Sunday, March 15, 2009

Wrestlemania Rankings - The Openers

Well here we are three weeks until the biggest day on any wrestling geek's calender, the Grandest Stage of Them All. In the past two years I have done a variety of different post themes to celebrate the event, including a reflection with my friends on some of our favourite matches/moments, retelling the story of the event, and a ranking of the cards. In deciding what to do this year, I came up with an extension of the ranking idea that I did last year. I felt no need to redo a ranking, since there was only one more card added to the list, and very little has changed in my mind in the past twelve months. Instead, I will look at different events that have occurred in multiple events over the years, including Best Main Events, Best Matches of Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker, Best Intercontinental Title Matches, and the one that I will feature today, The Best Opening Matches.

The opening match on a card is incredibly important, as it is charged with raising the crowds excitment and helps get them involved in the rest of the show. Often times in involves the smaller, or faster wrestlers pulling death defying moves to get the crowd on their feet, and other times it involves popular wrestlers who the crowd will start to cheer from right from the beginning. So without further ado, here are (in my humble opinion) the rankings of the first 24 opening matches in Wrestlemania history.


Paul Orndorf vs. The Magnificent Muraco
Wrestlemania 2
Nassau Colliseum
Long Island, NY

The idea was sort of there. Take a big name like Orndorf out there early to get the crowd pumped, but the execution was all wrong. They should have had Orndorf go over clean to start the crowd out happy, but instead they ended with a boring, slow match that went to a double countout. They had many other matches that would have been great openers, including the NFL Battle Royal or the Tag Title Match, but those two matches were scheduled for the Chicago portion of the card, so were of little use here. Like many things about Wrestlemania II, this match had a good idea but came out flat in the execution. You've got to admire McMahon for trying again (and getting it right) the next year.

Koko B. Ware vs. "The Model" Rich Martel

Wrestlemania VI
Toronto, Ontario

I don't think that they had many other choices on this really very dull card. These two put on what was essentially an extended squash for Martel to showcase his talents. It seemed more like a match to main event Superstars, and less of a match to open the biggest show of the year.

LOD 2000 win a 15 Team Battle Royal

Wrestlemania XIV
Fleet Center
Boston, MA

And so continued the obvious tradition of trying to get as many men onto the card as possible. I quite enjoy a good battle royal, but this was certainly not one. The rules were complicated, with one member of a team having to be eliminated, and hardly ever followed (Mark Henry hung around for minutes after his partner had been eliminated). Also, there were a few moments with outside interference from Barry Windham and Kurrgan the Interrogator. They really should have been involved in a match to begin with. Also, the outcome was incredibly obvious from the get go when LOD 2000 was lead to the ring by Sunny.

D'Lo Brown and The Godfather vs. The Big Boss Man and Bull Buchanan
Wrestlemania 2000
Arrowhead Pond
Anaheim, CA

Wrestlemania 2000 started off great, with a very over face (The Godfather) coming to the ring being lead by a celebrity singing his new theme song (Ice T). It seemed like a sure fire way to start things off nicely. However, instead of having a nice, fun match, they ended up with a plodding, slow affair that ended with the heels winning, cleanly. For shame booking team, for shame.

The Allied Powers vs. The Blu Brothers

Wrestlemania XI
Hartford Civic Center
Hartford, CT

How the mighty had fallen. The year prior, Lex Luger had looked to be on his way to the World Title at the event, and a few months prior, Davey Boy Smith was about to win the Royal Rumble and challenge for the title at this event. Yet, here they were in a team against The Blu Brothers in a dull and relatively meaningless encounter. Luger was well past his prime here, and Davey Boy was not against the right opponent, thus putting them in a fair amount of trouble here. All in all, not the greatest match, and a sub-par start to a sub-par event.

Hercules vs. King Haku
Wrestlemania V
Trump Plaza
Atlantic City, NJ

I really don't know who thought this was a good idea to open up any show. Neither of these two were particularly over, and neither were really capable of putting on an exciting match. Somehow though, these two put on just about the best possible match imaginable, and saved this one from being better than at least five other encounters.

Four-way Tag Team Elimination Match:

The Headbangers vs. The New Blackjacks vs.
The Godwins vs. Doug Furnas and Phil LaFon

Wrestlemania 13
Rosemont Horizon
Chicago, IL

I always kind of enjoyed elimination tag matches, they give a good amount of interaction between a good amount of teams. This was a fun match and every team really played their part well. However, my biggest complaint is the prize, it was a #1 Contenders Match for (I believe) the next night on Raw. Wrestlemania should end storylines, and not lead to throw away matches.

Tito Santana vs. The Executioner
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY

The answer to any trivia questions about the first match in Wrestlemania history. This was a fun match, involving a relatively over face getting a clean win. While it could have been more competitive, it certainly had the right idea, with the right man going over.

Tag Team Title Match
Kane and The Big Show (c) vs. Chris Masters and Carlito
Wrestlemania 22
All State Arena
Chicago, IL

Like many of the other matches here, I can't for the life of me think of why this was the opener, when JBL-Benoit, the Money in the Bank Match, or even Booker T-Boogeyman would have done a much better job, but yet here we were. This match was a rather slow, and plodding affair (to the surprise of nobody) and probably had the wrong team go over. What bothers me most about this match was that it meant nothing in the long term, as Kane and The Big Show lost the titles the very next night, and both teams had split up in a month.

Shawn Michaels vs. Tito "El Matador" Santana
Wrestlemania VIII
Hoosier Dome
Indianapolis, IL

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Here is where the matches go from being bland to good. As such, there is a considerable jump from #16 to #15, but a much slower jump until #5)

The start of Shawn Michaels's singles push, and ascent to the wrestling history books as Mr. Wrestlemania. While this was hardly the most auspicious of starts, he still showed some signs of greatness. Of course, this would have been much better had it been his show down with Marty Jannetty, but he was away either "selling the injury" or "in rehab" depending on who you believe here. This was a fun match, between two very talented performers, but it lacked the necessary emotion to push it into greatness.

Harcore Title Match:
Billy Gunn (c) vs. Hardcore Holly vs. Al Snow
Wrestlemania XV
First Union Center
Philadelphia, PA

The Wrestlemania debut of the Hardcore title was a fun, garbage filled encounter. It probably had the wrong winner, as Al Snow was the unquestioned fan favourite, but it worked out better to set up a Holly-Snow showdown later on. This match would have been ranked considerably higher had it involved the Road Dogg, as it was supposed to, and not had the very bizarre and non-sensical switch of the New Age Outlaws at the last minute.

Intercontinental Title Match:
Shawn Michaels (c) vs. Tatanka
Wrestlemania IX
Ceaser's Palace
Las Vegas, NV

Shawn Michaels' ascent to the top of the wrestling world was well under way here, and he was setting the world on fire as a great Intercontinental Champion. He put on a great showcase with the then-undefeated Tatanka. However, the match was marred by a boring disqualification finish, and like a few other matches mentioned, it did not really have the storyline build, as Shawn's real feud seemed to be with Mr. Perfect, who he would cost a match for later on in the show.

Camp Cornette (Vader, Davey Boy Smith, and Owen Hart) vs.
Yokozuna, Jake Roberts and Ahmed Johnson

Wrestlemania 12
Arrowhead Pond
Anaheim, CA

This match is a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. I quite enjoy a good six to ten man tag team match, and this certainly was one of those. The stipulation was that if Yokozuna's team won then he woudl get five minutes alone with Jim Cornette in the ring, which got the crowd begging for some sort of cumupence for the big man. This really added, and helped take attention away from the obviously infererior talents of the face side. The heels worked a good match (no surprise) and the faces all stayed in the ring for a short time, thus keeping the action fresh. I still question having the faces (including Ahmed Johnson, who they were pushing hard at the time) take the loss though.

Bellfast Brawl:
Finlay vs. JBL

Wrestlemania XXIV
Citrus Bowl
Orlando, FL

As I said last year "I thought that this was an interesting choice to open up the show, especially when they had the Money in the Bank match right afterwards. This match was pretty fun, especially when Finlay busted out a tope. The ending was pretty deflating, as JBL hit Finlay with a kendo stick, and then got a clean win (i.e. interference free). I thought that a Finlay victory was a sure thing here. I guess not...". Not much for me to add, fun match, with the wrong winner from a storyline point of view.

United States Title Match:
The Big Show (c) vs. John Cena

Wrestlemania XX
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY

Not exactly the most fast past of openers, but still a good match none the less. It got a very over young face out there first, and gave him the first of many Wrestlemania moments for him. The match was hurt by The Big Show's obvious injuries, however, the two still strung together and entertaining encounter that kicked off one of the best cards in Wrestlemania history.

Intercontinental Title Match:
William Regal (c) vs. Rob Van Dam

Wrestlemania X8
Toronto, Ontario

The last time that the Intercontinental title was defended at Wrestlemania, was a fun opener between two wrestlers with very different styles. It showcased Van Dam's ability to take a beating, as it looked like he was damn near dead on one of Regal's suplexes. While I understand them wanting to put RVD over with the title on the big stage, the feud seemed very forced, and Regal's prior feud with Edge was never really resolved, so a switch of partners between RVD and Edge could have gone a long way to improving this rather dull card.

The Can-Am Connection vs. Bob Orton and The Magnificent Muraco

Wrestlemania III
Pontiac Silver Dome
Detroit, MI

Essentially the prototype for fun opening matches. Two over teams in the mid-card, putting on a fast pace match with the faces going over in an exciting style.

Bad News Brown wins a 20 Man Battle Royal

Wrestlemania IV
Trump Plaza
Atlantic City, NJ

A very a-typical opening match, but it worked here. While logic would have put one of the tournament matches up first in order to use the Battle Royal as a "breather" of sorts in between rounds, however, this match went a long way to entertaining the crowd. The ending was particularly legendary, as Bad News looked to split the award with Bret Hart, however he decided to turn on Hart and keep the trophy for his own, only for Hart to return and smash it in a moment of heel-on-heel tension that really was ahead of its time.

Intercontinental Title Match:
Chris Jericho (c) vs. William Regal

Wrestlemania X-Seven
Houston, TX

Had this been on any other card it could have been a contender for match of the night. However, given that it was on arguably the greatest wrestling event of all time, it could not even crack the top five of the evening. While this was a great match, with the right man going over, it felt rushed, thus preventing it from ranking higher on the list.

The Rockers vs. The Barbarian and Haku

Wrestlemania VII
Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena
Los Angeles, CA

Fun, simple match that fit in a text book formula of power vs. speed. All four men played their parts well, and put on a great match. Easily the best of Micheals's three straight opening performances.

(EDITOR'S NOTE: The next jump up is a very large one, as the top four matches really are a cut above their competition)

Cruiserweight Title Match:
Matt Hardy (c) vs. Rey Mysterio

Wrestlemania XIX
Safeco Field
Seattle, WA

The Wrestlemania debut of the cruiserweight title was a fun and entertaining match between two very talented performers. While this was really just the start of their feud, which would culminate in a main event match on Smackdown in the summer, this was still a fun match. IU even did not mind the heel victory in the opener as it came suddenly and set up for what was actually a very memorable feud.

Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero
Wrestlemania 21
Staples Center
Los Angeles, CA

Speaking of great feuds, this match kick started one of the best feuds that the WWE has put together in the decade, between two of the most talented performers in the history of the industry. While this match did not match their earlier encounters from WCW, or their later (more hate filled) matches during the year, this was still a great exhibition, and was filled with many great moments as Eddie clearly contemplated cheating against his friend, but let his conscious get the best of him, costing him the match.

Money in the Bank Ladder Match:
Mr. Kennedy vs. CM Punk vs. King Booker vs. Edge vs.
Randy Orton vs. Jeff Hardy vs. Matt Hardy vs. Finlay

Wrestlemania 23
Ford Field
Detroit, MI

While not the greatest Money in the Bank match, it certainly was the most star-studded, as it included three former world champions, and a number of rising stars. This match featured some great moments, including the Green Bay Plunge from the top of the ladder to Hornswoggle, Jeff Hardy nearly killing Edge, and a great RKO buffet by Orton. All 8 men worked hard and had a great match, with a shocker of an ending, and an amazing post-victory promo from Kennedy.

Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart

Wrestlemania X
Madison Square Garden
New York, NY

While I had difficulty with a number of my choices, there really was no debate as to which match should top this list. Not only does this match easily top this list, it would probably top the list of best opening matches of any wrestling show, at any time. The storyline and build really was great, and the match was simply a classic. Both men delivered a technical classic, that featured counter upon counter, in what is legitematly one of the greatest matches that the WWF/E has ever put on. Owen's sudden victory was great and played off of him being only three seconds better than his brother, and really made Bret's celebration at the end of the night all the greater.


So there we have the list of the opening matches. Keep turning back here for more lists as we get closer, and closer to April 4th.

Until next time,


Achieved Posts:

The Openers
The Intercontinental Title
The Tag Team Titles
Extreme Rules
Women's Matches
The Dead Man
The Showstopper
The Main Events

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