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10 dream matches that actually happened
Let’s all face some facts. We’re never going to see “Stone Cold” Steve Austin go one-on-one with Hulk Hogan, Bret “Hit Man” Hart won’t be testing his technical abilities against Kurt Angle and there’s no way Sting will ever attempt to break The Undertaker’s WrestleMania Streak.
Some fantasy bouts were just never meant to be, but there are a small handful of dream matches that actually happened — just not at the right place or time.
From Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s 2002 battle against Eddie Guerrero to The Hulkster’s anticlimactic showdown with The Excellence of Execution, WWE Classics looks at 10 matches that would have been wrestling classics instead of bits of overlooked trivia had their timing only been better.
Bret Hart vs. Hulk Hogan: Nitro (Sept. 28, 1998)
On a Mount Rushmore of great WWE heroes, Hulk Hogan and Bret “Hit Man” Hart would be butting heads alongside “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Bruno Sammartino. It might come as a surprise then that the two Superstars who dominated the WWE Title picture for much of the early ’90s never actually squared off in a WWE ring.
A match between the two WWE Hall of Famers could’ve easily headlined a WrestleMania — and, according to Hart, nearly main evented SummerSlam 1993. Instead, it was offered up for free on the Sept. 28, 1998, edition of WCW’s Nitro in a major grab for viewers during the ongoing Monday Night War. The bold move seemingly paid off as Nitro edged out Raw in the Nielsen’s that night, but it proved to be shortsighted as WCW lost all but one ratings battle from then on.
As for “Hit Man” and The Hulkster? They never met in singles action again.
Ricky Steamboat vs. Triple H: WCW Saturday Night (Sept. 3, 1994)
Triple H was so far away from being Triple H when he faced off with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat in 1994 that he was still going by the nom de guerre Jean Paul Levesque. So forgive the Georgia families jockeying for butt space on the WCW Saturday Night bleachers if they failed to realize that they were watching the man who would be The King of Kings matching wits with a bona fide mat master.
Back then, the future D-Generation X leader was still cultivating an air of smarmy superiority as a Francophile with a debilitating Indian Death Lock. Yes, he had boundless promise, but Triple H wasn’t quite ready to keep pace with a Superstar that had already crafted genre defining bouts against Ric Flair and Randy Savage. Still, shades of The Game’s future self were evident — especially after he was pinned by The Dragon and reacted by sending him shoulder first into the steel ring post.
As flawless as he could be, Triple H never came off like a spiritual successor to The Dragon, but the two Superstars would’ve made for perfect adversaries in their primes. Had this bout featured the immaculate, agile Steamboat of 1987 against the focused, unforgiving Triple H of 2001, then there would be a lot more debate about which of The Dragon’s technical showpieces was his finest.
Ric Flair vs. Kurt Angle: Raw (June 27, 2005)
If Ric Flair and Kurt Angle had squared off in summer 1988, The Nature Boy would’ve pushed the Olympian to a 60-minute time limit draw and then hit the hotel bar and bought Kamikazes for everyone in the Sheraton until the well ran dry.
Alas, Ric Flair was more than a few decades removed from his halcyon days as the NWA World Champion when he tangled with The Wrestling Machine that was Kurt Angle in June 2005. But damned if mat purists still weren’t salivating at the prospect of a then–55-year-old Nature Boy testing his will against a true Olympic gold medalist.
The reigning Intercontinental Champion at the time, Naitch truly was the oldest ride in the park, but he had wisely replaced the physical gifts time had taken from him with a college curriculum’s worth of ring smarts. Flair kept his dangerous opponent guessing, flustering Angle to the point that Kurt resorted to a pair of brass knuckles to stop The Dirtiest Player in the Game. The Nature Boy may have gotten his clock cleaned, but chances are he still bought those Kamikazes.
Randy Savage vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin: WCW Saturday Night (May 27, 1995)
On the night “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Randy Savage faced off for the first — and only — time, it would have been impossible to predict that Austin would one day emerge as an even bigger star than the iconic Slim Jim spokesman.
Austin was still a year away from taking the clippers to his thinning hair, growing a goatee and reemerging as The Texas Rattlesnake when he tangled with Savage on the May 27, 1995, edition of WCW Saturday Night. He would soon become the most successful Superstar in the history of sports-entertainment, but in Eric Bischoff’s creative vision for WCW, the future WWE Hall of Famer was already an afterthought.
Just a few weeks before he’d be unceremoniously dismissed by Bischoff via FedEx, Austin battled “Macho Man” in a ring that was literally emblazoned with Slim Jim logos. In that moment, The Texas Rattlesnake was all too aware that Savage held the spot he wanted. And if he was going to get it, he’d have to take it by force.
“He didn’t even see Steve Austin,” commentator Bobby Heenan said when marveling at “Macho Man’s” quick dispatching of the Texan. Soon, though, Savage would see — and so would the rest of the world.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson vs. Bret Hart: Raw (March 31, 1997)
History shows that at the same time Dwayne Johnson was making his prodigious transition from happy-to-be-there third-generation tyro to The Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment, Bret “Hit Man” Hart was struggling through the most disheartening years of his career in front of a constantly diminishing WCW audience. But there was a brief and often overlooked night when the two essential WWE Superstars crossed paths.
Johnson was less than six months into his WWE tenure and already the Intercontinental Champion when he defended his title against The Excellence of Execution on the March 31, 1997, edition of Raw. Then in the throes of his disturbing transition from unflappable hero to anti-American jingoist, Hart’s personal frustrations led him to suffer against his less experienced opponent. The Rock was still finding his offensive footing at the time, but he busted out a fisherman’s suplex and a high crossbody that stunned the “Hit Man.”
The Brahma Bull ultimately won the bout by disqualification after Hart refused to relinquish a vicious Figure-Four Leglock around the steel ring post. The nasty way this bout finished spoke to Bret’s frustrations, but it left a forever unanswered question about who would come out on top in a straight match between The Great One and The Excellence of Execution.
Rob Van Dam vs. Mr. Perfect: Sunday Night Heat (March 24, 2002)
In 1997, “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig left WWE and joined WCW as one of The Four Horsemen and later a member of The New World Order. Following the demise of the Atlanta-based organization in 2001, Hennig eventually returned to WWE at the 2002 Royal Rumble. The WWE Universe welcomed Mr. Perfect and he soon set his sights on the title he was most closely associated with — the Intercontinental Championship.
At the time, the champion was Rob Van Dam — arguably the most recognizable face of ECW. RVD’s high-flying abilities and agility were a strong match for Perfect’s own athleticism, technical skills and experience.
Their overlooked dream match had all the makings of a potential WrestleMania classic, pitting the past against the present and two distinct styles against one another. But The Grandest Stage of Them All would not host this rare and unexpected contest — RVD had actually won the title one week earlier at WrestleMania X8. The battle took place on Sunday Night Heat with RVD’s quickness and high-impact arsenal of maneuvers winning out over the former champion.
Randy Savage vs. Shawn Michaels: UK Rampage (April 19, 1992)
Following the split of The Rockers, Shawn Michaels began a singles career that would eventually earn him a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. During his first year as a lone competitor, Michaels quickly rose through the ranks to become a championship contender. Although he would not capture the WWE Title until 1996, HBK had his first opportunity for sports-entertainment’s ultimate prize when he challenged “Macho Man” Randy Savage at 1992’s U.K. Rampage — a pay-per-view event held in Sheffield, England.
At the time, it was simply the WWE Champion defending the title against a young and hungry competitor. By modern standards, though, it is a forgotten gem featuring two of the most legendary and popular WWE Superstars.
The Showstopper was a huge underdog against Savage, but the arrogant Superstar did not let that faze him as he used his quickness and agility to keep up with the more experienced WWE Champion. As the battle raged, it became clear Michaels was well on his way to a legendary career that would rival and even surpass that of his opponent at U.K. Rampage. Although Savage ultimately retained, Michaels more than proved himself and hinted that he would one day change the course of sports-entertainment.
Hulk Hogan vs. Brock Lesnar: SmackDown (Aug. 8, 2002)
If Brock Lesnar rumbled into WWE in the 1980s, he likely would’ve found himself positioned alongside King Kong Bundy and Andre the Giant as one of Hulk Hogan’s oversized, seemingly unstoppable monster foes. Of course, in the alternate reality of this Reagan Era timeline, The Hulkster would’ve summoned enough fortitude to overcome the beast. But things turned out a lot differently when Hogan and Lesnar met in the real world.
It was August 2002 when The Immortal One reemerged in WWE just as Lesnar was exploding out of the University of Minnesota with more raw potential than any Superstar before him. Hogan wasn’t over the hill quite yet. In fact, he’d carried the WWE Title earlier that same year. But the seemingly indestructible Hulkster had been made vulnerable by time and his undeniable weaknesses were exploited by the sinister farm boy with telephone books for hands. Incapacitating Hogan with a bear hug and then brutalizing him after the bell, Lesnar made the man a generation of kids grew up admiring look more like a Rottweiler’s chew toy than the guy from the vitamin box.
Would a youthful Hulkster have conquered this freak of nature? That’s impossible to say, but this bout stands as an announcement of Brock as The Next Big Thing and The Hulkster as a Superstar whose best outings were now behind him.
Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson vs. Eddie Guerrero: Raw (July 22, 2002)
After 20 years and more than 1,000 episodes of Raw, the WWE Universe knows that anything is possible on Monday night. That was most certainly the case on July 22, 2002, when WWE Champion Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson engaged in an unexpected battle with Eddie Guerrero.
Although it was a non-title contest, Latino Heat battled the champion as though the title was on the line. The speed and unbridled agility of Guerrero immediately kept The People’s Champ on the defensive, looking for any opportunity to slow down the fast-paced competitor’s momentum.
The WWE Universe quickly realized they were witnessing something special and the arena rose to their feet as the two Superstars traded blows. As The Great One struggled to keep pace with Guerrero’s speed, the mounting possibility of a major Raw upset became very real. When The Rock managed to nearly end the match with a Rock Bottom, Latino Heat reversed the maneuver, keeping his fight alive and WWE fans on the edge of their seats.
Ultimately, The Rock’s resilience and fighting spirit prevailed and he was able to successfully overcome his aggressive challenger and pick up the victory. Still, Guerrero proved that he was championship caliber that night and went on to win the WWE Title two years later at No Way Out 2004.
Rey Mysterio vs. Jushin Liger: Starrcade (Dec. 29, 1996)
Before WCW’s cruiserweight division exploded in popularity during the mid-90s, Japanese star Jushin “Thunder” Liger helped redefine the genre after joining the Atlanta-based organization in 1991. His rivalry with Brian Pillman over the Light Heavyweight Championship — the precursor to the Cruiserweight Title — was memorable, but his oft-forgotten battle with Rey Mysterio is the true definition of a cruiserweight classic.
Making his WCW debut in June 1996, Mysterio’s unique lucha libre style quickly made him the most popular highflier in the Atlanta-based organization. With Mysterio’s status rising, Liger — who had been on hiatus from WCW — returned to face The Ultimate Underdog at Starrcade 1996. Though the event was headlined by Roddy Piper and Hollywood Hogan, the bout between Liger and Mysterio was truly a display of the tested veteran against the rising young star.
Facing such an experienced international competitor, Mysterio — still early in his career at 21 years of age — displayed impressive agility and flexibility inside the ring. Liger was well-prepared, though, having wrestled a variety of competitive styles throughout his illustrious career. Rey refused to quit — a character trait he has displayed countless times in the years since this battle. But Liger’s experience proved to be the deciding factor as the Japanese Superstar secured the win in the only match between the two iconic fliers.