This Sunday, WrestleMania 33 takes place in Orlando, Florida. It is, without question, the biggest event of the year for the WWE, its cornerstone event and arguably the spectacle that made the sports entertainment company the biggest, most well-known on the planet.
But big events are made by the enormity of the moments that comprise them. The WWE has made its bread-and-butter the concept of the "WrestleMania Moment," touchstones which fans and the company itself can point to over years and decades as definitive and iconic. Some, though, have been more memorable and more game-changing than others. With 13 matches scheduled for Sunday's event (including three pre-show contests), it's possible another iconic moment will be added to the list. For now, let's take a look at the 10 biggest and best moments in WrestleMania history -- the ones that have left lasting impressions on fans both hardcore and casual.
10. Edge Spears Jeff Hardy (WrestleMania 17)
The late 1990s through the early 2000s marked a more "extreme" bent to much of what the WWE was trying to accomplish in-ring, and nothing embodied this more than the multiple high-risk matches that took place between the tag teams of Edge and Christian, the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz (also indicative of "extremeness:" Liberal use of Zs to indicate plurality).
The trio met in a ladder match at WrestleMania 17 for the WWE Tag Team Championship, and while not the first time, it featured such a standout moment of aggressive disregard for bodily integrity, it warrants a mention on this list.
Jeff Hardy had gotten ahold of the belts (and the rig holding them above the ring) but had the ladder pulled out from under him, leaving him dangling above the ring. Edge then climbed the re-positioned ladder, leapt off and speared Hardy, taking them both to the canvas and leaving fans aghast.
Though one of many violent, high-risk moments in the long-running feud between these seemingly fearless tag teams, this particular stunt established heart-stopping moments becoming a regular and expected WrestleMania tradition.
9. Shawn Michaels Wins His First WWE Championship (WrestleMania 12)
Once upon a time, "Mr. WrestleMania" Shawn Michaels was a "Heartbreak Kid" just looking for his breakthrough moment, and it finally arrived at WrestleMania 12 in the form of a 60-minute Iron Man match for the WWE (then-WWF) World Heavyweight Championship against Bret Hart, via Michaels' winning the 1996 Royal Rumble.
The match, though not iconic in execution or style, carried with it much weight. It signaled a changing of the guard, from the cerebral-technical perfection that Hart represented to the emotional crowd-driven Michaels. And for a match to go over 60 minutes -- Michaels won the belt in "overtime" -- even at an oft-overlong event like WrestleMania remains an anomaly. The image that lingers is that of Michaels holding his belt, sitting on the mat in near-shock, finally coming to the realization that after nearly a decade in the company, he had finally reached the top of the mountain.
8. Macho Man and Elizabeth Reunite (WrestleMania 7)
Macho Man Randy Savage (then working under the "Macho King" moniker) found himself in the unfortunate situation of staring down a retirement match at WrestleMania 7. And though that particular stipulation rarely sticks in the world of professional wrestling, it certainly preys upon the "it's real to me right now" feeling that the sport is built to exploit. Macho faced the Ultimate Warrior in the match and lost; that was followed by his then-valet "Queen" Sherri screaming at and beating her now-unemployed charge.
That triggered Miss Elizabeth -- Savage's estranged wife -- to emerge from the crowd and go help Savage. The two reconciled, proving that while Savage may have lost the way he made his living, he regained his reason for living. It was an emotionally charged moment -- Elizabeth, Savage and seemingly half the crowd were in tears before the duo exited the ring.
Granted, not all is what it seemed, with Savage and Elizabeth divorcing not long after and Savage returning to in-ring action within months. But it does represent the type of emotional pull that just a handful of well-scripted minutes can have over millions of people, and the very crux of what the WWE is often trying to achieve.
7. Shawn Michaels Retires Ric Flair (WrestleMania 24)
Yet another iconic moment that was not quite what it seemed after the fact came in WrestleMania 24 when Michaels faced off against his boyhood hero (and good friend in adulthood) Ric Flair with the condition that should Flair lose, the legendary "Nature Boy" would be forced into retirement. Flair had long been Teflon when it came to retirement matches, and it seemed that this time would be no different.
Instead, one powerful Michaels superkick felled Flair, "ending" an in-ring career that spanned nearly four decades. But the truly iconic moment is what came next, with Flair and Michaels breaking down in tears in the ring and Michaels saying those words fans aren't long to forget: "I'm sorry. I love you."
This, of course, did not mark the end of Flair's wrestling career. He was a part-time non-wrestling feature on the WWE roster for some time after, spent a few years in TNA and then returned again to the WWE in 2012, again as a non-wrestling personality. But, in terms of creating a "WrestleMania Moment," a top-10 list would not be complete without the tears of two legends staining the squared circle in the business's top event of the year.
6. Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior (WrestleMania 6)
For those who grew up pro wrestling fans in the 1980s, there were no more over-the-top and captivating in-ring presences than Hulk Hogan and the Ultimate Warrior. Both were kid-friendly fan favorites, and it still was inevitable that the two would clash on the biggest of WWE stages, which they did at WrestleMania 7.
The setup was fairly straightforward: The matchup was a matter of settling the score after Ultimate Warrior prevented Hogan from being eliminated at the Royal Rumble, only for Hogan to turn around and eliminate the Warrior himself. This set up a champion-versus-champion showdown (Hogan the World Champion, Warrior the Intercontinental Champion) that seemed to point to a Hogan victory; after all, Hogan lost less than rarely at the time.
Hogan, though, was bested by Warrior. But perhaps the most startling development of the night was that the two men were able to work for over 20 minutes -- startling because neither's biggest strength was their in-ring prowess. Hogan seemed set up to win, preparing to hit his leg drop to finish the match, but Warrior rolled out, landed his Big Splash and got the pinfall. A post-match hug and it seemed, at least for a moment, that Hogan had passed the top dog torch onto a new man. He didn't, but it did solidify Warrior as not only a star, but an icon.
5. Shawn Michaels Knocked Out By Mike Tyson (WrestleMania 14)
One must remember that the original function of WrestleMania was to take a niche sport, pro wrestling, and try to make it as palatable and far-reaching as possible. Thus there is always a layer of celebrity shine added to the event, from Cyndi Lauper and The Rock n' Wrestling Connection of the early '80s to Maria Menounos taking to the ring in 2012 to the special musical guests lined up every year.
Perhaps none have had such a positive resonance into non-wrestling circles than the involvement of boxing icon Mike Tyson in the run-up and in the main event of WrestleMania 14. Tyson, who in 1998 had lost his boxing license, was tapped to work as a "special enforcer" in the World Heavyweight Championship contest between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels, and his unpredictable presence meant anything was possible -- especially on the heels of a Monday Night Raw brawl between Austin and Tyson and a violence-tinged press conference.
Though Austin and Tyson had previously gotten physical, it was Michaels who ultimately faced Tyson's furious fist, being struck with a right hand and knocked out. Tyson raised Austin's hand in victory and, essentially, the Attitude Era -- and the WWE's ability to close the ratings gap with rival WCW -- began. For the first time in over a decade, professional wrestling and particularly the WWE's take on it, was front and center in the world of popular culture.
4. Introducing the Women's Title (WrestleMania 32)
The history of women's wrestling in the WWE has been marked with numerous fits and starts, eventually culminating in the belt being branded as the "Divas Championship," first a Smackdown-only title that became non-brand specific once the first Raw-Smackdown roster split was scrapped in 2011. The belt, featuring a rhinestone-encrusted pink-and-purple butterfly motif, classified their women's fighters as "other," and at least aesthetically less than the men's championships, further cemented by the competitors not even referred to as "wrestlers."
However, the establishment of the developmental NXT brand, which worked to legitimize the state of women's wrestling in the company, and the promotion of many of those competitors to the WWE main roster, prompted a sea change. First dubbed "the Divas Revolution," it was rechristened "the Women's Revolution" at WrestleMania 32 when instead of Charlotte Flair, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks competing in a triple threat for the "Divas" belt, they would be fighting for a newly minted WWE Women's Championship. The belt, a white strap with red inlay and styled as a copy of the WWE World Championship, was unveiled by Lita in the WrestleMania pre-show; Charlotte was ultimately its first holder.
Last summer's brand split between Raw and Smackdown led to Smackdown getting its own Women's Championship, a belt of the same design as Raw's but only with a blue inlay. But most importantly, all women's competitors are now referred to as Superstars, the same as the men, with the belts presumably being given equal footing and prestige. It is no longer simply a glorified piece of jewelry. While it hasn't completely changed the company's treatment of women's storylines -- they are still rife with women-jealous-of-one-another tropes and "wrestler's girlfriend" angles -- establishing these belts a year ago has at least shown the WWE's willingness to modernize.
3. Hulk Hogan Slams Andre the Giant (WrestleMania 3)
It started with a stare down. It ended with a leg drop. But in between came one of the most iconic moments in WWE and WrestleMania history: Hulk Hogan body slamming Andre the Giant.
This was not Andre at his best. This was not an athletic, physical, 30-minute classic between the two legends. It was a showcase for Hogan and an opportunity for a once-in-a-lifetime feat of strength, something to make the crowd say "wow" and for local news affiliates all over the country to have a highlight to air -- and thus a chance for the WWE to further expand its audience.
In fact, Hogan attempted the body slam once, and failed, nearly being pinned in the process, with Andre's big body falling on top of him. But Hogan eventually knocked Andre off his feet, via a clothesline. That led to the body slam that even those of us neither alive nor aware of the match at the time can picture in our heads with little prompting. The myth-making tradition of WrestleMania was born.
2. Daniel Bryan, Ultimate Underdog (WrestleMania 30)
Bryan, once thought to be a career independent-circuit wrestler and underground fan favorite, managed to scrap and claw his way to the WWE despite being everything the promotion seemed to reject -- undersized, a little weird looking, vegan, possessing a calm, technical style akin to Dean Malenko. Despite finally endearing himself to crowds after many difficult years in the WWE, he seemed destined to have just one WrestleMania moment, losing in 18 seconds to Sheamus at WrestleMania 28.
But that underdog persona became pitch-perfect fodder for a storyline which that Bryan against Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, the WWE's powers-that-be (also known as The Authority). For months, McMahon and Triple H did everything in their control to beat down, demoralize and berate Bryan. That led to Triple H allowing him to have his big WrestleMania chance -- but only if he could successfully run a seemingly impossible gauntlet that began with facing Triple H himself to open 2014's event, with the winner heading into the WWE World Heavyweight Title match (Randy Orton vs. Batista).
Bryan defeated Triple H, but his trial was not over yet. Not only did he have to face Orton and Batista, he also had to stave off attacks by the Authority, officiating that was stacked against him and a (work) arm injury. Yet, Bryan managed to ensnare Batista into the Yes Lock, forcing him to tap out and winning the championship.
The greatest underdog story in WWE history did not have the happiest of endings, though. That May, Bryan revealed he would need to undergo neck surgery and his absence as a result led to him vacating the title 64 days into his reign. He would not return to the ring until January 2015. Four months later, he was pulled from all in-ring work, with his concussion history preventing him from being medically cleared to compete. He has since been told that his wrestling career is over.
WrestleMania 30, though, is an experience that cannot be taken away from Bryan -- who more than earned the honor -- nor the fans, some of whom had been supporting him for over a decade. His successes serve as a touchstone for any seemingly marginal superstar on the roster that there are paths to a WrestleMania Main Event, even if those paths don't seem so immediately clear.
1. Brock Lesnar Breaks the Undertaker's Streak (WrestleMania 30)
Years before The Beast Incarnate, Brock Lesnar was being embarrassed by 50-something part-time Bill Goldberg in mere seconds, he was fully free to be the unstoppable, menacing force that made Lesnar, well, Lesnar. And nothing encapsulates just how dominating Lesnar can be than the fact that he was allowed to be the one to trample on sacred ground and end the Undertaker's 21-year, 21-WrestleMania win streak on the same night Daniel Bryan won one for the underdogs.
The Undertaker trope, in recent years, is a familiar one. He typically shows up late in the previous year or perhaps right at the start of the so-called Road to WrestleMania (post-Royal Rumble), "teleporting" to the ring to stare down his target of choice for the spring. In 2014, it was Lesnar, who had issued an open challenge for WrestleMania.
The match appeared headed like all of Undertaker's others, with Lesnar getting in offense (including two F-5s) but, true to form, not enough of it to keep the dead man down. The Undertaker then eventually earned the upper hand and was preparing to finish Lesnar via Tombstone Piledriver until Lesnar reversed it, hit a third F-5 and… won.
The crowd was stunned. In fact, stunned is perhaps an understatement, given the WrestleMania audience had just witnessed something that had never happened before. A whole generation of fans, in fact, knew nothing other than Undertaker's WrestleMania invulnerability. But there it was: Lesnar, serving as the "one in 21-1," a mark that still stands to this day.
Bray Wyatt and then Shane McMahon tried in the two years that followed and Roman Reigns will attempt it on Sunday, but it seems safe to say that the only mark in the "L" column for the Undertaker at WrestleMania will remain Lesnar until the end of time. His loss at WrestleMania 30 was so special, so singular that to add a second one would cheapen all parties involved.