As the biggest wrestling event of the year, WrestleMania is supposed to see only the best of wrestling matches, angles, and moments. Despite this, logistically trying to book the annual mega card with fresh, exciting contests is always going to force a malleable card. With 37 WrestleManias in the rearview mirror as of writing, over the course of the event, you would assume there would have to have been a fair few scribbled out and scrunched up scripts on the floor of ‘Mania booking committees. That said, here is a canceled bout from every WrestleMania over the years.
WrestleMania I: Hogan & Mr. T vs Schultz & Piper
This match was not canceled but it did lose one of its key components.
When first arriving in the WWF in 1984, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper was put into a team with David Schultz. This alliance was set to be the team to face WWF World Heavyweight champion Hulk Hogan and Mr. T and the inaugural WrestleMania. Although you may presume “Dr. D”’s infamous assault on John Stossel was the factor taking Shultz out of the match, it was a fight with Mr. T.
On the Steve Austin Show, Hogan recalled:
“We hadn’t started promoting it, Vince was thinking it through, and David decided to shoot his own angle at the LA Forum where Mr T was sitting at ringside and David rolled out of the ring and bitchslapped the hell out of him. A shoot slap. Chief Strongbow sent the cops down and they shackled David behind his back and carried him out. After that, he was pretty much done. Vince was so pissed at him. But the original idea for WrestleMania was supposed to be Piper & “Dr D” because David came up with the idea for the match”.
Luckily, Orndorff was already an on-screen ally of Piper’s so could be thrust into the match instead with the storyline still running smoothly. Ironically, in the lead-up to WrestleMania, it was the real-life tensions between Mr. T and Piper that nearly derailed the whole event, not Schultz.
WrestleMania II: Ricky Steamboat vs Bret Hart
WrestleMania II is one of the most critically-panned editions of the event of all time. At the show, Bret Hart was the last eliminated – languishing in a shared battle royal with NFL stars whilst Steamboat was in a decent enough albeit forgettable match with Hercules Hernandez. Yet imagine if the planned match went ahead: Bret Hart vs Ricky Steamboat.
As to why plans changed is anyone’s guess. Perhaps it was the fact Bret was almost exclusively a tag guy or the need for a big match for Hercules. Hart in his DVD says he thought it was as the WWF presumed Hercules would be the bigger star so chose to put over Hercules (even if he lost) rather than a technical display from Bret – the latter of which “The Dragon” wanted too. (The fact Steamboat did not wrestle Don Muraco in itself is surprising considering “The Dragon” had been fighting “Magnificient” Muraco or manager Mr. Fuji for the large portion of 1985/’86.)
Although we got no ‘Mania match, we did get a showing at the Boston Garden a few weeks before the three-citied-venue WrestleMania; it was brilliant – one of the best matches of the year, and each of the respective participant’s careers.
WrestleMania III: Hulk Hogan vs Paul Orndorff
WrestleMania III was WWF’s first blockbuster event. Attended by a purported 93,173 fans, the titanic Hulk Hogan versus André The Giant bout was easily the biggest reason for the show’s drawing power.
Yet the road to the event for André was not a comfortable one. “The Eighth Wonder Of The World” was in constant pain, having to undergo back surgery for his compressed spine, an issue exacerbated by his gargantuan size. The questions as to whether he would even be able to make the match were being asked, even after months of build.
The contingency plan for the match was a long-time rival: Paul Orndorff. Had the Frenchman been unable to fight, “Mr. Wonderful” would step in as a replacement.
One of the biggest ‘What Ifs’ of WrestleMania, André managed to finally make the match, consuming 14 bottles of wine before the match. Precautions such as a fitted back brace in his singlet and being brought to the ring in a moving cable car – like most other competing stars – the bout went off as planned.
Fans would likely have hated the replacement although the wrestling acumen would have been improved by the appearance of Orndorff. Nonetheless, if André was absent, we would have never seen the David and Goliath match where Hogan became the first wrestler to ever slam André (except for Kamala, Stan Hansen, Harley Race…) and the first wrestler to ever beat André (except El Canek, The Sheik, Antonio Inoki…). I’m being facetious but for all the fallacies in the build-up, it is still one of the most important matches in the history of professional wrestling.
WrestleMania IV: Ted DiBiase vs Hulk Hogan
‘Mania IV was centered around a 14-man tournament for the vacant WWF Championship, won by Randy Savage.
Originally, the plans drawn up saw a uniquely different bracket. This includes the Roberts/Rude winner facing the Muraco/Bravo winner and the Bigelow/Gang winner wrestling the DiBiase/Duggan victor. Yet these would switch at the event.
The believed final would see “The Million Dollar Man” skipping his way to the final as an exhausted Hogan survives by the skin of his teeth. Plans were for DiBiase to beat “The Icon” in a screwy fashion to buy his way to the title. Ted corroborates this in a 2017 interview with 411Mania, stating: “Initially at WrestleMania 4…they would find a way for me to buy the title or to screw Hogan out of it but Pat Patterson said to me that let’s say I don’t win at WrestleMania 4 and that fans, in reality, are expecting that to happen”.
The rumored reason for the switch in plans was due to Honky Tonk Man’s refusal to drop the Intercontinental belt. Although planned, he did not allow it to be dropped to Randy Savage. As a consolation, “Macho Man” would win the WWF belt, meaning not all titleholders would be heel. This robbed DiBiase of his promised title run; Ted was gifted the Million Dollar title as an appeasement package.
WrestleMania V: Andre The Giant vs Big John Studd?
I found very little evidence of canned matches from the fifth WrestleMania event.
Just from the booking standpoint, it perhaps seems that the WWF was planning on having an André The Giant versus Big John Studd rematch. Studd had returned in 1988 after a few years’ absence, turning on old manager Bobby Heenan now that he was aligned with Studd’s long-time rival André. Studd won the 1989 Royal Rumble but by ‘Mania, would only special referee a match pitting “The Eighth Wonder Of The World” against Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
Two notable matches nearly did not take place, however. Firstly, Shawn Michaels was thoroughly hungover by the event, having drunk until four in the morning. After only a few hours’ sleep, “The Heartbreak Kid” resorted to energy pills and coffee to prep for his tag match – alongside Marty Jannetty – against The Twin Towers. Elsewhere, after the Hogan/Savage main event, the most memorable moment of the show was Rick Martel’s iconic heel turn on Strike Force partner Santana. The Canadian’s visa issues nearly vetoed these plans but luckily for the future “The Model”, he managed to sort it out before the big event.
WrestleMania VI: Zeus vs Hulk Hogan
Now, this is a controversial one that does seem a little hard to swallow but this urban legend has been circling the internet for a long time.
Post-’Mania V, Savage teamed with Zeus to main event 1989’s SummerSlam. Zeus, played by Tony Lister, was a depiction of the movie character who starred alongside “The Hulkster” in No Holds Barred. The SummerSlam bout would end with Hogan pinning Zeus, allegedly to build up to a WrestleMania VI main event.
The match that happened was Hogan versus The Ultimate Warrior – perhaps wrestling’s most ever face against face match. A rarity at a time, an odd clash of good guys does give a tiny shred of justification for the Zeus match with a unique last-minute change taking place. It was canceled due to Hogan not wanting to drop the belt to Zeus.
Yet the Hogan and Warrior bout did have some build as the Royal Rumble to foreshadow the match whilst the Zeus saga was over by the end of 1990. Also, would the WWF put Zeus in a singles match where he could be exposed without a tag partner behind him? Additionally, why would they give him the WWF title if he was extremely limited and had only wrestled a single match, in which he had already been beat? It does seem unlikely but the legend may never go away.
WrestleMania VII: Hulk Hogan vs Sheik Tugboat
Amidst the Middle East’s Gulf War, the WWF brought back the once-proud American patriot Sgt Slaughter but this time as an Iraqi-sympathising villain. Slaughter was largely uncomfortable with the gimmick, largely due to the death threats he received that forced him to wear a bulletproof vest, nevertheless, his hatred would only be ramped up when he won the WWF championship.
Although Slaughter would drop his belt to Hogan at WrestleMania, apparently Tugboat was supposed to play the role of the anti-American militarist. An ally of Hogan in this era, he would turn on Hulk to be renamed Sheik Tugboat – he would have been renamed if the plans had come to fruition.
On an episode of his ‘Something To Wrestle With’ podcast, Bruce Prichard poured cold water on the Hogan/Warrior rematch plans saying that was never considered. He would say about Tugboat: i
…in the back of Vince’s mind, he…had been thinking about Sheik Tugboat.”
Tugboat himself claimed to have little knowledge of these plans but did say “I’m open to everything” when asked about how he would have felt playing the role.
WrestleMania VIII: Hulk Hogan vs Ric Flair
WrestleMania VIII saw various line-ups changes with a constant reshuffling of the malleable card.
Plans for Shawn Michaels against former Rockers teammate Marty Jannetty spoilt after Jannetty was put under 6-months house arrest, necessitating a replacement which would be “El Matador”-era Tito Santana. A Legion Of Doom tag title match against Money Inc. would be scrapped when Hawk was suspended, triggering a quick face turn for The Natural Disasters. Even a British Bulldog/Berzerker match was cut when Smith refused a one-minute match, shortened due to time constraints. By far the biggest match terminated however was a Hogan/Flair clash.
In late 1991, Flair decided to jump from the NWA to the WWF, still possessing the physical belt. Having left after a dispute with vice president Jim Herd, Flair immediately made a splash and won the 1992 Royal Rumble. A huge bout featuring the face of the NWA against the face of the WWF seemed inevitable at WrestleMania. What we got however was Flair/Savage for the WWF title and a kayfabe retirement match between Hulk Hogan and Sid which would main event the show and even end in a DQ.
The most common story is that the WWF was unimpressed with low house show numbers Flair and Hogan did. Northern fans were largely unfamiliar with “The Nature Boy”’s work so were not necessarily invested in the storyline. So, plans changed and Hogan was plucked from the WWF title scene to feud with old ally Sid Justice in the main event. Even if the draws for limited shows were low, it was still a dream match that would have likely garnered more eyes onto the WWF product.
In the end, the first Hogan/Flair bout did not come until WCW in 1994 at Bash At The Beach in which Hogan won the WCW title.
WrestleMania IX: Bam Bam Bigelow vs Kamala
After some inconclusive house show battles in March, Kamala and Bam Bam Bigelow were set to battle at WrestleMania IX, yet that match would never take place.
Despite the announcement about two weeks before the event, it was nowhere to be found. Explained away by Bruce Prichard on his podcast Something To Wrestle With, the match was canceled due to time constraints. He claims no match went too long but just wanted to assure that Hulk Hogan had enough time to be crowned WWE champion in, and celebrate after, the main event.
The match’s cancellation would prove to rob Kamala of his last legitimate WWF PPV match, discluding the Legend’s battle royal at WrestleMania X7. It likely could have been added had some matches been slightly trimmed such as the Intercontinental and World Tag Team Championship matches, both of which were 18 minutes. Although not taking place, a coliseum video release on VHS explained the match’s canning with Kamala sharing a backstage segment alongside some elephant friends. They would have a televised bout for WWF Mania, which Bigelow won via roll-up.
In addition, many active roster members were not on the PPV despite their star power. This includes Ric Flair, Randy Savage, Rick Martel, Tito Santana, and Jim Duggan being just a few to be omitted from the main card for various reasons, not to mention the swarm of talent released between ‘Mania VIII to IX. Furthermore, performers with talents such as Bret Hart, Mr. Perfect, Ted DiBiase, Razor Ramon, and The Undertaker all competed in bouts not befitting their standard. All of this has accumulated to form fan theories of other planned matches left on the cutting room floor.
WrestleMania X: Ludvig Borga vs Earthquake
Even described by colleague Jim Ross as “a Ferrari with a four-cylinder motor”, nonetheless, Finland’s Ludvig Borga was still pushed to the moon – most significantly ending Tatanka’s near-two-year undefeated streak.
However, at a live show, Borga injured his ankle in a match against “The Dog-Faced Gremlin” (a nickname he did not use in the WWF but it is a fun nickname to acknowledge) Rick Steiner. This scuppered plans for a Tatanka rematch at 1994’s Royal Rumble event. Believing he would be back by ‘Mania, the WWF pushed forward in advertising that the future far-right Finnish politician would face an ex-Natural Disaster, Earthquake.
In actuality, Ludvig was sidelined longer than presumed and would never return to the promotion. As a contingency, Earthquake came out and squashed Adam Bomb after Bomb and Harvey Wippleman insulted Howard Finkel’s haircut; the match lasted just over 30 seconds.
Another canceled bout on the card was a 10-man tag. This featured the face contingent of The Smoking Gunns, 1-2-3 Kid, Bob Holly, and Tatanka against The Headshrinkers, Rick Martel, I.R.S., and Jeff Jarrett. This was due to an extended time length of the Shawn Michaels/Razor Ramon ladder match, an excess runtime that caused anger from Randy Savage. Yet had Earthquake/Borga taken place, it likely would have been much longer than the Earthquake/Bomb segment thus ensuring the 10-man tag would never take place anyhow.
WrestleMania XI: Owen Hart & Jim Neidhart vs The Smoking Gunns
After forgettable ECW and WCW runs, Jim Neidhart returned to the WWF in 1994, reuniting with brother-in-law Owen Hart – helping him to win the King Of The Ring tournament. By WrestleMania XI, the plans were for Neidhart and Hart to pick up the tag straps from Gunns Billy and Bart, according to Bret Hart. Yet just before the end of 1994, “The Anvil” was let go for no-showing events.
A temporary replacement as reported in the Wrestling Observer was for Chris Benoit to fill the slot. The then-ECW World Tag Team champion (alongside Dean Malenko) would work non-televised events managed by Ted DiBiase.
In the end, “The Rocket” won his first WWF title alongside mystery partner Yokozuna.
WrestleMania XII: Razor Ramon vs Goldust
An Intercontinental title Miami street fight between Razor Ramon and Goldust falling through meant we got to see one of the most ludicrous matches in wrestling history.
Championship contender Ramon had been suspended for six weeks due to a drug violation, missing out on the event – which had nothing to do with Ramon’s ‘Mania payday being sabotaged after he voiced his opinion on leaving for WCW.
In his place, a bizarre non-title Hollywood backlot brawl took place as “Rowdy” Roddy Piper challenged Goldust to an open brawl. Piper, himself having had a match with acquitted celebrity O.J. Simpson, instead used a call back to the ex-NFL star in a memorable fashion. Aside from the rhetoric of “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit” saying, O.J. was involved in a lengthy car chase with the police. Footage of the real Ford Bronco chase was shown as another match on the card, Steve Austin vs Savio Vega, took place in the ring whilst the commentators acted oblivious. This mirrored the 1993 Super Bowl in which O.J.’s chase interrupted the match, a moment that aired in front of nearly 100 million citizens.
The match was far wackier than the Miami street fight could have ever been. The climax of the encounter saw Piper and Goldust arrive back into the arena. Piper had stripped him of his wrestling attire down to some black lingerie. Piper bit, kissed, and low-blowed Goldie, forcing him to flee to the back and giving the Scotsman the win.
The most ironic part about this odd ending was that the whole impromptu feud saw Piper rejecting the Rhodes’s homosexual advances because Piper was ‘a real man’. I guess we’ll just overlook the fact Roddy often wore a kilt.
WrestleMania XIII: Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels
In terms of backstage politicking, there are slim pickings of names who used their position to abuse their power as much as Shawn Michaels. In 1995 for example, “The Heartbreak Kid” refused to drop his Intercontinental belt to Dean Douglas after a sketchy story about being beaten up by either a marine or a group of marines – depending on who tells the story, rather than vacating it to Douglas.
At WrestleMania XII, Michaels won his first WWF title, beating Bret Hart in a historic iron man match. Even after winning the title, Michaels still made full use of his booking ticket, famously snubbing Vader of a chance to win the world belt. A year after their crowing match at XII, Michaels, and Hart were set to fight again with Shawn lying down as Bret had done before him the year before.
With real-life tensions having escalated, Michaels once again gave up another title rather than fear losing in February 1997. Officially gifting the title to president Gorilla Monsoon after a knee injury had made him lose his smile, many saw through this as a ploy to avoid having to lose the belt to the man he won it from a year earlier and a man he now resented. It was not until a 2003 episode of short-lived WWE program Confidential that Michaels revealed the ruse.
In the aftermath, Bret won the WWF title in a 4-man battle royal at In Your House: Final Four. He subsequently lost it to Sycho Sid the next night after interference by Steve Austin. On the card, “The Hitman” battled “Stone Cold” in perhaps the most important match in WrestleMania history whilst the WWF championship was contested between Sid and The Undertaker – a starkly different match to the planned Hart/Michaels rematch.
WrestleMania XIV: Cactus Jack vs Terry Funk
In 1997, Terry Funk retired, for what was then already at least the third time, after headlining his dedicated WrestleFest PPV. This retirement lasted all of 11 days before returning to FMW and being snatched up by the WWF before the end of the year. Good friends and hardcore icons for their teeth-grinding bouts in Japan, Foley laid out plans for a ‘Mania program against Funk.
“Middle-Aged And Crazy” Funk was brought into the WWF under the pseudonym of Chainsaw Charlie, a chainsaw-wielding, the pantyhose-wearing human highlight reel. Funk would spend a good length of time teaming alongside Foley but also fought him.
Per Bruce Prichard, Foley had suggested a hardcore best of seven. The final match, filmed at Funk’s Texas Double-Cross Ranch, would be spliced into the WrestleMania broadcast. Vince was taken by the idea at first. Yet the celebrity cameo appearance of “Iron” Mike Tyson got additional eyes on the WWF and a gruesome and barbaric deathmatch was thought to turn away many viewers.
The duo would still fight each other including facing off at 1998’s Royal Rumble. They would also go to a no-contest on Raw in February after The New Age Outlaws pushed the duo, who were concealed in a dumpster, off a stage. Funk and Foley instead formed a united front and together challenged and beat The Outlaws for the World Tag Team titles at WrestleMania instead; the reign lasted only a day.
WrestleMania XV: Steve Austin vs Mankind vs The Rock
Mankind was a 2-time WWF champion in early 1999, having one of wrestling’s most iconic feuds with The Rock. Despite his immense popularity, by ‘Mania season, Foley was left dwindling in the undercard in a match with Big Show and although he refereed the main event, it is likely not the job Foley wanted.
Vince Russo planted the seeds of an idea for Mankind to main event XV, to which Vince initially agreed. However, that little ‘Mania sabotaging scoundrel Shawn Michaels had convinced Austin that a one-on-one bout with The Rock was the right idea. When “The Texas Rattlesnake” confronted Vince McMahon, he left the meeting, having eliminated one of the bout’s competitors.
You do have to feel for most parties in this story. Although likely a better crowd response would be present and a more traditional face vs heel dynamic, the promised ‘Mania match for Mankind was shattered. As Foley advocate, Russo put it: “I was freakin’ livid! Why? Because all I could think about was Mick. I had already given him the news. Now it was going to be taken away. And, no doubt, I was going to have to be the one to tell him…The look on his face broke my heart, but even though he was disappointed, Mick knew, and understood that this was the wrestling business”.
Foley would never get his WrestleMania main event, except…
WrestleMania XVI: Triple H vs The Rock vs Big Show vs Chris Jericho
Foley would main event the next year’s event, replacing the originally advertised Chris Jericho.
Despite only coming it less than a year earlier, big plans were in store for Jericho. However, in the end, Mick was thrown in. Likely as a way to compensate Foley for the previous year, he was thrown in despite having just lost a retirement to WWF champion Triple H less than five weeks earlier.
Jim Ross explained the reasons for Jericho’s removal: “The Jericho thing, obviously, and it shows you a lack of foresight and vision that somebody thought that Jericho was going to be overbooked to be in that match, he didn’t deserve it, he didn’t have the clout, he didn’t have the star power, whatever. It was ridiculous… “Here’s the deal. Hate to harp on this shit. Hunter’s 6’3″, 6’4″, Big Show’s 7’0″, Rock’s 6’4″, Foley’s 6’3″ or 6’4″, then you put Jericho at under six feet, in that mix, and from the eye test, then it doesn’t all look right, it’s going to expose Chris for being smaller than he is. So stupid”.
So Y2J was removed due to his height compared to the other wrestlers in the match – yes, really. It is probably for the best for “The Ayatollah Of Rock’n’Rolla” as the fatal four-way main event turned out to be a clustered mess, with the efforts of the real performers clouded by a more important McMahon family rivalry. More insultingly, the tagline of the whole event was “A McMahon In Every Corner”. Elsewhere, the three-way dance for Kurt Angle’s Euro-Continental titles also featuring Chris Benoit was the best ‘wrestling’ match of the night.
WrestleMania XVII: Triple H vs Mike Tyson
At WrestleMania X7, Triple H became The Undertaker’s ninth streak victim, in a wild bout,
Yet the original idea for HHH on the night was to face Mike Tyson. The same man who had turned on D-Generation-X at WrestleMania XIV would now compete in a boxing match with “The Game”. Considering the only other WrestleMania boxing match was a dreadfully-long 10-plus-minute encounter, we should be glad ‘Taker was his real opponent on the night.
At the time, “The Cerebral Assassin” was a top star, having finished off a feud with world title challenger Steve Austin. Elsewhere “Iron” Mike (Tyson, not Sharpe), had fought Andrew Golota in late 2000 and won until the decision was overturned after Tyson was found positive for marijuana. Both relevant stars, the match would be canned before TV build.
Triple H explained in an interview with WWE.com: “We were going to do six rounds. I don’t remember if it was going to be full boxing rules, or whether I was wearing gloves. But it ended up being a deal where the whole thing just would have been a ludicrous amount of money, and it got pushed off.”
In addition, a planned match with Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis – who emerged victorious in Super Bowl 35 shortly after avoiding double-murder charges – fell through. There probably is a joke here about someone initially charged with murder being replaced with a “Dead Man” but not only was he “The American Badass” here but also, I prefer not being sued.
WrestleMania XVIII: Hulk Hogan vs Steve Austin
In terms of wrestling dream matches, Max Moon vs The Goon aside, are there any others bigger than Hulk Hogan vs Steve Austin? The biggest star of the 80s and the biggest star of the 90s in the wrestling industry would never face one-on-one.
In 2002, Steve Austin was warring with the now, after likely plans with Triple H were thrown into disarray by injury, but never faced “The Hulkster” in a singles encounter. The only time they ever fought was a three-on-two handicap on an episode of Raw where Hogan hit a solitary powerslam on Austin then tagged out.
‘Mania XVIII seems as though it might have been the meeting point between the two icons. Yet neither man likely would have done the job, with Hogan rarely taking the pin (although he would to The Rock in the actual ‘Mania X8 match) and Austin creatively dissatisfied.
Hogan has commented on not having a match with Austin, saying on Wrestling With Rosenberg:
Was there some legitimate heat [between Austin and I]? There was. When me and Scott Hall and big Kev [Nash] came into the WWE with the nWo, we had such an edge, and we were getting cheered. I guess the babyfaces [Austin and The Rock] weren’t used to it. [They] were complaining, ‘Those guys are turning us upside down, and we’re getting booed instead of cheered…’ So there was some legitimate heat there, you know, on a business level”.
He adds in response to Austin at the 2006 Hall Of Fame ceremony:
I’ve got no idea why Steve didn’t want to have a match at WrestleMania. I don’t know if he has a problem with me personally”.
Jim Cornette – who was not in the company by 2002 – offered up an alternate explanation:
Well the reason why it never happened was because Hulk Hogan…there was never a position in time where Hulk Hogan could have won that match. You think Hogan was going to do the f***ing job for Austin? Austin is probably proud of and rightfully so that he’s the one major guy that never laid down for Hogan and I honestly believe because of the difference, The Rock could get away with doing the job for Hogan a lot easier than Austin could”.
Hogan ended up working a classic bout with The Rock whilst Austin reluctantly worked with Scott Hall. The era of the proposed Hogan match was the center of Steve’s hatred for the creative with “Stone Cold” simply walking out on the company shortly after.
WrestleMania XIX: Brock Lesnar vs Chris Benoit
Similar to Orndorff at ‘Mania III, the contingency plan for the main event for XIX was to see Chris Benoit present in case of a need to replace WWE champion, Kurt Angle.
Angle is no stranger to wrestling through injuries. He may barely ever mention it but he did win an Olympic gold medal with a broken neck and would even wrestle at ‘Mania XX with numbness in his fingers. In 2003, Angle needed was suffering from nerve and spinal damage, calcium buildup, bone spurs, and intervertebral disc problems – all of which he would need time off for.
Speaking to Conrad Thompson on his The Kurt Angle Show podcast, Angle says:
He [Vince McMahon] decided that we were going to have a match before WrestleMania on SmackDown and I was going to drop the title to Brock and I believe Brock was going to go to WrestleMania and face a new opponent for the main event. I think they were going to substitute Chris Benoit, I believe. He was basically going to take my place. It bothered me…The next day I went to my neighbour’s house and there’s a really good kid named Johnny. He has Down’s Syndrome. He said, ‘Kurt, I’m so sad you’re not going to be wrestling against Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania.’ I said, ‘Yea, it’s pretty upsetting Johnny.’ He said, ‘I wish you would.’…It stuck with me so I thought I’m going to call Vince and choose to have surgery after WrestleMania. I called him and said, ‘Why don’t we have the match at WrestleMania and I will have the surgery, but I will wait and put it off. I know my arm is atrophying but another couple weeks isn’t going to hurt, so let’s have the match.’”
Angle pushed through, though ironically it was Lesnar that was worse for wear after spiking himself on his dome after a Shooting Star Press. Angle had surgery, using unconventional methods to reduce recovery time by nine months, shortening a year-long recovery to just three months.
Also, John Cena was supposed to face Fabolous and Jay-Z in a rap battle; Fabolous denies this. Fabolous was arrested so Cena rapped to cardboard cutouts of the hip-hop artists. On the pre-show, Regal was supposed to defend his tag title belts alongside Lance Storm but a concussion followed by a discovery of a heart parasite followed by an irregular heartbeat put Regal’s career on hold for almost a year. He was replaced by Chief ‘Val Venis’ Morley.
WrestleMania XX: Kurt Angle vs Bret Hart
Whilst the majority of previously covered matches have more or less been confirmed, now it’s time to add a canceled match to take with a little pinch of salt.
Although I would be inclined to disbelief a proposed Bret Hart/Kurt Angle match in 2004 even Angle himself has confirmed it.
In an interview with Chris Van Vliet, Kurt said:
Me being at 51 now and looking back, a young Bret Hart came to me right now and said let’s do our dream match…I would be like…it’s not going to be the dream match I’d like it to be. I probably don’t want to get in that ring. So, I understood why Bret didn’t want to do it. Because he had the stroke and he had a lot of bad luck, you know, some things happened that made it medically difficult for him to come back and be at his very best. I told him, you know, listen, you didn’t even have to bump at all. I’ll do all the bumping and he was like, ‘Nah, it won’t be the Bret Hart match that I want it to be and I can’t do that.”
Jim Ross, as well, recalls:
So, I think in a perfect world [Vince McMahon] would have liked Bret to be able to do more but he just wasn’t interested. He wasn’t interested in returning that way. I don’t know what Bret’s expectations were at that point in time of his career in relation to WWE. But it obviously wasn’t to be part of the card at [WrestleMania] twenty.”
Although confirmed by various people, I still find it a little difficult to stomach. “The Hitman” was still recovering from a stroke only a few years prior so any physicality was not wanted. That is too to ignore Bret’s hostility with Vince McMahon. I’m not doubting them or saying that I’m right and others are wrong but I will continue to personally have my skepticism.
WrestleMania XXI: The Undertaker & Kane vs Heidenreich & Snitsky
It is nice when the WWE sees sense.
At the Royal Rumble, Kane helped his brother win a casket match against Heidenreich after involvement by Snitsky. The planned match for WrestleMania was a tag match pitting The Brothers Of Destruction against Jon and Gene (as both were rarely referred to as).
The Undertaker is reported to have put his foot down and instead pitched a much better Orton/’Taker match. Kane would instead compete in the first-ever Money In The Bank match whilst the green meatheads would compete in a pre-show battle royal.
The Undertaker/Orton bout was probably the best WrestleMania match of ‘Taker’s career at that point. The ‘Legend vs Legend Killer’ contest is one of the most significant ‘Mania matches as it is the first to officially acknowledge the much-lauded win streak that “The Dead Man” has become so famous for.
WrestleMania XXII: Shawn Michaels vs Eddie Guerrero
As Herodotus would, in so many words proclaim in 445 BC, “only the good die young”.
Just days before Eddie Guerrero’s death in November 2005, a truly iconic clash at “The Show Of Shows” was proposed.
Ex-creative team writer recalls Bruce Prichard pitching the idea of a match between “HBK” and “Latino Heat”. Vince was intrigued by the idea but the sudden death of Guerrero would abruptly halt any plans before they had been discussed.
Considering the surprising similarities between the duo, the storylines write themselves – whether about their tag credentials, their stories of redemption from the gutter after being plagued by personal demons, or just over who was the better athlete.
WrestleMania XXIII: Hulk Hogan vs The Big Show
The plans for the ‘Battle Of The Billionaires’ bout seem to have jumped around more than Mr. Bounce on a pogo stick on a bouncy castle.
Firstly, Trump was supposed to be represented by Rey Mysterio. However, Vince questioned why official and definite 2020 election loser Trump would be represented by a small athlete by “Rey-Rey”. Short plans have even surfaced that Vince was to be represented by Booker T, whilst Trump by Shawn Michaels – who Vince had faced last year. The jokes here about Donald Trump’s opposition being African-American Booker T write themselves.
Yet the most solid plan was a Hogan/Big Show encounter. A fitting bout to parallel the 20-year previous ‘Mania III bout between Hogan and ex-kayfabe father of Big Show: André The Giant. Once again, the jokes about Hulk Hogan and Donald Trump siding together write themselves.
“The World’s Largest Athlete” commented on plans with Hogan remarking, “it was heavily talked about”. Yet Show would end up leaving the WWE in 2006 to heal from injuries and lose weight, Hogan would not appear at WrestleMania despite subsequent plans for a Khali/Hogan match, in which “The Hulkster” could get a different iconic bodyslam.
In the end, it was two attempted main eventers in Bobby Lashley and Umaga who would take respective places, a different line-up to the proposed original bouts. On another note, Hogan did wrestle Show during the latter’s absence from the WWE in 2007, the same month as WrestleMania.
Another noteworthy planned ‘Mania match, according to Da Pope was that during his run as Elijah Burke in the WWE, The Undertaker was supposed to wrestle Burke’s storyline bodyguard: Sylvester Terkay. Who? Exactly.
WrestleMania XXIV: Oscar De La Hoya & Rey Mysterio vs The Big Show & Shane McMahon
Plans always seem to change for Big Show.
Originally planned for WrestleMania 24 was a clash pitting the Mexican-American team of Rey Mysterio and 11-time boxing heavyweight champion across six weight classes Oscar De La Hoya against Big Show and Shane McMahon.
De La Hoya showed little to no interest in wanting to work the match, due to his little training in wrestling and only boxing experience. Instead, after several plans were drawn up, WWE went with Floyd Mayweather against Big Show.
Rey Mysterio still played a role in the feud as Mayweather’s trainer alongside the boxer’s already-massive entourage. The match’s angle was altered as fans began to boo the brash and pompous (and supposedly likable) Mayweather for rather heelish actions such as breaking the nose of “The World’s Largest Athlete”.
WrestleMania XXV: Chris Jericho vs Mickey Rourke
Onto another celebrity match now, with this one seeing Mickey Rourke compete.
The plan for WrestleMania 25 – which is not the 25th anniversary of WrestleMania – was to have Rourke compete, following critical acclaim of his portrayal of the wrestling industry in the film The Wrestler. Considering the dark connotation of the movie, it does seem surprising WWE would make light of it but it nonetheless was the plan.
Rourke called out Jericho, without “Y2J”’s knowledge, at the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards before later getting involved in a spat on Larry King Live. This kayfabe confrontation had soured Rourke on the future “Le Champion” after an in-character Jericho had berated the actor. Yet the reason they would not compete was that the acclaimed The Wrestler would never win an Oscar had the film’s leading man got involved with the WWE.
(After Royal Rumble 2009) I get a text from my cousin Chad and he’s like, ‘Hey man, why is Mickey Rourke calling you out at the SAG Awards red carpet?” I’m like, ‘What, Mickey Rourke? What are you talking about? Mickey Rourke called me out, why?’ He sent me a clip of it and that’s when word had gotten around. Vince called me into his office and said, ‘You’re going to have a match with Mickey Rourke at WrestleMania.’ I thought, ‘I can have a fucking match with this guy. He knows the concept of wrestling. I can do a match with him with bells and whistles.’ Then, because he called me out at the SAG Awards, his agents flipped out. (They thought), ‘You’re not gonna win an Oscar if you’re involved with WWE, the dirty scumbags. You can’t do this match. You have to pull out.’ Vince was so mad because he wasn’t going to announce the match until after the Oscars. But Rourke, I think he got excited, maybe he was a bit loaded, he announced it himself. And Vince was like, ‘Fuck.’ As soon as he announced it, the match was off.”
In the end, Jericho wrestled the legend trio of Jimmy Snuka, Roddy Piper, and Ricky Steamboat, in a match that launched a short career resurgence for “The Dragon”. Jericho won but was afterward punched out by Rourke.
WrestleMania XXVI: Drew McIntyre vs The Undertaker
Drew McIntyre’s first WWE run promised so much. Dubbed “The Chosen One” by Vince McMahon himself, things started well with an Intercontinental title run yet rather than a big singles bout, by ‘Mania 26, McIntyre was mingling in the over-bloated 10-man Money In The Bank match.
Confirmed by Drew himself on Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Sessions, in an interview with TalkSport and in his book A Chosen Destiny: My Story that original plans pitted him against The Undertaker, in ‘Taker’s 18th ‘Mania bout.
In the end, ‘Taker wrestled Shawn Michaels in a ‘Streak vs Career’ encounter. This was probably for the best as although a match with the Scotsman would have benefited Drew, the story behind the WrestleMania 26 match as well as the bout itself have to be one of the – if not, the – greatest in WrestleMania history.
For the proposed Drew/’Taker encounter, it is not clear if McIntyre was going to go over but considering the push given to the Scottish star, it is not unlikely he could have been the one to end the streak.
WrestleMania XXVII: The Undertaker vs Sting
After Sting adapted his gimmick to that of Brandon Lee’s The Crow in the film of the same name, the similarities with The Undertaker led to the desire for a showdown between the duo we would never see (outside of a WCW surfer Sting vs “Mean” Mark Callous house show bout).
In 2011, the WWE came very close to luring in Sting, with “The Stinger” instead resigning a TNA contract rather than jumping to the WWE.
By 2011, The Undertaker was in his mid-40s whilst Sting was in his 50s, giving a near combined century in the ring. It may have sounded great but for these aging men, this would have to be the last opportunity – had that not already passed – for this dream match to take place without age getting too far in the way.
On the match Sting has said:
Let’s just say that I turned it down for the same reasons I always have. Something in me never trusted what would happen up there, based entirely on the track record with other WCW guys and everything that went on after Vince bought WCW”.
The Undertaker instead wrestled Triple H for the second time at the event.
WrestleMania XXVIII: Shaquille O’Neal vs The Big Show
The terribly-nick-named “Big Aristotle” Shaq in 2009 had shared a ring with Big Show, subsequently knocking him out with a huge shoulder tackle. By ‘Mania 28, plans were for a singles match between the sports stars.
Having retired in 2011, Shaq was promising he would wrestle at ‘Mania, even a handful of weeks before the event. The NBA star kept saying he would indeed face Show at the event, in a clash of the titans.
In mid-February, the WWE had to put out a statement to emphasize the match was not going ahead. Despite how it all seemed to build to a bout, it never would.
Big Show instead won his first Intercontinental title on the show, beating Cody Rhodes and kayfabe ending an embarrassing WrestleMania back catalog including Show’s loss to Floyd Mayweather, his WrestleMania X8 promotion amongst young fans, and Show dressing up in sultry mawashi. He would lose the big by accidentally stepping through a table. Whoops.
WrestleMania XXIX: Tons Of Funk & The Funkadactyls vs Team Rhodes Scholars & The Bella Twins
WrestleMania 29 was a card where a lot of the regular ‘Mania occasions were stripped back over time constraints. Entrances of combatants like The Rock and Jack Swagger seemed abbreviated, America The Beautiful performance was skipped and a big eight-person intergender tag affair was called off.
The initial report of time constraints was by Dave Meltzer, who commented that the match was trimmed due to time constraints. This seems reasonable considering the night’s 10 matches: two went nearly 25 minutes, five over 10 minutes and none under five minutes.
Instead, the match would be moved to the next night’s edition of Raw, where Brodus Clay won, pinning Damien Sandow to get the win.
WrestleMania XXX: CM Punk vs Triple H
The night after the Royal Rumble 2014, CM Punk departed the WWE, shoving all WrestleMania plans for “The Best In The World” off the table. Ironically, one of his main reasons for leaving was disapproval of those higher-ups which makes his proposed match with Triple H in 2014 even more fitting.
In early 2020, Punk posted on his Instagram the plans for him at WrestleMania XXX, which saw him going against “The Game”. Presumably with a face Punk battling the evil Authority leader Triple H.
Othercanceledd matches listed on that paper slip include Sheamus versus Daniel Bryan, Roman Reigns against Dean Ambrose, and Kane against The Big Show.
After Punk had walked out the door, HHH wrestled Daniel Bryan at the event as part of a night-long storyline for Bryan.
WrestleMania XXXI: Stardust vs Goldust
Back to more speculative match-ups here, as we more to a potential Goldust and Stardust match.
At Fastlane, the duo had what would eventually be their blow-off bout. In the match, Goldust won although in a fairly muted manner. Despite claiming he would end his brother, he would win with a crucifix roll-up.
Although not confirmed, it would seem that ‘Mania would be the perfect opportunity for a deciding match in the series.
By the event, however, both ended up losing in rather meaningless matches, or at least matches where they had little storyline involvement.
WrestleMania XXXII: The Rock vs Triple H
WrestleMania 31 saw a face-to-face confrontation between The Rock and Triple H – as well as involving Ronda Rousey and Stephanie McMahon.
This was supposed to build to a match between the duo the next year. Although middle-aged, both were in shape and could reasonably have the match then. It would be a chance to reverse ‘Mania 2000 and have the match they should have always had at WrestleMania.
HHH said in an interview with Fightful:
I was already booked to work with The Rock at the following year’s WrestleMania and we’ll build it for more than a year. That was the intent”
Why did it not take place? The Rock’s commitment’s elsewhere, “The Cerebral Assassin” recalled:
Rock goes ‘it’s just not gonna work. I just can’t. All my stuff. My movies and everything has changed. I just can’t make it work anymore’”.
WrestleMania XXXIII: Shaquille O’Neal vs The Big Show 2
Shaq was destined to make history in 2017, not only making his match with Big Show canceled match in 2012 but also managing to have the same ‘Mania match canceled twice. Similar to HHH/The Rock, this too had built at a previous ‘Mania but came to nothing.
The duo crossed paths at WrestleMania 32’s Andre Memorial Battle Royal. They double choke slammed Kane before a long stand-off, both eliminated a wrestler (Show eliminated Fandango, Shaq eliminated Damien Sandow) before both were simultaneously eliminated by all other participants. The former Giant in WCW would then shake hands with and help up Shaq on-screen.
Although Big Show got into extremely good shape before the match, it was all for nothing when it was thrown out reportedly due to Shaq’s weight – all the more annoying for Big Show.
Seems like no matter how many times WWEaimsm for the hoop with this match, they get all backboard.
WrestleMania XXXIV: John Cena vs Jinder Mahal
As crazy as it sounds now, a John Cena/Jinder Mahal WWE title match seemed on the table for a fair while in 2018.
On Twitter, Jinder Mahal offered a challenge to Cena, commenting:
At WrestleMania 34, I would like to face John Cena. It could happen because I fully intend on being WWE champion at WrestleMania and even after WrestleMania. John Cena, consider this an official challenge to you”
Furthermore, Cena and Jinder’s only big encounter, a match on SmackDown Live, ended in a DQ – perhaps an indication WWE were saving this match’s result for a later date.
Yet this match would not take place. A failing WWE title run saw WWE clip the wings of the reign to terminate in December 2017, losing to AJ Styles in the UK.
Plus, if Cena won (the likely result), it would be Cena’s 17th world title reign, breaking Ric Flair’s record. Cena has gone on record saying he has little care to break this, due to his respect for Flair which would make “The Champ” hesitant to the match.
In the end, Cena wrestled The Undertaker in a 3-minute prolonged squash of “The Leader Of The Cenation”, which is quite far away from a WWE title win although almost definitely better than a (likely) half an hour match with Jinder Mahal.
WrestleMania XXXV: Lars Sullivan vs John Cena
What is more mental than Cena against Mahal? What about Cena versus an alleged sexual-harassing racist?
Now, the career story of Lars Sullivan is one with many false starts and unpredictable turns. Although he debuted in April 2019, plans are said to have seen him called up earlier for a WrestleMania feud with John Cena.
Lars Sullivan reportedly had an anxiety attack that stopped him from debuting on the scheduled date, walking out of the taping. It seems afterward that a level of trust was lost in Sullivan as plans with Cena and even Brock Lesnar permanently fell off the table as his brief main roster run would be plagued by scandal which led to any fan excitement becoming apathetic as they harbored negativity to “The Freak”.
In the end, John Cena and Brock Lesnar were more like Lucha House Party and Shorty G.
WrestleMania XXXVI: Roman Reigns vs Goldberg
Very few matches as high-profile as this have been canceled – this one due to a global pandemic.
It is probably fair to say babyface Roman and part-time Goldberg was not exactly a match that had fans drooling in 2021 but it was an acceptable WrestleMania match that would draw fans’ interest.
Several days before the event, Universal champion Reigns pulled out. He had suffered from a weakened immune system due to contracting leukemia not too long prior. Although he was in remission, the Covid-19 outbreak posed a risk to the health and safety of Roman to himself and his family so he wisely decided to pull out.
Fans knew “The Big Dog” was out but the WWE continually advertised him on TV as defending his belt on the PPV. Triple H revealed a big spot was going to take place to replace him, likely with Braun Strowman – who was not booked for the show, stuck in mid-card Hell.
The day before the start of WrestleMania, WWE shoved Braun into the match with no explanation – leading to some alleged accusation of false advertising due to the late notice of the change. Strowman won, by the way.
WrestleMania XXXVII: AJ Styles vs Triple H
“The Phenomenal” AJ Styles has gone on record saying that not only will his career soon end, likely in the WWE but also that he would like to be the final opponent of Triple H.
For 2021’s event, Styles was disheartened by his tag team match. This was as he had pitched a match idea to Triple H for the event. AJ is said to have “pestered” Triple H constantly about it according to “The King Of Kings” himself.
HHH had to step away as he was too busy working elsewhere with little time to prepare for a match with Styles. This could have attracted a lot of fan interest so it was a shame this was canceled.
A match fans should be thankful for canceling however was Kofi Kingston and Ali. At odds since Kingston took Ali’s place in 2019’s Elimination Chamber, Ali led Retribution in a prolonged feud with The New Day during the lockdown era – with the debuting faction’s storyline reacted to terribly by the wrestling community.
These two missed matches combined to a tag title match featuring the debut of Omos, AJ Styles’s bodyguard. Styles may have been miffed at not having a feature match and even the one he was in being a side character in – and when you look at it, that makes perfect sense!
For good or for bad, these are the matches that nearly but never got to “The Showcase Of The Immortals”. With the stage being as big as WrestleMania, many matches are trimmed from each show to create the effect and appeal desired by the WWE higher-ups. These were just a sample few which seem to have been scrapped and there are many more confirmed and speculated, showing just how important the road from paper to reality is for wrestling’s biggest annual event. Here’s to many more ditched matches on the road to WrestleMania in the years going forwards!