The Five Worst WWE WrestleMania Booking Decisions of the Last Decade
WrestleMania season is upon us, but it barely feels like it. Last year, the outbreak of COVID-19 put a damper on the most celebrated occasion in the industry, but this time around it just feels rather uneventful. It's hard to get excited for most of the matches because WWE hasn't done a great job building towards many of them.
This week's episode of Raw, where they inexplicably broke up the hottest stable in the company, didn't help matters. But let's be honest. The company's batting average for the last few iterations of their biggest pay-per-view event of the year has been less than stellar.
Yes, WrestleMania 35 will be one of the most memorable of the last decade because WWE miraculously gave the fans three babyface wins to send them home happy. Seth Rollins slayed The Beast, Kofi Kingston achieved his boyhood dream and Becky Lynch became the first woman to hold both the Raw and SmackDown women's titles concurrently following a historic main event.
However, there are just as many sour notes over the last 10 years. For example, WWE thought the fans wanted to see Sting and Triple H revisit the Monday Night Wars in 2015 complete with an appearance from D'Generation-X and the nWo. The result was an overwrought mess that the company used as another reminder that history is written by the victors.
Still, while that was a tad petty, it isn't as bad as some of the most unbelievable headscratchers in the event's history. So, let's not waste any more time. Here are five of the worst WrestleMania booking decisions of the decade.
5. Bray Wyatt’s Mind Games: WrestleMania 33
Bray Wyatt doesn't have the best track record at The Showcase of the Immortals, but he at least got the opportunity to walk into the event as WWE champion in 2017. The Eater of Worlds won the title for the first and only time at Elimination Chamber and quickly entered a feud with his stablemate and the Royal Rumble winner, Randy Orton, in the weeks that followed.
In the build for their WrestleMania match, The Viper infamously burned down The Wyatt Family Compound on the Feb. 28 episode of SmackDown. As such, this title match had a great story, but unfortunately the bout left much to be desired.
WWE had a weird fascination with visual effects at the 33rd iteration of the Show of Shows. It seemed harmless when the LED lights displayed a giant viper trailing Orton as he walked down the ramp to the ring. But it was much more distracting during the match, where Wyatt used his powers to project cockroaches, worms and maggots onto the wrestling mat.
Now, to be fair, the competitors wrestled a safe and solid match, but these projections were just stupid and didn't add anything compelling to the storytelling in the bout. Moreover, this is exactly the kind of stuff that turned one of the most captivating characters in the company into a toothless and incompetent heel who monologued on and on but always lost. This loss killed his momentum, but the booking of the match did more irreparable damage to Wyatt's mystique in the long run.
4. Kurt Angle’s Retirement Match: WrestleMania 35
For many fans and wrestlers, Kurt Angle was an inspiration during The Attitude Era. After his return to WWE, WrestleMania felt like a fitting place for the Olympic gold medalist to cap off his incredible in-ring career.
Sadly, the company didn't give the moment the gravitas or story that it deserved. Last month on an episode of The Kurt Angle Show, the four-time WWE champion described the match as "filler" (h/t to Angel Rodriguez of WrestlingNews.co):
"I really believe that my match was honestly a filler match. When you go under six minutes at WrestleMania and you're in the 14th position and you're after Batista vs. Triple H and you're on before the main event, it's a tough spot. Not having a lot of time, you know you're the filler match, and that's what it is."
At the event, Angle lost to Baron Corbin in a forgettable six-minute match. Although his physical limitations made it difficult to compete at a high level, The American Hero warranted a better send-off. Even more, the win didn't do anything to raise Corbin's profile, so it felt pointless.
It would've been foolish to expect Angle to go out on top when he could boost someone else's standing with the fans in the process, but there had to be a better way. Think of what this could've done for someone like Chad Gable, who works a similar style. The 52-year-old even told Chris Van Vliet he wanted to face John Cena one last time in a match that would've brought the two characters full circle. That would've been much better than what we got, which was rather empty.
3. Charlotte Flair Dethrones Rhea Ripley: WrestleMania 36
Charlotte Flair has become a divisive figure among wrestling fans for reasons that are often unwarranted, but WWE has put her in some bad positions. The Queen has been a fixture at WrestleMania over the last five years, but she has arguably crushed a more favorable winner on more than one occasion.
In 2016, Flair defeated Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks to become the inaugural WWE women's champion, even though The Legit Boss got the bigger reaction. However, that is forgivable because this led to a legendary rivalry between the two that helped to elevate the new title.
In 2018, the 12-time champion unceremoniously ended Asuka's undefeated streak in the Japanese star's WrestleMania debut. The Empress of Tomorrow has languished in the shadow of this defeat ever since, but it still wasn't as egregious as Flair's win over a fiery up-and-comer, Rhea Ripley, last year.
The Nightmare came into her match with the 2020 Women's Royal Rumble winner with all the momentum after a breakout year. But WWE seemingly squandered her star-making performance on Survivor Series weekend to give Flair an ill-conceived reign as NXT women's champion that didn't benefit anyone.
The loss shook Ripley's confidence and rendered her tremendous win over Shayna Baszler to become champion meaningless. Even worse, Flair never got her comeuppance because the next woman to hold the title, Io Shirai, didn't even beat her to win it. Instead, The Genius of the Sky pinned Ripley in a Triple Threat match at NXT TakeOver: In Your House and The Queen moved on to another storyline.
2. Jinder Mahal Wins the WWE US Championship on Rusev Day: WrestleMania 34
WrestleMania 34 was an uneven experience, to say the least. The event started hot with a fantastic opening match where Seth Rollins and Finn Balor challenged The Miz for the WWE Intercontinental Championship. Then, it proceeded to get worse and worse.
The company crowned two Japanese Royal Rumble winners for the first time in its history, and for reasons that we still don't understand, Asuka and Shinsuke Nakamura both lost. The King of Strong Style's dream match with AJ Styles also underdelivered after weeks of hype. Braun Strowman and a 10-year-old kid won the Raw tag team titles and humiliated one of the best pairings available.
Let's not even get into the main event featuring Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns, which died a slow and meandering death while the crowd entertained themselves with beach balls. Still, all of this pales in comparison to the baffling decision to ignore the obvious fan reaction to Rusev and make Jinder Mahal the new United States champion.
Rusev Day was the loudest chant most weeks on their regular programming, and it was even more so on The Grandest Stage of Them All. So, logic would dictate that the Bulgarian Brute was the most popular competitor in the fatal four-way match for the title and the clear choice to move forward with, right?
No, Mahal pinned Rusev to win the title and dropped it to Jeff Hardy a week later. Happy Rusev Day.
1. Sheamus Beat Daniel Bryan in 18 Seconds: WrestleMania 28
Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 28 will go down as the moment that inadvertently made the latter a sympathetic underdog character and eventually sparked the Yes Movement. It was arguably a blessing in disguise, but make no mistake, this was still a bad decision.
A year prior, a brawl on the kick-off show rendered their lumberjack match a no-contest. In 2012, The Celtic Warrior blindsided Bryan with a Brogue Kick and pinned him in 18 seconds to become the new world heavyweight champion. PWInsider (h/t PWMania.com) reported the idea was to shock the audience and make the Royal Rumble winner's finishing move look more dangerous.
However, WWE made the reigning world champion look like a joke in the process. Yes, Bryan was a heel at the time and it was supposed to be a rewarding end to his reign after he cowardly cashed in the Money in the Bank briefcase on Big Show at TLC 2011. But it didn't go over well, and the fans chanted his name well into the next match.
On the bright side, this loss paved the way for Bryan's classic match with CM Punk at Over the Limit. It also made his WWE Championship win at WrestleMania 30 that much better.