WWE 2K14: 15 Most Memorable Matches from 30 Years of WrestleMania Mode

David Bixenspan@davidbixFeatured ColumnistOctober 29, 2013

WWE 2K14: 15 Most Memorable Matches from 30 Years of WrestleMania Mode

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    WWE 2K14, the first WWE video game from 2K Sports, was just released Tuesday for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. Taking cues from last year's "Attitude Era" mode, this year's single player campaign is "30 Years of WrestleMania," in which you re-enact 46 of the most memorable matches in the event's history with accurate costumes, arenas, moves, etc.

    From there, the topic of discussion is obvious: Which of these matches are the best? I tried to narrow it down to 15, so let's count them down.

    Please note: Only matches in the game are included.

Honorable Mentions: Memorable but Not Technically Great Wrestling Matches

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    From the "Hulkamania Running Wild Era":

    Andre The Giant vs. Big John Studd (WrestleMania - $15,000 Bodyslam Challenge, Andre Must Retire if he loses): The only match from the first WrestleMania that's available in the game.  It's not long and not much happens, but the finish and post-match scene are a very famous WrestleMania moment.  From a video game perspective, this lets you play in an old-school, not dressed up for TV version of Madison Square Garden.

    Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant (WrestleMania III): Not a technically great match, but one of the biggest drawing, most famous, and obviously most memorable.  Aside from Hogan infamously attempting to piledrive Andre so he can get back bodydropped, the ring psychology is impeccable, and both do an amazing job playing to the camera with their facial expressions and the back of the Silverdome with their body language.

    From the "Attitude Era":

    Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Big Show vs. Mick Foley (WrestleMania 2000): While a disappointing match, it was the main event of a huge WrestleMania as business was peaking and had a famous hook with "a McMahon in every corner" (Stephanie, Vince, Shane, and Linda respectively).  It was also the first time a heel won the WrestleMania main event, something that only happened one other time, when The Miz beat John Cena at WrestleMania XXVII.

15. The Undertaker vs. Triple H (WrestleMania XXVIII: Hell in a Cell)

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    The previous year, the story was Undertaker barely defeating Triple H after beating the hell out of him.  This time out, Triple H would try to prove he deserved the win inside Hell in a Cell with Shawn Michaels, conflicted over being unable to stop 'Taker himself, as guest referee.

    This was a lot different from their first match, in which they cut a crazy pace for 10 minutes before the parade of nearfalls with long periods of selling in between.  This time, it was a pure storytelling match with a lot of smoke and mirrors.

    There's nothing wrong with that, though: This is a great match, and the big nearfall is among the best "edge of your seat" WrestleMania moments: 'Taker angers Michaels, so Michaels superkicks him and he turns into the Pedigree...for two.

    They went on a crazy roller coaster ride from there, but 'Taker still came out on top with his streak intact, and all three participants celebrated together.

14. The Undertaker vs. CM Punk (WrestleMania XXIX)

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    To the live crowd at the most recent WrestleMania in the ongoing "Universe Era," this was the real main event.  While the Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H and Rock vs. John Cena rematches were higher on the card, this was the matchup of the hardcore WWE fans' current favorite (Punk) and favorite legend (Undertaker).  As disappointing as the urn-centric buildup was, it didn't matter when the match was over.

    While Undertaker has slowed down, Punk made up for it athletically, doing a great job with the counter sequences and getting big air on the move of the match, a top rope elbow drop through the announcers' table.  All things considered, 'Taker looked good, too, holding his own during the elaborate counter sequence at the end.

     Their timing, body language, and facial expressions, were top notch, as evidenced by the other two most memorable moments in the match:

    1. Punk trying the Anaconda Vise, only for Undertaker to sit up and make the Angry Undertaker Face into the camera as Punk freaked out.
    2. Punk's big near fall, gesturing frantically at Paul Heyman to give him the urn so he could hit 'Taker with it and come close to the victory.

    A fine addition to the Undertaker canon.

13. The Rock vs. John Cena (WrestleMania XXVII)

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    "Once in a Lifetime" is how it was billed, the biggest match thus far in the "Universe Era."  While that didn't turn out to be true as they rematched this year, it was still a huge event.

    While a disappointing match since it was The Rock's first singles match in eight years and he got winded early, it was still a well-worked spectacle and a satisfying payoff to a very entertaining feud.  Their verbal duels had been a highlight of Raw for weeks and built well out of Cena's baiting of Rock for years in media interviews.

    While it doesn't quite stand up to some of the very best "clash of the titans" style WrestleMania matches, it will still go down in history for its impact.

12. The Rock vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (WrestleMania XIX)

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    The build-up to this match was simple: Austin and Rock were the top two stars of the "Attitude Era," but as the "Ruthless Aggression Era" started, Rock had never beaten Austin at WrestleMania, going 0-2.  He wanted to finally beat Austin on the biggest stage of them all.

    The Rock was a heel again this time, but the fans were split, as he was just too entertaining for the fans to completely hate him at this point.  In the ring, it was very similar to their match from two years earlier, right down to some of the key spots, but worked at a faster pace with better execution.

    Also: The Rock worked for several minutes in Austin's vest, which was an awesome heel move.

    In the end, The Rock hit three Rock Bottoms for the win and celebrated with his family.  Austin rode off into the sunset, as he decided to retire on a high note of one of his greatest career matches due to a number of injuries and other health issues.

11. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XIX)

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    One of the four big matches at the second WrestleMania of the "Ruthless Aggression Era," the story of the match was pretty simple: Jericho idolized Michaels when he broke in to wrestling and was going to outdo his hero by beating him.  He even showed a video that compared footage of both of them in 1990 that pointed out the similar outfits, hairstyles, and moves.

    Michaels had been a part-timer since returning several months earlier from his four year layoff at SummerSlam.  He was unsure what his future was when he had this match with Jericho, both as a performer and as far as the condition of his back went.  They went out and had one of the best matches of the night on a card with several great matches.

    The match ended up so good that it empowered Michaels, who returned full-time thanks to the strength of his performance and how great he felt coming out of the show.

10. Edge vs. Mick Foley (WrestleMania 22: Hardcore Match)

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    Or "the match with the spear through the flaming table," one of the most memorable moments of the "Ruthless Aggression Era."

    Mick Foley had largely been retired since 2000 and and was frustrated when 2006 rolled around: He'd had some amazing moments, including what he felt was his career match when he returned in 2004 to face Randy Orton.  Still, his WrestleMania matches had been relatively lackluster with nothing more than "very good."  He wanted a "WrestleMania moment."

    Edge attacked Foley after he felt a bad job as special referee cost him the WWE Championship, setting up a natural feud for WrestleMania season.  They had the most gory, violent match in WrestleMania history, everything you'd want from Foley coming out of retirement.  Then they took it further than anyone expected, as Lita took out a bottle of lighter fluid, set it ablaze, and Edge speared him off the apron through it for the pin.

    An amazing spectacle that words cannot do justice, but I hope nothing like it ever happens again.

9. Shawn Michaels vs. Ric Flair (WrestleMania XXIV: Flair's Career on the Line)

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    The initial build-up to this match, a co-main event at WrestleMania XXIV in 2008 (the last of the "Ruthless Aggression Era), was disappointing.  Initially planned as Flair snapping and declaring he'd retire the next time he lost a match, Vince McMahon just told him on Raw one night that he'd be forced out after his next loss.  Still, it picked up steam when Shawn Michaels got involved and they argued about whether or not Flair was like Old Yeller and needed to be put down.

    Aside from a crazy spot where Michaels crashed and burned on the announcers' table when attempting a moonsault, the bulk of the match was built around Flair tribute spots.  Whatever old trademark spots Flair had trouble pulling off, Michaels did them instead.

    The finishing stretch started when Michaels hit a superkick out of nowhere.  Flair recovered, but it was the beginning of the end, and when Flair was exhausted, barely able to stand, he begged Michaels to come at him.  Michaels sullenly looked at him, mouthed "I'm sorry.  I love you." and hit a second superkick for the pin.

    Not the greatest match in WrestleMania history, but certainly the most dramatic with one of the very best finishes.

8. The Rock vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (WrestleMania X-Seven: No DQ Match)

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    The peak and the end of the "Attitude Era," this was the main event of the most ordered wrestling PPV event ever in the United States (subsequent WrestleManias did better worldwide).  While these two had headlined the show two years earlier, this was their first meeting since Rock had eclipsed Austin as top star in 2000 during his recovery from spinal fusion surgery.

    Built up with an amazing video that made a Limp Bizkit song actually seem kind of cool, this match set the blueprint for the modern WrestleMania classic.  It's a half hour match that mixes up brawling, tons of near falls, and unexpected moments like stealing your opponent's finisher.

    And then came the finish.  In a no-DQ match, Austin couldn't put Rock away.  Vince McMahon showed up, handed Austin a chair, and he beat the hell out of The Rock with it to get the pin and regain the WWE Championship.  Austin sold his soul to the devil...in Texas!?!?!

    It says something about the match itself that it's so well-remembered in spite of the awful heel turn at the end.

7. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XII: 60-Minute Iron Man Match)

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    One of the most famous matches of the "New Generation Era," making it was a bold move at the time.  Not only was it the second babyface match to headline WrestleMania, but it was the first time WWE would be promoting a 60 minute Iron Man Match (a sometimes house show attraction) on television or pay-per-view.

    With Hart downplayed and Diesel having flopped as champion the previous year, Michaels had become the clear top babyface in WWE.  For his crowing moment, he was going to be presented as a serious athlete, the winner of the longest major match of the company's modern era.  The promos that led up to the match were largely training videos with Michaels and Hart at home with their mentors (Jose Lothario and Stu Hart, respectively).

    The match itself was an excellent one, but strangely disappointing, as it was an Iron Man Match with no falls.  It hurt the match's drama and sense of urgency, which led some people to underrate it at the time.  Unlike the rule set WWE used later (where a draw was a draw like in any other match and the champion retained), a draw wasn't considered a possibility.  WWE President Gorilla Monsoon restarted the match and Michaels won a quick sudden death overtime.

    "The boyhood dream has come true for Shawn Michaels!"

6. Bret Hart vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (WrestleMania XIII: Submission Match)

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    Steve Austin was quickly becoming one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE in early 1997.  There was just one problem: He was the company's top heel.  With arch-rival Bret Hart starting to get booed, a double-turn was orchestrated for their submission match at WrestleMania XIII, the last match of the "New Generation Era" included in WWE 2K14.

    While billed as a submission match with real life submission expert Ken Shamrock as referee, the no holds barred aspects of the match took over and it was a brawl the likes of which had never been seen before in WWE.  They used weapons, they brawled into the crowd and even past the boards defining the hockey rink, and the match started to reach its climax when Austin was busted open.

    With Austin weakened, Hart took over and secured the Sharpshooter.  Austin wouldn't give up, but he passed out, so Shamrock stopped the match.  Bret tried to go after Austin again, so Shamrock suplexed him off and they nearly came to blows.  When the dust cleared, Austin got up to a huge ovation and attacked the referees trying to help him.

    Oh, and by the way: The match was a fairly late addition when Shawn Michaels bowed out of the show due to a knee injury.  Hart vs. Michaels had been planned for the semi main event spot originally, and Austin was going to be in a mid-card match, probably against Davey Boy Smith.

5. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXVI: Streak vs. Career)

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    One of the greatest matches of what 2K is calling the "Universe Era," this is the match that really established The Undertaker's WrestleMania undefeated streak as something that produced an amazing match each year.  Sure, his previous three WrestleMania matches (vs. Batista, Edge, and Michaels) were all excellent, but the back to back incredible matches with Michaels elevated the streak to another level.

    Going into the match, Michaels was obsessed with getting another shot at ending the streak.  Undertaker held the World Heavyweight Championship at the beginning of the year, so Michaels entered the Royal Rumble to try to earn his shot, but was heartbroken when he was eliminated.  Desperate, he sneaked into the Eliminator Chamber and cost Undertaker the title.

    'Taker still wouldn't agree to the match, so Michaels offered up his career, and that was his ticket.

    Whether this or the previous match (which isn't in the game) is better comes down to personal preference.  The WrestleMania XXV match has more of the big near falls that have become signature moments in "Streak" matches, while this match has more of a traditional ongoing story with some big near falls near the end.  This match also has the more memorable finish, with Michaels refusing to stay down, slapping 'Taker, and being spiked with a jumping Tombstone.

    In many ways, this might be the best Undertaker WrestleMania match, and I'm glad it made the cut in WWE 2K14.

4. Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior (WrestleMania VI: Title vs. Title)

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    The first and only time a babyface match main evented WrestleMania in the "Hulkamania Running Wild Era," it's Hulk Hogan's crowning achievement as an in-ring wrestler.

    The Ultimate Warrior was a limited performer, to say the least, but the fans went crazy for him and he was moving a fair amount of merchandise.  WWE decided it was time to make him the Bob Backlund to Hogan's Bruno Sammartino, only with a direct passing of the torch instead of having a heel transition the WWE Championship to Warrior, whose Intercontinental Championship was also on the line.

    It quickly became clear that it was unwise for Warrior to run to the ring in the Toronto Skydome instead of using a ring-shaped cart to get there like everyone else did.  He was blown up, but Hogan was ready for that.  He knew exactly when to take time to let Warrior catch his breath and paced the match brilliantly, taking it up and down at exactly the right moments to control the crowd and Warrior's cardio.  Throw in a match meticulously laid out by Pat Patterson that had been rehearsed move for move, and you get a slickly-produced classic.

    The match and show end with one of the great WrestleMania moments.  Warrior takes the title with his big splash, Hogan hesitates to give his belt up, but his sense of sportsmanship overrides his pride and he hands over the belt as Warrior embraces with him.  The show goes off the air as Warrior, stripped of most of his face and body paint, holds up both belts on the second rope and fireworks go off.

3. The Rock vs. "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania X-8)

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    Nothing really tops this match for a crazy crowd reaction in a stadium setting.  Early in what's been classified as the "Ruthless Aggression Era," Hulk Hogan returned to WWE and this was his first major match back.  While the buildup was iffy (an amazing face-off between the two was ruined by the NWO smashing The Rock's car with a semi truck), the match more than made up for it.

    WrestleMania was in Toronto that year, which was one of WWE's hottest cities in the "Hulkamania Running Wild Era."  Between the locals and thousands of rabid fans who traveled from all over the world, Hogan was treated as the babyface in his first WrestleMania match in nine years.  The Rock went with the flow and worked as a subtle heel.

    While it wasn't the technical masterpiece that some of the other matches on this list were, they had a great match taken up several notches by the crowd.  This match might be the best possible example of why you can't watch wrestling matches in a vacuum: The context is key, as is the crowd reaction.

    After The Rock finished off Hogan, they showed respect for each other and ran off the NWO together.  This match took an otherwise bland WrestleMania to being one of the most memorable shows of all time.

2. "Macho Man" Randy Savage vs. Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat

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    The first real classic WrestleMania match and the first classic match of what 2K Sports is calling the "Hulkamania Running Wild Era," as well.

    A very memorable angle several months earlier set up one of the biggest matches on the first really great WrestleMania card.  Outside of Sweeps weeks, there were few matches of substance between big names on the weekly WWE TV shows back then.  During the November sweeps period of 1986, Randy Savage defended the Intercontinental Championship against Ricky Steamboat.

    After several minutes of fast-paced action, Savage got desperate and injured Steamboat.  A double axe handle smashed his throat into the guard rail, and then Savage grabbed the ring bell from the timekeeper to make the damage even worse.  Steamboat had to undergo "speech therapy" on TV for months, leading to the big blowoff match at WrestleMania.

    While there had been very good matches at previous WrestleManias and on WWE television shows, there had been nothing like Savage-Steamboat before.  They cut a crazy pace, working an all-action match with flawless execution and incredible drama.  While some of the elements that made it stand-out at the time (the number of highspots and near falls) might seem a little more typical to younger fans, it still holds up as a great match.

    The finish and post-match is one of the most memorable scenes in WrestleMania history: Savage goes for the bell behind the referee's back, Steamboat's second George "The Animal" Steele shoves him off, Steamboat cradles him for the pin and the title, and an exhausted Steamboat holds the belt high while celebrating with Steele in the wrestling ring-shaped cart that brought them back to the locker room.

1. Razor Ramon V.s Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania X: Ladder Match)

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    Representing the "New Generation Era," this is one of the most influential matches in wrestling history.  While not the first ladder match in WWE history (that was Michaels vs. Bret Hart two years earlier), it was the first one shown on television or pay-per-view, 

    The match had been brewing for several months.  Shawn Michaels had been legitimately suspended several months earlier and stripped of the Intercontinental Championship.  To determine the new champion, a battle royal was held where the two winners (Razor Ramon and Rick Martel) faced off on the next episode of Raw in a decision match for the title.  Razor won the match and the title.

    Michaels returned in short order, but he had never given back the physical belt, so he claimed to be champion for several months.  It culminated in what was billed as the first ever ladder match, with both belts hung from the ceiling of Madison Square Garden.

    While Scott Hall's performance in the match as Razor is highly underrated, this match is still the Shawn Michaels show.  He takes crazy bumps, does the big moves with the ladder, and in general is the star of the match.  It was this match that really started the "Shawn Michaels is the best wrestler in the world" talk in earnest and sparked a ton of imitators on the independent scene.  Some of them were more spectacular but the matches weren't as good.