Although scarcely believable at times, WWE can, on occasion, produce amazing storylines that have fans hooked from beginning to end.
They always seem to up their game when it gets to Wrestlemania season. Maybe it’s because they know that Wrestlemania is their most popular show, but creative are usually on their A-Game between January and April.
Below are five examples of when WWE had fans everywhere glued to their screen on the Road to Wrestlemania. These are my opinions, so please don’t come find me on social media and harass me for not putting your favourite storyline in.
1. Batista vs HHH (Wrestlemania 21)
This will always be one of my favourite storylines, purely because I loved Batista in 2005. It had been teased for months beforehand, with HHH’s jealousy and worry about Batista’s growing popularity becoming more apparent with every passing week. The reaction when Batista won the 2005 Royal Rumble was deafening, but it was nothing compared to what would happen on the February 21st edition of RAW.
After weeks of build-up, including Batista showing up at No Way Out to attack the WWE Champion JBL, he had a choice. Did he stay on RAW to face Triple H, or does he go over to Smackdown to face JBL and John Cena in a Triple Threat at Wrestlemania? To their credit, HHH and Ric Flair played their parts magnificently, trying to convince Batista that Smackdown would be the best place for him. It looked like Batista would choose Smackdown, prompting HHH and Flair to give him a thumbs up. However, Batista then gave them a thumbs down, attacking them both, power-bombing Triple H through a table and confirming Batista vs HHH at Wrestlemania 21. The fans went berserk at the arena, and nine year old me also went mad, thrilled that my favourite wrestler would stay on RAW and face the dastardly Triple H.
This was a fantastic piece of long-term storytelling by WWE, making Batista look like an absolute monster whilst confirming that he was the next big thing in WWE. They had a great match at Wrestlemania 21, culminating in Batista becoming the World Heavyweight Champion. This is still Batista and HHH’s best matches at Wrestlemania, thanks to their natural chemistry and the huge popularity of Batista.
2. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs The Rock (WrestleMania X-Seven)
This was the first Wrestlemania I ever watched, and I immediately became obsessed with these two. The two most successful stars of the Attitude Era and arguably the greatest feud in WWE history. Yes, the ending is stupid, having Austin turn heel in his home state of Texas, but the build up to this match is sublime.
If you ever get a chance, just watch the sit-down interview they both on the March 22nd edition of Smackdown. It’s so believable and so raw, you think that the two guys hated each other. I got legit chills when Stone Cold said to the Rock:
‘I need to beat you Rock, I need it more than anything you can ever imagine’.
Both men were so good on the mic. At times you forgot how good they both are at actually wrestling. I could’ve listened to these two for hours on end. No two promos were ever the same, but they were always entertaining. Also, I didn’t know why at the time, but I always found The Rock’s selling of the Stunner absolutely hilarious. He jumped so high, I thought he was going to take off.
I loved watching these two fight. Wrestlemania 17 was the peak of their popularity, and their greatest Wrestlemania moment. A lot of superstars today should watch these two, because they could learn a lot from two of the greats.
3. Shawn Michaels vs Ric Flair (Wrestlemania 24)
There is not a single person in WWE history who has had more great matches at Wrestlemania than Shawn Michaels. From Wrestlemania 19 through to Wrestlemania 26, he always had the match of the night (Yes, I’m including his match with Mr McMahon at Mania 22). One of the best was against Ric Flair at Wrestlemania 24.
Ric Flair was currently in a midst of a retirement storyline, per the orders of Vince McMahon. The next time he lost a match, his career was over. He’d beaten people such as Randy Orton, Triple H as well as others however there was only one man he wanted to face at Wrestlemania 24: Mr Wrestlemania himself, Shawn Michaels.
Michaels played his role perfectly, being reluctant at first to face his old friend and potentially retire him. However, he came around to the idea and gave an amazing promo, saying that at Wrestlemania, he was gonna ‘Put Old Yeller out to stud’. The old, cocky HBK came out just for a minute and the stakes were raised dramatically.
There wasn’t a single person who could have raised Ric to the levels he once reached apart from HBK. He actually got people to boo him, something that never seemed possible when he returned. People didn’t want to see Flair retire, so they saw Shawn Michaels as the bad guy in the situation.
The old Flair also came out after the Old Yeller comment, screaming at HBK and slapping him multiple times. If I’m being honest, I’d not really seen any of Flair’s early work at this point, so I thought the guy was crazy, slapping someone like HBK and getting more and more wound up. Now older and (a tiny bit) wiser, I realise that this was a great Flair promo, getting himself and Michaels fired up for an absolute classic at Mania, which of course it was.
For one night only, younger fans got to see the Flair that their parents idolised. HBK brought him to a level not seen for at least 10-15 years. One of the most emotional wrestling matches ever, both men tore the house down and proved that the old guard still had the ability to produce classics.
4. Daniel Bryan vs The Authority (WrestleMania 30)
You can hate them all you want, but without The Authority, Daniel Bryan would not be the huge star he is today. Part of what made this storyline great is that unlike most Anti-Authority storylines, people relate more to Daniel Bryan than to John Cena. People can see themselves more in Daniel Bryan than to the stereotypical Jock character that most of them seem to revolve around these days.
What made this storyline so great is that the WWE Universe made it happen. He’d always been a solid mid-card babyface, but fans wanted to see him main event and become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. They hijacked shows with the ‘YES’ chant, which went beyond WWE and into others sport such as the NFL and the NBA.
The turning point for a lot of people was the 2014 Royal Rumble. People wanted Daniel Bryan to be number 30 but when Rey Mysterio came out, they went ballistic. They booed Rey heavily, and when Batista won the match they showered him with abuse, annoyed that their favourite hadn’t even been in the match.
It all came to a head during the March 10th edition of RAW. Fans heavily booed everyone throughout, demanding to see Daniel Bryan. He then came out but he wasn’t alone. He had hundreds of fans enter the ring and held the show hostage until he got what he wanted: A match against Triple H at Wrestlemania 30. After HHH agreed to the bout, Bryan then played his trump card: if he won, he would be added to the Randy Orton vs Batista main event. Fans went berserk. Their everyman hero had out-smarted the Authority figure and might be involved in the main event of the biggest show of the year.
The whole storyline was played out masterfully. Fans had gotten tired of the same people getting title shots. They chose Daniel Bryan as their new hero, and he responded magnificently. He gave fiery promos week after week, relating to the crowd in a way not seen since Stone Cold Steve Austin in the Attitude Era. WWE had no choice but to bow to the fans wishes and give Bryan the push he deserved.
Thankfully, WWE went all the way with Bryan at Mania, letting him defeat HHH and then tapping Batista out to become the new World Heavyweight Champion. Sadly, he had to vacate the title due to injury soon after, but for one glorious night, Daniel Bryan had finally become the A+ star the fans always knew he would be.
5. Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker (Wrestlemania 25 & 26)
In my opinion, the yearlong storyline between Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker isn’t just the best ever, but also the best WWE storyline ever. They had classic matches at both Manias, and crucially, they had fans believing that the most famous streak in Sports could end… TWICE.
The contrast between Michaels at Wrestlemania 25 and 26 is incredible. At Mania 25 he was the vintage, cocky HBK that had become such a huge star in the Attitude Era. The next year he looked desperate, willing to put his career on his line in order to try and end The Undertaker’s streak.
Just look at the build up to the Career vs Streak match at Wrestlemania 26. Michaels failed to win the Rumble, and then failed to qualify for the Elimination Chamber match for a shot at Undertaker’s World Heavyweight Championship. Every time he failed an opportunity, you could see the anguish and the pain on his face. There’s been very few people who could display emotions as strongly as HBK.
Taker had initially turned down Shawn’s pleas for a rematch, saying he has nothing left to prove to him. However, after being screwed out of the World Heavyweight Championship at Elimination Chamber thanks to HBK, he finally agreed to a rematch at Wrestlemania 26 under one condition: Shawn put his career on the line. HBK agreed immediately, saying:
‘If I can’t beat you, I have no career.’
Honestly, I wanted HBK to win at Wrestlemania 26. I loved The Undertaker, but I loved HBK more at that point. I didn’t want his career to end. He remains one of, if not the finest, people to ever step foot inside the ring and I wanted that to continue. I’m not ashamed to admit that I wanted Undertaker to lose, just for a few more years of HBK being amazing.
Of course, we know all happened. Taker won, and HBK’s career was over (I 100% refuse to acknowledge what happened in Saudi Arabia). In retrospect, it was a perfect send-off for the Heartbreak Kid. He went out on top, in front of over 70,000 of his fans. He’d had a storied career and gone out on his terms. You could also see the regret and sorrow on Undertaker’s face, a truly rare thing for fans to see. It was an end to a fantastic career, and it couldn’t have ended at a better place than Wrestlemania.