wrestling / Columns

The Magnificent Seven: The Top 7 WrestleMania Multi-Match Performers

March 8, 2017 | Posted by Mike Chin
Bret Hart WWE WWF

WrestleMania is the premier showcase event for professional wrestlers. For many, just having one match at the show, once in their careers, is grounds for celebration, and a legitimate claim to have made it as a pro wrestler.

But then there are those performers who have performed more than once on the same night, at the same WrestleMania. This week, I’m paying homage to those special few who have wrestled two-to-four times in a single show, and doubly, triply, or quadrupally shored up their place in wrestling history on the very same night.

Note, only wrestlers involved as official participants in a match (however short that match, or their participation may have been) qualify for this countdown. So, for example, the WrestleMania performances from Hulk Hogan and Yokozuna would both qualify for consideration (though neither made the list); Brutus Beefcake tagging with Greg Valentine and later running out to help Roddy Piper at WrestleMania 3 would not count, because he only actually wrestled in the former match; similarly, though Bobby Heenan’s work as a manager across several matches in the same night of the early WrestleManias is worthy of recognition, he was not an actual wrestler in more than one match in a single night for any of those shows, and thus was not in the running.

I’ve also made the choice not to include dark matches or pre-show matches, so, for example, The New Day is not eligible for either of their outings in advance of WrestleMania 31 (let alone both of them).

First and foremost, this countdown is based on my opinion of a wrestler’s in-ring performances at a particular WrestleMania. While historical importance, long-term effects, storyline, crowd reaction, and what was accomplished in those matches remain secondary considerations, I’m far more focused on the in-ring work, in a vacuum, on that particular night.

Without further ado, I give you my top seven WrestleMania multi-match performers.

WWF Wrestlemania IV – Ricky Steamboat Vs… by notrobvandam

#7. Greg Valentine at WrestleMania 4

There are more famous multi-match runs at WrestleMania 4 than Valentine’s, and rest assured we’ll get to two of them later in this countdown. But to kick off the list, we’re looking at a quietly solid performance that is often forgotten.

WrestleMania 4 was built around a tournament for the vacant WWF Championship, in a case of epic stakes with middling execution, given that many of the matches were quite short to fit a bloated card, many of the finishes were schmozzes or draws to either protect talent or contrive byes for heels, and a number of the prospective dream match scenarios that such a tournament looked built to foster got passed on by.

In particular, there’s the promise of Ricky Steamboat-Randy Savage, in a re-match of their instant classic WrestleMania 3 encounter, but this time as a face versus face collision. With Steamboat booked opposite Greg Valentine and Savage booked against Butch Reed, it looked like a no-brainer that we’d get this match which easily could have been the match of the night. Instead, Valentine stole the pin on Steamboat, thus throwing the bracket for a loop—denying the best ready-made match, and creating a more predictable outcome for Savage making his way to the final round of the tournament.

OK, so Valentine didn’t have many people rooting for him. The guy did turn in two perfectly reasonable performances, though, holding his own against two of the greatest workers of allntime in the opening rounds of the tournament. His ten-minute clash with Steamboat was as good as anything the first round of the tournament had to offer, and set up Valentine as a reasonable, rough-and-tumble heel for Savage to have to overcome in a perfectly decent second-round match.

That’s good enough to earn The Hammer the number seven spot on this list.

#6. Yokozuna at WrestleMania 10

When you think of stars to book in multiple top-tier matches on the same show, you tend to think smaller guys, faster guys—cardio machines who are built for marathons rather than sprints. While Yokozuna was remarkably agile for his 500-pound-plus body, he’s not a likely candidate to appear in two world title matches at the same WrestleMania, let alone to do so in back-to-back years at WrestleManias 9 and 10.

But that was the case, and while Yokozuna underwhelmed in his starring role in 1993 (getting gassed opposite Bret Hart and more or less letting The Hitman carry the day, before a few-second squash at the hands of Hulk Hogan), by 1994, he was ready to hold his own with a pair of perfectly respectable big-man performances.

WrestleMania 10’s main event scene was guided by the contrived circumstaces of Lex Luger and Bret Hart co-winning the Royal Rumble and thus each earning title shots at WrestleMania 10. Luger was up first to challenge Yokozuna. No, this match did not exactly light the world on fire—meandering, slow, and looking as though it were all built around the familiar spots these two leaned on, all to lead up to a referee swerve when Mr. Perfect DQed Luger. Not exactly a classic outing, but Yokozuna held his own for a solid performance that succeeded in building reasonable suspense for those of us who watched it live.

And then there was the main event—a reprise of Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna from the previous year, this time with the added wrinkles of Roddy Piper acting as guest referee, Yokozuna already having the world title in his possession, and both man selling fatigue from earlier matches. While this match was not a classic, either, it was better than the Luger match and whether either man was actualy gassed or just selling the psychology brilliantly, there was an extra epic feel for each man seeming to grasp at straws and hang on for dear life in one last struggle over the world title.

Folks have mixed opinions about the finish on this one—Yokozuna losing his balance on a Banzai Drop attempt and faling to the mat, only for Hart to get out of the way and then pin him. Some will argue that it was comedic for the moment, or that it immediately hurt Hart’s credibility that he won on a gaff rather than trapping Yokozuna in a Sharpshooter or managing to KO the beast with his own offense. Just the same, the moment fit the internal logic of its time—that Hart was outsized but would never give up, and that Yokozuna was a monster but would legitimately be exhausted after two main event level matches.

In any event, this, Yokozun’s final night as a world champion, also marked some of the most impressive work of his career for the amount of time he spent in the ring and succeeding in his monster character in both outings. It was a fitting sign-off for his year atop the WWF.

#5. Ted Dibiase at WrestleMania 4

We return to WrestleMania 4 to look at the work of not just any heel, but the heel the event was built around. Ted Dibiase, in his new Million Dollar Man character, had inspired the tournament scenario when he bought the WWF Championship off of Andre the Giant, and in so doing joined Andre at the tip-top of the heel ranks of the day. He proceeded into WrestleMania 4 where, despite making the Finals, the heel character’s run may be best remembered for getting a bye into the final round, thus giving him some extra rest and a huge advantage over his opponent. Just the same, we shouldn’t overlook the fact that Dibiase worked three separate matches by the time the night was through, each of them a solid performance that gave fans reason to believe he may well walk out of WrestleMania 4 with the title in hand.

In the first two rounds, Dibiase got the pins on Jim Duggan and Don Muraco in five-minute matches, the latter in a particularly solid little match with a wicked pace. Besides solidifying that Dibiase was a cut above these mid-card acts on the pecking order, the combination of Dibiase’s own talent, plus Andre The Giant and Virgil backing him outside the ring made Dibiase look like he may well have been unbeatable, not unlike a big-money corporation steam-rolling mom and pop shops, or a truly national wrestling promotion putting the territories out of business (not that the Million Dollar Man was a forerunner to the Mr. McMahon character, or anything).

So, Dibiase played his part to a tee at WrestleMania 4, all the way up to the finals where he looked to have the edge over Randy Savage, only for Hulk Hogan to even the odds with a steel chair and lead to Dibiase getting his comeuppance.

Savage was great at WrestleMania 4 (trust me, we’ll be discussing him soon enough in the countdown!) but who knows if he could have reached what was arguably the peak of his work as a face, without Dibiase to work as his heel foil.

#4. Seth Rollins at WrestleMania 31

I came into WrestleMania 31 with middling expectations. So little about the card really captured my imagination, and as things got started Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins seemed like one of the few matches that might legitimately deliver a WrestleMania-caliber upper-card match.

Orton-Rollins did deliver, as the two demonstrated excellent chemistry and psychology for the duration of their bout, only to culminate in a killer finishing spot. By 2015, I, like most wrestling fans, assumed I had seen every variation on the RKO conceivable. But Rollins and Orton brought just the right creativity, athleticism, and staging to turn a Rollins curb stomp into one more truly epic variation on the RKO to give Orton the pin, in what was quite arguably the match of the night (though just about every match on the card would over-perform, so the argument could be made on behalf of a number of other bouts.

You had to assume Rollins was done for the night. Though he had the Money in the Bank briefcase in tow, no one had ever cashed in at WrestleMania, and the grueling match with and devastating loss to Orton seemed like justification enough for why Rollins wouldn’t be the first man to try his luck.

But Rollins did make his move. Not before the main event, nor after Roman Reigns had won his first world title, as those who did predict a cash-in would have guessed. No, Rollins cashed in mid-way through a WrestleMania main event, in a moment that went against all tradition and all expectation to suddenly transition the epic battle between Reigns and Brock Lesnar into a Triple Threat Match for its final minute.

I remember thinking to myself during Reigns-Lesnar that, as much as the match was better than I’d expected, there was no way they’d reach a satisfying ending. That a Lesnar heel win would feel deflating and leave the world title scene with out a clear direction, and that Reigns still didn’t feel like he could really be the man to pin Lesnar clean (besides which, if he did, how could any heel on the roster hope to challenge this guy?).

Rollins’s entry into the fray was a masterstroke of far-sighted booking and a truly electric moment. Moreover, Rollins played his part masterfully, following up his excellent match with Orton by playing the opportunistic heel to a tee, and doing a terrific job of generating doubt as he was not able to put away Lesnar, and lucked into a pinfall after Reigns inadvertently saved him from Lesnar’s clutches and then left himself in position for a curb stomp.

Rollins and Reigns (and Dean Ambrose) made a name for themselves as part of The Shield, in which chaos and a frantic pace were some of the defining qualities to making them the most exciting in-ring stable WWE has seen for years. The final movements of this WrestleMania replicated much of that electricity in a shocking and perfectly executed final sequence of maneuvers.

#3. Randy Savage at WrestleMania 4

To lead off, I’m going to acknowledge that number two and number three on this list were very, very close for me, and I can certainly understand an argument that this performance from Savage should have had the number two spot (or even number one). Just the same, when I went back to my own criteria—prioritizing quality of in-ring performance first and foremost, I couldn’t help feeling that, as great as Savage was on this night, he got edged by the guy in the number two spot.

But we’ll get to that.

To focus on Savage, in 1988, he became the first and to date only man to wrestle at WrestleMania four times—let alone to win all four encounters en route to his very first world title. Not too shabby, and as one ought to expect from The Macho Man in that era, he went all out every time he hit the ring, selling a massive beating, only to rally in the closing moments of his matches with a flurry of offense to pick up the win—first a pin fall over Butch Reed, then a pin on Greg Valentine, followed by a DQ victory over The One Man Gang (the weak link in his tournament run, but nonetheless, not a bad showing).

Finally, Savage met up with Ted Dibiase in the finals—kayfabe and probably for-real exhausted in facing his fourth match after Dibiase had a bye in the semifinals, not to mention that Savage was outgunned because Dibiase had Andre the Giant and Virgil backing him at ringside, while Savage only had Miss Elizabeth in his corner.

No, Savage-Dibiase doesn’t belong on the short list of all-time great WrestleMania main event matches, but it also doesn’t deserve to get so readily dismissed, as critics by-and-large tend to do for the WrestleMania 4 show on the whole, which had too many matches for its own good, and thus no opportunity for any single match to really shine (the most time going to a snoozefest of Rick Rude chinlocking Jake Roberts until they got to their time-limit draw). Savage and Dibiase, in just under ten minutes, sold the high stakes of the encounter and their own fatigue from eaching fighting through the tournament bracket, for a nicely worked last match. Moreover, the terrific technical work from both men was nicely balanced with sports entertainment shenanigans, first in Andre’s interference and distractions, and finally in Hulk Hogan storming the ring to even the odds, smash Dibiase with a steel chair and facilitate Savage winning the match—a moment that was not only satisfying for the fans but nicely set up a year of storylines in The Mega Powers running wild until they exploded.

When the WWF was at its cartoonist, Randy Savage was a profoundly serious and intense performer. This tournament was truly epic, and a fitting crowning moment for a unique superstar.

#2. Bret Hart at WrestleMania 10

While Bret Hart had only two matches at WrestleMania 10, to Randy Savage’s four at WrestleMania 4, Hart’s first match gives him the edge in this countdown—quite arguably the greatest opening match in WrestleMania history, and undeniably an all-time top twenty WrestleMania match period (plenty of folks would argue top ten or even top five, but I’m not prepared to go quite that far).

I am referring, of course, to Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart, the first time real-life brothers went one-on-one at WrestleMania, and a beautifully built piece of business that the WWF had been building since the previous November, with Owen’s jealousy of his big brother’s success growing more and more pronounced until it finally boiled over into a full-blown heel turn.

Watching this ‘Mania as a kid, I felt quite sure Bret would be victorious. I’ll never know for sure how much of that certainty came from being a child—a Bret Hart mark, who also saw kayfabe pretty bluntly, in that Bret had been a main eventer for the preceding year and a half, whereas, Owen had mostly been a jobber to the stars and tag guy. But whether it was my short-sightedness, or particularly shrewd booking on the WWF’s part, Owen did pick up the win, reversing a victory roll to outwrestle his brother, to cap a twenty-minute-match that was largely technical, but also worked in some good brawling spots, and told a beautiful story of Bret not wanting to hurt his little brother, and Owen holding nothing back.

Bret’s performances would bookend the show, starting with that brilliant match opposite Owen, then closing things down with a ten-minute encore with Yokozuna. The latter match was slower paced, with both performers selling fatigue and Yokozuna dominating most of the offense, only for Hart to luck into the world champ losing his balance on the ropes and landing in a pinning predicament. Hart won his second world title then, in a moment that felt like the proper payoff to getting shunted aside for the top face spot, in favor of Hulk Hogan and Lex Luger for the preceding year. Perhaps even better yet, in losing earlier on to Owen, the wheels were in motion for a major program that would steer the course for the WWF Championship through summer.

And so, I’d venture the moment of Hart’s title victory is more or less on par with the moment of Savage’s first title win—each of them a glorious bit of vindication, each of them cleary planting the seeds for a world title program to follow. So then we have to compare each man’s night of multiple performances based on the matches before—Savage’s three solid outings to Hart’s great one. While endurance is far from the only factor in making a countdown like this, I did want to consider how long performers actually spent in the ring, and was interested to find that, despite wrestling half the number of matches, Hart actually spent about five minutes more in the ring than The Macho Man in this WrestleMania run.

In the end, I felt these two were in a dead heat for the number two spot, but the greatness of Bret-Owen sealed the deal for me.

#1. Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 30

I’m always reticent to declare something that happened in the recent past the “best of all time” in any regard. But Daniel Bryan’s run at WrestleMania instantly became the stuff of legend, and for as disappointing as his injuries and retirement over the two years to follow turned out to be, they also lent a bit of extra gravitas to this showing—Daniel Bryan’s greatest night as a WWE Superstar, and also his last great night as a professional wrestler, period.

Consider the facts. Like Bret Hart had done twenty years earlier, Daniel Bryan open and closed a WrestleMania. At forty-eight minutes, Bryan surpassed any other multi-match performer for sheer ring time, and placed himself third all time for most minutes wrestled at a single ‘Mania (behind Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 12). Bryan picked up clean victories over Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista in the same night. And then there’s the single most overwhelming factor in Bryan’s favor—the fact that not just one, but both of his matches are altogether viable picks for top twenty-five WrestleMania matches of all time.

Opposite Triple H, Bryan played the plucky underdog to a tee, paying off months of storylines about being bullied and beaten to go toe-to-toe with Helmesley in chain wrestling and brawling, surviving a Pedigree and a wicked crossface, only to end the bout with a masterfully executed series of counters in to a running knee KO.

And then there’s the main event. Once again, Bryan was the underdog—undersized, and selling both injury and fatigue. The match to follow was one of the finest of each man’s WWE career, including a wild powerbomb-into-an-RKO on the announce tables spot that looked sensational but quickly seemed like a horrible idea as everyone but Batista was taken out of the action for a matter of minutes. Finally, the match wrapped up exactly as it should have. Batista, who it ostensibly looked as though WWE had intended to take Bryan’s spot at WrestleMania, tapped clean to Bryan’s Yes Lock in the middle of the ring to close the show. On kayfabe, meta, and shoot levels, this was a complete success and the perfect poetic way in which to close a long-running story and give Bryan, the fans’ favorite, his moment in the sun.

Confetti rained, Bryan’s family joined him in the ring, and for a moment all was right in the world. WWE likes to sell us all on WrestleMania moments to the point at which it can feel a little forced or artificial. The end of WrestleMania 30 stands out as one of the sincerest WrestleMania moments ever—a great resolution to a long story, told via two great matches, featuring one great performer.

Which performers would you add to the list, or how might you mix up the order? Let us know in the comments section.

Read more from Mike Chin at his website and follow him on Twitter @miketchin.