Seven WrestleMania matches that failed to deliver — or didn't happen
With the recent news that Shawn Michaels turned down a potential Wrestlemania showdown against AJ Styles, it makes you wonder what other feature matches we almost got before fate ripped them away.
Well, fate and Vince McMahon.
Sometimes, injuries, money disputes or a combination of both have caused a drastic alteration in plans. Or sometimes Vince just changes his mind, as he's known to do. On the bright side, we've always got that AJ Styles vs. Shane McMahon match that everyone totally wanted this year.
Regardless, here are seven matches that had people buzzing before the "Showcase of the Immortals" … before eventually falling through.
1 WrestleMania 33: Shaquille O'Neal vs. Big Show
Let's start with the most recent and most blatantly teased big match in recent memory: Shaq vs. Big Show. This is one that has been percolating for years, with Shaq — after months of rumors — finally making a surprise appearance in Wrestlemania 32's Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal.
He was eliminated by Big Show, setting off a series of Twitter attacks between the two and apparently leading up to their showdown at WrestleMania 33. Big Show went on Instagram to show how he was in the best shape of his career, and even had abs to show off. Even Shaq seem motivated to get in shape for the first time since his retirement from basketball.
As the weeks after the Royal Rumble progressed, we were left waiting for the match to be announced before both Shaq and Show announced the match had fallen through.
So what happened?
As it turns out, WWE just couldn't offer Shaq enough money to do the match. Perhaps if that had bankrolled Kazaam 2 through WWE Films to sweeten the pot, it might have happened?
2 WrestleMania 25: Chris Jericho vs. Mickey Rourke
In 2008, Mickey Rourke was mostly known as a washed-up actor who was pursuing a career in boxing. A series of knockouts and bad corrective surgeries had left his face a mess, and his personal life was in shambles. But then he made an unlikely comeback right out of sports, starring in "The Wrestler", Darren Aronofsky's epic look at an aging grappler looking for one last shot at fame.
It was great, and lauded by critics, but Vince McMahon hated the movie. That is, until it was nominated for Oscars, at which point he suddenly wanted Rourke to be involved with WrestleMania 25. Apparently speaking for Vince was Chris Jericho, playing his usual role of troll with the usual "You're just an actor, you don't know what we go through," rhetoric. A showdown seemed imminent ... but never happened.
So what happened?
As is usually the case with celebs, Rourke's management was unable to come to an agreement in time for the show. In the end, Jericho took on three WWE legends instead (Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat), and Rourke made a semi-surprising appearance in the audience, coming into the ring to knock out Jericho for the big climax of the match. It was something — but was supposed to be much more.
3 WrestleMania 7: Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior 2
Back in 1990, Ultimate Warrior made history by beating Hulk Hogan in the main event of WrestleMania in Toronto to win the WWF World title in "The Ultimate Showdown." It made tons of money, standing as the highest-grossing live show for the WWF until modern times, making more than $3 million total from live attendance at the Skydome alone.
With that kind of money, it only made sense to do a rematch. Immediately after the show, the WWF began advertising WrestleMania 7, live from the Los Angeles Coliseum before 100,000 fans. Hogan and Warrior spent most of the year apart from each other, and according to the Wrestling Observer Newsletters from the time, the intention was always to fill the Coliseum with a rematch where Hogan would regain the title.
So what happened?
Lots of things. The Gulf War, primarily, though Sgt. Slaughter came back to the WWF in mid-1990 after leaving the AWA high and dry. He was set up to be a mid-level heel against Jim Duggan, playing the role of an bitter former patriot. When Iraq invaded Kuwait, however, Vince McMahon saw money and turned Slaughter into a full-blown American traitor who literally waved the flag of the enemy. Then, Iraq lost that "war" against the U.S., suddenly making Slaughter a joke.
Warrior, meanwhile, was a complete disaster as champion. Crowds dwindled immediately after he won the title, with the hype of the rematch never rivaling the first bout. Warrior dropped the belt to Slaughter, whom Hogan crushed at WrestleMania in Vince's last gasp at making money off the war. Warrior was never the same and left the WWF in August of that year.
4 WrestleMania 27: Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker/Vince McMahon vs. Dana White
Sure, we got this one eventually, but it could have been a MUCH bigger deal. Back when Brock Lesnar was UFC Heavyweight champion, Vince McMahon started pitching an idea to UFC owner Dana White for Brock to return to wrestling.
The match: Facing the Undertaker at WrestleMania 27, which would begin a feud culminating with a showdown between the owners themselves. The sporting world was abuzz when Undertaker actually showed up at a UFC event that featured Brock in the main event. "The Dead Man" was talking smack and looking for a fight. Then it went nowhere and Undertaker faced Triple H that year instead.
So what happened?
Although McMahon was big on the idea of having a WWE champion vs. UFC champion match, Brock lost his title, suddenly becoming damaged goods. White, for his part, had no interest in getting involved with "fake wrestling," and wouldn't allow Brock to do so as long as he was under contract to UFC, fearing he could be injured.
Basically, UFC had all the bargaining power. McMahon needed the UFC much more than they needed him, a rare mistake in judgement by the WWE owner. He had talked openly about persuading UFC into allowing the match, and just wasn't able to do so. In the end, Brock did return to wrestling, like everyone knew he would, and got the last laugh by becoming the guy to end the Undertaker's streak at Wrestlemania.
5 WrestleMania 21: Randy Orton vs. Triple H
If you think McMahon trying to push a babyface whom fans don't like is a recent development, look back to 2004. Randy Orton was a hot heel, dominating the midcards as intercontinental champion before winning the World title from Chris Benoit at SummerSlam 2005 to cement his place as youngest World champion in WWE history.
The next night on "Raw", fans finally got the chance to cheer the guy they'd been secretly cheering for months, as his Evolution teammates turned on him and left him for dead. A couple of months later, Triple H regained the World title in tainted fashion, and the path to Wrestlemania was clear: Orton would regroup, win the Royal Rumble, and make his triumphant return to the world title at WrestleMania.
So what happened?
Turns out that just telling people to like someone won't make them a star. Despite using every cheap-trick, babyface shortcut in the book — from popping out of birthday cakes to surprise attacks out of the audience — people just wouldn't accept Orton as a top star, and he faded quickly back into the midcard once Triple H won the title from him in October.
But you know who the fans DID want as a top babyface? Batista, who seemingly did everything right that Orton did wrong in that role. It quickly elevated him to Royal Rumble winner in Orton's place, culminating in the world title triumph at WrestleMania 21, which was supposed to belong to Orton. Randy turned heel, like he was supposed to be, and had a good showing in a loss to Undertaker instead. But it took him a few years to get back to that upper level once again.
6 WrestleMania 13: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels 2
1997 was a rough year for Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels' friendship, to say the least. They had previously met in the main event of WrestleMania 12 in an Iron Man match, resulting in Shawn achieving his boyhood dream with a superkick in overtime. Bret decided to take some time off, returning in the fall of 1996 after negotiations with WCW in exchange for a 20-year contract with the WWF and unprecedented creative control over his career.
Meanwhile, Shawn gained more and more power with Bret gone, trying to move the business in a different direction. Bret began feuding with Steve Austin while Shawn lost his title to Sid, teasing a new, heelish attitude. The Bret/Shawn rivalry fired up again. They began cutting promos on each other, reportedly still friends in real life but "working themselves into a shoot" as Bret put it later.
Suddenly, the hottest storyline in the promotion was one that Vince McMahon hadn't touched, and fans clamored to see the two face off in a second straight WrestleMania. Bret even had a special prosthesis made for Shawn to use in their WrestleMania 13 match, where he would apply an ankle lock and seemingly break Shawn's ankle to give "HBK" an out for losing.
So what happened?
Tragically, Shawn Michaels "lost his smile" in February upon learning he would lose to the "Hitman." He was seemingly on the verge of retirement, until miraculously coming back at 100 percent in May. Bret instead got to face Steve Austin, helping to create one of the biggest stars in wrestling history as a result. Bret and Shawn had their match later that year.
7 WrestleMania 8: Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair
What else could have been the No. 1 pick? This was the match that wrestling fans had spent a decade debating and drooling over, creating the biggest "dream match" in wrestling history. Ric Flair was the NWA (and later WCW) World champion, and figurehead of the biggest professional rival to Vince McMahon's WWF. Flair was the old-school "real wrestler," and Hogan was the flashy musclehead of the rock n' wrestling era.
But in July of 1991, WCW President Jim Herd made the biggest mistake of his career, firing Flair from WCW over a contract dispute and sending him running to the WWF. Vince was desperate for a top-level heel to face the declining Hogan, and Flair immediately stepped in to fill the role. The two had a series of matches across the country for Hogan's WWF title, culminating with Flair winning the title at Royal Rumble with a historic hour-long performance in January of '92.
Wrestlemania's main event was immediately announced as Flair defending against Hogan. The dream match was set.
So what happened?
First and foremost, Sid Justice happened. Sid escaped from WCW at the same time as Flair, and Vince wanted him to be his top star — even more than Flair. The plan had been for Sid to become the big babyface star to replace Hogan, but Sid wanted to be the bad guy instead.
Second, the Hogan-Flair program was out of steam by the time January rolled around, with crowds starting strong in October but fading to average levels after months of rematches and diminishing returns in the ring.
Third, and most importantly, Hogan suddenly decided he wanted to retire and become a Hollywood movie star right after his steroid scandals broke. If Hulk was to leave after WrestleMania, it wouldn't make sense for Flair to eat the big boot and legdrop as was originally thought to happen. But Hogan wasn't going to leave on his back either.
In the end, the match didn't make sense at any level. Despite announcing it on TV, the WWF really had no intentions of delivering it — we got the Flair vs. Savage and Hogan vs. Sid double main event instead. In 1994, WCW had both Hogan and Flair, putting them on PPV twice that year, giving the WWF a humiliating defeat in the process and finally delivering the dream match everyone had waited for.