Bruno Sammartino never had the chance to main event a WrestleMania card. The same holds true for Buddy Rogers or Lou Thesz. King Kong Bundy did. As did Syd Justice and Sgt. Slaughter. Not to diminish either performer, but they couldn’t carry the boots of some of the superstars of years past. Likes of Rogers, Thesz and Sammartino were well past their primes when Vince McMahon bought WWWF for his father and concocted the ideas of Hulkamania and WrestleMania.
What a shame.
There were super cards with Sammartino and Morales meeting at Shea Stadium but they were never promoted as the company’s biggest event of the year. McMahon’s innovation may have changed the landscape of how professional wrestling was viewed – more for entertainment than anything else – but many of us fans have thought once or twice what an event such as WrestleMania would have been like in the 1970s or very early 1980s.
There are wrestlers from my generation who never sniffed the main event. Some who were never considered and some who, if given the keys to the kingdom, would have blown the roof off arenas and stadium worldwide. I have never been a true WWE fan, but I appreciate the risks taken to produce an edgier existence in the business, and chances taken on stars who either made it or fizzled out.
Oh, what it would have been like to see Jack Brisco and Dory Funk Jr. in Miami with 80,000 fans in attendance. Or better yet, Dusty Rhodes and Kevin Sullivan in a “Loser Leave Town” match in Tampa.
Wrestling’s dynamic has changed a complete 180 degrees, but it doesn’t mean I cannot think about matches or wrestlers who should have headlined WrestleMania and should have taken the business by storm.
Here’s a look at five wrestlers who should have headlined WWE’s biggest event, but never had the chance.
Harley Race – With respect to the likes of Sheamus, Bob Orton, Sr., and Wahoo McDaniel, there isn’t a tougher wrestler in the business – past or present – than Race.
A seven-time NWA world champion and a fixture in the McMahon circus in the later years of his career, Race defined what wrestling was about in the 1970s and early 1980s. He beat both Terry and Dory Funk Jr. to capture the NWA World Title and passed the torch onto Ric Flair and his 16 world titles.
Barry Windham – The wrestler Dusty Rhodes once said was the greatest athlete in the business, Windham had a renaissance when he turned heel and joined the Four Horsemen. Until Hogan turned his back on wrestling fans, the heel turn was the biggest event in wrestling history.
Windham’s work in the ring, both as a babyface and heel, is underappreciated. He could have carried the NWA on his back, if given the chance. If it weren’t for Flair and Rhodes, that might have happened. Windham was also an accomplished tag team wrestler who competed in the NWA and WWF as champion.
Curt Hennig – At one point, the former AWA World Champion was one of the 10 best workers in the business. His “Mr. Perfect” shtick was pretty good, but I wanted to see him main event and challenge for WWE’s World Title.
So much is made about technical wrestlers and Hennig isn’t mentioned.
Hennig was a four-time world champion, having held the AWA World Heavyweight Championship once for 373 days (the seventh-longest reign in history), the WWC Universal Heavyweight Championship once, and the I-Generation World Heavyweight Championship twice (with the I-Generation title being contested only in Australia). A two-time WWF Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion.
Verne Gagne – Before there was Kurt Angle, there was Verne Gagne. A wrestler who took his talents to the world of professional wrestling and built his own brand. His battles with Nick Bockwinkle are legendary.
I would have loved to have seen Gagne and Sammartino or Morales in a main event.
Gagne was a 16-time World Heavyweight Champion, having held the AWA World Heavyweight Championship ten times, the World Heavyweight Championship (Omaha version) five times, and the IWA World Heavyweight Championship once. He holds the record for the longest combined reign as a world champion and is third (behind Bruno Sammartino and Lou Thesz) for the longest single world title reign.
Jerry Lawler – Before he was “The King” in the McMahon circus, Lawler was a top wrestler and promoter in the NWA in Memphis.
He was beloved as a babyface and a heel and had some amazing feuds with Austin Idol and Randy Savage. Lawler was every bit a brawler in the 1970s and 1980s and a match with Savage would certainly have main evented at WrestleMania.
Lawler brought along wrestlers like Eddie Gilbert, Rick Rude and Wayne Farris (Honkytonk Man). He faced every top wrestler in the business before jumped to Connecticut for WWF glory.