Wrestling fans love to imagine matches in their mind that haven’t happened yet in the real world, and when enough of them are in agreement on which matches should happen, the term “dream match” starts to get thrown around. In truth, a dream match could be defined as any time two big name wrestlers do battle for the first time, usually on a particularly grand stage. Thanks to sports entertainment’s pensions towards hyperbole, WWE has claimed countless encounters were so-called dream matches, and only about half of these efforts have come anywhere close to delivering. In fact, quite a few of these dream matches were straight up horrible.
That’s not to say the concept never works. There have been plenty of dream matches that sold millions of tickets on their name alone, and they delivered in spades, leaving fans feeling like they got more than their money’s worth. Those aren’t the matches we’re talking about, though. We’re talking about the matches everyone hoped would steal the show, but they ended up producing a pathetic dud instead. Some of these matches weren’t that bad, all things considered, but none of them lived up to the hype that was all but promised when looking at the marquee talent involved in the match. In fairness, in most cases the problem was timing, in that one wrestler was either too old or too young for the match to be anything special. For some of these matches, though, everything necessary for a classic seemed present, but the wrestlers failed to deliver during show time. Keep reading to learn which 15 WWE dream matches turned into nightmares.
15 Bret Hart vs. Vince McMahon - WrestleMania 26
The real life feud between Bret Hart and Vince McMahon is complicated and intricate enough that movies have been made and books have been written in order to try and fully explain both sides of the story. The very short of it is in November of 1997, Bret Hart was prepared to leave WWE for WCW while still WWE World Champion. Vince wanted Bret to lose the belt to Shawn Michaels before he left, and Bret felt he shouldn’t lose, but rather hand the belt to McMahon and say goodbye gracefully. Both sides have strong arguments, but Vince ultimately won when he chose to lie to Bret and conspire with Shawn Michaels and Earl Hebner to perpetrate the Montreal Screwjob.
Bret left WWE as intended the next night, and stayed away from the company for nearly a decade. His time in WCW wasn’t great, and he suffered a motorcycle accident and serious health problems that forced him into retirement, but he was still a major name WWE eventually wanted to reconcile with. After years of negotiation, Bret returned to Raw in 2010 and entered a feud with McMahon that culminated at WrestleMania 26. Due to Bret’s physical limitations, several of his brothers needed to be involved, and the match still moved at a snail’s pace while the Harts gave McMahon a tepid beating. Fans wanted a blood feud to end, but what they saw was the consequences of aging. It’s hard to blame anyone involved for the limitations of their bodies, but in hindsight most fans seem to agree this one just shouldn’t have happened.
14 The Rock and Steve Austin vs. Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall - Monday Night Raw 2002
The two biggest names in WWE during the Monday Night Wars were The Rock and Steve Austin. They had opponents who contributed greatly to their success, but those two stood above the rest as internationally known mainstream megastars amidst the usual sea of WWE superstars. On the WCW side, there was the New World Order. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall weren’t the same level of star individually, but as part of the group they were, and Hogan definitely had that mainstream recognition on his own. Everybody remembers that Hogan and The Rock faced each other at WrestleMania 18, but few recall the fact that in anticipation of that match, The Rock and Austin teamed up to battle the nWo in a handicap match on Raw. We assume the reason people forget is the fact the match sucked.
The week before the legendary Rock-Hogan showdown, this handicap match main evented Raw, and saw Hogan more or less cleanly beat Rock with the classic big boot and leg drop combo. Everyone knew Rock was winning the big match that weekend so there was no outrage over that part, but Hall and Nash just couldn’t perform in the ring on the level they were expected to anymore. Hall faced Austin at WrestleMania, too, in a non-dream match that most people forget along with this one.
13 Matt Hardy vs. Jeff Hardy - Vengeance 2001
Jeff and Matt Hardy have done battle so many times at this point it’s actually impossible to count. Due to a great number of undocumented and untaped house shows for independent promotions, we’ll literally never know how many times the brothers have done battle. That’s not even considering the undoubtedly millions of times they’ve practiced and wrestled each other at home or as part of their training—the point is, these guys wrestle each other a whole lot. But, if you think back just about 15 years ago to 2001, you’ll remember there was a point the two were actually considered the most exciting tag team in wrestling. Therefore, the prospect of them breaking up and doing battle had fans expecting a high-flying spectacle unlike any other.
Matt and Jeff wrestled each other in WWE for the first time at Vengeance 2001, and the result was a pretty dull contest. Lita was the special guest referee, but she didn’t add much to the equation. Matt won by cheating, and the team were back to tagging together in less than a month. Despite how poorly received the match was, the Hardys have been milking their feud for decades. They recently performed The Final Deletion for Total Nonstop Action, but many fans felt an ambiguous ending meant there would be more of their nonsense for years to come.
12 Muhammad Ali vs. Antonio Inoki - Japan 1976
With the recent death of Muhammad Ali, many fans have been remembering his many contributions to the world of sports in general outside of simply his legendary boxing career. As most people are now no doubt aware, this includes several forays into the world of professional wrestling. What may have been Ali’s most famous professional wrestling experience was also one of the most embarrassing moments of his career, and it wasn’t that great for his opponent, either.
While Ali’s more positive contributions to the world of wrestling were completely scripted, the Inoki fight was intended to be a legitimate fight pitting boxing against catch wrestling. Well, Inoki intended the match to be legitimate—Ali only signed on imagining that it would be an exhibition. When Ali found out Inoki seriously wanted to fight him, a list of extremely restrictive rules were created that more or less prevented Inoki from touching Ali with his arms. As a result, Inoki laid on his back and kicked Ali’s legs the entire match, while spectators were mostly confused and Ali could do little in response. The fight was ruled a draw, but both guys came out looking like losers, and the crowd even started chanting that they wanted their money back.
11 Sting vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan - Starrcade 1997
All of these dream matches ended up being disappointing, but this match is one of the only contest in wrestling history that can be pointed to as so horrible it signaled the slow destruction of the company. WCW still had good moments to come in the late 90s, but the match between Hollywood Hulk Hogan and Sting at Starrcade 1997 was the final piece of evidence that the company simply was never going to do anything right. The reason was obvious to anybody who watched the match, too: Hulk Hogan’s ego was too big to responsibly use the power he was given.
Fans had been dying to see Sting, the top face of WCW, and Hogan, the top face of WWE, square off for at least three or four years already when Hogan jumped ship in 1994. They were both faces at that point and neither were likely to turn heel, so when Hogan’s game changing heel turn finally took place, it was obvious fans wanted to see Sting take him down once and for all now that they had a serious reason to fight. For a solid year and a half, starting with the nWo defeating Sting and his partners at Bash at the Beach 1996, WCW was building towards this one single match, where Sting would presumably get some serious revenge. Instead, Hogan no sold most of his offense, and beat him cleanly, at which point Bret Hart came out to complain like a goof. The idea this legendary dream match was ending with a ripoff of something literally called the screwjob was bad enough, but they completely blew the ending when the referee counted his “slow count” at normal speed. They had some good shows left in them, but WCW never really recovered from this failure, as no one had faith the company could deliver anymore.
10 Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar - WrestleMania XX
Goldberg was the rookie monster in WCW, the man who went from a mysterious nobody to the WCW World Heavyweight Champion in just under a full year. Brock Lesnar mimicked this success in WWE just over four years later, going from an unknown and enigmatic destroyer to Undisputed WWE World Champion in a little over six months. Although Goldberg’s run in WWE was almost entirely botched from the start, when the two found themselves in the same place at the same time, it was obvious they shared a bond that could only end with some kind of explosive spectacle. The match would either be a classic or a disaster, and what happened was something directly in between the two.
The real problem with the match between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania XX was that both men were known to be leaving the company after the match. Regardless of who won or lost, neither would be wrestling again anytime in the near future. As a result, the fans were uninterested and restless from the start, booing both men miserably and only cheering for the referee, Steve Austin. Lesnar is at times an immensely talented athlete, and Goldberg can perform his role well, but this night neither of them were prepared for the level of crowd vitriol they received, and the result was a confusing mess.
9 Hulk Hogan vs. Jake Roberts - House Shows 1986
Things don’t always work out the way wrestling promoters plan, and sometimes that means a new star is made, but other times it can mean a long storyline is nixed from the start due to the ramifications it could cause to the entire company. In late 1986, Jake Roberts was one of the coolest and most evil men in WWE. The role of top heel was a rotating monster of the week battling WWE World Champion Hulk Hogan, but Jake was firmly bad guy number two, and people thought he was downright awesome when he was playing that role. Everyone wanted Roberts to face off against Hogan, but the way they wanted it didn’t exactly fit the script. When the two finally met and Roberts planted the Hulkster with a DDT, the crowd went wild—and they were supposed to think that was a heinous attack from a dastardly heel.
WWE gets a lot of flak these days for ignoring their fans, and much of it is deserved. However, certain things are obvious, and one of them is that when Hulkamania is selling more merchandise than everyone else in company history combined, you don’t turn him into the bad guy. People cheering Jake over Hogan meant they’d be booing Hogan when he was dominating, and the company wasn’t ready for the moneymaker to look secondary. The two had a few tepid matches on house shows, but no dream contest ever happened, since they had to bury the program before it could change the course of history.
8 The Road Warriors vs. Demolition - Saturday Night's Main Event 1990
The Road Warriors were the most dominant tag team of the 1980s, running roughshod over every territory they entered and winning a countless number of regional titles. They were mainstays of the AWA and NWA, which meant Vince McMahon and his newly national WWE was the only area that wasn’t getting a slice of The Road Warriors success train. As a result, Vince created a similar power and paint style team out of the former Masked Superstar and Krusher Kruschev, switching their names to Ax and Smash and calling them Demolition. Demolition were equally dominant and brought their own spin to the idea making them likewise popular, so fans naturally were dying to see the two teams do battle.
Demolition and The Road Warriors finally ended up in the same company in 1990 when the Warriors signed with WWE. Switching their name to The Legion of Doom, they immediately made their presences known by attacking Demolition, who were then the WWE World Tag Team Champions. At this point, Ax was nearing retirement, and was occasionally being replaced by Crush, so to even the odds, the LOD were joined by The Ultimate Warrior for a big match at Saturday Night’s Main Event in autumn of 1990. Despite the big names involved, the match was anything but explosive, and it ended with Warrior tepidly splashing Smash for the win in under five minutes. Not a rush at all.
7 Sting vs. Bret Hart - Halloween Havoc 1998
When Bret Hart jumped ship from WWE to WCW in 1997, he opened up the possibility for a seemingly endless string of dream matches that fans of the Monday Night Wars era had been dying to see for years. Hart was immediately involved with the nWo and Sting when he debuted, vaguely siding with the Stinger to help him win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in an unfortunate Starrcade match we already covered. Hart then moved on to a legitimate dream match against Ric Flair that actually delivered at Souled Out of 1998, but would quickly stagnate in WCW as the company had very little idea what to do with him.
Hart shuffled around the midcard of WCW facing a variety of moderately big name opponents on various Nitros and Pay-Per-Views, including losses to Diamond Dallas Page, Lex Luger and Booker T that didn’t exactly leave fans hopeful about Bret’s stay in his new company. Near the end of 1998, Bret engaged a feud with Sting and the two big name superstars finally did battle in a highly promoted singles match at Halloween Havoc 1998. Instead of wrestling a classic, Bret was presented as a cowardly heel, which ruins the concept behind a dream match and caused this match to die a slow boring death.
6 Sabu vs. The Sandman - November To Remember 1997
ECW was a land of violence, hardcore chaos, and often drunken and otherwise intoxicated mayhem, and the rabid fans of the promotion wouldn’t have had it any other way. Even within ECW’s wild walls, there was no wrestler more extreme than the homicidal, suicidal, genocidal maniac Sabu. Likewise, there was no one rowdier or more reckless than the drunken Hardcore Icon, The Sandman. Somehow, the two never did battle over the first five years of ECW’s existence, and they were finally set to face each other at November to Remember 1997. Fans were expecting one of the most hardcore matches of all time, but what they got was something else entirely.
One of the more regrettable things ECW was known for was an environment that downright encouraged drug use, and while anybody who wants to do drugs is making that choice themselves, it’s exceptionally dangerous to do so before participating in a wrestling match. Case in point, The Sandman in this match up, allegedly performing under the influence of LSD. Sabu tried his best to piece the match together, but mostly fell off a series of increasingly complicated ladder based platforms, and Sandman rolled out of the way and fell down in between set-ups regardless. Sabu ultimately won the match, but the Sandman’s real loss was looking like an uncoordinated drug addict on national television.
5 Bret Hart vs. The Rock - Monday Night Raw 1997
While some dream matches are obviously a huge deal well before they’re even signed, hence the whole idea in the first place, occasionally history will give us a dream match years before we even realize how significant the pairing is. In this instance, although Bret Hart was already a huge star when he challenged Rocky Maivia for the WWE Intercontinental Championship on Raw in March of 1997, Rocky himself was firmly within the “promising blue chipper" phase of his career. Perhaps more relevantly, it was during the part of The Rock’s career when fans chanted “Die, Rocky, Die” when they were supposed to be cheering him, thanks to how unprepared he was for the role he was given.
History would prove all the haters wrong, as it would only be a few short years before The Rock took over both professional wrestling and Hollywood in record time, but that doesn’t retroactively increase the quality of the matches he wrestled at the start of his career. The Rock’s encounter with The Hitman was similar to most of his battles at that point in his career, insofar as he needed Bret to do all the heavy lifting, and the fact he kept the title at the end only upset fans, even though it was a DQ victory. Hart would change the face of wrestling the next weekend at WrestleMania 13, and Rocky would likewise recreate WWE in his image a few years later. In 1997, though, they looked more like the guys who forced you to change the channel over to Nitro.
4 Bret Hart vs. Hollywood Hulk Hogan - Monday Nitro 1998
Bret Hart has been popping up a lot on this list, but no match is more emblematic of a dream match turning into a dud than his encounter with Hulk Hogan in late 1998. Hart and Hogan were originally set to main event SummerSlam 1993, and Hart claims the plan was for him to beat Hogan and officially crown The Hitman as the next big face in WWE and pro wrestling in general. Instead, plans were nixed, and Hogan took a long amount of time off before heading towards WCW. When Bret wound up in WCW with him four years later, once again the two were set to feud, and once again plans changed at the last minute in a way that didn’t satisfy anyone.
Hart was paired with Hogan from his debut in WCW, and in fact the first time he was mentioned on Nitro was during a segment with the New World Order, in essence calling him out before the ink was even dry on his contract. It took almost an entire year for Hogan to get in the ring with Hart, and when they did on a September 1998 Monday Nitro, the match lasted less than five minutes before Sting ran in and replaced an “injured” Bret in the match. The injury turned out to be a ruse, and Bret was nWo 4 life from then on. Or so it seemed…the whole thing was so poorly plotted we hesitate to end things so succinctly, but the point was, the match itself barely happened and it was both wasted on free television (versus a marquee Pay-Per-View) and a complete dud.
3 Sting vs. Triple H - WrestleMania 32
This entry is somewhat difficult for us to explain, thanks in part to the vague definition of a vague match. The real WrestleMania dream match with Sting is and always was to see him do battle with The Undertaker, but for whatever reason, when Sting made his way to WWE, his first major showdown was against Triple H. The whole story was pretty poorly plotted, with Sting apparently fighting for the honor of WCW, a promotion that was already dead for over a decade at that point. He was doing battle against Triple H, a person who was barely relevant during the Monday Night Wars, and didn’t really make a name for himself until after it was clear WWE had already won. But WWE kept calling it a dream match anyway, so they needed to make a huge spectacle when it finally happened. And things just got worse from there.
The match looked like a mess from the word go, when Sting entered to a bizarre tribal drum routine that had nothing to do with his decades old character. Triple H dominated him the entire 20-minute battle, meaning new fans especially had no reason to think this was anything special, and then for some reason, DX came out to support Triple H, so the senior citizen nWo came to Sting’s aide. As if the fact everybody had grey hair and could barely walk to the ring wasn’t sad enough, Sting’s entire gimmick for two years was that he hated the nWo and would never work with them. No part of this alleged “dream match” made any sense, and the harder WWE tried to sell it as something special, the more long-term fans were annoyed and insulted at this unnecessary affront to Sting and WCW.
2 Shawn Michaels vs. Mr. Perfect - SummerSlam 1993
Most of the matches on this list were considered dream matches due to a great number of fans demanding to see them, and in a sense, this match is no different. Shawn Michaels has a reputation for one of the all time greatest performers in WWE history, and Mr. Perfect is right there with him in terms of talent and the level of respect he’s earned from his audience and co-workers. Perfect’s true heyday was the late 80s and early 90s, and when this match came in 1993, he had already suffered the first of several major back injuries that would take him out of action for a long time, and it’s because of that injury fans probably shouldn’t have expected this one to steal the show. However, one of Shawn Michaels’s biggest and most outspoken fans most certainly still had that hope, and unfortunately, it was Vince McMahon, which means that the match was all but billed as a five star classic before it even happened.
When SummerSlam 1993 came around, both wrestlers did their best, and the match was hardly a dud by any means. In fairness, it was probably the best match out of any of the ones on this list, but it still didn’t come close to living up to the expectations fans were all but promised they were going to have fulfilled. The match serves as a lesson in advertising and overselling the capabilities of a performer, as everybody is completely capable of having a bad night or lacking the chemistry to create a classic. The only reason Shawn and Perfect were faulted for these foibles was Vince McMahon’s refusal to acknowledge they could possible exist.
1 The Rock vs. John Cena - WrestleMania 28 and 29
Wrestling fans can be a divisive bunch, and one of the most clear dividing lines amongst members of the WWE audience is where they stand on the series of matches between John Cena and The Rock at WrestleMania 28 and 29. Some fans feel they reinvigorated Cena and featured The Rock at the peak of his form seven years after he seemed to leave the sport forever. Other fans felt they were bombastic displays of style over substance that took away precious television time and main event paychecks from superstars with far more talent and relevance. Maybe it’s controversial of us, but the fact these matches are on our list should firmly place us within that second group.
No one is going to deny The Rock’s status as the absolute superstar of WWE. He transcended wrestling in a way no others ever have, and when he came back to the company in 2011, it made sense he immediately became the focus. It even makes sense he had major matches against John Cena, the top WWE star in his wake, at WrestleMania. But the fact remains the matches were merely okay at best, and didn’t really prove anything aside from the fact both men are still really big stars. If it had happened a little bit down the card as a special attraction or just taken less TV time, it might have been acceptable, but it was pushed down our throats so hard that by the second “dream” match, fans were begging WWE to wake up.