Most Controversial Moments in WWE WrestleMania History

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistMarch 14, 2021

Most Controversial Moments in WWE WrestleMania History

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    WrestleMania has been the breeding ground for the most unforgettable moments in WWE history, but it has also spurred some of the most controversial.

    From unexpected losses for iconic competitors to heel turns that failed to leave a lasting impact, The Show of Shows has been home to moments that shocked fans, infuriated them or left them scratching their heads at the efforts of WWE's crack creative team.

    With WrestleMania 37 almost certain to provide one or two of those moments, enjoy this journey through the 10 most controversial moments in the history of The Grandaddy of Them All.

10. Triple H vs. Chris Jericho Headlines, Not Hogan vs. the Rock

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    The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan is one of the most iconic matches in WWE history.

    Triple H vs. Chris Jericho is not, which makes its status as the main event of WrestleMania X8 puzzling.

    Yet in 2002, the decision was made to run with The Game and Y2J closing the show because the WWE Undisputed Championship was up for grabs. This, despite the fact that the storyline had been centered around everything from Triple H's divorce from Stephanie McMahon to their dog rather than an honest-to-god beef between The Cerebral Assassin and The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla.

    Needless to say, the result was a miscalculation of massive proportions.

    The crowd in Toronto's famed SkyDome erupted for every second of Rock and Hogan's titanic clash and died out for the remainder of the show.

    Triple H's return to the grand stage was overshadowed, his match with Jericho failed to impress and result is one of the most bizarre booking decisions in event history.

9. Blood in the Hoosier Dome

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    WWE in 1992 was a family-friendly product that emphasized larger-than-life cartoon characters and downplayed violence.

    Particularly blood.

    That is why it was such a surprise to see crimson masks worn on two separate occasions during WrestleMania VIII.

    First, Bret Hart suffered a laceration that left him fighting from underneath during his match with intercontinental champion "Rowdy" Roddy Piper. He overcame the blood loss and vision impairment to regain the title, but Ric Flair was not lucky.

    The Nature Boy, his hair stained red, failed to retain the WWE Championship against "Macho Man" Randy Savage.

    Flair, who was caught blading on camera, was fined. Hart, meanwhile, managed to convince Vince McMahon that his laceration came about naturally.

8. Triple H Retains in Main Event of WrestleMania 2000

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    Prior to 2000, heels didn't leave WrestleMania with the WWE Championship.

    It just didn't happen.

    Hulk Hogan, "Macho Man" Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin made sure of it. Entering that year's event, it felt like The Rock would follow in those men's paths and defeat Triple H in the monumental Fatal 4-Way main event for the WWE title.

    What fans did not account for was the swerve booking that would turn everything upside down.

    With a McMahon family member in the corner of all four competitors (Rock, Triple H, Big Show and Mick Foley), there was plenty of potential for added drama and intrigue. What no one expected was Mr. McMahon to turn heel, betraying The Rock and joining forces with his spoiled daughter Stephanie and evil son-in-law.

    Triple H would benefit from a steel chair shot to The Rock by McMahon and become the first villain in the event's history to leave with the title.

    The Rock avenged his loss by dropping The People's Elbow on Stephanie, but that did not make up for the disappointing conclusion to the biggest match of the year.

    Nor did the backlash to that decision deter McMahon and Co. from booking it again three years later, when Triple H defeated Booker T to retain the World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania XIX.

7. Sting Loses in 1st WWE Match

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    WrestleMania 31 in 2015 featured Sting's first in-ring appearance in WWE.

    It was a moment more than a decade in the making and one that fans had anticipated even longer. The face-painted franchise player of WCW finally made the jump to WWE and would battle Triple H in one of that year's marquee bouts.

    It felt like a given that Sting would stalk to the ring inside Levi's Stadium and defeat Triple H, earning his first win and starting a magical run with the company.

    Instead, the match devolved into an infomercial for WWE Network's Monday Night War docuseries, with an appearance by D-Generation X and the New World Order, culminating in Triple H reminding everyone that WWE won said war by pinning Sting.

    It was booking that immediately made fans sit up and take notice.

    For years, Sting was concerned about making the jump to WWE because he was worried those in power would diminish his star just because he worked for the other guys during the wrestling war of the 1990s. While WWE did treat his character with respect, the loss at WrestleMania preceded another pay-per-view loss to Seth Rollins a few months later before injury forced him out of the ring, never to wrestle for Vince McMahon's sports-entertainment empire again.

6. Sheamus Defeats Daniel Bryan in 18 Seconds

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    WrestleMania XXVIII may have featured The Rock vs. John Cena and The Undertaker vs. Triple H inside Hell in a Cell, but no match was more significant to the immediate future of WWE than the 18-second squash of Daniel Bryan that started the show.

    The loudmouthed world champion stood across the ring from 2012 Royal Rumble winner Sheamus and planted an obnoxious kiss on girlfriend AJ Lee.

    Then the bell rang.

    Sheamus blasted Bryan with a Brogue Kick and captured SmackDown's top title.

    Fans expecting Bryan to have this outstanding WrestleMania match and moment were dismayed. The fans that had chanted "YES!" along with him as he hit the ring now chanted a more defiant "NO!" Over the course of the show, Bryan's name could be heard in chants throughout the Orange Bowl. They bled over into the following night's Raw.

    The treatment of Bryan sparked the Yes Movement that would culminate in his coronation at WrestleMania XXX, and while this story certainly had a happy ending, it was the company's infuriating treatment of him in Miami that lit a fire under the WWE Universe.

    Without their vocal backlash to the events that unfolded that year, who knows what Bryan's path to the top of the company looks like—or if there even were one.

5. Stone Cold Turns Heel

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    "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was the undisputed top star of the Attitude Era, an anti-authority rebel whom fans threw their support behind in his war against the evil Mr. McMahon. For years, The Texas Rattlesnake and his megalomaniacal boss made life a living hell for one another, making the closing moments of WrestleMania X-Seven that much more controversial.

    As Austin battled The Rock in the main event of the night, McMahon made his way into the Astrodome and watched from ringside as Stone Cold became increasingly frustrated by his inability to put away The Great One.

    Then, in a moment no one saw coming, McMahon aided Austin. He blasted Rock with a steel chair and watched as Austin pummeled wrestling's most electrifying star with a barrage of chair shots.

    Then it happened.

    Seconds after Austin picked up the win and title, he approached McMahon and shook his hand.

    In that moment, the Attitude Era as fans knew it came to a screeching halt. It limped along for another year or two, but Austin accepting McMahon's invitation for a handshake brought a close to the greatest rivalry WWE had ever seen and turned its most beloved badass heel.

    The turn failed because fans wanted nothing to do with booing ol' Stone Cold, rendering the finale of the greatest WrestleMania of all time a worthwhile risk but one that did not pay off.

4. Iraqi Sympathizer Sgt. Slaughter Headlines WrestleMania VII

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    In the middle of Operation Desert Storm, WWE opted to turn the beloved Sgt. Slaughter into an Iraqi sympathizer heel.

    Yes, McMahon and Co. exploited a real military operation to create one of the most unlikely heel champions in WWE history.

    Absolutely certain the idea of the evil Slaughter vs. American hero Hulk Hogan would be a major attraction, McMahon booked Los Angeles' Memorial Coliseum for WrestleMania VII, only to have to move the show to the much smaller Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena because of a reported combination of poor ticket sales and security issues.

    His ego bruised, McMahon went ahead with the planned main event.

    While it was a much better match than it had any right to be, it was impossible to excuse his exploitation of a real-life scary scenario for financial benefit. It was classless and vile, a clear money grab despite the company's on-screen support for the troops.

    That WrestleMania occurred after Desert Storm was over only emphasized how bad an idea it all was in the first place.

3. Fans Boo Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar

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    Heading into WrestleMania XX, news leaked that Goldberg would not be re-signing with WWE when his contract ran out. Then the blockbuster revelation that Brock Lesnar would be leaving the company after the event to pursue a career in the National Football League hit the internet.

    The problem? Those two Superstars were slated to face off in one of The Showcase of the Immortals' biggest and most anticipated matches, officiated by "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.

    The fans in Madison Square Garden booed both Lesnar and Goldberg mercilessly. They rained down on those icons with the fury of the entire WWE Universe, betrayed by their sudden and unexpected desire to bolt from the company.

    The only icon in the ring to be cheered? Austin, who seemed to bask in the wild atmosphere.

    That Lesnar and Goldberg stalled, seemingly to stick it to the audience, did not make matters any better. Eventually, they did make contact and Goldberg won the match, but the crowd continued to vocalize its anger and frustration.

    Austin sent the fans home happy, dropping both men with Stone Cold Stunners before celebrating with a few Steveweisers, but not even that could make up for one of the more surreal WrestleMania matches.

2. Egomania Runs Wild, Brother

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    When Mr. Fuji threw salt in the eyes of Bret "Hitman" Hart and Yokozuna pinned him to win the WWE Championship, it felt like the coronation of a new, dominant heel. It was an announcement by WWE to the rest of the wrestling world that it was going to try its hand with a massive bad guy at the top of the card whom all the babyfaces would chase.

    Except then it wasn't.

    As Yokozuna celebrated his win, Hulk Hogan rushed to ringside to check on the blinded Hart. Cocky and arrogant following the victory, the new champion had Fuji issue a challenge to The Hulkster for a title shot right then and there.

    In a moment that would provide the show a spark to close things out while infuriating diehard fans, Hogan accepted and won the belt with his trademark leg drop. Hogan must post, we knew from the eight prior events, and he did just that to close out the festivities in Las Vegas.

    For casual fans, it was merely the biggest star in wrestling reclaiming his throne. For everyone else, it was a blatant and cheap booking decision to placate Hogan's ego at the expense of both Yokozuna and Hart, two stars tapped to be the future of the company.

    It was self-serving and only benefited Hogan's legacy.

    The creative team, headed by Vince McMahon, was complicit because they allowed it to happen, but that one instance nearly set back the company an entire year and proved some Superstars weren't about elevating any star but their own.

1. Brock Lesnar Ends the Streak

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    The single most controversial moment in WrestleMania history occurred in 2014 when The Undertaker put his storied 21-match undefeated streak on the line against Brock Lesnar.

    The Deadman was the overwhelming favorite, if only because fans had watched him conquer every opponent who had ever stepped up to him on the grand stage. From "Superfly" Jimmy Snuka to CM Punk, all had fallen at his feet as he amassed the most iconic win streak in wrestling history. There was no reason to believe Lesnar would be any different.

    But he was.

    The Beast delivered one final F-5 to The Phenom, covered him and hooked the leg for good measure. The fans in New Orleans' Superdome expected a kick out, making the referee's three-count that much more stunning.

    Some thought there was a botched finish. Others sat in disbelief, their mouths agape and eyes bulging.

    The silence in that historic, enormous dome spoke volumes about the effect of the finish.

    In the days that followed The Undertaker's shocking loss, some spouted conspiracy theories while others harshly criticized WWE for wasting such a monumental moment on a guy like Lesnar. He was, after all, already an established star.

    It ranks as one of the defining moments the event has produced over the past 20 years and, arguably, its most shocking. It will not be forgotten by those who watched it live. Nor will the guttural reactions of the fans that jam-packed that arena to watch it happen live.


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