With no off season in professional wrestling, many times, a feud will carry over to the next month's pay-per-view event. Sometimes, these sequels can stand up alongside even the greatest of WrestleMania contests themselves.
For the first edition of the Green Room, where you'll be getting insight into my point of view, I present to you a list ranking what I feel are the top ten WrestleMania return matches of all time. The following are the entries in Part 1 of this two-part article:
10. CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio (Extreme Rules 2010)
The feud between CM Punk and Rey Mysterio was born only two weeks before WrestleMania XXVI. At the show of shows, CM Punk was accompanied to the ring by his Straight Edge Society (Luke Gallows and Serena), but even their presence couldn't quell the Avatar-inspired aerial showcase that Rey Mysterio flooded CM Punk with and Mysterio got the victory.
Fast forward to the weeks after WrestleMania and CM Punk was not going to settle for a loss being the final word on his feud with Mysterio. The Straight Edge Savior was committed enough to his cause of defeating Mysterio that he agreed to put his hair on the line for a rematch. If Punk lost, his head would have been shaved. The match was great and far surpassed the match at WrestleMania since it was given more time to develop. In the end, Punk won this chapter of this epic feud and saved his "pure" locks...for the time being.
9. Batista vs. Triple H (Backlash 2005)
In the months leading up to the 2005 Royal Rumble, a group called Evolution had been dominating the main event scene in WWE. Triple H was the leader of this unstoppable faction and Batista was one of his running mates (along with Ric Flair and Randy Orton before he was exiled following SummerSlam in 2004). Batista entered the Royal Rumble and walked out the winner of the thirty man match with a guaranteed contract to face either the World Heavyweight or WWE champion at the time. This posed a major problem for Evolution, since Triple H was the current World Heavyweight champion. Most people assumed Batista would challenge for the WWE Championship and Evolution would become the strongest faction in WWE history. However, The Animal had other plans and decided to face his mentor Triple H at WrestleMania for the World Heavyweight Championship.
Batista went into WrestleMania with the deck stacked against him as Triple H was a seasoned main event veteran and Ric Flair was at his side. Against all odds, Batista knocked off The Game and won the World Heavyweight Championship on that faithful night in the spring of 2005. It goes without saying that Triple H did not take to the loss very well. In the weeks leading up to Backlash 2005, Triple H once again attempted to get into the head of Batista as the Cerebral Assassin prepared to enact his rematch clause at the event. If WrestleMania was the coming of age for Batista, Backlash only served as proof that Batista had real staying power in the main event scene on Raw. He picked up his second consecutive victory over the self proclaimed "measuring stick" and continued to ride that success for years to come.
8. Undertaker vs. Edge (Backlash 2008)
When a champion comes into WrestleMania season holding the World Heavyweight Championship and the General Manager of Smackdown on his arm he should by all means be confident that he can leave with the strap still firmly in his possession. This should have been the scenario that Edge was enjoying in early 2008 when heading into the road to WrestleMania. His hopes of having an easy WrestleMania victory were thwarted when a challenger emerged that had revenge on his mind. That man, whom Edge had cashed in his Money in the Bank contract on in the last part of 2006, was The Undertaker. Not only did Edge have the insurmountable task of attempting to end the Demon from Death Valley's WrestleMania undefeated streak, but he also was forced to put his prized World Heavyweight Championship on the line against that hallowed streak. Needless to say, Edge was unsuccessful in his attempt to finish The Deadman at WrestleMania.
Like all former title holders in WWE, Edge had a clause in his contract that guaranteed him a rematch against the Undertaker. Edge decided to use his pull with Vicki Guerrero to cash in that clause at the next month's pay-per-view, Backlash. In the weeks leading into the rematch, Guerrero placed Undertaker in a series of matches designed to injure The Deadman before his match with Edge. In the end, Undertaker walked into Backlash a bit battered but ready to fight with his life to retain his World Heavyweight title. After a grueling match with a plethora of interference on behalf of the challenger, Undertaker caught Edge in the Hell's Gate to finish the Rated R Superstar in a barn burner of a match.
7. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (Backlash 2004)
In January of 1995, Shawn Michaels became the first man in the history of the Royal Rumble match to win the contest from the number one position. He stood alone as the only man to win from the unenviable first spot for nearly ten years. Then, in 2004, another underdog entered the brawl from the number one spot: Chris Benoit. The Rabid Wolverine lasted for more than an hour before becoming the second man to win the match from bell to bell. In the years since the 1993 rumble match, the winner of the grueling bout was guaranteed a world title shot at WrestleMania against whomever the champion might be. The World Heavyweight Champion in 2004 happened to be the Cerebral Assassin just the same as it would be the following year. Triple H had been in a bitter feud with his former Degeneration X stable mate, Shawn Michaels. Michaels argued that he belonged in the main event of WrestleMania to end his long standing series of matches with The Game once and for all. Benoit had his contract and was not about to let a third man rain on his Championship match. During a controversial contract signing where Chris Benoit was supposed to ink his name on the contract for WrestleMania XX, Michaels superkicked him and signed his name as the challenger instead. The decision was made that the World Heavyweight Championship match would become a triple threat. If Benoit were not already the underdog before, that certainly was the case now. In typical Benoit fashion, he defied the odds and, when he was able to make Triple H tap out to his Crippler Crossface, he won his very first World Heavyweight title in an epic WrestleMania moment.
Benoit's celebration was short lived, though, and it didn't take long for the former World Heavyweight champion Triple H to announce he would be enacting his rematch clause for the Championship at the next pay-per-view Backlash. Shawn Michaels weaseled his way back into this match as well, citing that The Game was the participant at WrestleMania who tapped out to lose the match. Benoit's first title defense since becoming the World Heavyweight champion was also his toughest challenge to date because the roles in the match were reversed. Now, he was the hunted instead of the underdog. Benoit fought with all of his heart and came out the other side of the event with his championship still intact in a match that mirrored the magic that these three great competitors created on the grandest stage of them all.
6. John Cena vs. Edge vs. Randy Orton vs. Shawn Michaels (Backlash 2007)
The history of WrestleMania has been told and retold endless times. It can be argued that when the discussion of great WrestleMania competitors is brought up in water cooler conversation, one man stands alone as the single greatest competitor in the history of the event. He has been dubbed "Mr. WrestleMania". That man is Shawn Michaels. The Heartbreak Kid entered the Royal Rumble match in 2007 with every intention of winning for a third time and going on to headline WrestleMania once more. He came within a hair of accomplishing this task, but was eliminated by The Undertaker, who went on to face Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXIII.
The WWE Championship picture was lacking a challenger, so it was announced that the three other members that made up the final four would compete in a #1 contender's match. Michaels defeated both Randy Orton and Edge for a shot at John Cena's title. At the event, Cena was able to put an end to HBK's hopes and plans by defeating him in the main event.
Later on Raw, another #1 contender's match resulted in Michaels and Orton simultaneously pinning each other and the match was ruled a no-contest. Meanwhile, Edge announced to the WWE Universe that the General Manager of Raw had named him the #1 contender to Cena's championship. It was decided that at Backlash, there would be a Fatal 4-Way with all of these men. John Cena won a landmark victory in his career, holding back three of the greatest superstars in WWE history and retaining his title. Although Michaels lost the match, he thought enough of it to include it on his definitive career DVD that WWE released shortly before his retirement in 2010.
5. Edge vs. Chris Jericho (Extreme Rules 2010)
A ruptured Achilles tendon is an injury that is substantial enough to sideline any professional athlete indefinitely, ending their career—but not Edge. In early 2009, Edge suffered the devastating blow of an Achilles tendon injury while competing at a house show. Dreadfully so, the tendon didn't simply tear...it ruptured! He was immediately put on the operating table, but many in the industry assumed the young superstar's career was over.
In a surprising turn of events, Edge made a shocking return to the ring at the 2010 Royal Rumble match and punched his ticket to the main event of WrestleMania by winning the match from entry #29. One month later at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, Edge's former tag team partner Chris Jericho won the World Heavyweight Championship and the stage was set. Jericho vs. Edge would be the title match on the grandest stage of them all. Edge went into the match the fan favorite, but despite his best efforts, he was unable to knock off Jericho.
Unfortunately for Chris Jericho, Edge was not interested in letting their rivalry rest with the conclusion of WresleMania. Jericho was attacked by Edge the next Friday on SmackDown and after the attack, Jack Swagger came to the ring to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase and become the new World Heavyweight champion. It was decided that the only way for the two to settle their fierce rivalry would be inside a steel cage at the next pay-per-view, Extreme Rules. The match lived up to the hype and Edge was able to finally get his retribution on Jericho as he defeated the former World champion inside the inanimate structure.
4. CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho (Extreme Rules 2012)
CM Punk was once considered by many professional wrestling enthusiasts as an indy darling and when he was signed by WWE in 2005, there were whispers that he would never be successful in the company because he did not fit the mold of the conventional superstar. Punk proved all of his doubters wrong when he defeated John Cena at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view in 2011 for the WWE Championship. By all accounts, Punk had risen to the top of the WWE jungle and he took to calling himself the best in the world. In January 2012, CM Punk was the WWE champion and vignettes began airing claiming that someone was coming back to bring an end to something. The vignettes ended up culminating in the return of Chris Jericho, who was returning to bring an end to Punk's claims of being the best. After all, Jericho called himself the same thing months beforehand, so he wanted to take Punk's title at WrestleMania to prove that he was indeed the real best in the world. Jericho launched a very personal feud with Punk that saw Jericho make claims of substance abuse and infidelity toward Punk's family. Try as he might, on the grandest stage of them all Punk was able to rise above the veteran and retain his WWE Championship.
Jericho was not leaving his issues with Punk alone following his loss though. Jericho continued to attack Punk's families integrity and was able to get in the favor of Johnny Ace who was the General Manager of Raw and SmackDown at the time. Jericho was granted a rematch against Punk for the WWE Championship, only this time, the venue would be Punk's hometown of Chicago and the match a Chicago Street Fight. With Punk's sister at ringside for the match, Punk was able to dig deep within himself and conclusively vanquish all hopes Jericho had of taking his WWE Championship. With this, he took another step toward substantiating his claim of being the best in the world.
3. Triple H vs. The Rock (Backlash 2000)
The Rock was the winner of the Royal Rumble match in the year 2000...or was he? He was named the official winner of the match, but controversy surrounded the finish as many people believed that The Rock's feet hit the arena floor simultaneously with the runner-up in the match, The Big Show. In the end, Big Show and Rock were granted access to the main event of WrestleMania 2000 in a Fatal 4-Way match along with a returning Mick Foley and the WWE champion Triple H. Early in the match, Foley and Big Show were eliminated, leaving Rock and Triple H to battle one-on-one for the coveted championship. Each contestant had been accompanied to the ring and endorsed for the match by a member of the McMahon family. Stephanie McMahon was in Triple H's corner and Vince McMahon (the owner of the WWE) was in the Rock's. At the match's end, it looked as though The Rock had the championship within his grasp, but Vince McMahon turned his back on The Great One, bashing him in the skull with a chair and snuffing out his chances of winning the company's greatest prize on the grandest stage of them all.
All seemed right with the McMahon family. Stephanie's husband was the champion and the head piece for the company and The Rock's momentum had been thwarted at WrestleMania. In a turn of events, the matriarch of the McMahon family Linda McMahon made a surprise appearance on Raw naming The Rock the number one contender to the WWE Championship and announcing that Stone Cold would be in the great one's corner at Backlash for his rematch. Vince and the other members of the McMahon family asserted their power when they named Shane McMahon the guest referee for the match and announced that Vince and Stephanie would be in Triple H's corner. The McMahons' attempted every underhanded tactic that they could get away with to ensure a Triple H victory. By the end of the match, Stone Cold cleaned the clock of Vince, Shane and Triple H with a steel chair, allowing The Rock a fair chance at the championship. The Rock capitalized and won the title off of a People's Elbow for the ages.
2. Triple H vs. Hulk Hogan (Backlash 2002)
The events that brought Triple H and Hulk Hogan together in a match for the WWE Undisputed Championship were a series of circumstances that the best writers of professional wrestling fiction could never have dreamed up. In early 2001, Triple H was competing in a tag team match on Raw when he planted awkwardly on his leg and tore his quadriceps muscle off the bone. Dr. James Andrews explained to The Game that very few professional athletes had ever came back from such an injury and his ever wrestling again was a little more than wishful thinking. Triple H was stubborn though, and he moved to Alabama near Dr. Andrew's practice in order to rehab his injury with the best in the field and push his body to the brink of breaking everyday, hoping that he would be able to get back in the ring one day. Miraculously, Triple H worked so hard and so intensely that he was able to return to the WWE in time for the 2002 Royal Rumble match. His entering the match defied every good logic in medicine and winning the match only corroborated what Triple H had known all along—he would reach the top again. The Game went on to face Chris Jericho for the Undisputed Championship at WrestleMania X8 and once again reach the pinnacle of his profession.
While Triple H was busy nursing his quadriceps injury, Hulk Hogan found himself out of a job. Hogan had worked for World Championship Wrestling for the past eight years and in the spring of 2001, Vince McMahon announced that he had bought WCW. Hogan had been a major player in the early years of McMahon's global expansion and left the company on less than good terms. Many fans assumed that Hogan would go on to work on other projects outside of wrestling and hang up his boots for good. Then, in early 2002, Vince McMahon made the earth-shattering announcement that he was injecting his own company with a lethal dose of faction known as the New World Order. Hogan debuted his long time heel Hollywood Hogan gimmick for the first time in WWE. Quickly, Hollywood Hogan was put into a high profile feud against, arguably, the top star in WWE at the time, The Rock. Hogan was supposed to go into WrestleMania X8 as the heel, but the top blew off the Skydome when Hogan came to the ring. The fans chanted for Hogan and booed The Rock.
The unforeseen popularity of Hogan with a new generation of fans sparked McMahon to set up a match for the Undisputed Championship between the feel good champion Triple H and the newly invigorated baby face Hulk Hogan who chose to hang up his black and white heel colors for the red and yellow of his HulkaMania days. Due to circumstances directly spawning from WrestleMania, Hulk Hogan found his inner strength as the ultimate good guy and defeated a very inspired Triple H to become the Undisputed champion of the world.
1. Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock (Backlash 1999)
Steve Austin was the most unlikely of fan favorites when he began his run on the top of the WWE in 1996. Over the next two years, Stone Cold became the archetype for the fan favorite anti-hero superstar that came to encapsulate the Attitude Era. Austin's high profile feud with the owner of the WWE Vince McMahon was the hottest angle on television in 1998 and during this feud, McMahon made it his mission to ensure that Austin would lose the WWE Championship. After months of trying to create a plan to shaft Austin of the title, McMahon stacked the deck high enough when he placed Austin in a triple threat match against Kane and the Undertaker, where Austin was pinned by both brothers simultaneously. The WWE Championship picture was so scrambled that McMahon decided to vacate the championship and hold a tournament to name a new title holder at Survivor Series 1998. Stone Cold was in the tournament, but was double-crossed by Shane McMahon when he refused to count the shoulders of Mankind down after a Stunner. Austin was eventually pinned, eliminated from the tournament, and wiped clean from the championship picture. The same night, one of the brightest stars in the history of WWE was destined to have one of the biggest nights of his young career. The Rock had been a heel for much of 1998 and had recently turned a corner with a very successful babyface run moving into the Survivor Series WWE Championship tournament. Vince McMahon had been on record exclaiming that since he had a problem with the people, he had a problem with the people's champion The Rock. The hatred of McMahon toward The Rock was all a sham, though, as The Rock faced Mankind in the finals of the tournament and when he put Mankind in the Sharpshooter, McMahon ran to the ringside area and called for the bell. The Rock went from being the people's champion to being the corporate champion.
In the months that followed, McMahon continued to do everything in his power to ensure that Stone Cold would not get another shot at the WWE Championship. Unfortunately for McMahon, Stone Cold would indeed get another chance to get his hands on the WWE Championship. McMahon agreed to face Stone Cold in a steel cage match at St. Valentines Day Massacre and if Austin defeated him, he would move on to face The Rock for the title at WrestleMania 15. McMahon had a plan to foil Austin's chances, but his plans fell through when Big Show (then known as Paul Wight) made his debut and came through the ring to interfere on McMahon's behalf. He threw Stone Cold into the cage wall and it broke, spilling Austin onto the arena floor and technically giving him the victory. Austin went on to face The Rock at WrestleMania 15 and defeated The Great One to finally regain his title.
The Rock was granted his rematch for the championship at the next month's pay-per-view and Shane McMahon was named the special guest referee. Austin once again was able to find a way to defy the odds and win the match to solidify his spot as the top hand in WWE. In the same breath, he created not only the greatest WrestleMania rematch of all-time, but one of the greatest matches in the history of WWE. Steve Austin has went on record as saying that the match he and The Rock had at Backlash was a much better match than their outing at WrestleMania.
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