Hindsight is easy to use in wrestling. It’s easy to judge as time goes by how decisions that seemed to make some sense at the time turn out to be terrible. Guys are given pushes that fail, programs and angles that look promising fall apart and fans don’t respond as expected. But in other cases, it’s obvious from the start when a decision is made that it’s the wrong one. That goes for big matches as fans expect a certain result and when it doesn’t deliver, they react badly. So many times, the wrong guy has gone over and the results have been terrible on multiple levels. It’s led to bad programs afterward, fan apathy and the “winner” often suffering.
It’s easy to list some matches that were minor in the scheme of things where the wrong guy went over. But much bigger are bouts that had major repercussions. Sure, sometimes a guy can go over but in the wrong way (Sting not beating Hogan clean at Starrcade ’97) but other times it’s simply the wrong guy winning. He’s not right for the win, the fans didn’t want it and it ruins the overall storyline that had been building. The effects can shake things up and in bad ways and many promotions have been hurt because of these choices. Egos abound backstage to push a certain guy a certain way and of course, promoters have their own ideas on who should win or not. Here are 15 times the wrong guy won a big match that showed how it hurts wrestling in many ways.
15 Triple H over Goldberg - SummerSlam 2003
You’re going to see Triple H a few times on this list, which should say something. It’s not that Hunter isn’t a fantastic star who deserves his success. But there have been a lot of times when the guy was put over when he shouldn’t have been. This is a prime example as going into SummerSlam, things were all set for Goldberg to win the world title in the Elimination Chamber. He’d been pushed since his debut earlier in the year, beating The Rock, was still hot with fans and thus his winning the title made sense, especially as Hunter was going to be taking a break for a movie. It was a wild battle with Shawn Michaels, Kevin Nash, Chris Jericho and Randy Orton all involved, getting eliminated before it all coming down to Triple H and Goldberg.
Fans thus expected a major battle with Goldberg spearing Triple H through the chamber glass. But thanks to Ric Flair, Hunter grabbed a sledgehammer, hit Goldberg and got the pin to retain. It was a terrible move to ruin Goldberg’s heat so when he did win the belt a month later, it felt lackluster and he never really recovered. Not the only time Hunter's again led to him going over when he shouldn’t have.
14 Ric Flair over Lex Luger - Great American Bash 1988
Much has been made over Lex Luger not being a great worker but in 1988, the man was over with fans in the NWA. He had a great build, good promos, lots of promise and his feud with Ric Flair was hot business. It built up to the Great American Bash, a major PPV that Jim Crockett sunk a lot of his money into and expected it to be a hit. The show was good and it built up to the main event as Flair and Luger went at it in a tough match. Luger seemed to win with Flair in the Torture Rack and the fans went wild seeing him celebrate with others.
But then it was announced that a “Maryland State Athletic Commissioner” had stopped the match and awarded it to Flair because of “blood loss” on Luger. Luger had messed up the blade job, providing only a small nick so the finish became even lamer. The fans hated it as they wanted Luger to win and even a short reign could have given Crockett a major boost he needed. Instead, business went bad, leading to him selling to WCW and thus not putting Luger over cost Crockett majorly.
13 Brock Lesnar over The Undertaker - WrestleMania XXX
It has been argued ever since it happened but most agree: The Streak should never have been broken. It was part of The Undertaker’s legacy, his aura, the idea of him never losing at WrestleMania was something fans loved. It added to his appearances, the drama and the suspense and helped make him a major star. Having him keep it going should have been the logical thing and the talk of “it’s time to end it” was only because of Vince McMahon’s thinking. Having it be Brock Lesnar was another issue as Brock was massively over already; beating 'Taker wasn’t as huge as it might have been for another guy who needed the major rub.
Brock did get some boost but his wrestling time has remained on and off since and makes his win less meaningful. It’s also hurt The Undertaker’s standing. His matches since don't have the same arura. Undertaker should have won here to keep The Streak alive.
12 Kurt Angle over Bobby Roode - Bound For Glory 2011
Hulk Hogan’s tenure in TNA is marked with a lot of bad stuff but this may be the worst. Throughout 2011, the company was pushing a series of matches to set up a challenger for Kurt Angle at Bound for Glory. Roode won the series and TNA pushed him hard with the idea of him winning the belt. It was all set up, videos showing Roode as a good family man, a face who had struggled for years and was ready for the big time. But the day before the show, Hogan sent out some tweets indicating he didn’t think Roode was “ready” yet. Thus, the match was changed to Angle retaining, ruining all that build.
Most feel this was Hogan not wanting to have his face turn in the show overshadowed by one of the biggest title changes in the company’s history. This led to the backup plan for James Storm to get the title and then Roode turned heel to win it, ruining the momentum of him as a face. A terrible shift to ruin a big plan just to handle Hogan’s ego.
11 The Rock over CM Punk - 2013 Royal Rumble
There was nothing wrong with WWE wanting a rematch of The Rock and John Cena at WrestleMania. But having it be for the title was unneeded. And even more unneeded was The Rock getting the title by ending CM Punk’s record reign. Punk had been fantastic, holding the title for over a year, the best reign as a champion WWE had seen in a decade and fans loved it. He was riding high and coming into WrestleMania as champion was what the fans wanted to see.
His loss should have been to a different worker, a full-time guy who would have benefited getting the big victory. Instead, The Rock won after a match filled with interference and overbooking to win the title. Once more, the title didn’t need to be up for grabs for a Rock-Cena battle; it was useless and Punk shouldn’t have had his record reign end to a movie star. No wonder Punk left WWE in a huff after such bad treatment.
10 Triple H over The Rock - WrestleMania 2000
It had long been accepted as fact that the face always went over in the main event of WrestleMania. For the 2000 version, it seemed to be going that way with Triple H defending his title against The Rock, Big Show and Mick Foley in a four-way elimination match with a “McMahon in every corner.” It came down to Hunter and The Rock and the fans were set to see The Rock win the belt. Instead, Vince turned on The Rock to allow Hunter to win and retain the title. It was a shocking move as the build for The Rock regaining the title after all these odds had been all set and seeing the heel walk out of 'Mania with the title was a major shock.
WWE would make it up by having the Rock win the title in a great Backlash match the next month but most feel that victory should have been for Mania to let the fans go home a lot happier rather than continue The Game's dominance.
9 Chris Jericho over AJ Styles - WrestleMania 32
When AJ Styles finally came to WWE in 2016, fans were excited to see one of the best workers alive finally arrive. However, others were worried given WWE’s well-known tendency to not give guys outside the company a good shot at the start. And this battle seemed to prove that as Styles and Chris Jericho went at it in what was actually a good match. It was an even fight, each kicking out of the other’s moves until finally, Jericho hid behind the ref and took a cheap shot to get the pin. Jericho was a great worker but fans hated seeing a WWE stalwart beat Styles in his first Mania battle. Styles had the heat and the attention; him beating Jericho should have been the result to boost him majorly and prove himself a threat.
Instead, Jericho got the win, yet another WWE guy beating an outsider. Thankfully, WWE did end up pushing Styles right after that, having him beat John Cena twice and then win the WWE title. But this 'Mania loss was still worrying.
8 Kurt Angle vs Samoa Joe - Genesis 2006
Through 2005 and ’06, Samoa Joe was one of the hottest guys in TNA. Dominating with his mix of power, skill and even taking flight, Joe held the X Division title and soon built up an unbeaten streak that lasted over a year. It was thus assumed whoever did break that streak would end up getting over majorly. When Kurt Angle joined TNA, fans salivated at the idea of him and Joe going at it and rather than wait, the company pushed them fast for an encounter at the Genesis PPV. It had a good, if not short, build and fans expected a great encounter but it only lasted 13 minutes. Angle was still showing a bit of ring rust so it wasn’t as good as expected.
Worse was how Angle was put over beating Joe to end his unbeaten streak. This was a bad move as Angle was already massively over, he didn’t need the rub of beating Joe like this. Seeing the unbeaten Joe tap out to Angle also hurt his standing a bit, making him look weaker. The rematches were much better but having this WWE outsider be the one to beat Joe at last was one of TNA’s poorer moves.
7 Triple H over Booker T - WrestleMania XIX
Even The Game seems to regret this one, which says a lot. Many have criticized Hunter for keeping the belt on himself so much in 2003-2004 and this is a prime example. Supposedly, the plan was for Hunter to face Scott Steiner but after Steiner’s disastrous performance at the Royal Rumble, Booker was pushed instead. This led to Triple H doing some promos basically talking of how “guys like Booker” weren’t meant to be champions. Racism can be cheap heat but it did lead to some buzz for the match, Booker was clearly the crowd favorite and the storyline of him winning made sense. After all, why go to such epic lengths bringing up Booker’s convict past if it wasn’t going to lead to a storyline of him winning and proving Hunter wrong?
Instead, Ric Flair helped to interfere in the match and Triple H ended up pinning Booker. In other words, the big heel makes savage and near-racist remarks about the black hero and still ends up winning. No wonder fans at the time hated Hunter.
6 Hulk Hogan vs. Randy Orton - SummerSlam 2006
Maybe it shouldn’t have been a shock but that doesn’t make it any more right. Orton had been on a downslide for a while due to some bad booking and needed something to elevate him. A feud with Hogan, making one of his brief returns to WWE, seemed just the thing. Orton was still riding on his reputation as a “Legend Killer” and there's no bigger legend to take out than Hogan and the build was big with Orton attacking Hogan's daughter Brooke. The match was hyped up but hampered as Hogan was suffering a real knee injury and thus slowed down.
Orton was set up as the aggressor, brawling with Hogan, attacking the knee and seemingly getting the pin with an RKO. That led to a big pop but then it turned out Hogan had his leg on the rope so the bout was restarted, we got the “Hulk Up” and the legdrop to end it after just ten minutes. It was Hogan’s last match in WWE, but Orton clearly should have gotten the win to help his own heat out. But because Hogan couldn’t stand to job, Orton had to wait longer to finally get his career back on track.
5 Triple H Over CM Punk - Night of Champions 2011
CM Punk had been mega-hot with fans, winning the WWE title but then would lose it to Albert Del Rio at SummerSlam. Blaming Triple H for Kevin Nash attacking him, Punk wanted revenge and challenged Hunter to a match with Hunter having to quit as COO if he lost. Punk was the obvious favorite and fans were tired of Triple H’s act so Punk winning made sense. He was the wronged party, having him get the victory to send Hunter off was what fans wanted and the fanbase expected Punk to win as he was far more over.
The match was a wild affair but then degenerated into a mess with The Miz, R-Truth and Nash all coming in to interfere. It was way too much as Hunter used a sledgehammer to nail Nash, then Pedigreed Punk to get the win which the fans booed loudly. It was a blow to the heat Punk had and one thinks it might have fueled his resentment on the company and why Punk and Triple H still don’t like each other today.
4 Nick Bockwinkel over Hulk Hogan - 1983
Verne Gagne was a great worker, a capable champion and a good booker in his time. However, Gagne’s refusal to flex with the times would be the thing that ended up costing him and the AWA majorly. Gagne couldn’t grasp how fan tastes were changing. The business was becoming more sensational and the flashier guys deserved the strap. Hulk Hogan was the hottest act in wrestling at the time, taking off with his role in “Rocky III” and his t-shirts were major sellers. Fans wanted him as champion, that was damn obvious and so for a “Super Sunday” show, Gagne had Hogan face champion Nick Bockwinkel for the title. This was clearly the big one, as fans were excited, the arena was a sellout and going wild as Hogan appeared to pin Bockwinkel and win the title.
But then it was announced the ref had disqualified Hogan for tossing Bockwinkel over the top rope. The fans nearly rioted and Hogan, realizing Gagne was never going to give him the belt, jumped to WWE. This in turn led to the mass exodus of talent that would turn the AWA into a shell of itself within a few years. Thus, by not putting Hogan over as he should have, Gagne basically ruined his own company.
3 Kevin Nash over Goldberg - Starrcade 98
This match really began WCW’s fall. Goldberg had been the hottest act the company. He was insanely over with fans, his merchandise selling like crazy. They loved chanting his name and seeing who else he could face.The Streak was still a big thing, boosting WCW up majorly and helping them stay even against a great year from WWE. It should have continued into 1999, to keep Goldberg strong and ending with the right person (like Sting or an up and coming star).
Instead, Kevin Nash booked himself to win the belt at Starrcade, a very bad move on many fronts. Nash was already looking bad with poor mobility and his run as booker was turning into a mess. Having himself win the belt and end the streak was a terrible move. Of course, it would be followed by the Fingerpoke of Doom but Nash beating Goldberg to end the streak and getting the title was the first step in WCW’s slide to destruction.
2 Roman Reigns - 2015 Royal Rumble
It’s been well documented but it still bears repeating. WWE’s insistence on shoving Roman Reigns as “the guy” has led to a huge backlash as fans just don’t want him in that position. In 2015, they wanted Daniel Bryan to win the Rumble and then regain the title at WrestleMania, the obvious setup that would have done great business. Instead, as if it was a massive trolling, WWE had Bryan eliminated from the Rumble early on. Thus, when Roman entered, he never had a chance, and the boos rained down on him. It got worse as Dean Ambrose and Dolph Ziggler, both far more over than Roman, were tossed out, leading to a “fight against all odds” to eliminate, Kane, Big Show and Rusev for Roman to win.
It was pushed as an epic moment, complete with The Rock running in to help but the fans booed loudly. Amazingly, WWE never quite got the hint as they’ve pushed Roman more and more when this should have shown how “The Roman Empire” was always destined to crumble.
1 Triple H over Sting - WrestleMania 31
Some wonder if this was a punishment. Sting was pretty much the one major star of his era who never worked for WWE at any time and it’s well known how Vince McMahon hates crediting stuff he didn’t have a hand in. He was given short shrift in DVDs and histories but most thought WWE would handle it well when Sting finally signed on in 2014. Most thought the company would give the match everyone wanted, Sting vs Undertaker at Mania. Instead, it was Sting vs Triple H but fans still expected a great match and Sting as the winner made sense as why else bring him on?
Instead, it turned into a messy match with interference from the New World Order and DX and back and forth before Triple H won. It was totally the wrong decision and it was made clear that this was WWE trying to show they’d “won” the war with WCW…which had been over for 15 years. It was a terrible slap in the face to the legacy Sting brought and Triple H’s ego not letting the Stinger get the win he more than deserved, as did the fans.