It’s WrestleMania season and we’re all gearing up for the "granddaddy of them all"! For months we have been speculating on which matches will occur, who will face off against whom, and who will have their “WrestleMania moment”. In times such as these, it is only natural to look back on past WrestleManias. We think about all the classic matches from WresleManias past, but what about the matches that didn’t occur. Matches that were once penciled in for a WrestleMania, but were then scrapped and either never happened, or only happened years later under different circumstances.
This list will look at 15 matches that were, at one point, slated to occur on the “grandest stage of them all”. Many had to be cancelled (or at least postponed) due to injury. Others were cut for more complex, even mysterious reasons. However, they were all planned to take place at one point. So please note, this list does not include match ideas that were floated to Vince McMahon that the chairman then rejected. Nor does it include ideas Vince had that a wrestler rejected, such as Steve Austin refusing to work with Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania X-8. This list is all about matches that were definitely going to happen...until they weren’t.
15 The Undertaker vs. John Cena - WrestleMania 32
One of the marquee matches this year at WrestleMania will be The Undertaker vs John Cena. A match that has never occurred at WrestleMania and hasn’t been seen on TV of any kind in over a decade. Undertaker’s less-than-stellar match against Roman Reigns last year and his subsequent apparent retirement have soured this match for some, but this has long been mooted as a dream match. Long before WrestleMania 32, even, but it was there, at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, that the WWE finally planned to pull the trigger on this match.
Unfortunately, John Cena underwent shoulder surgery in January 2016, ruling him out of the match.
The WWE then went with the bizarre route of bringing back Shane McMahon to fight ‘Taker in a Hell in a Cell in a match that mostly sucked, apart from Shane’s death defying leap off the cell. Cena made an appearance that year to aid The Rock in his impromptu match against Erick Rowan. The next year, Vince opted to put ‘Taker against in Reigns; a match he may regret given that he’s now going back to Cena.
14 Triple H vs. Seth Rollins - WrestleMania 32
WreslteMania 32 was billed as the biggest WrestleMania given AT&T Stadium’s massive capacity (the WWE claimed 101,763 people were in attendance). Given that, it certainly is a shame how many injuries they had. The big one, apart from Cena, was Seth Rollins. Rollins won the WWE Championship at the previous WrestleMania and held it all the way until November, before vacating it due to a bad knee injury.
Rollins was out for over six months due to a torn ACL and therefore missed WrestleMania.
As champion, Rollins repeatedly bristled under the yolk of “The Authority” and Triple H and Stephanie McMahon often argued with Rollins. It was clear to veteran wrestling fans that this story would culminate in a match of Triple H vs. Seth Rollins. And so it did, but only a year later at WreslteMania 33 (which Seth also almost missed due to injury). For 'Mania 32, Triple H had to find a replacement...so he won the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble and main evented against Roman. It’s good to be the Executive Vice President.
13 Seth Rollins vs. Jason Jordan - WrestleMania 34
For the third year in a row, an injury has complicated Seth Rollins’s ‘Mania plans. Though this time, it’s not his injury. Jason Jordan underwent next surgery in January. Jordan had moved over to Raw the previous summer as Kurt Angle’s kayfabe (storyline) son. Whether the WWE always figured that the fans would reject this silly story, and in turn Jordan, or whether they readjusted on the fly, it soon became clear that Jordan was turning heel. Despite the ridiculousness of the premise, Jordan played the entitled, somewhat cowardly son of the general manager quite well.
When he stepped in to replace the injured Dean Ambrose as Rollins’s partner, the two won --then lost-- the Tag Titles and the tension was building quite nicely between the two.
Sadly, this next injury scuppered any plans they had. Hopefully, Jordan can re-find momentum when he returns.
12 Big Show vs. Shaq - WrestleMania 33
Exactly what happened here is a bit of a mystery. The story changes depending on where you hear it. What is clear is that we should all feel bad for The Big Show. For over a year, Show had clearly been training and dieting like crazy and is in the best shape he’s been in in 20 years; maybe ever. And the main impetus for his new health regime was this potential match against NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal.
Shaq is a genuine wrestling fan and always does well in WWE settings. He made his un-promoted WWE in-ring debut at WrestleMania 32 in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal in which he and Big Show squared off until both were eliminated by everybody else.
A confrontation on the red carpet at the 2016 ESPYs, as well as social media jibes between the two, led to the natural conclusion that they would finally have a one-on-one match.
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But nope, that didn’t happen. Dave Meltzer of The Wrestling Observer reported that the reason the match was cancelled was monetary in nature. Big Show stated it was Shaq’s schedule. On his podcast, Shaq seemed to indicate he felt the WWE were jerking him around a bit.
11 Rey Mysterio & Batista vs. Floyd Mayweather & Big Show - WrestleMania XXIV
Another planned WrestleMania match involving the Big Show and a celebrity was rejigged for WrestleMania XXIV in Orlando. The WWE doled out the big bucks to attract Floyd “Money” Mayweather to do a match. The original plan was to have Rey Mysterio involved in this match. Some rumored iterations include: Rey & Batista vs. Mayweather and Big Show, Rey & Mayweather vs. Big Show and a partner, or even a straight up singles match between Rey and Mayweather. I'm skeptical of any iterations that involve the undefeated boxer playing a heel, because, if you’ll remember, the WWE initially presented him as a babyface, a baffling decision for anybody who has ever seen Mayweather. He's very charismatic and very unlikable. A fact that was born out given that by the time his actual match against the far bigger Big Show rolled around, Mayweather was definitely a heel.
Whatever their original intentions, Rey was involved, but a torn biceps ruled him out. He was involved in the initial angle with Floyd and Big Show, but after that, he was gone.
10 Rey Mysterio vs. Umaga - WrestleMania 23
You have to feel for Rey. Not only did he miss out on a huge payday by being injured for a potential ‘Mania match with Floyd Mayweather, he missed the previous WrestleMania, too. He was penciled in to face Umaga. “OK”, you might say, “That sucks, but it wasn’t a marquee match or anything”. That’s where you’re wrong, my friend. If you’ll recall, Umaga’s opponent that year was Bobby Lashley, and both men were seconded by Vince McMahon and Donald Trump, respectively.
That’s right, Rey Mysterio was slated to be Donald J. Trump’s representative in the “Battle of the Billionaires”. This idea was conjured well in advance of WrestleMania. To get a man like billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV show host Donald Trump, you have to plan well in advance. But Rey had to undergo knee surgery in the autumn of ‘06 and was ruled out. Just like the following year, he would be used to start the angle, with Umaga attacking the recovering Rey. It’s too bad, because Rey would have been a better choice than Lashley who would leave the WWE not a year later. I’m not sure what Donald Trump went on to do.
9 The Hart Foundation vs. The British Bulldogs - WrestleMania III
At WrestleMania III, the WWE Tag Team Champions, The Hart Foundation, teamed with former referee turned heel wrestler, Danny Davis, to take on The British Bulldogs and Tito Santana. However, the original plan (according to some) was to have the Bulldogs drop the belts to the Hart Foundation in a straight-up tag match. The Bulldogs won the titles at WrestleMania 2, but Dynamite Kid suffered an injury in December. Reportedly, Vince wanted the Bulldogs to then drop the titles to The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff, but Dynamite refused to drop them to anybody other than The Hart Foundation. However, this story is somewhat contradicted by the planned feud with the Harts as well as the fact that Sheik and Volkoff were being phased out at this point.
In any event, The Bulldogs dropped the titles to The Hart Foundation in a match on Superstars in February ‘87, which only Davey Boy Smith worked (Dynamite staying on the apron), involving the crooked referee Davis. They wanted to include Dynamite at WrestleMania III so they booked this six-man to lessen his workload while he was still recovering.
8 Batista vs. Randy Orton - WrestleMania 22
Batista won the World Heavyweight Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 21. He would hold that title until early January of the next year, when he was forced to vacate it due to a triceps tear. Batista was planned to defend his title against Randy Orton in what would be billed as a battle between the two up-and-coming members of the now-defunct Evolution stable. After Batista’s injury, Kurt angle moved from Raw to SmackDown and turned from heel to face (with no explanation) to win the title in a Battle Royal.
Orton’s involvement in the title match was then thrown into doubt due to the momentum accrued by Rey Mysterio in the wake of Eddie Guerrero's death.
Ultimately, a three-way was booked and Vince had to be dragged kicking and screaming to let Rey win the title over Angle and Orton.
Batista vs. Orton was once again planned for a WrestleMania, at WrestleMania XXX. However, this too had to be altered, this time due to the fans overwhelming rejection of the returning Batista as a babyface and their sole desire for a Daniel Bryan title run. So a threeway was made in which Bryan won the title.
7 The Smokin' Gunns vs. The Bodydonnas - WrestleMania XII
The Smokin’ Gunns were the WWE Tag Team Champions in February of 1996 when Billy Gunn had to undergo neck surgery and they had to vacate the belts. Having to forfeit your title due to injury is bad enough, but to have to do it a month before WrestleMania must really suck. Not that The Bodydonnas vs. The Smokin’ Gunns would have been a featured match or anything.
A tag team tournament was then held for the vacant titles. The finals of the tournament saw The Bodydonnas defeat The Godwins on the Free For All match before WrestleMania XII. But let’s be honest, who could really care about either of these matches? In the end, this match was just an excuse for the WWE’s dedicated fan base of 12-year-old boys to stare at Sunny (manager of the Bodydonnas) for five minutes.
6 Triple H vs. John Cena - WrestleMania 23
Triple H challenged John Cena for the WWE Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 22 in a match in which the Chicago fans roundly booed the babyface Cena and cheered the heel Triple H (who came out dressed as Conan the Barbarian, for some reason). So what did the WWE plan to do for the next year? Why, book the same match again, but with Hunter as a babyface, because that will get Cena over, right? To be fair to the WWE, they may have been planning a three-way with Hunter, Shawn Michaels, and John Cena; though it’s hard to not see Cena getting booed there, too.
Whatever they were planning, it involved Hunter, who was heavily focused upon until he suffered a torn quadriceps muscle at New Year’s Revolution.
They then went with Hunter’s D-X partner, Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena in what was a very good match. Cena still got booed, though one wonders how much Vince McMahon ever cared about that.
5 Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania X-Seven
Triple H and Shawn Michaels had many, many matches against one another, but this is the most famous match that they didn’t have. Michaels retired from wrestling following a back injury he suffered in a casket match against The Undertaker at Royal Rumble 1998. His last match was a few months later at WrestleMania XIV. But by 2001, both Shawn and Hunter thought that maybe Michaels could make a comeback, even for just one match.
However, when Michaels showed up backstage one day in early 2001 to talk about the match with Vince he was, as they say in wrestling parlance, “in no shape to compete”.
The truth is Michaels’s back injury contributed to his substance abuse problem, specifically with painkillers. Michaels would not begin to solve his problems until later that year, helped by a religious awakening he had. It was at SummerSlam 2002 that Michaels finally came back and wrestled Hunter in a great match that spawned a second great career for The Heartbreak Kid. As for WrestleMania X-Seven, Hunter had to settle for a match with The Undertaker, in what was by far ‘Taker’s best ‘Mania match to that point in his career.
4 Marty Jannetty vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania VIII
Everybody remembers The Rockers’ infamous breakup on “The Barbershop” that aired in January of 1992. But as good as that segment was, the subsequent feud never really happened. And the reason for that is Marty Jannetty. Jannetty and Michaels had some real life problems near the end of their time teaming together. Jannetty told Vince McMahon that The Rockers were leaving the WWE because they felt they weren’t being paid well enough. When Vince asked Michaels about this, Michaels was (or acted) shocked. At one point there was even a physical fight between the two. All of this was smoothed over, but Vince decided to break them up anyway.
The plan was for the feud to culminate at WrestleMania VIII. However, this couldn’t happen because Jannetty was arrested on January 25, 1992, for resisting arrest with force and possession of drug paraphernalia. He was released from the WWE in March and HBK fought Tito Santana at WrestleMania.
3 Marty Jannetty vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania IX
Once, in an interview on the Live Audio Wrestling radio show, Marty Jannetty said this his various screw-ups in life were the last thing he things about every night and the first thing he thinks about every morning. That’s rough. But frankly, you can see why. Jannetty had a heck of a lot of talent, but he also had interpersonal and substance abuse issues that really hindered his career.
After his release in March of 1992, Jannetty returned unexpectedly that October. He challenged his former partner, now the Intercontinental Champion, for a title match at Royal Rumble 1993. Michaels won dirty and the two fought after the match, indicating the feud would continue. The match was OK, but was apparently not nearly as good as their house show matches were. The reason for this? Maybe the involvement of Sensational Sherri threw them off. Or maybe Jannetty was inebriated. Another story has it that the next day at Raw, Jannetty was found sleeping (passed out?) in the locker room and assumed to be high.
Whatever the reason, Jannetty was released again and HBK defended his title against Tatanka at WrestleMania IX.
Jannetty came back a third time that spring and actually defeated Michaels for the IC Title, but it was never as big as it could have been.
2 Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels - WrestleMania 13
After Bret Hart dropped the WWE Title to Shawn Michaels in the Iron Man Match at WrestleMania XII, the tacit agreement was that Shawn would do the favors for Bret the following year. However, shortly after regaining the WWE Title from Sycho Sid at Royal Rumble 1997, Michaels vacated it due to a knee injury. In a now infamous speech, Michaels said he had to “had to find his [lost] smile again”. Many doubt the seriousness of this knee injury, believing that Michaels exaggerated its severity to get out of jobbing to Bret. The two men legitimately disliked one another, and this would grow to a hatred throughout 1997.
With Michaels out, the WWE re-jigged the lineup and we got perhaps the best match in WrestleMania history (Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin in a submission match) and perhaps the worst main event in WrestleMania history (Sycho Sid vs. The Undertaker for the WWE Championship). You win some, you lose some.
1 Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair - WrestleMania VIII
This is the weirdest one of them all. When Ric Flair finally joined the WWE in 1991 (with the NWA/WCW Championship belt in tow) everybody knew the dream match was Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair. The two big stars of the 1980’s could finally wrestle. And they did...on the house shows. But, apparently, these shows didn’t draw very well, so Vince McMahon scrapped their planned ‘Mania match. If this explanation is unconvincing to you, you’re not alone. Especially since, when the two were together again in WCW in 1994, they had several PPV matches that all drew very well. Many believe some backstage politics affected the match, and with Hulk Hogan involved, that’s a good bet. But surely Vince would want Hogan to beat Flair anyway, so what was the problem?
Well, we don’t know. The whole thing is weird. Ric Flair, a classic heel, famously won the 1992 Royal Rumble (and the vacant WWE Title) in an inspiring, marathon, babyface performance. And eternal babyface Hulk Hogan cowardly helped eliminate new babyface Sid Justice (after Hogan himself was eliminated) to a chorus of boos that were dubbed over for the home video. So just how we got from there to WrestleMania VIII, where Flair dropped the title to Randy Savage and The Hulkster defeated a now heel Sid via disqualification in a crummy main event, remains a mystery.