WrestleMania is the biggest show of WWE’s calendar, and after 33 yearly events, it has become one of the biggest shows on the entire American sporting calendar, and has also become a major tourist attraction for whatever city hosts it. Although it has ballooned out to almost 7 hours each year, fans still come out in droves to see their favorite stars. Obviously, performers will want to be in a prominent spot on the card, as it gives them maximum exposure, and big performances on this stage can make a career. On the other hand, failing in front of the entire world can cause a career to crumble right before our eyes, but nothing makes a superstar more than getting to be involved in the final match, the main event of such a historic event.
With 33 events gone so far, there are bound to be some performers who got that spot undeservedly so, while plenty of wrestlers never got the chance. Today, that’s what we will be looking to analyze, the 10 greatest superstars in WWE history to never close the Grandest Stage of Them All, and 5 who got the spot despite less than stellar reputations.
15 BEST: The Outsiders
Kevin Nash and Scott Hall are two of the biggest names in the wrestling industry, known as the Outsiders for their time in WCW. They both had incredibly successful runs in the WWE, but despite their immense star power in the time with the company (portraying Diesel and Razor Ramon respectively), they were never given the chance to main event a WrestleMania. Hall managed a fantastic ladder match with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania X, and Kevin Nash was a co-main eventer of WrestleMania XI (and was overshadowed by Bam Bam Bigelow and Lawrence Taylor), and it’s confusing why the company never got behind them in that way. Maybe if they had stayed with the WWE for a little while longer, they would have got their chance, but it’s unlikely as they left around the time that The Rock and Stone Cold were emerging, meaning it was just very poor timing to blame for this.
14 BEST: Kane
Kane debuted in the WWE in the late 1990s, and up until these last two years, he had been a consistent, dominating force the entire tenure of his career. Still, he never quite managed to live up to the lofty expectations that were placed on him, especially when compared to his “brother,” The Undertaker. The Dead Man certainly won more World Titles, and main evented no less than four WrestleManias, while Kane barely tasted Championship gold, and never quite managed to have a big, marquee match at the biggest show of the year. He had some memorable bouts and even more memorable stories leading into ‘Mania, but for some reason or another, the WWE just never got behind Kane. While it probably won’t bother Glenn Jacobs too much, it’s still something definitely worth noting.
13 WORST: Mr. T – WrestleMania 2
It’s safe to say that the first-ever WrestleMania, while a huge risk, was an absolute hit, but when the WWE tried to change up the format for WrestleMania 2, it flopped in a big, big way,atn a time where the company was still trying to establish this as their biggest show of the year. Instead of how we see it today, WrestleMania 2 was done at the same time, over three separate locations, giving us three main events, and with few genuine top stars outside of Hulk Hogan in the company at the time, we saw some very undeserving stars in the final match (of that particular location). One of those wasn’t even a wrestler, however, and although A-Team star Mr. T was a popular figure in pop culture at the time, there’s no excuse for having him in the main event. While his boxing match with Roddy Piper wasn’t a complete disaster, it shouldn’t have ended the Nassau Coliseum portion of the show.
12 BEST: Jeff Hardy
Jeff Hardy is a risk taking extraordinaire, and ever since the Attitude Era, has been one of the most popular performers in the wrestling business, but despite the fact that he is incredibly accomplished, he has never main evented WrestleMania. In fact, the Charismatic Enigma hadn’t even won a match at WrestleMania until the triumphant return alongside Matt at WrestleMania 33, but for someone who was such a consistent force and such a fan favorite in the company for over a decade, it’s surprising that he never got a big time match at the grandest show of the year. Unfortunately, it’s a bit too late for Hardy to main event one (as it looks like Roman Reigns will main event the next 10 WrestleManias), and that’s a travesty, as he should have been on top of the WWE totem pole for quite some time.
11 BEST: Eddie Guerrero
Eddie Guerrero is quite possibly the most all-around gifted wrestler in the history of the industry, as he was a star in Mexico, ECW, WCW and WWE, and while he competed in a historic bout with Kurt Angle at WrestleMania XX, it wasn’t the last match on the card, and with his undeniable charisma, you can argue that he deserved it, whether it be on that card or any other. He had some fantastic matches in the WWE with the likes of Rey Mysterio, Brock Lesnar and J.B.L, and even cemented his place in the history books with a WWE Championship reign, but he never got the main event of ‘Mania. Some could argue that would have come had he not tragically passed, as he was in line to win the World Title around that time, but it’s a huge disappointment for fans nonetheless.
10 WORST: Sycho Sid – WrestleMania 13
WrestleMania 13 was an overall good event, and has been seen as the starting point of the Attitude Era to many people (there really are countless moments that could have been the "start of the Attitude Era," but most look at this event), but the one glaring weakness from the card was the main event, which saw Sycho Sid defend his WWF Title against The Undertaker. Sid may have had a long career in the wrestling industry, but on a card that included The Rock (or Rocky Maivia at the time), Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold, Owen Hart and even the Legion of Doom, it’s safe to say that they were plenty of other options for the company. The match was considered one of the worst on the card, and outside of his bout with Giant Gonzalez, is seen as one of ‘Taker's worst during his prolific undefeated streak, mainly due to Sid’s limited ability in the ring.
9 BEST: Rob Van Dam
When you think of main event draws in the WWE, The “Whole F*N Show”, Rob Van Dam is probably the last person you think of, but in terms of wrestlers who remained very "over" throughout their tenures with WWE, there were none more popular that the ECW legend, and that should have made him at least a consideration for the last match. From 2001 until his last full run in the company in 2006, RVD was as consistently entertaining and brilliant as anyone else in wrestling, and if the WWE took a chance on him becoming a top baby face, he no doubt would have delivered, and become a top star. RVD will go down as a very popular and amazing wrestler, quite possibly the best in the history of ECW, and while others on this list can point to a specific event that he should have main evented, we can’t do that with RVD. Still, he definitely had the potential to do it.
8 BEST: Goldberg
Goldberg became the biggest star that WCW ever offered fans, so when he finally made the leap to WWE in 2003, fans expected many good stories to be told and many great foes to clash with (we knew we wouldn’t be getting much in the quality match department), but instead all we got was a terrible World Heavyweight title reign and two WrestleMania matches with Brock Lesnar, 13 years apart. As noted, he’s only been around in the company for two WrestleManias, but it’s very surprising that stars the caliber of himself and Brock Lesnar didn’t get the nod to go on last, even if they were a co-main event at ‘Mania 33. At the end of the day, it’s not too surprising that this didn’t happen, as the timing was just off, and while he may not be a great wrestler, Goldberg definitely deserves his place on this list as a top performer.
7 WORST: King Kong Bundy – WrestleMania 2
As we’ve mentioned, WrestleMania 2 will go down in the event's history as one of the worst editions (arguably the worst), and while King Kong Bundy is remembered fondly by fans of that era’s WWF, he definitely did not deserve to have a main event of WrestleMania. But with megastar babyface Hulk Hogan needing an opponent for his WWE Title match, Bundy fit the bill and got the nod. At the end of the day, the Steel Cage match which closed the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena leg of ‘Mania wasn’t anything bad, as it was a typical Hulk Hogan style match, but there were just so many other names spread across the three cards which deserved it more (e.g. Bret Hart, Andre the Giant, Randy Savage, Jake Roberts). None of these competitors mentioned from WrestleMania 2 were large contributors to people seeing this event as a failure, but the WWE still had much better options.
6 BEST: Jake “The Snake” Roberts
To be a performer, and a very successful one in the WWE, you need more than in-ring ability, and few people exemplified that more than Jake Roberts, who has become known more for the snake he brought to the ring, but mostly because of his incredible promos, which still to this day rank as some of the very best in wrestling history. While he didn’t have the bright colors and flamboyance of Hulk Hogan, or the pure, unadulterated electricity of The Rock, Roberts was calm and direct with his words, and his demeanor had every fan in the WWE Universe in the palm of his hands, and it made him one of the more popular stars in company history. There were few opportunities to get him in the ‘Mania main event, but the company's dedication to Hulk Hogan as the top star stopped that from happening. None of that stopped Roberts from becoming a beloved icon in the wrestling industry, and one of the best to ever suit up for WWE.
5 BEST: Ric Flair
Ric Flair is the greatest World Champion in wrestling history, but a lot of that work was done during the territory days, or during his time with WCW. While he did get a co-main event in WWE at WrestleMania VIII, he deserved much more. That night was headlined by Hulk Hogan and Sid Justice, but the match for the WWE Championship featuring Flair and Randy Savage was much more entertaining, and it is yet another example of WWE going with their top star at the end of the night, rather than the best match, which the Flair/Savage bout certainly was. There were many more opportunities to have Flair main event the big show, but unfortunately, the WWE just wasn't interested. Still, it’s a small complaint about a pretty great career from Flair.
4 Worst: Bam Bam Bigelow & Lawrence Taylor – WrestleMania XI
As we still consistently see to this day, the WWE has an obsession with gaining mainstream press, with people like Ashton Kutcher, Rob Gronkowski and the Ball family making appearances in the past 12 months alone. But for WrestleMania XI, Vince McMahon pushed it a step further, and had NFL great Lawrence Taylor compete in the main event. This is bad in itself, as Taylor wasn’t a trained performer, but consider that this match main evented the show over performers like Bret Hart, The Undertaker and Razor Ramon, and even worse, came on after Diesel vs. Shawn Michaels. Bam Bam is a questionable choice to end the show over those aforementioned names, but at least he was a professional wrestler who put in the time and effort. LT was a retired NFL player, and it just looks absolutely silly when you look back on it today.
3 BEST: The Iron Sheik
The Iron Sheik may not be remembered as one of the best wrestlers of all time, but he was a fantastic worker for his time, and when you look at the typical WrestleMania main event early in the event's existence, the Sheik would have been the perfect person to oppose his biggest rival, Hulk Hogan. He remains in the news somewhat today as he often goes on Twitter rants which leave even the most intellectual people in the world dumbfounded, but in the '70s and '80s, the Sheik was a huge name, and people loved to hate the man. As such, opposing him with an American icon like Hogan makes too much sense, but it never happened. While it’s not surprising on ability alone that he never ended the biggest show of the year, it’s just crazy to think that WWE never went with Iron Sheik vs. Hogan. Nonetheless, he will still be remembered fondly by fans of that WWE era.
2 BEST: CM Punk
CM Punk will no doubt go down as one of the best wrestlers to ever grace a WWE ring, and could have been so much more if he didn’t walk out the night after the 2014 Royal Rumble, and as revealed on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast, the main gripe that Punk had with the company was never main eventing WrestleMania. Whether you like him or not, you can’t deny that the man deserved to end the biggest show of the year at least once. After becoming a star against the will of WWE higher-ups, Punk was the only genuine star the company had outside of John Cena, and there were plenty of opportunities to have him in that spot, especially WrestleMania XXIX, where he should have been involved in the Cena/Rock match, or in the final bout with the Undertaker (easily the best match on the show). At the end of the day, Punk can hold his head high knowing he made it against all the odds, but it still would have been a great achievement to get his main event.
1 WORST: Brutus Beefcake – WrestleMania 2
This is the third and final main event of WrestleMania 2 on this list, it and was for the WWF Tag Team titles. While the other competitors in the bout were great, Brutus Beefcake just didn’t feel like a main event star, and while the importance of the main event at ‘Mania 2 wasn’t as important as there were three, it still speaks volumes to WWE’s struggles at the time when someone like Beefcake is featured in the final match on the card. The match was fairly decent, as you’d expect a tag team bout featuring the British Bulldogs to be, and looking back on it, it seemed that everyone deserved to be there but Brutus. Obviously you couldn’t have a tag bout with Greg Valentine without his partner Beefcake, so it’s a very understandable situation. It probably speaks more to the terrible decision to have three separate cards than Beefcake’s star power, but he never should have been in that spot.