We’re one day away from Wrestlemania, which airs live on the WWE Network on Sunday, March 29. This might not mean much to non-wrestling fans, but if you’re hooked on the pro graps you probably feel like a little kid waiting for Christmas right now. Sure, this year’s Wrestlemania has had a sluggish build, with a line-up that isn’t as strong as it could be, but it’s still Wrestlemania. It’s still hard to not get excited about the biggest event in this sport (and yes, we know wrestling is scripted, thank you very much).
Of course, not every Wrestlemania pays off on that excitement. Some have even been outright disasters. Right now we’re going to look at the worst Wrestlemanias of all time. And if you think we’re being too negative, come back in a couple of hours, when we’ll run our list of the best Wrestlemanias ever. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that Wrestlemania is like pizza, and is pretty good even when it’s bad, but just because a show might be a let-down doesn’t take away from the fun we had anticipating it.
For more on Wrestlemania, check out our list of the best Wrestlemania matches.
5. Wrestlemania V
Wrestlemania V will always be remembered for two title changes and one of the hottest main events in Wrestlemania history. The overall event, though, felt like a glorified house show. The “fit every guy onto the show” mentality lead to 14 matches, way too many for any pay-per-view, and that volume forced them to cut time from every match. Curt Hennig and Owen Hart (in his Blue Blazer persona) could’ve had a classic with 15 minutes, but only went less than six. In fact only two matches even hit the ten minute mark, and one of them only went over by a second. It was too long, in front of a dead crowd, and full of matches that didn’t really have much of a storyline behind them. There was solid work sporadically throughout the card, and if you’re of a certain age this might be the most nostalgic WWF roster you could imagine (although Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard still seem out of place), but it’s a grueling show overstuffed with filler. As good as the Rick Rude vs. Ultimate Warrior match for the Intercontinental title is, it won’t make you forget the time wasted on Dino Bravo vs. Ronnie Garvin, or the non-finishes of Jim Duggan vs. Bad News Brown and Brutus Beefcake vs. Ted DiBiase.
The biggest mark against this show is that its greatest match ends with what was, for 11-year-old me, the absolute worst moment in wrestling history. I was a staunch supporter of Randy “Macho Man” Savage from the moment I first saw him, not just because I lived in his kayfabe hometown of Sarasota, Florida, but because he was the most electrifying wrestler I had ever seen, both in and out of the ring. Meanwhile I always saw through Hulk Hogan, knowing when I was a kid that he was a hypocrite and a fraud. Not only was Hogan making time with Savage’s girlfriend, he straight-up abandoned him in that tag match against Akeem and the Big Bossman, and yet somehow we were supposed to boo the Macho Man when the Megapowers exploded? I knew wrestling was scripted, I knew the announcers were the mouthpieces of the decision makers (although I don’t think I knew yet that Vince McMahon, the lead announcer, was actually the owner himself), so when they tried to make me hate Savage it just made me hate the company. And having Savage drop the belt after only a year was a bad business decision in a few ways—he was extremely over as either face or heel, and a shocking victory over Hogan could’ve built to an even bigger rematch at Summerslam. Instead Savage lost and was shuttled down the card as an afterthought while Hogan spent the summer promoting that megabomb of a movie No Holds Barred.
Yes, I’m a mark. Yes, Wrestlemania V worked me hard. And yes, the main event is a legitimately good match, one of the best (and, really, few great) matches in Hogan’s career. The passion we feel for our favorite wrestlers, the emotion we feel when they lose or win, is the key to this entire enterprise, though. If we as fans didn’t have passion wrestling wouldn’t work. If we aren’t still pissed off that our childhood hero lost a big match 26 years ago, why do we still care about wrestling at all? Even if Wrestlemania V, which isn’t actively awful so much as it is just bloated and kind of boring, featured three hours of the greatest wrestling of all time, only for Savage to lose to Hogan at the end, I’d still personally call it my least favorite Wrestlemania of all time.—Garrett Martin
4. Wrestlemania XV
Philadelphia hosted the 15th annual Wrestlemania in 1999. Even though the decade was winding down, it oozed nineties. Boyz II Men kicked off the ass-kicking by singing “America the Beautiful,” for one thing. The decade-defining aesthetics mostly came from the matches themselves, as many nostalgia-free wrestling historians can now look back on the “Attitude Era” as a time of over-the-top, nonsensical booking decisions done solely for the sake of edginess. This particular pay-per-view wasn’t the worst offender by any means (see the Royal Rumble from the same year), but it did have its groan-worthy moments. For starters, one of the matches wasn’t even a wrestling match but rather a “Brawl for All” match, the conclusion of the company’s failed experiment in tough man competitions that pitted some of its wrestlers against each other in unscripted shootfights. Bart Gunn, who won the tournament and the right to face legitimate boxing champion Butterbean at Wrestlemania, had his tough-guy cred quickly confiscated when Butterbean knocked him out cold in a matter of seconds.
As far as the wrestling matches, most of the card consisted of brief, lackluster contests with no real longstanding significance. D’Lo Brown and Test found themselves paired up in a failed attempt to capture the Tag Team Championships after co-winning a weird battle royal earlier in the night, there was a typically clamorous Hardcore title match and Mankind defeated pre-Big Show Paul Wight via disqualification to become the special referee for the main event. The main event, by the way, was one of the only bright spots as it featured Stone Cold vs. The Rock in what would be the first of their three Wrestlemania matches for the WWF Championship. But even that couldn’t make up for everything that took place earlier in the evening.—Trevor Courneen
3. Wrestlemania IX
The initial thoughts that come to mind when recalling Wrestlemania IX make the event seem more like a parody show than the most important pay-per-view of the year. Held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, it will go down as the first Wrestlemania to take place outdoors. Unfortunately, it will also go down as the first Wrestlemania to feature a 22-second, unannounced main event. Hulk Hogan made his return to WWF for the event, teaming with Brutus Beefcake against tag team champions Ted DiBiase and Irwin R. Schyster. That wouldn’t be the last time Hogan was seen that night, though, because he decided to come out after the main event and challenge for the WWF Championship that Yokozuna had just won from Bret Hart moments prior. After a backfired blinding attempt from Mr. Fuji’s fistful of salt, Hogan would leg-drop Yokozuna and become the new champ in about a quarter of a minute. Egomania was runnin’ wild.
Hogan’s hand being raised in undeserved victory at the show’s conclusion wasn’t the only unsightly scene that night. The Undertaker put an early notch in his illustrious streak, but it was a disqualification win against the extremely limited behemoth Giant Gonzalez. The mundane match would be completely unmemorable if not for Gonzalez’s bizarrely airbrushed bodysuit that made him look like a big naked Sasquatch. This match, along with Hogan’s impromptu title win and other pointless duds like Razor Ramon squashing Bob Backlund and Doink the Clown’s stunt double beating Crush with a prosthetic arm, would cement this Wrestlemania’s place in the “worst of all-time” category.—TC
2. Wrestlemania XXVII
Atlanta deserved better. Conspiracy theorists can speculate that Vince McMahon saved one of the worst Wrestlemanias for the hometown of WCW as just one more petty dig against Ted Turner’s long-dead wrestling organization, but I don’t think McMahon would tank his baby even if he did somehow think it was another middle finger to his hated rival. Wrestlemania XXVII was simply a victim of that oldest sin of professional wrestling: bad booking.
This is the only Wrestlemania I’ve ever attended live, and I honestly think it gets a bit of a bad rap. I mean, it’s a bad show, don’t get me wrong, but there are some good matches on the undercard. The first half is actually a perfectly fine wrestling show. Hometown boy Cody Rhodes beat his childhood favorite Rey Mysterio in an exciting, energetic match. CM Punk and Randy Orton settled their rivalry in a crisp, hard-hitting grudge match. Edge, in what turned out to be his last major match, put on a clinic with the underrated Alberto Del Rio. This Wrestlemania was only four years ago, and yet four of those six wrestlers are no longer with the company.
The quality nosedives after the Orton vs. Punk match, starting with one of the worst booked matches in Wrestlemania history. Announcers Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler had been feuding for months, in the process making WWE programs almost unlistenable. Cole was probably the most hated man in the company, and the 71000 people in the Georgia Dome that night couldn’t wait to see Lawler systematically destroy him. Instead of the quick squash that every fan hoped to see, we were treated to a 14 minute exercise in extreme boredom that inexplicably ended with Cole technically winning via disqualification. Guest referee Stone Cold Steve Austin tried to salvage the match, but even a barrage of stunners couldn’t draw the fans back in.
Next there was an interminable match between The Undertaker and Triple H that tried so hard to be an epic that the two are probably still trading near-falls somewhere within the Dome today. It felt like a parody of the New Japan style of main event, but played at quarter-speed. After that was a tag match that existed solely to highlight former celebrity Snooki from Jersey Shore.
To top it all off, after three straight bad matches came perhaps the most misguided main event in Wrestlemania history, with the Miz defending his WWE Championship against John Cena while special guest ref The Rock soaked up all the heat from the crowd. Today people act like the Miz merely being in the main event at Wrestlemania was a horrible call, and that’s understandable if you only know him as the midcard comedy act he’s played for the last few years or from his time on The Real World. The problem with this match wasn’t the Miz, though—he’s never been a great wrestler, but at the time he was pulling his own in promos and angles as the arrogant coward and top heel. He was great at playing what is known in wrestling as the “chickenshit” heel, and chickenshit heels exist to get beaten by the hero on the biggest cards. A well-booked main event would have seen him regularly cheat throughout the match against the all-conquering, all-American superhero John Cena, only for Cena to overcome the odds and win. Instead the match ended in a double-count-out, which would’ve been the worst way to ever end a Wrestlemania. The Rock wouldn’t let it go out like that and restarted the match, though, but then immediately gave Cena a Rock Bottom, letting the Miz steal the win. As the Miz scurried away the Rock and Cena had a staredown, which perfectly encapsulated the problems with this booking: instead of getting to shine as the top bad guy on the biggest stage in wrestling, the Miz was relegated to an insignificant pawn in the larger battle between the Rock and John Cena. The Miz’s career never recovered, and this incompetently booked main event is probably the worst in Wrestlemania history.—GM
1. Wrestlemania 2
As bad as Wrestlemania XXVII was, at least it only subjected a single city to its horror. Wrestlemania 2 didn’t have that dignity—it spread itself across three cities in one night, pumping New York, Chicago and Los Angeles full of bad wrestling and worse commentary. Exactly one of this show’s twelve matches are worth watching today, the tag team title match between the British Bulldogs and the Dream Team of Greg Valentine and Brutus Beefcake. Despite having talented workers like Ricky Steamboat, Randy Savage, Bret Hart, Terry and Dory Funk and Tito Santana up and down the card, they were mostly put in matches that didn’t accentuate their strengths (although the Funks and Santana did the best they could in a tag match that also included the amazingly charismatic but athletically deficient Junkyard Dog).
As a kid the matches I remember being pushed the most were the main event between Hulk Hogan and King Kong Bundy, a boxing match between Mr. T and Roddy Piper and a battle royal that featured a mix of wrestlers and football players, including the recent Super Bowl champ William “Refrigerator” Perry. All three matches are awful. Here was Piper at his peak as a heel, and he still couldn’t find a way to make his fixed boxing match with an actor entertaining. Bundy was a formidable monster, but he wasn’t much of a wrestler. Of course neither was Hogan, which lead to a torturously slow main event, inexplicably refereed by Robert Conrad of the ‘60s TV show The Wild Wild West. And battle royals are hardly ever entertaining outside of the spectacle of that many bodies being in a ring at once, and it’s even worse when half the guys involved aren’t trained wrestlers.
Worst of all, though, were the guest commentators in each city. With his announcers spread thin, Vince McMahon turned to celebrities, roping in Susan Saint James, Cathy Lee Crosby and Elvira. None of them were particularly knowledgeable about wrestling, making sure Wrestlemania 2 isn’t just hard to watch but also hard to listen to. It took McMahon a while to find the right mix of wrestling and spectacle that makes for a great Wrestlemania, and Wrestlemania 2 was way too heavy on the latter.—GM