Wrestling is a business built on expectations. From the moment you begin a storyline, you need to figure out how to make it work, sometimes over months and make sure the payoff is good. That can be a tricky thing as quite often the payoff can falter and ruin what was a promising storyline. It’s a common thing in the history of the business, even the old days had major encounters that didn’t live up to the promise and set-up and such. It’s harder with wrestling as the plans can be affected by such things as injuries, guys leaving and more. Not to mention how so many times, a program that looks fantastic on paper ends up bombing with the actual audience. In that, wrestling is no different than any other form of entertainment as it’s hard to tell what will and won’t work properly.
So many times, promoters put their time and money into something but it just doesn’t come off as huge a deal as they want. It can be a bad match marring it or not the right guys involved, the wrong emphasis, the wrong attention, it’s tricky to figure the exacts but it happens. So much effort is put into these but it fails to connect and thus the story itself never lives up to potential. Perhaps the wrong part of the storyline was emphasized, or the payoff just wasn't worth what fans had been hoping for.
There also are times when their entire angle just doesn’t deserve all the push it gets, a terrible bit that the company tries to make a huge deal but the fans don’t buy it. Here are 15 major wrestling storylines that just never lived up to the hype surrounding them. They show how difficult it is to meet the expectations of fans in a tough business.
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15 Hollywood vs. The Wolfpac
A key reason for the fall of WCW is that Eric Bischoff truly believed the New World Order could last forever. Also bloated to numerous members, the nWo was clearly reaching its apex but Bischoff assumed all that was needed was a tweak. Thus, the faction split into two with “Hollywood” led by Hogan and the “Wolfpac” led by Kevin Nash. WCW pushed it massively, even claiming the nWo could transform into their own company. The truth, of course, was that fans were sick and tired of the whole thing.
The fact that this “conflict” got main event time while the red-hot World Champion Goldberg was stuck in the midcard speaks volumes to how bad off the company was then. It all led to the group being reunited in a “shocking swerve” after the Fingerpoke of Doom. WCW’s refusal to let this angle go was a major reason they fell from the top.
14 The Dungeon of Doom
The only thing crazier than the Dungeon is how WCW made it out to be a serious deal. In 1995, Kevin Sullivan organized a group made up of guys like Kamala, Zodiac, The Shark, Meng, Loch Ness and The Giant, doing goofball videos from a “smoky cave” and declaring their wish to destroy Hulkamania. They would battle with Hogan at War Games with the Giant pushed as the “son of Andre” to attack Hogan. That was followed by the insanity of Halloween Havoc with Hogan and The Giant fighting on the roof in monster trucks and then Giant winning the belt in a match involving The Yeti. They later came to join with Ric Flair to fight Hogan more, including the infamous Uncensored ’96 “Tower of Doom” battle.
They finally lost prominence when the nWo showed up as WCW poured so much time and effort making this cartoonish group look like serious threats but only served to turn the entire company’s image into a massive joke.
13 Slaughter’s Title Reign
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, few really thought the U.S. would go to war over things. So Vince was just making some free publicity when Sgt. Slaughter suddenly turned into an Iraqi sympathizer and trashed the U.S. By January of 1991, with war set, Slaughter was now elevated to a main event contender to beat The Ultimate Warrior for the WWE Championship and set up a clash with Hogan at WrestleMania. McMahon truly believed this could sell out the L.A. Coliseum and pushed it hard, Hogan defending the U.S. and Slaughter the evil heel.
However, fans never took to Slaughter in the role and the ticket sales dwindled to the point where they had no choice but to move Mania to the much smaller L.A. Sports Arena for “security reasons.” Not helping was the Gulf War ending in less than two months and thus the tie-in was done with. Hogan would beat Slaughter to win the title and they would feud for months afterward but it just hurt business more as trying to mix a real war with fictional wrestling didn’t work out well despite the Mania hype machine behind it.
12 The Lex Express
Vince McMahon is nothing if not stubborn and proud of himself. When Hulk Hogan left WWE in 1993 on bad terms, Vince naturally thought all he had to do was find someone else to take his place. He picked Lex Luger, a guy long talked of as “the next Hogan” and doing nicely as the heel Narcissist. But Vince decided to remake him as the patriotic hero and going on a national bus tour to visit folks and promos on loving America so much. WWE talked of it as a huge deal but it never came across as well to fans and the shoving of Lex down their throats turned a lot of people on him more than planned.
The real kicker was the SummerSlam event with all the push on Luger winning the belt only for Luger to win by countout so Yokozuna retained the title. It was a terrible move that destroyed Luger’s faith with the crowds and rendering all the hype on him as the new face of WWE meaningless.
11 Sting’s First Title Reign
The old poem says “for want of a nail, a shoe was lost,” showing how the smallest things can lead to big changes. Such a case would have to be for 1990 WCW. As the year began, Ric Flair was champion and the plan was to have Sting beat him at WrestleWar and Flair helping book the hot champion as a major deal to push the company onward. But at a Clash of the Champions show, Sting tore his knee out climbing a cage, putting him on the shelf for months. By the time he was well enough to come back, Ole Anderson had taken over as booker so the big Sting/Flair matchup was an overbooked mess with guys around the ring before Sting got the title. It should have been a big deal but was marred, as Ole’s booking led to such idiocy as the Black Scorpion, which WCW hyped to the heavens as a major deal only to have fans turn huge on this guy doing magic tricks.
A showdown with Sid also went nowhere and then the Scorpion was revealed as Flair in a bad payoff. In January of 1991, Flair regained the title and thus Sting’s first reign, which should have set WCW on fire, was barely a flicker and it shoved them down further.
10 Aces & Eights
TNA has had real issues over the years with their obsession with creating a “group of heels wrecking the company,” going to it time and again. The Aces & Eights storyline is a key example as this gang of biker guys showed up and started to smash around TNA, taking it to the faces and promised to take over. TNA hyped the hell out of it, making it sound like an epic clash but the fact they’d done this exact storyline a half dozen times already diluted the impact.
The turns were baffling with D-Von revealed as the leader and mixed with the storyline of Bully Ray engaged to Brooke Hogan before their wedding crashed by the group. This would lead to the cage match where Bully revealed he was the true leader of A&E and once more pushed as a huge shocker. Of course, the fans just didn’t get into it, seeing the whole thing as a drag on the show. It lost credibility with second-tier guys like Garrett Bischoff as threats.
The whole thing withered when TNA’s pay cuts meant that several of the Aces gang were cut from the company and Bully was so big a star he didn’t need it. Eventually, Ken Anderson won a match to “bury” the group, which was already a shell of itself, leading to yet another massive time waster by a company that loved to hype stuff that never lived up to potential.
9 The Nexus
Their debut is one of the best things WWE has done in recent years. With no warning, this batch of NXT rookies showed up to beat the hell out of everyone present and tear down the ring to boot. They were set up as a fantastic unit and talk of how they were going to smash WWE down majorly. But from the beginning, it was doomed as the company failed to understand how patience is a virtue with such angles. Instead, The Nexus were soon losing bouts and then had John Cena forced to join their side, which didn’t make them look strong on their own at all.
WWE tried to push them more with Punk starting a “New Nexus” but it just didn’t click as the company never had the faith to give them the proper build they needed. This really could have been a terrific angle to boost the company to more prominence.
8 Ric Flair vs. Kerry von Erich
Booking on emotion is a tricky thing for wrestling. Such a case was in 1984 when David Von Erich, clearly the most skilled of the entire bunch, was set to face Ric Flair for the NWA title and many believing the NWA board would let David get the belt. But in February of that year, David suddenly died in Japan (a drug overdose most believe) and World Class never recovered. In a move widely criticized, Fritz Von Erich soon started cashing in on David’s death. This set up the Parade of Champions with Kerry to challenge Flair for the title.
However, for all the emotion, the actual match was a real letdown, barely 15 minutes long and Flair obviously carrying Kerry. Kerry won with a backslide which was seemingly the only finish they could trust him to have. While it was made to be a great moment of him with the title, the NWA board never had faith in Kerry due to his reported drug use and flaky attitude. In just three weeks, he lost the belt back to Flair who moved on to other challengers. While a great moment in its time, the storyline of Kerry winning for his brother’s memory never resonated as well as it should and showcased the problems that would lead WCCW to its end.
7 Hulk Hogan vs. Sting
Rarely can you find a case of a storyline so brilliantly built up and then blown in the end. Since Sting was set up by the nWo in 1996, he was a loner, transforming into the “Crow” look of a guy who hung around the rafters and never spoke. After months of this, he finally started to attack the nWo and made it clear he wanted Hogan. Showing a patience that would never be seen again by the company, WCW waited, putting this off constantly with fans going wild over when it would happen. It finally came to Starrcade and the battle everyone was sure would help WCW put WWE down once and for all.
What happened has been argued, everything from bad booking to Hogan selfishly keeping his spot or simple miscommunication. The fact remains that after so long, the match was Hogan completely dominating Sting and then cleanly pinning him despite claims of a “fast count.” Bret Hart came to restart it with Sting winning the belt but the damage was done and Hogan would end up with the title back in just a few months. It’s astounding that after so much great build, WCW blew it in the end and set the company on their path to destruction.
6 The Greater Power
The early going of 1999 was a bit tough for WWE as Russo’s wilder tendencies were taking over more. A key example is this storyline as The Undertaker rebranded himself into a cult figure with attempts to sacrifice Stephanie and taking it to Vince McMahon with Shane backing Taker up. Taker soon claimed to be answering to a “Greater Power” and word was WWE wanted Jake Roberts in the role. It was built up to be a huge deal with Vince and Austin as allies, ready to fight and Austin held captive while the hooded Greater Power showed his face to him.
Finally, we had them all in the ring, the Greater Power then pulling off his hood to reveal it was Vince all along. An obvious last-minute switch did not serve it well as what looked to be a cool new foe was just Vince screwing around on Austin. They did manage to build off it with Austin made CEO to drive Vince crazier but it ranks among the worst payoffs of this period in the company.
5 Who Ran Over Stone Cold?
At the 1999 Survivor Series, Stone Cold Steve Austin was set up to be in the main event but Austin’s neck problems meant he needed time off. So WWE got him out of it by having him run down by a mystery figure. It was basically dropped until Austin returned the following fall and so the search began for who ran him over, with Austin beating up guys to get at the truth and accusations flying and guys naturally pushed as suspects. Suspicion fell on the Rock but eventually, the truth was revealed: Rikishi. Yes, the long jokester guy known for goofy dancing and sticking his ass into people’s faces was suddenly claiming to have run over Austin just so the Rock could get ahead. It was as idiotic a solution as possible and lowered the entire storyline’s stakes massively, especially after nearly a year of a push for it and why you never start a storyline without a solution in mind.
4 Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior II
When the Ultimate Warrior beat Hulk Hogan for the WWE title in 1990, most thought Hogan would take a backseat and Warrior would be the face of the company. But the fans still preferred Hogan, mostly because of the Warrior’s act being harder to get behind and his bizarre behavior not aiding either. The lack of a rematch between them also hurt and in 1998, WCW finally signed him on to build to this big conflict. It was doomed, however, as Warrior’s bizarre opening promo said it was “no big deal” beating Hogan, which made it odd as to why he would want a rematch.
To his credit, Hogan has actually taken blame for much of what occurred, from the wild set-ups like the “he’s in the mirror” bit to the actual match being an epic disaster with the blown fireball. Warrior would be gone right afterward, leaving this a total debacle for WCW in a bad time and how the sequel was truly worse than the original.
3 Roman Reigns, the Face of the WWE
One day, someone is going to write an entire book on just how badly the “Roman Empire” has been horribly bungled. Reigns has some skill and charisma and in other circumstances, he might have done well. But WWE gave him some of the absolutely worst booking and presentation you could ask for. From terrible lines that made him look foolish to the terrible build of winning the title, losing it to Sheamus, then winning it back to the Rumble loss, Reigns has been booked as badly as you can possibly imagine.
It’s worse by how the fans clearly prefer Dean Ambrose in this slot instead and booing Reigns nonstop. They gave him massive push and made his match with Triple H at 'Mania sound like a “passing the torch” event but it just never worked out and word is that WWE may finally be souring on him. If so, they have only themselves to blame to ruining his push from the start and hyping a “future champion” who just couldn’t live up to that pressure at all.
2 Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair
This was the perfect feud handed on a silver platter and somehow Vince McMahon screwed it up. Throughout the ‘80s, Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair were the icons of their respective companies, boosting to huge fame and naturally fans wondered what would happen if they met one-on-one. It happened in 1991 when Flair was fired from WCW and Vince snatched him up. However, things were different then; there was no weekly prime time show or monthly PPVs so while the house shows were good business, they never had that epic blowoff on TV as they should have. Most of the encounters were never on camera, and this should have been built up majorly to a great match but things just didn’t click. It wasn’t helped, of course, by how both men were among the bigger egos in wrestling and neither wanting to come off looking worse.
Due to the ego conflict, the planned WrestleMania blow-off between them never went down and led to another blow to things. Amazingly, WCW actually made this work and it stands as remarkable how Vince could make the most anticipated superstar battle something so forgettable.
1 The Invasion
The obvious top choice. For years, this was the dream conflict of so many fans, WWE and WCW going head-to-head, the question of who could win out on top. When WWE bought WCW in 2001, it was set and fans naturally assumed it would be a terrific encounter. The first problem was that many of the major WCW names (Hogan, Flair, Goldberg, Nash, Hall) weren’t coming so you had a bunch of the C-list guys as the “invaders.” Then there was how WWE never gave WCW equal standing as from the beginning.
That was how ECW was pushed in only to turn into “The Alliance” with Shane and Stephanie in charge and Stone Cold turning heel. Thus, it was just the never-ending McMahon family feud, various turns and the battles nowhere near as good as they should have been. It dragged on too long and for a lame payoff of WWE winning, the encounter that should have launched wrestling into a new level ending up hurting the business. It also ended up being the biggest meltdown imaginable and how this “dream encounter” turned into one of WWE’s biggest nightmares.
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