WrestleMania. The biggest night in the professional wrestling calendar and all you New Japan fanboys can live with that for the rest of your lives. Over the years, it’s evolved from celebrity-packed pop culture showcase to a night of wrestling bliss to the culmination of a year’s worth of storylines to whatever the hell Mania 32 was. WWE usually go all out at WrestleMania and use it to put over some of their biggest stars; to build their legends, to create magical moments that will be spoken of for years to come and to shift merchandise like never before. All the big names in pro wrestling scored the win on their Mania debuts. John Cena won the United States Championship in his first Mania appearance, The Undertaker crushed Jimmy Snuka to begin his legendary streak and Brock Lesnar almost killed himself with a Shooting Star Press gone wrong. Well, can’t be perfect now, can we?
What you might not realise, however, dear readers, is that this devilishly handsome writer just told you a lie. No, not the part about me being handsome. I’m the best-looking guy in school, just ask my mum. No, I lied when I told you that every great name in wrestling won their first appearance at Mania; that, my friends, simply isn’t true, as I’m about to explain. Disclaimer – I am only counting debuts in singles or tag matches, so no Battle Royals or Money In The Bank ladder matches. I am also only counting a clear loss as a loss, so no double DQs or no contests here. Finally, I won’t be counting anyone who lost at WrestleMania I, since I could just list that whole card and be done with, so that’s why you won’t find Roddy Piper on this list. So, without further ado, let’s round up the losers and work out just what went wrong for these fifteen legendary performers.
15 AJ Styles
We’ll begin with the most recent example of confusing booking at WrestleMania.
AJ Styles well and truly earned the nickname “Phenomenal”. After a brief spell in WCW shortly before its demise, Styles chose not to follow the WWE path and instead carved out a career on the independent circuit. He became the face of Total Non-stop Action (TNA), holding every title in the promotion’s history, including five world titles. He also became the third leader of popular New Japan stable, Bullet Club, winning that promotion’s top title, the IWGP Heavyweight Championship, twice. So, when he turned up in WWE at the 2016 Royal Rumble, everybody, quite understandably, lost their marbles. Then it all sort of fell apart.
Styles was booked to face Chris Jericho in his first one-on-one WWE match the night after his debut, which he won with the Calf Kill- I mean, Crusher. Sorry, Vince, won’t happen again. Jericho got one back against AJ, before the feud was settled at Fastlane, with AJ going over. Or so we thought. The two then teamed up for a bit – calling themselves Y2AJ because creative weren’t going to waste aq good name on a two-week storyline – before breaking up after failing to capture the tag team titles on Raw. Jericho turned heel and the two were scheduled to meet at WrestleMania. Now, you’d probably think the smart thing to do would be to have AJ, the new, up-and-coming talent, defeat the veteran, Jericho, to build steam towards a long, successful career in the WWE. But, apparently, you’d be wrong, because Vince McMahon booked Jericho to beat AJ clean and, as we all know, Vinne Mac is God. To make this idea even more stupid, AJ would only go and win a number one contender’s match the next night on Raw, meaning he was next in line for a WWE title shot, despite losing a huge match just twenty-four hours previously! And we, like suckers, allowed it to happen. Shame on us, shame on us all.
What’s this? Another example of an established talent from outside WWE being screwed over in their first WrestleMania match? Shocker.
Sting is, quite simply, a legend. From NWA to WCW to TNA, the Stinger captivated crowds with his energy, his character-building, his... face paint! The man practically was WCW back in the day and his iconic “Crow” look is one of the most recognisable in wrestling history. He won world titles with the NWA, WCW and TNA, as well as numerous regional titles and secondary belts, such as the United States Championship and numerous tag team championships. Like our boy, AJ, Sting’s debut in WWE also caused quite the stir; he would prevent Triple Hs interference from costing Team Cena their match at Survivor Series 2014, winning the match for them and, in the process, ousting The Authority from power forever... well, for about six weeks, anyway. I knew it was too good to be true.
This interference from The Icon led to Sting signing on the dotted line to battle The Game at WrestleMania 31. Finally, after years, decades, even, of waiting, fans would finally get to see the biggest name never to wrestle for the WWE step foot in one of their rings. Then the fans remembered who was booking the match and prepared themselves for the worst. The match was great and the DX and N.w.O run-ins were cool (if not incredibly confusing), but, of course, the match ended with the WWE guy defeating the WCW guy, because Vince just can’t let the whole “Monday Night Wars” thing go, can he? Furthermore, this is probably going to go down as Sting’s only WrestleMania match, as he announced his retirement after being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2016. Whilst there is still a chance Stinger could return for one last match, I wouldn’t bet on it, so this is one stain on his career, unlike his face paint, he’s never going to be able to wash off.
Woah, woah, woah, woah, waoh... woah. Hold on. Let’s address something before we get started with this one.
You might be wondering “oh, but the title of this list said “legends” and now he’s writing about Sheamus. Sheamus isn’t a legend, he’s a stupid, pale ginger with funny hair and a weird voice #firejacob #burndownJacobshouse”. Well, let’s talk about Sheamus, shall we? In his first year in the WWE, Sheamus defeated John freakin’ Cena for the WWE Championship, a title he has held three times. He hold the record for the longest World Heavyweight Championship reign of the 2010s, one of the longest ever. He was the first man to kick out of Big Show’s KO Punch (no, seriously, he was) and he is one of only two men in history to win the Royal Rumble, King of the Ring and Money In The Bank. So, when history looks at Sheamus’ career, it’ll probably do so quite favourably. All in agreement? Actually, I don’t care if you are, I’m carrying on.
Sheamus’ WrestleMania highlights include defeating The New Day as one third of The League of Nations, winning the World Heavyweight Championship in 18 seconds from Daniel Bryan (ugh) and facing The Shield in their WrestleMania debut. However, his first appearance at the show was also a pretty high-profile one – battling none other than The King of Kings at WrestleMania XXVI. Triple H had eliminated Sheamus from the Elimination Chamber match a few weeks prior to Mania, costing him the WWE title in the process. This led to Sheamus ambushing Triple H and challenging him at Mania, which he accepted. Now, I know Sheamus was the heel here and heels often lose at Mania, but, like Sting before him, The Great White definitely would have benefitted more from a win over The Game here. Who knows, maybe if Triple H hadn’t have won, people would actually like Sheamus. I like you, Sheamus, no matter what anyone says. Unless that person actually does go to burn down my house, in which case, you’re on your own, fella.
12 Jerry Lawler
Oh, this damn match!
A few things are surprising about this series of events. Firstly, that it took Jerry Lawler, a legend of the wrestling business, WWE Hall of Famer and multi-time world champion across America, until 2011 to get a match at WrestleMania. Secondly, that, just one month prior to this, Lawler was facing The Miz for the WWE Championship! What?! Thirdly, and this one really takes the biscuit, that his big, Showcase of the Immortals dream match was against none other than... Michael Cole. Michael. Cole. Michael “Oh My” Cole. Michael “May I have Your Attention, Please?” Cole. Michael- alright, alright, that joke’s run its course, but you get the picture!
You see, Cole was in his heel phase at the time, which is probably the most successful thing he’s ever done, because people genuinely hated him. Cole’s evil manifested itself in a feud with Lawler, highlights of which included Maggle costing The King the WWE title in a TLC match on Raw and insulting his dead mother. No, seriously, Michael Cole made fun of Jerry Lawler’s deceased mother on live TV to build to a WrestleMania match. Jesus. Talk about unnecessary. Anyhow, the match rolled around and it was just a bad as expected; not even Steve Austin as guest ref could save this stinker. TO cap it all off, thanks to assistance form the Anonymous Raw General manger (God, even more bad memories!), Cole actually won the match! You’re kidding me! Jerry certainly doesn’t wrestle anymore, so this blemish on his career will be an eternal one. Forget every crime you’ve even heard of, this, this is the world’s greatest injustice.
11 CM Punk
A legend to all, except WWE themselves.
CM Punk will go down as one of the most important wrestlers of all time. After spending years toiling in the midcard with the odd flash of glory snuffed out all too soon, he finally snapped and worked his frustrations into one of the greatest promos ever – the infamous Pipebomb. On an episode of Raw in 2011, Punk sat atop the entrance ramp and let loose his frustrations in a fine example of the worked-shoot. He turned on everyone from Vince McMahon to Triple H and Stephanie to the crowd themselves, calling out promotions such as NJPW and ROH (special shoutout to Colt Cabana, here) before having his microphone “cut”. It was bold, it was edgy, it was risky, but, my god, did it work. Fans came back to wrestling in their thousands; everyone wanted to know who this guy was and what he was going to do next. Well, as it turns out, what he did next was storm out of the company without telling anyone before being blacklisted by the promotion, but hey, it was a fun ride while it lasted.
Punk’s first three Mania appearances came in the Money In The Bank ladder matches at 23, XXIV and XXV (yes, I do have to use the Roman numerals), the latter which two he won. However, as I outlined at the top of this paragraph, those don’t count here, so we have to go to WrestleMania XXVI to see Punk’s first singles appearance. It was against Rey Mysterio, a man Punk had been taunting for months, attempting to convince him to join the Straight Edge Society. If you don’t know what that is, think The Wyatt Family, but with less beards, more preachiness and, somehow, a worse win-loss record. Rey handily defeated Punk in less than seven minutes at Mania, handing Punk his first of three Mania singles losses in his career. The feud would continue for another few months, eventually resulting in Punk being shaved bald for, umm, reasons. I don’t remember this storyline very well, ok? All I remember is Luke Gallows used to be Festus. That’s all anyone remembers.
BOOM! Ok, I’ll admit it, this entrance is only cool when you actually see it, not written down.
Glenn Jacobs must have thought he was never going to get his big break in the WWE. Firstly, he was Unabomb in Smokey Mountain Wrestling, then The Christmas Creature (which is just as awful as it sounds) in the USWA and his early WWE characters included Isaac Yankem, D.D.S (you get it, “I Yank Em” and he’s a dentist, har de har har) and Fake Diesel. I don’t even know where to begin with all of that. Luckily, fate and hard work came into play and Jacobs landed the gig of a lifetime when he adopted the new gimmick of The Undertaker’s demonic half-brother, Kane, in 1997. After that, the rest, as they say, is history.
Kane’s WrestleMania resume has included an ECW title match, a tag team title match and battles with the likes of Triple H and Kurt Angle, so it’s perhaps no surprise that his first encounter on this stage came against another legend – The Undertaker. Kane’s debut saw him interfere in his brother’s Hell in a Cell number one contender’s match with Shawn Michaels, costing The Phenom a shot at the WWE title. Over the coming months, the animosity only grew between the two, leading up to a big clash at WrestleMania XIV. Of course, Kane was not the winner, because, you know, The Streak, but he put in an excellent showing, even becoming the first man ever to kick out of Taker’s Tombstone finisher during this match. All in all, not too shabby then. Of course, Kane would face (and lose to) his fictional sibling one more time at WrestleMania, but that couldn’t compare to this excellent battle between The Brothers of Destruction. Shouldn’t that be “Half-Brothers of Destruction”? Actually, if there’s any tag team I’m not going to argue with, it’s Taker and Kane. Carry on, boys.
9 Big Show
WWEEEEELLL, I really gotta start thinking of a new opening joke for my Big Show paragraphs. I’ve used that one about three times now.
Paul Donald Wight III, the most cartoon aristocrat name ever, made a name for himself in WCW, performing as The Giant. Originally brought in to try and revive Hulkamania (he was billed as Andre The Giant’s son), Wight actually won the WCW title in his debut match, despite having the notable handicap of falling off a building earlier that night. Long story, no time for it now, later, I promise. After a successful run there, Wight defected to the WWE, appearing out of nowhere years before Randy Orton made it cool at St. Valentine’s Day Massacre 1999. In attempting to assist Vince McMahon in his teel cage match with Stone Cold, Wight threw Austin into the cage wall. However, because he ate all his green vegetables as a boy, Wight was so strong that his throw sent Austin through the cage wall and tumbling out of the ring, winning him the match. Oh dear. Maybe this was a sign of things to come from Show.
A month or so later, Wight (now under the name “Big Show”) wrestled Mankind for the spot of guest referee in the main event world title match between Steve Austin and The Rock. Show was fighting for The Corporation, whilst Mankind fought for, umm, well, whatever he wanted, really. No one was going to stop him. Show would lose the match, but not by pinfall. Instead, he got himself DQ-ed after Chokeslamming Mankind through a bunch of steel chairs, allowing Mick to progress to the main event. For god’s sake, Show. You can’t win a steel cage match for your boss without ruining a cage, you can’t beat up Mick Foley without breaking some chairs. What sort of giant, cartoon aristocrat henchman are you?
Dammit. Why did I use up my one good face paint joke on Sting?
Dustin Runnels has been known as a few things other than Goldust, a gimmick he adopted in 1995. He originally performed in WWE as Dustin Rhodes, partnering a number of times with his real-life father, Dusty Rhodes. He used this gimmick in WCW, alongside another gimmick very similar to that of Goldust; a creepy, horror villain-style baddie called Seven, a gimmick most notable for being buried by Runnels himself in a shoot promo on WCW TV during the character’s debut. He was also called Black Reign in TNA, a sort of dual identity gimmick that saw Runnels switch between himself and Black Reign sporadically. He really should have warned Cody about that before he took up the Stardust gimmick.
Goldust was Intercontinental Champion heading into WrestleMania XII (his first Mania) and was originally booked to face Razor Ramon in a title match. However, due to Ramon leaving for WCW prior to the show, plans were changed and Goldust was booked in a “Hollywood Backlot Brawl” against none other than “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, who was making his first WWE appearance in two years. The match was ok, but is perhaps best remembered for its dubious use of actual footage from the OJ Simpson car chase during a sequence where Roddy was supposedly chasing Goldust in a car. WWE – Sensitivity? What the hell is that? It’s important to note that Goldust remained IC champ for a good few months following WrestleMania, so it’s likely he was going to win against Razor had their planned match gone ahead. Sadly, that wasn’t the case and, like the good taste in his match with Piper, Goldust’s WrestleMania win was nowhere to be seen.
7 Trish Stratus
Oh, Trish, you were so much better than you had any right to be.
Trish Stratus’ (really glad I didn’t have to say that) WWE career began as the blonde bombshell valet of team T&A (not to be confused with TNA). She was involved in their match with Head Cheese (Al Snow and Steve Blackman, for some reason) at WrestleMania 2000 and was involved in the Vince McMahon vs Shane McMahon match the next year. So, when WrestleMania X8 came around, the next natural step from being the pretty woman on the side lines was obviously to compete for the Women’s Championship. Honestly, only Trish had the skills to pull this off.
As you could probably tell, Ms. Stratus failed to capture the Women’s title against Lita and champion Jazz (who retained), but would walk away with the gold just one year later after beating Jazz and Victoria in another Triple Threat match. And people say today’s women’s scene is stagnant. I mean, they’re right, but... Trish had an incredible WWE career and her Hall of Fame status is thoroughly deserved. This goes to show you then that, no matter how you start, you can always get to the top if you work hard enough. It probably helps to be sexy, too, but that’s not very empowering.
6 William Regal
It’s time for my famous British prejudice to flare up again.
William Regal is one of my favourite wrestlers of all time. He could be cold and calculating in the ring, but also kind-hearted and emotional and sometimes, he was just hilarious. His lengthy career carried him across the globe before landing him in WWE in 2000, where he has been a powerful force ever since. His work, both on and off screen, has helped shape the company and he has been rewarded with a healthy helping of championships and big matches throughout. However, things didn’t get off the best start for the Blackpool Brawler.
Regal’s first WrestleMania match came at arguably the best Mania of all time – WrestleMania X-Seven. He had the honour of competing in the proper card’s opening match, taking on Chris Jericho for the Intercontinental Championship.
5 Booker T
This one is kinda sad.
Despite making less sense than Egyptian hieroglyphs written backwards, Booker T was one hell of a performer. In WCW, he won the tag team championships a record ten times with his brother, Stevie Ray, as well as the United States Championship, the TV Championship and the World Championship... how many times did he win that one again? I can never remember. He would become a member of the WWE roster after the buyout of WCW in 2001, carrying the WCW Championship over with him. He would become involved in some pretty high profile feuds, including one with The Rock that saw him main event SummerSlam. He also got beaten up by Steve Austin in a supermarket, which is nice.
Despite having a pretty good start to his WWE career, Booker, like most other stars of the Invasion angle, plummeted down the card. When WrestleMania X8 rolled around, the top spots on the card were taken by The Rock, Hulk Hogan, Chris Jericho and Triple H. So, what did WWE have Booker do? They put him against Edge. Huh, that doesn’t sound so bad. Oh, wait, hang on, I forgot to mention; they were fighting to see who would star in a commercial for hair products. A fictional commercial. Wow. I don’t even feel sorry for Booker losing here considering his prize was exactly the same as the winner’s. WrestleMania – truly, where dreams come true.
4 Triple H
What? The guy responsible for several losses on this list is also on this list? Madness!
The Cerebral Game Hunter King of Assassins, or, as he is more commonly known, Triple H, has been with the WWE for over two decades now. What began as a simple “we hate him because he’s rich” gimmick has transitioned into one of the most endearing, captivating and drawing performers of all time and a true backstage powerhouse. Through his connections – firstly with The Kliq and then with the McMahons –, Triple H has positioned himself perfectly to swoop in and take control of WWE when Vince McMahon steps down and its likely that he too will reign over WWE until he is old. But a glorious career didn’t begin in the most exceptional of circumstances; in fact, it was embarrassing.
In 1996, the WWE were in a spot of bother. WCW were handing them their asses each week in the ratings and they lacked the real star power of former rosters to pull in new viewers. Sure, they had Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and The Undertaker, but they were on nowhere near the same level as previous big names had been. So, what do WWE always do when they need a quick fix? Why, they beg an old talent to come back and squash a hopeful young star to get a cheap pop, that’s what! This is exactly what happened at WrestleMania XII when Hunter Hearst Helmsley was booked to face a returning mega-star – The Ultimate Warrior. Warrior essentially castrated Helmsley in this match, no-selling the Pedigree and defeating The Game handily in just 99 seconds. Then, shortly after this, Warrior would leave WWE again, this time for good, so this whole match was totally pointless. So, there you go, next time you pick on Trips for burying someone, just remember, he knows exactly what it feels like to come under the shovel. Actually, shouldn’t that make him less likely to bury someone? Yeah, it does. Triple H is just evil.
3 Kurt Angle
Oh, it’s true.
Kurt Angle will soon become a WWE Hall of Famer and rightfully so. He’s won nearly every title in the company, put on amazing matches with the likes of Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels and Brock Lesnar and is one of the most technically sound wrestlers of all time, on account of his amateur background. They really should have played that up more in his time with WWE. Angle’s career outside of the WWE has been littered with great accomplishments too; he won the Triple Crown in TNA (World, X-Division and Tag Team champion), as well as the Inoki Genome Federation version of the IWGP Heavyweight Championship in Japan. The one thing he couldn’t defeat, however, was male pattern baldness. Great feud, though.
Angle’s Mania debut was a weird one, because he technically lost it twice, but technically didn’t lose it at all. Let me explain. At the time, Angle was both Intercontinental and European champion (calling himself the “Eurocontinental” champion) and was set to defend both titles in a triple threat match with Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit. The winner of the first fall would become Intercontinental Champion, whilst the winner of the second fall would become European Champion. Simple, really. The match was, of course, amazing – any match featuring these three would be – and resulted in two new champions; Benoit won the Intercontinental Championship after pinning Jericho and Jericho won the European Championship by pinning Benoit. So, poor old Kurt not only lost both his titles that night, be he did so without even conceding a fall! It’s true what they say; anything can happen in the WWE. Well, except maybe a Roman Reigns heel turn, because that would be too nice.
2 Shawn Michaels
So, it turns Mr. WrestleMania didn’t have the best start to his WrestleMania career.
Michaels’ WrestleMania matches are the stuff of legend, as are his various opponents across the years. In his time, HBK battled the likes of Kurt Angle, Bret Hart, Steve Austin, Diesel, The Undertaker (twice), Ric Flair, Chris Jericho and, the most legendary name of all, Tatanka. Michaels has fought all sorts of amazing battles in his time, from ladder matches to Iron Man matches, but, what is truly incredible about his WrestleMania run is that it began with a defeat. Actually, it’s not that incredible, because this is a list about people who lost their first WrestleMania match. But you know what I mean.
Michaels’ first singles match on Pay-Per-View came at WrestleMania VIII against Tito Santana, but his first appearance at The Show of Shows came three years earlier in a tag team match. As one half of The Rockers (alongside Marty Jannetty), Michaels took on the team of The Twin Towers, The Big Bossman and Akeem. Oh, Akeem, you were just the worst. In an interesting match that saw The Rockers’ high-flying style take on the power of the two big men, Michaels and Jannetty looked like they had the much won. However, following some tomfoolery from the heels, Michaels took a powerbomb from Bossman and then an Air Africa (oh, so bad) from Akeem to end the match. It’s amazing to think now that HBK was the one to lose to Akeem in his first ever WrestleMania match, but, I guess, at the time the WWE valued two fat men over one of the most technically sound performers of all time. Forget what I said about Jerry Lawler earlier, this is a true travesty.
1 Ric Flair
I’m not going to do it, I’m not. I’m not going to make that noise – you know which one – not at all. I’m not.
Ric Flair is a name synonymous with wrestling. Whether it was in the NWA, JCP, WCW, WWE or TNA, Flair has had one of the greatest careers in wrestling history. Ok, maybe not TNA, but the rest of them were great. Flair has won 16 world titles across his career (if you ask WWE, at least), as well as several tag team titles, United States titles, an Intercontinental Championship, the 1992 Royal Rumble and has received a whopping six 5 star matches from Dave Meltzer at Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Oh, and he’s a two-time Hall of Famer, the only person ever to receive this accolade. Umm, I think that’s it. Oh, no, wait, he was also in Magic Mike XXL. No, seriously. He was.
Flair only made six WrestleMania appearances (one was a dark match) and only one of these came in his heyday of the 1990s. WrestleMania VIII should have been the site of the greatest match in pro wrestling history to that date; Ric Flair had just signed with the company in a shocking move and signs pointed to a legend vs legend match with Hulk Hogan. However, for reasons still not fully understood to this day, the match never came to be. Instead, we received a lacklustre main event between Hogan and Psycho Sid (botched finish included) and WWE Champion, Flair, vs The Macho Man, Randy Savage. Despite not being the obvious dream match, this was still one hell of a contest. In one of my favourite WrestleMania storylines ever, Flair taunted Savage over the fact that his manager, Miss Elizabeth, used to be one of Flair’s sweethearts and the inclusion of Mr. Perfect on the side of Flair only added to this already-impressive build. Things finally came to a head at the show and, despite all his trash talking, Flair was defeated and Savage would claim his second WWE title. Flair then disappeared from WWE TV for nearly a decade, his WrestleMania record standing at 0-1 for that entire team. Oh, and one more thing –
WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!! Ha, swerved ya.