It is understandable that everyone wants to be in the main event of WrestleMania, standing in the middle of the ring in the last match of the show. But what about the other end of the card? While the pressure is on big time to send the fans home happy with the closer, those who open the show have the job of kick-starting the crowd, engaging the television audience, and setting the tone of the whole event. No pressure then!
There have been some amazing opening matches at WrestleMania throughout the 30-plus year history of the event with some matches ending up more instantly memorable than their main event counterparts.
So, what matches got crowds on their feet from the very start?
Chris Jericho vs. William Regal, WrestleMania X-Seven
WrestleMania X-Seven is widely considered the greatest of all time, so it is fitting that the opener finds its way onto this list.
For many, the thing that stands out in the feud between Chris Jericho and William Regal was the moment Y2J added a little something to the tea of Blackpool’s favourite wrestler, but this match with Jericho’s Intercontinental Title on the line was a little screamer of a show opener.
Regal was at his villainous best in this match exposing the turnbuckle and ramming Y2J shoulder first into the steel before getting to work on it in slow sadistic methodical style, not dissimilar to the style used by Pete Dunne today. Jericho went on to regroup and come out on top after hitting a lionsault.
It may be fair to say that everything else that happened in this show may have caused this match to become a little lost in the mix through the years but this was a perfect way to whet the audience’s appetite and gee them up for what was to come that night and is that not the ultimate goal of any opening match?
Matt Hardy vs. Rey Mysterio, WrestleMania XIX
WrestleMania XIX was the first WrestleMania to be held under the WWE banner with the company getting the F out the previous summer.
The 19th edition of the showcase of the immortals was also the first WrestleMania to take place with the brand extension in place meaning this, in theory, was one of four shows a year where Raw and Smackdown interacted. As mentioned the goal of any curtain-jerker match is to get the crowd out of their seats at the start of the show and set a pace for the rest of the event. So sticking Rey Mysterio – in his ‘Mania debut – and Matt Hardy in what was short but sweet opener was a no brainer really.
Hardy was very enjoyable during this “Mattitude Era” of his character, while still a lower mid carder in the main, his title reign came across as a big deal in what was at the time a very underrated cruiserweight division. There was a huge buzz around Rey finally joining the ranks of the WWE after the demise of WCW and the what could have been of the invasion angle. It made perfect sense to put these two against each other and they did not disappoint.
Mysterio had to deal with Shannon Moore at ringside as well as Hardy, and Moore was not shy about making his presence known. Moore saved his long-time friends cruiserweight title reign by placing his foot on the rope when Rey had him covered after a top rope hurricanrana early in the match.
Hardy retained by again using the ropes to his advantage in a match that in all honesty could have easily had another ten minutes. A very good match and a fantastic maiden voyage for Mysterio at WrestleMania, although perhaps his finest opening match at WrestleMania was still to come?
Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart, WrestleMania X
This shouldn’t really be much of a surprise as, not only is this one of the best WrestleMania opening matches of all time, it is arguably one of the best matches in the company’s history!
This match was the next chapter in a story which began back at Survivor Series 1993 when the Owen was the only member of a Survivor Series team comprised of Hart brothers to be eliminated. The younger sibling blamed Bret for his elimination and stormed off before reconciling with his older brother over the Christmas period.
The alliance was short-lived as after losing a Tag Team Title match with the Quebecers at the 1994 Royal Rumble due in part to Bret suffering an injury to his knee Owen once again lost his cool and proceeded to “kick Bret’s leg out of his leg”.
Despite the injury, the Hitman went on to win the Royal Rumble match alongside Lex Luger with both men being deemed to have hit the floor at the same time. This led to the infamous coin toss where Hart and Luger both received WWE Title matches at WrestleMania. Luger won the toss (arguably the biggest win in his WWF run), meaning he would face WWF Champion Yokozuna first with the winner facing Bret who in the interest of fairness also wrestled twice. The match against Owen was set and would open WrestleMania X.
The match itself was a clinic with both Harts sharing advantage throughout but with perhaps no one really believing Bret was going to lose to an at the time unestablished Owen Hart. This made the result, when the younger Hart outsmarted his older brother, scoring the fall after countering the same victory roll Bret had used to win the King of the Ring tournament less than a year earlier all the more shocking. The loss caused absolutely no damage to Bret who went on to defeat Yokozuna for the title in the main event, but it went a long way in establishing Owen as a viable main event heel foil for his brother.
A masterpiece which stands the test of time very well.
Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus, WrestleMania XXVIII
Okay, so this was not a long match! But once again, the whole purpose of an opening match is to kickstart the crowd or, in this case, Brogue Kick them into life!
To set the scene, World Heavyweight Champion Daniel Bryan was due to defend against the winner of the 2012 Royal Rumble Sheamus which was a bit of poetic justice as the two were scheduled to face each other at the previous year’s show but were sadly bumped to the pre show. So, when they were opening the 28th edition of WrestleMania, people were expecting both men to really showcase what they had – but alas, that was not to be!
Bryan turned away to get a good-luck kiss from AJ Lee, only to be met by the big Irishman, who delivered a Brogue Kick and pinned him to win the title all in the space of 18 seconds!
Some people loved it, some people hated it – but it got everyone talking about it! Everyone remembers the WrestleMania where Daniel Bryan got pinned in 18 seconds.
(And if you are one of those who hated it, there may be another Daniel Bryan entry further along this list!)
John Cena vs. Big Show, WrestleMania XX
WrestleMania XX was “where it all began again”. It was also the event that signalled the arrival of John Cena to the big stage with everyone’s favourite Thuganomics General Practitioner making his WrestleMania in ring debut.
He was up against The Big Show with the United States Title on the line. It should be noted that Show’s title reign had been handled superbly since defeating Eddie Guerrero for the strap at No Mercy the previous October. No comedy and no crying, Show had been booked like an unstoppable monster in that vein of form there aren’t many better than Paul Wight. Meanwhile, Cena had been slowly, but steadily, gaining momentum and winning fans over and, looking back, it felt right that it was the man who went on to be the face of the company for the next decade who would be the first through the curtain in a show that was being pushed as a new beginning of sorts for the company.
The match itself was fine but the crowd reaction for Cena’s entrance and opening rap followed by the eruption when he pinned Show after a brass knuck shot followed by an FU were what made this match special.
Sometimes in wrestling, just after a match, there is this unspoken acknowledgment among a crowd that they are present at the start of something very special, and it was apparent with John Cena’s first title win at WrestleMania XX. Wonder what happened to him…
Edge vs. Alberto Del Rio, WrestleMania XXVII
Part of the reasoning for including this match is the bigger story it ties into with this match becoming what would be Adam Copeland’s last match for nine years.
If he hadn’t been forced to retire this match may not have made the list but with the very real possibility of Edge leaving this year’s WrestleMania as champion after technically never losing the Heavyweight Title back in 2011. There is a sort of poetry which necessitated this match being included.
Edge was defending against Alberto del Rio, who had won the first ever 40-man Royal Rumble in January 2011. Del Rio went on to challenge Edge and, along with his bodyguard Brodus Clay, subjected Edge to a series of attacks in the lead up to ‘Mania which prompted Edge to seek backup in the form of his tag partner of many years and real life bestie Christian.
In the early stages of the match Del Rio targeted the injured arm of Edge. However, the champion rallied and eventually ground out the win with the spear.
After the match Edge and Christian destroyed Del Rio’s car and posed for the crowd. None of us at home, or in attendance, even contemplating it would be almost a decade before Edge competed at a WrestleMania again.
Shawn Michaels vs. ‘El Matador’ Tito Santana, WrestleMania VIII
This is an underrated gem was the big stage debut of “The Heartbreak Kid”. Mr WrestleMania was perhaps more Master WrestleMania at this point but in his first solo outing at the show of shows, it was obvious that Shawn Michaels was destined for bigger things and it wouldn’t be too long before he was closing WrestleMania rather than opening.
The match itself saw lots of bumping by Michaels, and perhaps surprisingly little interference from his ‘main squeeze’ Sensational Sherri. Santana, who was coming to the end of his WWF run, played the part of the wily veteran who was not impressed by the cocky youngster – and these two actually had very good chemistry.
Michaels got the win after countering a body slam attempt by El Matador. A lot of posturing and posing by Michaels showed he was still figuring out what worked for his new character but the signs were there that he was going to be one to watch. In fact, after the match Bobby Heenan – who was on glorious form in the early part of 1992 – commented that Michaels would go on to be the star of the ’90s. They didn’t call him ‘The Brain’ for nothing!
Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H, WrestleMania XXX
This match was the penultimate part of the culmination of one of the most ultimately satisfying story arcs in recent wrestling history.
Daniel Bryan had grown so popular with the fans that they ultimately turned the hand of those behind the scenes at WWE who had other plans for the ‘Mania main event. The story began with Bryan beating John Cena clean at SummerSlam only for guest referee Triple H to pedigree the new champion leading to a Money in the Bank cash in from Randy Orton and a LOT of unhappy fans. A short stint in the Wyatt family only made the crowd want Bryan more and, when he eventually turned on Bray in January of 2014, it caused a fan reaction akin to the halcyon days of the Attitude Era.
Bryan went go on to “occupy Raw” in March of that year, filling the ring with members of the Yes Movement and refusing to leave until The Authority granted him a match with Triple H which, if successful, would allow Bryan to go on and compete in the main event for the title against Orton and Batista.
This match had Triple H enter on a throne with some elaborate headgear and set the scene for having what is very much a main-event-calibre match open the show. The bout itself was a 26-minute classic in which The Game injured Bryan’s left arm early on and spent a large portion of the match targeting the injury. Bryan eventually rallied and ultimately escaped a Pedigree attempt to hit the running knee to score the pin – making the crowd go wild!
We all know what happened in the main event, but this match was special as the build had you genuinely wondering if Bryan was going to win or if he would be screwed again. The belief was that fans would be beside themselves if he didn’t get that elusive main event but you also knew that WWE would happily have him lose if that was what they wanted!
They did the right thing and the rest is history.
A B+ match by two A+ players!
Money in the Bank Ladder Match, WrestleMania XXV
By WrestleMania XXV, the Money in the Bank concept had become a popular staple of WrestleMania and this particular incarnation of the match included Kofi Kingston, Kane, MVP, CM Punk, Christian, Finlay, Mark Henry and Shelton Benjamin.
The inclusion of Henry and Kane allowed the more high-flying competitors a base to perform some of the more spectacular feats in the match. Christian who had recently returned to the WWE roster following a lengthy stint in TNA was the crowd favourite. While there may not have been as many death-defying stunts as previous MITB contests, Shelton Benjamin did get a chance to let rip with a spectacular dive from the top of a ladder. The pace of this match was just right to psyche the crowd up.
Perhaps surprisingly, the eventual winner would be CM Punk who, having won the briefcase the year before, was not really on anyone’s radar to win again. However, he became the first man to win back-to-back briefcases and his cash in would lead to a heel turn and the eventual rise of the Straight Edge Society, one of the more underrated factions in recent history.
Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero, WrestleMania XXI
Eddie Guerrero celebrated in the ring with one of his closest friends Chris Benoit to close WrestleMania XX as a champion. In a somewhat symmetrical twist, he would open WrestleMania XXI as a champion – facing one of his closest friends Rey Mysterio. Having these two open WrestleMania was a great move as anyone who had seen their classic at Halloween Havoc in 1997 would attest they know how to put on a match!
The Tag Team Champions at odds is maybe a tired concept these days but this was played out as friendly competition between the two and was quite a novel concept. While this was not the epic battle their Halloween Havoc was, the match was still action packed and allowed both to showcase their arsenal with the crowd split right down the middle.
Both men were baby faces in this match but as Eddie grew more frustrated at his inability to put Rey away his facial expressions told the story in a way that you just don’t see anymore. Eddie had the ability to further a story with a simple scowl or raised eyebrow. Mysterio ultimately got the win by countering a tilt-a-whirl attempt into a West Coast Pop.
The two shook hands after the match, but this bout would be the catalyst to an Eddie heel turn and our first encounter with one Dominik Mysterio later that year.
Of course this would be the final WrestleMania appearance for Guerrero – who sadly passed away in November 2005.
Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins, WrestleMania 35
Brock Lesnar is someone we are more used to seeing close shows but, at WrestleMania 35, the main event was contested by females for the first time in a historic Triple Threat Match between Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey. So where could Lesnar and Seth Rollins fit in without diluting the magnitude of the match?
Looking back, the obvious choice was the opener but it is safe to say there were a few raised eyebrows when this match was announced as the curtain jerker on the pre-show. With a red-hot Seth Rollins pushing the narrative that Lesnar was holding the title hostage throughout the build to the match, this was an eagerly anticipated contest.
Fans can sometimes tend to go in circles with their feelings towards The Beast Incarnate, and this was one of those times where they felt that he’d held the title for too long and, by not being on Raw every week, was denying opportunities to the roster.
The WWE Universe were ready for change and Rollins was the horse they were backing. The Architect had really gathered momentum and his in-ring performances were getting rave reviews. Was it time?
Despite being attacked by Lesnar before the match began, Rollins would not be denied and after three huge Curb Stomps, Rollins had captured the Universal Championship in one of the most memorable WrestleMania openers in recent memory.
You can watch WrestleMania live on the WWE Network on April 10th and 11th, as the Show of Shows emanates from the Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida.