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Sports-entertainment’s 15 most crushing losses
The most unsettling thing about John Cena’s savaging at the meaty hands of Brock Lesnar at Extreme Rules 2014 — besides, y’know, the 16 German suplexes — was the faraway sound of a lone child chanting, “Let’s go Cena!” as his hero got manhandled before his hopeful eyes.
It was a disturbing scene, but instances of ultimate humility like that are where the true nature of our favorite Superstars shines through. For some, these debilitating losses represent a new foundation from which to rise again. For other Superstars, though, these shortfalls signify failure not only to themselves, but to the WWE Universe as a whole.
But which defeats were the most devastating? Join WWE.com as we count down the 15 most crushing losses ever experienced in WWE.
Randy Orton cashes in on Daniel Bryan (SummerSlam 2013)
The sports-entertainment equivalent of a kick to the groin from a steel-toed boot, the conclusion of SummerSlam 2013 saw Daniel Bryan go from a conquering underdog to a bowl of chow in a matter of seconds when Randy Orton emerged to cash in his Money in the Bank contract on The Beard, who had ridden a near-unprecedented groundswell of fan support to flying-knee the WWE Title right off of John Cena's meaty waist.
It was a sucker-punch Pedigree from guest ref (and, at that point, vocal Bryan advocate) Triple H that secured The Viper's prize and kick started the beginning of what we now know as The Authority. Of course, the better part of a year later, Bryan would get his glory when he beat Orton, Triple H and a returning Batista all in the same WrestleMania to become the undisputed WWE World Heavyweight Champion, but man, did that seem a long way off in August.
Batista calls it quits (Over the Limit 2010)
After Batista defeated John Cena at Elimination Chamber 2010, a rivalry began that would define both Superstars. Their careers had run parallel to each other ever since they won their first championships at WrestleMania 21. But much to Batista’s dismay, Cena was labeled ”The Man." Batista set out to prove that he and Cena weren’t equals — The Animal knew in his warrior’s heart that he was better than The Champ.
Having lost to the Cenation leader at WrestleMania XXVI, Batista’s last chance to prove himself was in an ”I Quit” Match at Over The Limit 2010. His goal was to do the impossible and make the man whose mantra is “Never give up” say, “I quit.” Instead, it was Batista who muttered those demoralizing words. The next night on Raw, The Animal couldn’t deal with the shame of his loss and once again said, “I quit,” leaving WWE for good.
Lita loses her farewell match (Survivor Series 2006)
Carrying the vaunted Women’s Championship into battle against Mickie James at Survivor Series 2006, the then-egotistical Lita knew when she arrived at Philadelphia’s Wachovia Center that the night’s bout would be her swan song. That knowledge, though, did little to soften the blow when James pinned the controversial Diva’s shoulders to the mat for the three-count.
Losing her title on the final night of her career, an irate Lita, claiming to be “The Greatest Women’s Champion of All Time,” lambasted the Philadelphia crowd for a vocal show of disrespect for the departing Diva. To add insult to, well, insult, Cryme Tyme emerged from the locker room area with a box full of Lita’s most personal belongings and proceeded to hock the items to WWE Universe members at ringside. Despite what she might have hoped, Lita’s final night in WWE was punctuated not by pomp and circumstance, but by shame and humiliation.
Bret Hart has a steel cage meltdown (Raw, March 17, 1997)
Bret “Hit Man” Hart was frustrated in the lead-up to WrestleMania 13, and the circumstances of his Steel Cage Match loss to WWE Champion Sid on the March 17, 1997, edition of Raw only made matters worse for the irate Excellence of Execution.
Hardly a fair fight, the match was interrupted by “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Undertaker, who brawled with both competitors at the top of the cage. Amidst the fracas, Hart attempted to exit the enclosure and claim Sid’s WWE Title, but The Phenom slammed the door on Hart’s head, which allowed the WWE Champion to escape the cage and retain his prize.
The “Hit Man” didn’t hide his discontent not only with the outcome of the bout but with WWE as a whole when he was approached by Mr. McMahon for a post-match interview. After harshly shoving The Chairman down to the mat, Hart lambasted WWE management in a profanity-laden rant that accused the company of turning a “blind eye” to injustices against him.
The Undertaker defeats Hulkamania (Survivor Series 1991)
For a generation of young WWE Universe members, Hulk Hogan was a legendary hero who conquered the forces of evil in defense of the greater good. So when The Undertaker defeated The Immortal One to gain possession of the WWE Championship at Survivor Series 1991, Hulkamaniacs around the globe weren’t just disappointed — they were utterly devastated.
With the help of Hogan’s rival Ric Flair and the nefarious Paul Bearer, The Deadman reaped sports-entertainment’s most illustrious prize for the very first time at WWE’s annual fall classic. Throughout Michigan’s Joe Louis Arena, red-and-yellow-clad children had tears in their eyes as commentator Bobby “The Brain” Heenan pronounced the death of Hulkamania.
The unjust circumstances of Hogan’s cruel defeat at Survivor Series prompted WWE President Jack Tunney to announce a WWE Championship rematch just six days later at This Tuesday in Texas, where Hogan reclaimed the title and restored the faith of Hulkamaniacs everywhere.
Ultimate Warrior retires Randy Savage (WrestleMania VII)
Not even five consecutive top-rope elbow drops could help “Macho King” stave off retirement at WrestleMania VII, where the charismatic and colorful competitor squared off against Ultimate Warrior with his career on the line.
Exhausted against the seemingly unstoppable might of Warrior, Savage ultimately suffered his greatest WrestleMania defeat, his former girlfriend Miss Elizabeth looking on from the crowd.
Making this loss all the more devastating for Savage was a sinister sneak attack from his manager Sensational Sherri, who took out her frustrations on the newly former WWE Superstar. This was hardly the proper sendoff for one of the most iconic ring warriors of any era.
Yet, through tragedy came triumph as Elizabeth charged to the ring and warded off the ravenous Sherri, rekindling one of sports-entertainment’s most celebrated romances in the process.
Stephanie McMahon turns on her father (Armageddon 1999)
On the Nov. 29, 1999, edition of Raw, Stephanie McMahon was to marry Test. However, moments before the ceremony, Triple H shocked Mr. McMahon and the world when he revealed he already married the “Billion Dollar Princess” in Las Vegas. The irate Mr. McMahon challenged Triple H to a match at Armageddon for dishonoring the family name.
If Mr. McMahon defeated Triple H in the Street Fight, the marriage between Stephanie and The Game would be annulled. If Triple H defeated his new father-in-law, he would receive another opportunity at the WWE Championship.
After a tooth-and-nail war, Mr. McMahon — with some assistance from Mankind — looked to finish off The Game with a sledgehammer, but Stephanie entered the ring and begged her father to let her finish the job. But she couldn’t muster the courage to destroy Triple H, and instead The Cerebral Assassin grabbed the sledgehammer and smashed and pinned WWE's Chairman.
Then, in a shocking moment, it appeared as if Triple H was going to attack his own wife. Instead, the two embraced in the center of the ring in a stunning twist, revealing they had been in cahoots all along, marking the official beginning of the McMahon-Helmsley era.
Goldberg goes 173-1 (Starrcade 1998)
Aside from The Undertaker’s now-defunct WrestleMania Streak, the most impressive string of victories in sports-entertainment history is undoubtedly Goldberg’s. Beginning with his WCW debut in 1997, the former NFL player speared and Jackhammered his way through each of his opponents, amassing an unbelievable 173-0 record. Goldberg even defeated Hulk Hogan to win the WCW Title in a sold-out Georgia Dome in the summer of 1998. Throughout the remainder of that year, Goldberg would defeat the likes of Sting, Diamond Dallas Page and Big Show.
Then came the infamous main event of Starrcade 1998. In a No Disqualification Match against nWo Wolfpac leader Kevin Nash, it seemed as though Goldberg would be extending his streak to 174 wins. Following failed attempts at interference from Disco Inferno and Bam Bam Bigelow, Goldberg prepared to spear Nash when Scott Hall - dressed as a security guard - appeared on the ring apron and used a taser to take down the champion. Taking advantage of the situation, Nash Jackknife Powerbombed the champion and Goldberg’s streak came to an end.
Kane loses his mask (Raw, June 23, 2003)
Inside Madison Square Garden, Kane looked to have the World Heavyweight Championship within reach and Triple H in his clutches. But when Randy Orton ran into the ring and delivered a low-blow to the challenger, it gave The King of Kings the opening he needed to steal a victory in a match where Kane’s mask was on the line.
Despite his hesitation, Kane lived up to his end of the bargain. As a jam-packed Garden — and his tag team partner, Rob Van Dam — looked on The Big Red Monster reluctantly removed his mask, revealing his scarred face to the world. The WWE Universe was in awe, setting Kane off in a rage as he attacked RVD with an unbridled fury. From then on, Superstars had to watch their backs because The Big Red Monster was angrier than ever.
John Cena fails to defeat The Rock (WrestleMania XXVIII)
It was the WrestleMania match that John Cena couldn’t afford to lose, but on April 1, 2012, the iconic Superstar was left sitting on the entrance ramp watching his rival, The Rock, celebrate a hometown victory in Miami. The balmy spring air offered no comfort for the fallen Cenation leader.
In many ways, this debilitating shortfall came not at the hands of The Great One, but Cena himself. With The Rock prone in the center of the ring, Cena intended to humiliate The Rock by finishing him off with The People’s Elbow in a brazen mockery of The Brahma Bull’s signature maneuver. The plan backfired as Cena ran right into a Rock Bottom that sealed his fate.
Cena’s WrestleMania XXVIII defeat sent his personal and professional life into a tailspin, and it was not until his Show of Shows rematch with The Rock the following year — this time with the WWE Championship on the line — that he could truly attain redemption.
The Undertaker retires Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXVI)
In a WrestleMania rematch that many believed was destined to happen, two of WWE’s most iconic Superstars went to war again at WrestleMania XXVI.
Although it seemed inconceivable, Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker outdid their epic confrontation from 2009 — a match that was deemed universally as the “Match of the Year.” The sold-out crowd in Phoenix erupted with chants of "This is awesome!" and "Thank you, Shawn!"
Toward the end of the hard-fought battle, “Mr. WrestleMania” kicked out of a crushing chokeslam and the Tombstone by the narrowest of margins. But it was another devastating Tombstone that silenced Michaels' career once and for all. In his 17th and final WrestleMania as an in-ring competitor, HBK motioned to the WWE Universe, professing his undying gratitude and love. And, like a true ring warrior, he exited the stadium in the Valley of the Sun with his head held high.
Ivan Koloff ends Bruno Sammartino's historic title reign (Jan. 18, 1971)
The enduring detail about the night Ivan Koloff defeated Bruno Sammartino to end The Italian Superman’s untouchable 2,803-day reign as WWE Champion was that the 20,000 people in attendance fell completely silent. They didn’t cheer. They didn’t boo. They went mute. The quiet was such that you could hear the trains rumbling in and out of the station below Madison Square Garden. New York City fans had watched Bruno take on all comers for seven years, eight months and one day. They thought his run would never end. When it did, they weren't prepared to deal with it, because they hadn't dealt with it before. It would be more than 30 years before the outcome of a WWE match elicited the same response, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Shawn Michaels retires Ric Flair (WrestleMania XXIV)
Emotions were running high leading up to Shawn Michaels’ battle with his mentor, Ric Flair, at WrestleMania XXIV. The confrontation was dubbed a “Career Threatening Match,” with the stipulation that if HBK defeated the “Nature Boy,” Flair would be forced to retire.
In the final moments of the bout, HBK was primed to seal a win with Sweet Chin Music, but the remorseful look on Michaels’ face was hardly one of a victor when he finished off his idol.
“Here I was, at WrestleMania, wrestling a man who I had respected and admired so much, and knowing that the man and the professional in him wanted me at my best,” Michaels told WWE.com. “But me being at my best meant possibly ending his career. It was a very tough position for me to be in.”
The grandeur of WrestleMania compounded the indelible impact of Flair’s final WWE match — a bittersweet farewell to “The Dirtiest Player in the Game.”
Bret gets screwed (Survivor Series 1997)
No incident has sparked more debate among WWE fans over the years than the so-called “Montreal Screwjob” that occurred at Survivor Series 1997 — Mr. McMahon’s Machiavellian plot to wrench the WWE Championship from the grasp of Bret Hart in front of his Canadian countrymen.
With the “Hit Man’s” time in WWE running out and a jump to WCW on the immediate horizon, Mr. McMahon took drastic measures to ensure that Hart would not leave the company with its most prestigious title. At Survivor Series on Nov. 9, 1997, Hart’s challenger and longtime rival Shawn Michaels trapped the WWE Champion in his own submission hold, The Sharpshooter, as The Chairman looked on from ringside. Suddenly, Mr. McMahon ordered the referee to ring the bell, a decision that awarded HBK the WWE Title even though Hart had never tapped out.
Hart’s unfiltered reaction to this betrayal — including spitting in Mr. McMahon’s face — quickly became the stuff of legend, and the magnitude of this questionable title change sent shockwaves throughout the WWE Universe that would take more than a decade to subside.
Brock snaps The Streak (WrestleMania 30)
How are we ever going to get over this? It’s been more than six months since Brock Lesnar snapped The Undertaker’s 21-0 WrestleMania Streak and the collective WWE Universe is still shuffling around our empty apartments in our pajamas with the defeated slouch of a guy who just caught his girl making out with his best friend. Watching The Deadman get pinned on The Grandest Stage of Them All was like seeing your dad cry for the first time. Gutting. Completely gutting. Now here we are, hundreds of thousands of minutes later, still trying to come to terms with the night Brock broke all of our hearts. Worse yet, who knows if we ever will.