Each year, WrestleMania presents itself as a series finale of sorts for the WWE, where the most significant storylines culminate on an epic night of action. The most iconic moments in the business are created months (or even years) in advance with intricate storytelling that captures the imagination of fans.
With nearly four decades of WrestleManias in the books, Sporting News picks the best feuds that culminated at the WWE’s flagship show.
To be clear, this list isn’t about the best matches that have taken place at WrestleMania. Instead, this is about the feuds and storylines that had fans invested in what would take place at the Showcase of the Immortals.
10. The Undertaker vs. Kane (WrestleMania 14 & 20)
The Undertaker and Kane rivalry spanned multiple years and two WrestleManias, but the origins of this feud began ahead of WrestleMania 14 when Kane was teased as The Undertaker’s “deepest, darkest secret” by former manager Paul Bearer. Kane debuted months later at Bad Blood: In Your House as The Undertaker’s illegitimate brother. The stoic Kane routinely attacked The Undertaker but was unable to get his brother to agree to a match.
But then Kane lit on fire a casket that had The Undertaker in it and that changed The Deadman’s mind. Using the supernatural allowed this angle to be completely unique and had fans invested as Kane was an indestructible wrecking machine. Eventually, the two met at WrestleMania 14 and The Undertaker escaped with a victory after three Tombstones. The on-again, off-again rivalry never had the same intensity as it did before WrestleMania 14 but it will always be recognized as one of the most memorable.
9. Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart (WrestleMania 10)
A sibling rivalry brought us the greatest opening match in WrestleMania history between Bret and Owen Hart.
The feud began at Survivor Series the previous year when the Hart brothers were a team in an elimination match. But Owen bumped into his brother and was eliminated, which began a feud as Owen was tired of being overshadowed by his older sibling. Owen repeatedly challenged Bret to a match, which was refuted multiple times. After making amends for a tag team match at Royal Rumble, Owen attacked Bret after the team lost to The Quebecers.
Despite being the opening match, this was the most interesting feud on the card as the brothers faced each other in an absolute wrestling clinic that saw Owen beat his older brother. And despite winning, it left a bad taste in his mouth when he would later see his brother win the WWF championship by beating Yokozuna in the main event.
Very well played.
8. Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair (WrestleMania 35)
This feud was a complete accident that began when fans wouldn’t accept Becky Lynch’s heel turn and a subsequent injury inadvertently turned Lynch into the hottest talent on the roster.
It was a unique storm of events as Ronda Rousey’s ascent was coupled with Lynch turning on Charlotte at SummerSlam and winning the SmackDown women’s championship at Hell in a Cell. A proposed non-title match with “Raw” women’s champion Rousey at Survivor Series was scrapped after Lynch was legitimately injured by Nia Jax on “Monday Night Raw.” However, the scene of a bloodied Lynch was embraced by fans and added to her lore.
Lynch’s rise was brilliantly handled on social media as she berated Rousey on Twitter. Eventually, Lynch would win the Royal Rumble by eliminating Charlotte and earned a shot at Rousey. But a storyline injury would get her “suspended” from the match. Meanwhile, Charlotte would capture the SmackDown women’s title and was named as Lynch’s replacement. Lynch would violate her suspension and attacked both Rousey and Flair until she was inserted into the match, which was the first time a women’s match headlined WrestleMania. It wasn’t a classic but Lynch captured both titles by pinning Rousey, who subsequently left the company.
It was a totally unplanned angle that was all due to circumstance and ended up being incredibly entertaining and groundbreaking.
7. Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority (WrestleMania 30)
The “Yes!” Movement and the indie darling who arguably changed the dynamic of Vince McMahon’s business began eight months before WrestleMania 30. Honestly, you can track this to WrestleMania 29, when Bryan was squashed in seconds against Sheamus and fans began to embrace Bryan while believing he deserved more than what he got.
Bryan came to the WWE as perhaps the most lauded independent talent in the business. But he was hardly a reflection of the bodybuilder types that the WWE was known for. Vince McMahon wasn’t a fan of Bryan’s stature and attempted to push him down the card after Triple H — later known with his wife Stephanie McMahon as The Authority — turned heel and cost him the title at SummerSlam in 2013 because of a “business decision” that Randy Orton was the better look for the company. Fans smartened up to McMahon’s tactics and began to revolt at shows when Bryan was routinely screwed out of winning the title.
Bryan wasn’t originally in the plans for WrestleMania 30 as McMahon believed the story had run its course and pivoted to a Randy Orton vs. Batista match. The fans weren’t having it and hijacked “Raw” weekly with chants and a demand to insert Bryan into the main event. At some point, McMahon realized what he had and turned the real-life movement into a storyline that found Bryan having to face Triple H in the opening match at WrestleMania for a chance to be a part of the Orton-Batista main event. Bryan defeated Triple H and submitted Batista later that night to become champion.
6. The Rock vs. John Cena (WrestleMania 28 & )
Look, we’re going to ignore the rematch at WrestleMania 29 because it was an obvious money grab. But the build toward The Rock and John Cena’s encounter at WrestleMania 28 was a stellar showdown between WWE’s past and present. The Rock returned to the company after a seven-year absence to host WrestleMania 27, which only served as a prelude to his feud with Cena after he cost him the WWE Championship against The Miz.
In an unprecedented move, Cena challenged The Rock to a match that wouldn’t take place for another year at WrestleMania 28. The Rock accepted and we spent a year watching two of the biggest stars in the WWE assail each other with verbal jabs. It was paced perfectly with just enough to keep fans intrigued. The two teamed up in November 2011 at Survivor Series and The Rock gave Cena a Rock Bottom after they emerged victorious over The Miz and R-Truth.
The two ran each other down verbally for months and finally met at WrestleMania, where The Rock would pull off the stunning victory. It’s amazing that this match remained intact as Cena needed to avoid injury and The Rock worked himself back into wrestling shape. Even though The Rock wasn’t a WWE regular, they had enough tricks to keep the fans’ attention and make this a phenomenal encounter.
And then, for whatever reason, they did it again at WrestleMania 29. But we’re not going to talk about that.
5. Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania 25 & 26)
The two WrestleMania matches between Shawn Michael and The Undertaker are considered among the best in WrestleMania history. But the journey was well worth it.
As Undertaker’s undefeated WrestleMania streak began to take on a life of its own, there was curiosity as to who could put an end to it. Michaels worked his way into a match with The Deadman and became obsessed with becoming the first man to put a blemish on his record. After coming up short in an epic encounter at WrestleMania 25, Michaels’ obsession grew as he chased down The Undertaker for a rematch. The Undertaker repeatedly refused until a desperate Michaels put his career on the line and promised to retire if he couldn’t get the job done at WrestleMania 26.
The rematch was an intense affair and Michaels gave it all he had. However, he simply couldn’t overcome the mythical Undertaker and it cost him his career. But that wasn’t the end of the feud as Michaels found himself involved with The Undertaker again at WrestleMania 28 as the referee for Triple H’s “Hell in a Cell” match. Michaels would be forced to count his best friend out despite nearly helping Triple H to a victory. It was a fantastic story that carried over several years and in different iterations.
4. Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant (WrestleMania 3)
Once again, the Hulkster was accused of stealing the spotlight from his friend and it was his friend who was made out to be the bad guy. Hogan received a trophy for being the WWF Champion for three years while Andre The Giant received a much smaller one for going “undefeated for 15 years.” Andre took exception to Hogan making everything about himself and retained the services of Hogan’s nemesis Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. On an episode of “Piper’s Pit,” Andre challenged Hogan to a title shot at WrestleMania 3. Hogan reluctantly accepted after Andre tore his shirt and ripped off his crucifix necklace.
The match was one of the biggest moments in pro wrestling that helped Vince McMahon’s promotion turn the corner into pop culture relevancy. If it wasn’t for this match, and the bodyslam heard around the world, who knows where the WWF would be today. Again, in retrospect, was Andre wrong? Probably not. But it made for a great story.
3. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart (WrestleMania 13)
This was the feud that made “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and was the heart of the shift into the infamous Attitude Era. But this feud took two to tango and culminated in a brilliantly executed double turn at WrestleMania 13. After Austin won the King of the Ring in 1996, he began taunting Hart, who was on a hiatus at the time. Eventually, Hart returned and accepted the challenge of Austin and the two met at Survivor Series 1996. Hart won but Austin’s star continued to rise as he chased down his rival at every turn and cost Hart a Royal Rumble victory in 1997.
The WWF read the room and noticed how fans warmed up to the heel tactics of Austin and began moving toward a feud that would find Hart and Austin switch positions as the babyface and heel. It was well played and came full circle at WrestleMania 13 when a bloodied Austin passed out from a Sharpshooter and was assaulted by Hart afterward. The journey to their match was well played as the company held back long enough to pull the trigger at the perfect time and created a superstar in Austin.
2. Hulk Hogan vs. Macho Man Randy Savage (WrestleMania 5)
When it comes to feuds that found best friends turned bitter enemies, there is nothing like the year-long build between Savage and Hogan, which culminated at WrestleMania V. Hogan and Savage formed a friendship at WrestleMania IV when Hogan gave the Macho Man an assist to overcome Ted Dibiase in the main event and capture the WWF Championship.
The duo formed The Mega Powers and dominated the tag team scene. However, tensions began to build between the two over Savage’s wife, Miss Elizabeth. After months of rising tensions, The Mega Powers finally exploded on “Saturday Night’s Main Event” in a match against the Twin Towers after Savage was inadvertently thrown into Miss Elizabeth and knocked her unconscious. Hogan abandoned Savage to take Elizabeth to the locker room. He returned later to a badly battered Savage, who would return the favor by refusing Hogan’s attempt to tag in. The two battled backstage as Savage turned heel and it all came to a head at WrestleMania V, when Hogan defeated his former friend to become the champion.
In retrospect, Savage feels like the one who was wronged here as Hogan always found his way into Savage’s spotlight and got a little too close to Miss Elizabeth. Nevertheless, this was fantastic long-term storytelling that is hardly seen in the current product.
1. The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (WrestleMania 15, 17 & 19)
The two most marketable stars in pro wrestling met three times — at WrestleMania 15, 17 & 19. And each time their feud offered fans something special. While WrestleMania 15 saw Austin battle a heel version of The Rock, who was backed by Vince McMahon, and WrestleMania 19 found The Rock finally get his comeuppance on Austin, it was the feud heading into WrestleMania 17 that secures the top spot on this list.
Although Austin had long been the biggest star in the company, The Rock was nipping at his heels over the years. By the time 2000 rolled around, The Rock had come extremely close to surpassing Austin in popularity. They were both babyfaces and in the midst of their respective peaks in terms of popularity.
The collision course for WrestleMania X-7 seemed to be obvious, but the train didn’t really begin moving until Austin won the 2001 Royal Rumble and The Rock reclaimed the WWF Championship a month later at “No Way Out.” The next few weeks of television were absolutely incredible to witness as Austin and Rock stalked each other, used the other’s finishers and routinely brawled. Considering that they were also the two best talkers in the business, we were treated to some amazing mic work before they finally collided at WrestleMania. It felt like the culmination of everything the WWF had been working toward as the two babyfaces had an epic encounter that concluded with a shocking finish in which Austin joined forces with his longtime rival, WWF chairman Vince McMahon.
Honestly, the WWF could have ended right then and there and it would have been one of the greatest season finales in television history.
Oh, yeah. The feud also produced the greatest promo package of all-time to Limp Bizkit’s “My Way.”
The greatest WrestleMania feuds of all time
- The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin
- Hulk Hogan vs. Macho Man Randy Savage
- Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart
- Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant
- Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker
- The Rock vs. John Cena
- Daniel Bryan vs. The Authority
- Ronda Rousey vs. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair
- Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart
- The Undertaker vs. Kane