The hardest thing you can do as a professional wrestling booker is to come up with the perfect match finish. Bookers throughout history have spent weeks trying to write the perfect finish to their biggest matches. While the match itself matters, ultimately, it’s the finish that is going to be remembered for days, weeks, and months to come. You would think, then, that match finishes would be among the most sacred things in wrestling. Surely, wrestling organizations - especially ones as big as WWE - must book finishes weeks in advance so that they can properly book around them moving forward.
Historically speaking, though, the opposite is true. There have been countless numbers of wrestling matches that have suffered through last-second decision-making. Even though few of these finishes ever work out well, it seems that promoters just never learn their lesson and put off the final decision until the absolute last possible moment. Sometimes, the finish isn’t even determined until the match has actually begun. As common as this technique is, though, these last-second changes can sometimes be hidden by history. Just to make sure that these procrastinated decisions are never forgotten, we bring you the top 15 wrestling match finishes you didn’t know were changed at the last second.
15 Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker - WrestleMania XXX
This one starts our list simply because there is some room for doubt regarding the specifics. Leading up the WrestleMania XXX encounter between The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar, Vince remained undecided regarding the outcome. However, those close to him seemed to indicate that he was leading towards having Taker beat Lesnar in order to keep the streak alive and save the honor of breaking it for a younger guy. Maybe it was the atmosphere of the event that got to him, but just a few hours before the match took place, McMahon made the call to have Lesnar go over. Those around him - including Lesnar and Taker - were apparently shocked by the decision, but McMahon felt it would lead to a moment that nobody saw coming.
14 Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Scott Hall - WrestleMania X8
Here’s another one that is surrounded by some doubt, but there seems to be a consensus regarding the general story. Originally, everyone thought that Stone Cold Steve Austin was going to wrestle Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X8. However, someone decided that The Rock vs. Hogan was more of a marquee match. Some also say it was due to Austin and Hogan not wanting to work together. This decision left Austin without a high-profile opponent, so WWE booked him against Scott Hall. Austin wasn’t too thrilled by this and he really wasn’t thrilled that the original plan was to have Hall win by either DQ or nefarious means in order to keep the feud going. The story goes that Austin flat our refused to lose under any circumstances until McMahon eventually had to change the finish.
13 1995 WCW World War III Battle Royal
This is the first of quite a few Hulk Hogan appearances on this list. Chalk that up to the fact that Hogan was a legendary politician that loved to request last minute match changes because he knew that nobody was going to argue against him that close to the show. One of the most amusing instances of Hogan’s politicking occurred during the 1995 World War III match. Hogan was always booked to lose this 60-man battle royal, but in the middle of the match, he decided that he wasn’t okay with losing a battle royal match clean. So, he decided to get word to the back that he was only going to lose via suspicious circumstances. This led to Macho Man Randy Savage winning, but Hogan stealing the spotlight as he argued he should have won as the show went off-air.
12 D-Generation X vs. Rated-RKO - New Years Revolution 2007
Here’s an odd one. Going into New Year’s Revolution 2007, it seemed that the plan was to use the DX vs. Rated-RKO match as a chance to turn Rated-RKO face and DX heel. Double turns in wrestling are complicated enough to pull off correctly, but this one just fell completely apart when Triple H tore his quad mid-match. This ruined the planned finish which would have saw DX beat down Orton and Edge until they drew the DQ.
Realizing that everything had fallen apart, Shawn Michaels brilliantly improvised a new finish by going crazy with a steel chair and throwing the referee in order to be disqualified. Fans went crazy watching the unhinged Michaels, and Michaels was able to hide Triple H’s injury perfectly. Rumor has it that WWE executives were so grateful for HBK's quick thinking that they decided to give him a WrestleMania main event match against John Cena as a reward for his effort.
11 Ron Simmons vs. Big Van Vader - WCW Championship Match
For some reason, it’s apparently quite common for major world championship wins to be decided at the last second. Chalk it up to nerves, we suppose. Actually, one of the most famous World Championship wins in history came as the result of a last second change. This whole story is a bit confusing, but the basic set-up involves Sting and Big Van Vader who had been feuding throughout 1992.
The plan was for Sting to finally get the better of Vader and end his dominant title reign. That didn’t happen. At a 1992 house show where Sting was scheduled to beat Vader, booker Bill Watts had a change of heart and decided that Sting should be “injured” by Jake Roberts in order to those two to start a feud. He held a raffle to determine the new number one contender which Ron Simmons won. Simmons went on to win the title that night.
10 The Undisputed Championship Tournament - Vengeance 2001
While the infamous Invasion storyline was a huge embarrassment for WWE - you’ll notice how they almost never bring it up - that storyline did have a few highlights. Among them was the crowning of the first ever undisputed WWE/WCW champion. Oh sure, the final four participants - Kurt Angle, Stone Cold, The Rock, and Chris Jericho - were all in WWE for years by that point, but the naming of an undisputed champion was still a big moment.
You would think that such a match would have been planned in advance for months. However, according to WWE insiders, nobody knew who was going to be named champion leading up to the event itself. The wrestlers were all in the arena just hours before the event before McMahon sent word down that Jericho was going to take the title. Before that moment, it was strongly suspected that Rock or Austin were going to get the nod.
9 Hulk Hogan vs. Jeff Jarrett - Bash At the Beach 2000
Of all the bizarre and awful booking decisions WCW have ever made, this one stands out as possibly the strangest. What exactly happened at Bash at the Beach 2000 has never been made entirely clear, but here’s the popular version of what happened. Originally, Vince Russo wanted Jeff Jarrett to beat Hulk Hogan at the PPV. Hogan didn’t like that, so Russo dreamed up an idea of a “worked shoot” that involved Jarrett laying down for Hogan as Hogan just put a boot on him while acting like he didn’t know what was happening. That was planned.
What wasn’t planned was Russo's last second decision to go into the ring immediately afterward and launching into a hateful unscripted tirade about Hulk Hogan. Hogan was so angry at Russo that he walked out and screwed up the immediate plans following this event.
8 New Age Outlaws vs. Eddie Guerrero and Perry Saturn - Raw 2000
There have been a few instances of a wrestling finish being changed due to injury, but this is one of the most amusing cases. Shortly after Perry Saturn, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and Dean Malenko debuted in WWE as The Radicalz, WWE booked them into three separate matches vs. DX on Raw as part of a best of three competition. X-Pac beat Dean Malenko to start the night, but Eddie Guerrero and Perry Saturn were supposed to even up the score by beating the New Age Outlaws. However, Eddie Guerrero injured his arm mid-match. For some reason, it was decided that the New Age Outlaws should win the match instead. The problem was that this result turned the Chris Benoit/Triple H match later that night that was supposed to be a tiebreaker into a largely pointless affair.
7 Daniel Bryan's Money in the Bank Cash-In vs. The Big Show - TLC 2011
There’s an infamous picture on the internet that shows Cody Rhodes, Zack Ryder, Kofi Kingston, Evan Bourne, CM Punk, and Daniel Bryan holding all the company’s major men’s titles following the 2011 TLC PPV. Many felt that this group would end up becoming WWE’s future main eventers. The funny thing about that photo is that Daniel Bryan originally wasn’t supposed to be in it.
That night, Bryan cashed in his Money in the Bank contract against the Big Show to win the World Heavyweight Championship. Originally, McMahon wanted Big Show to remain champion. His last minute change of heart was complicated by the fact that Bryan wasn’t even scheduled to be in the arena that night. He had to be pulled from a nearby autograph signing, brought to the arena, and informed that he was about to be champion.
6 Hulk Hogan vs. Nick Bockwinkel - AWA Super Sunday 1983
Before we look at the famous examples of Hogan screwing over other wrestlers, let’s look at one time a last second change screwed Hogan over. Originally, Hulk Hogan was supposed to beat Nick Bockwinkel for the AWA Championship at the AWA’s biggest event ever, Super Sunday. At this time, Hogan was on the verge of becoming a global star and AWA was prepared to build their company around him.
The day of the show, though, booker Verne Gagne decided to have Bockwinkel retain the belt through a screwy finish. Why? Some say that he was upset Hogan wanted a merchandise percentage. Others claim that it was because Gagne felt Hogan wasn’t a “real wrestler” and that he was at his best when he was chasing the belt. Whatever the reason, Hogan was so upset by the decision that he decided to leave the company shortly thereafter and went back to WWE. You probably know what happened next.
5 Booker T vs. Rick Martel/Perry Saturn - WCW SuperBrawl VIII
Generally speaking, having a wrestler work multiple matches in a single show is a bad idea. Sometimes it works, like Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania XXX, but more often than not, the wrestler suffers due to the extra work. Sometimes, this set-up even leads to things going really wrong. That’s what happened at SuperBrawl VIII. The plan was for Rick Martel to beat Booker T to retain the Television Championship and then likely lose to number one contender Perry Saturn immediately after that. However, Rick Martel suffered a career ending injury during the first match. Because of this, Booker T ended up beating Martel and then had to improvise his entire match vs. Perry Saturn. Booker T ended up winning that match which means that he went into that show expecting to lose one match and actually won two.
4 Triple H vs. Booker T - WrestleMania XIX
Have you ever felt like the WrestleMania XIX match between Triple H and Booker T just made no sense? It turns out there’s a very good reason why that is. The set-up here was that Triple H spent weeks mocking Booker T and constantly getting the better of him prior to their WrestleMania showdown. Typically, that kind of booking means that a guy like Booker T is going to end up winning. However, Triple H ended up coming out on top. Why? Nobody is entirely sure what the answer to that question is.
However, it seems clear that Booker T was originally booked to win the match. Some say that he lost the opportunity after showing up to RAW late and hungover, while others blame the last-minute change on Triple H working some backstage politics. Whatever happened, Booker T ended up looking pretty bad at the end of it all.
3 1990 Royal Rumble Match
Royal Rumbles are pretty notorious for being booked up until the last minute, but this is certainly one of the most infamous cases of late changes. Going into the 1990 Royal Rumble, WWE executives were fully committed to having Mr. Perfect win the big match. Everyone seemed to be on board with this plan. Well, everyone except Hulk Hogan, that is. On the afternoon of the show, Hogan decided that he was not going to lose the Royal Rumble. Keep in mind that Hulk Hogan was the champion at this time and had nothing to gain from winning the Royal Rumble. Despite this, he convinced McMahon and others that it just didn’t make sense for him to lose the match. Hogan ended up winning and Perfect missed his chance to get a proper main event push.
2 WrestleMania IV WWE Championship Tournament
Along with Mr. Perfect, Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase is one of those ex-WWE wrestlers who many fans feel should have gotten a real championship run at some point. Unfortunately, DiBiase was a heel at a time when WWE didn’t like giving heels extended title runs. However, he almost did get that big title run in a most unusual way. Yes, DiBiase was supposed to win the main event of WrestleMania IV and walk away as WWE Champion. This would have been the first time WWE let a heel end a WrestleMania as champion.
Apparently, McMahon and others ended up fearing that fans would never accept a heel win ending their biggest show of the year. As such, they told Macho Man Randy Savage he was going to end up winning the belt just hours before the show.
1 Hulk Hogan vs. Sting - WCW Starrcade 1997
The ramifications of this last second change are huge. Starrcade 1997 was supposed to be the show in which Sting finally returned and got revenge on Hulk Hogan and the nWo for all the damage they caused to him and WCW. Everyone knew Sting was going to get the big win, but nobody cared. They just wanted to see him squash Hulk Hogan. It turns out, that was the original plan. Sting was supposed to go out and dominate Hogan. Instead, Hogan beat up Sting for most of the match before seemingly winning the encounter. However, Bret Hart argued the referee had screwed Sting over with a fast count - it wasn’t close to a fast count - and had the match restarted. Sting then won the restarted match. Why the screwy finish? Well, some say that Hogan convinced the referee to make him look strong. However, Eric Bischoff claims that Sting was in terrible shape and was in no condition to convincingly beat Hogan. He says that he’s the one who came up with the changed finish.