As we already covered in another list, there have been some pretty pathetic WrestleMania main events over the years. And even in years where that wasn’t the case, there have occasionally been matches that would have been better served to be the final match of the evening. Some had better stories, some were better matches, and yes, some of them have the benefit of hindsight, but all of them were superior in some way to the main event that we were actually given. With that in mind, here are our choices for matches that actually took place at WrestleMania which should have been the main event of the show that particular year.
10. WWF vs NFL Battle Royal – WrestleMania 2
Honestly, WrestleMania 2 is pretty terrible no matter what ends up being the main event, but given that Hulk Hogan vs King Kong Bundy was a terrible match that didn’t feel like a main event in any respect, we had to find something better to replace it. And since the battle royal involving NFL players is basically the only thing anyone remembers from this Pay Per View, it wins almost by default. But it is an entertaining match in its own right, including fun interactions between William “Refrigerator” Perry and Big John Studd, and was responsible for Perry’s induction into the Celebrity Wing of the WWE Hall of Fame, so it has history on its side if nothing else. Plus, Andre got to win, in one of his last major wins in his career before turning heel to face Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania III, and it was just before he went off to film The Princess Bride, which is an incredible movie that you have to see if you haven’t already.
9. Hulk Hogan vs Vince McMahon – WrestleMania XIX
Well, WWE basically treated it like it was the main event leading up to the show and in all the post-Mania advertising for the DVD release, even though Brock Lesnar vs Kurt Angle was the actual (and very good) final match. It’s hard to blame them for shifting the focus away from it, though, due to the fact that there was incredibly uncertainty that Kurt Angle’s neck injury would even allow him to wrestle on the Pay Per View, to the point that they nearly put the belt on Brock several times before the show. Plus, the real main event contained the first appearance of a Lesnar Shooting Star Press, and he blew it so badly (probably due to nerves) that it is also the last appearance of that particular move being performed by Brock (even though he did it regularly during his time in developmental). Meanwhile, Hogan vs Vince was an enjoyable brawl with enough story behind it that if WWE was going to pretend it was the main event anyway, they probably should have just put it on last. Honorary mention goes to Austin vs Rock, in what would be Austin’s last match ever, even though we didn’t find out until afterwards.
8. John Cena vs JBL – WrestleMania 21
Arguably, the main event of Triple H vs Batista was a much better match, and in fact, Cena and JBL would have a much better “I Quit” match the next month. However, this was a match that, for better or worse, a turning point in WWE history, as it was the first WWE Title win for John Cena, and his official ascension to the main event, a position he would hold literally forever. For such a watershed moment, it barely got any time to focus on what was a huge moment in Cena’s career. Instead, it was Batista who stood tall at the end of WrestleMania, as fireworks rained down around him. We’re not trying to begrudge Batista his moment, and he had a successful career in his own right, but the fact that John Cena’s first WWE Title win took place in the semi-main seems almost ridiculous, given what he would mean to WWE from that point on.
7. Ultimate Warrior vs Randy Savage – WrestleMania VII
Much has already been said about the colossal mistake that was Hulk Hogan vs Sergeant Slaughter, and you may recall, it mostly came about because Ultimate Warrior was failing so badly as WWF Champion. In fact, his career nearly ended at WrestleMania VII, as he faced “Macho King” Randy Savage, the man who cost him the title, in a Retirement Match. Additional intrigue was created during the match as Miss Elizabeth, the Macho King’s former manager and wife, was in the audience to see the match firsthand. In fact, the entire end of the match played out as one of the greatest dramatic events in pro wrestling history, as Savage ultimately lost the match, then was saved from the wrath of his manager, Sensational Sherri, by Elizabeth, leading to a tearful reunion in the middle of the ring. It’s a celebratory moment that deserved to close the Pay Per View, even if there was no chance that was ever going to be the case.
6. Bobby Lashley vs Umaga – WrestleMania 23
It seems an odd choice, but the John Cena-Shawn Michaels WWE Title match was literally tossed together after Triple H suffered another quad injury before he could get his rematch from WrestleMania 22 and the World title match was good, but was seen going in as more a way to get the title off the directionless Batista. This is the match that gets the credit for WrestleMania 23 drawing the largest buyrate in WWE history up to that point, due to the involvement of Vince McMahon and Donald Trump as seconds for the competitors, in addition to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin acting as referee and a stipulation that stated either Trump or McMahon would have their head shaved if their side lost. Similarly to Lawrence Taylor vs Bam Bam Bigelow, which was the main event of WrestleMania XI, WWE should probably have fully embraced the celebrity factor of this match and made it the final one of the evening, especially with the catharsis of seeing evil billionaire Vince McMahon shaved bald in the center of the ring.
5. Randy Savage vs Ric Flair – WrestleMania VIII
This was the culmination of the Savage-Elizabeth reunion which we discussed earlier, as WWF Champion Ric Flair intimated that he had been with Elizabeth before the Macho Man, leading to a point of contention between the two. Ultimately, however, love prevailed, and Savage defeated Flair, defended Elizabeth’s honor, and won the WWF Championship. However, this was the first time that the WWF Title match was not involved in the final match of WrestleMania, due to Hulk Hogan vs Sid going on last, and WWE for some reason continuing to believe that Hogan needed to be the main event. It was advertised as a “Double Main Event”, but in an era before brand extensions and multiple World titles, it seems wrong to not have the WWF Title going on last. In addition, Hogan vs Sid was a terrible match with nothing truly on the line, plus it had a screwy ending, while Savage vs Flair had a good match, a clean finish, and a heartwarming celebration.
4. Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker – WrestleMania 25
In what can only be seen as some sort of weird voodoo curse run amuck, this would be the second time that Triple H attempted to have his big WrestleMania moment as the conquering hero to close the show, only to have it usurped by a much better and more fan-desired match that took place earlier (and we’ll get to the other one in a second). Granted, there was nothing on the line but The Streak in this one, but at this point, The Streak was the main event of WrestleMania to many. And at the 25th WrestleMania, which was held in both men’s home state of Texas, this was probably the match that was going to get the biggest reaction of the show regardless of whatever else took place. The fact that Triple H vs Randy Orton ended up being a spectacularly boring main event is just an additional reason why this should have gone on last. Fortunately, WWE would realize this fact in time for the rematch at WrestleMania XXVI, when it did main event the show.
3. Shawn Michaels vs Ric Flair – WrestleMania XXIV
No offense to Edge and Undertaker, who put on one hell of a main event match, but this was the match a lot of people paid to see. It was all but certain that Ric Flair would be retiring from in-ring competition forever (we’re going to pretend his later run in TNA never happened, mostly because we’ve wiped it from our memory) after this match, which was the climax of a storyline set in place where Flair would be forced to retire if he lost another match. Somehow, that grim duty ended up in the lap of Shawn Michaels, with Flair exhorting him not to hold back, because if Flair couldn’t be HBK straight up, that would be easier to accept than only winning because the entire world felt sorry for him. And in his last WWE match ever, Flair went out in exactly the right way. He bled, he sweated, and he paid the price, and in the end, Shawn put him away with an apology and Sweet Chin Music, in that order. It was an emotional conclusion to an epic career, and it was ridiculous to expect any match, no matter how good, to follow it.
2. Bret Hart vs Steve Austin – WrestleMania 13
Frankly, you would think that almost anything would be better than the main event we got, which was Sid vs The Undertaker in a match that was literally thrown together at the last second when Shawn Michaels “lost his smile” and forfeited the WWE Championship. But in fact, WrestleMania 13 was a pretty terrible Pay Per View overall, from a match quality standpoint, so looking at the card on paper, the argument does exist that Undertaker-Sid was the least worst option. Unfortunately, that argument runs right into one of the best and more influential matches of the modern era, a match which not only may have saved the show at the time, but can take partial credit for saving WWE in general in its battle for survival with WCW. Steve Austin’s rise was underway, but it took this match with Bret Hart (which many forget had a stipulation where you could only win by submission) for Austin to officially turn face, and set off on his rocket push towards becoming the biggest draw in the history of professional wrestling. At the same time, it was also the moment when Bret Hart turned heel on the United States (while remaining beloved with the rest of the planet) and set off on a huge run (which would be he last in WWE, though he didn’t know it at the time) as a foil to both Austin and D-Generation X, who would go on to define the Attitude Era.
1. Hulk Hogan vs The Rock – WrestleMania X-8
It was almost supremely arrogant of someone in WWE to think that Triple H vs Chris Jericho, even for the Undisputed Championship as part of Triple H’s storied return from his career-threatening quad injury, could somehow follow this match. It was literally a battle of two of the most iconic figures in sports entertainment history. When dream matches are discussed, Hogan vs Rock, with their superhuman charisma and similar Hollywood career paths (well, at the time, The Rock would go on to outstrip Hogan in every respect on that front), was always near the top of any wrestling fan’s list. Throw in a hot Toronto crowd that was just itching to cheer Hogan in his big return to WWE after years in exile in WCW (Canada in general didn’t actually get Nitro until fairly late in the Monday Night Wars, making it a WWE stronghold of sorts at the time), and both men knowing exactly how to work an audience to get the best reactions, and to this day there are people who think this was actually the main event of WrestleMania X-8. In fact, it was third from the top (a Women’s Title match featuring Canadian Trish Stratus was also sent out to die between this and the main event), but for all intents and purposes, the Pay Per View really ended with this match.