WrestleMania is synonymous with excellence and for 30 years it has been the home for some of the most memorable matches in the history of professional wrestling. We asked members of the Nation to go back for each of the 29 editions of WrestleMania and for the upcoming 30th edition and pick one match to change. The change could be because a multitude of reasons but would result in what we felt was a better match for the card. Place to Be Nation staffers Marc Clair, Ben Morse, and Derek Cornett are joined by friends of Place to Be Nation Dave Hall, Ryan Howard, Patrick Fenton, and David Vandver to put together this special three-part series, looking back at WrestleMania and changing what did happen into what could have been.
WrestleMania I – Greg “The Hammer” Valentine vs. Tito Santana for the IC Title
Marc Clair: It’s easy to go back and look at WrestleMania I – the event that started it all – and jump right to the main event of Hulk Hogan and Mr. T vs. Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff for a fantasy re-booking. It’s tempting to restructure the WrestleMania I main event as the culmination of the Hulk Hogan vs. Roddy Piper feud in a one-on-one match, as they were easily the top face and top heel of the time. But WrestleMania then wasn’t what WrestleMania is now – a culmination of bitter rivalries signaling the end of the “Wrestling Year.” The first WrestleMania was a one-off spectacular event designed to draw in a mainstream audience, and the inclusion of Mr. T and Muhammad Ali (as special referee) in the main event was a big part of that. So I’ll let this legendary main event remain as is – it’s hard to argue with success after all! Instead, I’ll look to culminate another bitter feud at the first WrestleMania, and book Greg “The Hammer” Valentine vs. Tito Santana for the Intercontinental Title. And, just because I can, let’s make it a cage match!
The feud between Santana and Valentine began in September 1984 when Valentine – who had recently jumped ship to the WWF from NWA Mid-Atlantic – defeated Tito for the Intercontinental Title. They feuded for several months, until the feud was shifted to Valentine vs. Junkyard Dog, who had just arrived from Mid-South as a hot babyface. At WrestleMania I, JYD would defeat Valentine by count out, but only after the match was restarted when JYD’s “good buddy” Tito came in to tell the ref that Valentine had illegally used the ropes to achieve a tainted victory. Especially considering that they were still pushing the Tito/Valentine feud within this match, it makes more sense to me to just blow off the feud here, and I would highlight JYD by flip-flopping him with Tito and letting him squash the Executioner. The cage stipulation would make perfect sense as well, since their previous lumberjack match at MSG had ended in a schmozz. Tito Santana vs. Greg Valentine in a Steel Cage for the IC title would have given that mainstream audience a taste of what two hard-working veterans can do to blow off a well-built feud. And it would have been magnificent!
WrestleMania II – Randy Savage vs. Paul Orndorff
Marc Clair: It is once again tempting to immediately turn to the main event of WrestleMania II for a rebooking scenario. King Kong Bundy in the main event? But this was not the King Kong Bundy that would be squashed by the Undertaker 9 years later. The King Kong Bundy of 1986 was seen as a legitimate threat to Hulk Hogan. Toss in Bobby Heenan and a steel cage and you’ve got a pretty decent main event. Instead, I will once again shift my focus to the Intercontinental Champion at the time, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who had only recently come to the WWF from Memphis and almost immediately won the Intercontinental Title from Tito Santana. At WrestleMania II, Savage defended his title against the entertaining but workrate-deficient George “The Animal Steele”. Instead, I will book Savage against an opponent more worthy of highlighting him for his WrestleMania debut: Paul Orndorff.
When Savage first arrived in the WWF, he was still using a lot of his Memphis heel tactics featuring stalling and cheap moves. This can be an effective formula against the right worker, but sadly George Steele is not that worker. Orndorff did nothing of consequence on this card, wrestling Don Muraco to a pointless count out in under five minutes. Orndorff was on a pretty decent face run this year, and could still go in the ring. He would surely have provided a well-worked match more fitting to Savage’s style, with Orndorff delivering some solid offense to counter Savage’s slimy ways. You could still have the same cheap ending to keep Orndorff looking strong, as he was on the verge of turning heel and starting a memorable feud with Hulk Hogan. Heck, this match could have even played into that heel turn, with Orndorff saying he tried playing Mr. Nice Guy, and look where it got him! Regardless of where the storyline went afterward, Randy Savage vs. Paul Orndorff would surely deliver in the ring, and would have been a much more fitting WrestleMania debut for the Macho Man.
WrestleMania III – The British Bulldogs vs. The Hart Foundation for the Tag Team Titles
Ryan Howard: When WrestleMania III took place, I was 15 days from being born. So it took me a while to really understand just how epic of an encounter was taking place between Hulk Hogan & Andre the Giant, the match that really drove over 93,000 fans into the Pontiac Silverdome. Now looking back on it, that’s the match people came to see, Ricky Steamboat vs. Randy Savage stole the show, but one match could’ve perhaps closely rivaled that, but it didn’t happen, because it was made a joke. That match was the British Bulldogs & Tito Santana vs. The Hart Foundation & the in ring debut of corrupt referee “Dangerous” Danny Davis. Now don’t get me wrong, the way that Davis got the win was great heat to have on him, especially with the Foundation & Jimmy Hart in his camp, but two of the top teams in professional wrestling, let alone your Tag Team champions, showcasing Davis, didn’t really sit well with me.
Which is why, up until that point, arguably the biggest show in the history of the WWF, why wouldn’t you want to have your Tag Team Championships defended? Why not have Danny Davis’ in ring debut come on a Saturday Night’s Main Event? If they wanted to go the same result & have a tainted win for the Harts here defending their titles against the Bulldogs, it would’ve given them the same heat I feel. These four guys could’ve had a fantastic straight up tag team match, but instead they opted to make this the night to give Davis the nod. A few weeks later the Harts & Bulldogs fought on Saturday Night’s Main Event in a 2 out of 3 falls match, which, as I mentioned, would’ve been a better time for Davis to get his heat in the six-man tag. As a fan of both teams, it seems like a missed opportunity to have your top teams really tear down the house, but instead opted to have the wrestling referee get the victory.
WrestleMania IV – Hulk Hogan vs. Ted DiBiase for the WWF Title
Dave Hall: For me, WrestleMania IV marked a change of direction for the company. For the first time, Hulk Hogan was not going to leave WrestleMania as World Champion. The big man was about to temporarily leave to make the movie No Holds Barred, and so Vince McMahon was looking at a new direction until he came back. As we know, the decision was made to take the belt off Hogan before WrestleMania and place it up for grabs in a long, tiresome tournament that gave WrestleMania IV a very bad reputation. Because of the tournament, there was little heat in almost any match, there were few non-tournament matches, and most of the matches were not well received. There are very few people who look back at this event and think “I have to see that match…” But all that could have been changed if the decision was made not to take the title off Hogan before the event. We could have been allowed to witness the final blow-off of the Randy Savage vs. Honky Tonk Man feud, which had been going since September 1987. We could have watched a Don Muraco vs. Butch Reed match to pay-off the Reed/Superstar Billy Graham angle from late 1987 as well. We could have also seen a match between Bam Bam Bigelow and Andre the Giant, which would have been very interesting. And we could have actually seen the match that I think most people really wanted…Hulk Hogan vs. Ted DiBiase.
From his arrival in WWF in mid-1987, DiBiase was positioned at the top of the card. The Million Dollar Man arrived proclaiming, “Every man has his price” and declaring he would purchase the WWF Championship. Of course, Hulk Hogan would never sell-out, but it set-up the two men on a collision course that sadly never really happened. The decision was made to have Hogan “lose” the belt to Andre at the televised Main Event special, who then handed it to DiBiase, and thus set the stage for the tournament. But imagine if they did not take that path? Imagine if the match with Andre was just a set-up to ambush and attempt to injure Hogan. Everyone wanted to see Hogan get his hands on DiBiase, and WrestleMania IV would have been a great place. And imagine the heat that DiBiase would have gotten if he walked out of WrestleMania 4 with the title? They could have done the evil twin referee angle at WrestleMania, have DiBiase win the title in controversial circumstances, have Hogan throw the refs out of the ring and pose to end the night. It would have allowed Hogan to go and make his movie, and have a ready-made rematch for when he returned. DiBiase could have proclaimed how he was proven right, that money could buy anything, and he could have bought his way to a WrestleMania IV rematch, or lost the title at a Saturday Night’s Main Event late in the year to Savage. Some people may say that WrestleMania was where the face always wins in the end, but remember that the rumored original plans for the tournament was for DiBiase to win (until Honky Tonk Man held McMahon up). I truly think that a Hogan vs. DiBiase match would have been a memorable one, and a rematch 12 months later to put everything right would have been just as big.
WrestleMania V – Rockers vs. Brainbusters
Derek Cornett: This is one of my favorite WrestleManias of all-time. I thoroughly enjoyed the jam-packed card. The Mega Powers exploding was a once in a lifetime event that was often imitated but never duplicated. Going down from there the epic Warrior vs. Rude match was so good and Rude finally found his way to gold in what was one of the biggest upsets of the era. In terms of singles contests, this Mania had a lot of things going right but on the tag team side of things it could have been better. First off the Hart Foundation are all but forgotten in a random tag team encounter with Honky Tonk Man and Greg Valentine and those two not even being the official team of Rhythm and Blues didn’t help matters. The World Tag Team Title contest was a 3 on 2 match that had some nice heat, but still not the template for a great tag team championship WrestleMania match. Then we come to two of my favorite matches on the card. First, The Brainbusters vs. Strike Force, a call back to a Horsemen beat-down if there ever was one in the WWF, but this match was simply a tool to push the break-up of Strike Force. Second, the very fast paced big man vs. small man Twin Towers vs. Rockers contest was quite an entertaining one. Now for the purpose of this piece, I am going to split these last two matches and make it Brainbusters vs. Rockers on the biggest stage of them all, subsequently using the Twin Towers to break up Strike Force and thus help the overall angle of Rick Martel joining up with Slick with the use of some long-term booking.
Rockers vs. Brainbusters – Since their debut in the WWF, Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard found their match with the Rockers. What history showed us with the Rockers vs. Twin Towers contest, it was merely a showcase, and for how good it was, these two teams together would have made it that much better. The two squads had met multiple times during the Busters’ first six months including battling to a double count out on the March 11th SNME. I think if you have this on the card, the build would have started at Survivor Series with both teams getting eliminated by one another, then leading to some tussles in the Royal Rumble leading to the double count out at SNME and then the blow off here. The Brainbusters were destined for the Tag Team Titles in less than two months and this match could have done the same thing to legitimize them for that run not to mention be one of the most entertaining tag team matches in the history of WrestleMania if done correctly. The Rockers would be able to transition from this feud to the Rougeau Brothers feud without a hitch, much like they did from the Twin Towers defeat. On the other side of the spectrum, as stated earlier, the Twin Towers work together to destroy Tito while Martel turns and joins with Slick and all is right in the world.
WrestleMania VI – Tito Santana vs. Rick Martel
Derek Cornett: When I look back on WrestleMania VI, I see the changing of an era in the WWF. It was at this time that the Red and Yellow of Hulkamania wasn’t running as wild as it once was and for all intent and purposes, those fans were heading to Parts Unknown. WrestleMania VI was held in Skydome in Toronto in front of a jam-packed crowd and would mark the final pay per view broadcast announced by Jesse “The Body” Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon. The card itself was quite good, but it still seemed as though the WWF was on this idea of filling up time with matches that didn’t have a lot of meat and potatoes. There are a couple of matches on this card that I would like to move around and change some pieces with. For instance, I would have loved to see Rick Rude and Roddy Piper cap off their feud on this big of a stage. The end of that feud came in a cage on a cold December night in Madison Square Garden 1989, but at this time, feuds could be prolonged and it would have added a meaningful match rather than the Piper vs. Bad News Brown contest we got. But, that isn’t the match that I would pick if I could only pick one. The one match I would have put on the card at WrestleMania VI would have been Tito Santana vs. Rick Martel!
It was one year ago in Atlantic City that these former tag team champions split right down the middle. Now I alluded to that contest and how I would have changed it in the previous entry, but this was the moment that could have made it all come together. In 1989 Santana and Martel split at WrestleMania, were in a six man tag at SummerSlam, a Survivor Series match, and Tito was even eliminated by Martel (with help from the Ultimate Warrior) at the Royal Rumble. These guys had a serious story and the previous year a similar angle worked (WM V: Hogan vs. Savage) with having a yearlong story build. Everyone knew that these guys could go and this would have been my first choice to open the show and get the crowd going. I have no ill will towards Koko B Ware, but Santana vs. Martel would have gone down as one of the greatest openers of all times.
WrestleMania VII – Legion of Doom vs. The Hart Foundation for the Tag Team Titles
Ryan Howard: Tag team wrestling has become sort of a lost art in WWE. Yes, there are very talented teams in today’s WWE Universe such as The Shield, The Usos, Rhodes Brothers, The Wyatts, The Real Americans, but the glory days of WWF tag team wrestling was certainly 20+ years ago. I go back to the early 90s with the champions, The Hart Foundation, fresh off their win against Demolition at SummerSlam after some assistance from the newest team on the WWF roster, the Legion of Doom. During this time, the tag division was booming, composed of teams like Power & Glory, The Rockers, Demolition, LOD, The Nasty Boys, The Orient Express and The Bushwhackers, and heck, you could even throw in Duggan & Volkoff and Earthquake & Dino Bravo. Point is there were plenty of teams for the Harts to go out & develop a feud against. Chalk it up to more time in between PPVs at the time or not, it felt like you didn’t have to rush feuds. The Nasty Boys were the team that got the nod to go into WrestleMania VII and face the Harts for the tag team titles after winning a tag team battle royal on Superstars. The last team eliminated, the team who helped The Harts win the tag titles, was The Legion of Doom. What would’ve happened had the LOD gone to Mania & fought the Harts? Sure, you could still have the LOD fight Demolition throughout the house shows & pit the Harts against Power & Glory, but when it came to TV, why not build for a face vs. face showdown for wrestling’s top tag team prize? The team that dominated in the NWA against one of the absolute best in the WWF for years. They could’ve built off of the help that LOD gave the Harts for months, not coming to a head until the biggest showdown of the year. It was a tag match that fans never got to see on TV or PPV & a tag match I know many would’ve loved.
WrestleMania VIII – Jake Roberts vs. Randy Savage
Ryan Howard: While I had a handful of favorite wrestlers to watch growing up, I didn’t develop a true #1 guy until 1992 really kicked into gear. I wasn’t a Hulkamaniac, but instead I was a Randy “Macho Man” Savage fan. When I started to really get into the world of the WWF towards late 91, Randy Savage was right in the middle of what I eventually found out was a love story for the ages featuring Savage & Miss Elizabeth. During this time, Jake “The Snake” Roberts emerged as a top villain and foil to the Macho Man. I remember being horrified as a youngster as Elizabeth opened the wedding present and a snake popped out, but even more so when Roberts had the cobra bite Savage in one of the most impactful attacks in WWF/E history. At the ripe age of five years old, things like that scare the holy hell out of you, but at the same time, made me cheer for Savage even more to get his revenge on Jake & come out on top. All of the top good guy vs. bad guy matches took place on big time shows like SummerSlam, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. But Tuesday in Texas? Come again? Surely Savage’s revenge wouldn’t come by a running knee eliminating Jake from the 92 Rumble?
As I grew older, I realized the feud that really gave me a #1 favorite to root for never had closure! I guess if you count the six-minute match in Texas and their short battle at February’s Saturday Night’s Main Event there was some closure, but a feud with so much hate & fire with the man being bit by a snake in the process deserved more! Looking at the house shows that took place at this time, even after the Royal Rumble match, Roberts & Savage were fighting each other nearly every show, even battling in cage matches. Which leads me to this being an obvious choice, for me at least, for the match that should’ve happened at WrestleMania VIII. Don’t get me wrong, Savage winning the World title made me ecstatic and I was on top of the world as a kid. Savage vs. Flair is still one of my Top 5 all time favorite Mania matches, but I really don’t think it should’ve been the match that had happened. Hogan/Flair is easily the most talked about match that never took place, but Savage standing tall over Jake after all that had happened, even in a cage match if you’d like, would’ve been a quite memorable sight as well.
WrestleMania IX – Randy Savage vs. Bret Hart for the WWF Title
Patrick Fenton: WrestleMania IX. April 4, 1993. Las Vegas, NV. The fall of 1992 saw the rise of a “Hitman.” Let’s do a little history lesson real quick by looking back at SummerSlam 1992. Bret Hart would lose the Intercontinental championship to his brother-in-law. Randy Savage would retain the WWF Championship (losing by count out), with interference from Ric Flair. A few days later, Ric Flair would defeat Randy Savage for that championship. By the end of fall, Bret Hart would defeat Ric Flair for his first WWF Championship. As we draw closer to WrestleMania season, there was a brand new stipulation added to the Royal Rumble: the winner would be moving on to challenge for the WWF Title at the biggest stage in wrestling, WRESTLEMANIA! This is where the stage is set.
The beginning of that “Road to WrestleMania” is where “Macho Man” would earn that title shot. Instead of just being granted a rematch, Randy Savage goes out to that 30-man Rumble and EARNED that title shot. Randy EARNS his WrestleMania IX main event slot. This would be Macho Man’s third main event match at WrestleMania. The build to the match would be awesome. Randy Savage would bring it with his promos and intensity. Bret would do what he did best at that time, short, simple promos, and awesome in-ring action against all challengers. Randy Savage, the original “Mr. WrestleMania,” having another huge WrestleMania match would set the bar high. Bret Hart, the new champion, would be looking to continue to prove himself. This match would be technically so much better than the Yokozuna vs. Bret Hart that we actually got. Oh, and don’t worry about Yokozuna, he would face Undertaker at the showcase of the immortals. Sorry Giant Gonzalez, maybe next year. Randy “Macho Man” Savage versus Bret “Hitman” Hart, the main event of WrestleMania IX. This could truly be the “Best there is, best there was…and best there ever will be….Ohhhh yeah!!”
WrestleMania X – The Quebecers vs. The Steiner Brothers for the Tag Team Titles
Patrick Fenton: WrestleMania X March 20, 1994 New York, NY – The first WrestleMania without the influence of the Yellow and Red, the first WrestleMania without the powerful force of Hulkamania running wild. What could we expect? Well, I don’t know that anyone thought you would see two five-star matches on this show. Bret “Hitman” Hart would lose to his younger brother, “The Rocket” Owen Hart in the opening contest and then the Intercontinental Title Ladder Match stole the show. Even with those two excellent matches, what would one change on this card? My first instinct was to change the last match, the “main event” of the show. I really wanted to see Randy Savage vs. Bret Hart (again if I got my wish from the previous year, this would be a rematch), but I couldn’t see how the idea would play out without really changing the entire card. So this is my “backup” idea for one match at WrestleMania X.
September 13, 1993, in a “Quebec Province Rules Match”, The Quebecers defeated The Steiner Brothers via disqualification to win the WWF Tag Team Championships on Monday Night Raw. Per pre-match stipulations, the title COULD change hands on a disqualification. On television, The Steiners never received their championship rematch. There was one episode on Superstars in early 1994, where if they defeated The Quebecers, the Steiners would have won the right to challenge them for a championship match. In reality, the match went to a draw and then Steiners blew their chance, but for the purposes of this article, we are going to say they won this bout, and would receive their match at WrestleMania X. We would finally get to see that match that could have/should have been.
What a way to kick things off with some very special contests. Each of those contests could have bumped any of the shows in the right direction. When we come back next time for part II, we travel through the Attitude Era and change up some of the premiere mid-card and main event matches of one of the most impressive strings of WrestleManias. Thank you for tuning and be sure to check out the second edition right here on the Place to Be Nation!