5. Bret Hart VS Shawn Michaels: Iron Man Match (Wrestlemania XII)
Bret Hart’s first (but not last) entry on this list is Shawn Michaels best match, and that is saying something already. Bret Hart had taken over the companies top spot after the departure of Hulk Hogan and his more technical approach meshed extremely well with the high risk style of Shawn Michaels. HBK was becoming known as “Mr. Wrestlemania” already by this point and his zip-line entrance with his mirrored vest made his brash character stand out even more against the subdued and serious Hart. What followed was 60 plus minutes of an amazing display of wrestling. In a time when many said that no current wrestlers had the ability to go a full hour, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels proved them wrong and then some. An absolute necessity to watch for any aspiring wrestler, these two revolutionized the in ring style of main event wrestling for the next two decades with one of the finest performances ever seen.
4. Hulk Hogan VS Andre the Giant (Wrestlemania III)
In 1987, there was no bigger name in pop culture than Hulk Hogan. He was on everything from talk shows to movies and was quite literally larger than life. Yet his opponent in this match was a man whom was a legend in the business as a babyface who had recently turned to a villain against Hogan. Andre the Giant, though clearly near the end of his career, was still an unbeatable giant when he stepped into the main event of the much hyped Wrestlemania III. When Hogan bodyslammed Andre, the world seemed to shake and Hulkamania continued as Hogan dropped the leg and pinned him in the middle of the ring. The absolute best example of ‘spectacle’ in wrestling, and the best example of a man versus a giant was seen on this night and to this day, this match defines pro wrestling for millions who were caught up in the 80’s madness.
3. Bret Hart VS ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin: Submission Match (Wrestlemania 13)
‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin is perhaps one of the top five most famous wrestlers in the history of the industry, but at this time, he was still gaining momentum. Bret Hart, having lost his title to Shawn Michaels the year before, had gone down a road that would lead to his turning on the fans who had spent years cheering him on, and Austin, despite his brash and vulgar attitude and speech, was fast becoming a fan favorite. When these two met at Wrestlemania, there was no shortage of fans for both men, but as Austin lay screaming in defiance, blood running down his head and into his eyes while trapped in Harts famed ‘Sharpshooter’ submission hold, the image would last forever. That image of Austin, who passed out rather than submit, would go on to be a defining characteristic of the Austin character and Brets reaction after the match of disbelief that the audience would cheer against him and that Austin still didn’t submit, cemented him as a top villain. This match truly in many ways kicked off the “Attitude” era and began the legacy of the main event level Steve Austin.
2. Ricky Steamboat VS Randy Savage (Wrestlemania III)
Ricky Steamboat is perhaps the greatest ‘babyface’ or good guy in the history of wrestling. Like Bruno Sammartino, he appealed to all ages and races and his ability to ‘sell’ made him look like he was always fighting for his life. This match, with its background of Savage’s jealousy over anyone showing interest in his valet Miss Elizabeth and subsequent elbow drop with a ring bell into Steamboat’s throat was enough to make a rabid audience ready to riot against Savage and for Steamboat. Steamboat and Savage were also at the top of their games in ring as well and put on a clinic that is cited by many wrestlers as their all-time favorite match. For 20 minutes, these two put on a flawless performance that ended with Steamboat walking away with the Intercontinental title and setting the stage for Andre and Hogan to close out the show in the best way possible. Even with the spectacle of Hogan and Andre, for many, Savage and Steamboat stole the show. Midcard wrestlers have been attempting to pull a ‘Steamboat-Savage’ ever since.
1. Ric Flair VS Ricky Steamboat (Wrestlewar 1989)
Ric Flair, the icon of the NWA and the most dominant and decorated champion of the era versus Ricky Steamboat, the man who had never been world champ until he beat Flair earlier in the year, and widely known as the best in-ring wrestler in the business. These two faced off in three classic matches, but in order to keep two guys from taking up three of the top five spots, only this match made the list. Steamboat came in to this match the champion, having beaten Flair at Chi-Town Rumble and retaining at Clash of the Champions. Flair came in riding a wave of fan support as the audience knew they were watching something very special every time those two faced off. This match, with three guest judges: Pat O’Connor, Lou Thesz and Terry Funk, all previous NWA World Champions and legends in their own right, was an hour long classic. Flair ended up pinning Steamboat and afterwards shook his hand in a show of respect, thus turning him into a fan favorite. Immediately after the match, Terry Funk would come in to interview him and challenge him for the belt, which Flair refused, causing Funk to piledrive Flair on a table. This would lead to a classic confrontation between the two later on, but this match is the real star here. Flair and Steamboat’s matches are routinely used by wrestling schools to teach students and this match is, by many, considered to be the greatest wrestling match of all-time, and most certainly of the modern era.