WWE, for all the ire they draw from the fans, generally gets things right a lot of the time. They know how to surprise a crowd, and they know which outcome will keep a story going or give it a satisfying conclusion. I think that’s why we get so annoyed when they get it wrong – we expect more from them.
But wrestling fans are always as appreciative as they are critical, and I think that’s what I like most about the fan base. If the WWE gets something right, we’re all quick to let them know. But on the other hand, that same passion means when they get something wrong…we never really forget it.
It’s especially hard to forget a booking decision so bad it rocked the careers of the wrestlers involved, making it impossible or very difficult for them to recover. Even if the right person won, sometimes simply the way the match concluded can be a negative. At best, a bad result is a bump people will eventually forget, but at worst it’s a major stain on a career that’ll never quite go away.
The following 15 matches are definitely the latter, with each one of these having utterly baffling outcomes that did no one any favors, let alone the fans who invested their time and money into watching them.
15 AJ Styles vs. John Cena - Money in the Bank 2016
There’s only so many times the WWE can describe things as “dream matches” before you start getting a bit cynical towards the term. But no one was cynical for AJ Styles vs. John Cena. In the one corner, you have Mr. TNA and one of the biggest indie sensations of the past few years, hot off of one of the best NJPW runs in years. In the other corner, the most famous active wrestler in the world, John Cena.
This match met a lot of expectations. AJ looked incredibly strong, with Cena not really knowing how to counter the guy many consider to be the best in the world. Hell, AJ Styles even won, which was a great decision and made the new guy look like a million bucks. Everything about this match was perfect…except the way the ending played out.
From a storyline perspective, Gallows and Anderson interfering makes sense. From the perspective of trying to turn AJ heel, it made sense. But to all the wrestling fans from around the world tuning in, excited to see this historic encounter? It was a cheap, disappointing ending that devalued the magnitude of the match.
14 Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan - WrestleMania 28
Two years before his big Wrestlemania moment, Daniel Bryan was still insanely over. In the opening match of WM28, he stood in the ring opposite Sheamus as the Wold Heavyweight Champion. 18 seconds later he would no longer be champion, as the Celtic Warrior won after a single brogue kick.
While I don’t necessarily disagree with Daniel Bryan losing, the short amount of time one of their most popular superstars was showcased at WrestleMania is pretty disheartening. It’s just one of the examples of the WWE not seeing Bryan as championship material, and fans all over the world would have loved to see this match go a lot longer. Heck, I’d have been happier with a five minute match that ended with an AJ Lee distraction. But 18 seconds? I can’t imagine anyone, let alone Daniel Bryan, shouting “Yes” to that.
13 Big Show vs. Brock Lesnar - Survivor Series 2002
Brock Lesnar is a huge deal these days after beating The Undertaker’s WrestleMania streak and promptly dismantling anybody he’s put in the ring with. But during his first run in the company, while he was still a beast of a competitor, he wasn’t completely invincible. He had his fair share of losses, though this particular loss was completely and utterly unjustifiable.
Brock was a rising star at this point, a young and powerful champion that the crowd were excited to see climb to the top of the card and dominate. At Survivor Series, he was put in a match against the Big Show, and should have been another crowning achievement during his fantastic career. However, due a confusing betrayal by Paul Heyman after a huge F-5, Brock found himself dropping the belt to Big Show, losing a lot of momentum in the process.
Why was Big Show chosen as the first guy to pin Brock Lesnar? Big Show would drop the belt to Kurt Angle a month later, thanks to interference from Lesnar.
12 Christian vs. Randy Orton - SmackDown, 2011
Christian was a much beloved wrestler after a long stint alongside Edge as a tag team. However, while Edge would go on to become one of the company’s biggest stars, Christian never quite reached that top level.
That all changed at Extreme Rules 2011, when after a long career of fighting and climbing to the top, he ascended a ladder to take the World Heavyweight Championship, celebrating with Edge in the middle of the ring in a heart-warming moment for fans around the world.
But his historic win didn’t turn into a historic reign, as he lost it later that week to Randy Orton. It was a confusing reminder that WWE chooses who to make stars, not the fans. Christian was turned heel not long after, and the potential for him to be a plucky fan-favorite champion on SmackDown was forever lost.
11 The Miz vs. John Cena - WrestleMania 27
I love The Miz. I think he’s great on the mic and has shown a vast improvement in his in-ring style over the years. He’s worked hard and has become one of the most endearing heels at the company, and WrestleMania 27 was him at the very top of his career. Headlining WrestleMania against John Cena, it should have been all about The Miz and the journey he’d been on to get there.
Instead, it was about The Rock. The ending of the match saw a double-countout between Cena and Miz, before The Rock came out to cut a promo, using his status as host to restart the match. He then rock bottomed Cena, allowing Miz to get the pin. But his celebration was cut short as The Rock then beat The Miz up, ending WrestleMania in the spotlight.
It’s confusing to look back on, and you can’t help but feel sorry for The Miz, as his moment was overshadowed by the impending Rock vs. Cena match.
10 Bret Hart vs. Yokozuna - WrestleMania IX
Hulkamania was waning, and Bret Hart was the obvious replacement. However, after a little while out of the company, Hulk Hogan had returned and the WWE immediately wanted to put the belt on him, but not have their new babyface champion Bret Hart lose to him. So instead, we got the…baffling conclusion we got at WrestleMania IX.
Yokozuna was the heel challenger going into WM9, and managed to beat Bret Hart after his manager threw salt into Bret’s eyes. Hogan then immediately came out and challenged Yokozuna, beating him for the belt and ending WM9 with a Hogan victory.
There were so many better booking decisions here. The obvious one is not give in to Hogan’s demands and let Bret win, but even just allowing Bret vs. Hogan to happen as the main event would have been preferable. Regardless, this is one example where not only did the wrong man win, the winner wasn’t in the match to begin with.
9 The Rock vs. CM Punk - Royal Rumble 2013
The Rock was preparing for his second match with John Cena, ending a trilogy of WrestleMania confrontations between the two. However, for some bizarre reason, the WWE felt that this second match-up between two of the biggest stars in the wrestling business needed something extra, and decided to make it for the World Heavyweight Championship. The big problem with this though, was that CM Punk was in the middle of his record-breaking reign during a period where he was one of the most over guys in the company.
I have no problem with Punk losing the belt, as he had already held it for a long time. But his mighty reign only ended simply to give Rock vs. Cena more drama, and Punk was left out in the lurch for it. The end of his reign should have been more momentous for Punk, but instead it was momentous for The Rock. CM Punk did go on to have a great match at WrestleMania with The Undertaker, but him unceremoniously losing the belt only a couple of months prior did a lot to hurt him.
8 John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar - Extreme Rules 2012
When Brock Lesnar returned in 2012, John Laurinaitis said it was to bring legitimacy back to the WWE. Ultimately, it did, as after a stint in UFC, Lesnar was seen as an actual killing machine capable of dismantling anyone he was put in the ring with. Except, apparently, John Cena.
In Lesnar’s very first match back, he was put against John Cena at Extreme Rules, and while Lesnar did dominate the match, Cena ended up coming out victorious. But not only did he come out victorious, he then celebrated emphatically before delivering a promo saying how much he loved performing in Chicago.
It made Lesnar look weak compared to the build-up, even after the beating he gave Cena during the match. It was a completely stupid booking decision and one of the reasons Lesnar’s return didn’t gain any steam until he beat the streak. If Lesnar had gotten the victory here, perhaps he never would have had to beat the streak to gain momentum.
7 Triple H vs. Randy Orton - WrestleMania 25
While Randy Orton had already been a WWE Champion by this point, and had a great run as both a beloved babyface and despicable heel, this match really could have been his crowning moment. Going against his former mentor in Triple H, it would have been great to see Randy Orton stand victorious after a brutal and bloody affair.
Instead, we got a slow technical wrestling match that ended with Triple H winning, only for Orton to win the title a month later at Backlash in a bizarre tag-team match. While Orton was playing heel during this feud, and typically heels don’t win at WrestleMania, this moment should have solidified Orton as the one of the best heels of all time, rather than another stepping-stone for Triple H.
The match was also ruined by a stupid stipulation, where Triple H would lose the title if he was DQ'd or counted out. This should have been a No Holds Barred match, based on how personal the feud was.
6 John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt - WrestleMania XXX
Out of everyone in WWE, Bray Wyatt is the person who has been hurt the most by bad booking. The guy is inherently engrossing, able to cut a superb promo and has some of the best in-ring psychology on the roster, and yet his story-lines before 2016 never strayed much outside the territory of “he is evil” and he very rarely won a feud.
At WM30 there was an opportunity for this to change, as he went one-on-one with John Cena. There were two great ways for this match to end – either with Cena falling to the dark-side like Bray wanting and cheating to win, or by Wyatt himself overcoming the biggest face in the company.
WWE went with neither of those options, as Cena beat Wyatt clean after an Attitude Adjustment. Deflating feeling, and Wyatt never really regained momentum.
5 Team Cena vs. The Nexus - SummerSlam 2010
There were a lot of opportunities for this feud to go right, and Wade Barrett should have really held the WWE Championship during the Nexus storyline. But out of all the matches he should have won, this is the one that rubs a lot of fans the wrong way.
With the match culminating in a 2-on-1 scenario, it was up to Wade Barrett and Justin Gabriel to finish off John Cena. After a brutal DDT on the concrete, Cena should have been unconscious, leaving The Nexus to get a big win at SummerSlam. Instead, Cena recovered remarkably quickly, pinning Gabriel and then ended up submitting Barrett with the STF, completely stopping all momentum The Nexus had amassed. It was a supremely missed opportunity to turn all of The Nexus into stars, and a decision that even Cena has admitted was the wrong way to end the match. It's too bad he couldn't have realized it sooner.
4 Triple H vs. Sting - WrestleMania 31
This was Sting’s first ever match for WWE, and it took place on the grandest stage of them all, WrestleMania. But what should have been a great moment for fans of wrestling worldwide turned into bitter disappointment as Triple H stood victorious at the end.
The warning signs were all there. The moment they started to build the match as a WCW vs WWE event it should have been obvious that this was how it was going to end. While the spectacle of seeing Sting in a WWE ring, alongside run-ins from DX and the nWo, was simply magical, it can’t erase the sour feeling that Sting really should have captured a victory here.
The whole ending of the match just stunk of a bitter WWE wanting to prove once and for all that they were better than WCW, even though the company was long dead at this point. It only further sours the mood when you realize that after his injury at Night of Champions, Sting's career ended with no PPV wins in WWE.
3 Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar - WrestleMania 29
Another Triple H match in this list, and unsurprisingly not the last one. The guy just loves to use his backstage sway to win, doesn't he?
Let’s simply look at who needed the win more here. Brock Lesnar had returned a year prior, but only had two matches under his belt, and only one of them was a win for the beast incarnate. For someone who was brought in to bring legitimacy back to the WWE, he had an awful track record at this point. In the other corner, was part-timer and mostly-retired Triple H, coming back to seek revenge on Brock after losing to him at the previous SummerSlam.
At his first WrestleMania back, especially considering the announce teams were already calling him an unbeatable beast way before he beat The Undertaker’s streak, it’s ridiculous that Triple H picked up the win. Thankfully, Brock got a win over The Game at Extreme Rules, but it felt too little too late. In fact, it took until Brock ended the streak for him to regain legitimacy.
2 Triple H vs. Booker T - WrestleMania XIX
Remember when Triple H, a very very white man, stood in the ring with Booker T, a very not white man, on Monday Night Raw and said “People like you don’t deserve to be champion,” before asking him to do a little dance?
The segment was incredibly uncomfortable to watch then, and is still uncomfortable to watch now. Using racist undertones in a story is a very cheap way to build heat, especially when Triple H’s heel character was already despicable, but at least it should lead to a satisfying end. Except it didn’t.
Triple H went over Booker T at Wrestlemania 19, validating Triple H’s statements about Booker T. It was gross, wrong and incredibly poor taste for WWE to not only use that story-line but to have it end with Triple H winning at ‘Mania.
1 Macho Man Randy Savage vs. Hulk Hogan - WrestleMania V
You may have noticed a lot of this list is comprised of Triple H and John Cena matches. They have a history of going over opponents that should have won, but Hulk Hogan was the founding father when it came to winning every match he was put in.
The Mega Powers was a tag-team of Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan, the two biggest babyfaces in the company. However, after some miscommunication and a friendship breakdown, the two became bitter rivals. Hogan thought Randy was overly paranoid about his girlfriend, Miss Elizabeth, and couldn’t handle the pressure of being champion. Randy thought that Hogan was a glory-seeker and a promise-breaker, someone who was always looking to steal the spotlight for himself.
In the end, Hogan got the win, capturing the WWE Championship and proving he was better than Randy Savage. In reality, this should have been a crowning moment showing that Savage was just as good as Hogan, but after Hogan no-sold an elbow drop, it was obvious this was simply another match where Hogan would inexplicably win.