WrestleMania has served as the most important night on the pro wrestling calendar dating back to its inception in March 1985. For 35 years, the "Showcase of the Immortals" has provided some of the most iconic moments in history. As WrestleMania 36 draws near, set to take place over two nights in the unique setting of an empty WWE Performance Center during the global coronavirus pandemic, fans are currently speculating which matches will serve as main events for the respective nights. Of course, they're also hoping WWE makes the right decisions.
Most years, the correct main event for WrestleMania is obvious. It's a simple mixture of star power, high stakes and intangibles that will ultimately provide the defining "WrestleMania moment." WWE has missed the mark some years, however, misplacing marquee matches and ending the show on a bad note.
Let's look back now at five times where WrestleMania would have been improved by reordering the card and closing the show on the highest of notes. .
Actual main event: Sgt. Slaughter (c) vs. Hulk Hogan for the WWF championship
Should have been main event: Randy Savage vs. The Ultimate Warrior (Retirement Match)
WrestleMania VII's main event of Hulk Hogan taking on WWF champion Sgt. Slaughter is one of the most tasteless angles in WrestleMania history. Slaughter was the Iraqi sympathizer, referencing his support from Saddam Hussein and burning the ultimate symbol of American pride: a Hulk Hogan t-shirt. While playing into an active real-world war was tasteless, Hogan's vows that Iraq would surrender the Gulf War when he defeated Slaughter were rendered even more absurd given the war officially ended nearly a month before Slaughter and Hogan would meet in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Hogan vs. Slaughter did play out well in terms of in-ring action, and may be one of Hogan's better actual bell-to-bell matches of his career, but there's no escaping from the ugliness of WWE playing up an active war for profit.
A counterpoint to the ugliness came earlier on the card with the redemption of Randy Savage. Savage had turned heel and cost The Ultimate Warrior the WWF championship against Slaughter, leading Warrior to challenge Savage to a retirement match at WrestleMania. Savage put on arguably the best performance of his career in carrying Warrior to a legitimately great match before one of the most iconic moments in WrestleMania history. Miss Elizabeth, absent from television for a while leading up to the event, saved Savage from an attack by manager Queen Sherri after his loss. As Savage rode off into his "retirement," he would do so with the woman who had stood by his side for so long. That's a WrestleMania moment.
Actual main event: Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice
Should have been main event: Ric Flair (c) vs. Randy Savage for the WWF championship
While Hogan going on last at WrestleMania VII made sense at least given the WWF championship was on the line, at WrestleMania VIII, that was not the case. Instead, Hogan would headline against Sid Justice in what was insinuated would be Hogan's "last match." Sid vs. Hogan was a train wreck in the ring -- with a notoriously botched finish -- and a sad replacement for what fans truly expected which was the long-awaited showdown between the two top stars of the 1980s in Hogan vs. Ric Flair.
WWF champ Flair, meanwhile, had been booked into a great program with Savage, using doctored photos to claim a past intimate relationship with Elizabeth. Savage -- one year removed from losing the aforementioned retirement match -- and Flair put on the expected level of classic with the WWF title on the line. Between the quality of the match and the championship stakes between two of the best of all time, Savage vs. Flair was a no-brainer to go on last. Instead, it went on fifth, all so the show could end with the return of The Ultimate Warrior who ran out to save Hogan from a post-match beatdown.
Actual main event: Sycho Sid (c) vs. The Undertaker for the WWF championship
Should have been main event: Bret Hart vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (Submission Match)
Hindsight admittedly plays a major role in this selection. The submission match between Hart and Austin was a perfectly-executed double turn, vaulting Austin's character to the next level in the process. In addition, it stands as one of the best matches in WrestleMania history. That said, it was not a title match and no one at the time could have predicted Austin's rise to an era-defining megastar.
But the actual main event between Sid and The Undertaker was an absolute dud of a big-show main event. It was also not the long-term plan until Shawn Michaels "lost his smile" and set off a chain of events culminating in the no disqualification match between Sid and Undertaker. WrestleMania 13 would likely be more fondly remembered had the event's defining match gone on last, washing away the bad taste of an overall poor card.
Actual main event: Chris Jericho (c) vs. Triple H for the WWF undisputed championship
Should have been main event: Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock
After twice saying Hogan should not have main-evented past WrestleManias, we reach the point where Hogan absolutely should have been placed on top of the card. The Rock taking on Hulk Hogan was ridiculous on paper and amazing in practice. The opening staredown between the two felt like a moment that caused the world to stop and was the personification of a "WrestleMania moment."
That is likely why Chris Jericho has gone on record saying he lobbied against his main-event match with Triple H going on last. As Jericho saw it, there was no way he and Triple H could follow what was the "true" main event, but WWE seems to pick and choose when the big title match must go on last. Unfortunately, 2002 was one of those years. Rather than the event's most iconic match closing the show, fans were given a Triple H celebration.
Actual main event: Ronda Rousey (c) vs. Charlotte Flair (c) vs. Becky Lynch (Winner Takes All; Raw and SmackDown women's championships)
Should have been main event: Daniel Bryan (c) vs. Kofi Kingston for the WWE championship
WrestleMania 35 is a complicated case. There was never a better moment to have women headline the biggest show of the year, with Becky Lynch, Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair all top players with passionate fanbases. So, the match being placed in the main event slot wasn't necessarily the incorrect move. It's just that the match didn't provide everything Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan did in terms of match quality and a definitive WrestleMania memory for years to come.
The women's title match was a bit of a mess, and the ending didn't feel very satisfying. When compared with Kofi Kingston's triumphant title win, the main event felt flat in unexpected ways. Kingston's rise to WWE champion was organic, driven by circumstances running together to allow him to bring his absolute best in the ring and drive fans to demand he receive a shot at Bryan's title. The two then knocked the match out of the park, and Kingston's victory was the emotional peak the show should have closed on.