The main event of WWE pay-per-views often contains some of the biggest names in the business. However, these following grapplers who were once featured in the final match of the evening may surprise you!
1. Hillbilly Jim
This alliance with the Hulkster allowed Jim to main event the second Survivor Series PPV in 1988. Facing the ‘Million Dollar Team’ comprised of the Red Rooster, Akeem, the Big Boss Man, Haku, and Ted DiBiase would be his only PPV main event.
Jim had competed on other PPV cards such as in the WrestleMania 2 battle royal, the midget mixed tag at WrestleMania 3, and in the inaugural Royal Rumble – all necessary but not significant roles.
In the Survivor Series 1988 tag match, everyone on the team played second fiddle to The Mega Powers’ Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, the sole survivors, with other members Jim, Hercules Hernandez, and Koko B Ware taking pinfalls to give some credibility to the heels. The future Hall of Fame hillbilly was the first eliminated on the face team, pinned by Akeem after a big splash.
Recommended read: Hillbilly Jim on Vince McMahon Spending Recklessly in the ’80s
2. General Adnan
A childhood friend of Saddam Hussein, Adnan Al-Kaissie was an Olympic wrestler for his country of Iraq. It’s not rare for Olympic wrestlers to cross over into the world of professional wrestling, with Kurt Angle, Bad News Brown, and Mark Henry transitioning to much success.
Debuting in wrestling way back in 1959, Al-Kaissie first worked in Oklahoma before moving on to Pacific Northwest Wrestling in the ’60s.
In 1971, he even managed to beat Andre the Giant in the Al-Shaab Stadium in Baghdad. He would have a short stay in the WWWF as Billy White Wolf not long after, where he won the world tag titles alongside Chief Jay Strongbow, beating Executioners 1 (Killer Kowalski) and 2 (Big John Studd) as well as Nikolai Volkoff and Tor Kamata – a wrestler he would go on to have a long feud with in Hawaii, fighting over the moniker of the master of the Indian death.
Al-Kaissie had his neck kayfabe broken by Ken Patera, forcing him to vacate the titles before leaving the WWWF, not returning to the company until 15 years later in 1991.
Al-Kaissie had a memorable run in the AWA, leading an army consisting of King Kong Brody (Bruiser Brody), Nord the Barbarian (John Nord aka The Berzerker), Ken Patera, and Jerry Blackwell, amongst others. In the AWA, he was primarily a manager – never winning a title but was in a high-up position, evening feuding with Verne Gagne.
As the Gulf War was heating up, the WWF brought back Sgt Slaughter, now with an anti-American stance – in contrast to his previous portrayal as a red, white, and blue patriot of the United States. To further get over this tyrannical gimmick, the WWF brought in the Iron Sheik (renamed Colonel Mustafa) and General Adnan in an alliance known as the Triangle of Terror.
Slaughter won the WWF title from the Ultimate Warrior at the 1991 Royal Rumble before losing the strap to Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 7.
At SummerSlam ‘91, the trio of Iraqi sympathizers took on the Hogan-Warrior team in the main event. Adnan and Sheik were chased away by Warrior to the backstage area before Hogan pinned Slaughter for the win.
The main event position was surprising for the Colonel as not only was he primarily a manager at this point, but he was in his 50s. When Slaughter turned face, the WWF had little for Adnan, so they released him in 1992.
3. Brian Lee
At the Royal Rumble pay-per-view in 1994, Yokozuna defeated Undertaker in a casket match after a beatdown from the roster’s heel section. Afterward, Taker ascended to the heavens (in reality, it was for surgery he needed after working near non-stop for three years). This ruled Taker out of WrestleMania X, but we saw an Undertaker return soon after.
With this Undertaker was Ted DiBiase, who claimed he has bought out the Undertaker. Paul Bearer soon returned to state that this was not “the” Undertaker. This storyline led to an eventual showdown between Paul Bearer’s real Undertaker against Ted DiBiase’s Under-faker at SummerSlam 1994 in the main event.
However, before the real Undertaker could prevail over the fake one, the WWF had to decide who would play a convincing Undertaker to play the role of their impersonator. For this, Jim Cornette proposed the top star of his Smokey Mountain Wrestling promotion, “Prime Time” Brian Lee.
Lee had a similar look and was a similar height to the Dead Man – so much so that Corny recalls a story where Lee was taken into police custody after being mistaken as the Undertaker. He also appeared in a Bollywood film in 1996 as the Undertaker.
The match itself of Undertaker vs. Undertaker is regarded as one of the worst main events in WWE history. Dave Meltzer gave the clash of the Takers a generous “-1 star” rating. In comparison, Meltzer gave the previous bout on the card, the Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart steel cage WWF title match, a 5-star rating — one of very few WWF matches Meltzer gave a 5-star rating to in the 20th century.
The first-ever Smokey Mountain world champion only had this WWE pay-per-view match before moving on to more success in SMW, before a memorable ECW run, where he had a feud with Tommy Dreamer and a member of the Triple Threat faction.
Lee returned to the WWF in 1997 as Chainz from the Disciples of Apocalypse, a motorbike-riding troop in the mold of Hells Angels. More commonly feuding with other stables in gang warfare, Lee never managed to get back to the same heights as a DOA member compared to cosplaying as the “Lord of Darkness.”
4. Lawrence Taylor
In 1995, business took a turn for the worst for the WWF. With increased competition from WCW, low house show numbers, and poorly-received creative ideas – the company was at a low point.
To try to give the federation a shot in the arm, the WWF added some big showbiz names to that year’s WrestleMania. This included Jonathan Taylor Thomas in several vignettes with Bob Backlund and Baywatch star Pamela Anderson acting as a valet. However, undoubtedly the biggest role went to NFL linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who went on to main-event the year’s biggest show.
A feud starting at the Royal Rumble, Bigelow pushed the New York Giants player down after Taylor (situated in the front row) laughed at Bam Bam’s failed tag title attempt. Bigelow was suspended but kept threatening Taylor, prompting Lawrence to eventually accept.
Watch Lawrence Taylor Confront Bam Bam Bigelow at the 1995 Royal Rumble:
As Bigelow was a member of the Million Dollar Corporation, he was accompanied by the large stable while the 1981 New York Giant draftee was joined by his teammates.
The match got a large amount of publicity and drew interest outside of the wrestling world. Carried by veteran Bam Bam and guest referee Pat Patterson, it was a much better match than anyone had anticipated for a non-wrestler in their debut match. Bigelow would later claim that he was paid a quarter of a million dollars to make the novice look good.
Taylor never again wrestled in the company. This is the only WrestleMania main event aside from the women’s match at WrestleMania 35 to feature two wrestlers who would never win the WWE championship.
Tatanka was a memorable name in the WWF in the early-mid ’90s. Despite having an unbroken undefeated streak for nearly two years, he was never quite at the main event level.
At SummerSlam 1994, Tatanka turned heel on Lex Luger, joining the Million Dollar Corporation. This association helped him climb the card.
At the disastrously-regarded King of the Ring 1995 pay-pay-view, Tatanka main-evented alongside Sycho Sid against Diesel and Bam Bam Bigelow.
The vocal Philadelphia crowd hijacked the show with ECW chants and rejected the whole namesake tournament – even throwing trash at the eventual winner Mabel.
J.D. Dunn of 411Mania summed this whole event up by rating it 2.5/10, saying, "What makes this show so uniquely awful is that the WWF either didn’t know or didn’t care about what the fans wanted." We can’t say we disagree.
In this main event, Tatanka was a background character in the bigger Diesel vs. Sid rivalry. In the midst of the failed Diesel experiment, Tatanka was pinned by Diesel after an elbow drop. Tatanka was suspended for six months soon after due to a lawsuit stemming from an incident with a woman in Anaheim. He would eventually return to the company after his suspension after being cleared of any wrongdoing.
6. Savio Vega
In February 1998, a star-studded main event was set for No Way Out of Texas, featuring DX versus Steve Austin, Owen Hart, Terry Funk, and Mick Foley. However, an injury to a competitor caused the match’s participants to be altered.
At the 1998 Royal Rumble, Shawn Michaels severely injured his back. This forced HBK to take two months off before WrestleMania, after which he would temporarily retire. With the WWF champion out of the match, the company needed a 4th member to team up with DX.
Being hyped throughout the show, it was heavily implied this was a very significant wrestler. However, rather than going with a debuting or returning star, it was then-Los Buricuas member Savio Vega.
The crowd reacted to this announcement with near silence. This did have some storyline reasoning as Vega was an old rival of Austin’s and helped Michaels retain his WWF title in the casket match at the Royal Rumble.
Vega did have some big moments throughout his WWF career before this, such as being a finalist in the 1995 King of the Ring tournament, a member of the Nation of Domination, and even giving both Steve Austin and The Rock their first pinfall losses – but he was never looked at as a top star. Nonetheless, the former Kwang was thrust into this main event match.
After 17 minutes of hardcore brawling, Steve Austin (undeniably the most popular wrestler in the company at this point) pinned Road Dogg for the win as the Puerto Rican substitute was held back from breaking it up. Savio Vega would compete in a battle royal at the following WrestleMania and compete in the infamous Brawl For All tournament before being let go from the company altogether.
Recommended reading: Savio Vega – How The Kliq Tried to Get Him Fired from the WWF
7. Johnny Jeter
Vengeance 2006 had a card with several matches that previously would have been dream bouts, such as Randy Orton vs. Kurt Angle, Mick Foley vs. Ric Flair, and Rob Van Dam vs. Edge. Despite all of these star-filled matches, the main event featured Johnny Jeter.
More accurately, Johnny teamed alongside stablemates Kenny, Mikey, Mitch, and Nicky in The Spirit Squad. It is less surprising, in hindsight, for Kenny Dykstra to main-event as he would go on to get multiple pinfall victories over Ric Flair. Additionally, Nicky has created a legacy for himself as former world champion and WWE mainstay Dolph Ziggler. The future ‘Show-Off’ Nicky was the oldest of the group despite only being 25 years old.
The developmental standouts The Spirit Squad were the tag team champions, having won the titles from Big Show and Kane. They were also hired guns by the McMahons to take out the recently reunited D-Generation-X.
With other matches such as Kane vs. Imposter Kane (Luke Gallows), and Sabu challenging for John Cena’s WWE title seemingly not main events in management’s eyes, this was seen as the match to end the pay-per-view.
Unsurprisingly, DX took the victory in a 5-on-2 handicap against the cheerleaders before getting a clean sweep in an elimination handicap match on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event.
Soon after, they lost the tag titles to Ric Flair and Roddy Piper. Despite being more comedic fodder than a serious team, they had the longest tag title reign in a decade – holding the straps for 216 days. The longest reign before this was Owen Hart and The British Bulldog in 1996-1997, who held the tag titles for 246 days. The Spirit Squad further fell down the card, losing to several legends at 2006’s Survivor Series.
After a 3-on-5 handicap lost to DX and Flair on Raw in November, the team was buried on the way out, as the quintet was pushed into a crate with the stamp "OVW, Louisville, Kentucky" prominently displayed. A not-so-subtle statement that the group was going back to developmental for further training. Johnny Jeter was released from WWE in early 2008.
8. Heath Slater
2010’s NXT is unrecognizable to the brand it has become today. The show was more like a game show in its initial form – with obstacle courses and improvised promos on a random given topic. However, this cartoonish reputation would soon be crushed when the Nexus made their debut on the main roster.
All NXT stars, the group debuted in epic fashion, in very real-feeling group destruction of everyone and everything at ringside.
Watch the WWE Debut of The Nexus:
The Nexus were all very different in character, but these misfits as a unit got WWE a lot of attention.
A feared group, they attacked GM Bret Hart, Hall of Famer Ricky Steamboat, and even Vince McMahon – leaving their mark and showing the company had great faith in the group, investing so much in the NXT stars.
With this faction rampaging through the company, Nexus was against the whole roster, with everyone uniting against the invaders.
One of the oddities of the stable was Heath Slater. Not exactly fitting in with the dominant, scarier stars – Slater was the “One Man Band,” a self-proclaimed rock star with long ginger hair.
At SummerSlam 2010, in 7-on-7 action, The Nexus fought “Team WWE.” In this, Slater main-evented, which is surprising considering his later reputation as a lower-carder. Despite his later role as enhancement talent, he actually managed to pin both Chris Jericho and Edge within a minute span before being eliminated by Daniel Bryan. His team would lose the match, and the result has been condemned ever since for Cena’s perceived burial of the talent.
Slater would later form factions such as the Corre, the 3 Man Band, and Slator Gator to less success. He would also have a memorable run facing off against WWE legends, a successful tag team with Rhyno, and occasional big wins or moments. Despite being an entertaining modern-day enhancement talent, he was never a main eventer – and would not main event another WWE pay-per-view.
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