It is often said that whilst the main event is the most important contest of any given card, the next most crucial is the opening match. Nowhere is this more true than at WrestleMania!
Over the 36 WrestleManias to date, we have seen some stunningly good opening contests. Whether they are wrestling clinics, major title changes or new superstars cementing their names on the biggest stage of them all, the opening match sets the stage for the ‘Show of Shows’.
With this list, we look back and list the best five opening matches in WrestleMania history. Note that this list doesn’t include matches on Kick-Off shows.
Have we missed your favourite off the list? Let us know your picks on Twitter at @HO_Wrestling.
5) WrestleMania 32: Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn vs. The Miz vs. Stardust vs. Sin Cara vs. Zack Ryder vs. Dolph Ziggler – Ladder Match For The Intercontinental Championship
In truth, there was very little to choose between this and another seven man Intercontinental title ladder match from the year prior. We are giving the nod to this one, in the main because of the feel good, surprise ending that saw Zack Ryder finally get his ‘WrestleMania Moment’ and to hear his theme music on the grandest stage of them all.
It was an action packed ladder match, brimming with a mix of old hands and ‘Mania debutants that proved a highlight of a mainly poor WrestleMania. The seven men all worked incredibly hard to entertain the 100,000+ in attendance just getting warmed up for a marathon of a night. In truth, they captivated the audience more than maybe any other match on the card. A great way to start the show. A shame the matches that followed mostly let it down badly.
4) WrestleMania 34: Seth Rollins vs. The Miz vs. Finn Balor – Intercontinental Championship
Just a couple of years later we see another multi-man match for the same championship. But rather than a stunt-filled spot-fest, this match bore more resemblance to Intercontinental Championship matches of old with three hard-working technical grapplers bringing a more personal feel to the opening match as they engaged in a back and forth tussle over the strap. In truth, the match was anyone’s to win which made it the harder to call. Rollins, in full Night King get up, ended up taking the victory and the IC title as these three men put on a masterclass that set the tone for an enjoyable, if overall unmemorable, WrestleMania.
3) WrestleMania VII: The Rockers vs. Haku & The Barbarian
We now head back in time to 1991 for our only match that doesn’t have either a personal issue or title in play. Back in the late 80s and early 90s, The Rockers were the undisputed kings of the opening match. They didn’t need much to work with. Just willing opponents who would work hard and allow them to demonstrate their unmatched combination of aerial excitement and emotion inducing selling. This match was your perfect opener for the time period with two big, nasty, merciless heels facing off with the beloved babyfaces. The crowd ate it up as Michaels and Jannetty tore around the ring with their famous high-octane, double team offence to bring the crowd to boiling point, before slowing it down with an extended period of peril as the heels slowly ground them down and prevented the youngsters from regaining any momentum. Eventually, as expected, the tide turned and the crowd favourites picked up a well received win, putting smiles on the faces of all who watched. Fantastic stuff.
2) WrestleMania XXX: Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H
Now we are in rarified air. Two of the absolute best technicians and storytellers in their perfect roles (underdog babyface and overbearing, power crazed heel), facing off with the jeopardy of Daniel Bryan’s WrestleMania story hanging in the balance. The stipulation was that Bryan had to win this in order to advance to the main event and face Randy Orton and Batista in a triple-threat match for the WWE Championship. In truth, we all knew who was winning this match but the genius of these two allowed us to believe we were going to get screwed out of the moment we yearned for on numerous occasions. Just a tremendous match in front of one of WrestleMania’s greatest ever crowds to open one of the best ever ‘Manias. From the contrasting ring entrances (Bryan’s people pleasing, t-shirt clad Yes chant and HHH’s pompous throne and slave-girl adorned ring walk), to Triple H’s post match assault, this was almost perfect in every way.
1) WrestleMania X: Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart vs. Owen Hart
The biggest upset in WrestleMania history? Almost certainly. The best opening match in WrestleMania history? We think so. The set up for this was part of the storyline that would see both Bret Hart and Lex Luger challenge for the WWF Championship on the same night after co-winning the Royal Rumble. To ensure the odds were evened out, Bret Hart was forced to wrestle a match before he challenged the winner of the Lex Luger vs. Yokozuna match in the main event. That match was set as a bout against his brother Owen. Fresh from turning on The Hitman at the Rumble, Bret had previously refused to wrestle his own flesh and blood. After weeks of Owen’s antics he relented and agreed to the match on the biggest stage at Madison Square Garden.
The match was, of course, an utter clinic. What else would you expect? However, the true delight was the finish. The easy and expected result would have been a Bret win to make him look strong going in to the main event. Instead, he was defeated by his little brother in a completely clean manner. This daring booking not only got the fans’ attention right from the off, but also deftly fuelled Owen’s entire character and their feud that would go on through the rest of the year. By beating Bret fair and square mere hours before his title triumph, Owen could quite rightly stake a claim to being the superior wrestler and worthy of chasing the title that consistently eluded him, much to his ever-increasing annoyance. Wonderful wrestling, incredible booking. It very, very rarely gets any better.