Welcome to the return of I Have ‘Til 5, the column where I watch five Pro Wrestling matches then write about them. As it’s Wrestlemania season I thought it would be a good time to check out some matches from Wrestlemanias past. Usually I’d pick five matches myself but with such a broad selection of famous matches available I asked for suggestions on Twitter and Facebook and this is what I was provided with. To make life easier (in a way) all matches are available on the WWE network.
Shawn Michaels Vs Razor Ramon (Ladder Match)- Wrestlemania X
So first up is one of the most famous Wrestlemania matches and the original Ladder from which all others were created. Actually I did some research and it turns out this wasn’t even the first Ladder match in WWE as that was in 1992 between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels but wasn’t aired on television at the time, so I guess this was the wider audiences first exposure to one in WWE. So the story here was that they were both calling themselves Intercontinental Champion and each had a belt so a Ladder Match was the most obvious way to settle that because they’d have to climb and get both belts. Firstly in 1994 Shawn Michaels still made a great entrance. Also Razor Ramon’s sheer amount of swagger was just great. So it’s said at the start of the match there are no rules but Diesel, who was Michaels bodyguard at the time, clotheslines Ramon on the outside and is evicted from ringside ad he goes. Bit of wrestling logic there. The difference with these guys doing this match is they do a normal match for a while, not even teasing a ladder. When the ladder does come into play it’s Ramon getting hit by Michaels baseball sliding into it. Then after that a full on hit to Ramon with it. Ramon gets hit more with the ladder, Lawler’s estimate is it weights eighty to one hundred pounds then Michaels throws the ladder at Ramon. Michaels’ makes the first climb and gets his tights pulled down to prevent him, bare ass and all. After that Michaels hits a splash off the top of the ladder. I am amazed at how much they are throwing out here and early on too. Speaking of which there’s then a bump off the ladder on to the ropes for Michaels after Ramon pushes the ladder. Again for something that hadn’t been seen before they are throwing everything at it. Michaels ability to bump like a maniac is at its best here as he bounces off the ladder in the corner and out of the ring. The crowd are going mental as there’s a spot where Michaels goes off the top rope to knock Ramon off the ladder and I don’t blame them. Classic both men go up ladder then punches are thrown but Ramon powerslams Michaels over the other side of the ladder, wow! The Ladder’s a bit twisted and broken by this point but they only seem to have one so I guess that’s one lesson learnt in the years since. Finish comes as Ramon knocks Michaels off the ladder and he gets tangled in the ropes allowing Ramon to climb and get the belts.
I’ve got to say I am amazed at what they do in this match. Considering it was the first televised Ladder match for the WWE so anything would have been new and impressive, they went all out. There are spots and moments that would be impressive today let alone in 1994 and the first match of its type. Nothing was excessive or out of place though so while it was ground breaking it fit in the times and didn’t feel out of place. Big recommendation to go watch this if you have never seen it, as shock factor aside, it’s legitimately a great match.
Bret Hart Vs Steve Austin (Submission Match)- Wrestlemania 13
So this is another almost legendary match and while we’ve all seen the images of Austin in the sharpshooter and know how the match ends, I don’t really know anything about the rest of the match, so this should be interesting at the very least. I watched the promo video before this match and while not as slick as todays stuff by the end I wa caught up with what was going on here and more imortabtly understood why each man needed to win and the importance of this match, something that doesn’t happen enough today. the only thing I don’t understand is why Ken Shamrock is special guest referee but whatever. So entrances are happening and while I love the glass actually shattering in the entrance way before Austin the crowd aren’t going mental for him but that matches with this being one of the matches of Austin’s climb to the top. Crowd are very into Hart though and prime Bret Hart carried himself like a Star. Austin goes for Hart before the bell rings and the match starts perfectly for two guys that hate each other with a passion. This is currently a fight on the outside and they go over the railing. It’s weird now to see two guys fighting really deep into the crowd with only Ken Shamrock holding the public back. I guess that’s all you need though. Event security catch up but wow they’re late. For a brawl Austin ends up surprisingly on the back foot and they eventually get back to the ring area. For a guy known for holds Bret throws really good punches. Vince McMahon, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler, who are the announce team here, are trying their best to play up Bret as the heel here. Austin gets the upper hand and cut to child covering their eyes. Finally start with some submission holds and cut to Stu Hart looking teary. Austin throws Bret outside the ring and gets booed, split crowd, which kind of makes sense. Back to the outside and brawling and Austin gets busted open on the railing. Wow, Austin is bleeding a lot and boos and cheers for Bret. Bret goes back to the knees with a chair then tries for a sharpshooter but fought off. Bret’s throwing puches so Austin kicks him in the nuts. Faces and heels were starting to get a grey area in 1997. Corner stomps, middle finger and suplerplex come out, stuff of the Stone Cold I know. Austin starts choking Bret with a power cord but Bret waffles him with the ring bell. Bret locks on the sharp shooter and here we go with the iconic closing sequence. Austin actually breaks it at one point but it goes right back on. Austin passes out and Shamrock calls it. Bret then goes for an attack on Austin but Ken Shamrock throws him across the ring. Kind of weird that the referee is made out to be a bigger threat than either Bret or Austin but okay. A random ref comes out to help Austin but gets a stunner so JR calls him a man’s man. Really grey area by 1997. Austin staggers out on one leg and a bloodied face and this is what got Austin majorly over from this. The announcers make a big deal that Austin didn’t submit, the amount he bled and that the fans were chanting for him.
So the famous finish is great but actually it’s not as dramatic as I thought it would be. That doesn’t take away from it but I think it’s revered so much these days you imagine it bigger. The match itself is really good and maybe a little underrated because of the finish and I think the whole thing helped get Austin over, not just the finish. It’s also matches like this that you need to watch if you think Bret Hart was just a load of Submissions.
The Undertaker Vs Kane- Wrestlemania 14
So this one caught my eye in the suggestions as I expect it to be very different from the others that I’m watching here. But Undertaker – Kane has gone down as a classic rivalry and this was there first and major meeting the first time round so there must be something to this. Watching the promo video and a couple things, firstly Paul Bearer was brilliant at selling this stuff and secondly, it was a cool twist that Undertaker refused to fight him for a while. But for all the intensity of the rivalry Kane came out and tombstoned guest ring announcer Pete Rose after he mocked the crowd. Crowd loved it though and are hyped to hell for everything as Undertaker comes out with druids and opera music and it does look amazing. They need to do this for his entrance at 33, damn. It kicks off as a brawl but there’s then some cool power moves from Kane, making it clear he’s stronger than Undertaker, which is always a big deal when Taker has occasionally come up against those kind of guys. Taker sells it well too looking like he’s getting the crap beaten out of him. It’s easy to forget now but in his prime Undertaker could move amazingly well for a near seven foot tall guy, flipping up on Kane’s shoulders at one point. Bonus point to Kane for holding him like that. We get some outside brawling with steel steps and even Paul Bearer gets some shots in on Taker. He’s great, weird, but great. Kane goes to sleeper holds on Taker which are a bit of a weird fit for a match like this. They make up for it though when Taker goes for a dive to the outside which is never going to hit Kane but sees him go straight through the announce table. I don’t care what JR says Kane didn’t have to sidestep anything. Back to a brawl after that then a really cool closing sequence of Taker having to throw three tombstone piledrivers at Kane to beat him. Post match attack by Kane with a chair so combined with how strong Kane looked in this match, it ensured it carried on past Mania.
This was actually a good, fun match. What happened in the ring was tied to and complimented the overall story but when it’s that build up and batshit crazy that’s a good thing. If you’re looking for a technical classic or absolute epic don’t worry about this but this is definitely an important Undertaker match, especially as I think it was his first match against a bigger guy that was good.
TLC II- Wrestlemania X7
In the interest of full disclosure this is the only match on this list I’ve seen before and it’s one of my favourite matches ever. As the teams make their way out the sound of Jim Ross and Paul Heyman announcing is just the best. I’m not going to say anymore about that and focus on the match but in my opinion they were the best announce team there’s been. Bell rings and the teams start brawling with Edge and Christian taken out first and teams hitting some of their signature stuff. Ladder comes into play quickly with a couple of head shots then a chair, not wasting any time. One nice detail is Edge then Matt Hardy go for the belts early on, trying to actually win the match quickly. The ONE thing I don’t like about this match now happens where the Dudleys stack up a load of tables for no real apparent reason than to set up a later spot. I’d be more critical but it’s going to be one hell of a spot. Everyone goes up on ladders now going for the belts, they all get to the top, brawl then the ladders tip with bodies crashing to the mat and onto the ropes with Christian hitting the floor from the top. That is going to hurt. Spike Dudley comes out now and Dudley dogs Edge then Christian threw a table off the ring apron! Rhyno now comes out and starts killing anything that moves then gores Matt through a table. Now Lita out and stops Edge getting the belts but is stopped by Rhyno. So just when it might slow down a bit, they throw more bodies in so every team is one person up, I just love it! Lita wraps a chair around Spike Dudley’s head, takes her top off then gets a 3D. 2001! Now the amazing spot where Jeff Hardy hits a Swanton Bomb off a giant ladder to Rhyno and Spike through tables. D-Von and Christian hanging from the belts now, they fall and Jeff Hardy is walking across Ladders to the belts but falls because that was never going to work. Gets back up hangs off the belts and now the mother of all spots as Edge spears him out of mid air! They replay it multiple times and it looks worse and better all at the same time. The table construct comes into play as Matt and Bubba go off the top of a ladder in the ring through them. Okay they’re out. Christian rides Rhyno’s shoulders up the ladder to get the belts and win TLC II. Damn.
I would make the argument that is the best ladder match ever and generally one of the best pro wrestling matches of that style ever. Yes, it devolves quickly to one high spot after another but when the spots are that good I just don’t care.
Shawn Michaels Vs The Undertaker- Wrestlemania 25
So this is considered one of the best matches out there, frequently topping Wrestlemania and all-time countdowns but I have to confess I’ve never seen it before so it’s time to find out why. First thing to note is the Streak was a major thing by this point which has to be noted as it makes an impact in believing that Undertaker’s opponents have a chance at Wrestlemania. Michaels’ entrance is awesome, in fact both are awesome as this was before Undertaker’s started to feel a bit long winded. Straight into the match and it’s a pretty quick pace from these guys, with good intensity. That’s impressive as they would have been well within their rights in a match like this to go for a slow build. Already setting out a good match as Michaels focuses on Takers leg after he hurts hit with a missed big boot culminating in Michaels applying a figure four. It’s those little touches I love as at the previous years Mania Michaels had retired Ric Flair, who’s signature move was the figure four. They move to the outside and Michaels’ misses a Twisting moonsault off the top rope to the outside which looks and sounds like it hurt. A lot. This is then followed up by them switching places as Undertaker goes for his no hands dive over the top rope to the outside which incredible. Michaels’ gets out the way and pulls the cameraman into the way which is awesome just on the basis that I’ve never seen it before. The referee was also taken out when Michael’s pushed him out of the way too so Michaels gets him up to start counting Taker out. This is where the quality of the work and psychology hit another level as Michaels desperation and need to win really become apparent. The trade off for the top level selling and story telling is that the work rate slows down to a crawl and what there is starts to become trading finishers and each man kicking out of them. Critically, and this is the most important part of this thing though, by the time they’re done it seems they have the crowd believing that Michaels can win as they’re buying the near falls and at 16-0 with the Streak being a major thing that was no easy feat. After everything, including the last ride being rolled out, the end comes with a cool reversal into a tombstone for Taker to go 17-0.
Okay, so I get why this match is held in high regard, this match tells a story of Shawn Michaels increasing desperation and need to win, willing to do anything to achieve that and the stacked odds against him in The Undertaker and his near invincible aura at Wrestlemania. They allow everything to breathe, despite the repeated kickouts the quality of the way they sell everything makes you believe any moment in the closing stretch could be it for either man. That being said the slow down in the final third was a bit much for me but that’s a minor complaint, it’s an excellent match and well worth seeing.
These matches were just a taste of thirty two editions of Wrestlemania and I was fortunate that the suggestions made were kind and all were good to excellent matches. They’re not representative of Wrestlemania overall as there has been some total dumpster fires but what it does show is that if you’re looking for some of the biggest matches in history in terms of stage and level of star then you need to look at Wrestlemania. At the same time though if you’re looking for some of the best matches ever, either high quality pro wrestling matches or more hardcore, gimmick stuff you could do worse than some of these matches here.