. Hart, and they are rarely more important for the direction of the business.

WrestleMania 21-30: Brock Lesnar ends The Undertaker’s streak at WrestleMania XXX

The Undertaker’s legendary “streak” of WrestleMania wins was not originally planned. Instead, WWE realized at some point that Undertaker had an undefeated record at the biggest event of the year and capitalized by making him nearly invincible whenever WrestleMania rolled around.

Eventually, it seemed as though The Undertaker would simply never lose a WrestleMania match. It became something of a given in the later years of “The Streak” that Undertaker would show up, put on a match anywhere from good to great and have his hand raised once again.

When The Undertaker and Lesnar were set to meet, it figured to be more of the same. Yes, Lesnar was a dominant force in WWE, but The Undertaker’s streak was synonymous with WrestleMania, and 2014 marked the 30th installment of the event. What could make more sense than The Undertaker improving to 22-0 on wrestling’s grandest stage?

It was not to be, however, and after Lesnar hit his third F-5 of the match and the referee completed the three count, the result was a stunned audience struggling to understand the result as 21-1 flashed on the screens throughout New Orleans’ Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

While The Undertaker would have a few more matches at WrestleMania as he wound down his career, Lesnar pulling off the win signaled the end of an era for one of WWE’s greatest superstars.

WrestleMania 31-39: Covid ushers in the era of two-night WrestleMania events

A global pandemic impacts every part of the world, including the entertainment industry. Ahead of WrestleMania 36 in 2020, WWE was forced to begin holding events from inside the promotion’s Performance Center in Orlando with no fans in attendance. This carried over to WrestleMania, which was taped over several days to limit the number of wrestlers in the building at any time. The event then aired over two nights, making it the first two-night WrestleMania.

Many fans had long been pushing for WWE to extend WrestleMania to two nights. Loaded shows could burn live crowds out as they stretched for hours upon hours. It was an unfortunate situation that led to WWE finally going in the two-night direction, but once live crowds returned, the promotion never looked back, with every WrestleMania since following the same two-night formula.

WrestleMania 36 will forever stand out as the most unique show in company history. It was surreal to see such a major event in a small building with no crowd and many matches suffered from not having fans feeding into the energy. At the same time, WWE experimented with “cinematic matches,” which were more like short films than traditional wrestling matches. The two WrestleMania 36 cinematic matches are the most fondly remembered, with the late Bray Wyatt taking on John Cena in a surreal Firefly Fun House Match and The Undertaker defeating AJ Styles in a Boneyard Match. The latter was later revealed to be “The Deadman’s” retirement match.

While the circumstances were far from ideal, WrestleMania 36 changed WrestleMania seemingly forever.

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