Wrestling can be a very strange business. So many times, ideas and characters that look totally perfect flop while stuff that sounded so stupid goes on to draw big money. Fans in arenas can go nuts for stuff that the guys online rip into and vice versa. It really is a case of how things can change and hyping up something that ends up falling flat works into it more. Too many bouts and shows have suffered from huge expectations that could never be met. That’s not to mention how too many times, wrestlers can be messed up by bad booking to ruin things.
Other factors can include an earlier bout on the card ending up doing far better than expected so the bout most thought would be the show-stealer isn’t. Despite the talent involved and all the build, too many times, a would-be classic ends up falling flat, not just disappointing but a flat-out disaster. Here are 15 matches that were supposed to steal the show at their various cards but ended up massive disappointments to show you can never be sure how things turn out in this business.
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15 Sting vs Triple H - WrestleMania 31
Granted, Sting was getting up in years and Triple H slowed by age and injury. Still, fans expected WWE to do right with Sting, the biggest star never to work with the company before, getting his due at 'Mania in a clash with HHH. However, the booking was atrocious with interference by DX and the New World Order distracting while both men looked rough as hell in their wrestling and not gelling at all in the ring. Baseball bats and jackhammers dueled amid the various interference, guys kicking out of finishers and just coming off as a mess.
The ending was horrible with HHH getting the win, the announcers acting like it was finally putting to bed the WWE vs. WCW conflict that had been over for a decade and a half. What should have been the showcase for Sting turned into a humiliation and a sad sight to see his great legacy coming to a bad end thanks to rampant egos.
14 Kurt Angle vs. Samoa Joe - Genesis 2006
As soon as Kurt Angle signed with TNA in 2006, fans salivated over the year of him and Samoa Joe going at it. By this point, Joe had established himself as a technical master undefeated since entering TNA 18 months earlier and a match with him was a huge event. TNA did it quickly, setting them up at Genesis and it was expected to be an instant classic. The bout was barely over 13 minutes and clear how Angle was showing a bit of ring rust as he and Joe didn’t seem to click nearly as well as expected.
The battle was good but not the terrific epic promised and Angle being the one to finally break Joe’s streak seemed a bad move as he was already over and didn’t need such a rub. The two would go on to give fans far better matches over the years yet their first encounter showed that this was a “dream match” that didn’t go well the first time around.
13 Matt Hardy vs Jeff Hardy - WrestleMania XXV
You’d think after all their years together, these two would have put together a truly epic encounter. Matt had turned heel to cost Jeff the WWE title earlier in the year and their promos pushed a major clash with fans expecting them to pull out ladders, tables, the works. What fans got was a frankly lackluster effort as the Hardyz acted like they were still kids in the backyard rather than professionals putting on a huge fight at the biggest show of the year. The hits and blows were notable with some nice spots but it seemed just them going through the motions rather than all out, not the “family feud” that had been anticipated in any way. The match ended with Matt hitting a Twist of Fate on a chair for the victory but not quite what fans had hoped for and ironically, their later TNA feud would be a much better showcase for the brothers going all out.
12 Rick Rude vs. Masa Chono - Halloween Havoc 1992
A few weeks earlier, Rude and Chono had put on a display in Japan that was hailed as one of the single best matches of the year and arguably, Rude’s best match ever. Naturally, assumptions were high they would replicate that for Havoc. Sadly, this was 1992 WCW. The NWA World title was on the line but Bill Watts hated the NWA and didn’t want them to get a showcase. Thus you had multiple referees from both Japanese and American, including Harley Race and there was roughly a minute of real action in the first 20 minutes of the match, huge restholds and both guys just dragging things out.
An actual fight in the stands got more attention from the audience than this and was ten times more exciting. A ref bump meant Rude’s pin wasn’t counted, Chono made him tap out to an STF but then Race overturned it to give Rude the win instead. Booed like crazy by the Philly fans, it was sadly representative of a horrible card and proof the same guys who put on a classic can just as easily stink up the joint.
11 Jeff Hardy vs. Sting - Victory Road 2011
True, Jeff Hardy was known for his offbeat ways but folks figured he’d at least have the professionalism to show up for a major PPV clash against Sting for the TNA World title. It had been hyped up as a big face vs face battle and folks expected a good mix of their styles to elevate both up nicely. Sting came out first then, after a very long wait, Jeff stumbled out and it was clear from one look he was in no condition whatsoever to perform.
Eric Bischoff came out for a promo to cover his new orders as the two would wrestle for a couple of punches before Sting hitting a Scorpion Death Drop to cover Hardy, who clearly wanted to kick out but Sting held him down for the three count. Yes, the main event of the PPV between two major stars ended in less than a minute. Sting agreed with the fan chants of “this is bull---t” and it gave the company a huge black eye while robbing what could have been a really great match.
10 Matt Hardy vs. Edge - SummerSlam 2005
In early 2005, fans buzzed when news broke of Lita cheating on Matt Hardy with Edge and it was soon confirmed. Matt had some public postings online that got him fired from WWE with the fans backing him majorly and the heat finally elevated Edge to main event status. When Matt made his return attacking Edge, it was a huge deal, the fans going wild and it was expected that when they met at SummerSlam, it would be a knock-down, bloody brawl of epic proportions. Instead, the match lasted less than five minutes, just some ugly fighting outside before Edge laid Matt out with constant punches and illegal objects before the ref stopped the match.
Both men have confessed that the real-life bad blood between them kept from being professional enough to do the right job and they would have better matches down the road. But given how much real hate was there, the first blow-off between the two rivals was hardly worth remembering.
9 Ric Flair vs Sting - Great American Bash 1990
One of the most fateful moments of WCW was in early 1990 when Sting blew out his knee, ruining the plan to have him reign for most of the year as NWA champion. By the time he returned, Ole Anderson had the book and messing things up with bad moves. A key example would be the Sting/Flair title match at the Bash, meant to be the epic event fans had expected. However, Ole’s booking marred things as the Horsemen were barred from ringside, the Dudes with Attitudes were there to keep an eye out, Ole handcuffed to Rick Stiner and if Flair was DQ’ed, he’d lose the title. Add to that how the grand battle was less than 15 minutes, in no way enough time for something truly spectacular and both guys seemed off during the fight.
It ended with Sting getting a win with the small package for the title but it was hardly the classic fans expected to kick Sting’s reign off well and really a metaphor for how badly it would all go.
8 Triple H vs. The Undertaker - WrestleMania XXVII
Many will cite this as a great battle but many others will slam it rightly as nowhere near as fantastic as it was supposed to be. The heat was there but neither man seemed that ready to go all out in the conflict as they were supposed to. The pacing was off, quite obvious how they were padding the match out with baffling stuff like Triple H having Taker down but yelling at him to get up rather than go for the pin. The constant finishers and near falls came off weak and again just dragged the match out a lot more than it needed to be.
It ended not with any big final move for dramatic effect but Taker getting the Hell's Gate to make Triple H submit and then having to be led out with a stretcher, hurting his image. Their battle the next year was far better but this was not among the best work by either man at Mania, given all the promise.
7 Sting vs. Hulk Hogan - Starrcade ‘97
It was supposed to be the crowning moment for WCW, the bout they used to put WWE down for good. For over a year, the company had brilliantly built up Sting chasing Hogan with his “Crow” look and stalking Hogan. It was set up wonderfully and the result seemed obvious to anyone with half a brain for booking: Sting completely dominating, Hogan getting a bit of offense but in the end, Sting crushing him to win the belt clean. However, it didn’t happen that way as Hogan dominated the major part of the match blasting Sting around, dominating so much with Sting not getting in much on his own end and the crowd was left baffled.
It ended with Hogan hitting his legdrop and the pin, the crowd stunned before Bret Hart came out to restart the match, claiming Sting was fast-counted (he was supposed to be, but due to a miscue, it looked like a legitimate three-count). Moments later, Sting would win with the Scorpion Deathlock. However, the damage was done as whether due to Hogan’s ego or just some bad booking, WCW totally let down the payoff to their best angle ever and sent themselves on the tailspin they never recovered from.
6 The Rock vs. John Cena - WrestleMania XXIX
After pulling off an epic “dream match” the previous year, expectations were high about Rock and Cena perhaps topping it with the follow-up. Having The Rock win the WWE title first annoyed many fans who felt the belt wasn’t needed to add heat to an already big battle. While the first year had both men really seemed to give it their all, this felt a lot more phoned in, especially on The Rock’s side. It should be noted he suffered a torn pelvis during the match, which may have affected his performance and the match overall.
By this point, it was clear he was heading back to Hollywood, this was just a brief run and not as inspired in this go-around. Cena handled things well but also affected by this.
It just seemed lackluster, in no way a major battle to top the show and throwing the title in a bit of a waste with Cena winning yet in no way was this the epic clash fans had expected and a letdown from their previous battle.
5 Triple H vs. Randy Orton - WrestleMania XXV
In a book about WrestleMania, both Hunter and Orton have acknowledged how big a letdown this main event was. First, they had to follow the HBK/Taker classic and knew there was no way in hell they were going to top that. Much bigger was how the two had been set up for a massive battle with Orton attacking Stephanie and thus it made sense they would cut loose for a No Holds Barred battle. Instead, the match had the stipulation that if Triple H was disqualified, he’d lose the title, automatically weakening the entire thing.
Both men have admitted it held them back, not able to go as wild as they should have and the crowd’s energy faded with their battle that had to be clean-cut rather than a brutal fight. It should have been a fantastic main event but the combination of the bad stipulation and following a true masterpiece ruined what was supposed to be the big bout of the show.
4 The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan - Halloween Havoc '98
For eight years, fans had waited to see the promised mega-rematch of all time. The two biggest icons of their time ready to go at it, Hogan to get back the victory and Warrior proving he could continue the run. It took only a few minutes for it to become quite clear how much Pat Patterson had meant in making that earlier bout work. Hogan has actually admitted to coming up with much of the wild build to ruin things and each man seemed to be completely out of sync with the other. Botched moves abounded like a “log roll” bit and the infamous moment of Hogan trying to light a fireball that singed his own eyebrows, causing the audience to laugh hysterically.
It was a complete and utter travesty that showcased how over-the-hill both men were, ending with Horace Hogan hitting Warrior with a chair to let Hogan win. Smartly, WCW didn’t have this as the main event, allowing Goldberg and DDP to salvage the show but still showed how a sequel often pales to the original in so many ways.
3 Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg - WrestleMania XX
If there was a key case of a “dream match,” this was it. Goldberg and Lesnar, two powerhouse workers, set up as unstoppable monsters, ready to go at it. They’d fought at the Royal Rumble and Goldberg costing Lesnar the WWE Title so the heat was huge as they were set up with Steve Austin as the special referee. Fans were eager to see them go at it in what promised to be a fantastic hard-hitting battle. But just days before the show, the word hit that both men were leaving the company and this their farewell bout. Thus, they walked into a Madison Square Garden that booed the hell out of both of them.
It was obvious neither man could handle this reaction, botching their moves, their timing off and that just added to more of the hate. Goldberg won the bout, but got the opposite reaction of what was meant to happen and Austin gave the crowd the biggest pop of the match by Stunning both guys. A wild bout that showed the horrors of what happens when fans hijack a match.
2 Tyler Black vs. Austin Aries - Final Battle 2009
On paper, it should have worked. Before his time as Seth Rollins, Tyler Black was a great star for ROH, riding as champion and a terrific battle with Austin Aries for the belt with Aries getting it in time for the Final Battle show. The match was expected to be a fast-paced showdown between them with plenty of near falls and hopes Black would get the belt. Instead, the two put on an old-styled Broadway, Aries trying to get counted out constantly, dragging out many spots and going a full 60 minute time limit draw. One would think that would be great but the way it was paced was bad, too many rest spots and not enough real serious action to get fans going.
The NYC crowd nearly booed it out of the building and not happy at all with the final result. It was a statement to how Jim Cornette’s time as booker of ROH was too “old school” for many and while their rematch would be far better, even these two couldn’t make a 60-minute bout work right.
1 Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan - WrestleMania XXVIII
The build for this was good, both men intent on a big battle for Bryan’s World title and eager to go at it. In his DVD documentary, Bryan talked about how he and Sheamus really wanted to go all out to kick the show off nicely and prove themselves but got worried when word came the match might be cut down. But it was a true shocker when on the day of the show, they were told what the plan was and neither man liked it at all. But they went ahead, coming down to the ring, Bryan kissing AJ Lee, turning around to eat a Brogue Kick and pinned. The grand encounter fans had counted on to be a highlight of the show ended up lasting 18 seconds, as horrible a way to kick off a show as you can possibly get.
Neither man liked it, Bryan still annoyed by it and one of the worst moves in Mania history to rob the fans of what could have been a show-stealer for a lousy fast bout.
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