And then there were 8. It wasn’t easy. In fact, this round saw two matches decided by less than 1% of the vote – which is saying something, with over 4,000 votes cast.
Those who remain are a class that lives up to the moniker of the round; Elite.
Half of the 8 are WWE Hall of Famers. The other four include 3 sure-fire Hall-of-Famers, plus CM Punk (Never say never, I guess?). The eras are represented well too. We’ve got the two faces of the Attitude Era (Rock and Austin), the two faces of the Ruthless Aggression Era (Cena and Lesnar), the two faces of the New Generation Era (Shawn and Bret), Hulk Hogan holding down the TV Era, and CM Punk and his pipebomb representing what we call the “Reality Era.”
Maybe the most exciting bit about the remaining matches (certainly more exciting than the Biggest WrestleMania Match of All Time turned out) is that three of the four matches are reigniting classic rivalries, while the fourth is an incredibly tantalizing dream match that we would’ve said was impossible before the events of WrestleMania 38…
Scroll below to see the results of the Sweet 16, and to vote on the Elite 8
(Voting is from April 9th – April 12th)
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SWEET 16 RESULTS
In the Big Gold Belt Region, we saw the fall of Evolution. HHH and Randy Orton joined Flair and Batista in the group of eliminated gladiators, setting up a rematch of the most legitimately heated rivalry of the 90s. Trips was the first #1 seed to fall, and though he was much loved opening night 2 of WrestleMania 38, the reception was less warm with our voters recalling his endless heel title reigns. Randy Orton had a closer match against Bret Hart , only losing by 10%, but was trailing from the moment the polls opened.
In the Winged Eagle Belt Region, we saw the closest match to date in the tournament between The Rock and The Undertaker, which was decided by 4 votes. The lead changed hands many times, and while Undertaker tried to get his name out there by appearing both nights at WrestleMania 38, it wasn’t enough to sneak past the Great One. Hulk Hogan had his lowest margin of victory so far, which is a nice consolation prize for the man who popularized wearing two belts at the same time.
The Big Green Belt Region saw the second #1 seed to fall, where Bruno Sammartino got so close to winning it for the old timers, but lost by 4% of the vote to the controversial and always contemporary CM Punk. In real life, Roman Reigns, our Tribal Chief and new Undisputed WWE Super-Mega-Aggro-Crag-Universal Champ, defeated Brock Lesnar by way of a million spears. But in the bracket, Brock Lesnar picked up the W. Maybe this is due to the current alignment of heel/face, or maybe it was due to his memorable title reigns in two different eras, but Brock led the entire way despite the gap closing considerably in the final day of voting.
And finally in the Spinner Belt region, chalk prevailed, as we got our second #1/#2 match in the elite 8 and the two largest margins of victory in the round. The Cinderella run ended for Eddie Guerrero, who was “blown out” by Austin worse than Kevin Owens was last Saturday. John Cena also easily dealt with internet darling and Crossfit deity Seth Rollins.
ELITE 8 MATCHES
#5 Shawn Michaels vs. #3 Bret Hart
Bret Hart certainly held the belt longer, but Shawn Michaels held it much more recently. These two had legit heat that led to the famed Montreal Screwjob, but in the ring, they were heads and shoulders above the rest of their contemporaries in terms of technical ability and character work. They are also responsible for changing the image of what a World Title holder in WWE looked like. Without these two “small” men holding the belt, we would’ve never got Punk or Daniel Bryan or Finn Balor holding the belt in modern times. Many of Bret and Shawn’s title reigns blend into each other. Bret lost it to Shawn at Mania, then Shawn lost the title along with his “smile,” leading to Bret winning it again, and losing it again to Shawn thanks to a phantom tap out. It’s impossible to separate these two men from each other in legacy, but now you’ve gotta separate them by internet votes. It’s a toss up old as time; Coke or Pepsi? Stones or Beatles? Bret or Shawn?
#1 Hulk Hogan vs. #2 The Rock
Another WrestleMania Main Event re-match! Wait…this wasn’t the main event of WrestleMania 18? Even though it was the most promoted match and was on the poster? My mistake.
Forget the fact that one of these competitors in real life has been accused of being a liar, hard to work with, and a racist – while the other is one of the most universally liked celebrities on the planet. In kayfabe, this is the battle between the original “ready for TV” WWE babyface in Hulk Hogan and the man who he eventually passed the torch to in The Rock. Hogan kind of passed the torch to Warrior and Savage, but then Vince decided they weren’t long term solutions and went back to Hogan. When Hogan left, it became a battle between Bret and Shawn, who would both wind up leaving by the late 90s. WWE needed someone to step up and got Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was a face and over as all hell, but was the first anti-hero to do it. Enter The Rock, who while also heelish, was a charisma machine not seen since Hogan. in 2002, Hogan was beat clean by The Rock, and there we had our new babyface God. Now we leave it to you, the voters, to decide if that result should stand, or if Hulkamania will live forever.
#4 CM Punk vs. #2 Brock Lesnar
The battle between the Paul Heyman guys! They don’t have much in common on paper beyond that (I know they were both in UFC, but nothing about their experiences was similar). Punk is a tattooed smaller workhorse who talks A LOT, while Lesnar is a cornfed monster who wrestles short matches and lets his advocate do his talking for him.
They wrestled once in real life at SummerSlam 2013, in a banger of a match that saw CM Punk bite Lesnar’s ear, but Brock pick up the win in the end.
How you vote now comes down to what you value most in archetypes of champions. Do you want your champ to be a larger-than-life monster who dominates his opponents, or do you want your champ to be the best in-ring working pro wrestler there is?
#1 John Cena vs. #2 Stone Cold Steve Austin
The most squeaky-clean PG superstar WWE ever produced versus the guy who got over by drinking beer, swearing, and flipping the bird.
John Cena rose to greatness very quickly, too quickly for the older fans liking, but no one and I mean no one has ever been more popular as champion with kids. And for that reason, Cena was the champion or champion-adjacent for most of the Ruthless Aggression era and nearly ALL of the PG era. John Cena, with his towel and jorts and iconic theme music, was the most identifiable and profitable WWE wrestler for a very long time. But as popular as Cena was with kids, Steve Austin was just as popular with the young male demographic. Austin may not have been the number one star for very long, his back and neck were shot by the time he became champ, but his star burned brighter than anyone in WWE’s entire history.
How you vote here probably comes down to your age, but I’ll challenge you to decide if you’re voting on someone who was truly representative of “Championship Material” for a sustained era (Cena) or the person who’s pursuit of the championship to spite his boss was the sole reason you tuned in each week (Austin).
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