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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Ryan Woodrow

Every WWE video game cover star since 2000

The WWE video games have gone through a few distinct eras since the turn of the millennium. At first, they were producing standalone games like the WrestleMania and Smackdown! games, but eventually those all got consolidated into a single annual release known as the Smackdown vs Raw series which ran until 2011. Then series developers, THQ, closed its doors and the licence was handed to 2K Games, who have been slowly growing the scope of the games year on year, with varying degrees of success.

Being a star in wrestling is often less about how good you are in the ring, and more about how marketable you are as a personality, so the covers of WWE video games are a great way to see who was enjoying the biggest success in the company for that year. It’s an indication of the person/people that WWE trusts to sell such a huge product with their faces alone.

We’ve rolled back the clock to 2000 to see every WWE cover star over the past twenty years.

WrestleMania 2000 - The Rock, Triple H, The Undertaker, Mankind, and Big Show

The show WrestleMania 2000 wasn’t the best WrestleMania ever. What should’ve been an incredible Rock vs Triple H main event was sullied and turned into a Fatal 4 Way with the awful ‘McMahon in every corner’ gimmick that turned the whole thing into a confusing mess. However, you wouldn’t know that based on the video game.

Unsurprisingly, the cover features all four of the participants of the show’s main event, although with a few strange choices. Mick Foley is in his Mankind gimmick on the cover, but he famously returned to his Cactus Jack gimmick at the start of 2000 during his feud with Triple H. Even more strange is the inclusion of The Undertaker, who didn’t even appear at WrestleMania 2000 due to injury.

WWF No Mercy - The Rock, Triple H, Edge, and Jeff Hardy

If you ask long-time fans what the best wrestling video game of all time is, they’ll probably say WWF No Mercy. It’s the perfect encapsulation of the retro arcade-style of wrestling game that many fans are sorely missing in the modern era. The Rock and Triple H were easy picks for this cover as they were still at the top of their game. Edge wasn’t as big of a star as he would eventually be, but he was someone on the rise, and although Jeff Hardy is on this cover, you can’t see his face as he’s being beaten up by Edge.

Smackdown! - The Rock, Mankind, and Chyna

The Smackdown! games are a beloved set amongst fans, especially the later ones, and the first one started the series strong. Once again, Mankind is used despite Mick Foley having removed the mask by this point, but that goes to show how strong of a marketing image his mask was. Chyna gets a nod too as the first woman on the cover of a wrestling game, which is fitting for her place in wrestling history.

Smackdown! 2 Know Your Role - The Rock, Triple H, The Undertaker, and Chris Jericho

Released the same year as the first, this game knew exactly what to take advantage of. As the subtitle uses one of The Rock’s catchphrases, it’s no surprise that he’s front and centre on the cover. Then it’s an easy selection of the biggest stars of the era like The Undertaker, Triple H and Chris Jericho.

Smackdown! Just Bring It - The Rock, Triple H, and Kurt Angle

A pattern is emerging on the Smackdown! covers, as The Rock and Triple H grace the box art once more. The Rock is even more prominent than ever before, with Triple H and Kurt Angle reduced to background images you might not even notice at first.

WWF Raw - The Undertaker, Triple H, Kane, and Jeff Hardy

Despite both TV shows being of relatively equal quality in 2002, the WWF Raw games didn’t do nearly as well as the Smackdown! series. Still, Triple H managed to work his way onto the cover despite being for a completely different show, and The Undertaker shows up once again in his biker persona. Kane finally gets a spot as the featured person on the cover after many years at the top, and then-rising star Jeff Hardy gets to look as cool as he ever did.

WrestleMania X8 - Stone Cold, RVD, and Hulk Hogan

Despite being inarguably the biggest star of this entire era, alongside The Rock, Stone Cold was rarely featured on the covers of video games for some weird reason. What’s even stranger is that he wasn’t a very prominent figure at WrestleMania X8, having a mediocre mid-card match with Scott Hall. RVD opened the show by winning the Intercontinental Championship, which was nice, but inarguably the biggest star is Hulk Hogan, who has recently returned to WWF to have his legendary match with The Rock.

Smackdown! Shut Your Mouth - Triple H, Brock Lesnar, Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, and Booker T

Despite still using The Rock’s catchphrases, he’s nowhere to be found on this cover. Triple H takes centre stage this time alongside a selection of the show’s most popular stars, all of whom achieved great things in 2002.

WrestleMania 19 - Kurt Angle, Stone Cold, and The Rock

Considered by many to be among the best WrestleManias ever, this game’s cover takes full advantage of the biggest matches. Kurt Angle went into the show as WWE Champion, facing Brock Lesnar in the main event, and Stone Cold vs The Rock saw the pair’s final encounter and Stone Cold’s official retirement until his unlikely match with Kevin Owens at WrestleMania 38 in 2022.

Raw 2 - Goldberg, Triple H, and Scott Steiner

Despite not being anywhere near as successful as the Smackdown! games, Raw got itself a sequel in 2003. Goldberg was the perfect choice for the cover star, he was still hugely popular after his WWE debut earlier that year. Triple H’s inclusion shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone at this point, but Scott Steiner is an extremely weird pick. He debuted at the start of 2003, has a pair of awful matches with Triple H and slowly sunk into obscurity over the rest of the year. There were far more deserving candidates around at the time like Edge or Brock Lesnar.

Smackdown! Here Comes the Pain - Brock Lesnar, The Undertaker, and Rey Mysterio

The final ever Smackdown! game and the torch has firmly been passed. Not only does the subtitle use Brock Lesnar’s catchphrase, but he takes up almost the entire cover. His meteoric rise to the top has never been successfully replicated in WWE, so it’s no surprise they wanted to take full advantage of his superstardom, especially considering he’d leave the company just 6 months later

Smackdown vs Raw - Vince McMahon

The first in the annual Smackdown vs Raw series, the owner of WWE, Vince McMahon decided it was time for him to get some of the spotlight for a change. It’s not as weird as it sounds, the Mr McMahon character is one of the greatest villains in wrestling history, and his face is one of the most recognisable out there to fans. That said, he wasn’t the best person to represent the conflict between the two shows, as he is the owner of both of them.

Smackdown vs Raw 2006 - Batista and John Cena

By 2006 a changing of the guard had happened at the top of WWE, and this cover symbolises it. In 2005 Wrestlemania 21 saw the crowning of the two men WWE were staking the future of the company on, and a year later it was paying off. One would eventually outpace the other, but in 2006 John Cena and Batista were ruling their respective brands as wildly popular champions.

Smackdown vs Raw 2007 - Triple H, Rey Mysterio, John Cena, Batista, and Torrie Wilson

Despite a new era ushering in new stars, you can’t get away from Triple H’s grasp, as he takes full control of this cover. In the background are both brands’ most marketable stars, with both Cena and Batista still enjoying great success. Rey Mysterio was still one of the company’s most reliable babyfaces, and Torrie Wilson is there to wear as little as she can get away with on the cover of a ‘Teen’ rated game because sadly WWE still wasn’t taking women’s wrestling seriously in 2007.

Smackdown vs Raw 2008 - The Undertaker, John Cena, and Bobby Lashley

For the first time since he returned to the deadman persona in 2004, The Undertaker gets his face on a WWE video game as Smackdown’s top star. Unsurprisingly, John Cena represents Raw as he was in the midst of his ‘Cena wins lol’ phase that made fans despise him. Bobby Lashley is there to represent ECW, which had by this point been rebooted as a third WWE brand.

Smackdown vs Raw 2009 - Triple H and Shawn Michaels

You may be starting to think it’s in Triple H’s contract that he must be on a video game cover at least every other year, but you’ll be pleased to know this is the last time we’ll be seeing him on this list. This year he stands alongside fellow Degeneration-X member, Shawn Michales after the pair reunited to relive their glory days with antics that were fairly dated by 2009.

Legends of Wrestlemania - Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan, Stone Cold, and The Rock

A short break from the regular series, this game focused on all the nostalgia for years past. Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan are still some of wrestling’s most recognisable faces, and their WrestleMania 3 match is still an iconic moment in history. Then, of course, Stone Cold and The Rock had three great matches at various WrestleManias. Even manager Jimmy Hart and announcer Bobby Heenan got in on the cover action this time around.

Smackdown vs Raw 2010 - John Cena, The Undertaker, Randy Orton, Edge, and Rey Mysterio

The PG era was going strong by 2010, and there’s no mistaking who the biggest star in the company is at this point. John Cena rules the roost with no arguments, even The Undertaker has to play second-fiddle to him now. Randy Orton finally gets a spot on a cover, despite having risen to the top around 2007, and Edge shows up again in his modern iteration at last. Finally, there’s good ol’ Rey Mysterio, who can always be relied upon to give a marketing boost to a game.

Smackdown vs Raw 2011 - John Cena, Big Show, and The Miz

We’ve reached the final Smackdown vs Raw game and it’s a strange cover to look back on. John Cena’s appearance is no surprise, and The Miz’s inclusion is understandable given he was on the brink of becoming WWE Champion when this game was released. Big Show is harder to justify, though. He’s not the worst choice ever, but with people like Randy Orton, Edge, and CM Punk around, there were far better options.

WWE All Stars - Hulk Hogan, The Rock, Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior, John Cena, Kofi Kingston, Randy Orton, and Rey Mysterio

This is the final ensemble cover to date, and they certainly went all out, picking a whopping eight wrestlers to be represented in this cartoony-style wrestling game. The old vs new theme is clear, with legends like Hulk Hogan on one side and then-current stars like John Cena on the other. This marks Kofi Kingston’s only cover appearance to date, and Rey Mysterio pops up again as a background character, although he could’ve been on either side given his lengthy career.

WWE ‘12 - Randy Orton

From here on out, the games preferred solo covers over big casts, putting all the spotlight on a single wrestler for one year, making it a far greater achievement to get featured. Randy Orton is a good pick for 2011/12. At this stage in his career, he was ruling over Smackdown, holding the big gold belt more often than not over those two years.

WWE ‘13 - CM Punk

This is the final WWE game made by THQ, and it’s arguably one of its best covers ever. Funnily enough, while CM Punk was THQ’s first choice for the cover star, WWE management was insisting they instead use Sheamus. It’s fair to say that THQ made the right choice sticking to its guns with CM Punk. The man was arguably the most popular wrestler in the world slap-bang in the middle of his 434-day WWE Championship reign.

WWE 2K14 - The Rock and Daniel Bryan

2K’s first outing with WWE saw a legend take to the cover rather than a current star in the form of The Rock, who had returned in 2013 for his second match with John Cena. However, if you were to take your copy of WWE 2K14 and reverse the cover, you’d find Daniel Bryan on the other side, who was in the middle of his meteoric rise as the single most popular man in all of wrestling despite WWE’s insistence that he wasn’t what the people wanted.

WWE 2K15 - John Cena

This game saw 2K make the jump to the then-new generation of consoles, the Xbox One and PS4. The graphics saw a huge upgrade, although it was at the price of a slightly reduced roster. Still, putting John Cena on the cover was a sure-fire way to boost the game’s sales, and it proved successful.

WWE 2K16 - Stone Cold

Now firmly in the legend camp, Stone Cold’s famous “Austin 3:16” catchphrase made him a shoo-in for WWE 2K16’s cover. This game proved that 2K were dedicated to steadily growing and improving the series, and this development style would continue over the next few years.

WWE 2K17 - Brock Lesnar

Brock Lesnar is a brilliant marketing choice because he’s simultaneously a legend and a current star. His run of dominance may have been a boring time for many fans, but there was undeniable mainstream appeal to Lesnar, who since his first WWE run had gone on to win gold in UFC. The marketing for this also leaned heavily on pre-order bonus character, Goldberg, as Lesnar vs Goldberg happened in real life around the same time as the game was released.

WWE 2K18 - Seth Rollins

Finally landing firmly in the current stars camp, Seth Rollins was on fire throughout 2017 and 2018. He turned face and beat Triple H at WrestleMania 33, floundered for a little bit, but eventually found his footing as one of the best Intercontinental Champions of the modern era, and could always be relied upon to put on the best match of any given show.

WWE 2K19 - AJ Styles

Just coming out at the end of a 371-day WWE Championship reign, AJ Styles was one star nobody expected to make it big in WWE. He came with severe baggage as one of TNA and NJPW’s biggest wrestlers, and typically the stars of other companies don’t get treated very well in WWE. However, AJ Styles was the exception, getting a rocket strapped to his back and becoming one of WWE’s most reliable marketing hands.

WWE 2K20 - Roman Reigns and Becky Lynch

WWE 2K20 was a disaster of a game, but both of the cover stars had the best years of their career. Despite being a big star, 2K had shied away from Roman Reigns up until this point as his relationship with the fans was extremely toxic thanks to poor management on WWE’s part. However, by 2019, things had turned around after Reigns made a heroic comeback from a leukaemia scare.

Becky Lynch, meanwhile, became the mega-star no one expected, but no one could deny. She adopted a cocky swagger that was supposed to make her a bad guy, but she was so cool that everyone loved it. Eventually, she’d rise to the top at Wrestlemania 35, making her one of the biggest stars in all of wrestling.

It’s just a shame the game was so bad that 2K took a year off from making the series.

WWE 2K22 - Rey Mysterio


There will be plenty more WWE video games in the coming years, as well as an AEW video game, and just about anyone has a realistic chance to make it onto the game’s cover, but the fun is always in the speculation.

Written by Ryan Woodrow on behalf of GLHF.

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