We’re on the Road to WrestleMania (™)... technically. As with everything else in the world, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing has become the thing to do. For a show that involves performers grappling each other in front of thousands of fans, our favorite sports-like entertainment has become a bit problematic. This year’s show, streaming as always on the WWE Network, has been moved out of Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium (now filming out of WWE’s Performance Center), chopped into two nights (Saturday, April 4 and Sunday, April 5), and will be pre-taped while they can still squeak past whatever stay-at-home laws Florida needs to put in place in these crazy times.
However, these aren’t the first changes that have ever happened to WrestleMania! While yes, there are changes made every year, we’ll check in on a few instances where WWE clearly had their eyes on certain match-ups and plot points, but for various reasons had to go another way. Some turned out better than they would have been while others paled in comparison to the original plan. And no, we won’t be covering the other time they also literally moved locations of WrestleMania - that was WWF WrestleMania 7 in 1991 (originally scheduled for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum but moved to the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena because of, maybe, issues with Sgt. Slaughter turning heel during the Gulf War, but more likely due to ticket sales).
WWF WrestleMania 8 (1992)
Planned: WWF World Championship Match: Hulk Hogan vs Ric Flair ©
Booked: WWF World Championship Match: Randy Savage vs Ric Flair © ; Hulk Hogan vs Sid Justice
The Background: This is probably one of the most obvious matches to have not happened at the time. Sure, WCW booked it immediately once Hogan joined WCW in 1994, but the WWF could have done it 2 years earlier. After being known as the two aces of their respective companies for most of the 1980’s, Flair was fired from WCW in the summer of 1991 after disputes with the booking (famously WCW Vice President Jim Herd wanted Flair to shave his head and be renamed Sparticus). Flair was still NWA Champion at the time and when he asked for his title deposit back (it was standard procedure for the champion to put a down payment on the title that would be returned when they dropped the belt to the next person to ensure cooperation), Herd refused. Cut to September 1991 when Ric Flair debuted, alongside Bobby Heenan, on WWF Prime Time Wrestling with the Big Gold Belt. Flair verbally attacked Hogan (and Roddy Piper) and was dubbed “the real world’s champion.” With Hogan as the WWF Champion at the time, the table was set. At WWF Survivor Series, The Undertaker shocked the world and defeated Hulk Hogan, though Hogan won the belt back a week later at WWF This Tuesday in Texas. Due to controversy, Hogan was stripped of the title and it was put up in the 1992 WWF Royal Rumble - won by entrant #3 Ric Flair (by this time they had dropped using the NWA World Title as a showpiece). However there are a few reasons the big match never happened; one possibility is that after a house show run of the two, it was decided they didn’t gel well enough together for a WrestleMania match (one such match can be seen from Madison Square Garden); another is that Hogan was leaving after WrestleMania and didn’t want to lose to Flair (and this is to say nothing of the idea of a heel winning the main event of WrestleMania - the horror!). Whatever it was, the two were split and instead we got Hulk Hogan vs Sid Justice and Randy Savage vs Ric Flair for the WWF World Championship.
Fanboy Fantasy: There isn’t a whole lot of fantasy needed for what the match could have been: WCW gave us the match in July 1994 with WCW Bash at the Beach main evented by the exact match: Ric Flair defending his World Championship against the immortal Hulk Hogan. While I doubt we would have gotten a Mr. T cameo, Hogan would and should have gone over just as he did in WCW’s version. It would have given Flair only a 2-month reign, but the two would be set for at least one if not multiple rematches, presumably one with Flair regaining the title (just as Flair eventually did having been defeated by Randy Savage at WrestleMania).
Fanboy Review: The Flair/Savage World Championship match is easily the better of the two matches. It starts hot with Macho Man taking it outside but Mr. Perfect, Flair’s second, is able to make the save. The match moves to the outside again soon afterwards selling the idea that for Savage this is a fight over Miss Elizabeth’s honor. This begs the question - did it need to be for the title? All the drama is based on Savage beating Flair to a pulp for his wife, not for the belt - Savage even skips a pin opportunity so he can punch Flair more. Elizabeth makes her way out to the ring and she wills Savage to reverse a Figure Four. After a back and fourth Savage gets a quick roll up for the pin and the title. Flair and Perfect are shocked, but Flair’s next move is to force a kiss on Elizabeth only for her to attack and slap the shit out of him next. Great, hard match but honestly didn’t need the belt. Hogan and Sid is a different beast entirely. It’s slow, starting off with a long feats of strength that Sid amazingly wins as he gets Hogan into the corner. Sid also gets a chokeslam on Hogan which delighted Bobby Heenan on commentary, easily the best part of the match. Later on Papa Shango shows up (possibly late?) to attack Hogan along with Sid only for the save to be made by the Ultimate Warrior. Hogan wins by disqualification as the two pose and stare down the bad guys. The to-be-continued feel of it also makes it feel that the position of these two matches should have been reversed - at least Savage/Flair had a proper feel good ending.
Obligatory Rating: They should have booked Hogan/Flair. Savage/Flair was great and should have been the main event compared to Hogan/Sid, but come on - Hulk Hogan vs Ric Flair for the WWF World Championship? No contest, they made the wrong choice.
WWF WrestleMania X8 (2002)
Planned: Hulk Hogan vs Steve Austin
Booked: Hulk Hogan vs The Rock ; Scott Hall vs Steve Austin
The Background: Another once-in-a-lifetime match suddenly became available 10 years later when the nWo, consisting of originals Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall, was brought into the WWF for the first time as a unit - a WWF that still had the attitude era’s biggest breakout stars: Steve Austin and The Rock. In the storyline at the time, Vince McMahon had become disillusioned with his own company after having to share ownership with Ric Flair. Due to poorly set-up Human Resources department, McMahon decided to “pump poison” right into the WWF and destroy his creation by re-hiring those who “destroyed WCW” (depending on your view) and brought back the nWo (they debuted at Milwaukee-hosted WWF No Way Out in February 2002; I attended as a Quixotronic cub reporter at the time). This set them against all the stars of WWF right away, but of course they knew who they wanted right away: Austin and Rock. Now Dwayne Johnson may be the biggest movie star in the world now, but both in 2002 and now, Steve Austin is the biggest wrestling star next to Hogan. Hogan brought us Rock n’ Wrestling, Austin brought us the Attitude Era. So why didn’t we get Austin/Hogan? As he has said multiple times in multiple sources (including his own podcast), it was Austin’s call to not do it. He simply didn’t think it would be any good, plus he was disgruntled with the company’s direction as it headed into the Ruthless Aggression era, even leaving the company for several months. This pivoted us towards the other icon vs icon match available: Hogan vs Rock while Austin was instead paired with other nWo members Hall and Nash.
Fanboy Fantasy: If we pair up Hogan and Austin, then let’s first swap Rock into the Scott Hall match. However, I wouldn’t have Nash on the sidelines - I’d bring in Mick Foley and reform the Rock & Sock Connection to take on the Outsiders. Rock and Mankind reformed two years later at WWE WrestleMania XX to face Evolution, so it could have happened. Plus, this gives us another bonus: there’s no reason Foley can’t take the pin and give the nWo a win to balance out Austin obviously defeating Hogan in what also should have been the main event. Would they have wrestled a technical masterpiece? No, but who cares? Was Hogan/Andre? Or even the heavily rehearsed Hogan/Ultimate Warrior? Again, no. That’s not what Hogan, and to a point Austin and Rock both, bring to the table: pure fan-connecting sports entertainment. Hogan and Austin would brawl in and out of the ring. Hall and Nash could get involved only to be stopped by Rock and Mankind, all while to set up the inevitable: gut kick, Stone Cold Stunner, and all the Steve-weisers in the world.
Fanboy Review: Scott Hall and Steve Austin was a fun brawl. Hall made his way to the ring with his (surprise?) second in Kevin Nash; somehow the commentary team was shocked by this. The match went on with telling the story of Austin fighting “the damn numbers game” as Nash interfered. The first Stunner and pin attempt? Nash pulls the ref out of the ring. Austin then hits the second Stunner in Hall and one on Nash, but now there’s no ref. Later on, Hall is able to hit Austin with a Stunner of his own for a two count. After Stunners three and four on Hall, Austin finally gets the win and all the Steve-weisers. Hollywood Hogan and The Rock? They were iconic. Seriously, if the empty arena matches we’ve been dealt lately haven’t already proven it to you, then believe: crowds can make and break a match, and the crowd made this match. Not only can you hear them react to everything but you can see them the whole time. What started as the current top good guy (Rock) against the aging bad guy (Hogan) was transformed into cocky modern legend (Rock) against beloved returning legend (Hogan). They are able to switch roles and play with the crowd because they are masters at owning the crowd. They sell each other’s offense like they are Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and everything’s an animated wonderland and we are all better people for it. Hogan hits Rock with a Rock Bottom. Rock counters with a Rock Bottom of his own but no! Hogan Hulks up, hits the Leg Drop of Doom, but no! Rock angrily hits two more Rock Bottoms, the People’s Elbow, and we get the three count! Being defeated, Hogan extends his hand which Rock accepts. It’s fucking beautiful.
Obligatory Rating*: They nailed it. Hogan/Rock absolutely was the right choice. While I would have preferred Hall to be in tag team action with Nash (perhaps against Kane & Undertaker, and then you could throw Austin together with Flair?), Hall and Austin together had a natural story - the love and destructive nature of beer. Hogan and Austin would have had a similar story to Hogan and Rock, but would the crowd have embraced Hogan over Austin as they did with the Rock? Maybe not. Also Rock’s cartoonish selling helped rebuild Hogan where Austin physically couldn’t bump in the same way at the time. Hogan/Austin could have been amazing, just not at that moment. Hogan/Rock? *Chef’s kiss*
WWE WrestleMania 22 (2006)
Planned: World Heavyweight Championship Match: Randy Orton vs Batista © ; Eddie Guerrero vs Shawn Michaels
Booked: World Heavyweight Championship Match: Randy Orton vs Rey Mysterio vs Kurt Angle © ; Shawn Michaels vs Vince McMahon
The Background: The year before, WWE WrestleMania 21 gave two of the top Ruthless Aggression era performers their first world titles: John Cena defeated John Bradshaw Layfield for Smackdown’s WWE Championship and Batista defeated former Evolution-teammate Triple H for Raw’s World Heavyweight Championship. The Evolution implosion had started earlier in 2004 when Randy Orton had defeated Chris Benoit for the World Heavyweight Title at WWE SummerSlam only to be shunted out of Evolution and defeated by Triple H the next month at WWE Unforgiven. After winning their respective titles, Batista and Cena eventually swapped brands, taking their titles with them, and Batista became the star of Smackdown along with Orton who had also been drafted to Smackdown in 2005’s draft lottery. The history was there, but Batista tore his right triceps early in 2006, pulling him from the obvious match. Kurt Angle was quickly brought in from Raw and won the vacant title in a battle royal on the January 13th Smackdown. Elsewhere, there were early discussions of pairing Eddie Guerrero with Shawn Michaels as they had never worked a program. Unfortunately Guerrero died in November 2005, possibly shortly after these plans were made. This led Rey Mysterio, a constant ally/enemy of Guerrero’s, down the path of winning the WWE Royal Rumble in Eddie’s memory and being plugged into the World Heavyweight title match with now-Champion Kurt Angle and original challenger Randy Orton who had defeated Mysterio for the opportunity at WWE No Way Out. All this course correction left Shawn Michaels without a match until being plugged into a feud with Mr. McMahon himself over McMahon’s ego (as if there’s any other reason to feud with McMahon).
Fanboy Fantasy: Orton would have come into his World Heavyweight Championship match hot of feuding with The Undertaker. Batista would have come into the defense as having held the title for a year. Since John Cena went on to defend and retain his also-held-for-a-year title against Triple H, logic dictates that the Legend Killer was going to win the title, and I’m good with that. He was long past his first title reign where he oddly was booked as a sympathetic underdog who was turned on by his friends. Orton is not sympathetic, he is not an underdog, and he has no friends. Orton should have taken the title and easily set up more months feuding with Batista, Guerrero, and others. With Guerrero and Michaels, this is a classic case where the fans win - these two would have been amazing together. If the idea was to show how parallel their careers had been, let them play the hits. During the Royal Rumble, you have them be in the final four before Randy Orton presumably wins by eliminating each other. This would give them a reason to swap shows (at the time Michaels was on Raw and Guerrero was on Smackdown) and interact. Have Michaels give an interview backstage only to be superkicked by Guerrero. Have Michaels blatantly cheat to win in early match-ups with Guerrero. Force them into a tag team match to see if they “can co-exist”. Spoilers: they’d have to face the team of Rey Mysterio and Marty Jannetty, and they can not co-exist. I’d give the win to Michaels as Mr. WrestleMania, but Guerrero would make him earn it.
Fanboy Review: Michaels and McMahon was amazingly as one-sided as it should have been: Michaels kicked the crap out of McMahon. He took a giant framed poster of Vince on “Muscle and Fitness” and smashed him in the face with it. He beat him on the outside. There were brief interludes from the Spirit Squad and Shane McMahon to even the score, but Michaels quickly took the advantage back each time. Michaels brought out a ladder, then a bigger ladder, then a garbage can and just beat the hell out of McMahon. It finally ended as it should with Sweet Chin Music and the pin. For being about the Temptation of Shawn Michaels by the devil Vince McMahon, it worked very well - Michaels had McMahon beat midway through the match but continued to inflict damage. Later on, for the World Heavyweight Championship match, Rey Mysterio was easily the crowd’s prefered contender. They were firmly behind him the whole way. It was a pretty even match between Mysterio, Orton, and Angle. At one point Angle got Orton to tap out to the Ankle Lock but Mysterio blocked the referee from seeing. Mysterio would go on to pin Orton right before Angle could get the save to win the title in honor of Eddie Guerrero.
Obligatory Rating: It’s hard to say they made the right choice when the reasons for change include injury and death. Honestly, not having seen either match before, they were both far more enjoyable than I expected. If anything, and this is not knowing the logistics of where everyone was positioned in early 2006, but I would have moved Orton over to the WWE Championship match with John Cena defending against Triple H to have the Evolution storyline in play and have Rey Mysterio and Kurt Angle be a singles affair. However, for the hand they were dealt, they were able to make chicken salad out of chicken shit.
Planned: Chris Jericho vs Mickey Rourke
Booked: Chris Jericho vs Jimmy Snuka, Ricky Steamboat, & Roddy Piper
The Background: In 2008, Mickey Rourke “returned” to acting in Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler, playing the titular wrestler as he faced aging in a profession that will forget you just as fast as it loves you. The film, and specifically Rourke’s performance, won multiple awards in early 2009 on its way to that year’s Academy Awards where Rourke missed out on Best Actor to Sean Penn in Milk. The film also, and more importantly for us, received positive reviews from the wrestling industry for its dark portrayal of their sport. With dollar signs in his eyes, Vince McMahon made a deal with Rourke to appear at 2009’s show, and Rourke made his intentions known during the Screen Actors Guild Awards by verbally attacking Chris Jericho. The two appeared on Larry King Live (It’s out there on YouTube if you want to view clips) though by this point Rouke was apparently having mixed feelings on his deal. Shortly after it was announced Rourke was pulling out and would not compete in a match, merely attending as a fan. Since he was just set up as being against aging wrestlers, Jericho was turned to face legends such as Ric Flair and Roddy Piper. On the March 2 Raw, Jericho hosted a special edition of “Piper’s Pit,” confronting Piper along with Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat. And just like that, we have a handicap match between the three legends and Le Champion. Fun fact: Mickey Rourke attended WrestleMania flanked by UFC’s Josh Barnett and Frank Shamrock just in case Jericho turned on him during his agreed upon attack on Jericho during the match. Despite acting in a movie about sports performers, he forgot that Jericho was just doing that: performing.
Fanboy Fantasy: If we had stuck with Jericho vs Rourke, I would actually bleed in the legends storyline to cover the obvious holes presented with Rourke not being an actual wrestler. As Jericho disrespects Rourke on WWE television, you can have Flair or Steamboat or especially Ernest “The Cat” Miller (who appeared in the film as Rourke’s in-ring nemesis The Ayatollah) appear to defend Rourke for helping tell their story. Depending on contracts, and this would be less likely, but you could also have some of the independent wrestlers who appeared in the film, such as ROH’s Jay Lethal, AEW’s Chuck Taylor, or even Claudio Castagnoli (now WWE’s Cesaro) appear in one shots also trying to defend Rourke and explaining that it’s not just aging wrestlers, but all wrestlers who are out of the spotlight. I’d give the win to Jericho as I’m not a big fan of non-wrestlers being able to win matches, but it would end in a post-match attack by Ernest Miller to defend a defeated Rourke, and some sweet red-shoe dancing to James Brown.
Fanboy Review: This was a fairly quick match, and that’s what it should have been. The legends get a few knocks on Jericho but he pretty easily eliminiates them right after another. Snuka is the first to go, followed shortly after by Piper. This gives Jericho a few quality minutes with Steamboat (who looked amazing for having his last match 15 years earlier) before Jericho wins the match. Jericho gives Ric Flair (who accompanied the legends) a post-match beat down only to leave us with the presumed post-match confrontation between Jericho and Rourke. Rourke gets a solid punch that takes Jericho down.
Obligatory Rating: Yes, they made the right choice. While Jericho could have carried Mickey Rourke to something at least entertaining, it was more fun to watch him in the ring with Snuka, Piper, and especially Steamboat. The fact that we got a singles match between the two a month later is delightful, especially when you remember that Jericho is quoted in his first book A Lion’s Tale as saying Steamboat was the wrestler he aspired to be.
WWE WrestleMania 30 (2014)
Planned: WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Batista vs Randy Orton © ; CM Punk vs Triple H ; Daniel Bryan vs Sheamus
Booked: Daniel Bryan vs Triple H ; Batista vs Daniel Bryan vs Randy Orton
The Background: Before 2014’s WWE Royal Rumble started, it was assumed that Batista would win the Rumble to rave-reviews and much fan support after returning having won the hearts of the world as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy. He would go on to finally have that one-on-one match with Randy Orton at WrestleMania that they tried 8 years before Batista went out with injury. It was also assumed that in Daniel Bryan’s fight with the Authority, Mr. McMahon would force him out of any spotlight and have him face Sheamus, playing on the fact that Sheamus had defeated Bryan in 18 seconds two years prior at WWE WrestleMania 28. It was finally assumed that also against the Authority, CM Punk would get his hands on Authority leader Triple H and defeat him after being disrespected by Hunter throughout his WWE career. However, dear reader, things changed. The night after the Rumble, Punk walked out of the WWE, blocking any sort of match he would have had with Triple H. Moving on, fans grew tired of WWE’s treatment of Daniel Bryan whom they decided was their pick to win the Rumble - he was constantly feuding and being held down by the Authority so why wouldn’t he win and go on to defeat their appointed champion? The fans made it so WWE could not ignore them and there was no chance Bryan would have just another match with Sheamus. And finally, Batista (along with Rey Mysterio) both had the unfortunate luck of not being Daniel Bryan: fan booed forever-face Rey Mysterio when he appeared in the Rumble as #30 because that meant Bryan was not in the match. And then fans booed Batista for winning because he was not Bryan winning the match. Amazingly, WWE listened. The “Yes! Movement” worked. Daniel Bryan and the fans occupied the March 10 Raw and they made it happen. While Sheamus ended up in the Andre the Giant battle royal, Daniel Bryan was first plugged into a match with Triple H - the winner of the match would then go on to join a triple threat match with Batista and Randy Orton who were now all aligned with Triple H in an Evolution reunion. Bryan would go on to not only defeat Triple H but also Batista and Randy Orton both to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, ending that year’s show with all of the celebrations.
Fanboy Fantasy: First things first, Daniel Bryan would defeat Sheamus in 17 seconds in the opening match of the night. He would have to. Full stop. Also, CM Punk would defeat Triple H, another knock down for the Authority. Post-match, Bryan would return to join Punk in some submission action on Hunter until he gave into their demands: they each get inserted into the main event because it’s what’s best for business. Hunter, completely broken and defeated, makes the match. The main event starts off easily with Bryan/Punk vs Orton/Batista but, as they do, devolves into a free-for-all. In the end, with Batista on the outside and Orton down for the count, Bryan and Punk make eye contact, agree, and Bryan goes for the pin while Punk hits the outside to secure Batista. Bryan wins, we all celebrate, the Authority is completely defeated, and the champion was actually pinned. But, dear reader, the next night on Raw, Punk and the new champ have a discussion, and Punk points out that Bryan only won because of him, and he now wants what he’s owed.
Fanboy Review: There’s something wonderful about a storyline going through a WrestleMania. Daniel Bryan and Triple H start off in the opening match with ramifications going into the main event. Triple H pretty much beats Bryan down as much as he can, focusing on Bryan’s injured shoulder, but Bryan won’t give up. Hunter tries for a count out victory, Bryan gets back in at nine. Hunter goes for a superplex off the top rope, Bryan reverses it into a power bomb. Hunter hits the Pedigree, Bryan kicks out. No matter what Triple H does, Bryan won’t die. Bryan finally hits a running knee and pins Triple H, securing his entry into the main event only to be beat down post-match for his efforts. In the main event, Bryan gets a hot start but is quickly thrown to the outside while Orton and Batista try their best to have the one-on-one match they wanted and were promised. This goes on for a good amount of the match only for Bryan to reappear from out of the frame literally kicking his way onto screen. Bryan gets Orton in the Yes Lock but Hunter reappears pulling the ref. Bryan is able take out Hunter again and it is only at this point that Batista and Orton begin to work together to eliminate Bryan, pulling out a sweet Batista Bomb into an RKO combo through the announce table practically murdering Bryan. The medics take Bryan away only for him to seek another opinion by getting back into the match. He finally taps Batista to win the title!
Obligatory Rating: Guys. Remember what I was saying about Rock and Hogan? How a crowd can make or break a match? About how magical anything going on in the ring can work because the crowd surrounding it is fully invested in it? Guys. This is it. Plus, it had an added bonus: continuity! Could the original matches have worked? Probably, and I think at another time a Batista (w/ Ric Flair) vs Randy Orton (w/ Triple H) match would have worked great, but this was not the time, and WWE actually noticed that for once. Sure, part of this was likely due to their shock of Punk walking out on them, but WWE typically does some of their best work when plans fall through and they’re left backed against a wall. All the pieces fell into place to tell an amazing underdog story that still gives goosebumps 6 years later, and it fed perfectly into Bryan’s storyline last year with Kofi Kingston with the roles beautifully reversed. This is it guys.
That’s it for our first Fanboy (Flashback) look back. Thanks for coming back again and we’ll be back next week with a preview and predictions for whatever we’re calling WrestleMania this year. Hopefully they’ll surprise us all like they have before. Make sure to subscribe on Facebook and follow https://www.quixotronic.com/ for more questionable content. Stay safe out there, kids.