Off the Bottom Rope
SoCal WrestleManias: The Top Ten Matches (and Bottom 5)
WrestleMania, pro wrestling’s grand showcase, returns to southern California on April 1 and 2 at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.
It is the sixth time the WWE has held the event in the Los Angeles area (and the seventh time in California).
This year, Roman Reigns defends his WWE and Universal championships against Cody Rhodes in the main event.
WrestleMania SoCal History
The second WrestleMania in 1986 was held in three different cities — Uniondale, New York; suburban Chicago and at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Four matches took place live in Los Angeles, highlighted by the main event — Hulk Hogan extracting revenge against King Kong Bundy in the “big blue” steel cage.
The event also featured an assortment of celebrities. Elvira, a 1980s throwback, provided guest commentary; tough-guy actor Robert Conrad operated as special referee; then-kid actor Ricky Schroeder was the guest timekeeper; and Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda was the guest ring announcer.
The WWF planned WrestleMania VII in 1991 at the massive Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. The plan was to sell 90,000 tickets for the main event of Hogan attempting to regain the WWF heavyweight championship — plus defend the honor of America — against champion and Iraqi-sympathizer Sergeant Slaughter.
Ticket sales never panned out, and the event was moved to the smaller LA Sports Arena. One reason, long debunked, was that security concerns at the height of the Iraq War forced the move.
Willie Nelson opened the show with “America, The Beautiful.” (There were several wrestling legends seen partying with Nelson on his tour bus.)
While Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter was the main event, Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage was the best match on a rather blah undercard.
WrestleMania XII in 1996 featured Shawn Michaels in his Iron Man victory over Bret Hart. The event took place at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. Perhaps the most memorable match was a brawl between Goldust and Rowdy Roddy Piper.
Part of the Piper-Goldust fight was taped the day before, which featured a highway chase. The WWF substituted footage of the O.J. chase tongue-in-cheek. The match picked up live when Piper and Goldust crashed into each other at the arena and remained fighting toward the ring.
Four years later, WrestleMania 2000 returned to Anaheim. the WWF was so hot, that not even the absence of three of its top stars because of injury — Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, and The Undertaker — cooled things off.
The card itself was lackluster. The main event was a Fatal Four-way bout for the WWF championship, billed as “a McMahon in every corner.”
Champ Triple H, with wife Stephanie McMahon Helmsley, outlasted The Rock (with Mr. McMahon), The Big Show (with Shane McMahon), and Mick Foley (with Linda McMahon).
The last LA WrestleMania took place at Staples Center in 2005. Fresh off his Royal Rumble victory in Fresno, Batista captured his first world championship, defeating Triple H.
John Cena also captured the WWE championship (the name changed in 2002) from John Bradshaw Layfield. WWE sent a message that Batista and Cena were the new leaders.
The card also featured the first Money in the Bank ladder match, and a sumo match between legit grand champion Akebono and The Big Show.
Top 10 Southern California WrestleMania Matches
1. The Ultimate Warrior d. Randy Savage in a career-ending match (WrestleMania VII).
Perhaps the greatest match of his career, Warrior defeated Macho Man with their careers at stake in a 20-minute intensity-filled bout. Just months earlier, Savage cost Warrior the WWF championship. The WWF wasn’t big enough for both of them.
The drama built with shots of Elizabeth, Savage’s long-since jettisoned manager and supporter, watching anxiously in the crowd. Future president — of America, not the WWF — Donald Trump watched from the front row. His wife at the time, Marla Maples, was a guest interviewer.
“The emotional flow of this match is unbelievable,” broadcaster Gorilla Monsoon said.
Savage looked to end the match by nailing Warrior with five top-rope elbow drops in a row. Warrior came back, and pinned Savage with one foot on Macho Man’s chest.
After the match, Savage’s manager, Queen Sherri, attacked him. Elizabeth emerged from the crowd saving her man. Fans literally shed tears at Savage-Liz reuniting.
Watching this match again, my eyes welled up.
Savage and Elizabeth “married” five months later (Randy Poffo and Elizabeth had been married for seven years at that point). The “forever” retirement lasted only eight months.
2. Kurt Angle d. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 21).
Were Michaels and Angle two of the best in-ring (and maybe overall) superstars of their generation? This match would certainly indicate yes. If there was a perfect match, this could be it.
The match mixed mat wrestling, high flying, brawling, and a table spot. The 27-minute match saw Angle and Michaels trade the advantage, taking the fans on a roller coaster ride.
The drama built as Angle had Michaels trapped in his patented ankle lock submission. It appeared Michaels would escape, but eventually tapped out.
3. Edge & Christian d. The Dudley Boyz/The Hardy Boyz in a triangle ladder match to win the WWF tag team championship (WrestleMania 2000).
If Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels established the ladder match, these three teams revolutionized the art form. The three took death-defying stunts to new heights.
The match featured multiple ladders, tables, and lots of dangerous falls.
Perhaps the most dangerous stunt was Jeff Hardy’s swanton bomb, putting Buh-Buh Ray Dudley through a table.
4. Rey Mysterio d. Eddie Guerrero (WrestleMania 21).
Whenever Mysterio and Guerrero battled, it was always a great contest. Their Los Angeles match lived up to expectations — fast-paced, lots of near falls, and a building drama. At the time, Guerrero and Mysterio were WWE tag team championship partners.
Mysterio won with a pin combination following a huricanrana. If there was a drawback, it lasted only 13 minutes.
5. Batista d. Triple H for the world heavyweight championship (WrestleMania 21).
It was the mentor vs. student, now vs. next. Batista won the Royal Rumble, earning him a title shot. Both Batista and Triple H were in the faction Evolution. Batista could have opted to face JBL for the WWE championship at WrestleMania. Instead, he chose Triple H.
Fans were solidly behind “The Animal” as he overcame Ric Flair (seconding Triple H) and a belt shot to the head. Batista bloodied up Triple H, and finished the match with the Batista Bomb. The fans exploded for the 1-2-3.
6. Undertaker d. Randy Orton (WrestleMania 21).
Randy Orton became the 13th victim of The Undertaker’s streak. But Orton may have been the youngest, most athletic and brashest opponent to date.
The match saw Orton’s father — Cowboy Bob Orton, Mayor Jerry Dyer’s favorite wrestler — interfere on his son’s behalf. Not even an RKO could keep the Deadman down. Orton attempted a tombstone piledriver. Undertaker reversed it into a tombstone of his own for the pin.
7. Edge wins a six-man Money in the Bank ladder match (WrestleMania 21).
This was the first-ever Money in the Bank match. The goal of the match was to grab a briefcase dangling from the ceiling. The winner would receive a title match.
Money in the Bank matches were car crash events. Lots of high-risk bumps that shortened careers. The talent in the match was off the charts — Edge, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Christian, Shelton Benjamin, and Kane.
Watching MITB matches can be frustrating. Timing can be off so wrestlers have to improvise fumbling and bumbling around on the ladder, waiting for an opponent to toss them off.
There will never be another first. And the talent alone made it one of the best MITB and SoCal WrestleMania matches.
8. Undertaker d. Diesel (WrestleMania XII).
In the prior months, The Undertaker and Diesel cost each other a chance to win the WWF championship. They would settle their grudge at WrestleMania in Anaheim.
Both big men came through big time, hitting their big moves. In the slugfest, Diesel nailed The Undertaker with two jackknife power bombs. Undertaker rose up, chokeslammed Diesel and finished him with a tombstone piledriver.
9. Iron Man match for the WWF heavyweight championship: Shawn Michaels d. Bret Hart to win the title. (WrestleMania XII)
This is more about the historical nature than quality. It was the first televised Iron Man match (most decisions in a one-hour period) in WWF history.
Soccer hardcores may love 0-0 ties, but not so for wrestling fans. Neither champ Bret Hart nor Shawn Michaels scored a decision in one hour. The wrestling was slow-paced and cautious. Iron Man matches have evolved since. Earlier this month, Maxwell Jacob Friedman defeated Bryan Danielson in an AEW main event. Fans called the latter one of the best Iron Matches in history.
10. WWF heavyweight championship: Hulk Hogan d. King Kong Bundy in a steel cage match (WrestleMania 2).
The main event of WrestleMania 2 at the LA Sports Arena featured Hogan seeking revenge on the 400-plus pound Bundy. The “Walking Condominium” injured Hogan’s ribs a month before, and Hogan came into the ring taped up. The match featured the debut of the “big blue” steel cage. The match wasn’t great from a technical artform perspective. But, it’s Hulkamania running wild.
After getting rammed into the cage, Bundy bled. Bundy worked on the ribs, but Hogan made his trademark comeback. Hogan ascended the cage to escape and win the match.
The Bottom 5
5. Hulk Hogan d. Sgt. Slaughter for the WWF championship (WrestleMania VII).
By 1991, Hulk Hogan’s act had grown stale. If you’ve seen one Hulk Hogan match, you’ve seen them all. He starts strong, the bad guy gets the advantage, Hogan “hulks up,” foot to the face, legdrop, 1-2-3.
This time, Hogan defended the honor of America against patriot-turned-Iraqi sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter. The WWF thought this match could sell 90,000 tickets. Instead the venue was switched, and it drew 15,000.
4. Akebono d. The Big Show in a sumo match (WrestleMania 21).
Akebono was the legitimate sumo grand champion. Both men were (are) huge. So, watching two men of that stature in mawashis isn’t the prettiest site.
The two men battled in a true sumo rules match. Big Show was able to physically lift the 500-pound Akebono, but could not toss him out of the sumo circle. Akebono used Show’s momentum to toss him out and win the match.
3. The Legion of Doom d. Power & Glory (WrestleMania VII).
This match was victim of a show running long, and being placed late in the card. Hawk & Animal won in 59 seconds in a rushed match. Not a bad pay per minute.
2. Terri d. The Kat (WrestleMania 2000).
This was all T&A and haha. Both women were scantily clad, and the joke of the match was both women (and senior citizen Mae Young) kissing guest referee Val Venis.
Fortunately, it was short.
1. Adrian Adonis d. Uncle Elmer (WrestleMania 2).
How bad was this match? Elmer was so uncoordinated when he punched Adonis, it was Elmer that fell down. Guest broadcaster Elvira made fun of how fat both men were. Was she wrong?