Sometimes, it only takes one single match to make or break a wrestler’s career. Every wrestler has that one match that made fans re-think how they were looking at that wrestler. Batista started putting on much better matches after feuding with the Undertaker. ‘Taker did the same after wrestling Bret Hart. John Cena really improved after competing against Shawn Michaels. Each one of these wrestlers has that one match or that one opponent that helps skyrocket their careers even further.
Then, there are the bad matches. There are some feuds that drag wrestlers down so much that their careers risk getting completely ruined. The Undertaker was fed one immobile monster after another, and if it wasn’t for his gimmick being totally awesome, fans would’ve rejected those plodding matches completely.
Many top guys in WWE have had to face the Great Khali and in each match, he bored the audience with his immobility, bringing down whoever his opponent was. Countless times, we’ve seen Vince put two monsters together, blissfully unaware that everyone except for him liked the idea.
Sometimes, WWE changes match-ups at the last minute, hoping to surprise the fans with something unexpected. On other occasions, WWE’s creative team decides on one wrestler combination, only to change it because it doesn’t fit, or something. This is why there are so many ‘what if scenarios’ regarding theoretical wrestler combinations in WWE.
While many of them could’ve (and would’ve) put many butts in the seats, there are just as many, if not more, that would’ve not only kept those same seats empty, but could’ve ruined the careers of the wrestlers involved.
Here are 12 such hypothetical match-ups, where one or both of the wrestlers involved could’ve experienced career suicide if these match-ups were actually executed.
12 The Ultimate Warrior Vs. The Undertaker - An Extended Program During The Early 1990s
Admittedly, these two did have a high-profile Bodybag match in 1991, but their rivalry was relatively short. If it wasn’t, you can guarantee that one of these guys’ career could’ve been severely damaged as a result. On one hand, Vince was trying to protect the Undertaker by having him lose as rarely as possible, and by booking him as a supernatural force that didn’t feel pain. That wouldn’t have meshed well with Warrior’s booking, as he had a tendency to work only short matches consisting of a handful of power moves.
Because of that, an extended program between these two men would’ve hurt everyone: the wrestlers involved (because the action would probably suck), the fans (who’d be bored from the constant no-selling and limited athleticism), and the WWE (for putting together such an undesirable match-up).
11 Ryback Vs. Goldberg
Ever since he debuted the new character, Ryback has been compared unfavorably to Goldberg, especially when he started using some of Goldberg’s signature moves. That has fueled speculation that these two men would eventually cross paths…and if they did, it would kill Ryback’s career.
If Goldberg were to face Ryback, Goldberg would be cheered as a soft-spoken monster while Ryback would be booed out of the building. This is because Goldberg achieved lasting popularity using a simple-yet-effective move-set to immense effect, while Ryback has been seen as nothing more than WWE’s attempt to re-create that same character in a period where ‘having a simple and repetitive move-set’ is a synonym for ‘you can’t wrestle’. Moreover, Goldberg is a symbol of nostalgia of wrestling’s glorious past, while Ryback symbolizes the staleness and unchanging nature of WWE’s power-brokers. Even if Goldberg were to execute more technical moves in one match than he did in his entire career, Goldberg would still get cheered over Ryback because, well, because he’s Goldberg.
10 JBL Vs. Kurt Angle - 2004
JBL’s WWE Championship reign came about because WWE lacked top heels on SmackDown, mainly because so many top guys couldn’t carry the brand. But imagine if Kurt Angle, who was injured at the time, wasn’t, and worked on the roster in 2004, there’s no way that Bradshaw would’ve been WWE Champion.
Angle was better than JBL in every way. He was a better wrestler (well, technically, Angle’s a better wrestler than everybody), he was better at playing a heel (whether serious or wacky), he was better at portraying a patriotic character (as seen by his smug Olympic hero gimmick when he debuted), and he was a better draw. If Angle worked the main event picture instead of JBL, SmackDown’s main event picture would’ve been so much better. Angle vs. Eddie, Angle vs. Undertaker, Angle vs. Booker T (sans cheesy sex-related gimmick), Angle vs. Cena; all of these matches would’ve been so much better than having JBL in them.
Of course, if all of this happened, JBL would’ve had some success with his rich businessman gimmick, but it’s for certain that it wouldn’t be a world title-worthy gimmick whatsoever.
9 Kurt Angle Vs. Batista - During Batista's Time At The Top On SmackDown
Throughout the 2000's, Batista was pushed to the moon as a top guy, mainly because he looked like a beast. Though he looked menacing and had a devastating finisher, the key to Batista’s success was concealing his weaknesses, which were his lack of mat technique and chain grappling skills. If he were placed in a feud against someone who was more technically-sound than him, like Kurt Angle, it would’ve devastated his image as the top guy on SmackDown.
Even if Angle were to be booked to lose, the sight of Angle out-wrestling Batista and putting him in all kinds of holds would’ve made the champion look terrible. That’s why, if you look at Batista’s match history, he rarely, if ever, had singles matches against technicians like Angle. He was always up against brawlers and showmen like Triple H, Cena and the Undertaker; with those technicians only ever showing up in multi-man matches where Batista didn’t have to risk getting out-wrestled. Because everyone knows that Batista facing someone like Angle would’ve completely destroyed the unstoppable image he was trying to cultivate.
8 Randy Orton Vs. Batista - WrestleMania XXX
This was the original main event for WrestleMania XXX, before Daniel Bryan was added into the mix. If WWE went with this match-up as planned, the audience would’ve completely rejected the match, destroying Batista’s return in the process. The idea of Batista being presented as a returning, conquering babyface was universally rejected, and Batista did much better as an arrogant heel, anyway.
Orton, meanwhile, would’ve been booed just as well, but it would’ve been more like ‘X-Pac heat’ than actual appreciation for his heel antics. Without the addition of Daniel Bryan, the vocal WrestleMania crowd wouldn’t have anyone to cheer for, as Batista wasn’t a convincing babyface, and Orton couldn’t be cheered as the defending champion. As a result, this was one situation where Vince McMahon had absolutely no choice but to make a critical last minute change…or risk ruining the careers of two impressive wrestlers.
7 Chyna Vs. Any Diva Post-2001
WWE put a considerable effort into making Chyna look like a million dollars, but that only went as far as her looks. In the ring, Chyna was a decent worker at best, and after WrestleMania X-Seven, there was a gradual shift in women’s wrestling. That transition towards actual female grapplers with technical skill allowed women like Trish, Lita, Victoria, Mickie James, and a slew of other women to come in and succeed as athletes and as workers.
If Chyna were to be put in the ring against any of these high-profile women, her career would’ve been crippled. She would’ve been labelled a terrible worker by the fans (who’d become accustomed to the in-ring skill of other women) and would receive as much venom as women like Eva Marie and Nikki Bella have. In hindsight, it’s a good thing she left the company when she did; she wouldn’t have survived given the company’s changing view of women’s wrestling.
6 Braun Strowman Vs. The Undertaker - WrestleMania 32
Up until fairly recently, this was the rumored direction for WrestleMania 32. Had WWE gone ahead with it, it’s likely that it would’ve been the worst match on the card, and would’ve doomed Braun Strowman’s career (because nothing, NOTHING can harm the Undertaker’s reputation at this point). It would’ve been a fan’s worst nightmare, seeing ‘Taker wrestle a monstrous wrestler who’s still very inexperienced in the ring, especially since the Undertaker’s best matches at ‘Mania have been against so-called ‘workhorses’ like HBK and CM Punk.
There’s no way that Strowman would be booked to win (especially now, given how poorly the entire Wyatt Family has been treated in terms of creative lately), and so such a match would only do him harm. Especially since fans react more to Bray’s character than Strowman’s power anyway. In fact, the only person who might still be impressed with Strowman is Vince himself, which wouldn’t be enough to salvage his career after losing to the Undertaker at WrestleMania.
5 Goldberg Vs. The Undertaker
When Goldberg appeared the night after WrestleMania XIX, the fan response was thunderous. A year later he was gone, after being booked horribly when compared to how he was presented in WCW. It didn’t matter who his opponent was; WWE wanted him to work longer, more technical matches, which was anathema to the juggernaut he was in WCW.
To that end, the very notion of putting him against the Undertaker at any point during his wrestling career simply wouldn’t have worked, no matter how much of a dream match it might be. Undertaker excels in long, dramatic matches; such a match would’ve further exposed Goldberg’s weaknesses, and would’ve been just as bad for his WWE career as the matches he actually had. Since WWE would never book their most loyal wrestler to lose against a guy who became famous in their competition, Goldberg’s only recourse would’ve been to lose, and his stock in WWE would’ve fallen even further.
4 CM Punk Vs. John Cena - Money In The Bank 2011 - If Cena Won
After his famous ‘pipebomb’ promo in June 2011, CM Punk was the hottest thing in WWE. He had blurred the lines of script and reality in a major way, and he was building momentum towards a WWE Championship against John Cena and MITB 2011.
Now imagine if Punk lost, in his hometown, after all that work.
If WWE had Cena win (presumably to shut Punk up and maintain the status quo), it would tell the audience that, no matter what Punk did, he wouldn’t reach the top. It would send a message loud and clear to everyone in WWE: if you love wrestling, but don’t fit our (Vince’s) guidelines for a top guy, you won’t make it. To that end, Punk had no choice but to win at MITB 2011; if he didn’t, nothing could salvage his career afterwards. Even if he pinned Cena clean, the fans wouldn’t buy him as a top guy in the company.
3 A. J. Styles Vs. John Cena - Early 2016
It’s a good thing that A.J. Styles’ first opponent in WWE has been Chris Jericho. He’s considered a part-timer who can come and go while still maintaining a degree of respectability, even if he loses marquee matches. He’s the perfect opponent for Styles to face at a major event, instead of someone like John Cena.
Vince doesn’t tend to like things that he himself didn’t create, and so if he put Styles against Cena, it would’ve been an excellent match, to be sure, but it would’ve crippled Styles’ WWE career before it even got off the ground. With WrestleMania being Styles’ second WWE PPV appearance, he absolutely needs a win to prove to the WWE Universe that his signing was actually a big deal. That’s something he can prove by defeating Jericho. But if he faced Cena, who almost never loses at WrestleMania (or at all, for that matter), Styles would be forever relegated to the bloated mid-card that contains every person that fell victim to ‘Cena Wins, LOL’. His WWE career wouldn’t be able to recover after that…just ask Bray Wyatt or Rusev.
2 Brock Lesnar Vs. John Cena - Circa 2005
Imagine if Brock Lesnar never left WWE, and he remained as the promotion’s top guy. There’s no way John Cena would’ve achieved the legendary status he has today. If Lesnar stayed with WWE, he would’ve been the one to carry the company until at least 2008 (because it would’ve been uncertain if Lesnar would’ve thrived in the wholly PG era of 2008 to 2014). During that period, he would’ve acquired countless titles and would’ve vanquished many opponents, including John Cena.
Indeed, WWE was forced to push Cena as the top guy primarily because of Lesnar’s departure. Cena wasn’t, and still isn’t, the same athlete Lesnar is, and even though Cena sells more merchandise, Lesnar’s a much bigger draw. It’s very likely that, if Lesnar was ‘the face’ of WWE for more than his initial two-year run, if he crossed paths with Cena, he would’ve ran through Cena with little difficulty, and Cena most certainly wouldn’t be in the same position in the company as he is today.
1 Sting Vs. The Undertaker
This was the dream match that everyone wanted to see, without taking into consideration what it would’ve done to both men’s careers. When Sting signed with WWE, it was assumed, and even hoped, that he’d face ‘Taker at WrestleMania. That match-up posed serious problems, the most obvious of which being that both men were so late into their careers that there’s no way they could’ve put on a good match without it being heavily gimmicked.
We all saw how Sting’s first match went; it required heavy interference for it to work. Moreover, determining a winner in that case would be very hard. Would WWE allow Sting, the franchise of WCW, to defeat the Undertaker, the franchise of WWE, at WWE’s flagship event? Highly unlikely. Sting wouldn’t have been an ideal opponent for the Undertaker, and so the match would’ve been poor. ‘Taker would’ve won (because, Vince McMahon), and Sting’s WWE career would’ve floundered thereafter.