For a professional wrestler, there may be no honor greater than main eventing a WrestleMania. After all, it’s not unusual for over a million fans to watch the show live via the WWE Network or pay per view, besides a live audience that’s typically in excess of 60,000 people. Besides that, the show is annually wrestling’s top selling live event DVD. While the results of an untelevised tend to be quickly forgotten, and weekly television and monthly PPV match outcomes don’t often stick with viewers for that long, WrestleMania is forever. It’s not only the most watched wrestling show of the year, but the show that is most widely archived, discussed, and generally remembered by not only hardcore wrestling fans, but even casual fans who only check in once or twice year.
The main event spot—closing out the show—implies that WWE has trusted the performers involved and their story with drawing in the audience, and with sending the fans home happy. It is, bar none, the highest profile spot on the show, and often as not involves a world championship being contested.
As you might expect, WrestleMania has had some great main events. These are matches, rivalries, and stars that stand the test of time and repeated viewings. On the flip side, however, there are those WrestleManias for which the main event didn’t deliver. Sometimes it’s a simple matter of the right match positioned in the wrong place on the card so that it didn’t feel like a proper climax or was overshadowed by a better match earlier in the night. Sometimes WWE made a creative misstep, and there was better matchup available than what they actually booked. This article looks back at eight times WWE nailed it and picked the right main event for WrestleMania, and eight times when the wrong match ended the biggest show of the year.
16 Wrong: Triple H vs. Randy Orton - WrestleMania XXV
Triple H versus Randy Orton turned out to be a pretty hot program, spurred on by Orton executing dastardly attacks on Triple H’s father-in-law, brother-in-law, and wife, before Helmsley staged a home invasion in retaliation. Better yet, in acknowledgement of the25th WrestleMania, WWE leaned into history, openly discussing the history between the two performers and the many ways their careers had intersected.
The troubles started when WWE booked a stipulation that if reigning champ Triple H got disqualified, he’d lose his world title, which took away some of what might have been a violent edge straightaway, as the vengeful face had to play it safe. Moreover, the match stayed true to the stipulation, and the many allies of the main event talents at hand—Orton’s Legacy stable, and the McMahon family backing Triple H, stayed out of the proceedings.
The result? A dull match that would have seemed more at home main eventing a B-level PPV or an episode of RAW. The effect was worsened by Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker finishing an absolute classic of a match less than a half hour before, such that Triple H-Orton was all the more agonizingly 'blah' by comparison.
15 Right: Roman Reigns vs. Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins - WrestleMania 31
WrestleMania 31 is a particularly interesting show for having no truly great matches, but for every match delivering on expectations, and in most cases at a higher level. As such, there was no better match to close the show than the world title match featuring the dominant part-time star Brock Lesnar and the ascendant main eventer Roman Reigns, who put on a memorable, hard-hitting clash that exceeded most of our hopes.
And then Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase.
Watching this match live, I remember enjoying it, but thinking it was a no-win scenario because heel Lesnar winning wouldn’t feel good and wouldn’t offer any clear direction forward, because who could challenge him at that point? Meanwhile, for all the good will Reigns had earned through this strong performance, surely he’d squander it if he played the super hero, overcoming the odds to defeat Lesnar. Rollins introduced a perfect compromise. Sure, a heel would walk out champion, but he was a wildly talented heel who was gaining traction with the fans, and the unprecedented WrestleMania main event cash in was electric enough that no one could be disappointed about that. On top of all of that, the cash-in left Rollins with at least three viable challengers to start his reign—both Lesnar and Reigns, plus Randy Orton who’d pinned him earlier in the show.
14 Wrong: Triple H vs. The Rock vs. Mick Foley vs. The Big Show - WrestleMania 2000
In the build to WrestleMania 2000, there was an obvious road to the main event. Triple H had spent the winter shoring up his place as the top heel and world champ, including retiring Mick Foley. Meanwhile, in the absence of Steve Austin due to injury, The Rock had stepped up to the plate and cemented his place as the top face in the company.
The Rock vs. Triple H. A match up with history, but that had never been done before at WrestleMania. A match pitting the top heel against the top face, with the top prize in wrestling on the line. There could be no clearer choice for a ‘Mania main event.
But then WWE got cute. WrestleMania 2000 turned out to be the lone WrestleMania ever without a single one-on-one match, and that included shoehorning The Big Show and Mick Foley into a Fatal Fourway main event match, with the gimmick that each competitor had a McMahon family member in his corner. The four wrestlers turned the match into a bit of an unfocused cluster, which ultimately culminated in The Rock vs. Triple H anyway as the final two men left. Things went from bad to worse when Triple H won the match, to send no one home happy.
13 Right: The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania VI
Traditional WWE wisdom will tell you that faces fight heels. It’s a simple dynamic with no gray area about whom the fans should root for. In 1990, however, the company had Hulk Hogan in his sixth year as the face of the company. And it had The Ultimate Warrior, an ascending megastar who was moving merchandise like none other, and fit Vince McMahon’s preferred prototype of a larger than life muscle man to a tee.
Rather than turning someone heel, WWE moved ahead with the face versus face dream match, with an eye toward formally passing the torch from Hogan to Warrior as WWE’s top guy. The build was electric and the match delivered—one of the very best either man ever had.
The aftermath might make some fans question this main event. Warrior didn’t really catch on, and Hogan carried on as the face of the company for another two years. Just the same, WWE had the right idea in the context of its time, and the matchup produced a solid main event.
12 Wrong: John Cena vs. The Miz - WrestleMania XXVII
When you think of WrestleMania main eventers, you don’t think of The Miz.
Don’t get me wrong, I actually like the guy and feel that his work over the last year suggests he may be ready for another main event run in the not-too-distant future. But in 2011, the guy got pushed a little too hard a little too fast to the WWE Championship, and particularly to holding the title and defending it against John Cena in the main event of the biggest show of the year.
What should WWE have done? The more obvious answer, because CM Punk has explicitly cited it in a number of interviews, would have been Punk-Cena, as the more widely accepted best heel and best face the company had at that time. Another option would have been to reverse the order of the show and put Edge vs. Alberto Del Rio, the other world title bout, at the end of the show. (That option becomes even more attractive in hindsight, as we now know that it would end up being Edge’s last match.)
11 Right: Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan - WrestleMania XXX
We many never know for sure whether it was WWE’s plan all along to push Daniel Bryan to the main event of WrestleMania XXX, or if the vocal and unshakable support of the crowd made WWE come around to the idea. Regardless, when newly returned Batista won the Royal Rumble and WWE set a course for Randy Orton vs. Batista in the main event, no one was particularly excited.
The insertion of Bryan all but promised a great match, not to mention that he was a terrific underdog foil for the established guys, each of whom had main evented WrestleMania before. Moreover, there was the drama about whether WWE would pull the trigger on his win or disappoint his fans again.
It’s sad now to look back, knowing Bryan would ultimately be forced into retirement and never went higher than this moment. Just the same, there are few WrestleMania moments from any time that are as epic as Bryan’s big win.
10 Wrong: Triple H vs. Chris Jericho - WrestleMania X8
While in 2017 Chris Jericho is the establishment, in 2002, he was just getting his first shot at the main event and it’s debatable whether he was really ready to headline a WrestleMania. He got paired off with Triple H, newly returned from an injury, and the story quickly became much more about Triple H against Stephanie McMahon, who had newly aligned with Y2J, than about Jericho himself.
The result was a match without a ton of heat, that, while good, was far from a five-star classic. The icing on the cake was that the match had to follow Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock, an intergenerational clash of legends that drew a monster pop from the crowd. While world title matches have traditionally main evented WrestleManias, and I’m in support of that, this was one instance in which the super-powered dream match could have and should have gone on last. Triple H and Jericho, despite a good effort, wrapped up the show on a disappointing note.
9 Right: Hulk Hogan And Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper And Paul Orndorff - WrestleMania I
If Vince McMahon’s retelling is to be believed, he gambled huge on the original WrestleMania. Had the show not done big numbers live and, more importantly, on closed circuit television, it might have meant the end of the WWE juggernaut, and the personal financial end of McMahon. So what main event does one book to ensure a captive audience?
Roddy Piper was the hottest heel and the best talker in the business. Add onto that Paul Orndorff, a tremendous physical specimen who had a solid rivalry with the world champ. Put them up against that champ, Hulk Hogan, quickly on his way to becoming the biggest wrestling star of all time. Then pair him with celebrity Mr. T—not only a famous guy, but one with the muscles and look to be believable as a fighter.
This combination of larger than life personalities, intersecting feuds, and celebrity involvement would not only work brilliantly for booking this main event, but established a template for how WWE approached WrestleMania cards for decades to come.
8 Wrong: Hulk Hogan vs. Sgt. Slaughter - WrestleMania VII
WWE has historically had its share of success with the evil heel foreigner act, including guys like Ivan Koloff and The Iron Sheik having their successes as arch-villains. With the Persian Gulf War looming, WWE management thought it was ahead of the curve in bringing back Sgt. Slaughter and casting him as an Iraqi sympathizer.
While Slaughter did get some heat, the guy was past his prime as an athlete, and simply not a bankable main event draw. While WWE thought building to a main event between all-American hero Hulk Hogan and the villainous Slaughter would draw huge numbers, they were in for a rude awakening. Rather than selling out the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as they hoped, ticket sales were purportedly middling in the build to the show, before the company downsized to the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, with about 80,000 fewer seats.
WWE’s official reason for the change was that they chose a smaller facility while they still could on account of threats of violence after Slaughter’s character grew to be so hated. We may never know the full story for sure. Based on the general consensus of fans being lukewarm on Slaughter, though, and how quickly he faded from the main event afterward, it seems WWE bet on the wrong horse to carry the world title into ‘Mania.
7 Right: The Rock vs. John Cena - WrestleMania XXVIII
In the old days, fans had dream matches to speculate about. There were WWE guys like Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior, and WCW guys like Ric Flair and Sting. We could debate who would win dream matches, and when one of those guys finally crossed enemy lines and signed with the competition, it opened up all sorts of interesting possibilities for matches we might finally see.
With only one company of WWE’s size and scope, the prospect of dream matches has died down. While hardcore fans might identify dream scenarios based on talents from TNA, Japan, or the indies, WWE has a tendency to sign the best of the best nowadays anyway.
The remaining dream matches tend to be intergenerational, often featuring talents who have retired—for example, wondering what would happen if Kurt Angle met Bret Hart. But for WrestleMania XXVIII, WWE captured a true dream confrontation when The Rock came home to the company where he first achieved fame, and found today’s face of the company, John Cena, waiting for him.
I won’t claim the match itself was one for the ages, but the pairing felt special, and felt more than worthy of its WrestleMania setting.
6 Wrong: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania 23
For WrestleMania 23, WWE found itself backed into a corner when Triple H went down to injury the preceding January and his presumptive main event rematch with John Cena had to be tabled. Shawn Michaels got the spot. On paper, Michaels should have been even better in this role—generally accepted as a better in-ring performer than Triple H, not to mention a fresher challenger for Cena.
In practice, though, the match was just OK—a largely heatless contest that the guys would improve upon on an episode of RAW not long after. Meanwhile, The Undertaker and Batista squared off in the show’s other world title match and tore the house down. Heck, Bobby Lashley vs. Umaga had more sizzle than Michaels-Cena, for the involvement of Donald Trump and Vince McMahon. Cena vs. Michaels was an OK WrestleMania match, but in no way the best choice for a main event that year.
5 Right: Randy Savage vs. Ted DiBiase - WrestleMania IV
WrestleMania IV is a notoriously bad WrestleMania, in large part because it featured a four-round tournament that forced a lot of short matches and indecisive finishes to keep the show moving and fit in all of its content (or contrive reasons for certain wrestlers to get byes). The one part WWE did get right, though, was finishing off with Savage vs. DiBiase.
Going into the show, Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant got more attention, but WWE wisely used their early tournament pairing to eliminate both of them, and have a logical reason to clear a path for two new main eventers. In Savage and DiBiase, WWE found two new top talents who could headline SummerSlam and Survivor Series alongside Hogan and Andre, besides shrewdly laying the foundation for Hogan and Savage to square off at WrestleMania V.
4 Wrong: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice - WrestleMania VIII
On paper, Hulk Hogan facing Sid Justice seemed like a natural pairing. Sid’s intimidating look would draw in viewers, and he nicely fit the model of big, musclebound friends turned foe for Hogan to conquer. Two problems, however. One, for as great as Sid looked, he was never a particularly strong worker, and Hogan wasn’t exactly in a position to carry the match. More importantly, there was an amazing option available: Ric Flair.
While Hogan-Justice was, itself, a first time dream match, it couldn’t compare to the intrigue of Hogan-Flair as the preeminent face champion of WWE squaring off against the preeminent heel champion of WCW. Accounts vary as to why WWE didn’t pursue this match for WrestleMania. Some say that Justice was always the planned main event heel. Others say that Hogan-Flair didn’t draw on the house show market. Yet another explanation is that with Hogan purportedly retiring, WWE needed Flair to lose the title to a face who was sticking around, and Randy Savage fit the bill.
Regardless, Hogan-Justice didn’t work all that well, and, at minimum you’d think WWE would have subbed in the much stronger Savage-Flair bout to close out the show.
3 Right: Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant - WrestleMania III
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant at WrestleMania II was not an objectively great wrestling match. By that point in his career, Andre was severely limited in what he could do in the ring. He had reportedly intended to retire before Vince McMahon approached him about one last huge story to cement his legacy and earn a heck of a payday opposite Hogan. Meanwhile, Hogan had an awesome physique and raw power, but he wasn’t a stand-out in-ring performer like, say, Ricky Steamboat or Randy Savage.
Just the same, this match had just the right combination of overwhelming star power and awe-inspiring physical specimens to make it an irresistible attraction. At the peak of Hulkamania, and before Hogan had battled Andre since becoming a face, this was a dream match, and accordingly drew the largest live and PPV audiences WWE had ever seen at the time.
2 Wrong: Hulk Hogan vs. King Kong Bundy - WrestleMania II
Hulk Hogan was about as over as any wrestler has ever been when WrestleMania II rolled around, and would have been a draw booked against anyone. King Kong Bundy wasn’t a bad choice to challenge The Hulkster. He was a 400 pound monster who WWE had successfully booked as a dominant killer, and didn’t seem out of place in the main event picture.
Just the same, when WrestleMania II went down, Roddy Piper was still the most over heel in the business, and still had unresolved business with Hogan and neither had scored a clean, decisive win over the other. WWE might have done huge business and punctuated this storied rivalry with one last showdown at WrestleMania II.
Instead, Bundy got the spot in a decent, but ultimately forgettable cage match. This outcome might have been fair enough if Piper had been given something worthwhile, but instead he was cast opposite Mr. T in a downright embarrassing worked boxing match. The bout squandered Piper’s heat and wasted T’s star power in what still stands as one of WrestleMania’s all-time worst matches.
1 Right: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania XXVI
At WrestleMania XXV, Triple H and Randy Orton closed the show in a match that was profoundly overshadowed by the 'Taker-Michaels bout that preceded it. For WrestleMania XXVI, WWE got it right. While there were no titles on the line, the stakes of the match were arguably bigger than that. The Undertaker defended his undefeated streak at ‘Mania against Michaels, promising to retire if he lost.
While I’m in the camp that liked the first Undertaker-Michaels match at ‘Mania a good bit more, the sequel was nonetheless a worthy main event. It was well performed and the intrigue of Michaels putting his career on the line added a rare sense of suspense that The Deadman might lose. In the end, watching The Undertaker get his hand raised in victory, and watching Michaels walk back up the ramp one last time was a totally satisfying conclusion to a WrestleMania show.