5. Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg (WrestleMania 20)
Wrestling fans love thinking up fantasy matches. Hulk Hogan vs. John Cena. Steve Austin vs. CM Punk. So, when the WWE booked WCW legend Bill Goldberg against The Next Big Thing Brock Lesnar for WrestleMania XX back in 2004, it looked like a dream come true.
Under normal circumstances, it probably would’ve been. But the match was doomed long before it ever happened.
Word had gotten out that Goldberg had not renewed his contract. A week before the event, Lesnar announced he wasn’t planning to return, either. (He was fed up working through injuries on a full-time schedule.) The fact that both men were planning to have their final WWE match together at WrestleMania made their pairing all the more anticlimactic. With no title on the line and no real interesting story to tell in the ring, despite months of slowly laying the groundwork for it, disaster was inevitable.
Despite the presence of Stone Cold Steve Austin (who had wrestled his own final match at WM 19 in a losing affair against The Rock) as special guest referee, neither Goldberg nor Lesnar looked the least bit interested in working that night. In fact, the match took forever to get going which greatly annoyed the impatient Madison Square Garden audience. As they booed and chanted negatively throughout the punishingly long 13-minute encounter, Goldberg finally ended it with a Jackhammer.
When Austin delivered his finisher, the Stone Cold Stunner, to both men afterwards, it got the only positive reaction. While Goldberg hasn’t worked a match since, despite giving the crowd the double bird that night, Lesnar would eventually return under surprisingly welcome circumstances in 2012. Two years later, he demolished John Cena to become the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion.
6. Aki Bono “sumo wrestles” The Big Show (WrestleMania 21)
When Cody Rhodes was the InterContinental Champion in 2012, he began mocking his WrestleMania 28 challenger over his lack of success at the Showcase of the Immortals by showing highlights of his failures. One of those failures was an embarrassingly worked sumo wrestling match in 2005 with Japanese legend Aki Bono.
Dressed in traditional garb, The Big Show’s less-than-spectacular ass was singled out in particular for ruthless mockery. It also didn’t help that in very short order, after a few needless delays, Bono ultimately threw him out of the ropeless ring.
On a night that saw both John Cena and Batista get their first world title pushes, this was not The Big Show’s time to shine. As for the match itself, let’s be blunt here. It was filler.
7. Jerry “The King” Lawler vs. Michael Cole (WrestleMania 27)
Good Lord, where to begin with this travesty? During the first season of NXT, back when it was a competition show to find the next breakout superstar, play-by-play commentator Michael Cole suddenly starting taking a serious dislike to contestant Daniel Bryan. Cole’s new heel turn would soon see him repeatedly butt heads with longtime broadcast partner, Jerry Lawler, on Monday Night Raw. They would often bicker over the merits of then-WWE Champion The Miz.
After Cole cost The King his last opportunity to win the WWE Championship (and even brought up his mother who had just died prior to the 2011 Elimination Chamber pay-per-view in an interview), both men were booked in a grudge match at WrestleMania 27. Jack Swagger helped train Cole for the event.
Cole was so worried that Lawler would thrash him at the announce table he started broadcasting in a glass box nicknamed the Colemine. When it was their turn to fight, Cole came out in a ridiculously bright orange amateur onesie complete with old-school protective head gear. Much like Brock Lesnar & Goldberg seven years earlier, there wasn’t a lot of early physical contact as special guest referee Stone Cold Steve Austin oversaw this pitiful display. But Cole did yammer away at Lawler on the mic for a bit.
In the end, Lawler got a submission victory. But thanks to the actions of the Anonymous Raw General Manager (that awful laptop computer gimmick), the decision was reversed and Cole won by DQ. (Austin apparently got too involved for the GM’s liking.) The feud dragged on needlessly for two more pay-per-views. (To be fair, I did like the Extreme Rules match that also involved Swagger and Jim Ross.) It only ended when Cole apologized to Lawler after tasting The King’s foot following another painful match at Over The Limit. Cole’s heel character was thankfully discontinued in the fall of 2012.
8. John Cena vs. The Rock (WrestleMania 29)
They lied to us. When the WWE began a year-long build for the main event of WrestleMania 28, they said John Cena facing The Rock was Once In A Lifetime. But after The Rock won the WWE Championship from CM Punk in a mostly forgettable affair at the 2013 Royal Rumble and after Cena won the Rumble match itself, the rematch was on.
And what a disappointing rematch it was. While their first encounter was good rather than great, number two felt very derivative and stale with no innovation or exciting spots. (It didn’t help matters that Rock got seriously hurt in the middle of it.) The backstory involved Cena having a bad year after losing to The Rock. His marriage ended and he wasn’t able to win a championship in all of 2012. Now the WWE Champion, The Rock simply wanted to prove that he could beat Cena again.
Despite their endlessly entertaining promos during this much shorter build to their rematch, the result of this title bout, like Hogan/Slaughter in 1991, was as predictable as it comes. After outsmarting The Rock in the finish, Cena became the champion again.
The next night on Raw, Brock Lesnar was supposed to start a year-long build with Rock that would’ve culminated in a match at WrestleMania 30. But because the former champ needed immediate surgery for his injury, that was completely cancelled. The consequences of this cancellation would be felt the following year.
9. Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker (WrestleMania 30)
With The Rock out for WrestleMania 30, Lesnar needed a new opponent. Although The Undertaker reportedly requested a match with Daniel Bryan, he got The Beast Incarnate instead. (Bryan, of course, had a superb match with Triple H and went on to beat Randy Orton & Batista in a satisfying triple threat main event for the WWE World Heavyweight title.)
As the build began, Lesnar’s mouthpiece Paul Heyman began declaring that his “carnivore” would finally end The Dead Man’s long running WrestleMania streak. At that point, Taker was 21-0. Lesnar started wearing a t-shirt that said, “Eat. Sleep. Conquer The Streak.” During one of his last promos before the event, Heyman said that Lesnar winning the match was not a promise, it was “a spoiler”.
Much to the utter shock of many, he was right. Lesnar would indeed be the “1 in 21-1”. I’ve noted in this space before how The Streak should and would be broken at some point. But by an established talent like Lesnar who didn’t need any more heat in a match that was astoundingly slow and plodding without any real memorable spots? Quite frankly, The Dead Man truly looked dead out there. The remarkable energy he exhibited in his classic WM battles with Triple H & Shawn Michaels alone was glaringly absent at WrestleMania 30. Taker’s WM 29 match with CM Punk was so much better. After so many years of defying his age, it had finally caught up to him.
So, why did Vince McMahon decide to kill The Streak? To jolt the floundering WWE Network, of course, which had just launched after a two-year delay. It was a bad move, though. Having lost half his fortune McMahon is now no longer a billionaire (I know, boo hoo). But more importantly, he took away one of the easiest selling points of WrestleMania. With Taker scheduled to take on Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 31, imagine how much more compelling it could be if The Phenom had everything to lose and The New Face Of Fear had everything to gain.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, March 4, 2015