WrestleMania was five years old when the 1990s rolled around. It had already established itself as the premier event in wrestling, surpassing WCW’s Starrcade show, which had originated two years earlier in 1983.
All four WrestleMania events in the 1980s had been huge critical and commercial successes and with WrestleMania VI the 1990s began in the same vein. Business dipped from 1991 through to 1997 due in part to the sex and steroids scandal and the family-friendly product becoming somewhat passé later in the decade.
However, despite declining business, the WWF still presented high-quality WrestleMania events with some superlative matches. The Federation recaptured the audience’s imagination with WrestleMania XIV thanks to Stone Cold Steve Austin and Mike Tyson and closed out the decade in a stronger position than they started it.
This feature looks back at the 10 finest matches the WWF presented at WrestleMania during the 1990s.
#10 Hulk Hogan vs The Ultimate Warrior – WrestleMania VI (April 1, 1990)
The first WrestleMania event of the 1990s was headlined by a first time dream match that pitted WWF Champion, Hulk Hogan against Intercontinental Champion, The Ultimate Warrior.
Although neither man is renowned for his work rate, their 25 minute collision was something of a minor miracle. The pair contested a well paced, logical and heated encounter, which had the Toronto crowd losing their minds for everything they did.
The famous finishing sequence which saw Hogan miss his patented leg drop only for Warrior to nail his standing splash for the clean pin is the stuff of legend.
More memorably, ‘The Hulkster’ infamously stole the new champion’s spotlight by snatching the WWF Title belt from the timekeeper and presenting it to the Warrior himself. That led to the 60,000 strong crowd all watching Hogan leave rather than the celebrating Warrior in the ring.
Despite that fact, this match is an astonishingly well constructed battle and one of the best matches of either man’s career.
#9 The New Age Outlaws vs Cactus Jack & Chainsaw Charlie – WrestleMania XIV (March 29, 1998)
WrestleMania XIV was the most successful wrestling pay-per-view in history at that point pulling in an incredible 730,000 buys. The draws were the headline attraction pitting WWF Champion Shawn Michaels against Stone Cold Steve Austin with Mike Tyson as the special enforcer and the first ever confrontation between The Undertaker and Kane.
However, the highlight of the undercard was the WWF Tag Team Title bout between The New Age Outlaws and their challengers, the demented due of Cactus Jack and Terry Funk (Chainsaw Charlie). The object of their Dumpster Match was to place an entire team in the dumpster and close the lid. After some stiff weapon shots, Gunn and Jack took a scary fall off a ladder into the dumpster, destroying it in the process.
That led to a backstage brawl where the beaten down outlaws were deposited into another dumpster courtesy of a forklift truck driven by a deranged Funk. That led to Jack and Funk being crowned Tag Team Champions.
Brutal, exciting and a precursor to the Attitude Era brawls that were to follow. One of the highlights of the era.
#8 Diesel vs Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XI (April 2, 1995)
WWF Champion Diesel and his challenger, Shawn Michaels had to be content with the semi-final spot for their collision at WrestleMania XI. They were relegated in favour of the celebrity tie in bout which saw Bam Bam Bigelow rumble with NFL superstar, Lawrence Taylor.
However, despite missing out on the headline spot, Diesel and Michaels still stole the show in an expertly paced 21 minute encounter. Diesel hit all his big spots and ‘The Showstopper’ bumped all over the place like he was the second coming of Mr Perfect.
The bout built to a busy crescendo which saw a referee bump and outside interference from Sycho Sid. Diesel nailed Michaels with the Jackknife Powerbomb to retain the gold.
An entertaining, fast paced collision, which was the finest match of Diesel’s career at that point and an early sign that ‘HBK’ was destined to be company figurehead in the not too distant future.
#7 The Ultimate Warrior vs ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage – WrestleMania VII (March 24, 1991)
Shawn Michaels is known as ‘Mr WrestleMania.’ However, in the event’s formative years, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage certainly held that mantle. He had two of the best matches of the decade at WrestleMania III and WrestleMania V, with Ricky Steamboat and Hulk Hogan respectively.
His superlative ‘Mania performances continued into the 1990s. Savage faced the Ultimate Warrior in a Retirement Match at WrestleMania VII. With the stakes so high, the crowd heat in Los Angeles was off the charts. Savage’s former manager and beau, Miss Elizabeth sat in the crowd, watching on, which only added to the drama unfolding in the ring.
Savage carried Warrior to the finest match of his career, in a logical, emotional and expertly paced classic. Warrior tried and tried but could not put the ‘Macho King’ away. Doubting himself, he looked as if he was about to abandon the match, before he returned to finish Savage off with three flying shoulderblocks.
That temporarily ended Savage’s career. As great as the match was, it almost paled in comparison to the post-match, which saw Savage’s manager ‘Queen Sherri’ attack him. That brought out Elizabeth who disposed of the former Women’s Champion and reunited with Savage a tear-jerking reunion that retains its power three decades on.
Storytelling at its finest with excellent, heated and emotional wrestling to boot. Savage versus Warrior is an all time classic.
#6 ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage vs Ric Flair – WrestleMania VIII (April 5, 1992)
One year after being (temporarily) forced into retirement by virtue of his loss to The Ultimate Warrior, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage faced off against WWF Champion, Ric Flair for the gold in the co-main event of WrestleMania VIII.
Savage had been reinstated in late 1991, to enable him to exact vengeance against Jake Roberts who had famously forced his python to repeatedly bite Savage’s arm on the November 23, 1991 edition of Superstars.
Miss Elizabeth was central to the story of the title match. Flair had claimed he and Elizabeth had been in a relationship before she had met and married the ‘Macho Man.’ Flair delighted in regaling intimate details of his and Elizabeth’s relationship which deeply antagonised Savage.
The heat then was off the charts for this classic collision. Despite their technical prowess, due to the storyline this encounter was more of a brawl and was all the better for it. Intense, bloody (Flair bladed in contravention of the Federation’s blood policy) and thrilling, this was an awesome bout. Savage finally overcome a dodgy knee, which he sold to perfection and the interference of Mr Perfect to roll Flair up and win his second (and final) WWF Championship.
Truly enthralling throughout its 18 minute duration, this was a true classic match-up.
#5 The Rock vs Stone Cold Steve Austin – WrestleMania XV (March 28, 1999)
The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin were the two biggest stars of the Attitude Era and their first WrestleMania collision in the headline spot of WrestleMania XV was a great match-up; one of the best of the era.
The Rock entered the bout as WWF Champion, with Stone Cold seeking to claim the strap for the third time. The contest was No Disqualification, which meant for the first time ever, a full on brawl was the ‘Mania headliner.
Three referees were taken out before the fourth, Mankind counted the winning pinfall after Stone Cold had nailed The Rock with a Stone Cold Stunner.
The lone highlight of ‘Mania XV. The headliner was a traditional Attitude Era brawl; violent, innovative with boatloads of outside interference and extra curricular activity. Rarely, has Sports Entertainment craziness been this good. A tremendously fun bout that cemented Stone Cold as the WWF’s figurehead.
#4 ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper vs Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart – WrestleMania VIII (April 5, 1992)
WrestleMania VIII was a stacked show with a double main event of Hulk Hogan versus Sid Justice and Ric Flair versus ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage. On the undercard, was another marquee match-up between Intercontinental Champion, ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper and former champion, Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart.
For 14 minutes, the pair put on a wrestling clinic, which was a major departure for Piper, which demonstrated what a tremendous worker Hart was. When Hart got the better of their exchanges, the bout descended into a brawl. In a famous spot, Piper grabbed the ring bell and seemed set to knock his opponent out before relenting and locking in his patented sleeper hold instead. Hart reversed it into a pin by kicking off the turnbuckle and three seconds later was crowned IC Champion for the second time.
Easily one of the finest matches from Piper’s career and a highlight of Hart’s also. Tremendous storytelling, logical action and a memorable finish make for one of the best WrestleMania matches of the 1990s.
#3 Razor Ramon vs Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania X (March 20, 1994)
WrestleMania X played host to the first ever televised Ladder Match in WWF history. Shawn Michaels was stripped of the Intercontinental Title in the fall of 1993 after a failed drugs test and Razor Ramon won the vacant strap. When Michaels returned he claimed to still be the rightful champion. Both belts dangled above the ring as both combatants rumbled to be crowned the undisputed IC Champion.
Although lacking the high impact stunts that would become synonymous with the gimmick in later years, this bout was a feat in logical and engrossing storytelling. The ladder was utilised as a weapon in a bunch of innovative spots which were truly ground-breaking for the era. Michaels’s splash off of the ladder onto Razor being the highlight.
After grappling atop the ladder, Razor knocked off Michaels who got his foot stuck in between the ring ropes allowing the champion to retrieve the belts and win the clash.
Packed full of inventive spots with a creative finish and gripping action throughout, this remains a true classic of the era.
#2 Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart vs Owen Hart – WrestleMania X (March 20, 1994)
Bret Hart and his younger brother, Owen kicked off WrestleMania X with a bang in what may still remain, even three decades on, the finest pure technical wrestling bout ever held in a WWF ring.
The timing, pacing and action were all superb and the action never slowed during it’s 20 minute duration.
Packed full of fluid chain wrestling and smooth holds and counter holds this was as good as technical wrestling gets.
In addition to the top tier action, the match was supported by an emotive storyline, with Owen over the course of several months becoming envious of the fame and accolades achieved by his older sibling. This led to the unforgettable angle at Royal Rumble wherein Owen battered Bret, after the pair had lost a Tag Team Title match to the Quebecers.
Therefore the crowd heat in New York was off the charts as the crowd loudly reacted to everything both participants did. Owen scored the shocking clean pinfall over his more famous brother in one of the most memorable moments in ‘Mania history.
When Bret won the WWF Championship from Yokozuna that same evening, an epic title feud was born which would culminate in another stunner at SummerSlam.
A wrestling clinic that is worthy of all the praise rightfully lavished on it.
#1 Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart vs Stone Cold Steve Austin – WrestleMania 13 (March 23, 1997)
WrestleMania 13 is not renowned as a classic WrestleMania event. However, it did play host to the greatest ‘Mania match of all time.
The bout pitted Stone Cold Steve Austin against Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart in a No Disqualification Submission bout. New Federation recruit, former UFC fighter, Ken Shamrock served as the special referee. The pair put on all brawl, which was unlike anything the WWF had ever presented before. The combatants fought through the crowd and at ringside as they battered each others senseless as the crowd reacted with loud approval to everything they did. The finish came when Stone Cold after being smashed in the face with the ring bell eventually passed out in ‘The Hitman’s’ Sharpshooter.
The image of a bloody Austin writhing in agony as he could not escape the Sharpshooter is an unforgettable image that is imprinted on the brain of all who witnessed it.
The WWF crowd turned on Hart after he battered an unconscious Austin post-match and he had to be restrained by Shamrock.
Hart left the ring a despised heel and Austin, the biggest star in the business. Bloody, intense, technically sound and also chaotically violent. This was as good as a wrestling match gets and was hugely influential for the Attitude Era that followed.
Unquestionably the finest WrestleMania contest of the 1990s.
You can watch all of these matches and every WrestleMania event exclusively on the WWE Network.