Everyone knows wrestling is a work, but there are very real aspects to it. Pro wrestling is scripted with everything choreographed on who will win matches and become champions. The real aspect is everyone wanting to do their best. There’s genuine competition between the performers, who are trying to have the best match of the night. Not everyone can be in the World Championship picture or win their matches but the pride that comes with having the best performance of the night is in their hands. However, WWE has hopes of specific matches being the most memorable of the night. That doesn’t always work out to plan.
There have been many cases of surprising matches or motivated participants going out there and having the best match on the card. WWE typically wants the main event or their pushed stars to end the night being heavily discussed after a big show. Everyone else on the roster wants to ruin those plans by improving their stock and getting over with the fans enough to get into the top tier positions of the company. This list will take a glimpse into the most memorable occasions of matches stealing the show... despite WWE not wanting them to be the ones to do so.
15 Edge and Christian vs. The Hardys vs. The Dudleys (WrestleMania 2000)
2000 was very kind to the WWE with their roster becoming one of the best in wrestling history. The Rock evolved into the biggest star in the business. Triple H took the next step in becoming a legitimate main eventer on par with anyone in the WWE. Mick Foley was retiring but received an honor to appear in the main event of WrestleMania 2000 in his final match. Add Big Show to the match and the fatal four-way at WrestleMania should have been the most memorable match of the night.
14 Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus (Extreme Rules 2012)
Extreme Rules 2012 was meant to be about the return of Brock Lesnar. Following years away in the UFC, Lesnar returned to the WWE to face John Cena in a match worthy of main eventing WrestleMania. The two would go on to have a spectacular match and one of the better matches all year, but it paled in comparison to another match on the same show. Daniel Bryan and Sheamus stole the show in an epic match for the World Heavyweight Championship.
13 Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania 21)
WrestleMania 21 revolved around two big stories. John Cena defeating JBL to win the WWE Championship and Batista defeating Triple H to become the World Champion. Both men were elevated into being the faces of the company. Unfortunately, neither of their matches stood out and are often forgotten when discussing WrestleMania 21. WWE knew booking a match between Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle could steal the show, but not to the extent that it did.
12 Scotty 2 Hotty vs. Dean Malenko (Backlash 2000)
An unlikely match that WWE definitely didn’t want stealing the show occurred when Dean Malenko successfully defended the Light Heavyweight Championship over Scotty 2 Hotty at Backlash 2000. WWE didn’t take the smaller wrestlers seriously and often stuck them in positions with little chances at thriving. On this night, Malenko and Scotty changed that narrative by having an outstanding match to make the title mater for one show.
11 Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho (WrestleMania XIX)
WWE sold four main events for the incredible WrestleMania XIX card. Steve Austin and The Rock were having their third high profile WrestleMania match in five years. Hulk Hogan and Vince McMahon told the story of a grudge match twenty years in the making. Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle brought athleticism of two hungry young stars battling for the top spot. Triple H defended his dominant title reign against the rising Booker T.
10 Edge vs. Mick Foley (WrestleMania 22)
WrestleMania 22 was another instance of the WWE watching a match steal the show that they did not want doing so. Edge had a one month WWE Championship reign but lost it to John Cena before moving lower down the card again. Mick Foley returned in hopes of having a credible WrestleMania story for two reasons. The career of Foley was legendary, but he lacked a tremendous WrestleMania moment. The other reason featured Foley wanting to help Edge become a bigger star.
9 Triple H vs. The Rock (SummerSlam 1998)
The thought of the WWE not wanting a match between Triple H and The Rock to steal the show seems laughable. Both men saw opportunity for the majority of their careers, but they were in the midcard at SummerSlam 1998. Steve Austin faced The Undertaker in the main event in a highly anticipated match for the WWE Championship. They had a good match to close the show, but Triple H and Rock stole the show earlier in the evening.
8 Chris Jericho vs. Rey Mysterio (The Bash 2009)
The main event The Bash saw Randy Orton and Triple H having a big singles match to end their long feud. Orton attacked Stephanie McMahon and Vince McMahon to set up a WrestleMania XXV title match and the program extended into the summer. Their match was meant to be a huge deal with the stipulation of Three Stages of Hell featuring a traditional match, Falls Count Anywhere Match and Stretcher Match. Almost no one thinks about Orton and Triple H when recalling this show.
7 Edge and Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit (No Mercy 2002)
The original brand split instantly gave us new stars with new opportunities opening up. No match better proved that more than the WWE Tag Team Championship contest between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit vs. Rey Mysterio and Edge. SmackDown needed new tag titles and this was the finals for the honor of being the first champions. A new title desperately needs great matches associated with it to make it relevant and these four men managed to do it that night.
6 Bret Hart vs. Mr. Perfect (Summerslam 1991)
WWE was still the land of the giants in 1991. Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior were the two biggest stars in the company and they were given the main event match at SummerSlam against Sgt. Slaughter, General Adnan and Col Mustafa. The match was as lackluster as it sounds. Hogan and Warrior aren’t known for their in-ring work and this night saw them have another stinker against the unremarkable heels.
5 The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXV)
The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels had arguably the greatest match in WWE history at WrestleMania XXV, but it wasn’t supposed to be. Many believed the two legends deserved the main event spot at the massive show, but they were snubbed in favor of Triple H and Randy Orton. Triple H and Orton were in midst of a personal feud following Orton attacking various relatives of Triple H leading up to their WWE Championship match.
4 Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio (SummerSlam 2005)
SummerSlam 2005 was built around one major match. Hulk Hogan made his return to the ring and agreed to a dream match with Shawn Michaels. The two WWE icons never had a singles match until that show and there was strong interest in it. Politics showed its ugly face in pro wrestling once again with Hogan refusing to lose the match and turning down a formerly agreed on rematch that would see him return the favor to Michaels.
3 The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan (WrestleMania X8)
WWE was in a transition period in early 2002. This was right before the brand split and the roster started to fill out as a super team of elite talent from top to bottom. Many of the top names from WCW began to come over after their original WCW contracts expired. Hulk Hogan was the biggest star to make his WWE return along with his New World Order partners, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. WWE wrestlers still held a grudge from the Monday Night Wars and Hogan was treated as an outcast heading into WrestleMania X8.
2 Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler (Bragging Rights 2010)
Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler are two performers that WWE never wanted to truly get behind. Bryan’s smaller size and naturally mellow personality are things that worked against him in the political landscape until fans rallied behind him. Ziggler has a bit more vocal personality that tends to rub people the wrong way within WWE. Bryan and Ziggler squared off in the opening match at the Raw vs. SmackDown Bragging Rights show, pitting the two midcard champions against each other.
1 Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage (WrestleMania III)
The biggest instance of WWE seeing a match steal the show against their wishes was WrestleMania III. It was the biggest night in wrestling history at the time, pitting Hulk Hogan against Andre the Giant in front of over 90,000 fans in the Pontiac Silverdome. The huge crowd all came to see the heroic Hogan slay the unbeatable giant, but left talking about the greatness of Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat.
Savage and Steamboat had a historic match for the Intercontinental Championship. They outworked the main event with exciting wrestling rather than the plodding slow style associated with WWE in the 80s. Many current stars credit the Steamboat vs. Savage match for influencing them to become wrestlers. The night was supposed to be about Hogan having his big moment and to an extent it was. However, the long game saw Steamboat’s win over Savage win the night. Two talented performers gave their all and changed the business by stealing the show at WrestleMania III.
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