WrestleMania. The big show, the Showcase of the Immortals. For 31 years, this has been the biggest event in WWE, the show they build their entire year around and the biggest event in the business. To be on it is a badge of honor for many a worker and to headline it is the dream of many a worker. However, not everyone who has been in the main event of Mania deserved it. Too many times, WWE has given us bad main events with guys who shouldn’t have been there and turning out badly.
It can be bad booking, poor judgment or even just backstage politics but a lot of Mania matches have left fans wondering why they existed. Terrible bouts and many that could have been avoided by doing the more obvious picks that would have been successful. True, in many cases, 20/20 hindsight is clear but in others, you can tell it was obvious long before the match took place. Here are ten of the worst headliners to a WrestleMania and the ten matches we should have gotten instead to show how the biggest show of the year can sometimes falter.
WrestleMania I: Hulk Hogan & Mr. T vs Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff
The first WrestleMania was a huge affair even though many weren’t sure of what they were going to get. It turned out to be a great event with tons of celebrities and the attention helping boost WWE to prominence. The main event was meant to pull in Mr. T and a tag match with him and Hogan against Piper and Orndorff made some sense at the time. However, having the WWE title not defended at Mania just doesn’t seem right, it never has and just showed how this was more an entertainment event than real wrestling.
The match was rough as T was no wrestler but it was more the spectacle that mattered although WWE seemed to ignore how rough it all turned out. Yes, this was historic but hardly great in terms of being a top Mania main event.
Should Have Been: Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper
Hogan and Piper were really the ones boosting the “Rock n Wrestling Connection” to prominence and making it a huge deal. A one-on-one match between them was far more logical and a big deal given their heat both on camera and behind the scenes. The key problem was neither man that willing to job to the other and that really helped set up the entire tag match in the first place. Still, we had two men who were glorious on the mic and fantastic charisma going at it for the WWE title, the biggest hero and villain of the company at the time. Putting them in the main event would have been a much better choice and helped boost WWE big time to give the first Mania a more special air to be remembered today and the big Hogan-Piper blow-off we never got for sure.
VII: Sgt. Slaughter (vs. Hulk Hogan)
When Vince came up with the entire “Slaughter as American traitor” act, few thought the U.S. and Iraq would end up going to war for real. By the time it came, things were heated up and so giving the belt to Slaughter did make sense for the heel heat. The problem was that Slaughter was hardly a guy to carry a company at that time and folks hated the entire act. Vince had dreamed of selling out the L.A. Coliseum but the horrible event of Slaughter vs. Hogan led to such tepid ticket sales that they had to move it to a much smaller arena.
The result was pretty much a total given, Hogan dominating Slaughter to win the title back and while it a good pop, it was also notable for a very poor Mania that didn’t help the company at all.
Should Have Been: Ultimate Warrior (vs. Hulk Hogan)
It remains one of the biggest missed opportunities around. When Hogan and Warrior had their epic battle at WrestleMania VI, fans hoped for a return battle but WWE held back from it. The Warrior suffered a bit in the main event spot without decent challengers and Hogan was still hanging around to take the heat away but a rematch would have been the top pick for WrestleMania. It would have been a sensational battle, maybe bigger than the first and would have sold enough for WWE to use the Coliseum after all.
Making the Warrior heel would have given it a spark but either way, it was the epic clash that fans had wanted a lot more than Slaughter in the main event. Fans would have to wait until 1998 for WCW to give the horrible follow-up but doing it in ’91 would have made a much better Mania.
VIII: Sid Justice (vs. Hulk Hogan)
The backstage conflicts are legendary and not surprising. Toss Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair, two men with such huge egos together and there had to be conflict. When Flair entered WWE in 1991, fans were joyful to finally see the dream match of him and Hogan but things got complicated. The main event of Mania was going to be Hogan and Flair going at it for the title but neither one wanted to be the one to job. And so, Flair was shuffled to the mid-card to lose the belt to Randy Savage (to be fair, an excellent match) while Hogan faced Sid in the main event. It was a horrible bout notable for Papa Shango botching his interference and the Ultimate Warrior returning but still a bad way to end the show when a much better option was available.
Should Have Been: Ric Flair (vs. Hulk Hogan)
It’s simple math. Hogan and Flair, the two biggest stars of the 1980s, the dream battle fans had waited years for. If anything deserved to main event Mania, it was this. However, with Hogan talking of taking time off, giving him the title didn’t make sense. Meanwhile, Flair was obviously not going to job and neither was Hogan and neither wanted to look bad at the biggest show of the year. The ego battles and conflicts forced the change to the different matches and robbed the fans of the epic battle they wanted. True, figuring out who would win was tricky but Hogan-Flair was the major missed opportunity of WWE, something WCW actually pulled off well and a Mania battle of them would have been a memorable moment.
IX: Yokozuna (vs. Bret Hart)
Yokozuna doesn’t get enough credit for actually being a good worker. For a man over 500 pounds, he could be surprisingly fast and nimble, much better than most thought and made a very imposing monster. Yet to have him win the WWE title was a rough decision as fans didn’t feel massive heat for him and there were slews of others who could have been much better challengers for Bret Hart. Having the quick and technical champion against this large worker was a slow battle that just didn’t gel well. Of course, the bout is remembered for its infamous ending as Yoko used a salt attack to pin Bret for the title. That brought out Hulk Hogan, an impromptu challenge and 30 seconds later, Hogan was leaving as champion.
Even without that, having Yoko win the title off the much better Bret was a nasty affair and no wonder most cite this as the worst Mania of all time.
Should Have Been: Mr. Perfect (vs. Bret Hart)
After taking time away due to injury, Curt Hennig returned to action in late 1992 and looked as great as ever. Now a face, Perfect was soon in top matches, including one that forced Ric Flair to leave WWE and it had him rising higher. True, it would have been tough to sell Vince on two “small technical guys” going at it at the main event of Mania but Vince had a soft spot for Bret and might have been open to this. The two could have put on a brilliant match and kept the fans heavily invested. They also had a terrific chemistry with several classic battles and would have pulled out all the stops for a Mania matchup.
It would have gone down a lot better than seeing Hogan on top yet again and would have given Bret a great rub to continue as champ while Hennig got his shot at the upper card and both providing a perfect Mania topper.
11: Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Lawrence Taylor
There’s no doubt 1995 is one of the worst years in WWE’s history and this is a key reason why. Yes, it got some major publicity, but having the main event of your biggest show featuring a retired football player clashing with a good worker is not a good idea.
WWE went all out pushing Taylor majorly and while he was a good athlete, he did not make a good performer. It wouldn’t have been as bad if put on the mid card but having it as the main event was a terrible idea on every level. Taylor looked as bad as imagined and Bigelow had to slow down to work with him. The match was a total mess that capped off a Mania that was a part of a horrible year for the company. It could have been avoided with a main event mentioned in the next slide.
Although Bigelow was a good worker, neither guy really belonged in a WrestleMania main event at that time.
Should Have Been: Diesel vs. Bret Hart
Much has been made of how badly Diesel’s reign as champion was and drove down business. It was quite bad, as WWE was trying to make him a good guy and squeaky clean, which didn’t fit his image that made him popular. He was also given horrible challengers, except for Shawn Michaels. While he and Shawn headlining Mania would have been good, a much better option would have been Bret Hart. He and Diesel had a good battle at the Royal Rumble that went to no contest due to interference and fans wanted a follow-up.
Having Bret in the spot would have been much better, and a win would give Diesel more of a rub as the two had a good chemistry in the ring. This would have made a far better Mania battle and main event and may have helped Diesel more in the long run. If nothing else, it was a far option as the main event of Mania be between real wrestlers rather than a football star.
X-8: Chris Jericho vs. Triple H
It had a decent build, with Triple H turning on Stephanie who was with Jericho and both men boosted up because of it. However, the match just faltered, nothing really special as many hoped. A key reason is they had to follow the epic Hulk Hogan-Rock match and couldn’t do anything to top the heat of that encounter. Also, Triple H was still on the road to recovery from his quad injury while his chemistry with Jericho wasn’t what many had hoped. The match was just lackluster, with even the usually hot Toronto crowd unable to really get invested in it.
It was nowhere near a major encounter as hoped, let alone a main event for WrestleMania. It was a payoff to the program with Triple H winning the belt, but still not the main event to cap off the show properly.
While Triple H and Jericho were both worthy wrestlers of headlining a WrestleMania, this one just wasn’t the right time for them. This ‘Mania needed the biggest dream match imaginable.
Should Have Been: Hulk Hogan vs. Steve Austin
It’s easy to say that Rock and Hogan should have been last as it was an epic match and dream encounter. However, some will cite that if any match was one fans wanted, it was Hogan and Steve Austin. As the Monday Night War took off, they were the faces of their companies, Hogan the hated obnoxious heel while Austin was the rebellious hero taking on his evil boss. Fans had talked of a match between them for some time and Austin was majorly open to it.
He and Hogan going at it would have been great and even hampered by a neck injury, Austin could keep up with him. It might have still led to a Hogan victory but it also would have been a good capper to the long conflict and made this Mania a lot more meaningful.
25: Triple H vs. Randy Orton
Similar to the previous entry, both Triple H and Orton are worthy headliners, but this was a case of bad timing.
In a book on Mania’s history, both Triple H and Orton admit this was not the match they wanted. First, they had to follow the Taker/Shawn Michaels classic and knew there was no way in hell they could possibly top that. Also, their match was hampered by the rule that if Triple H was disqualified, he’d lose the belt. This made no sense as Orton had been attacking Triple H’s wife and the logical payoff was a huge bloody battle with both going all out with no rules. Thus, what should have been an epic battle with massive brawling was neutered into a slow and muddling affair that sucked down the crowd’s energy.
Both have stated they should have changed the stipulation and gotten a no-DQ match for a truly wild encounter that would have paid off the major feud. But if Vince McMahon could go back in time, there was only one true main event…
Should Have Been: Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker
True, this can be 20/20 hindsight considering they put on a match for the ages. But even before that, it was a huge deal. “Mr. WrestleMania” against the Streak, Michaels and The Undertaker always having great chemistry in the ring and just building up more. Two of the greatest Texan wrestlers in the history of the business were going to clash at the silver anniversary of WrestleMania in Texas. It was all on a platter for WWE.
The build was great with both going at it in top promos and boosting themselves up majorly. The payoff was one of the greatest Mania matches ever, absolutely brilliant in its pacing and power, the fans on the edge of their seats until Taker finally got the pin.
Putting this on last would have made much more sense as we’ve since seen plenty of non-title big matches as the final bout on the card. Given these were two of WWEs biggest stars, this could have been a logical main event and one of the best ever.
XXVII: The Miz (vs. John Cena)
After years of floundering on the lower card, The Miz slowly climbed the ranks, eventually winning the Money in the Bank briefcase before cashing it in on Monday Night Raw against Randy Orton. While many weren’t mad that The Miz was put in the position as champion, the feud against John Cena was hardly focused on the champion. Instead, the focus was on Cena and WrestleMania XXVII’s guest host, The Rock. Before the two would main event back-to-back ‘Manias they dueled back on forth on the mic. Unfortunately, that came at the expense of The Miz. Their main event encounter just never clicked, as The Miz suffered a concussion and the fans were anticpating some sort of showdown between Cena and The Rock. As such, The Rock cost Cena the match and The Miz walked away a cheap victor in his first (and only) WrestleMania main event.
Should Have Been: CM Punk (vs. John Cena)
CM Punk’s contract was coming up in mid 2011 and while he was stuck in a program as The Nexus’s new leader, he had proven himself to be the company’s best heel and the only one who would truly be a match for Cena on the mic.
The Miz fell by the wayside because while his mic skills are good, they just pale next to The Rock and Cena. Punk would have been able to command control even if he was the third wheel in a Rock/Cena feud. As Punk would prove in subsequent feuds with Cena and Rock, he was capable of matching either one on the mic, and especially in the ring.
Having Cena vs. Punk with The Rock looming would have been a far more intriguing main event.
It remains a travesty to this day that Punk never main evented a WrestleMania. This was the one to do it.
31: Roman Reigns (vs. Brock Lesnar)
Few times have WWE ignored what the fans wanted more than this. When Daniel Bryan had to give up the WWE title after finally winning it in his amazing moment, fans were eager for him to come back and regain it. It was the logical idea, it made total sense…and WWE didn’t do it. Instead, they thought “why repeat that?” (ignoring they’d done Rock-Cena twice in a row) and instead pushed Roman Reigns hard. Sadly, that was marred by the terrible booking and promos that made Reigns look like a joke and the fans turned on him big time.
The result was a massively booed match that only came alive with Seth Rollins cashing in to win the title off both men. This was utterly stunning to see as the main event when the obvious pick was right there on the table…
Should Have Been: Brock Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan
It just made so much more sense. After overcoming all the odds (including a company that never wanted him in the top spot), Daniel Bryan had won the WWE title at WrestleMania 30 and the fans were overjoyed. He then had to give it up due to a neck injury and his return should have put him back in the chase for the belt he had never really lost. That WWE couldn’t see the huge fan adulation of Bryan and how he, not Reigns, was the man they wanted in the main event remains astounding and a huge letdown.
True, Bryan would be forced to retire not long after Mania because of more neck problems but he still should have gotten this match. A main event against Brock would have been a fantastic battle, pulling fans in majorly and capped the show off perfectly. Bryan deserved it and so did the fans and WWE should be ashamed for not recognizing that.
32: Triple H (vs. Roman Reigns)
Showing that “those who don’t remember history are doomed to repeat it,” WWE once more pushed Roman Reigns as a main event star the next year. This time, they did it with Triple H winning the Rumble and the title. The last thing fans wanted was to see Hunter with the belt again. Their match was a total mess, dragging on a half hour, far longer than it should have and quite clear how Reigns was blown up early for it. They kept pushing the “hero against all odds” idea but the fans weren’t having it. Reigns was booed and fans cooled on Triple H as well. Roman finally won but the celebration was a muted affair as this just wasn’t the guy for the fans and thus this Mania main event was among the poorest.
Should Have Been: Dean Ambrose (vs. Roman Reigns)
Ambrose was clearly the far hotter guy with the crowds, more over than Roman ever was. The “Lunatic Fringe” was a great worker and truly terrific in promos to win over fans. He was rising high, the fans clearly backing him and having him in the main event was a much better move. Far better would have been Ambrose tossing out Triple H at the Rumble to win the title. They then could have set up him and Reigns with tension over whether one or both would turn on their other. As longtime friends and partners, these two could have given a good match with the fans more excited. Roman winning would have given him more of a rub than beating Triple H and an Ambrose victory would be a nice surprise. That WWE eventually gave Ambrose win the title shows how they too realized how badly the fans wanted him and having him in the main event would have made a far better Mania.
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