With a nickname like “Mr. WrestleMania,” it’s hard to argue against the resume of WWE Hall of Famer Shawn Michaels with his 17 appearances inside the ring at the biggest stage in professional wrestling.
But is a catchy moniker and reputation for stealing the show enough to justify undisputed acclaim as the best and most accomplished performer in WrestleMania history? That’s what we are here to figure out, using a multitude of factors including longevity, star power, quality of matches and importance of victories.
As the WWE gets set for Sunday’s WrestleMania 33 card at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida (WWE Network, 7 p.m. ET), let’s take a closer look at who makes the strongest case for top honors as the greatest showman at “The Showcase of the Immortals.”
15. The Ultimate Warrior
Matches: 5 | Record: 4-1 | Main events: 1
Best match: Defeated Randy Savage in a retirement match at WrestleMania VII
Warrior’s small sample size and limited ring ability limits his placement on the list, but he had no shortage of monster moments during a brief run at or near the top. No moment was bigger than his victory of Hulk Hogan in their title unification match at WrestleMania VI, which marked the first time Hogan had been pinned clean since first winning the WWF championship in 1984. He also drew a massive pop with his surprise appearance to rescue Hogan at WrestleMania VIII.
14. Chris Jericho
Matches: 13 | Record: 5-8 | Main events: 1
Best match: Lost to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XIX
Only six men in history have fought in more matches at WrestleMania than Y2J, whose renaissance 2016 campaign brought much-needed attention to just how legendary a WWE resume Jericho has built. He has had some big moments at the “Showcase of the Immortals” as well, including his classic with Michaels in 2003 and an underrated victory over AJ Styles last year that will only appreciate with age.
13. Kurt Angle
Matches: 8 | Record: 3-5 | Main events: 1
Best match: Defeated Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 21
Although Angle competed in the main event at WrestleMania just once during his eight-year run in WWE, his run of in-ring classics at the big dance holds up with anyone. Three times he fought for the WWE championship, and his singles matches against against Chris Benoit (X-Seven), Brock Lesnar (XIX), Eddie Guerrero (XX) and Michaels (21) remain classics.
12. Brock Lesnar
Matches: 6 | Record: 3-3 | Main events: 2
Best match: Defeated Kurt Angle to win the WWE championship at WrestleMania XIX
With a big chunk of his sports entertainment prime missing due to a foray into the UFC, Lesnar’s legacy is a complicated one. But no superstar was better built for the biggest stage than “The Beast,” who isn’t lacking in iconic moments either. Lesnar’s shocking dismantling of The Undertaker’s unbeaten streak at WrestleMania XXX was one of the event’s all-time greatest moments, and his main-event match two years ago against Roman Reigns (and a late-arriving Seth Rollins) was the perfect capstone to one of the best WrestleMania cards in recent history.
11. Daniel Bryan
Matches: 5 | Record: 4-1 | Main events: 1
Best match: Defeated Triple H at WrestleMania XXX to win a WWE title shot
Bryan would have become a no-brainer for this list had his career not been cut short in 2016 by concussion issues. His performance in a pair of matches at WrestleMania XXX went a long way in creating his legend, including one of the most electric post-match celebrations in history after he defeated Batista and Randy Orton for the WWE world heavyweight championship. Bryan also scored an exciting victory the following year during a ladder match for the intercontinental championship.
Matches: 10 | Record: 6-4 | Main events: 1
Best match: With Christian defeated The Dudley Boyz and The Hardy Boyz in a tables, ladders and chairs match to win the tag team championship at WrestleMania X-Seven
You want big moments? Edge was a master of the big moments thanks to an incredible flair for the dramatic during 10 trips to WrestleMania. His early tag team work, including a spear of Jeff Hardy from the top of a ladder in 2001,was revolutionary. His singles work was even better. Edge was victorious in the first Money in the Bank ladder match (21), he dove through a flaming table in a hardcore classic against Mick Foley (22) and lost an incredible “streak vs. WWE championship” match against The Undertaker (XXIV) in his only main event. In the final match of his career at WrestleMania XXVII, Edge hit a walk-off home run by defending his world heavyweight championship against Alberto Del Rio.
9. Triple H
Matches: 20 | Record: 9-11 | Main events: 7
Best match: Lost to The Undertaker in hell in a cell at WrestleMania XXVIII
It’s almost a shame that “The Game” is this low on the list considering his incredible longevity, which includes the second-most matches and main event appearances in WrestleMania history. (He also has the most losses with 11.) To make a case that he deserves to be higher, one might point to the peak of his prime beginning in 2000, when Triple H competed in the final match five times in seven years. Being so close to the book as the son-in-law of chairman Vince McMahon surely hasn’t hurt, but in Triple H’s defense, he hasn’t declined much at all with age. The buildup to his main event slot last year with Roman Reigns for the WWE championship featured some of his best work at age 46.
8. Randy Savage
Matches: 11 | Record: 7-4 | Main events: 2
Best match: Lost the intercontinental title to Ricky Steamboat at WrestleMania III
The only man to win four matches at a single WrestleMania, Savage was ahead of his time in terms of athleticism and attention to detail in planning a match. The “Macho Man” simply poured every ounce of himself into what he was doing. His intercontinental championship match against Steamboat 30 years ago is on the short list of WWE’s greatest matches. After main-eventing WrestleMania in back-to-back years for the WWF championship, he turned in a second classic against Ric Flair in 1992. Savage’s greatest WrestleMania trick may have been his ability to elevate both Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior to arguably their best matches in company history.
7. John Cena
Matches: 12 | Record: 9-3 | Main events: 5
Best match: Defeated Shawn Michaels to retain the WWE title at WrestleMania 23
The 16-time WWE world champion is also the only superstar to win the company’s top title four separate times at “The Grandest Stage of Them All.” His debut at WrestleMania XX in 2004, when he defeated The Big Show for the United States championship, kicked off a 12-year run of big matches that mattered, including 10 for a major singles championship. No wonder he has the nickname “Big Match John.” While Cena’s run at the very top endured criticism for stretches of predictable booking, his ability to make great matches with any opponent consistently improved as the years went on.
6. Bret Hart
Matches: 14 | Record: 8-6 | Main events: 2
Best match: Defeated Steve Austin in a submission match at WrestleMania 13
Hart’s reputation as “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be” was cemented at WrestleMania, where his combination of technical brilliance, grit and storytelling produced one classic after another. Beginning with WrestleMania 2 in 1986, Hart competed in 12 of the first 13 shows. While the lack of a quality second act after leaving WWE in 1997 hurt his chances of climbing even higher on this list, Hart still authored four all-time great WrestleMania matches against fellow legends Roddy Piper (VIII), younger brother Owen Hart (X), Shawn Michaels (XII) and Austin (13).
5. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin
Matches: 7 | Record: 5-2 | Main events: 3
Best match: Loss to Bret Hart in a submission match at WrestleMania 13
While injuries may have robbed Austin of more big-match WrestleMania opportunities, his ability to draw fans and deliver a performance equal to the moment is largely unrivaled. From the incredible storytelling in his 1997 loss to Hart, when he passed out in a pool of his own blood, to his conquering of Shawn Michaels the following year to capture his first WWE championship, Austin delivered on the big stage. Along with his legendary WrestleMania trilogy against The Rock and a handful of post-retirement run-ins and guest referee spots, Austin will also be remembered for his execution of both a shocking heel (X-Seven) and face (13) turn at WrestleMania.
4. The Rock
Matches: 11 | Record: 6-5 | Main events: 5
Best match: Lost the WWF championship to Steve Austin at WrestleMania X-Seven
His five-year run at WrestleMania during the tail end of the “Attitude Era” stands up with what any superstar has done at the peak of their prime. Along with an all-time great trilogy with Austin and three straight headlining roles, The Rock squared off with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8 in one of the finest “passing of the torch” moments in WWE history. Despite leaving pro wrestling to become the world’s highest paid actor, The Rock never strayed too far WrestleMania. Along with headlining against John Cena in consecutive years, he has added to his resume with a series of run-ins and guest appearances, some of which -- toasting beers with Austin and Hogan (XXX), teaming up with Ronda Rousey (31) -- became iconic WrestleMania moments.
3. Hulk Hogan
Matches: 12 | Record: 8-3-1 | Main events: 8
Best match: Lost to The Rock at WrestleMania X8
From the standpoint of being a pioneer and historical figure for WWE, there’s a good argument for Hogan to top this list. Not only did he main event a record eight WrestleMania cards, becoming synonymous with the event, Vince McMahon’s gamble of risking everything to create the annual “Super Bowl of sports entertainment” couldn’t have worked without Hogan’s charisma and crossover appeal. Say what you will for the quality of his matches compared to others on this list, but his opponents were legendary and his iconic slam of Andre the Giant remains the biggest and most important moment in WrestleMania history. His brief second act following a run with WCW, including an electric match against The Rock, adds bonus points.
2. Shawn Michaels
Matches: 17 | Record: 6-11 | Main events: 4
Best match: Lost to The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXV
Nobody has a better track record for producing great matches when it matters most than “The Heartbreak Kid,” whose second chapter to his career following a four-year retirement due to a back injury elevated his legacy to a whole new level. Need some statistics to back up the greatness of Michaels? According to a 2016 ranking of the top 25 matches in WrestleMania history by WWE.com, Michaels took part in five of the top 10 and an astounding eight of the top 17. Enough said.
1. The Undertaker
Matches: 24 | Record: 23-1 | Main events: 3
Best match: Defeated Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV
The Streak. That just about says it all. When Brock Lesnar ended his unbeaten run of 21 consecutive victories at WrestleMania XXX, it was pro wrestling’s equivalent to “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.” The Undertaker’s longevity and commitment to his character are strong factors in his favor for No. 1. The fact that he enjoyed his greatest WrestleMania matches after turning 40 doesn’t hurt either. While Michaels has an extremely compelling case due to quality of matches, the unique aspect to The Undertaker’s legacy is how much his name is so directly linked with the event. Beginning with his victory over “The Legend Killer” Randy Orton at WrestleMania 21, when the streak truly became iconic, Taker’s matches became unique events unto themselves. He has missed just two WrestleMania cards due to injuries (1994, 2000) during a 27-year run with WWE that has spanned multiple generations. He also currently holds WrestleMania records for the most matches (24), wins (23), consecutive victories (21) and consecutive appearances (16).
Who might crash this list in the future?
Roman Reigns (matches: 4, record: 3-1, main events: 2) -- There’s little question that Reigns, 31, will get the kind of push needed to add a large handful of main event appearances to his list of credentials before it’s all said and done. In his favor is also the fact that he knows how to deliver in big matches. Reigns has the polarizing magnetism of Cena and an incredibly marketable and edgy look. That’s a dangerous combination. His match against Lesnar at WrestleMania 31, which ended up ending via interference by Seth Rollins, was his best.
Seth Rollins (matches: 4, record: 3-1, main events: 1) -- Entering his prime at 30, Rollins has an incredibly bright future ahead of him if he can stay healthy. Already one of the company’s finest workers, Rollins exudes elements of Michaels and Savage. That’s incredibly fine company. And winning the strap in the aforementioned WrestleMania 31 match was a tremendous moment.
AJ Styles (matches: 1, record: 0-1, main events: 0) -- At 39, Styles doesn’t have much time to waste. But considering he’s already the company’s top in-ring performer, having authored a steady stream of four-star matches during his first 12 months in WWE, there’s still time for him to author a handful of classics if he stays healthy in his 40s. He lost to Jericho at WrestleMania 32.
Charlotte Flair (matches: 1, record: 1-0, main events: 0) -- Knee-jerk reactions come in many shapes and sizes, but if you want to make the case that Flair is already the greatest female superstar in WWE history, there’s an argument to be had in terms of performance alone. If two women ever get the chance to headline a WrestleMania, which is Flair’s goal, it’s a good bet that she’’ll be part of that match. At 30, Flair will need to go on an impressive run right now. But if last year’s debut in a victory over Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch at WrestleMania 32 is any indication, it’s not entirely out of the question.