When a youngster hits the rink at sunrise on Saturday or the football field on a cold Sunday morning, it's with their lifelong dream in mind, hoping to one day be in the Stanley Cup Finals or The Super Bowl. Professional wrestling is no different. While the endless miles of the journey can take a wrestler to vastly different places and territories, the goal is to be front and center at the biggest extravaganza, dreaming of a victory in front of the many onlookers.
In today’s day and age, there are two grand spectacles left in pro-wrestling. One is Japan’s Jan. 4 Tokyo Dome Show (though not extensively covered or as popular in North American), while the other is the “granddaddy of them all,” WrestleMania.
WWE’s mega show has survived many years since Vince McMahon’s gamble to take the sports entertainment company to new heights in 1985. The most decorated wrestlers in the world have appeared at the “showcase of the immortals,” known as a place where stars are born. Look no further than Hulk Hogan’s career-defining moment against Andre The Giant at WrestleMania III, Shawn Michaels’ triumphant win over Bret Hart at WrestleMania XII, or most recently, Daniel Bryan’s supremacy at the 30th anniversary edition.
Looking at WrestleMania 31, Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns isn’t quite doing it for everyone as the headliner, while certain individuals like Seth Rollins and Dolph Ziggler shouldn’t be far off from the main event grid in years to come. Truth be told, many deserving wrestlers never had a chance to headline the big shebang, and it wasn’t as accessible for everyone, seeing how both WCW and NJPW had its shares of opportunities in the 1990s, too. Mixed with the inevitable celebrity emphasis WWE desires and the buildup of long-lasting storylines, some legends have seen the moment slip past them, while others, like perhaps The Miz or Lawrence Taylor, benefited greatly from creative decisions. Also, WWE had two major titles for a while (WWE Championship and World Heavyweight Championship), which played a role in matchmaking too. Some main event stars were forced to accept an undesirable place on the card.
On the other hand, some wrestlers have just been unlucky. Here are 15 deserving headliners of the past that could have main-evented WrestleMania:
15 15. Rick Rude
14 14. The Iron Sheik
By the third WrestleMania, it was apparent The Iron Sheik wouldn’t have the opportunity to be in the famous last match. You could argue he was just one of the many legends that never had a chance to headline. In terms of stories, the very first WrestleMania would have been his golden ticket.
13 13. Scott Hall/Razor Ramon
12 12. Owen Hart
11 11. Lex Luger
It's often noted that he could have been better in the ring during the course of his career, but regardless,“The Lex Express” movement in 1993 saw Lex Luger become WWE’s showcased talent, but he didn’t exactly dazzle the board, either.
10 10. Vader
“The Mastodon” enjoyed great success in WCW and Japan. You’d think he was a worthy candidate to headline WrestleMania multiple times, but never did.
9 9. Alberto Del Rio
Alberto Del Rio is a perfect example of a worthy headliner who suffered from card placement. His match against Edge for the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XXVII served as the curtain jerker, even though the man now known as Alberto El Patron had won the 2011 Royal Rumble Match.
8 8. John Bradshaw Layfield
He wasn’t the greatest or most talked-about practitioner of the squared circle, though John Bradshaw Layfield’s run in the mid-2000s should have steered him to the main event of WrestleMania. Although JBL was one of SmackDown’s top heels during that timeframe and main evented a number of pay-per-views as a titleholder, he never got the close out Wrestlemania.
7 7. Booker T
6 6. Kevin Nash/Diesel
A WrestleMania main event for Kevin Nash seemed inevitable considering WWE pushed his Diesel character to the moon. That being said, the promotion had other plans for WrestleMania XI, where he really should have closed out the show.
5 5. Kane
4 4. Rey Mysterio
Rey Mysterio was the kind of wrestler who could either woo a crowd in the opening contest or steal their hearts in the final frame.
3 3. Eddie Guerrero
The late Eddie Guerrero appeared at a handful of WrestleMania events, battling the likes of Mysterio, Angle, Chris Benoit, and others. WrestleMania XX was Guerrero’s defining moment, defending the WWE Championship against Kurt Angle, before embracing his best friend in the middle of the ring after the latter defeated Triple H and Shawn Michaels for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
2 2. Ric Flair
1 1. CM Punk
Battling the likes of Mysterio, Randy Orton, and Chris Jericho over the years at “The Showcase of The Immortals,” not to mention winning the Money In The Bank ladder Match two years in a row (WrestleMania XXIV & XXV), the former Ring of Honor stud had some pretty epic performances, but was forced to watch John Cena do battle with The Rock at WrestleMania XXVIII while he was in the co-main event. A year later, Punk would drop the title to The Rock at Royal Rumble 2013, forcing a rematch between “The Great One” and Cena, while Punk put over another part-timer in The Undertaker on the same card (WrestleMania 29).
It’s not like health didn’t have a huge role to play in the future UFC debutant’s departure. Even though Punk was distraught with his exclusion from WrestleMania 30’s main event (the unlikely dream match being Punk vs. Bryan in the main event) and watched another part-timer Batista win the 2014 Royal Rumble Match, deciding to call it quits one night later, he was upset nobody listened to his medical issues.
By now, you’ve heard his interview on Colt Cabana’s Art of Wrestling podcast and for someone who wanted it so bad (and deserved it after being passed up so many times), Punk could have easily headlined WrestleMania on more than one occasion. If only he’d been given the confidence -- and concern -- from the brass.
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