Dream matches are just about extinct. Goldberg’s return to Monday Night RAW to accept Brock Lesnar’s request is one of the last big Dream Matches the WWE (and wrestling) has left. Fans of the 80s got spoiled as Dream Matches like the Von Erichs vs. the Freebirds or Ric Flair vs. Ted DiBiase were happy byproducts of the territory system.
But as the territories faded, wrestlers largely established their legend in one promotion before a shocking jump to a rival promotion. The 90s and 2000s benefited from that the most resulting in epic ‘What If?’ matches actually happening.
With no legitimate No. 2 U.S. competitor for the WWE, dream matches are just about done. It’s telling that there was genuine buzz about the potential of Shawn Michaels returning from retirement to face AJ Styles. That might be the last possible dream match left. For now, I figured it’d be fun to look at some Dream Matches that delivered and those that in the end weren’t worth the wait.
For that reason the best Dream Matches tend to be the first encounter between the stars. Promoters were quick to pounce on pairing the hot newcomer with one of the promotion’s top stars. Here’s my list of Top Dream Matches and Biggest Dream Match letdowns.
Honorable Mention: Midnight Express vs. Tully and Arn Anderson
(September 10, 1988)
By 1988, the Four Horsemen and Midnight Express were longtime brothers-in-arms against the likes of Dusty Rhodes, the Road Warriors, Rock n Roll Express, Nikita Koloff and Barry Windham. But by 88, it was clear the two dominant tag teams had to square off for tag team supremacy. While they battled on the house show circuit, none of these matches were televised.
One fan cam recording of the Midnights beating Tully & Arn for the titles does exist though. It’s a testament to these teams that even without high quality camera angles or the commentary of Jim Ross it’s an amazing match. Done on a Clash of Champions or hour-long block of World Wide Wrestling, this would easily make the cut.
Midnight Express vs. Fantastics (March 27, 1988)
The Midnight Express had a killer 1988 and couldn’t have a bad match with anyone. The Dennis Condrey/Bobby Eaton version of the Express battled the Fantastics in WCCW, but Stan Lane joining the fray provided a little extra sizzle. By this point in the NWA, the Midnight Express had battled all comers and survived their seemingly endless war with The Rock-n-Roll Express. They were on top of the world as the longtime U.S. Tag Team Champions.
The Fantastics were arguably the most successful nomadic tag team of the 80s traveling through World Class, Mid-Atlantic, Mid-South/UWF and capturing titles wherever they went. The Fantastics built a strong tag team legacy throughout the country and were the ideal team to quickly make the fans forget the Rock-n-Roll Express. After this thrilling Clash of Champions encounter, the fans knew a new team had arrived. This kicked off a summer of excellent matches between the teams and numerous title swaps.
The Steiner Brothers vs.
Steve ‘Dr. Death’ Williams and Terry Gordy
(WCW Clash of the Champions XIX: June 16, 1992)
After running roughshod on tag teams in Japan as the Miracle Violence Connection, Terry Gordy and Steve Williams returned as a team to WCW. In their absence, Rick and Scott Steiner emerged as the dominant force in WCW with several tag team title reigns under their belt. Before hyping Dream Matches up as a Dream Match became a thing, WCW commentators billed this as something special. For fans of hard-hitting action with two teams that weren’t going to back down, this was an awesome encounter that started one of WCW’s top rivalries.
Hollywood Hogan vs. The Rock
(Wrestlemania X8 — March 17, 2002)
The ultimate WCW vs. WWF Monday Night Wars Era Dream Match was clearly Hollywood Hogan vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin. WWF officials opted against it and instead, put their other iconic 90s star against Hogan. It wasn’t like The Rock’s resume was lacking. By this point, he’d already established a Hall of Fame career and was one of the WWF’s Top 5 all-time greatest attractions. Hollywood Hogan was the WWF’s prodigal son come home to wreck havoc on the roster just like he did while he ran WCW as the leader of the n.W.o.
At the time, there was a lot of second guessing the WWF for missing out on the end-all, be-all Dream Match. But moments into the match, it was hard to imagine how it could have been done any better with Austin in The Rock’s place. Of all the Dream Matches, this one was truly a once in a lifetime spectacle. With the Toronto crowd shockingly in his corner, Hogan reverted into the superhero of millions of Hulkamaniacs while The Rock quickly adapted and carved out a new role. There were better wrestling Dream Matches, but as far as embodying an unscripted WWE Wrestlemania Moment, there was arguably none better.
Samoa Joe vs. Kurt Angle
(TNA Genesis – November 19, 2006)
This was the biggest match in TNA’s history. Fresh off his defection from the WWE, the Olympic gold medalist and multiple time champion, Kurt Angle was ready to take on the baddest dude on the TNA block.
Samoa Joe was undefeated at this point despite battling the likes of AJ Styles. Sonjay Dutt, Chris Sabin and Christopher Daniels. Samoa Joe built his TNA legacy the hard way. This match more than lived up to the billing, but this was the first significant crack in TNA’s future. It made the unspoken statement that even the best TNA star couldn’t beat a broken and battered WWE star. As a Dream Match, it was incredible, but its (no pun intended) impact on TNA was huge for all the wrong reasons.
John Cena vs. The Rock
(Wrestlemania 28 — April 1, 2012)
By this time, the WWE realized the potential in stating a match was a Dream Match. Fans bought into the spiel of the Once in a Lifetime hype. Not that this matchup needed a lot of build. Cena has been the face of WWE since his first WWE title win in 2005. Despite a slew of challengers and would-be successors to the throne, he remained as his theme song suggested — untouchable.
Inspired by the reception he received from hosting Wrestlemania 27 and the prospect of shooting down the WWE’s new IT guy, The Rock agreed to lace up his boots one more time. There was a fitting bit of symmetry in this matchup. A decade after he received the torch from Hollywood Hogan, The Rock was the throwback vet looking for one last shot at glory. This was probably the last full scale Dream Match the WWE had up its sleeve. Cena represented the best of the Ruthless Aggression Era while The Rock was 1B of The Attitude Era.
Sami Zayn vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
(NXT TakeOver Dallas)
With the WWE constantly rummaging through the Attitude Era for spot cameos, they’d largely failed to develop this generation’s legends. Viable Dream Match options? Forget about it. Fortunately, NXT was able to find a Dream Match that would thrill the crowd and quickly become the stuff of (modern) legend.
After being a fixture of NXT almost right from its inception, Sami Zayn could not be denied from being called up to Monday Night RAW any longer. But before he departed his old stomping grounds, he had one final big time match left. Shinsuka Nakamura didn’t need a massive hype video or extended promo time before coming to NXT. The mere mention of his arrival sent shockwaves through the Full Sail Arena especially when Commissioner William Regal announced Nakamura’s debut match would be against the NXT standard bearer Sami Zayn.
Fans went in fully expecting a dream match and Match of the Year contender and they were not disappointed. The match took on a special meaning for the NXT crowd as they knew that win or lose this would be Zayn’s final match as a full-time NXT performer. And it delivered above expectations. While technically the first-time matchup with AJ Styles and Nakamura was superior, the crowd emotion and commentary selling how much this victory meant to both men told a more complete story and made for a better Dream Match scenario.