This weekend is WWE and professional wrestling's biggest event, Wrestlemania.
For the second year in a row, World Wrestling Entertainment's self-proclaimed "Showcase of the Immortals" will span over two nights. Both Saturday, April 10th, and Sunday, April 11th will mark the first time since March 2020 that fans can attend a WWE event in person. This year's Wrestlemania is also the inaugural post-WWE Network pay-per-view, streaming exclusively on the company's new streaming hub, Peacock.
Expectations for the showdown in Tampa, FL at the home of the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers Raymond James Stadium are at their usual all-time high. WWE tends to pull out all the stops for its most profitable and publicized show. The inclusion of celebrities like Bad Bunny and Logan Paul has the entertainment world buzzing with excitement and curiosity.
WWE has spent close to four decades crafting storylines that culminate in big payoffs at Wrestlemania. Gradual yet exciting storytelling has resulted in some of the legendary event's best feuds and matches. Unfortunately, not all of them have been a success. But, the ones that struck a chord with the WWE Universe and delivered have stood the test of time.
Let's rewind to some of the most memorable buildups to some infamous Wrestlemania matches.
Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart Wrestlemania 12
The anticipation for Shawn Michaels and Bret "Hitman" Hart's 60-minute Iron Man Match at Wrestlemania 12 had the professional wrestling world on the edge of its seat. Two of the industry's most gifted performers showcased their world-class wrestling ability for an unprecedented full hour. The match itself is an undisputed masterpiece, but the build-up to Shawn Michael's first WWE Championship win was just as brilliant.
Bret and Shawn's distinctly different personalities and real-life animosity were the perfect fuel for their rivalry. Both represent contrasting glimpses of the company's potential future, which at the time made for an interesting dynamic. Bret was the traditional family-friendly good guy, while Shawn was the cocky yet loveable rebel. Though they were complete opposites, Michaels and Hart's in-ring chemistry remains unmatched.
The Rock vs. John Cena Wrestlemania 28
When The Rock returned to WWE in 2011 after leaving to conquer Hollywood, he immediately found himself in a heated feud with one of his predecessors, John Cena. The two actors/wrestlers have traded snide remarks with one another throughout the years. The Rock's return was the perfect opportunity for them to settle their differences and for WWE to make a massive amount of money.
The build-up to their Wrestlemania 28 match was unconventional but innovative. Cena and The Rock announced their clash a year in advance, which was a first for a Wrestlemania main event. The Rock's hectic movie schedule didn't allow for many in-person face-offs with his opponent, so he and Cena turned to social media to keep their rivalry and anticipation for Wrestlemania alive. The Rock bested Cena that night, but Cena earned his win back at the following year's Mania.
The Undertaker vs. Kane Wrestlemania 20
The Undertaker's American Bad-Ass persona was a polarizing period in the future Hall of Famer's career. Some enjoyed the biker character because it was closer to Taker's real-life personality. But others felt it ruined the mystique of the undead mortician who had control over dark forces. Fortunately, his Wrestlemania match with his brother Kane prompted the return of The Deadman.
After being buried alive the year before in a Buried Alive Match at Survivor Series, The Undertaker started to tease his return to the iconic gimmick at the beginning of 2004. He played mind games with his demonic younger sibling by distracting him during matches with his trademark bell toll. On the night of Wrestlemania 20, fans rejoiced as The Undertaker re-emerged as the best version of himself and beat Kane.
The Undertaker vs. Triple H Wrestlemania 27
For weeks WWE aired ominous vignettes with the date 2.21.11. Many assumed it was The Undertaker, announcing his return from another hiatus on an upcoming episode of Monday Night Raw. The WWE Universe's assumptions of the Deadman's reawakening were accurate, but The Undertaker wasn't the only star making a long-awaited return that night.
The Undertaker's comeback came to an abrupt stop with the return of Triple H. He also hadn't been on TV for quite some time, and fans in attendance were just as excited to see him. The two Attitude Era legends scheduled their Wrestlemania fates by simply staring at the sign hovering above the ring. Triple H and The Undertaker booked their Wrestlemania 28 No Holds Barred match without saying a single word.
Triple H vs. Batista Wrestlemania 21
When Ric Flair and Triple H recruited burgeoning WWE superstars Randy Orton and Dave Bautista (known as Batista in WWE) to join their faction, Evolution, many pegged Randy as the group's breakout star. But while Randy's behind-the-scenes immaturity hindered him, Batista's work ethic and organic connection with the crowd made the company notice his potential as a solo competitor.
Batista's growing popularity led to a 2005 Royal Rumble victory and resentment from his Evolution cohorts. Triple H sensed his protege becoming a threat and wanted to keep The Animal on a short leash. But Batista would break free from the group by challenging Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania 21. Batista vanquished his former leader and won his first world title.
Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock Wrestlemania 17
When Stone Cold Steve Austin left the WWE to tend to a neck injury in 1999, The Rock stepped up as WWE's top star. After returning in 2000, Austin looked to reclaim his spot at the top of the professional wrestling mountain. But The Rock wasn't going to hand Stone Cold back his crown without a fight.
The lead-up to their Wrestlemania 17 was a story focused on two alpha males who respected each other but didn't necessarily like one another. Their promos and physical encounters were passionate and intense, and the actual match itself is the best out of the trilogy between the two, aside from the ill-advised Stone Cold heel turn after beating The Rock.
Shawn Michaels vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin Wrestlemania 14
Vince McMahon decided to shake things up for Wrestlemania 14 by asking former boxing heavyweight champion Mike Tyson to be involved. The controversial fighter added excitement and potential danger to the WWE title match between Shawn Michaels and the company's hottest new superstar, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Tyson was named special enforcer and aligned himself with Michaels and D-Generation-X to stack the deck against Austin, which remained the case until Tyson double-crossed Michaels by counting the pinfall that made Austin the new champion. Mike Tyson's perceived alliance with DX up until the night of Wrestlemania was a shocking twist that made Stone Cold's first WWE Championship win even sweeter.
Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston Wrestlemania 35
Kofi Kingston's WWE Championship victory over Daniel Bryan was a Wrestlemania moment 11 years in the making. An ill-timed injury to Mustafa Ali saw Kofi become his replacement in the 2019 Elimination Chamber match, where Kofi reminded the world what an incredible performer he is. This resulted in wrestling fans wanting to see Kofi finally win WWE's grandest prize.
Kofi's encounter with Daniel Bryan was the story of an overlooked superstar that both fans and wrestlers loved and respected. Kofi and his New Day brethren endured gauntlet matches and put-downs about Kofi's value as a WWE Champion from Bryan and Vince McMahon. However, the WWE Universe felt differently, and in front of a frenzied New Jersey crowd, Kofi proved all of his doubters wrong.
Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H / Batista / Randy Orton Wrestlemania 30
Referred to as the Miracle on Bourbon Street, Daniel Bryan's Wrestlemania triumph over Triple H, Batista, and Randy Orton in one night is one of professional wrestling's greatest underdog stories. But Daniel Bryan's history-making moment wasn't as carefully designed as some of the previously mentioned build-ups. WWE fans left the company no choice but to insert the indie darling into their main event title match.
Bryan's battle to the WWE Championship started at that year's Royal Rumble when fans were vocally disappointed that the just-returned Batista won the over-the-top battle royale, and the beloved Bryan didn't even participate in the match. Eventually, the resounding support forced WWE to alter their Wrestlemania main event for the title to include Daniel Bryan if he defeated Triple H in the opening match. After beating Triple H, Bryan faced Batista and champion Randy Orton in a Triple Threat Match.
Daniel Bryan's arduous road through three bonafide WWE Hall of Famers and his victory on the grandest stage of them all is not only one of Wrestlemania's best storylines, but one of professional wrestling's most emotional moments.
Did we leave out a Wrestlemania match build-up that excited you as a fan?
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