Mount Rushmores of Wrestling is a series that breaks down the cream of the crop of professional wrestling in our quest to come to a consensus on the top four of any given category. In today’s edition we’re looking at the best WrestleMania moments.
“It’s A Miracle on Bourbon Street!”
Shane: In the mind’s of the WWE elite, Daniel Bryan was never supposed to make it. He was never supposed to reach the top of WWE and never supposed to represent the company as its champion. He wasn’t tall enough. He wasn’t muscular enough. He wasn’t John Cena enough to make it. And yet, despite all of those supposed shortcomings at WrestleMania XXX Daniel Bryan made it.
Daniel Bryan suffered through setback after setback after setback. Just when D-Bry would get some momentum going in his favor, Vinnie Mac (behind the cameras) and Trips (in front of the cameras) would do whatever it took to squash him back down to where they wanted him to be. Seen nothing more than a B+ player.
Even though Daniel Bryan didn’t have the support of WWE management, he did have the support of the WWE Universe. Heading into WrestleMania 30, the main event was supposed to be Royal Rumble winner Batista challenging Randy Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, with Daniel Bryan nowhere near the main event title picture.
This was unacceptable to the WWE Universe.
The unrelenting support from the WWE Universe basically forced the WWE’s hand into changing their WrestleMania main event. Daniel Bryan was our guy. He was the one that we wanted to succeed and we as the collective WWE Universe would not rest until our voices were heard and our demands met.
Starting the night against Triple H in one hell of a curtain jerker, Daniel Bryan won the match and earned a place in the championship main event. To up the ante, Triple H didn’t take losing well and absolutely destroyed D-Bry putting the main event into further jeopardy.
But, we believed.
And this belief and the WWE Universe’s support carried Daniel Bryan to victory. When he locked in the Yes! Lock and forced Batista to submit, the reaction was deafening. All of his hard work and setbacks over the year ceased to matter. Daniel Bryan was finally WWE World Heavyweight Champion, our champion, and in turn created one of the best WrestleMania moments to date.
“I’m sorry, I love you.”
Darius: WrestleMania is the perfect place to end your career in a way that lasts in the mind of fans forever, even if you wrestle again afterward. Randy Savage reunited with Miss Elizabeth at WrestleMania VII after retiring, only to wrestle at WrestleMania VIII. Shawn Michaels retired at WrestleMania XXVI after putting on a masterclass with the Undertaker, then got paid the big bucks to wrestle again at [redacted]. And Mick Foley came out of his 1-month retirement to main event WrestleMania 2000, sort of retired after that, then wrestled at two more WrestleManias and in TNA.
Ric Flair’s another person who found himself grappling around in the squared circle after his WrestleMania retirement, but you’d be forgiven for forgetting anything post-Mania XXIV as Shawn Michaels — two years before his own retirement — put a pin in Flair’s career with five words.
Flair’s story leading into WrestleMania where Vince McMahon decided that Flair would be forced to retire if he ever lost again was a gripping one, even if it was a foregone conclusion that he would only sit out after one last match at the Granddaddy of Them All.
One month after his 59th birthday, Ric Flair put on a masterpiece of a match with Shawn Michaels, and it’s a match that you could enjoy even without knowing who either man is or what’s the story surrounding it.
But the match’s conventional greatness all fades away when Michaels, a man who idolizes Flair the same way many idolize Michaels, realizes that Flair is at his mercy. Michaels has the Sweet Chin Music locked and loaded, and he knows he has to put the Nature Boy out of his misery.
He looks at Flair, teary-eyed. He says it quietly, just loud enough for the camera to pick up, or maybe we’ve all just imagined that. But it’s personal. It’s not a promo. It’s just a genuine statement from one legend to another.
“I’m sorry. I love you.”
“The 1 in 21-1.”
Shane: Admit it. Deep down, we all knew that the Undertaker’s legendary WrestleMania undefeated streak would be broken. Eventually.
Speculation about who would finally end the streak always seemed to land on some new up and comer that could use the rub for ending the streak. Imagine the career trajectory for that lucky individual when the time finally came. Eventually.
Who knew that seven years ago, at WrestleMania XXX in New Orleans, that eventually would have come so soon. And who knew that the young upstart would be the Beast Incarnate himself, Brock Lesnar.
Whether Lesnar was the right choice or not, I guarantee you that we all remember exactly where we were when the streak was ended. I was sitting at my friend’s house in complete silence for what felt like an eternity. I couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe it. His father who rarely watched WWE couldn’t believe it.
WrestleMania is known for its heartwarming stories and moments that live on in the hearts of its fans for decades to come, but it is also known for moments like this. The moment when The Undertaker’s shoulders were pinned to the mat for the longest three-count in WrestleMania history.
“Kofi did it! Kofi did it! Kofi did it! Kofi is champion!”
Darius: Personal story.
When I first started watching WWE, I began actively searching for a black wrestler to rally behind — some Erik Killmonger “Is this your king?” type beat. And while I was impressed by Shelton Benjamin’s athleticism and natural blonde hair (give me a break; I was a kid), the only guy I really wanted to rally behind was Kofi Kingston.
So, I followed him. Watched him fight Sheamus over the United States Championship. Watched him help squash the Corre at WrestleMania. Saw him team with Evan Bourne, R-Truth, and Big E Langston before that last one turned into something new, something special.
Kofi wasn’t my favorite wrestler, but I always liked him. He was the modern-day Ricky Steamboat — but the thing about Ricky Steamboat is that he was never positioned to be WWE Champion.
KofiMania worked on multiple levels. On one hand, he’s a midcard act for life, a guy who could always be relied upon to hold onto a mid-tier championship or form a tag team. On the other hand, there had only been one black WWE Champion before him, and while I’ll never take anything away from the Rock, I’m the only person in my 25-kid senior year history class who knew that Dwayne Johnson was half-black. True story.
Kofi had the weight of the midcard on his shoulders. Kofi had the weight of the black community on his shoulders. It was such a weighty story, none of it was planned! Mustafa Ali got injured, and Kofi slid into a spot that absolutely wasn’t meant to lead to a WrestleMania match, let alone a career-defining championship win.
With Xavier Woods and Big E at his side, Kofi Kingston took a few months worth of momentum and turned it into a moment that acted as a perfect follow-up to years of service to WWE. And after a great match full of gripping near-falls, Kingston hit the Trouble in Paradise on Daniel Bryan — the man who’d previously been in this exact position — and became the top champion in the company. Sorry, not sorry, Seth Rollins.
Shout-out to Byron Saxton for his amazing raspy-voiced commentary after the win. Shout-out to the New Day tossing an eco-friendly belt in the garbage in favor of one made of leather. Shout-out to Kofi’s kid, whose entry into the ring alongside his father finally got me to tear up.
Kofi was the people’s champion. My people’s champion.
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