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The main events: ladies and gentlemen, may we present the 25 most memorable matches in the last 25 years

OVER THE LAST QUARTER CENtury, more emphasis has been increasingly placed on the non-wrestling aspect of professional wrestling. Promos, backstage vignettes, and even weddings and boardroom meetings sometimes seem to take precedent over the action inside the ring. Yet, no matter how much wrestling evolves into entertainment, the ultimate payoff still is the match itself.

With that thought in mind, WRESTLING DIGEST has compiled a list of the 25 most memorable matches of the past 25 years. The list is comprised of bouts that left an indelible mark on the industry.

The key word here is "memorable," which is not to be confused with the word "great-eat" There have been a number of five-star cruiserweight matches in recent years that are forgotten the minute they're over. Were they great? Yes. Memorable? No.

So while some of the bouts on the list do feature outstanding workers, the technical merits of a match often take a backseat to crowd reaction and historical significance.

1. HULK HOGAN vs. ANDRE THE GIANT (March 29,1987)

Although Hogan and Andre had wrestled dozens of times before--with Hogan as heel and Andre as the babyface-the WWF billed the main event of Wrestlemania III as the first meeting between the two legendary wrestlers. The stage was set for the big match months earlier when Andre, after a 14-year run as a babyface, turned on Hogan and enlisted the hated Bobby "the Brain" Heenan as his manager. Hogan had steam-rolled the competition for over three years as WWF world champion, but against the 7'4", 500-pound, undefeated Andre, "the Hulkster" was the underdog. Andre dominated the majority of the match before Hogan rallied, body-slamming and pinning Andre to retain the title before 93,173 fans--the largest indoor crowd for an event of any kind--the Pontiac Silverdome. By slaying the Giant, Hogan cemented his status as an icon.


2 SHAWN MICHAELS vs. BRET HART (November 9, 1997)

Two of the best workers of their era, "the Heartbreak Kid" and "the Hitman" certainly had better matches with one another, but none were as memorable. The match that has come to be known as the Montreal Screwjob is one of the most talked about and controversial matches of all time. The story of the Survivor Series main event has been well documented. Hart, the WWF world champion at the time, had signed with WCW days earlier, after having been released from his contract by WWF chairman Vince McMahon, who felt he could no longer afford to pay Hart's high salary. Prior to the match, Hart, who had a creative-control clause in his contract, told McMahon he didn't want to lose the title in his native Canada and agreed to a double-disqualification finish. During the match, however, Michaels caught "the Hitman" in the Sharpshooter, Hart's finishing maneuver, and McMahon, who was at ringside, claimed Hart had submitted and ordered referee Earl Hebner to ring the bell. Afterward, Hart reportedly decked McMahon in the locker room. In the fallout, McMahon was vilified by the fans, planting the seeds for the emergence of the evil Mr. McMahon character and a boom period for the WWF. The angle has subsequently been imitated numerous times. Michaels, who always had denied being in on the double cross, recently admitted that he was. And Hebner still hears chants of "You Screwed Bret" whenever WWF appears in Montreal.

3 ANDRE THE GIANT vs. HULK HOGAN (February 5, 1988)

The first meeting between Hogan and Andre since their Wrestlemania III clash was televised live ill primetime on NBC and drew an estimated audience of 33 million, making it the most viewed match in wrestling history. Andre had been away from file scene for the better part of a year after his history-making loss to Hogan, and the fans were clamoring for file two to wrestle each other again. The story line was that Andre wasn't in it for the glory this time--he was in it for the money. Before the bout, Andre made a deal to sell the WWF title, if he defeated Hogan, to "'the Million Dollar Man," Ted DiBiase. Nearly a decade before referee Hebner became a controversial figure for his part in the Montreal Screwjob, he was involved in double-crossing Hogan on this night As Andre attempted to pin Hogan, "the Hulkster" lifted his shoulder at the two-count, but Hebner continued his count and awarded the title to Andre, who in turn gave the belt to DiBiase. Just like that, Hogan's championship run of more than four years was over, and Andre's lone title reign lasted about a minute. Moments after the match, it was revealed that Hebner was the "evil twin" of assigned referee Dave Hebner. WWF president Jack Tunney later ruled that Andre could not sell the championship, and he vacated the title and ordered a tournament to determine a new champion be held at Wrestlemania IV.

4 THE UNDERTAKER vs. MANKIND (June 28, 1998)

In this brutal "Hell in a Cell" match at King of the Ring, Mankind, a.k.a. Mick Foley, put on the defining performance of his career. He took two unforgettable bumps--one from 16 feet off the top of the cage and through the Spanish announcers' table and the other through the top of the cage onto the canvas. The first bump resulted in a dislocated shoulder and a bruised kidney; the second knocked Mankind unconscious for a few moments. Also, on the second bump, a chair that had been on top of the cage followed Mankind down and smashed into his face, causing a dislocated jaw, a couple of knocked-out teeth, and a hole, beneath his lip that required 14 stitches. After each of the stunning falls, EMTs attempted to take Mankind out on a stretcher, but he kept coming back for more. The bout ended several minutes later after the Undertaker choke-slammed Mankind onto hundreds of thumbtacks. The Undertaker was victorious, but it was Mankind's ability to absorb incredible amounts of punishment that fans remember most about the match.

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