“Card Subject to Change” is a common phrase used on professional wrestling cards. This is as the advertised matches may not always transpire and there are a number of factors for this. An injury, travel issues, an exit from the company, for storyline purposes or even death can lead to an emergency match change. Here we will look at some of the weirdest replacements in wrestling matches.
Nikita Koloff (Starrcade 1986)
In the run-up to the NWA’s biggest PPV event, it looked as if the event was to be the coronation of Magnum TA.
With a mullet and thick moustache, leather jackets and riding motorcycles – he had a classic 1980s look and was evidently a huge hit with the fans. Having recently dropped his US strap to Nikita Koloff after a memorable Best Of Seven series, it seemed as if his Starrcade main event against Ric Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight title belt was to start a new era.
Unfortunately, about a month before Starrcade (which for the first few years took place on Thanksgiving), Magnum would get seriously injured in a car accident. Following the speed limit, his car’s tyres slipped in the rain and forced “The Boss” to collide with a telephone pole. As a result, his in-ring career ended as well as TA needing real-life aids to move around.
With the NWA’s biggest event’s biggest match (with Starrcade arguably a bigger PPV than WrestleMania at this point) in jeopardy, the NWA quickly turned Magnum TA’s ex-blood rival Nikita Koloff face – forcibly scrapping any plans of a Nikita Koloff/Ronnie Garvin feud. Still the US titleholder, “The Russian Nightmare” turned face helping Dusty Rhodes and setting up a new sudden main event match for the show.
With Koloff still the US champion and his character turning face so recently whilst also not wanting to have him lose to “The Nature Boy”, the main event did not see a crowning of a new champion as it would end in a double disqualification. Yes, effectively the biggest match of the year ended in a schnoz non-finish but that’s just wrestling in the ‘80s I guess!
It is likely also worth mentioning that during the match Nikita’s “Russian Sickle” came out of his trunks, with the referee needing to tell Koloff so he could readjust.
Jack Victory (Chi-Town Rumble 1989)
The only NWA Chi-Town Rumble PPV is likely best remembered for the first match in the Ric Flair/Ricky Steamboat trilogy. The event was also scheduled to see a 6-man tag match featuring the old guard of The Midnight Express (Dennis Condrey and Randy Rose) and manager Paul E. Dangerously took on the new iteration (Bobby Eaton and Stan Lane) with Jim Cornette – and yes, Jim Cornette was actually a face here!
Issues with the top brass of the NWA led to Rose and Condrey being booked to lose a Loser Leaves Town match against “Beautiful” Bobby and “Sweet Stan”. Not wanting to give the upper management the satisfaction of firing him, Condrey simply got up and left like he had done 3 years prior thus, in turn, creating the line-up with Stan Lane. As a replacement, former UWF and WCCW star and notable non-Midnight Express member Jack Victory stepped in. Victory would be on the losing team but continue working for the promotion under a number of different guises.
Victory would go on to have a successful run in ECW from 1998-2001; main eventing the annual biggest card of the year for the promotion (November To Remember 1998), aligning with Steve Corino and beating CW Anderson on the final show being just some of his contributions. Considering he is now perhaps best-known for his times in “The Land Of Extreme”, his one-off stint himself to team with the traditional, old-school version of The Midnight Express has to be one of the oddest moments of his career.
Vader (Halloween Havoc 1992)
At WCW’s Halloween Havoc 1992 whilst still United States titleholder Rick Rude challenged for Masahiro Chono’s NWA World Championship. Yet instead of trying to wrestle twice in one night such as Seth Rollins at Night Of Champions 2015 or Terry Funk at 1997’s Barely Legal, Rude would instead have his US belt defended on his behalf by Vader.
In the storyline, the reason given was that an injunction had been passed in court (because that’s what wrestling fans want: legal technicalities) that did not allow Rude to fight two matches thus Big Van Vader took his place – perhaps as both were allies with Harley Race.
Despite defending it and proudly displaying it throughout the night, the masked mastodon was not a recognised titleholder in this period with it being officially continence of “Ravishing” Rick’s year-long stranglehold on the United States belt.
This brings up a fundamental What If. See, early into the match an attempted slam on Vader caused Koloff to sustain a hernia due to the faux Russian trying to lift the 400+-pound heavyweight. Furthermore, a stiff clothesline would herniate a disc in Nikita’s neck. This amalgamation of injuries would force the former Russian Team member to retire from the ring. It is likely not controversial to say had Rude been the one wrestling Koloff that night, none of this would happen and Nikita may have had more fruitful years ahead of him. Maybe even he could have been a big part of WCW.
Not to get too far from the point, however, it does seem strange Vader would replace Rude to defend a belt that was not his with little to gain for himself and for a championship he probably would not care for.
Tom Zenk (Slamboree 1993)
With the tagline “A Legend’s Reunion”, this card was unique as it paid homage to the stars of the past and gave some old talent the only major PPV matches of their career such as Blackjack Mulligan, Thunderbolt Patterson and Nick Bockwinkel. Elsewhere, it has to be one of the trippiest wrestling cards ever with Barry Windham as NWA World Heavyweight champion, an appearance from the former Nailz in a WCW ring and Dustin Rhodes teaming with Kendo Sasaki – which does indeed sound like a WWE video game Universe mode on LSD.
Perhaps the weirdest was the NWA World Tag Team title bout, however. In this, Shane Douglas was supposed to team with tag partner Ricky Steamboat in a steel cage tag challenge against The Hollywood Blonds (Steve Austin and Brian Pillman). However, days before the event, the future “Franchise” would leave WCW to search for the greener pastures of Eastern Championship Wrestling.
To cover up this, Tom Zenk was slotted in but the company make the peculiar decision to pretend it still was Douglas. Zenk and Steamboat came to the rings in sombrero hats and masks whilst being named Dos Hombres. They would even cut a short pre-match promo explaining they thought the sudden and random outfits were lucky. Still called Douglas, Zenk would not unmask although “The Dragon” would choose to remove him during the bout.
As far as disguises go and ways to adapt matches this one has to be one of the most bizarre. I guess the cage stipulation and whole-body outfits aided to cover up “The Z-Man”’s identity. The match itself actually has one of the best finishes I’ve ever seen to any match ever as a hectic, frantic atmosphere causes a Steamboat/Zenk mishap and leads to an amazingly choreographed Stun Gun. Awesome finish aside, it is a drastic way to protect the identity of the wrestlers in your match.
Shawn Michaels And Others (Survivor Series 1993)
Due to their nature, Survivor Series matches will often see team members replaced or switched out – the most egregious case of this was 1993’s whole PPV event. The event had 4 Survivor Series tag bouts all featuring at least 1 substitution whilst the only match on the card without was a regular tag bout featuring non-WWF contracted teams The Heavenly Bodies and The Rock ‘N’ Roll Express for the Smoky Mountain Wrestling tag straps.
The opener saw Mr Perfect switched out for Randy Savage with no explanation, there was a Survivor Series match with 4 Doinks but not the real Matt Borne who had been fired and when Tatanka got fired The Undertaker became the world’s most patriotic corpse when opening his coat to reveal the Betsy Ross American Flag. And that’s not even all of the replacements!
Jerry “The King” Lawler was all lined up with 3 knights to take on arch-nemesis Bret Hart and other Hart family members.
However, due to a court case in which a minor claimed Lawler had sexually assaulted her, the WWF forcibly cut ties with Jerry for a short period and hastily threw the reliable Shawn Michaels in the match after he insulted the Harts. It made no sense for HBK to team with knights as “The Showstopper” did not have a monarch gimmick as Lawler had. As you can tell, this alteration was an odd but necessary one as they could not go ahead with a match featuring a potential sex offender. Lawler was eventually proven innocent and cleared of all charges.
There were also some changes in the lineup of the masked knights. Apparently, there was to be a reveal element for the disguised chevaliers and early names for the group include a pre-Kane Glenn Jacobs, Jimmy Snuka and Terry Funk – the latter of which infamously backed out due to his horse being sick. In the end, their identities were not revealed on-screen but were Greg Valentine, Barry Horowitz and Jeff Gaylord (no, don’t make fun of that name).
A confusing mess of a storyline without the Memphis megastar, whilst Michaels worked as well as he could he was thrown into a role that made zero sense for him, chucked in as a result of the forced last-minute change.
Booker T (Uncensored 1996)
At 1996’s notorious Uncensored PPV (the one featuring the Doomsday Cage match, the only major PPV match of British wrestling icon Giant Haystacks and featuring the Regal/Finlay brawl), due to his manager Jimmy Hart’s “power of eternity,” he managed to get client Lex Luger out of teaming alongside longtime friend Sting.
Stepping in to tag with the surfer in his Chicago Street Fight against The Road Warriors was Booker T. Keep in mind this was 1996, not 2000 – at this point, Booker T was exclusively a tag team competitor in Harlem Heat alongside brother Stevie Ray.
The future 5-time WCW champion agreed to create the coalition if Harlem Heat would get a shot at the tag belts though it still does not make the mismatching-attired duo any less strange. It would be like today if a tag match saw Jon Moxley and Eddie Kingston taking on The Young Bucks but Kingston is replaced by Cash Wheeler.
Luger would wrestle as a part of the main event in the preceding match, costing his team the preposterous 8-on-2 tag bout (in which the WORLD champion was pinned even though there were 7 other people on titleholder Ric Flair’s team who could have taken the pin and protected the top guy). Nonetheless, the usage of Booker T was a strange inclusion although he would get the pin for his team, beating Hawk after aid from Stevie Ray.
Mass Transit (ECW House Show 1996)
Had it not been for the controversy of the whole incident, the ECW incident involving Mass Transit may have been brushed past without second thought as it is quite often non-signed talents and local wrestlers are used on the house show loop.
So, New Jack is crazy, right? We’re all on board with that? He is pretty insane. A brutal hardcore athlete who dives off balconies has broken a wrestler’s skull with a steel cage shot and has a penchant to cut people open with knives, cheese graters and all kinds of violent weaponry – his most brutal and infamous moment took place on November 23, 1996.
Due to a family emergency, Axl Rotten was unable to compete alongside D-Von Dudley in a tag team match against New Jack and Mustafa Saed, collectively known as The Gangstas.
A local 17-year-old named Eric Kulas with the ring name Mass Transit was already wrestling in a 2-on-1 comedy midget handicap match against two sub-5-foot workers. The teen Transit pleaded with ECW booker Paul Heyman to be in the match so now the Dudley boy was teaming with a relative unknown in the bout.
In a one-sided squash, New Jack went about destroying Transit with all kind of hardcore plunder as was his gimmick. Finally, the ending saw Jack blading Kulas with a scalpel but cutting too deep and severed two arteries in Transit’s forehead. Screaming before passing out, his father would scream to stop the match, informing all he was actually 17, not 21 like he had claimed. In what was an attempt to further get some heat, New Jack would regrettably yell to the crowd: “I don’t care if the motherfucker dies! He’s white. I don’t like white people. I don’t like people from Boston. I’m the wrong N_____ to f**k with“.
The event had long-lasting repercussions for the company. With it being caught on camcorder video, it would of course lead to a court case against New Jack. Furthermore, the stigma from the incident would lead to PPV provider Request TV cancelling ECW’s first-ever PPV Barely Legal. Heyman had to beg for it to be put on, which was done so with many compromises. These include a multi-month delay, late start time and limited blood and swearing. Despite this, ECW Barely Legal would probably go on to be one of the greatest events in the entire near-decade-long run of ECW.
Savio Vega (No Way Out Of Texas: In Your House 1998)
At 1998’s Royal Rumble PPV, Shawn Michaels famously broke his back which would – WrestleMania XIV aside – end his wrestling career for over 4 years. The sudden and significant injury would force a reshuffle to the main event of the next PPV, No Way Out Of Texas: In Your House.
With HBK out of the equation, D-Generation-X needed a fourth man to fill the Shawn-less spot as they took on an all-star quartet of Chainsaw Charlie, Cactus Jack, Owen Hart and Steve Austin.
A mystery man was teased and revealed to be Savio Vega. Yes, really. The reaction from the fans was piercingly silent with some boos but mostly just indifference. Whilst the former Kwang does stand out as an oddity in a PPV main event also featuring Mick Foley, Steve Austin and Triple H, there is an actual logical reason for this.
As a member of his own faction Los Buricuas, Vega and his gang had helped DX in their fight against Austin. It is also worth noting this was 1998 during the WWF’s ‘Gang Rulz’/’Gang Wars’ era also featuring short-lived legions such as The Disciples Of Apocalypse and The Truth Commission. During this time, Vega struggled to have a match anywhere above the lower-card of a PPV.
With all respect to Vega, he was not a main eventer. That said, he did have his moments like reaching the finals of the 1995 King Of The Ring and giving the first legitimate losses to The Rock (then-Rocky Maivia) and Steve Austin (then-The Ringmaster) but those do not serve to make his hodge-podge inclusion into a match featuring certified top stars any less incomprehensible.
Big Show (Great American Bash 2006)
At 2006’s edition of The Great American Bash, The Great Khali was set to debut his new gimmick match against The Undertaker. However, due to an elevated level of enzymes in his liver (Bobby Lashley and Super Crazy both had similar issues), he had to be swapped out for Big Show meaning the person whose match it wasn’t even in it!
On-screen, SmackDown general manager forcibly changed Khali’s match to ECW champion Big Show’s due to “The World’s Largest Athlete” launching a backstage assault on “The Dead Man” prior to the match. Still not overcoming the arse-backwards rules of a Punjabi Prison match, Big Show is better performing than Khali so probably did help the match’s performance somewhat.
Another issue for this was that to win, you had to climb two sets of bamboo-spiked fencing. However, good luck getting the two heavyweights to climb that. In the end, The Undertaker performed a suicide dive onto Show, the impact of which knocked the 7-footer through the cage, escaping first but The Undertaker was declared the winner because I guess he was the one who did the action that broke the cage…? Also, it was the longest match on the card at over 20 minutes which feels unjust.
Anyhow, a way to try to continue the feud whilst having one medically cleared, it did not reflect greatly on the ECW titleholder especially when his logic in there was, in kayfabe, flimsy as hell.
Kurt Angle (TLC 2017)
Similarly, an illness outbreak plagued (pun intended) the TLC 2017 PPV event as not only was Bray Wyatt taken off the show (his match versus Balor seeing Bray replaced by AJ Styles) but so was Roman Reigns, who was set to main event the show.
With mumps keeping Reigns off the show, The Shield’s honorary third member became Raw GM Kurt Angle, making the most outrageous looking main event perhaps in WWE history. Wrestling his first WWE match since 2006, proud father-looking Angle dressed up with his hound-loving sons Ambrose and Rollins to take on The Bar, The Miz, Braun Strowman and a recently-returned and recently-pushed Kane.
It has to be one of the strangest but also most entertaining adaptions of a scheduled match as it featured ladder spots, table spots and even a ‘garbage’ truck as you Americans would choose to call it. After issues with his teammates, Strowman would be removed from the bout and Kane was taken out when The Miz would be pinned by Angle in the ring after being hit with a variety of finishers and The Shield’s triple powerbomb seeing the Olympic gold medallist competing in his first match in well over a decade.
Moreover, it would not be the only time “The Big Dog” needed an emergency PPV replacement as he would opt out of the 2020 Universal title WrestleMania bout against Goldberg due to health concerns over the Covid-19 pandemic. Reigns, who had previously had leukaemia so was apprehensive about the match, would be replaced by Braun Strowman. Yet due to the subbing in of “The Monster Among Men”, his last big match was an IC title loss and he had little hype surrounding him at this point, with the match being announced in a matter-of-fact way that did nothing to explain his reasoning into the match whatsoever.