Feuds In Which The Wrong Wrestler Came Out On Top

Professional wrestling is built on epic feuds. Long form story telling centred on good vs evil, the quest to be the best or two wrestlers drawn into conflict. These battles have always defined the sport, captivating crowds the world over. A good feud makes careers, and can launch a wrestler up the card to main event status. 

Every fan has their favorites and stories ingrained in their psyche from childhood which become the bedrock of fandom. These feuds become talking points and identifiers in conversations between fans, in some cases handed down generationally. In a sport so defined by fan reactions, these battles can be the most important aspect of wrestling.

Despite what some may think, winning and losing in wrestling matters a great deal. Hanging a loss on a wrestler at the wrong time can derail and damage a career. In some cases, a wrestler is unable to recover from bad booking. The history of pro wrestling is littered with baffling outcomes, instances where wrestlers had their momentum knocked off course or even stopped. There are a number of factors that go into a bad outcome. Ego (never in short supply), creative "differences," timing or quite simply a series of bad decisions. This piece will examine some of the more shocking decisions in pro wrestling history.

Roman Reign vs John Cena

Roman Reigns is in the conversation for most polarizing wrestlers in history. Without question he has been given the biggest "push" since Hulk Hogan. Purists would point to a lack of in-ring ability and subpar promo skills. Despite this, Roman has steamrolled anyone who he has ever been in the ring with. He rarely loses and never loses clean. Enter John Cena.

Cena's career mirrors Reigns in many respects. The leader of the Cenation usually triumphs. The difference, however, is that John is fantastic on the mic and has the ability to give amazing (if somewhat predicable) in-ring performances. When they were put together some fans felt (and maybe hoped) Roman was going to be taken to school. In the long run, this could have been hugely beneficial for his character. Sadly, that wasn't how it turned out.

Cena spent the time leading up to their match cooking Roman on the mic. He broke the fourth wall and accused Reigns of being a John Cena bootleg (amongst other things). When they met at No Mercy in 2017, Roman kicked out of multiple finishers on his way to victory. The fact that Cena lost to Reigns at a non marquee PPV event doesn't make a lot of sense. Not doing the match at a big event (SummerSlam or WrestleMania for example) is short changing both Cena and Reigns, even more so if it's a one-off. Cena beating Roman would have given Roman some adversity to overcome. In the long run, that always helps a wrestler get over. 

CM Punk vs Triple H

CM Punk, the self-styled "best in the world," has certainly had his highs and lows in wrestling. Punk was another indie darling who came into WWE hoping to get over. After a great deal of stops and starts, he finally had his magic moment: He defeated John Cena clean at Money in the Bank to win the WWE title. Punk would win a rematch with Cena at SummerSlam but lose the title moments later when Alberto Del Rio cashed in his MITB contract.

This would lead to his feud with Triple H. Punk was supposed to face Kevin Nash, which seemed like strange booking. After Punk cut a promo insulting Stephanie McMahon, Hunter took off his suit and stepped in the ring. CM Punk vs. Triple H was booked for the 2011 Night of Champions PPV. The feud was positioned as the rebel vs the establishment, a classic storyline. The match itself left a lot to be desired. Run-ins where both men were attacked and a sledgehammer assist would give Triple H the win. 

From a creative standpoint, this is a mess. Why have Punk, the "anti-establishment" guy (a la Stone Cold) lose to the "establishment" guy? Historically in WWE, the establishment is the enemy. Also Punk was over at that time — really over. Hanging a loss on him in a one and done feud does absolutely nothing for his character. When you factor in that Triple H went directly back into semi-retirement afterwards, it becomes even stranger. Sadly for Punk, this kind of booking would become a theme during his time in WWE.

Asuka vs Charlotte Flair

Asuka vs. Charlotte Flair is a classic example of "what the hell is going on here" booking. WWE invested months of storytelling into Asuka. During her run in NXT she went undefeated as a singles competitor. Asuka even surpassed Rockin' Robin's previous 502 day record as a female champion in WWE. The Empress of Tomorrow had an initial run on the main roster like no other woman in the history of the company. She won the first ever Women's Royal Rumble, as well as a mixed tag tournament partnering with The Miz. The Rumble win earned her a title shot at WrestleMania 34 against Charlotte Flair.

Charlotte Flair is a very talented wrestler and clearly loved by the WWE office. She's had a number of remarkable matches and numerous title reigns. Being the daughter of the "greatest wrestler ever" also probably doesn't hurt. Her match vs Asuka was one of the best matches at WrestleMania 34. The problem is the booking. Having Charlotte go over in their first contest doesn't help her in a meaningful way and it hurts Asuka. Historically, the best stories in wrestling involve a back and forth before the blow off. In retrospect, Asuka vs Flair could have been the "Austin vs Rock" of the women's division, a back and forth saga spanning years. In order to build that, there needs to be notable losses for both wrestlers. A one and done predicable finish kills that possibility.  

Onita vs Hayabusa

In the early '90s, FMW was one of the top promotions in Japan. The number one guy without a doubt was Atsushi Onita. The matches were, quite frankly, ludicrous. Fire Everywhere matches, Exploding Barbed Wire death matches and, for whatever reason, matches in a floating ring in a swimming pool. Onita himself was the owner and booker of the promotion. Drawing inspiration from Terry Funk, Onita brought the hardcore style into the mainstream of Japan. Imagine buckets of blood, everything on fire with weeping fans everywhere. Do this and you've got a pretty good idea of what an FMW show was like.

After a number of years at the top of FMW, Onita was set to retire. Hayabusa was the heir apparent to Onita — a talented, high flyer who was being positioned to ascend to the top after Onita's departure. It was only fitting that Hayabusa was selected to be Onita's final opponent. In a "No Rope Exploding Barbed Wire Cage Bomb" match (not a typo) featuring a ref in a hazmat suit, Onita eventually triumphed. It's traditional for wrestlers when they leave a promotion to "do the honors". This means losing in order to build their opponent. One has to wonder what the outcome would have been if Onita hadn't been the booker.

Will Ospreay vs Okada

What follows might seem somewhat nit picky, as it's a very recent result and the whole story has yet to unfold. Those factors aside, Kazuchika Okada vs Will Ospreay at the 2022 G1 Climax final feels like it should have gone differently.

Will Ospreay is a five star match factory – a wrestler who won every title and tournament imaginable as a junior heavyweight before transitioning to legitimate heavyweight star. He also started his own faction (United Empire) and went on a belt collecting tour around the world. His IWGP Heavyweight title run was cut short by an injury.

Okada is Okada. The most dominant heavyweight in New Japan, ever. He holds every NJPW heavyweight title record including most consecutive defenses (12) and longest championship reign (720 days). His long term feud with Ospreay stems from Ospreay betraying him and starting his own faction. Prior to the G1, their biggest match came at Wrestle Kingdom 16 to unify the belt. Okada won in a 32 minute banger of a match to once again stand atop of New Japan. 

Fast forward to the G1 final — Okada vs Ospreay, with Jay White waiting in the wings. Another fantastic match, but with a puzzling result. Okada wins and even the crowd seems a little confused. This really felt like Will's moment and it would have created new storylines. Hopefully, more twists are to come, lest fans get a reheat of the somewhat stale Okada vs White storyline.

Bray Wyatt vs John Cena

Bray Wyatt could have his own feature on poor booking and being misused. Not since the Undertaker has a character with such dark overtones been so over with the WWE fanbase. His haunting "True Detective"-esque music coupled with the ominous "Follow the Buzzards" catchphrase really connected with the WWE Universe. Add to the mix his creepy in-ring skills (weird reverse spider walk anyone?) and WWE had something special.  

Bray was paired against John Cena. The storyline was centered on Bray trying to get Cena to "embrace his dark side" by costing him his title and injuring him. This was interesting stuff. It was also outside the traditional Cena arch. The match they had at WrestleMania 30 actually had some compelling in-ring moments. Bray offering himself up as the sacrificial lamb to force Cena into a heel turn created a sense of tension in the match. In tepid and predictable fashion, Cena "never gives up" and goes over clean. 

When you examine the career of Bray Wyatt, this sadly becomes a theme. Time and again he would create these incredible moments only to have his momentum stopped. Bray vs. Cena could have been a long and winding story filled with twists and turns. It also would have given WWE the chance to explore Cena's character. The "Firefly Funhouse Match" between Cena and Wyatt from WrestleMania 36 is proof of the potential these two had. Sadly, their first feud didn't reach the levels it could have.

Eddie Kingston vs Jericho

There is being over and then there is being Eddie Kingston. Kingston is, without a doubt, one of the biggest stars on the AEW roster. He is deeply charismatic, authentic as they come, and has a deep and nuanced understanding of story telling. His ring gear honors the hard hitting greats of Japanese yesteryear, and Eddie pays homage to those stars with his intensity and move choices.

Eddie's feud with Chris Jericho and by extension the Jericho Appreciation Society has had some incredible moments. The Anarchy in the Area match at Double or Nothing is a prime example. The feud centered on Jericho refusing to give Kingston his "respect" despite losing to him clean at a PPV (probably the biggest win of Eddie's career). To promote Shark Week, AEW booked Kingston and Jericho in "Barbed Wire Everywhere Deathmatch." The match featured the J.A.S. suspended above the ring in a shark cage.

The match itself was a mess — weird spots, a clear shot of blading caught on camera, and some sloppy in ring work. The match goes off the rails when one of the J.A.S. members just slides sideways out of the cage, negating the "opening it with a key" spot. The larger issue is having Jericho win. This kind of brutal fight is supposed to be Eddie's kind of match. Having him lose it hurts his character in a way that does not compute from a story telling standpoint.

Booker T vs. Triple H

Booker T vs. Triple H is in the conversation for most disgusting feud in the long and often checkered history of World Wrestling Entertainment. Booker T was a pillar in WCW both as a member of the Harlem Heat (with his brother Stevie Ray) and as a singles competitor. He blazed trails, broke down barriers, and won fans over with his million megawatt smile and in-ring skills. While in WCW, he won the World Heavyweight Championship five times. When he recaptured that title in the WWE, he became the second African American to do so (The Rock being the first). A Battle Royal win put him in line for a title shot against Triple H at WrestleMania 19. 

Quite quickly, things fall off a cliff. In a now infamous promo, Triple H makes barely veiled references to Booker's race — "People like you don't deserve it" and "do a little dance for me Book" being a few horrific examples. Watching this promo now moves past simple cringe and into the realm of actually upsetting. What makes it worse is that the racist wins in the end. At WrestleMania 19, Triple H beats Booker clean. In doing so he reclaims wrestling for bigots around the world who as we know, can't seem to catch a break. Sadly, this decision is not a surprise in the era where the "Katie Vick" story made it on air.

Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss

Bayley vs. Alexa Bliss continues the trend of WWE misreading their audience. Prior to her match with Bliss at Payback, Bayley was hot as they come and very over with the WWE Universe. She had a genuine charm that leapt through the TV screen and made fans want to root for her. She also had an underdog narrative similar to Daniel Bryan. Bayley was able to generate interest with the fanbase without becoming a Ruthless Aggression-era female wrestling trope, which also gave young people an alternative hero to aspire to.

After handing Charlotte Flair her first loss at a PPV and retaining her title at WrestleMania, Bayley was slated to face Bliss at WWE Payback 2017. The match itself is nothing special and for reasons beyond comprehension, Bayley loses. Having the loss come in 13 minutes after a DDT really isn't great. Throw in another loss to Bliss at Extreme Rules and it becomes truly awful. Bayley was on the cusp of an incredible title run as the top female babyface. Bliss's title rein, on the other hand, was both obnoxious and boring. Bayley picked up an injury shortly after and never regained that white heat she had. 

When comparing Bryan and Bayley, WWE capitalized on the Bryan momentum creating a lasting moment in wrestling history. For whatever reason the same choice wasn't made with Bayley.

Zack Ryder vs. Kane

Has there been anyone in WWE history with a sadder and more disappointing career than Zack Ryder? During his time in WWE, Ryder (now going by his real name, Matt Cardona) proved time and time again that he could harness the power of the internet and social media to generate buzz. He did this all of this while languishing on house shows or getting melted quickly on TV. Cardona had some brief moments of success but always seemed to crash headfirst into the glass ceiling. An 11-second loss to Sheamus, having a bounty placed on his head by Ashton Kutcher (not a typo), and losing to an NXT rookie didn't really help. 

Ryder's 2012 was a nightmare. He was in a on screen relationship with Eve Torres and paired with John Cena to provide comic relief. His friendship with Cena made him a target of Kane. Kane assaulted Ryder numerous times, leading to kayfabe injuries. Eve would eventually leave Ryder (who was in a wheelchair) for Cena, kissing him while Zack looked on helpless. Ryder faced Kane at WWE Over The Limit that same year, on the pre-show. Kane does Ryder zero favors during the match. He no sold Ryder's offence throughout and disdainfully kicked out of a signature move on a one count. Kane ended up beating Ryder in less than 10 minutes, making him look terrible in the process. 

Why have Ryder get melted if he isn't going to get a chance at redemption? It was a murky end to an awful story.

John Cena vs. Wade Barrett

Wade Barrett and his group, the Nexus, had quite a run in WWE. The Nexus was fresh concept. A group of NXT wrestlers who were going to push their way onto the WWE roster any way they could. Among them, Barrett stood out. He was big, well spoken, and very skilled in the ring. The Nexus with Barrett as their leader were booked to feud with John Cena. This is where the problems began.

At SummerSlam 2010, John Cena led Team WWE against the Nexus in a 7-on-7 elimination tag team match. The match ends with Cena 2 vs. 1 against the Nexus. Cena miraculously recovers from a DDT on the floor and beats the two remaining members in about 30 seconds. SuperCena triumphs again. Barrett would pick up a win against Cena at Hell in a Cell later that year, his lone bright spot. After that, it was all downhill. Barrett would lose three title shots in rapid succession due to Cena's interfering. A match was booked between the two for the 2010 Tables, Ladders and Chairs PPV to settle the score. In the end, to nobody's shock, Cena goes over. He also dumps 23 chairs onto Barrett's body after the fact. Barrett was very briefly off TV afterwards and was never able to find his way back to the top.

Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H

Since Triple H has taken over WWE creative duties, many members of the WWE Universe are rejoicing. The feeling with fans is that new stars will be made and tired ideas will be left in the past. To his credit, Triple H does seem to be committed to these ideals. His history as a performer, on the other hand, is not always something to celebrate.  

Brock Lesnar, The Beast Incarnate, The Mayor of Suplex City. In terms of legitimate crossover appeal, star power, and in-ring ability there is no one on the planet like Brock. The former UFC Heavyweight champion returned to WWE working an MMA gimmick. Using a mix of wrestling and mixed martial arts submission techniques, he cut a swarth of destruction through the WWE roster. He squashed John Cena, an unthinkable act at the time. He also broke the Undertaker's WrestleMania streak which at the time seemed impossible. 

Triple H and Brock had an ongoing feud which led to them being booked to face each other at WrestleMania 29. The issue between the two centered on Brock storyline breaking Triple H's arm twice. Brock also attacked Vince McMahon (Hunter's actual father in-law). The match was booked as a No Hold Barred contest which led to lots of brutality. Brock attacked Hunter's arm with weapons, as well as the Kimura lock (continuing the injury angle).But Hunter would eventually go over thanks to a Pedigree on the steel stairs. 

Creatively this doesn't make sense. Why have your main event monster pick up a loss at the biggest event of the year?