While it has been known for many years that professional wrestling is scripted sports entertainment, things don’t always go as what was originally planned. The beauty about watching live WWE television is that sometimes, matches can be changed within a moment’s notice. Not just the situation where someone interferes during a singles match and the end results lead to a tag team main event.
There are several moments in WWE history where the officials decided to make changes in the ending of a major match. For example, a last-minute decision to put a major title on someone else has happened for various reasons. There might have been a use of backstage power by one wrestler to influence a change in booking. Other times, the officials feel it’s better to go back on giving a boost to a rising star to preserve the strength of someone already established.
Then there are the moments where a wrestler makes a mistake by not kicking out of a pin attempt with proper timing; thus leading to the referee making an inadvertent three-count. Botches have led to changes in other matches that don’t involve a championship being up for grabs. Someone may suffer a severe injury that forces changes not only to the ending of that match, but also for the subsequent storylines that were to follow.
These things have happened for decade. But this does add some fun to watching every night because the rumored plans can always be shaken up to keep things interesting. The following is a list of 15 times the WWE decided to make a change to the finish of a match at the last minute.
15 New Age Outlaws vs. The Radicalz - SmackDown, 2000
Sometimes, injuries can force for some improvisation. On the February 3, 2000, episode of SmackDown, The Radicalz group was attempting to earn WWE contacts in a two-out-of-three series with D-Generation X. All they had to do was win two of the three matches. After Dean Malenko was unable to defeat X-Pac, the original plan was for Eddie Guerrero and Perry Saturn to defeat the New Age Outlaws – making the main event of Triple H vs Chris Benoit a tie-breaker.
Guerrero unfortunately suffered a broken arm after landing wrong on a Frog Splash near the end of the match. Moments later, Guerrero was pinned, thus making Triple H and Benoit just a match without the added stipulation. However, the Radicalz still earned contracts by turning on Mick Foley and becoming allies to Triple H and D-X; making the series on SmackDown pointless in the end.
14 Shinsuke Nakamura vs. John Cena - SmackDown, 2017
Now for something a little more recent. Fans were excited to see Shinsuke Nakamura defeat John Cena during a match for the right to challenge Jinder Mahal for the WWE Championship at SummerSlam. The most important thing to take away from the match was that Nakamura, the King of Strong Style, won the match cleanly. However, that was not the original plan going into the main event.
Word from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter is that Baron Corbin was supposed to do a run-in and attack Nakamura. The plan was for that to backfire and he cost Cena the match to set up not only the WWE Championship bout, but Cena vs Corbin. Instead, the WWE had Corbin run out to attack Nakamura after the match. This allowed Super Cena to make the save. While having the run-in after the match seemed silly, it was a better alternative to Nakamura winning through interference.
13 D-Generation X vs Rated RKO - New Years Revolution 2007
Respect has to be given to someone like Triple H, who will try to continue a match even after suffering a brutal injury. Back at the 2007 New Year’s Revolution pay-per-view, Triple H tore his quadriceps after delivering a spinebuster on Randy Orton in a tag team match between D-Generation-X and Rated RKO. This led to some confusion during the match and a change in how it would end.
With Orton outside the ring holding a chair looking lost, Shawn Michaels did a suicide dive onto Orton and then threw the referee in an effort to draw the disqualification. While Triple H had to miss several months due to the injury, Michaels ended up in a WWE Championship feud with John Cena at WrestleMania 23.
12 Chris Jericho putting over Ricky Steamboat - House Show, 2009
Originally, Chris Jericho going into a handicap match against Roddy Piper, Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka and Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat at WrestleMania XXV in 2009 could have been viewed as a throwaway match. Legends who are past their prime and likely looking for another 15 minutes of fame. However, fans were presently surprised to see Steamboat not only look good in the ring, but he was great. Steamboat and Jericho would have a rematch at the next pay-per-view Backlash.
But the two also wrestled in various house shows during that time, both in the U.S. and Japan. One match in South Carolina, where Steamboat frequented during his days in the NWA, Jericho decided to change the finish during the actual match. This involved communicating with the referee and Steamboat about The Dragon kicking out of the Codebreaker; followed by a finish that emulated Steamboat’s win over Randy Savage at WrestleMania III. The crowd loved the finish, as they were pleasantly surprised to see the old timer go over.
11 Steve Austin vs. Scott Hall - WrestleMania X8
While WrestleMania X8 had one of the most iconic matches featuring The Rock and Hulk Hogan, fans were left scratching their heads when “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was facing Scott Hall in a match. Sure, Austin had a storyline against the New World Order. But some felt that Austin should have been given a chance to face Hogan in an icon-vs-icon match. Or at the very least, put Austin in a match with The Undertaker.
Considering that Austin was considered one of the biggest stars of the 1990s and even through 2001, he certainly had a right to be displeased with a mid-card match with Scott Hall. Online reports suggest Hall was originally meant to go over in the match and Austin refused. This led to a change that saw Austin win and give the stunner twice to Hall, who some say did one of the best sells of the finishing move in WWE history.
10 Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks - Hell in a Cell 2016
Having two women enter Hell in a Cell for the first time in WWE history was a defining moment back at the Hell in a Cell 2016 pay-per-view. However, it was just another chapter in the game of hot potato of the WWE Raw Women’s Championship. The original plan was for Sasha Banks to retain over Charlotte Flair in front of her hometown of Boston, Mass. But seemingly at the last minute, a change was made, at least according to Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio.
What’s interesting was that two months prior, Banks was meant to retain the same title at SummerSlam. But injury concerns led to a similar change that allowed Charlotte to win. Banks would return from her injuries within a month and would win the title on an episode of Raw. A few months later, word was out that Vince McMahon viewed Banks as “injury prone” and didn’t trust her to have a long championship reign.
9 Daniel Bryan’s Cash-In - TLC 2011
Daniel Bryan is truly the most successful wrestler to come out of the NXT “reality show” concept, despite also sharing a season with a very talented Wade Barrett. But the fans loved Bryan and supported him during a feud with The Miz for the United State Championship and many other classic matches. Bryan would eventually win the Money in the Bank briefcase in 2011. But the WWE teased his eventual cash-in multiple times; leaving fans wondering if he would be the first to fail cashing in.
But at the WWE TLC pay-per-view in December 2011, Bryan shockingly cashed in on the Big Show, who had just won the World Heavyweight Championship and was down via a DDT onto a steel chair. The decision was made at the last moment. Bryan wasn’t even on the card at the event, but he happened to be doing an autograph signing in a nearby town. So the WWE was able to rush him to the arena and win the title.
8 AJ Styles vs. Kevin Owens - Battleground 2017
The feud between AJ Styles and Kevin Owens that started earlier this year has been one of the most intriguing storylines currently going on in the WWE. And while it might have come to a close at SummerSlam earlier this month, there was some controversy about how the United States Championship changed hands between them last month at the Battleground pay-per-view. Fans noticed the referee missed Styles getting his shoulder up before he made the three-count.
Fans in attendance also noticed Styles looked visibly upset after the match while the broadcast continued on with a segment involving WWE Champion Jinder Mahal. The feud was already strange enough when Styles defeated Owens for the United States Championship a few weeks prior at a house show; albeit a live event at Madison Square Garden should have special moments.
7 The 2001 WWE Undisputed Championship Tournament
One of the memorable storylines that came from WWE purchasing WCW in 2001 was the merger of the WWE and WCW Championships. A tournament was held to crown the first ever WWE Undisputed Champion at the 2001 Vengeance pay-per-view. The speculation going into the event was that the finals would likely see “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock battle it out once again with championship gold on the line. But there were a lot of rumors going around during that time and the eventual winner didn’t know until the day of the show.
During a 2015 interview with What Culture, Chris Jericho told the story about finding out he would be the WWE Undisputed Champion that afternoon. It was obviously the biggest moment of his life and it’s likely that he would have had his family attending the event if he would have known with a little more advanced notice.
6 Wendi Richter in the Original Screwjob
When most people hear the word “screwjob” in professional wrestling, their minds quickly recall the 1997 Survivor Series incident involving Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and the WWE Championship (more on this later). However, the original screwjob in WWE history took place on November 25, 1985 at Madison Square Garden. Wendi Richter was holding the WWE Women’s Championship at the time, but wanted to get a better pay for her popularity from the Rock ‘N Wrestling Connection in the 1980s.
Refusing to sign a contract extension, Vince McMahon decided to make a move to have the title change hands in her match against a mystery opponent known as “The Spider Lady.” Despite kicking out of a small package roll-up, the referee made the three-count. It was revealed that the Fabulous Moolah. Richter left the WWE and went to work overseas. She was certainly unhappy for many years, but seemingly buried the hatchet when she was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009.
5 1990 Royal Rumble Match
Back at a time when the Royal Rumble didn’t have the stipulation of a guaranteed championship match at the following WrestleMania, Curt Hennig was reportedly planned to win the big 30-man over-the-top-rope battle royal in 1990. This was the kind of booking decision that made a lot of sense. “Mr. Perfect” was easily one of the best heels who simultaneiously was one of the best technical wrestlers on the WWE roster.
This would have allowed for someone like Hulk Hogan or Randy Savage to have an established heel for a future WWE Championship match. However, the plans were changed to allow Hulk Hogan, who was holding the WWE title at the time, to get the win and look strong for WrestleMania VI against The Ultimate Warrior. Similar to heels like Roddy Piper, Hennig was a deserving heel who never got to officially hold the WWE Championship.
4 WrestleMania IV Championship Tournament
“The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase is easily one of the best heels who was never able to win a WWE Championship. However, he was certainly in the picture in 1988 in the time leading up to WrestleMania IV. After a WWE Championship match where Andre the Giant defeated Hulk Hogan, Andre would actually help put the title around DiBiase’s waist; signaling that he had bought the title from the giant. While he actually wore the championship to house shows, it was announced the next week on television the title was being vacated.
A championship tournament was announced for WrestleMania IV and the plan was for DiBiase to win the championship to officially win the title for the first time. However, The Honky Tonk Man was not willing to drop the Intercontinental Championship to Randy Savage. In an interview with WGD Weekly in 2014, DiBiase explained that this led to Savage being given the win over DiBiase in the WWE Championship tournament final.
3 Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker - WrestleMania XXX
Wrestling fans who grew up in the 90s who happened to attend WrestleMania XXX three years ago looked emotionally crushed and sickened. That’s because The Undertaker’s undefeated streak at WrestleMania was conquered by Brock Lesnar in shocking fashion. It turns out that not only were the fans surprised by this booking decision, but so were some of the people in the ring. In fact, referee Chad Patton heard that Taker was originally scheduled to win and had a slight hesitation on the deciding three-count.
There was also some conflicting reports about whether Vince McMahon requested Undertaker to lose the match or told him he would lose and the Deadman simply agreed to it. In a podcast with Steve Austin in December 2014, McMahon admitted that he made the decision that he considered difficult, but the right choice at the right time.
2 Seth Rollins’ Cash-In At WrestleMania 31
WrestleMania 31 arugably has one of the most unexpected finishes to a major wrestling pay-per-view in history. For months, the expectations for fans was that Roman Reigns was going to defeat Brock Lesnar for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in the main event. Whether or not fans were in favor of that booking decision may or may not have had a factor in a last-minute change where Seth Rollins ran towards the ring.
He cashed in his Money in the Bank opportunity and pinned Reigns after the Curb Stomp to win the title. The last-minute changed was a surprise even for Rollins, who reportedly found out about him winning just moments before the main event. It was truly a shocker after he took a loss to Randy Orton earlier in the evening. But the fans loved the unexpected finish.
1 Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels - 1997 Survivor Series
The 1997 Survivor Series pay-per-view is easily considered one of the most controversial moments in not only WWE history, but in all of professional wrestling. It was known behind the scenes that Bret “The Hitman” Hart was nearing the end of his WWE contract during this time to work for WCW. Hart didn’t want to drop the WWE Championship in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, which makes sense.
In an effort to prevent any risk of the WWE Championship appearing on WCW television, Vince McMahon conspired for referee Earl Hebner to call for a submission when Shawn Michaels placed Hart in the champion’s signature Sharpshooter submission. Hart was under the belief that the match would end in a disqualification later on in the match. This led to some bad feelings between Hart and Michaels and WWE for more than a decade before the hatchet was buried in 2010.