Last week I took a dive into ranking the best matches that WWE has presented in the new Millennium. A series of matches that haven’t just defined what the industry means to me as a fan since the late ’90s, but ones that have defined this generation for fans. Matches that gave, and still give us, goose bumps, make us cry or scream at the top of our lungs whether you’re at home or in the rafters, they simply are among the few we can call the very best.
This time, I took a different approach.
Being in the mood for some truly awful professional wrestling over this past weekend put me in the mood to really contemplate what were the worst main events we’ve seen from the company since the new millennium rolled around.
Professional wrestling always has its classic moments, those that edge their place in the corner of our hearts & minds, and for the most part, I’d say the business has the tendency to be somewhat decent on a regular basis. Every now & then, however, we see it at its very worst. Wrestling can take a turn for the worst, being the very worst thing that fans want to see.
Bad or terrible wrestling matches don’t usually happen on their own, they’re a result of much larger issues. It could boil down to bad storytelling, a botched build-up to the match, crowds that aren’t invested in what you’re selling, the chemistry between performers just doesn’t mesh as well as you’d want, the overall booking & placement of a certain match on a card or in some cases, a match that absolutely nobody, and I mean nobody, has the desire to see in the position its in.
Thankfully, these matches aren’t frequent and are more oddities than anything, but they’re still worth mentioning for the sake of not repeating the same devastating mistakes twice over. On this article, I’ll have a look at just those kind of matches, ones that in some cases WWE has managed to learn from, but in some cases, has remained as stubborn as they always have been.
- Team RAW vs Team SmackDown – Survivor Series 2017
I’ll never understand what the creative team was trying to achieve here. Aside from booking the NXT newcomers like Shinsuke Nakamura, Finn Balor & Bobby Roode to look like complete filler all this did was come across as entirely aimless. It resulted in a booking that amounted to nothing, a hysterical Triple H meme & Shane McMahon of all people being booked to look the strongest amongst a sea of fresh talent that could use the boost to their standings. A complete waste of time that nobody will look back on fondly.
- Goldberg vs The Undertaker – Crown Jewel 2020
One of the very few matches I can ever say I had a rough time sitting through. I’ll be an Undertaker fan until the day I die, but it was clear that he didn’t have enough to carry an already concussed Goldberg in a match that didn’t even cross the 10-minute mark. Most spots either botched dreadfully or in some cases were so horrifying to look at that you wanted to turn your screen off. It was mercifully short but nothing short of uncomfortable to see two industry icons almost kill one another on multiple occasions.
- The 2014 Royal Rumble Match – Royal Rumble 2014
By no means, a terrible Royal Rumble in execution, filled with solid spots & star-building material that was just enough to admire in the early stages, but marred by one of the most bizarre match finishes ever witnessed. When a company has a star as red-hot as Daniel Bryan was at the time, the idea of replacing him with an essential part-timer infuriated everyone across the board, whether you were at home or in the crowd.
- Jinder Mahal vs Randy Orton – Battleground 2017
In all honesty, it takes effort for a match to be this uneventful from an action point of view. Orton & Mahal possessed next to no chemistry that would have you invested in a match solely on your own interests in what they were fighting over, most of their confrontations were plodding, formulaic & lacked any real spark (aside from the ‘classic’ at Backlash 2017), so placing them inside the ‘Punjabi Prison’ did them no favours. The match happened, nobody cared, but The Great Khali’s surprise return was so wonderfully bizarre it made the whole experience slightly worth torturing yourself through. But no more than once.
- Seth Rollins vs Baron Corbin – Stomping Grounds 2019
Name me a single soul that actually cared about this match. Both guys are immensely talented in their own right but the lack of tension & heat for anything they did left the crowd more stoic than even slightly engaged. It didn’t help that the stipulation this was contested under is so hard to actually execute well, in this case feeling more like it got in the way of a match that could have been somewhat acceptable if the two were allowed to flex their own talents. The post-match moment got an okay pop, but aside from that nobody is going to remember this, ever.
Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns – WrestleMania 34
I’ll be the first to admit, a small part of me adores this absolute train wreck of a WrestleMania main event.
In the build-up to this match there seemed to be no other route for WWE to go than having ‘The Big Dog’ Roman Reigns finally ascend to the top of the throne on Monday Night RAW & dethrone then Universal Champion Brock Lesnar after a reign that lasted an entire calendar year at that point. This was billed as the long-time, much-anticipated rematch between the two men who engaged in a war at WrestleMania 31 that exceeded almost everyone’s expectations, especially myself. Their rematch promised no interference, shenanigans and a decisive finish to determine the best on the brand.
What we got, was an exhausted, bored & uninterested crowd on the very biggest show of the year watching a match that, it seemed like, they couldn’t genuinely care less about. Rather than invest in the story being told the sellout crowd decided to formulate their own entertainment, chanting for NXT (who had just put on a show two days prior that `you could genuinely call one of the best of all-time), booing every move either man did & remaining mostly mute for all the matches big spots. Even Lesnar’s F5 to Reigns through the announce table received an ovation quieter than some lower card competitors tend to receive.
Having Reigns pull out the big guns and even blade himself on the biggest stage of the year received next to no reaction from a crowd that was either exhausted beyond belief or simply didn’t care about what the company was trying to present to them. You can revisit this and laugh at how disinterested everyone is, even the commentary team at points, and for that certain level of entertainment, I’ll give it points. That doesn’t, however, excuse this from being one of the very worst booked matches the company has slotted into the main event.
Triple H vs Roman Reigns – WrestleMania 32
WrestleMania 32, much like this match, just seemed to drag on until the end of time as we know it. The show was quite literally ‘the biggest WrestleMania of all-time’ but was at points, too big for its own good & shoved such a ridiculous amount of material, as well as talent onto the card that nobody knew what to do with everything thrown at them. Certain matches (particularly the brilliant Women’s Title bout or stellar opening contest) garnered enough praise from the audience to stand out but if there’s one match you need to ensure works, it’s your main event, which generally is contested for the biggest prize in the game, the WWE Championship.
There was nothing necessarily wrong about this going on last, it was the payoff to a supposed ‘blood feud’ that had been brewing since the fall of 2015 & seemed to mark the official ‘passing of the torch’ moment you’d come to expect from a star the company sees as their next John Cena in Roman Reigns. WWE’s failure wasn’t just the booking of Roman Reigns prior to this match, but that this was contested under a standard singles match, offering nothing to deliver on the payoff fans were promised.
Using the ‘No Disqualification’ or ‘No Holds Barred’ rule isn’t necessarily essential in telling the final chapter of a major feud, but neither man was even given a weakness or ‘Achilles heel’ to play off of, resulting in a match devoid of tension. Unlike Triple H’s match with Daniel Bryan two years prior, contested under similar circumstances, this just felt like your average main event to an average show, rather than the biggest the business has to offer.
Letting the two slug it out for just around 30 minutes didn’t help the situation either since neither man is known for their long-term capabilities in the ring, but rather shorter matches with large bursts of offence. The contest itself dragged a crowd that had already sat through upwards of 7-hours of wrestling into a world of boredom since the constant rest holds, taunting & unspectacular match style did nobody any favours since this was pitched as an all-out brawl on paper. Admittedly the match did find a bit of a spark towards its ending but by then the crowd had already been underwhelmed from 25 minutes of action that belonged on an episode of RAW, not a WrestleMania.
Arguably the worst thing to see as a wrestling fan is a WrestleMania where the crowd at the end of your show is nearly dead silent, and this was one of those painful nights to soak in.
John Cena vs John Laurinaitis – Over the Limit 2011
There’s a time & place for comedy matches in wrestling, and while they aren’t always necessarily the highest value product, they have their position on a card if executed well enough.
One position a comedy match should never be in, however, is in the main event of a pay-per-view.
John Cena’s rivalry with John Laurinaitis is one that wrestling fans don’t really speak of, not just because of how forced it was at a time when pay-per-view buys & ratings in the company were struggling in managements eyes, but more importantly because of what it overshadowed as a result of its position. The main event of the Over the Limit show had the potential to be an incredibly underrated WWE Championship Match between CM Punk & Daniel Bryan or a Fatal-4-Way Match for the World Heavyweight Championship featuring Sheamus, Randy Orton, Chris Jericho & Alberto Del Rio. What we got instead, was a joke that had no place being where it was.
In a match with Laurinaitis’ position as General Manager of both RAW & SmackDown on the line, the two contested in a one-sided affair that saw Cena humiliate the General Manager in embarrassing fashion. From dumping garbage over him, water down his pants & providing colour commentary for a brief moment, both men tried to entertain the crowd watching which was an impossible task considering what they had to follow in the show’s undercard. Rather than a stellar main event worth the money of a pay-per-view at the time what we got was an overly long, badly written joke that did nobody any favours, amounting to a match that would have been better suited to the mid-card of a show with a significantly less chunk of time dedicated to it.
To add insult to injury, the match ended when the ‘returning’ Big Show engaged what felt like his 811th heel turn in the last 3 months alone, providing nothing of excitement & continuing an angle no fan had asked for at the time. As far as the main events in wrestling go, it should always be reserved for the best you have to offer, this was the furthest from that.
The 2015 Royal Rumble Match – Royal Rumble 2015
Very few matches have the ability to infuriate an entire fanbase of people all in one fell swoop. Regardless of who you’re a fan of, who you prefer to win a match or who you desire to see headline a show, this is the prime example of WWE being WWE. I’ll always do what I can to defend the company where they deserve it, but this faithful night in Philadelphia is an evening I’ll never be able to stand by as someone who knows how good their product can be when they listen to fans.
A year prior, the 2014 Royal Rumble garnered the reputation for being the worst match of its kind up to that point. It was a failure on almost every level imaginable but at the very least was a pretty stellar match itself until the final 10 to 15 minutes came about which lead to Batista of all people clenching the victory. 2015’s match was a different story entirely, and to this day is one of the most bafflingly backwards booked matches I’ve witnessed since the darkest days of WCW in the early 2000s.
In terms of quality, the match had a solid start with the right guys entering and the company’s most popular competitor (and at the time, the favourite to win) Daniel Bryan making his presence felt after missing out on his chance to make history the previous year. It all when downhill from there because, in one of the most confusing, rage-inducing moments fans have ever seen, Bryan was inexplicably dumped from the match for no good reason. This sent fans into a flurry of anger & resentment, turning on the remaining match entirely, booing every remaining competitor almost out of the building & being forced to sit through arguably the worst booked match in company history until that point.
All of this pointed to a severe disconnect that the company had with its audience, or another solid example of its outright stubbornness to push Roman Reigns as their top guy against a fanbase that was craving something else entirely. Fans always complain about the company never listening to their wants, and this was one of those nights that complaint was undeniable. Rather than giving us the new blood so many of us desired to see garner the spotlight against then-champion Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania, we sat through the likes of Big Show & Kane tearing through the most beloved talent in the company, in a move that simply enraged fans to the point of them hijacking what the company thought would be a defining moment.
I could go on for hours about how abysmal this whole ordeal was, and if it weren’t for one other match, this would top my list without question.
Seth Rollins vs ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt – Hell in a Cell 2019
Hell in a Cell 2019, by all standards, might be the worst booked wrestling show I’ve seen in terms of structure.
The card itself was a victim of its own layout, with the hottest matches on the show going on first leaving everything else to simply wallow on its own without any real interest or stakes to keep the audience invested in anyway. As a result, the rest of the show was simply mediocre with little to no real excitement in any of the remaining contests on the card. However, the shows biggest blunder came at the height of its main event, which set the bar for how bad a wrestling match can be.
WWE admittedly did book themselves into a corner with this match, as Seth Rollins fresh off defeating Brock Lesnar for the 2nd time that year was pitted against the hottest gimmick in the company, ‘The Fiend’ Bray Wyatt who was fairly fresh to his new role on the roster & thrown into the main event a little too abruptly for most peoples liking. Having the hottest gimmick available contest against a champion that was only just settling into his 2nd reign as champion seemed like it would have been better saved for Wrestlemania season, rather in the middle of the fall season of wrestling which isn’t always the most eventful outside of the brand warfare that takes place.
And as expected, the booking was as much of a mess as you’d imagine it to be.
In terms of a match, this wasn’t even a match, at least not a traditional one. Both competitors wisely played into building up the amount of punishment ‘The Fiend’ could absorb, further expanding on the monster-like qualities of his character, but the direction the match went ended up making everyone involved, the officials included, incredibly silly to say the least. After absorbing countless stomps, weapon shots & abuse at the hands of Rollins, ‘The Fiend’ refused to eat a pinfall, leading to Rollins dragging out a hammer (a prop used in Wyatt’s ‘Firefly Funhouse’) and slamming his opponent with it, whilst below a pile of rubble. Not only did the spot leave no impact at all but lead to the match ending in a referee stoppage, the one way you don’t portray your most feared star as the biggest threat imaginable.
To say this left fans unhappy would be an understatement, as it leads to the loudest chorus of boos I can remember hearing at a wrestling show, primarily focused towards Seth Rollins who was already on thin ice with fans due to questionable past booking. What only angered fans more was Wyatt eventually recovering and dismantling Rollins, but rather than restarting the match, the company pulled the show off the air in the most anti-climatic fashion, leaving everyone bitter.
A main event of this caliber should have been booked as an all-out war and considering the circumstance should have lead to ‘The Fiend’ running through the champion like he did everyone before him, instead, this was a match that practically forced the company to shift their stance on not just their premier superstar, but the direction of every main storyline that followed. WWE has had their bad matches in the past, but nothing was as bizarre as this match ended up being.
When a match infuriates literally every fan across the board, shatters the credibility of your biggest superstar, almost kills the momentum of your hottest act, tanks the respect people had for a match with the legacy of ‘Hell in a Cell’ & from reports, resulted in borderline riots, you know that match deserves the position I’ve given it on this list.