For over three decade’s the WWE has been the one true juggernaut in the sports entertainment industry and has produced some of the best live storytelling and most goose bump inducing moments in arenas across the world. Recently in their history, something has changed. A change which has negatively affected the creative process of the WWE in many ways. Let’s discuss what has killed the magic of the WWE.
On February 8th 2016 Daniel Bryan took to Twitter and officially announced his retirement from professional wrestling after years of concussion related injuries resulted in him being unable to get clearance to return to the ring.
In his final two years with the WWE he only wrestled about four months total, but what he managed to accomplish in his six years with the WWE is just short of astonishing.
A 3-time WWE Champion, a World Heavyweight Champion, Intercontinental Champion, United States Champion, WWE Tag Team Champion, and a Money in the Bank winner.
It doesn’t just stop there. Daniel Bryan main evented the 30th ever WrestleMania. He became on the most popular WWE superstars despite initial predictions that the technical marvel would never transition well to the largely entertainment-focused WWE. Most importantly, Daniel Bryan was a part of many of the best stories and matches of the last decade.
Despite his career being cut far too short, Bryan leaves us with a vast and rich body of work that we will all cherish even more than we did before.
Let us look at some of those now as we countdown Bryan Danielson “The American Dragon’s” greatest matches in the WWE as Daniel Bryan.
DANIEL BRYAN VS. SHEAMUS (EXTREME RULES 2012)
I’ll confess I nearly gave this spot to the memorable Triple Threat Submissions Count Anywhere match between Daniel Bryan, The Miz, and John Morrison, but I just didn’t feel right snubbing Bryan’s nasty Two out of Three Falls match with the World Heavyweight Champion, Sheamus, from Extreme Rules 2012.
To me, the best Sheamus every looked as a champion and easily one of the greatest matches of his career. Bryan looked to exact his revenge after losing his first ever World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus, the 2012 Royal Rumble winner, in an embarrassing 18 seconds during the opening contest of WrestleMania XXVIII.
The former champion was not playing in the slightest and even sacrificed the first fall of the match, via disqualification, just to wear down Sheamus and gain the advantage for the final two falls. It was a brilliant bit of psychology employed by Bryan and something a logical confident heel would do.
Sheamus played the big defiant hoss perfectly, and despite Bryan working on his arm the entire match managed to defeat him with Brogue Kick to retain his title.
Bryan really shined here, especially with all the offense he centered around the shoulder of Sheamus.
There was just a lot of beautiful storytelling here by both men. This remains of the best showcases of action from WWE in 2012.
10. DANIEL BRYAN VS. ROMAN REIGNS (FASTLANE 2015)
This match now stands as the FINAL time Daniel Bryan got to headline a WWE event. Here he stood against the winner of the 2015 Royal Rumble, Roman Reigns, for the chance to face WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar,at WrestleMania.
Even if the booking was not well received and fans were not happy with the result this match still stands as Roman Reigns most impressive one-on-one match to date.
This match got really overlooked last year and really didn’t get the credit it deserved. I think that mainly stems from the fact that it firmly solidified that Daniel Bryan would in no way be involved in the main event of WrestleMania.
This was essentially the Bret Hart-Lex Luger scenario, but 20 years later. This time, however, Vince McMahon got his way, and Roman Reigns will no doubt be the next franchise face of professional wrestling.
Despite all the negativity surrounding this match, it still stands as a ballsy decision by the WWE. It may not have paid off exactly like they wanted, but at the very least the fans got a very intense main event out of it.
Bryan pulled no punches and made it appear several times that he was actually going to win and return to the main event of WrestleMania.
One of my favorite spots of the match come when Reigns had his hand around the neck of Bryan, but then had his arm grape-vined as Bryan locked in the Yes Lock! So cool!
After being made one of the biggest stars in the WWE the previous year, Bryan graciously did the job for Reigns and did his best to make him look credible as he headed into his first WrestleMania main event.
9. DANIEL BRYAN VS. SETH ROLLINS (WWE RAW, JUNE 2013)
This match will go down as one of Monday Night Raw’s greatest matches ever as it will also for Bryan’s career. The two former Ring of Honor Champion’s absolutely stole the entire show on this night during their first ever one-on-one encounter in the WWE.
At this time, Seth Rollins and Daniel Bryan (along with their teammates) were the driving force behind the WWE tag team division’s return to prominence and while it didn’t last nearly long enough we had some amazing matches come out of the middle of the card during this time frame. This match would be Example A.
Rollins could more than keep up with Bryan’s pace and often mimicked Bryan and his offense during this back-and-forth match. Such a fun heel tactic, that doesn’t get employed much into matches much anymore.
After countering, and hitting all of their signature stuff, Bryan gets a sneaky victory off a distraction from Randy Orton and Roman Reigns.
At this time Bryan, along with his tag team partner Kane, were often having the match television matches week in and week out. This match here was certainly not different.
Team Hell No would formally disband the next week on Raw while The Shield continued to rule the foot of the WWE as a unit for another year until Seth Rollins “bought in” and aligned himself with The Authority.
8. DANIEL BRYAN VS. RANDY ORTON (WWE RAW, JUNE 2013)
This match did so much for Bryan’s standing in the grand scheme of things. His victory here elevated him and helped him transition into the main event scene after spending the past year as the center of WWE’s tag team division.
After getting mega-over in his own right while teaming with Kane, Bryan finally started getting pushed into main event caliber matches with some top tier WWE performers as 2013 wore on.
No one could get an exciting match out of Randy Orton like Daniel Bryan did. These two had barn burners on Raw on multiple occasions and main evented several big events, including WrestleMania XXX.
However, when looking at all their great one-on-one matches, this one is the outlier. This took place a few months before we saw Daniel Bryan screwed out of his WWE Championship by Triple H and before Randy Orton would become the centerpiece of The Authority’s vision for the WWE.
So while this match lacked the Authority angle, it did tell a very relatable story of the underdog finally being able to compete at the level of the “big boys.”
While Orton’s television matches are often formulaic and a proverbial yawn, he seemed particularly motivated while in the ring with one of the hottest babyfaces on the roster at the time.
My favorite moments from this match come from the two’s excellent use of the Singapore Cane. Especially Bryan, who used the cane as an alternative to his kicks as the fans chanted “Yes!” Then he worked it into the finish of the match as he locked in the Yes Lock to a prone Randy Orton. What an awesome visual!
After the match, Orton stared down the man who just made him submit and shook his hand. This match was Bryan coming into his own and finally getting that first push up the ladder he deserved.
7. DANIEL BRYAN VS. DOLPH ZIGGLER (BRAGGING RIGHTS 2010)
An early favorite of mine from Bryan’s first year in the WWE. It was a match between the reigning WWE Intercontinental Champion, Dolph Ziggler, and the WWE United States Champion, Daniel Bryan.
This was for, as the Pay-Per-View implies, Bragging Rights as the second tier belt holder from Monday Night Raw battled the holder of the belt from Smackdown!
In 2010 Dolph Ziggler had really been picking up speed as a heel by capturing his first (of many) Intercontinental Championships. Daniel Bryan, on the other hand, was still just barely scratching the surface of his potential, but had already captured his first singles championship from his former NXT mentor, The Miz, on an episode of Raw.
The two future world champions wrestle a silky smooth match where Ziggler bumped harder, faster, and stronger than I have ever seen him bump before or since. He made Bryan look like an absolute badass with every swing of the leg. He may not have had the nickname yet, but Ziggler was definitely “showing off” here.
This was just a very interesting match-up between two men fans knew would go on to achieve so much. Their styles meshed very well together, and thankfully this wasn’t the last time we got to see the two of them go at it in the ring.
However, this still stands out as the men’s finest encounter. They were clearly both out to steal the show and make a statement that they were the most entertaining in-ring acts on the roster.
The only thing that could have made this better if they had had a decent story/rivalry to build this match. The action here was palpable, but it could have ascended even further up this list had they had a program to go along with it.
6. DANIEL BRYAN VS. CESARO (WWE RAW, JULY 2013)
Yet another brilliant match in which Daniel Bryan faces off against another alumnae from Ring of Honor.
This match is even more impressive considering that it was Bryan’s second match in a row. He had just defeated Cesaro’s tag team partner, Jack Swagger, just moments before. He would, after defeating Cesaro here, then finish running the gauntlet by defeating Ryback.
This gauntlet was organized by Bryan and the Raw General Manager, Brad Maddox, to help prove that Daniel Bryan was a worthy challenger for John Cena’s WWE Championship at SummerSlam 2013. It turned out, he was more than worthy.
This match was between two of the stiffest performers on the WWE roster so everything they did to one another looked pretty magnificent.
In a change of pace for his styles, Bryan spent a portion of his match targeting the legs of the “Swiss Superman.” But after a multitude of uppercuts it looked like Cesaro might put Bryan down with the Very European Uppercut! Bryan doges and rolls up Cesaro for a quick three count before he could even realize it.
The real brilliance of this match was that neither men really relied on their finishing maneuvers to make the match engaging, despite going nearly twenty plus minutes.
It aided in making the performances feel fresh and unusual.
This is another instance where I wish we could have had a story to go along with the amazing in ring action. A few month long program between these two would have yielded some really interesting matches.
5. DANIEL BRYAN VS. BATISTA VS. RANDY ORTON (WRESTLEMANIA XXX)
The apex of the “Yes Movement!”
The defining moment. The Daniel Bryan match that will live on for as long as wrestling is broadcasted on the airwaves.
The WWE really played this so wisely. The fans in New Orleans were not going to be cheering for Randy Orton to retain his WWE Championship after already holding the belt multiple times over the last decade. They were not going to be excited at the prospect of 40+ year old freshly returned Batista winning the title. Daniel Bryan was the one everyone wanted, and the Superdome fans let them know it.
This match was very much like a tribute to the Triple Threat main event from WrestleMania XX, ten years prior. In that same vain, the fans went into this match with same mindset of only wanting and cheering for one man to win. In this case, Daniel Bryan was far and away that man.
Orton and Batista of course were not going to be leaving WrestleMania with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, but damn did they do a stupendous job of suspending our disbelief.
“The Apex Predator” seriously looked like he was going to defy every WWE fan’s wishes and escape with his unified championships at several points in the contest. Even “The Animal” looked to have a viable three count on one of the other two challengers at a few points.
The action was furious and every bell and whistle was put on this to stack the deck against Bryan. Two challengers. Triple H. Stephanie McMahon. The crooked referee, Brad Armstrong. It just wasn’t enough.
Daniel Bryan made Batista submit to regain the WWE World Heavyweight Championship which had been stolen from him over six months prior.
This will go down as one of the definitive moments of our generation, and one of the most heartwarming victories in WWE history.
4. DANIEL BRYAN VS. BRAY WYATT (ROYAL RUMBLE 2014)
This one gets overlooked a bit when talking about Bryan’s greatest matches, but I think, in-time, it will get its due place among Bryan’s most notable encounters.
Easily the best match Bray Wyatt has ever had and one of Bryan’s most brutal in the WWE. This opened the Royal Rumble event on the night when fans the world over were clamoring for Bryan to enter the Royal Rumble match and cement his spot in the main event of WrestleMania.
The fan reactions that Bryan were getting in the late months of 2013 and early months of 2014 were indescribable. Steve Austin level of reactions from fans who wanted nothing more than to see “their guy” climb to the top of the WWE. They fans in Pittsburgh were into every second of this.
Wyatt’s mannerisms and psychotic behavior really pull you in as well his illogical action. While Wyatt has no clear strategy, as he is supposed to be an unpredictable lunatic, Bryan smartly targets the apparent ankle injury of Wyatt and works on it with swift kicks for a large portion of the match.
Even though his offense and strategy were sound and made it appear as though victory was all but certain, Bryan lost to Wyatt and his haphazard tactics. Bray Wyatt was chaotic in this, and even hit a Sister Abigail to a still airborne Bryan on the outside directly into the barricade in one of the sickest spots of the night.
Another Sister Abigail to Bryan in the center of the ring spelled the end.
This was probably the best Bray Wyatt has ever looked in a WWE ring and at a time when his act was still very focused and fresh. Bryan really made him look like a crazed monster in this amazing clash of styles.
3. DANIEL BRYAN VS. CM PUNK (OVER THE LIMIT 2012)
In 2012 CM Punk was the reigning WWE Champion and at the peak of his powers as Daniel Bryan was only just beginning to really find his niche with the WWE audience.
Of course, these two had done battle several times before they ever stepped foot in a WWE ring, but this was their first one on one encounter in the WWE.
Bryan was still finding his footing here as a main event player and wrestled a very brutal match here delivering a multitude of knees and kicks to Punk’s torso and limbs throughout the match.
It was just such a surreal experience to see two men who were once staples of Ring of Honor wrestle for the WWE Championship on pay-per-view. This was 2012, before WWE had really begun to sign every other internet darling the fans clamored to see in a WWE ring, it was still a very big deal to see two ROH alumni battle on the big stage in this manor.
The conclusion to this match was very much in question as Punk had already been the champion for over six months at this point, but despite the many believable false finishes he retained after turning the Yes Lock into a pinning maneuver and scoring the three just a moment before submitting.
They had another great match at Money in the Bank 2012, that could have far exceeded this one, had it not been for the overwhelming amount of focus the match put on special guest referee, AJ Lee.
This match was thrilling and technically very sound. It did a lot to establish Bryan as a believable main event draw going forward as he would eventually win his first world title several months later.
2. DANIEL BRYAN VS. TRIPLE H (WRESTLEMANIA XXX)
This match had everything going for it. The hottest babyface in the company, a great lengthy storyline to play off of, and two of the best wrestlers in the world.
This was part one of the two part culmination of Daniel Bryan’s “Yes Movement!” that proved to be one of the most frustrating and fullfilling times in recent professional wrestling memory!
After months of built up anger the rabid Daniel Bryan fans got what they wanted when Triple H agreed to battle Bryan in a match at WrestleMania XXX in which the victory would continue to the main event and battle Batista and Randy Orton for the WWE Championship.
The COO of WWE only agreed after Bryan and his “Yes Movement” took over Monday Night Raw and demanded a match with Triple H at WrestleMania.
Despite viewer’s anger and impatience the WWE’s slow build towards Bryan’s ascension up the ladder was masterfully told despite many fans worrying that Bryan wouldn’t be in the main event of WrestleMania at all. Battling WWE’s COO Triple H, the man who shortened his first WWE Championship reign to just a few minutes, for a chance to regain the title made perfect sense.
The two were perfect foils for one another as “The Game” has always worked some of his best matches with smaller, more agile, submission based athletes. Bryan, naturally, worked well with anyone they sat in front of him.
Triple H brought all the technical wrestling and ring psychology to this match as he spent a majority of the show’s opener targeting the injured shoulder of his challenger.
Regardless of this tactic Bryan would hit the Running Knee for the victory and one of the biggest wins in his career. The crowd was so into it and win Bryan was announced as the winner the crowd lost their mind as they knew their uncrowned champion might leave WrestleMania XXX with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
1. DANIEL BRYAN VS. JOHN CENA (SUMMERSLAM 2013)
For me, this is the match that finally surpassed Davey Boy Smith and Bret Hart’s iconic clash in London as the definitive SummerSlam classic.
Some might see that as an overestimate on this main event, but it stands as the best match and story between the two most over men in the company at the time.
John Cena entered this match with a huge target on his elbow as an injury had caused it to swell and force the WWE Champion to wear a protective elbow pad. It played well into the story of the match as Bryan took advantage of the weakness at every opportunity.
So many false finishes, submission holds, and even a hilarious spot were the two just start slapping the shit out of one another repeatedly.
It was an amazing match and a very memorable clash as Cena and Bryan had very few interactions before or after this main event. Bryan beat John Cena after a sick looking knee to the head and won the WWE Championship all on his own!
Though only for a moment as Triple H, the special referee, would Pedigree the newly crowned champion making way for Money in the Bank winner, Randy Orton to cash in his championship opportunity.
Huge props to Cena for doing the favors on this night and helping make Daniel Bryan look like the superstar he deserved to be.
This was the first night of what would go on to be an over six months story line that featured Daniel Bryan struggling against The Authority. It was the perfect set-up to what would go on to be “The Yes Movement” and the definitive story of Daniel Bryan’s career.
“Here I stand. Unbroken. With these people behind me. I am stronger than ever.”
— Daniel Bryan
Pure adrenaline, personified.
In 2002, the WWE introduced the world to one of the greatest pure athletes sport entertainment has ever seen. Size. Speed. Strength. Brock Lesnar was the total package and his abilities in the ring shocked and surprised as he went on to become the youngest WWE Champion ever at the age of 25 in his rookie year.
Since then, Brock Lesnar has become the only man in history to become the NCAA Division I, WWE, and UFC Heavyweight Champion. Fewer men have made a larger impact on the wrestling world despite having such a short stint in the industry. Lesnar’s original run with WWE only lasted from early 2002 until 2004. His last appearance was at WrestleMania XX.
Still in that time the Wisconsin native had some of the WWE’s greatest matches of the new millennium. No one made such an impact in just two short years, but in the beginning of 2004 Lesnar left the WWE.
After a short venture into professional football, Brock Lesnar set his sights on MMA. He remains the single most successful professional wrestler turned MMA fighter ever when he defeated Randy Couture to become the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
However, to the surprise of many, Lesnar retired from MMA in 2012 and after an eight year absence returned to the WWE the night after WrestleMania XXVIII. Since that day, Brock has been used strictly as a special attraction performer. Even though the number of matches he has had since he returned can be numbered on two hands, several of them still stand among his best.
Let’s see which feats of athletic prowess number among the “Beast Incarnates” best.
BROCK LESNAR VS. REY MYSTERIO (WWE SMACKDOWN!, DECEMBER 2003)
This was a match, on Rey Mysterio’s birthday, for Brock Lesnar’s WWE Championship.
Lesnar was in the middle of what would be his last reign as WWE Champion before leaving for almost a decade.
“The Next Big Thing” had many notably well received matches on WWE Smackdown! It really makes one realize just how vital Lesnar was to that show’s success during the 2002 and 2003 time period.
This match followed a simple, but effective, formula of playing-up Mysterio’s speed against Lesnar’s strength. Lesnar would use his power to man-handle Rey and in turn he would use his speed to wear out the WWE Champion and catch him off guard.
The San Diego crowd was really into the match as it was one of Mysterio’s first opportunities being taken seriously in a main event setting.
Rey Mysterio’s speed was not enough to wear out the well-conditioned champion. Lesnar retained his title via submission.
- Brock Lesnar vs. Hulk Hogan (Smackdown!; August 2002): How many people can you name who have defeated “The Immortal” Hulk Hogan without the aid of some sort of dusty finish? This match makes the honorable mention more for it’s spectacle factor than actual wrestling. The young Lesnar was made to look like a destructive monster against Hogan, and pinned the six-time WWE Champion completely clean.
- Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show (Judgment Day 2003): Leave it to someone as athletic and physically talented as Brock Lesnar to carry Big Show to one of his most entertaining matches ever. Trust me, there were no arm-drags in this match, but it is way better than what we typically get out of Big Show these days.
- Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H (Extreme Rules 2013): Only a Steel Cage match could make a Lesnar and Triple H match interesting to me. After very sluggish encounters at SummerSlam 2012 and WrestleMania XXIX, these two beasts had a very NWA-esqe Steel Cage match that would have made Harley Race proud. It was traditional. It was a brawl. It was as good of a match you could hope for between two guys like this.
10. BROCK LESNAR VS. JOHN CENA (EXTREME RULES 2012)
After spending over eight years away from the company that gave him his start, Brock Lesnar returned to the WWE the night after WrestleMania XXVIII.
Lesnar returned bigger and better than ever after having become a household name in the mixed martial arts most notorious promotion; Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Of course the first man he ran into was the face of WWE for the better part of the last decade, John Cena.
This was a big money feud and the match was set up to be a huge deal for the WWE, but there was one problem. Creatively speaking, both men really needed a strong victory here for different reasons.
John Cena had just suffered one of the biggest defeats in his career at the hands of The Rock, and Lesnar needed to be reestablished as the dominate monster he was being billed as. So the company had sort of painted themselves into a corner in which they were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.
On top of this they made the match an Extreme Rules match which further cornered the company into having to have one of the men lose despite neither man really needing to. Despite this, the match was insane.
Within moments of the opening bell Lesnar opened up Cena’s forehead after several forearm shots.
The former UFC Champion was largely the aggressor in this contest, but despite that John Cena managed to defeat the freshly returned, Lesnar. It took an Attitude Adjustment onto the steel steps to finally silence Lesnar for just him for even just three seconds.
Many argued it was the wrong call to have Lesnar lose without issue in his first big money match back in the WWE, but regardless the man looked so dominate against the WWE’s franchise player in his first match back.
Lesnar and Cena would go on to have even more high stakes matches in the WWE in 2014.
9. BROCK LESNAR & CHRIS BENOIT VS. TEAM ANGLE (NO WAY OUT 2003)
For this match, I make a few exceptions to my “rules”. It was Brock Lesnar teaming with former number one contender to the WWE Championship, Chris Benoit, taking on current WWE Champion, Kurt Angle, and his associates Team Angle, made up of fresh-faced Shelton Benjamin and Charlie Haas. How much more wrestling talent could you fit in a single ring?
Originally, Edge was supposed to be the tag team partner of both Lesnar and Benoit, but due to injury Edge had to be written out of the match. He would not return until after WrestleMania XX over a year later.
The match was a beautiful display of athleticism, but due to the chaotic nature of a Handicap Tag Team match, managed to be more erratic than polished. This made it feel more like a really entertaining Monday Night Raw main event rather than something you would typically see on a Pay-Per-View.
I’m not sure whether that is a positive or a negative, because the action in this match is just so entertaining.
This match was sandwiched between two amazing WWE Championship matches, having occurred a month after Angle and Benoit’s classic Royal Rumble match, and month before Lesnar’s career defining moment at WrestleMania.
I feel as if Benoit and Team Angle were very much the extras in this match despite doing much of the work. This was very much a match to give fans a preview of Brock Lesnar versus Kurt Angle without having the two interact too much before the main event of the biggest show of the year.
Benoit would secure the victory despite them being a man down, but it would be the young amateur wrestler from OVW who would go on to win the WWE Championship the following month
8. BROCK LESNAR VS. KURT ANGLE (WRESTLEMANIA XIX)
As of writing, this still remains the career defining moment in the professional wrestling career of Brock Lesnar. In all honestly, it probably always will be.
Brock Lesnar, still in his mid-20s, was being groomed to carry the WWE for the next two decades. However, not long after this it seemed as if Lesnar had grown bitter of all the time he was spending traveling and the grind got too him so much that he opted to not resign after his contract expired.
In 2003, Lesnar was still in the mindset that he was going to be the one the WWE would build around for the next decade. Brock was beginning to catch on as a babyface, and in the early months of 2003 was especially over with the crowd. While this wouldn’t last long, Lesnar was extremely well liked by fans during his pursuit of WWE Champion, Kurt Angle.
Angle walked into Safeco Field in Seattle completely beat up after spending the past four years on the road, full-time. He needed time off and surgery and, as the story goes, was advised by doctors to not wait until after WrestleMania XIX to get it.
The main event of WrestleMania XIX was made up by a talented, but severely banged up, Kurt Angle and an extremely nervous and inexperienced Brock Lesnar.
Much of this “real life” back-story was largely discussed in one of WWE’s early movie projects, The Mania of WrestleMania, which documented the days leading into the nineteenth WrestleMania event.
Famously, near the end of the encounter, the challenger ascended to the top rope. Brock attempted a Shooting Star Press, a move he did sometimes during his OVW-days, but missed the WWE Champion. The Royal Rumble winner was stunned and Angle had to almost make Lesnar kick out to cover up the faux pa.
In the end, almost as if his body turned on autopilot, Lesnar rose to his feet and hit a final F-5 and won the WWE Championship.
7. BROCK LESNAR VS. EDGE (REBELLION 2002)
If you want to talk about polar opposite career paths in the wrestling business here is a prime example.
During the post Attitude Era, Edge began slowly climbing his way up the card through many injuries and setbacks. Brock Lesnar, on the other hand, went from wrestling at Ohio Valley Wrestling to dark matches to becoming the WWE Champion within a matter of months.
Technically, this was a Handicap match which pitted the WWE Champion, Brock Lesnar, and Paul Heyman battling Edge across the pond. However, Heyman’s involvement was for storyline purposes only. It added an interesting element in that it was almost a bigger handicap for Lesnar, as he could potentially lose his title without even getting pinned.
While not as “high profile” or significantly important to Lesnar’s career as many of the other contests we are taking about today, this was a great display of athleticism by two men who went on to become hugely important to the next decade of WWE history.
Edge, a popular up-and-coming babyface at the time on WWE Smackdown!, was getting one of his first opportunities to main event a Pay-Per-View event and one of his first shots at a World Championship. This was one of those matches that made the viewer suspend disbelief every time Edge nearly pinned the champion. Going into a well executed contest that pits and obvious main event talent with a middle of the card performer makes you want to believe in the underdog.
That’s what these two men did. It was seemingly obvious Lesnar would defeat the still rising star, Edge. Yet, they made you believe that Edge could somehow overcome Heyman’s pet monster and realize his childhood dream.
He actually very nearly defeated the rookie WWE Champion, but had the match snatched from him after Lesnar utilized a steel chair to retain his title.
It would be another some four years before Edge would finally complete his journey and become the WWE Champion.
6. BROCK LESNAR VS. EDDIE GUERRERO (NO WAY OUT 2004)
By 2004 rumors began circulating that Lesnar was over the WWE’s rigorous traveling schedule and was not looking to resign with the company. As such, the WWE needed to pass the torch to someone new who could be the babyface that fans paid to see when they came to taping of WWE Smackdown!
World traveled veteran, Eddie Guerrero, was chosen as the man who would unseat Lesnar as WWE Champion. Guerrero had wrestled in almost every major promotion in the Americas and had overcame the clutches of addiction. Charismatic, versatile in the ring, and (now) reliable, Eddie Guerrero was being set up for the biggest moment of his professional career.
Guerrero was so good because he could tell so many stories in the ring depending on who he wrestled. He was big enough that he could play the over-powering aggressor in a match with someone like Rey Mysterio, but agile an petite enough to play the evasive wily underdog in a match with someone like the WWE Champion Brock Lesnar.
Lesnar used Guerrero as a rag doll for much of the contest, but “Latino Heat” managed to ground the champion enough to keep him at bay. It would be Raw’s Goldberg that would turn the tide as the former WCW Champion stormed the ring and speared the “Next Big Thing.”
The challenger then landed a DDT onto the title and a Frog Splash to win his first and only WWE Championship.
Goldberg, who was also set to make his departure from the WWE according to the rumor mill at the time, was in attendance to start building towards their “dream match” of sorts at WrestleMania XX. It didn’t turn out that way.
However, Guerrero’s title win on this night turned out to be the greatest match Brock Lesnar never won. He’d his final WWE appearance less than two months later.
5. BROCK LESNAR VS. CM PUNK (SUMMERSLAM 2013)
It was billed as “The Best vs. The Beast.”
This is without question the greatest match Brock Lesnar has had since returning to the WWE after an eight year absence. It was also the last time we saw CM Punk go all out on Pay-Per-View before he went AWOL in early 2014.
On paper, this looks like a total miss-match of styles and characters. However, due to both men having strong ties to the on-air character of Paul Heyman it makes perfect sense to have these two tell a story together.
The punishment that Lesnar dealt out to the much smaller CM Punk was unreal. He looked so dominate against Punk for a majority of this encounter. Only by utilizing the No Disqualification stipulation was Punk able to keep up pace with his former associate’s biggest client.
Punk turned out to be the perfect opponent to really re-establish Lesnar’s physical dominance over the WWE roster. His matches with John Cena and Triple H were a much more even playing field when it came to size and strength, but Punk had to utilize a different strategy as he knew he could not match muscle with the former UFC Champion.
His ability to outwit Lesnar was the only thing that gave him a fighting chance, but eventually his split focus on both his opponent and Paul Heyman caught up with him.
While Punk seemingly had The Beast defeated a time or two during this contest his urge to go after Paul Heyman proved to be his downfall. The distraction of the loud mouthed manager was all the edge Lesnar needed to decimate the more tactical “Straight Edge” superstar.
Even still, the former WWE Champion looked like a badass in defeat for hanging in the ring with a man 50+ pounds more than him. Both men came out looking better than going in. That is a pretty rare thing in all actuality.
CM Punk would later get his just revenge against Paul Heyman, but only after Lesnar struck the first blow here at SummerSlam.
4. BROCK LESNAR VS. THE ROCK (SUMMERSLAM 2002)
This is the third match from the underrated SummerSlam 2002 card to make its way to the Pro Wrestling Countdown. That might be a record.
Speaking of records, not many men can say they won the biggest title in their company during their first year on the WWE roster. That is just another accolade we can add to Lesnar’s list of accomplishments.
At the age of only 25, Brock Lesnar unseated The Rock to become the youngest WWE Champion in history. A record that still stands to this day.
A lot of credit has to go to The Rock for really guiding this match and helping Lesnar in his first ever Pay-Per-View main event match. You can clearly see that it was Paul Heyman and The Rock who really guided this match’s narrative.
Lesnar was still very much a freight train who was running through opponents in television matches in a matter of minutes. A main event match for the WWE Championship on a huge event like SummerSlam was a different kind of match for him at this point of time.
The WWE Champion and his challenger gave a very entertaining main event that somehow managed to not be completely overshadowed by the notorious Street Fight between Triple H and a returning Shawn Michaels that took place earlier in the night.
Despite his veteran instincts, The Rock would succumb to the F-5 and lose his record seventh WWE Championship to the newcomer from Wisconsin. This match really established Lesnar as the monster he had been booked as up to this point. It would be only the first notable victory of many to come for the NCAA Division I champion.
While Lesnar still had so much to learn in the ring and about the storytelling elements of a wrestling match, it can’t be denied that he was a damn quick learner. Even still so new to the business Lesnar, and the people around him, knew how to acquiescent his positives and hide the negatives.
The fact of the matter was, by 2002 the company knew “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was hitting a breaking point both physically and mentally and could see that The Rock was on his way to bigger and better things. So what do they do? Create a new star. That is all they could do.
It made all the sense in the world, whether Lesnar was ready for this huge push or not the WWE needed a new franchise player and this was their first attempt. I have to say, if put in the same position I might have banked on Lesnar as well.
Little did they know, Brock’s career path would have other things in store.
3. BROCK LESNAR VS. CHRIS BENOIT (WWE SMACKDOWN!, DECEMBER 2003)
I often discuss a television match as being “forgotten, overlooked, or a hidden gem,” but this match from the tail end of Smackdown’s greatest era ever is probably the epitome of all of those.
Chris Benoit had defeated John Cena to become the number one contender at the top of this edition of WWE Smackdown!
Lesnar was doing a storyline in which he was seeking to become the “greatest” WWE Champion of all time by defending his title against many different challengers. This match was made out to be a big deal and honestly I would have shilled out money to watch a contest of this caliber on Pay-Per-View. With the brand extension in effect it meant fewer events for each brand and as such the shows had to do more to keep viewers hooked.
As Benoit was wrestling his second match of the night, Lesnar spent much of the contest in firm control of the smaller and more weary challenger. Benoit’s story of fighting from underneath and trying to outsmart and out-wrestle the WWE Champion is what built the suspense in this main event.
It was a concept that would be reused for Benoit the following year at both the 2004 Royal Rumble and WrestleMania XX.
Matches like this certainly did make for compelling reasons to actually tune in. It’s just a damn shame these two couldn’t have had more one-on-one matches together or even a longer storyline. This was one of their only notable singles matches ever televised.
These two had great chemistry. Lesnar has always gelled so well with more technically sound mat grapples, and Benoit was one of the masters of that craft.
In the early months of 2004 Smackdown’s brilliant roster took many blows. Brock Lesnar left the company. Chris Benoit and Edge were both drafted to Monday Night Raw.
Later that year Eddie Guerrero would go on to drop the WWE Championship to JBL which would eventually lead to him headlining some of the worst received WWE Pay-Per-Views of all time.
2. BROCK LESNAR VS. THE UNDERTAKER (NO MERCY 2002)
Over a decade before they stood in New Orleans’s Superdome at WrestleMania XXX, these two wagged war in a battle of “new school versus old school” inside of the dreaded Hell in a Cell.
I think this would qualify as probably the most overlooked and least talked about Hell in a Cell matches ever.
It didn’t quite make the list on Undertaker’s Pro Wrestling Countdown, but it serves as one of Lesnar’s most important victories. If you can stand toe-to-toe with Undertaker and come out the other end still intact, you have something.
The great thing about this match is that both men came out looking like cutthroat badasses. Lesnar, for overcoming a mainstay WWE performer for over a decade. Undertaker, for having a match with a dominate, young, and hungry new WWE Champion even with a broken hand.
It was the perfect story for these two to tell together.
Both men looked strong at different points in the contest, but Lesnar spent a slight majority of the time seemingly in control of the match. This was beneficial in establishing him as a strong WWE Champion and leader of WWE’s “Blue Brand” while it was still in its infancy as a individual product.
Lesnar’s rise in 2002 all the way up until he decided not to resign with the wrestling juggernaut was spent building him up as the next face of the company. Someone who could pick up were Hulk Hogan and Steve Austin left off.
The Undertaker has rarely lost without some sort of dusty finish in which he is screwed out of the victory, but Lesnar remains the man with probably more high profile victories over The Undertaker than anyone else alive.
Lesnar has always been very much the Bane to Undertaker’s Batman.
After his strong victory over “Big Evil” Lesnar’s next rival would be someone else’s whose athletic ability has long been the subject of praise here….
1. BROCK LESNAR VS. KURT ANGLE (WWE SMACKDOWN!, SEPTEMBER 2003)
What a difference only a few months can make. This match is just about the complete inverse of their more famous main event match at WrestleMania XIX.
If you’re discussing the year 2003 in WWE history your conversation should start and end with Kurt Angle versus Brock Lesnar.
This was a marathon exhibit demonstrating just why Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar were two of WWE’s most gifted mat wrestlers ever.
On a forgotten television match on WWE Smackdown! Angle and Lesnar managed to have a 60-Minute Iron Man Match that would surpass the quality of even Bret Hart versus Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII.
It was a modern take on the Iron Man match, and one that saw both Lesnar and Angle in the reverse roles that we saw at WrestleMania XIX earlier in the year.
Angle had become the fan favorite and Lesnar had become the Vince McMahon-corporate endorsed heel.
The amount of huge maneuvers used in this match to try and simply get another point on the board border ridiculous. Angle and Lesnar were aiming for the fences every moment of this match and it made for a very tense atmosphere.
Lesnar, the challenger, spent much of the match leading the WWE Champion. If Angle had 2 points, Lesnar had 3 or 4 so really the champion was the one who spent much of this match battling from underneath, which is a great spin on the normality of the challenger being the underdog and one who has to work harder to secure the victory.
In the final moments, Brock lead the match with a score of 5 to Angles 4. The champion locked in his Angle Lock on a downed Lesnar, but the clock expired with Lesnar grimacing through the pain. Despite being the chief aggressor at the end of the match, Angle lost his WWE Championship.
I thought this was a terrifically unique ending to a title match. One which still makes Lesnar look like the better man, but also makes the former champion, Angle, look damn good in the process. This is without question one of the best matches ever contested for the WWE Championship.
It also stands as Brock Lesnar’s finest performance with a man I’d consider his best opponent.
Fearless. Braggadocios. Successful.
A man so good that he has had a nickname for almost every night of the week. Rob Van Dam is like the guy you went to high school who excelled in every sport he tried his hand at, and knew how good he was.
But did that do more harm than good for his career? Much like Mysterio, who we discussed in the last edition, Van Dam has very much rested in his firm rooted laurels for much of the past decade. However, this does not discount that, during his heyday, he was one of the most popular professional wrestlers on the planet. We will discuss this theme later on throughout this entire piece.
Welcome back to the Pro Wrestling Countdown, this time we are paying homage to “The Whole F’N Show” or perhaps, now, “Mr. Pro Wrestling Countdown?”
Today we will look at a man who had matches centered around the theme of pure excitement.
Rob Van Dam has been called “One of a Kind” for his innate drive to steal the show and put on the most memorable performance on any given event he appears on. He wants to be the thing you talk about as you leave the arena and head to the parking garage to go home. He wants to be in the highlight reels and make the fans gasp in excitement.
He is a thriller and someone who takes great pride in his ability to entertain the crowd. However, Van Dam is much more an entertainer than a traditional wrestlers who uses storytelling and ring psychology.
While never the greatest ring psychologist, Van Dam was still one of the most successful cross-over stars into the WWE from the independent wrestling federation, Extreme Championship Wrestling.
Today, we will look at some of his greatest matches from both his time in the original ECW and his time as a household name in the WWE!
- Rob Van Dam vs. Bam Bam Bigelow (ECW Hardcore TV; April 1998): If you want to understand just how good Bigelow was for how large he was, this is the match I would start with. It pained me to cut this one out as it was the beginning of Van Dam’s now historic 24-month long ECW Television Championship reign, but it just barely missed making the top ten. So much fun action, and seeing RVD work with someone much larger than him was very interesting as I’m accustom to seeing him work best with men near his size or smaller.
- Rob Van Dam vs. Jeff Hardy (SummerSlam 2001): Only RVD’s second WWE Pay-Per-View appearance. This was a very fun Ladder match between two men who were renowned for their ability to have high octane performances and innovative use of weaponry.
- Rob Van Dam vs. Edge (Vengeance 2006): A often forgotten match from RVD’s too-short reign as WWE Champion. While this underrated championship match had to play second fiddle to the return of the Attitude Era’s most over used act, D-Generation X. Still, Edge and Van Dam were both on a roll in 2006 and they had a wonderful match that gets no praise nowadays.
10. ROB VAN DAM VS. STEVE AUSTIN VS. KURT ANGLE (NO MERCY 2001)
So a brawler, a technician, and a high flyer walk into a ring…
I have always had a keenness for this match if only because of the fact that the WWE put three absolute opposites in their main event. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, a beer-swindling brawler. Kurt Angle, a charismatic-suplexxing Olympic Gold Medal winner. Rob Van Dam, a cocky “cool dude” with all the flashy moves.
These three had no middle ground to stand on, but still they managed to work that to their advantage. All three men played up their archetype while jockeying for the pin fall. The tension between Steve Austin, the WWE Champion, and Rob Van Dam was what really made this match.
Both men were members of The Alliance faction infecting the WWE.
Austin was it’s leader and viewed Van Dam as an up-and-coming threat to his reign.Kurt Angle was the man stepping up to the plate to bring the title back to the Vince McMahon’s company, but the twist was that Van Dam, an Alliance member, had known secret meetings with McMahon. This sent the paranoid WWE Champion, Stone Cold, into a fit that threatened the entire invasion of the WWE.
Aside from the deeper story dynamic here, the action is the real reason to go back to this contest.
Van Dam came up short, but he had one of the biggest moments in his WWE career up to that point. After this “The Whole F’n Show” went on to be one of the most popular and beloved WWE superstars of 2002 and the next half-decade until his departure in 2007
9. ROB VAN DAM VS. LANCE STORM (GUILTY AS CHARGED 1999)
1999 was probably the best year in Van Dam’s entire career when it boils down to his in-ring work.
These two had more than just a few matches under the ECW umbrella.
Most famously, the match from ECW’s first ever Pay-Per-View called Barely Legal 1997. This match only came about after Masato Tanaka was unable to make it into the United States to make the Pay-Per-View and challenge Rob Van Dam for his ECW Television Championship.
Van Dam had great chemistry with Storm, and it was a ton of fun watching RVD adapt his style here to one that involved more holds and supplexes. There we not many times Rob Van Dam got to actually wrestle with another world class mat wrestler like Lance Storm.
In contrast, it did Storm a ton of good to face someone who moved as quickly as “Mr. Monday Night.” It made for a very exciting performance as both brought two different styles of ECW’s wrestling in one ring.
It was one of Van Dam’s most technically sound wrestling matches during his time with the extreme promotion, but not his best.
It stood out for being one of his matches that fans could point to if someone said that Van Dam was nothing more than a chair swinging stunt man. Admitted, some of RVD’s matches felt like he was only going from spot-to-spot, but when he wrestled the right person things just clicked. Lance Storm was one such person.
Unfortunately, Storm’s incomparable mat skills would not translate to success when he entered the WWE after ECW shut it’s doors.
8. ROB VAN DAM VS. CHRIS BENOIT (SUMMERSLAM 2002)
I have been wanting to talk about this match for a long time as it is one I’ve never heard many talk about online.
Most of us know the story by now, but for the sake of those who might not, in 2001 the WWE acquired many contracts and talents from the wrestling promotions WCW and ECW who both closed.
The result was the creation of what was, bar-none, most talented and complete midcard the WWE has ever had. These two were among the performers who typically populated the midcard of WWE shows during this time, but they could also easily and logically be plugged into main events when needed.
Even though this is a celebration of the man who is “One of a Kind” I won’t blindly pretend the performer has no faults. Van Dam has never been very good at pacing his matches. He has one gear and he stays in it no matter what it is.
This means he opponents often lead the match and have to sort of pace the flow of the match around him. Benoit, of course, had no problem doing that during their match of the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
Benoit was someone who took pride in his ring work above all else. Here he spent much of the contest controlling the pace of the match by working on the shoulder of Van Dam and keeping the high flyer from using many of his aerial tricks.
Van Dam would take advantage of any opening in Benoit’s honed grappling offense and hit any manner of high impact kick, slam, or flip he could manage. Finally, Van Dam hit the Five Star Frog Splash and win the title and bring it back to Monday Night Raw.
This match was hugely overshadowed by the return of Shawn Michaels after an over four year absence later in the show. It remains an underrated, somewhat flawed, Pay-Per-View match even still. This came from the period of RVD’s where he had a ton of exciting matches in the midcard. This was one of his best.
7. ROB VAN DAM VS. SABU (A MATTER OF RESPECT 1996)
One of his favorite opponents and someone Van Dam has had a long and mixed history with. “The Houdini of Hardcore” Sabu.
Before they formed an uneasy alliance as ECW Tag Team Champions in 1997 these two had a feud over respect and, believe it or not, a handshake.
Van Dam had just debuted in ECW in the early months of 1996 and the matches he had with Sabu in his first few months thereare often pointed to as the reason the Michigan native caught the eye of fans in ECW.
Despite repeatedly facing Sabu, the cocky newcomer refused to shake the hand of the world-traveled veteran. This obviously did not sit well with the often proud and volatile Sabu.
Rob Van Dam turned heel for the only notable time in his career and enlisted the managerial services of Bill Alfonso. He often cut promos on how he was too talented to be in ECW and only wrestled the way he did to gain attention from big name promoters like WCW and WWE.
All of their matches have been discussed as some of ECW’s best mix of extreme and entertainment, but for my taste their match here at A Matter of Respect is the one that sticks out. The would later have a great match at Hardcore Heaven, but a broken really handicapped that match from making the Countdown.
There match at A Matter of Respect was a rematch from Hostile City Showdown which was one of RVD’s first major ECW events. He lost to Sabu in a No Time Limit match.
While this rematch could be a bit too much of a spot-fest for some wrestling fans, this shows viewers why Van Dam became such a big deal in ECW in such a short amount of time.
Van Dam would win this match, and per the rules, the two were supposed to shake hands, but the cocky Van Dam refused to shake the hand of the veteran. This would be the beginnings of Van Dams tenure in ECW as a heel.
Sabu really deserves a lot of credit for helping establish Van Dam as huge player as he would go on to become one of ECW’s last huge stars and really the only one would find major success on a grander stage.
6. ROB VAN DAM VS. CHRIS JERICHO (UNFORGIVEN 2001)
A hidden gem among the rubble that was the bloated WCW and ECW Invasion story arc. It was R-V-D vs. Y-2-J.
No not their vastly overrated match from WWE Monday Night Raw last year, but this match. A match that was to decide the WWE Hardcore Championship of all things. This was honestly probably the best match I’ve ever seen for this championship in a traditional single-pin-fall match.
“Mr. Pay-Per-View” had only just joined the ranks of the WWE a few months prior, and after having several matches with Jeff Hardy over the title found himself representing The Alliance faction, made up of both Shane and Stephanie McMahon sponsored WCW and ECW talent, against WWE’s Chris Jericho.
It’s a very long and convoluted story, but that’s the gist of it all.
Both of these guys seemed to have the other one scouted which shifted the momentum and story of this match several times over. That constant shift made this match feel very erratic at times. Which is perfect for a match for a championship christened with the name “Hardcore.”
This match sort of served as a way for the WWE to continue the hilarious Stephanie McMahon/Chris Jericho feud which produced some of Jericho’s most famous one-liners. McMahon came down to the ring and distracted Jericho allowed Van Dam to hit the Van-Terminator followed by that Five Star Frog Splash.
Despite the weak finish both the more grounded Y2J and Van Dam meshed well here and performed a wonderful match with only one or two awkward spots as opposed to their 2013 match on WWE Raw.
Funnily enough, Stephanie McMahon would later briefly become Jericho’s manager in early 2002 after he became the first ever WWE Undisputed Champion.
5. ROB VAN DAM VS. CHRISTIAN (WWE RAW, JUNE 2003)
While it doesn’t seem to happen as often as it used to, at a time, WWE Raw was semi-often treated to a Ladder match.
This is by far one of the most underrated Ladder matches in Raw’s history and, not surprisingly, it was for the WWE Intercontinental Championship.
I thought these two really meshed well together in the ring. Christian had spent a majority of his time in WWE in matches that involved multiple weapons and wrestling guys like Matt and Jeff Hardy.
So by this point in his career Christian was well prepared to have a hidden gem of a classic with an athlete like Rob Van Dam.
The only critique I have of this match was that it was a bit on the short side, but it managed to work out as a positive as it meant both “Captain Charisma” and the “Whole F’N Show” wasted no more down time than necessary providing a worthwhile main event for Monday Night Raw.
Roller coaster rides are often far too short also, but I feel that makes the brief experience that more special. Watching a Van Dam or Rey Mysterio match might often feel overly-short, but really you’re getting a far more condensed and action-packed experience.
This match got huge bonus points for an incredibly well executed finishing sequence. The timing of it all was just spot-on.
After kicking Christian off the top of a ladder, “Mr. Monday Night” scaled another ladder and performed his Five Star Frog Splash on route to winning his fourth Intercontinental Championship.
4. ROB VAN DAM VS. JERRY LYNN (HARDCORE HEAVEN 1999)
“The Whole F’N Show” versus “The New F’N Show” for the ECW Television Championship.
By this time, Van Dam and Lynn were more familiar with one another and still young enough to put on one of the definitive best matches of the year across any promotion.
While 1999 saw a shift in ECW towards a more athletic style, moving away from “garbage wrestling,” the characters were not connecting with the audience like they once were. It’s curious that one of the promotions best matches took place at the cross-roads of its own history.
This match is not as fast paced and crisp as some of their other encounters but it is a very smart match. ECW didn’t have very many technically brilliant matches that were also extremely brutal, but this is certainly one of them. It toed the line of being hardcore, but also while telling a very back-and-forth story as the momentum of the contest swayed between both men.
The ECW crowd was such an anomaly in it’s own right. They were always hot for the matches and chanted at all the right, and sometimes wrong, times. They made this match feel more big time than it already was.
Jerry Lynn nearly had the Television Champion beat here after numerous times, but came up short and became another notch on Van Dam’s belt during his 23-month long reign as the champion. It would take “The Whole F’N Show” two Five Star Frog Splashes to finally silence his challenger.
Van Dam was supposed to move up into the main event scene and begin competing for the ECW World Heavyweight Championship, but an ankle injury kept that from happening and RVD had to relinquish his ECW Television Championship.
About two years later Van Dam would return to main event ECW’s final ever Pay-Per-View, 2001’s Guilty As Charged, despite being owed a huge sum of money, and had one final match with Jerry Lynn in the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.
The company would hold only two more events after this. Five years later, “The Whole F’N Show” would return to that very building, but with a new nickname, “Mr. Money in the Bank…”
3. ROB VAN DAM VS. JOHN CENA (ONE NIGHT STAND 2006)
It’s really disappointing to me that hardly anything that Van Dam has done since all the way back in 2006 has managed to live up to the amazing contests he put on in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In 2006, Van Dam was just turning 36. By all accounts he should have only been getting better, but when some stars enter their later years they use their vast knowledge of ring psychology and storytelling to make up for it. Men like Shawn Michaels and Ric Flair understood that, some professional wrestlers just don’t have that.
Once Van Dam began to slow done he just didn’t have the ability to make fans invest into his character or the story. Still, for over a decade we were lucky enough to see “Mr. Pay-Per-View” thrill like no one else, and this is without a doubt the culmination of everything he worked for.
No matter how it turned out, no matter what people think of him now, Rob Van Dam will forever be linked to the WWE’s most sacred championship belt.
Electricity. That is the only word that comes to mind when I think of the atmosphere in the Hammerstein Ballroom as John Cena and Rob Van Dam entered 2006’s One Night Stand. The fans gave Van Dam one of the biggest ovations of his career and tossed back John Cena’s tee shirt and cap multiple times as the WWE Champion tried to toss them to the crowd.
The tension around this match was huge and it made it even more meaningful and memorable. I do have a problem with this match though. Edge’s involvement and spearing of John Cena near the end of the contest was very much unneeded.
Edge could have speared John Cena for storyline purposes after Rob Van Dam finally realized his journey to finally becoming the WWE Champion, but in the words of RVD, “whatever, dude.” The champion and the challenger had the crowd eating out of their hand for over 20 minutes and delivered a really dynamic performance that will stand as Rob Van Dam’s greatest career accomplishment.
If and/or when, “Mr. Monday Night,” enters the WWE Hall of Fame, you can bet this match will make more than a few appearances in his career tribute video. Seeing Van Dam holding the title surrounded by ECW alumni was probably the last moment in ECW’s history that did not feel contrived or phony.
2. ROB VAN DAM VS. EDDIE GUERRERO (WWE RAW, MAY 2002)
Another Ladder match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship from a television taping. This match though, was very likely the inspiration for Van Dam’s match with Christian on Raw the year after this.
I would like to go on record and say I miss Eddie Guerrero, very much. Very, very much.
I almost want to be mad at the WWE for giving this match away on free television as it is one of the best matches to ever be televised on their flagship program, WWE Monday Night Raw.
In 2002, Rob Van Dam was one of the most popular WWE superstars on the roster. Fewer of the performers on the WWE’s roster got a more thunderous reaction that “Mr. Monday Night” during this point in his career. He was extremely over, underexposed, and very well protected.
Guerrero was such a versatile talent in the ring, and this is a great example of that. Fans had seen Guerrero’s high flying antics and precise execution of submission holds for years in WCW’s cruiserweight division, but not often was “Latino Heat” allowed to take to the skies from a ladder.
The two both wrestled with a great amount of urgency which made sense considering that this match contained no pin-falls. Both men were so crisp and on-point with every maneuver in this match, it looked like it had been rehearsed several times over again.
The champion, Guerrero, controlled much of this Ladder match, surprisingly. However, Van Dan hit the right spots at the right time and managed to incapacitate Guerrero long enough to secure the WWE Intercontinental Championship for a second time.
If only that pesky fan intruder had not thrown Guerrero off the ladder, literally.
1. ROB VAN DAM VS. JERRY LYNN (LIVING DANGEROUSLY 1999)
This match occurred only one month before their rematch at Hardcore Heaven 1999.
There is a ridiculous amount of division among ECW fans about which Vam Dam/Lynn match is superior. It typically boils down to this match and their match later at Hardcore Heaven. In all honesty either one could have feasibly been called number one, but for me there is something so much more special about this one.
Believe it or not, this was actually the two’s first time ever wrestling on live Pay-Per-View, with one another.
Long before becoming a nostalgia act in Total Nonstop Action Wrestling this was one of the greatest match-ups in Extreme Championship Wrestling’s history. They both had some very entertaining matches on Hardcore TV, but none of them got this much time to really tell a story or showcase just how well they worked together up until this point.
Few other opponents have ever been able to match the pace of Rob Van Dam.
Jerry Lynn knew how to work with Van Dam. He made himself appear just as quick and dangerous as “Mr. Pay-Per-View”, but Lynn also knew when to let Van Dam be the star of the show. The two were just so inventive with the way they both used the environment around them to punish one another.
Whether it was guard rails, steel chairs, or tables.
I mean, some of the sequences and spots in this match are just so mind blowing that I had to rewind them and watch again just to see how they accomplished them. So this match had the wow factor in the entertainment department, but it also told a wonderful story. A story of Jerry Lynn, trying to overcome the ever-dominate ECW Television Champion, Rob Van Dam.
It was a struggle for him and he used anything and everything he could get his hands on to try and defeat the champion. At the end of the 20 minute time-limit, neither man had won. The referee had nearly awarded the belt to Lynn, as he was pinning RVD when the time expired, but the proud challenger wanted more time to get a definitive victory over the long reigning champion.
The fans screamed for “Five More Minutes!” The two are given five more minutes to determine the winner, but it proved to be Lynn’s downfall.
A Van Daminator and a Five Star Frog Splash, moments later, was all that the ECW Television Champion needed to retain his title from the man who went on to become his most legendary opponent.
Dial it up! The Pro Wrestling Countdown is back and this time we are in the 6-1-9.
Over the past 20 years the man behind the neon-colored masks has excited professional wrestling fans across the globe like few others physically can.
The fact of the matter is that, whether you like him or not, Mysterio has done things in the WWE ring that no one else has ever been able to pull off. That makes Mysterio far and away a once in a lifetime talent and probably one of the most overlooked performers when speaking about the most talented performs of the last two decades.
It is far too easy to seemingly cast Mysterio aside as nothing more than a wrestler who only uses spots to get through a match, and that just isn’t the case.
Rey Mysterio has been a major player in the industry for almost his entire adult life and in that time he has been apart of some of the most exhilarating matches to ever have a global viewing audience.
He is one of a kind, and it will be hard for any man to eclipse the amazing acrobatics and enthralling action that Mysterio has imposed on his opponents in his many performances.
Now, let’s take a peak behind the mask and join us as we countdown the greatest matches in the career of Rey Mysterio!
REY MYSTERIO VS. CM PUNK (EXTREME RULES 2010)
One of my favorite characters in recent WWE history was the heel incarnation of CM Punk’s straight-edge persona. Better known as, “The Straight-Edge Savior.”
The great thing about Punk becoming a heel character was that he could now tell engaging stories with wrestlers like Mysterio who has almost been a fan favorite for his entire career. the psychotic prophet was a wonderful foil for the Steamboat-esque white-meat babyface that Mysterio has been portrayed as in the WWE.
If you think about it, even John Cena has had a notable WWE run as a heel, but Mysterio has always done the right thing and been the humble role model.
But, it does make for the perfect opponent for a really villainous heel, like that of CM Punk in 2010. They had several memorable segments and matches, but this was probably the most entertaining and interesting of the lot.
I loved that both men had a mutual admiration for Eddie Guerrero and you can even see them pay respect to the fallen performer in this match when Punk locked in the Gory Special. A fitting tribute.
- Rey Mysterio vs. Jushin Thunder Liger (Starrcade 1996): The legendary Japanese wrestler, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, made off-and-on appearances for WCW during the 1990s when he was not wrestling in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Strangely, he only ever had one, now historic, meeting with the Mexican luchardor, Rey Mysterio. How appropriate is it now that it happened at WCW’s biggest event of the year? This could have, and should have been, much better than it actually was, but the two were clearly unfamiliar with one another. Still it is quite awesome to see the two legends go at it in their prime.
- Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero (WrestleMania 21): This is their older and wiser sequel to their classic 1997 match. While not nearly as fast paced as its “source material,” it stands as probably Rey’s most entertaining WrestleMania performance to date. In 2005, Mysterio got to open WrestleMania 21, in Los Angeles, with one of his closest friends and most notable rivals. “Lation Heat,” his tag team partner, Eddie Guerrero. There were a few gripes I have with this match. The two men stalled just a little too much for my liking. Also, Mysterio fiddled with his interesting, but less than practical, mask far too often for it to not be noticeable. Regardless, a fun opening bout.
- Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle vs. Randy Orton (WrestleMania 22): A hugely significant victory for Mysterio’s career and just about as good of a ten minute title match as you can ever hope for. This WrestleMania card was a bit bloated which meant the WWE was a bit strapped for time, but these three men went all out giving no breaks. This made for a near ten minute highlight real of action from all three men.
10. REY MYSTERIO VS. JOHN CENA (WWE RAW, JULY 2011)
This has become a modern classic for Monday Night Raw.
It sort of sad but, as of writing, this has probably been the most recent “great” match from Mysterio’s massive catalog of matches. Since 2011 he has spent a substantial amount of time on the sidelines or teaming with Mexican wrestling superstar Mistico a.k.a Sin Cara.
CM Punk was not the only man to have a historic championship match during the summer of 2011.
During the absolute peak of the CM Punk storyline the “Best in the World” “left the WWE.” This meant we needed a “new WWE Champion.” Rey Mysterio defeated The Miz in the finals of a mini-tournament to win his first, and only, WWE Championship.
The “Biggest Little Man” was promptly challenged by John Cena, the former WWE Champion, to battle in the main event of Monday Night Raw for his newly won title.
It never occurred to me, until I re-watched this match for consideration in the Countdown, just how few times that Mysterio and Cena have had the chance to wrestle one another.
Both men have been almost exclusively babyfaces for their entire careers and have been, for almost a decade, two of the most marketable WWE personalities for children.
The champion worked on Cena’s legs for much of the match, which worked to his advantage later in the contest. It looked like Mysterio would retain after delivering a well placed 619, but Cena countered and when Rey went for the maneuver again, Cena hit the Attitude Adjustment to win the WWE Championship.
Unfortunately Mysterio was the awkward third wheel in the Punk/Cena story that concluded the show, but his performances on this edition of Raw where tremendous.
Even his earlier match with The Miz was way better than it looked on paper. It’s just a shame that I can hardly think of anything truly noteworthy that Mysterio has done since this.
9. REY MYSTERIO VS. ÚLTIMO DRAGÓN (SPRING STAMPEDE 1997)
I know their WCW World War 3 encounter is very popular among WCW fans, but this match really is much better all around.
This was billed as a “rubber” match after these two men had had two encounters with one another on WCW pay-per-view in 1996.
The Dragon dominated much of this match using his size advantage to overpower and ground Mysterio much like many of the other members of the division did to the smaller and swifter cruiserweight. The “Biggest Little Man,” as he came to be called, could not use many of his most notable maneuvers.
This forced Mysterio to play a lot of defense, instead of utilizing his usual array of leaps and kicks. Dragon controlled much of the pace, which meant this opener moved much slower than several of the other matches we’ve talked about on this edition of the Countdown, but it was interesting to see Mysterio play the more passive opponent and work from the ground when he is so used to being in the air and bouncing off the ropes. Mysterio broke the tie and got the victory over the Japanese sensation.
These men wrestled several wonderful matches in both WCW and WWE, and hardly ever had a bad one.
For me, this was the most interesting match of their collection and stood out among their other contests.
8. REY MYSTERIO VS. BILLY KIDMAN VS. JUVENTUD GUERRERA (STARRCADE 1998)
Three Way Dances can be one of the most repetitive and formulaic matches types if the wrong three guys are put into the mix.
Many fall into the pattern of tossing one of the competitors out of the ring so the action can stay focused on only two men, but the greatest Triple Threat matches deviate away from this formula and this is certainly one such match.
This Cruiserweight Championship match opened the WCW event, Starrcade. The cruiserweights often served as the opening performances for Pay-Per-Views as a way to pop the crowd and build up their energy.
This was a match to be contested for Kidman’s WCW Cruiserweight Championship.
This match featured several amazing sequences of action that just would not have been possible without the addition of a third man in the fray. At one point, Guerrera spring-boarded off the top rope and delivered a hurricanrana to Mysterio who was on the shoulders of Billy Kidman.
The match was filled with fun spots like this and smooth transitions. It was not a clinic, but a really fun opener that showed why Mysterio was the staple of WCW’s Cruiserweight Division.
Guerrera, a new recruit of the Latino World Order, very nearly won the match after it’s leader, Eddie Guerrero, came to the ring and assaulted Kidman, but a drop kick from Mysterio gave the champion the opening he needed to retain.
After this match Guerrero challenged “the pretty boy” Kidman to a title match, which Kidman also managed to win.
7. REY MYSTERIO VS. CHAVO GUERRERO (GREAT AMERICAN BASH 2004)
This featured everything that was great about watching a Rey Mysterio match in his early years with the WWE.
I knew I wanted to a feature one of Mysterio’s matches with the younger Guerrero cousin somewhere on this edition, but I didn’t know where to fit it. Obviously, everyone mocks Chavo as being the less talented and successful of the Guerrero clan, but he without a doubt had some of his greatest matches with Rey Mysterio.
This match, serves as probably their most overlooked encounter.
After some thought and juggling I narrowed it down to this match and one of their matches from their questionable 2006 rivalry that introduced Vickie Guerrero as a reoccurring onscreen presence for the better part of
the last decade. More specifically, their awesome I Quit match that was originally here.
I mainly opted for this encounter due to the awesome ring psychology both employed here.
Guerrero was a perfect heel for the stacked 2004 Cruiserweight division, and made a very logical foil for the extremely popular WWE Cruiserweight Champion, Rey Mysterio.
Chavo worked a much slower and methodological style than we typically see in a Mysterio match but this match safely stays away from being sluggish and mundane.
They both took the time to tell a story and use injuries to put both of their chances at victory at stake. Guerrero targeted Mysterio’s legs and Mysterio targeted Guerrero’s triceps.
Guerrero seemed to have Mysterio beat as he was preparing for the Gory Bomb but, as often happens, Mysterio pulled out the quick three count to retain his WWE Cruiserweight Championship.
The less famous Guerrero would go on to harbor much jealousy and ire for the success of Rey Mysterio over the next several years even after the passing of his beloved uncle Eddie.
6. REY MYSTERIO VS. JOHN MORRISON (WWE SMACKDOWN!, SEPTEMBER 2009)
2009 was WWE Smackdown’s renaissance. A true revival in quality television wrestling for a show that was often deprived of such. It also happened to be a year of revival in Mysterio’s in-ring work.
Not since the days of the original Smackdown Six had so many great encounters happened on WWE’s “B Show.”
I also must admit I was such a mark for John Morrison during his time on Smackdown! in 2009. He was so much fun to watch regardless of who he had a match with.
John Morrison was having excellent television matches with the likes of Tyson Kidd, CM Punk, Jeff Hardy, Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre, and Rey Mysterio. It was the closest the WWE Intercontinental Championship
scene had gotten to looking credible again in over a decade.
In fact, this match was for Rey Mysterio’s WWE Intercontinental Championship.
Mysterio wrestled like he was still in his early 20s opening a WCW pay-per-view event. It had such a great atmosphere. “A big fight feel-” if you will.
“The Guru of Greatness” was the perfect opponent for the luchardor to have a great match with and it helped that Mysterio seemed super motivated during this time period.
This match didn’t contain as many traditional flips and high spots as you might expect, but that might have actually helped it in the long run. It was still filled to the brim with countless “ooh” and “ahh” moments.
After hitting the 619 and failing to capitalize, John Morrison, on his third attempt, hit Starship Pain on the masked man and became the Intercontinental Champion for a third time.
5. REY MYSTERIO & EDGE VS. CHRIS BENOIT & KURT ANGLE (NO MERCY 2002)
It was a perfect storm of talent, action, and storytelling.
Mysterio, Edge, Angle, and Benoit were among the many talented men brought over to the newly created WWE Smackdown! brand and without the big names of Austin, Hogan, and The Rock looming above them they all enjoyed a grander spotlight.
This was the final match in a tournament commissioned by the Smackdown! General Manager, Stephanie McMahon, to decide who would be the first ever WWE Tag Team Champions.
This match has garnered much praise in past editions, so if you have not given yourself the time to watch it by now, you’re just robbing yourself of a good time. This is 20 minutes of some of the most interesting tag team wrestling to ever see a grand stage.
The two miss-matched tandems showed that just because they had not been teaming together for years-upon-years didn’t mean they could not exemplify what in-ring chemistry is all about.
Angle and Benoit, who had a huge amount of competitive tension against one another, would win this match and become the first ever champions, but Mysterio and Edge certainly made them earn it.
They would have their turn as champions a little over two weeks later in an equally as impressive match on WWE Smackdown!
4. REY MYSTERIO VS. DEAN MALENKO (GREAT AMERICAN BASH 1996)
It’s a rare treat anytime I can find an excuse to gush about a Dean Malenko match.
What a debut!?
This was Mysterio’s first ever match under the WCW banner and the first time the wider American audience got a chance to see what the young sensation from Tijuana Mexico was all about.
Often when a performer debuts in a new promotion it is no more than a quick affair. A few minute long promo/segment or a Squash match. This, was a more complete showcase of what Mysterio was capable of when out in the ring with one of the greatest wrestlers in WCW history.
“The Man of 1,000 Holds” quickly targeted the arms of the newcomer and dominated him in front of the Baltimore crowd. He kept the challenger from taking any control at all but the 21-year old fought out of every pin and withstood every hold and slam Malenko could dream up.
The debuting Mysterio made his comeback and showed his vast resilience, but the wear and tear from Malenko was too great for him.
Rey broke away from Malenko and began to hit all the thrilling moves that had created the buzz that which allowed Mysterio to make it into one of America’s largest professional wrestling promotions. However, his momentum was stopped dead in it’s tracks by a power bomb. With a little help from the second rope, Malenko made certain Mysterio wouldn’t become WCW Cruiserweight Champion on his first night with the company.
These two showed great chemistry with one another, but it almost seemed lost on the very underwhelming crowd who almost seemed to not know what to make of the new masked marvel.
Mysterio would strike back on WCW Nitro winning the title in another notable match with “The Iceman” later that summer.
This match did not have a thrilling story nor did it quite captivate the crowd, but it did plainly show glimpses of what Mysterio’s character would later become all about – overcoming any and all obstacles no matter what they are.
3. REY MYSTERIO VS. PCICOSIS (BASH AT THE BEACH 1996)
These two men have wrestled everywhere. AAA, ECW, WCW, and WWE.
They did battle all over the Americas.
The two, without a doubt, had their best encounters during their days in WCW’s fledgling Cruiserweight division.
By 1996, Mysterio and Psicosis knew one another inside-and-out when it came to putting together a match and it showed during every second of this match.
This match had some of the most beautiful luchador-like acrobatics of any match to ever take place during the duration of WCW’s Cruiserweight division, but it also had extremely smart submission holds, and exiting sequences that did not involve huge breathe taking spots.
But, it had all of that too. It was a “complete experience.” It had all the things you would expect from a match from a 21 year old Rey Mysterio, but then it had even more.
Pcicosis was very much to Rey Mysterio what Jerry Lynn was to Rob Van Dam. A really talented guy that never really “made it” and wrestled many of his best matches with a more notable name.
Mysterio, in this case, would go on to become one of the most recognizable and marketable talents under the WWE banner due to his distinctive style, apperance, and message of never giving up. Let that take nothing away from all the tremendously entertaining encounters Pcicosis had with him. The older luchador knew exactly how to make Rey Mysterio look that much better than he already was.
After a thrilling opening contest for WCW’s Bash at the Beach, Mysterio performed a Hurricanrana on Psicosis from the top turnbuckle for the victory.
2. REY MYSTERIO VS. CHRIS JERICHO (THE BASH 2009)
Rey Mysterio had been floating in an injury ridden rut, off-and-on, ever since his lackluster reign as World Heavyweight Champion in 2006.
However, in 2009, Mysterio was on top of his game again. He seemed motivated, limber, and exciting again after a couple of “down” years. I have to give some of the credit to his program with Chris Jericho that took place in the summer of that year.
If you needed proof that Chris Jericho is probably one of the most dynamic heels the WWE has seen in the last decade his 2008 feud with Shawn Michaels would, overwhelmingly, be “Example A.” However, Jericho’s 2009 feud with Rey Mysterio is a very close “Example B.”
As I said earlier in the Countdown, 2009 was a great year for WWE Smackdown! and this feud was surely the crown jewel of that.
Jericho was on a mission to expose Mysterio as a fraud and believe his mask symbolized the lie that he thought Mysterio stood for. The two then had several very entertaining midcard matches on both WWE Smackdown! and the early summer pay-per-view events of the year. Jericho was, at this time, one of the most entertaining and talented performers on the WWE roster.
The two had traded victories and defeats until the met for one final match at The Bash in which Chris Jericho’s Intercontinental Championship was on the line against Rey Mysterio’s mask.
This match was their final big encounter and the one in which “The Ultimate Underdog” used “Y2J’s” obsession with his mask to defeat him and secure his second ever WWE Intercontinental Championship.
After this Mysterio went on to have excellent matches with many of the rosters bright up-and-comers.
1. REY MYSTERIO VS. EDDIE GUERRERO (HALLOWEEN HAVOC 1997)
“Eddie could always sense what the crowd was feeling. He knew what they were reacting to. With Eddie, you didn’t talk out the match beforehand. He would tell me, ‘just listen to me in the ring.’ That’s all I would do. I would go into the ring and have my ears open. I’d follow his lead.” -Rey Mysterio
Not only is this Rey Mysterio’s greatest match, but it could be said to be one of the greatest matches in the illustrious history of Jim Crockett Promotions/World Championship Wrestling.
Often in the Pro Wrestling Countdown, a majority of the matches tend towards being 30-40 minute marathons.
However, with Rey Mysterio, the matches are shorter, more action packed, and move so much quicker. Does that make his matches any less worthy of being considered for the Countdown?
Run times do not define how great a match is. The story, pacing, and the mastery of movement do. This match encapsulates everything that is great about Rey Mysterio and his talent.
This was a foregone conclusion. Mysterio and Eddie had the greatest Cruiserweight Championship match of all time, and won multiple awards for this fantastic contest.
Guerrero was at the peak of his run as a smug heel Cruiserweight Champion after defeating Chris Jericho for the title months earlier. Like many men, before and after him, Guerrero had more fueling his fire during his match with the young Mysterio.
The man that would grow to become a close friend only wanted deeply to unmask and embarrass Rey Mysterio during their match. For a luchador, the mask is their true identity, and tearing a mask off is the ultimate form of dishonor.
Mysterio won what would go on to be the definitive match of his career, and one of the most meaningful ones as well.
They two performers would continue to work together for the next decade in both WCW and WWE until Guerrero’s shocking death in November of 2005.
The following year, Mysterio helped induct his greatest opponent into the WWE Hall of Fame and would then win his first ever World Heavyweight Championship. He dedicated his victory to his fallen friend.
A hybrid performer. A man with an old school 1960s/1970s wrestling psychology, a 1980s look, and the 1990s “attitude.” Triple H really encompasses what wrestling was all about in the second half of the 20th Century.
He is the culmination of 50 years of modern professional wrestling and whether you love him or hate him the future of the industry is now, largely, in his hands.
As easy as it is to pick on “The Cerebral Assassin” over some of his life decisions and the way in which he was booked anyone who says he was handed anything obviously does not know their history.
For 25 years, Triple H has been a part of the WWE experience. Whether he was wrestling for the WWE European Championship with Owen Hart, mocking WWE Commissioner Sgt. Slaughter with Shawn Michaels, or main eventing a WrestleMania in some of the biggest arenas across the country, Triple H has been a constant.
He is probably one of WWE’s most important talents to never effectively be the face of the company.
He has always been a rung right below the true faces of WWE. However, his talent and understanding of ring psychology have always made him one their most important commodities.
“The Game” may be one of WWE’s most unlikable personalities, but his wrestling ability and old school mentalities in the ring made him one of the 2000’s greatest and, in a way, most under appreciated entertainers.
THE POWER TRIP VS. CHRIS JERICHO & CHRIS BENOIT (WWE RAW, MAY 2001)
It’s really depressing that one of the greatest Tag Team matches in the history of WWE ended with one of the competitors suffering the worst injury of their entire career.
Miraculously, Triple H finished the match with a quad completely torn from his bone. He even was put into the Wall of Jericho on top of the announcer’s desk.
This match was wall-to-wall action and there was zero down time. Whether it was due to all four men being particularly motivated or the fact that the show was running long. It doesn’t matter. This is one of the most fast paced matches any of these four men have ever had and it was just a joy to watch.
Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit won the World Tag Team Championships from the duo and unfortunately Triple H would have to sit on the sidelines for the rest of the year.
He would not return until January of 2002 in which he would win the Royal Rumble match.
- Triple H vs. The Rock (SummerSlam 1998): This match gets a lot of attention among lists online, however compared to other encounters these two had later on this one looks a little duller in comparison. It was still a wonderful midcard match. These two helped one another get over and a year or two later later they would both be main eventing shows together.
- Triple H vs. Chris Jericho (Fully Loaded 2000): I have a great fondness for this match and I think it’s one of the best matches of Chris Jericho’s career, but even still it doesn’t quite mean as much to the career of Triple H. This is still a great match. Triple H was one of the first guys to make “Y2J” look like a star.
- Triple H vs. Chris Benoit (No Mercy 2000): A seriously underrated match from the string of matches that Triple H had in 2000 and 2001. He was on a roll and this was a gem among all of the other iconic matches he had at the time.
10. TRIPLE H VS. JOHN CENA (WRESTLEMANIA 22)
I thought these two would have a slow and clunky main event, but they really surpassed my expectations and ended WrestleMania 22 right.
I also think, historically, this was a big night for both Triple H and John Cena. Triple H had dominated the main even scene for almost four years when he was finally sent away by his former Evolution cohort, Batista. When Triple H returned Batista had been shipped to Smackdown! and in his place was the new face of Monday Night Raw – WWE Champion John Cena.
These two had to butt heads at some point and it came to ahead in Chicago’s Allstate Arena. The man who once ruled over the World Heavyweight Championship on Raw with an iron fist challenged the young WWE Champion for the “throne.”
It was the story of the old lion battling the new lion.
It was a great story this match told, one that we could never likely see told again. John Cena was walking in as the underdog champion. He was facing the man who had largely ruled the roost of the WWE for the past three years.
Triple H was the first man to wrestle John Cena at WrestleMania and have a good match with him. Cena was still coming into his own as a “technician” in the ring and being in the main event with a guy like “The Game” was a wise move for his first headlining spot at the biggest show of the year.
The beginning of the match effectively established that John Cena could not match Triple H’s wrestling ability and when he came back to win through sheer guts and determination it sold him as a champion even more so.
At the time it felt like the company was shoving the young Cena down our throats but looking back 2006, and this match in particular, were pivotal in establishing Cena as the main event player he is now.
9. TRIPLE H VS. JEFF HARDY (NO MERCY 2008)
The final No Mercy event was a great one in terms of main event matches.
Honestly, I think Jeff Hardy got more out of losing this match than John Cena did winning his match with Triple H at WrestleMania 22.
Hardy returned to the WWE in the Summer of 2006 and began building momentum, moving up the card, and drawling larger and louder crowd reactions each passing month.
By early 2008 it couldn’t be ignored any longer, Jeff Hardy was main event material. After a few speed bumps, Hardy recovered and found himself headlining pay-per-view events for the first time – with Triple H.
These two had several notable television matches in the early 2000s, but now Hardy, while still the underdog, was on a more level playing field with one of the most consistent performers of the last decade.
If “The Charasmatic Enigma’s” match with The Undertaker in 2002 was a sign that he could be somebody in the world of professional wrestling than his WWE No Mercy match was proof that he was.
Hardy was unable to “grab the brass ring” on this night as “The Game” retained the WWE Championship after rolling up Hardy after he hit the Swanton Bomb.
This loss wouldn’t kill any of Hardy’s momentum as he went on to win the title later that year. Triple H definitely helped legitimize Hardy as he acceded into the main event scene.
8. TRIPLE H VS. RIC FLAIR (SURVIVOR SERIES 2005)
This Street Fight from Survivor Series was truly the perfect playground for “The Cerebral Assassin” to exact his due revenge. Triple H beat the ever loving crap out of his idol, in Detroit.
In full disclosure, both pay-per-view matches these two had were extremely entertaining and engaging. I appreciate them both for very different reasons. Which is why I selected both of them separately, for different reasons.
Ric Flair, obviously, was far from his prime by the early 2000s. The veteran of Jim Crockett Promotions and 16 (21)-Time World Champion spent his final years in the WWE. Somehow the 50+ year old Flair managed to steal the show several times over during his final run with the WWE.
While not nearly as spry as he was in his heyday, Flair’s knowledge of storytelling, ring psychology, and charisma allowed him to somehow thrive in the ring with men 20 or 30 years his junior. I seriously don’t think he gets enough credit for working as often and as hard as he did at his advanced age.
Triple H was in control for much of this match and pretty much full-on assaulted the man who had been his mentor for almost four years.
They popped the crowd at all the right moments and Flair showed the right glimmers of hope that he might win only to have them shut down by the ruthless ruler of Evolution.
It was the classic “Sensei being taken down by his greatest pupil” story.
7. TRIPLE H VS. THE ROCK (JUDGEMENT DAY 2000)
I made mention of these two’s contest for the WWE Intercontinental Championship at the 1998 SummerSlam in the Honorable Mention section. I very nearly placed that match on the Countdown, but I decided to go with one of their matches that doesn’t get mentioned as often.
In all honesty, these two worked much better matches than the 1998 Ladder match. This is definitely a more polished match with a much better story.
When you look at The Rock and Triple H, you see two men who blossomed at the same time in the WWE. They came in around the same time and they had very parallel careers during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
They worked with one another at the bottom of the card, the middle of the card, and later main evented pay-per-views together.
Really, they were both the men who battled over who should be the “second” biggest name in the WWE.
In saying that, the 1 Hour- Iron Man match might be the single most difficult match for a wrestler to pull off.
In 2000, The Rock’s popularity might have reached it’s apex, and Triple H had one of the greatest single years a wrestler has ever had. With “Stone Cold” Steve Austin gone, these two hungry men got to fight tooth and nail for who would stand above the rest in the WWE.
This position was very nearly given to the Iron Man match between Chris Benoit and Triple H from Monday Night Raw in 2004.
Although, this match serves as one of the most underrated matches in Triple H’s catalog and serves as a shining example to how good “The Game” was back then. He was the most versatile and adaptable man on the WWE roster at the turn of the century.
Triple H would win this match and regain the WWE Championship after some unintentional help from a returning Undertaker.
6. TRIPLE H VS. RANDY ORTON (NO MERCY 2007)
2007 was a wonderful year for Orton’s character, and one the best years he has ever had in his already decade long career.
Every once in awhile, usually when the WWE roster is thin, some stars have to pull double duty on a show or pay-per-view event. At No Mercy 2007, Triple H wrestled, not twice, but three times.
Orton, who was scheduled to wrestle WWE Champion John Cena in a Last Man Standing match, was awarded the title by Vince McMahon at the beginning of WWE No Mercy. Triple H took issue with Orton being handed a title and challenged him to a match. Triple H would defeat Orton for the WWE Championship and go on to defend the title against his schedules opponent, Umaga, later that night.
The newly christened “Viper” wasn’t done. He utilized his rematch clause to make the main event of WWE No Mercy a Last Man Standing match against the WWE Champion, Triple H.
Both men were still weary from their matches earlier in the night, but that desperation they displayed with their physicality was perfect for the match type they were in.
Tooth and nail. Barely able to stand. Scratching. Clawing.
This was such a unique and interesting night for both Triple H and Randy Orton. Three titles reigns in one night? Fast title changes like this should be used very sparingly, but after a year plus of John Cena as WWE Champion this one-night storyline felt very innovative and fresh.
The final match made Randy Orton look so credible and this story arc was, for me, the one that finally solidified him as the top heel in the WWE.
5. TRIPLE H VS. SHAWN MICHAELS (WWE RAW, DECEMBER 2003)
Few men have had more absolute classics than these two! I mean these two real-life best friends spent the better part of a decade either teaming with one another or beating the crap out of each other.
SummerSlam 2002, Armageddon 2003, Royal Rumble 2004, and Bad Blood 2004 all featured classic contests from these two real life best friends.
When you take the emotion and grander out of that the best Triple H versus Shawn Michaels match for me took place on a forgotten edition of Monday Night Raw on one of final nights of 2003. Which just happens to be one of the worst years for the WWE’s flagship show – ever.
2003 was probably one of the most flat years WWE Monday Night Raw ever had as the premiere program for the company. Triple H and Shawn Michaels ended the year with a bit of redemption and signaled that 2004 would be a much greener pasture for the show.
The “Heart Break Kid” and “The Game” battled in Three Stages of Hell and even a Hell in the Cell match, but for my taste their one-on-one matches were just better off without the bells-and-whistles.
This was classic Shawn Michaels battling Triple H when he was his most dastardly. He was the heel who did anything to win.
Leading into WrestleMania XX, many of the matches between “HBK” and “HHH” ended without a conclusion. That was the case here as Michaels had his former D-Generation X partner pinned, but it happened that the shoulders of Michaels were down also!
Triple H retained the World Heavyweight Champions, and the two would meet again at the 2004 Royal Rumble. Still, this gem from Raw is an absolute classic television match.
4. TRIPLE H VS. THE UNDERTAKER (WRESTLEMANIA XXVIII)
The pacing, symbolism, and brutality that was showcased inside of that cage was unlike anything you will see on WWE television today.
Neither of these two could move as quickly as they once did, but they mask that so well by building tension and selling each move like it was a knockout blow. That emphasis made every swing, kick, and hold feel so important.
That, sometimes, is the most clear difference you see with a match between two masters.
The WWE style of wrestling is much more focused on reacting to the action than it is to the action, itself.
One of the greatest philosophies in wrestling is to make all the action in the ring mean something. Doing a double moonsault or any other insane maneuver means nothing without the proper response from the other performer.
Triple H and The Undertaker understood that and lived by that in the arena.
This was as a big of a spectacle as WWE could make it. They brought out every bell and whistle they could think of. Triple H. Undertaker. Shawn Michaels. Three of the men who defined what the Hell in a Cell match was, at the biggest event of the year.
The Undertaker defeated “The Game,” again, at WrestleMania XXVIII and marked his 20th WrestleMania victory.
This ended their trio of matches at WrestleMania that spanned a decade and truly closed the book on and “era” gone by.
3. TRIPLE H VS. CHRIS BENOIT VS. SHAWN MICHAELS (WRESTLEMANIA XX)
A main event contest truly worthy of being the showcase of WrestleMania’s 20th Anniversary. This is far and away one of WrestlteMania’s best wrestled main event matches ever.
Triple H had some of the best matches of his career with both Shawn Michaels and Chris Benoit. As such, it only makes perfect sense that one of the best was a match featuring both of them.
We all know the story. Chris Benoit won the 2004 Royal Rumble and instead of challenging his brand’s champion, on Smackdown!, he challenged the World Heavyweight Champion on Monday Night Raw.
Triple H and Shawn Michaels had been feuding off-and-on for almost two years and Michaels was hungry to finish the man he once called a friend. To them, Benoit was a nuisance and a thorn in their side as they tried to eliminate one another.
These ingredients produced what is quite simply one of WrestleMania’s most physical and entertaining main events ever. The story was there, the action was there, and the moment was there.
It was everything the 20th Anniversary of WrestleMania deserved.
Triple H and Shawn Michaels both helped legitimize Benoit, who had been slowly working his way up the WWE card for almost four years.
Benoit made history, and did so by making Triple H tap out to the agonizing Crippler Cross Face.
The three men would go on to have a rematch in Canada, at Backlash, a month later which we talked about in Shawn Michaels Greatest Matches.
However, this match made Triple H’s Countdown due to the enormity of him losing the title and his willingness to put over a man who had wrestled all over the world for 20 years.
Triple H, got to give Benoit his greatest moment. Even still, that’s pretty special.
2. TRIPLE H VS. CACTUS JACK (ROYAL RUMBLE 2000)
Widely considered Triple H’s definitive classic, this match captures the number two position which might unsettle some readers who believe this was the best match he ever had.
This match sums up everything that made Triple H the definitive “man” during his 2000-2001 run. Sure Austin was the top guy and The Rock had better promos, but it was Triple H who was wrestling the best matches on the show.
This was Mick Foley’s definitive classic, and quite honestly the match that solidified Triple H as a top star for the next 15 years.
This was not quite as brutal as Foley’s matches with The Undertaker, The Rock, or Randy Orton, but that is in no way a critique on how wonderful this display of ruthlessness from both men.
At one point during the match, Triple H event gets his leg impaled!
Like a true professional, “The Game” sold it and worked the injury into the story of his match. Foley was always the man to put over the younger guys during the late 1990s and early 2000s.
If you notice, Triple H didn’t win his first WWE Championship from “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. He won it from Mankind. You know who else won their first WWE Championship from Mankind? The Rock.
I’m not trying to slam Austin, but more show how important Foley was to establishing two men who helped carry the roster. Foley made the future “King of Kings” look like a bonafide bad-ass in Madison Square Garden and he did it with absolute glee.
To this day, it still remains a huge turning point in the career of a man who now is instrumental in the future of WWE.
1. TRIPLE H VS. STEVE AUSTIN (NO WAY OUT 2001)
This match very much reminds me of the match between Shawn Michaels and Mick Foley in that it is a very unappreciated classic.
The Three Stages of Hell match.
A match so difficult to pull off that over nearly 15 years there has only been four of them in total. Triple H, was in all but one of those.
I have a feeling their will be some unrest with me not placing his match with Mick Foley in the number one position, but this match with “Stone Cold” Steve Austin has gone so overlooked over the last two decades that it seems a crime to not finally give it the due it deserves.
The first fall was a normal Singles match. The second, a Street Fight. The final, was a Steel Cage match. The first man to score two victories, would be declared the winner. So, theoretically, if either Austin or Triple H won
both of the first two encounters there would be no Steel Cage match. Unfortunately for them, there was.
I think Jim Ross’s famous line, “this match is bowling shoe ugly,” is probably the most appropriate call to sum up there three falls of this match.
Austin won the first fall and, naturally, Triple H won the second. The Three Stages of Hell match concluded with both men, exhausted, inside of a Steel Cage. Triple H would win after only being lucky enough to collapse onto Austin after hitting a knockout blow.
Austin, and his Stone Cold Stunner, would get the last laugh, of course.
After this absolute war both men went on to headline one of the greatest WrestleMania events ever, WrestleMania X-Seven, with The Undertaker and The Rock in co-mainevents. Afterwards, they would form the Two-Man Power Trip and would run roughshod over the WWE until Triple H torn his quadricep in the match we talked about in the Honorable Mention section.
Thus, ended probably the most fruitful period of Triple H’s in-ring career.
Growing up as Michael Hickenbottom in San Antonio, Texas the future “Mr. WrestleMania” grew up idolizing wrestling greats like that of “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair. After coming through the tag team ranks of both the AWA and WWE, the newly christened “Heart Break Kid” would begin one of the highest quality singles career in professional wrestling history.
Throughout he 1990s and 2000s Shawn Michaels performed for the fans as if it would be the last time he ever stepped foot in the ring. His ability to perform was so good that it almost looked like instinct.
He might just be the most well rounded professional wrestler the WWE has ever produced. He was never the biggest draw or the greatest technical wrestler, but when it came to showmanship, match making, adaptation, and entertainment Michaels excelled on a level even other fellow greats of his time could not reach.
Shawn Michaels, more than any other performer, has appeared on multiple Countdowns, but finally we will get to look at his career exclusively and see how the matches talked about in all the previous editions stack up against one another.
This was difficult, as some of the matches and performances talked about here are some of my favorites of all time.
Lets look back at a career filled to the absolute brim with some of the greatest professional matches ever contested in a four-sided ring.
15. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. SHELTON BENJAMIN (WWE RAW, MAY 2005)
An opening match in the 2005 Gold Rush Tournament. This was a tournament created by Eric Bischoff to crown a number one contender for the new World Heavyweight Champion, Batista.
Sometimes, when I hear praise for this match I often feel it is simply for the amazing finish in which Michaels hit Sweet Chin Music on a mid-air Shelton Benjamin who had just spring boarded off the top rope. However, I feel like, the other 15 minutes of the match were just absolute – well -gold.
The match very much falls into the same category as a Bret Hart/1-2-3 Kid or Undertaker/Jeff Hardy match that took place on WWE Raw.
A big name main event star having a match with a talented mid-card performer in which the latter loses but comes out of the match looking much more valuable to the product than before.
Shelton Benjamin spent much of the match one upping the “Heart Break Kid” by beating him to the punch as Jim Ross said. Shelton Benjamin gave Shawn Michaels everything he had. The Dragon Whip and all of his other crisp offense could not keep Michaels down for a three count.
Finally, Benjamin popped off the top rope from the outside to try and catch the veteran off guard, but the instinct of Michaels kicked in, and Sweet Chin Music finally found it’s mark.
After the match, the Texan patted the downed WWE Intercontinental Champion on the chest in a sign of respect.
14. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. STEVE AUSTIN (WRESTLEMANIA XIV)
More than any other match on this list, the main event of WrestleMania XIV is probably most famous for all the things going on behind the scenes with Shawn Michael’s injury and his miserable backstage attitude.
For that reason, and the fact that you can see Michaels in pure agony all throughout this match, I nearly left it off completely. Then I remembered how important this match really was.
This was one of only two or three times that these two ever wrestled one-on-one. It was also the visible transition from the Michaels/Hart era to the Austin era.
Sometimes I wonder what this match would have been like had Michaels not been on his way out. Still, broken back, or not, these two gave WrestleMania a great main event. This was probably the first truly successful WrestleMania main event since the end of the Hulkamania Era.
After finally winning the WWE Championship Austin took his rightful place as “the man” in the company.
“Mr. WrestleMania” may not have wanted to do the j.o.b. but he did so. He may not have been gracious about it, but in the end he put Steve over and he did it beautifully.
The crowd was into the story these two told and Austin finally got the accolades he had worked so hard for. This would be the last time Michaels performed at a WrestleMania for five years and we wouldn’t see him compete in a WWE ring at all for over four years.
He would come back to the ring in 2002, better than ever. Unfortunately, for Austin, by 2002 he had only a handful of matches left in his tank.
13. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. RANDY ORTON (SURVIVOR SERIES 2007)
This match got huge points from me for being so unique.
The gimmick for this match was so subtle, but did so much to make their encounter stand out.
Shawn Michael’s Sweet Chin Music was banned, and if he used it to try and win the WWE Championship from Randy Orton he would forfeit the match. Conversely, if Randy Orton was disqualified in any way, then Shawn Michaels would be awarded the WWE Championship. I have never been a huge fan of Randy Orton’s wrestling ability, but this has to be one of the most underrated matches in the “Heart Break Kid’s” monumental catalog of matches.
The result was Michaels breaking from his traditional formula and giving his fans a very different experience. 2007, Randy Orton was at his very best. From both an in-ring and character perspective he has never been better – before or since.
The stipulations added a great dynamic in which Orton would taunt the “Heart Break Kid” to use his superkick and Michaels even teased it several times to the shock of Orton.
Because his finishing maneuver was banded the Texas native broke out many maneuvers he did not use often and wrestled a match that would certainly look like a black sheep compared to his other lofty performances.
That is not a critique, it’s a compliment.
Despite breaking out the Crossface, the Sharpshooter, and even an Ankle Lock, Shawn Michaels could not defeat Randy Orton in Miami.
But after his defeat, Michaels got his revenge in the form of the Sweet Chin Music he had so desperately wanted t0 use the entire match.
12. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. MARTY JANNETTY (WWE RAW, MAY 1993)
I think Jannetty and Michaels just worked so good in the ring that they were better opponents than team partners. They were pretty good tag team partners too, so that sound come across as praise already.
A match so good, it won Pro Wrestling Illistrated’s Match of the Year award. An award Shawn Michaels would go on to win 11 times after winning it for the first time, here.
This will definitely be the most obscure match we will talk about today, but it still deserves to be recognized as one of Shawn Michaels earliest “great” one-on-one matches.
I have a strange love for several matches from the stretch of 1993 to 1994; the early days of Monday Night Raw.
Matches involving Razor Ramon, The Undertaker, 1-2-3 Kid (who made his debut on this very edition of Raw), Mr. Perfect, Ric Flair, Doink the Clown, Bret Hart, and many others. Watching these matches is like looking into an old toy box that was forgotten in the attic.
Shawn Michaels versus Marty Jannetty is another one of those early Raw matches that I have a tenderness for.
Marty Jannetty now joins Sabu on the list of “guys I never thought would be featured on the Countdown.” Really though, his matches in the early 1990s with Shawn Michaels were absolutely wonderful. It showed they had not only chemistry as a tag team, but as opponents as well.
This particular match was for the WWE Intercontinental Championship after Michaels had challenge a anyone to try and take his title from him and out came his former tag team partner in disguise. To the shock and chagrin of a heel “Heart Beak Kid,” Jannetty would prove to be just as formidable as an opponent.
With the help from a distraction from Mr. Perfect, the former Rocker pinned the newly christened “Heart Break Kid” and become the first man to win a championship on WWE Monday Night Raw.
These two had a ton of great television matches, but the crowd was never hotter than during this one.
11. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. CHRIS JERICHO (WRESTLEMANIA XIX)
After five long years of being away from the WWE ring, “Mr. WrestleMania” came home. And he didn’t disappoint.
Inside the enormous Safeco Field, Shawn Michaels battled Chris Jericho for the first time; one-on-one. It would be far from their last.
On a card stacked with main event caliber matches, like Mr. McMahon versus Hulk Hogan, The Rock versus “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and Kurt Angle versus Brock Lesnar, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho reminded us all that you didn’t have to be top billing to put on the match that people would be talking about for the next decade.
As I’ve talked about in the past, the brilliance of this match was that these two managed to stand out on a card dominated by stars far bigger than them.
Their chemistry was apparent and the story going into the match made it all the better. Anytime a character can come across through their actions inside the ring you know a talent is into what they are doing. Jericho played the jaded jealous former-HBK fan to a tee.
Shawn Michaels would win a very competitive and entertaining match, and got a kick to the groin from a frustrated “Y2J” for his trouble. Jericho, who wanted to step out of his shadow, failed to live up to his own expectations.
This would be far from the last time we got to enjoy these two’s ability to tell a story.
10. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. BRET HART (WRESTLEMANIA XII)
I would venture to say that no match in WWE history brings about more division among fans than this one. Is it as good as everyone says? How important was it really? Did Michaels and Hart really have one of the best WWE Championship matches or did they just manage to wrestle a 60-minute match?
My opinion of this match is that every professional wrestling fan should watch this – ONCE.
However, this has to be one of the most difficult matches to re-watch for writing purposes. What this match does do is put over the WWE Championship as the absolute biggest prize in all of professional wrestling. Few other big banner matches have put over that title’s importance like this one.
That might be why it is often in the discussion as one of the greatest WWE Championship matches ever.
The inherent problem is that a great ending to a wrestling match is one that usually comes, as WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross would say, “out of nowhere.” However, in the Iron Man match you have to find a new way to create that spontaneity so the crowd will still pop.
Michaels and Hart wrestled a beautiful match and showed that they were the most talented men on that particular WWE roster.
That was not big challenge for them, but what they could not do was give the fans a typical five star masterpiece filled with re-watchable sequences that we all love from so many of the other classic WWE matches.
This match is a very unique animal all the same.
9. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. MANKIND (MIND GAMES 1996)
This might be one of the most unappreciated classics that WWE currently has in it’s deep vaults of footage. I got to gush about this match a ton last season, but this match means very different things to the career of Shawn Michaels than it does to the career of Mick Foley
The “Heart Break Kid” might be one of the best professional wrestlers to ever live and he has given many men some of their greatest matches. In turn, those matches might not necessarily be good enough to be featured among Shawn Michaels’s greatest.
I think it should be a huge feather in the cap for Mick Foley to know that he had a match with Shawn Michaels that fans consider to be one of the Michaels’s greatest performances and not just one of his own.
This, however, is definitely a black sheep when you set it among all the other great silky smooth performances of “The Showstopper’s” career.
It is almost grungy and brutal in it’s execution, but then again this match was held in Philadelphia and Michaels was performing against possibly the most successful “hardcore” wrestler to ever live.
Michaels did not have to carry Foley to have a great match, but the two threw their wrestling styles at one another and what we got was a painting with beautiful contrast.
I absolutely adore this match and anyone who has never seen it needs to seek it out.
8. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. CHRIS BENOIT VS. TRIPLE H (BACKLASH 2004)
If this Countdown had been over Chris Benoit it would have certainly been a lot harder to not opt for the amazing Triple Threat match at WrestleMania XX.
Today we are looking at the career of Shawn Michaels and when you take the emotion out of the WrestleMania match it’s story is just not as interesting as the one that took place during the Backlash 2004 rematch.
Truth be told, they are both amazing matches without a doubt, but the role Shawn Michaels played in this one was so much more prominent. He almost felt like a third-wheel at WrestleMania, but at Backlash the fans could certainly notice him.
This match took place, not in New York City, but in Chris Benoit’s hometown of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. At this time, the WWE’s Canadian fans were still pretty sore at Shawn Michaels for a certain event that occurred in Montreal a few years prior.
Obviously Michaels played up his heel antics and as such and it made his role in the match, and the match in general, much more interesting.
There was one point in which Michaels, accidentally, knocked out the referee and then locked in a Bret hart-like Sharpshooter on Benoit. As he has the move locked in out comes, who else, WWE Senior Official; Earl Hebner. The fans drowned the arena with “boos” of “You screwed Bret.” It was wonderful.
In a beautiful tribute to the 1997 Survivor Series, Chris Benoit retained the World Heavyweight Championship using the Sharpshooter on Shawn Michaels.
Seeing these three men wrestle together really sent your emotions for a roller coaster ride. It’s a damn shame we only got to ride it twice.
7. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. JOHN CENA (WWE RAW, APRIL 2007)
For some reason, this match elicits a lot of mixed feelings from fans of the WWE, especially online. Part of me thinks it has to do with John Cena.
Regardless, I think this is the single greatest television match HBK has ever participated in.
He had so many wonderful matches on WWE Monday Night Raw after he came back from his near career-ending back injury with the likes of Triple H, Chris Benoit, Shelton Benjamin, Jeff Hardy, Mr. Kennedy, and numerous others.
I do feel, though, that his match in London, England with the WWE Champion, John Cena, is far and away his best free television match ever.
It’s so rare that a TV match between two competitors is better than one of their pay-per-view matches, especially one that takes place at WrestleMania. This was one of those cases.
They wrestled an hour long Broadway before, finally, Michaels found a brief opening.
In the end Shawn Michaels somersaulted out of Cena’s final F-U and hit Sweet Chin Music, as Jim Ross would say, “out of nowhere.” Michaels was only so lucky that when he fell it was on top of the dazed WWE Champion.
This match was not even for the WWE Championship. It was all bragging rights.
It was all based around pride and ego. WWE always puts there best foot forward when it comes to giving the overseas fans some of the best television matches of the year, and this is the chief example of that.
6. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. TRIPLE H (SUMMERSLAM 2002)
To me this match is like a bad ex-girlfriend that I can’t decide if I still want or not.
Sometimes I love it and want to watch it over-and-over again and other times I find it to be the most overrated piece of garbage I’ve ever watched.
“I used Shawn Michaels to get to the top, just like Shawn Michaels used me to stay at the top.” – Triple H
If a tag team or stable is successful in the wrestling business you can bet at some point it will break apart and it’s members will feud against one another.
Shawn Michaels and Triple H took that to a whole new level in 2002 . They met for the first time at SummerSlam and their war ragged on-and-off for the next two years.
I feel like I’m including this match here for largely sentimental reasons which I usually go against. Truth be told, it is an excellent brawl on it’s own merits, but the goosebumps I got seeing Shawn Michaels wrestle for the first time in over four years eclipsed everything else going on here.
It was simply the most unbelievable WWE comeback ever. Only a return of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin would surprise me more than this did.
Shawn got the victory and came back and had a banner eight year run with WWE. Not bad for a man who had broke his back less than five years earlier.
5. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. CHRIS JERICHO (NO MERCY 2008)
The story Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho told in 2008 was almost like a spiritual sequel to their 2003 story.
In 2003 Jericho wanted to step out of the shadow of his former idol, and in 2008 he come back seeking to destroy him.
This was the most carefully told and brilliantly executed story the WWE has constructed since the end of the 20th century. Nothing else in the summer of 2008 mattered to me expect what these two were doing.
I would venture to even say the brilliance of their rivalry was even what motivated me to start writing online about professional wrestling on a regular basis.
At this point, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho knew each other well. They had wagged war many times in the past, and really, this was their final major one-on-one match together, and how apropo it was that it was in a Ladder match.
The two men, I believe, had the smartest Ladder match ever. There has definitively been Ladder matches with better spots and more sleek sequences, but no Ladder match had more logic or interesting storytelling as this one.
Chris Jericho would get the last laugh defeating Shawn Michaels in the match that he used to make himself famous.
The two would have one final match on Raw the next year, but as far as anyone, with any taste is concerned, this was the end to over five years of history.
4. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. RAZOR RAMON [TIE] (WRESTLEMANIA X/SUMMERSLAM 1995)
Both are so good, and similar enough, that I decided to cheat and give the number four position to both. I did this instead of taking up two positions with their matches because of how alike they are. So, yes, this is a cop-out.
Let me explain more why I crammed both together and didn’t leave either off.
The match from WrestleMania X is both innovative and iconic. There match at WrestleMania is clearly the more historically important match, but I still feel the SummerSlam match was worked much better. Leaving either match off would be a glaring omission for me.
They are also too similar to be given two separate individual positions like some opponents are given.
To me, Shawn Michaels established Scott Hall as an icon of the New Generation Era. I’m only sad that we never got to see “The Bad Guy” achieve more in the company that he made his name in.
Razor Ramon and Shawn Michaels worked so well together, and many accuse Hall of just being so lucky to be in the ring while Michaels “wrestled a ladder.”
Scott Hall, however, was trained by Dusty Rhodes, Barry Windham, and was broken in under the watchful eye of Curt Hennig in the AWA when the two men tag teamed together.
By the time “The Bad Guy” had reached the WWE he was more than capable of keeping up with a young Shawn Michaels.
3. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. THE UNDERTAKER (WRESTLEMANIA XXV)
Placing this match anywhere but number one feels so cumbersome to me.
I feel as if I could very easily give this the number one position and sleep with no problem, but I still think this is the fairest position I can give it.
This was high drama at it’s finest and a shining example of how less can be more. There is “laying around” in a match and then there is selling the emphasis of your opponents blows while building the crowds anticipation. This match featured no “laying around” as far as I’m concerned. Every second meant something and contributed to the larger story the two men were telling.
To be honest there was not much story to go on as the match was hyped up. Did we really need any reason to want to see the two longest tenured WWE performers of all time duke it out in their home state of Texas at the 25th Anniversary of the biggest wrestling show of all time, WrestleMania?
No. We didn’t.
We all knew Michaels and Undertaker would give us the most well crafted piece of performance art of the evening and they still surpassed our already high expectations.
Seriously, what more can be said about this match? It has become the new age Steamboat/Savage of the modern era of WrestleMania. And yes, it gets way more credit than it probably deserves just like Steamboat/Savage did.
Fact remains, it is one of the easiest to watch matches ever and it gets huge points for being between two of my favorite professional wrestlers.
It also took place in Texas, between two Texans, at the 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania. How much more perfect can that get for a wrestling fan from Texas? This match was tailor made to please me.
2. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. KURT ANGLE (WRESTLEMANIA 21)
I’m not sure if it is possible to wrestle a “perfect match,” but it is damn hard to think of anything that Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels missed here.
After his two year odyssey with Triple H finally came to an end, Shawn Michaels was sort of left in limbo. Enter Kurt Angle.
The WWE Raw superstar and the WWE Smackdown! superstar met by chance in the Royal Rumble match where Angle was quickly greeted by the cold mistress that is, Sweet Chin Music.
That is all the reason the furious Olympic Gold Medal winner needed to challenge every accolade “The Showstopper” had ever collected while spending the weeks proceeding their first encounter mocking Michaels by defeating his former tag team partners and signing his entrance song with his former manager before putting her in an Angle Lock.
The two men would systematically steal every show they performed together on.
Whether it was underneath the HOLLYWOOD sign at WrestleMania 21, among the bright lights of Las Vegas at Vengeance 2005, or back “home” on the USA Network during Raw’s “Homecoming.”
They outperformed everyone. Every time. And they made it look easy.
It was on the grand stage of WrestleMania, of course, that “Mr. WrestleMania” once again showed everyone why he was the single greatest performer in WWE history. It was their first meeting, and their most entertaining meeting.
Kurt Angle would force Shawn Michaels to tap out while “the lights were on bright”, but that would be far from the end of it.
What has really always made me love this match is how Michaels adapted his style and kept up with, and even excelled in the ring with, one of the most talented ring workers in the company at that time.
1. SHAWN MICHAELS VS. THE UNDERTAKER (BAD BLOOD 1997)
You have two of the most important WWE superstars of all time in their prime. A brand new innovative Hell in a Cell match. Wall-to-wall action. An engaging storyline based around The Undertaker getting revenge against Michaels.
On top of all of that quality, we see one of the greatest debuts in WWE history with the introduction of Kane thanks to Paul Bearer.
Everything was executed to perfection in this match.
For my money, this is the benchmark that all other WWE matches should be judged against. Booking, storyline, in-ring dynamic, action, reaction, and wrestling are what make a match what it is. Even the swerve at the end with Kane was just fantastically over the top. This match hits, nay surpasses, all expectations when judging it on that criteria.
D-Generation X was just beginning to blossom and Shawn Michaels was embracing a new attitude that stood in stark contrast to the beloved “Heart Break Kid” of old.
The characters. The athletes. The wrestlers. Whatever, Shawn Michaels or Undertaker you are referring to, they gave just about as close to perfect as any WWE match has ever been.
It was a classic despite the fact that it was inside of a gimmick cage. That was just the cherry on top.
It was the “WWE Style” personified.
Undertaker went to finish off Michaels, and exact his righteous revenge, but the lights dimmed and the music of Kane sounded for the first time.
“That’s got to be Kane!” -Vince McMahon
Kane made his way to the Cell, and, to the shock of Undertaker, delivered a Tombstone Piledriver to allow the bloody WWE European Champion the victory and a chance to face Bret Hart…at Survivor Series.
Even narrowing Shawn Michael’s greatest matches down to 15 instead of ten, was extremely challenging when you consider the fact that he is second to no one when it comes to combining all the elements of sports entertainment.
Storytelling, in ring prowess, charisma, and character building are all elements of sports entertainment that Shawn mastered and combined flawlessly to become the greatest of all time.
The sound of a car crash screeching by, followed by a roar of fans, is what you would often find on an episode of Monday Night Raw when Mick Foley made his way to the ring.
Akin more to almost a wild stunt man than a professional wrestler, the matches we will look at today will largely lack the technical finesse we might find in a Bret Hart match, but that doesn’t diminish their value.
Mick Foley was not someone you’d image wrestling a 60 minute clinic with Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, but you can be damn certain that we will be looking at some of the most exhilarating and exciting matches to take place in the last 30 years of professional wrestling.
Few people on any wrestling roster anywhere could entertain and get a reaction from the crowd like he did.
Whether he was Cactus Jack, Dude Love, Mankind, or just lovable Mick Foley.
The Long Island native has had a very unique, one of a kind, career. One in which we will likely never anyone duplicate.
10. MICK FOLEY AS CACTUS JACK VS. STING (BEACH BLAST 1992)
This was Mick Foley’s first chance competing on a large platform.
While it is certainly not a 30 minute epic, it is probably the shortest match I’ve seen that was able to be deemed main event worthy. I’d say that is the highest compliment I could give to these two, seemingly, mismatched characters.
In 1992, Foley was still very mobile and it showed in this match. Barely any of this encounter took place inside of the ring. This was Foley’s “big match” debut and while it could have been better, it was still a very important and notable encounter that remains entertaining even today.
Foley would leave WCW in 1994 and never return, unlike many other performers who jumped between the Connecticut and Atlanta-based promotions.
I think it would have been really interesting had these two met in the ring five or so years later when Foley dawned the mask of Mankind and Sting evolved into The Crow. Regardless of the missed opportunity these two still told a really compelling story and packed a ton of heat into a very short amount of time.
It just felt incomplete, so I’m afraid I can not justify placing it any higher than this, which makes it perfect for the number ten position.
9. MICK FOLEY AS CACTUS JACK VS. VADER (HALLOWEEN HAVOC 1993)
Like many of the matches we will talk about in the season finale of the Pro Wrestling Countdown this was a gimmick match. A Texas Death match to be exact.
Jack was actually able to dominate the then WCW Champion in the early going of this match. Within minutes both men had been busted open, but it took Vader awhile to get any upper hand on the crazed Cactus Jack.
It was matches like this in WCW that truly earned Mick Foley his reputation as an absolute lunatic. He was not a traditional professional wrestler in any sense of the word.
Jack absorbed a sick looking moonsault from Vader, and two straight steel chair shots on the entrance ramp. Still, Jack was about to come back to hit feet, but Harley Race, Vader’s manager, struck him in the leg with an electric taser, keeping him from answering the ten count.
The ending was dumb, but that was a trend that followed almost all main event matches in WCW throughout the 1990s no matter who was in charge. They had several other good matches in WCW, but never one in which Jack looked as dominate as he was here, even in defeat.
Several years later these two men would find themselves both under the wing of Jim Cornette in the WWE. They even wrestled as a tag team for a brief time.
8. MICK FOLEY AS MANKIND VS. THE UNDERTAKER (KING OF THE RING 1998)
When Hulk Hogan slammed Andre he created aquintessential WrestleMania moment. When CM Punk sat Indian style on the stage of Monday Night Raw and delivered his worked shoot promo to John Cena and the WWE he made himself a mega star.
When The Undertaker threw Mick Foley 15 feet off of the top of Hell in a Cell it was Mick Foley who would get the credit for sacrificing his body. He gave wrestling fans one of the most “real” visuals we could ever replay.
Forget being in awe, fans the world over collectively lost it when Foley fell off and through the Hell in a Cell.
I nearly regulated this match to Honorable Mention, but when it comes to legend making matches this might be the best of all time.
It was largely made up of two major bumps that started the match, but Foley continued wrestling Undertaker even with all of the broken bones and injuries he had sustained during his falls.
The Undertaker, who was also wrestling with an injured foot, scored the victory. However, it would be Foley who would benefit most from this match. It was the career making moment, and within the next year he was one of the biggest stars of the WWE.
The phrase “career shortening match” is thrown around very lightly in this day and age, but I think this was one of the rare cases where that call would have been right on point.
So much has been written and said about this match, but while it might be his greatest moment, he has had far better matches. Still, this is the one-in-a-million case when a bump largely makes a match.
“You have no idea how much I appreciate what you’ve just done for this company, but I never want to see anything like that ever again.” -Vince McMahon
7. MICK FOLEY AS CACTUS JACK VS. SABU (HOLIDAY HELL 1995)
This will probably be the only time we ever talk about Sabu on the Pro Wrestling Countdown so please enjoy this.
These two would have looked more appropriate fighting over a rotten hamburger in a back alley. Luckily, ECW’s bingo hall was not far off.
I wanted to represent Mick Foley’s time in ECW in some way and this match up has always been a guilty pleasure for the hardcore fanatic in me.
The mad man from Japan and the insane Cactus Jack seemed tailor-made for one another, and in 1994 it happened when WCW allowed Jack to go down and work for the (then) NWA ran Eastern Championship Wrestling.
He would soon leave WCW and become a permanent part of the ECW roster and entered a feud with the “Suicidal, Genocidal, Homicidal, Death-Defying Sabu” (I had to say it, just once).
They both had many encounters throughout ECW and the NWA, but this has always been their quintessential car-crash in my opinion. This match took place during Cactus Jack’s “Anti-Hardcore” gimmick and Foley even brought out an Olympic wrestling style referee for this match in order to make it as “clean” as possible, but Paul Heyman’s 911 took care of the little well-meaning referee.
What followed that was exactly what you would expect. Broke tables, moonsaults, guard rails, loud-as-shit steel chair shots, and dangerous leaps of faith. This was E-C-F’N-W after all!
I do have to mention that the finish came way too soon and was a little disappointing after the match had been so viscous up to that point, but that always seems to be the case when these two wrestled.
As I said in the introduction, Mick Foley was no 60-Minute Man.
6. MICK FOLEY AS DUDE LOVE VS. STEVE AUSTIN (OVER THE EDGE 1998)
This might be the most overbooked mess of match ever.
This was a No Disqualification Falls Count Anywhere match for the WWE Championship. Vince McMahon was special guest referee, Gerard Brisco was the time keeper, and Pat Patterson was the bell ringer. Finally, The Undertaker was also in the ring side area in the corner of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin.
All of these things were supposed to cater to Dude Love, who was working under the wing of Vince McMahon.
This is the best example of sloppy late 1990s WWE booking you can get. It was a damn wreck – but this time they pulled it off. Their match at Unforgiven one month prior left a lot to be desired, but adding the stipulations to their match gave the two iconic brawlers free reign to do whatever they liked.
Surprisingly they started off wrestling a very “straight” wrestling match. However, later on, as you can see above, the moved more into their comfort zone.
The ending was screwy as it gets with multiple referee bumps and outside involvement, but it was 1998. What do you expect?
Austin pinned Dude Love by slapping the lifeless hand of Vince McMahon to the mat three times. Somehow, this allowed him to retain the WWE Championship to the roar of the Milwaukee crowd.
It bordered ridiculous, and could have placed higher if some of the extra elements were taken out, but Austin and Foley had a really similar style and gelled well when the focus was on them. This match worked because no one involved took it too seriously. Bodies flew everywhere, and Austin one-uped Vince McMahon again.
5. MICK FOLEY VS. EDGE (WRESTLEMANIA 22)
“Yeah due to my own sheer chip on my shoulder, I thought I should have been in the main event of WrestleMania so I decided I would dive through a flaming table while I still had thumb tacks stuck in my back.” -Edge
This was the last lover letter from a hardcore icon.
To me, this should have been his final match ever. Edge was able to carry the broken down boy from Long Island and was finally able to give him his “WrestleMania Moment.”
I have been critical of this match in the past, but now I see it in a much better light.
I always though this match should have gone another 10 minutes or so to take it that “next level.” However, now I see this as Foley doing the best he could.
He could not give the fans a 30 minute classic at this point, but he could still manage a great match with all the action a 30 minute match might have, but in half of that time.
So maybe this match could have taken the number one position of this Pro Wrestling Countdown had it taken place a decade earlier, but what we have here is still worth giving a high place.
It means even more knowing how much this match means to Foley, personally.
Edge may have gotten the victory after spearing Foley off of the ring apron and through a flaming table, but the hardcore legend walked out Chicago knowing he finally got his moment.
This was really Foley’s final great match. His comebacks after this and his run in TNA felt uninspired and I’m sure Mick Foley would echo the same thing in an honest confession.
4. MICK FOLEY AS MANKIND VS. SHAWN MICHAELS (MIND GAMES 1996)
This match occurred just a few months after Foley’s arrival in the WWE on the day after WrestleMania XII.
One thing I think Mankind did expertly in this match is selling. While I don’t usually find it necessary to mention selling in a match this was a brilliant example of making one’s opponent look dominate while making yourself look obstinate.
Foley sold his legs for a majority of the match after the “Heart Break Kid” focused much of his early offense on them. Foley went as far as to stab his knees with a pin to try and get feeling back into his legs. It just added another layer of storytelling to the match.
For a long time, this was one of Foley’s best matches in the WWE, and it still is, but he was able to far surpass what he and Michaels did on this night. With his former ECW colleges sitting in the front row, Mankind brought some hints of hardcore to a very stale WWE product.
This was probably my favorite match from Shawn Michaels during his first ever reign as WWE Champion and Foley’s first match worth talking about during his WWE tenure. I think I favor this match so much because how odd of a pairing they seem to be, and how blown away I was at how well they worked together.
I wish I could have seen them wrestle on a larger scale and not just on a forgotten In Your House event.
The terribly screwy ending with Vader and Sid kept this match from sneaking into the top three matches of the Pro Wrestling Countdown, but everything Michaels and Mankind did on this night in Philadelphia was absolutely worthy of acknowledging here.
3. MICK FOLEY AS CACTUS JACK VS. RANDY ORTON (BACKLASH 2004)
To me, Randy Orton’s “Legend Killer” character is one of the most understated and brilliant gimmicks ever produced in the WWE. In saying that, Orton’s first true character in WWE was at it’s absolute peak when he was feuding with Mick Foley in the early months of 2004.
3. Foley & Orton IIIn the best shape he had been in almost a decade, the former three time WWE Champion came back looking for his defining WrestleMania moments at WrestleMania XX.
When his match with Evolution failed to live up to his expectations he decided at Backlash he would have another match.
But this time he would go one-on-one with the cocky young WWE Intercontinental Champion.
The match was absolutely one of the most cringe inducing matches the WWE has ever allowed on pay-per-view. Seeing Randy Orton being thrown, back first, into a pool of thumb tacks was something straight out a nightmare.
Barbed wire, tables, thumb tacks, steel chairs, and so many other weapons were used by both men. It may not have been the bloodiest match we’ve seen in WWE, but it is absolutely one of the hardest to watch.
After taking a ton of abuse from a crazed Cactus Jack, Orton managed to sneak out one final game changing RKO to “kill” the legend of Mick Foley.
2. MICK FOLEY AS MANKIND VS. THE ROCK (ROYAL RUMBLE 1999)
Much in the way that we will never see another Hell in a Cell match like the one from the 1998 King of the Ring, we will also never see another I Quit match like the one from the 1999 Royal Rumble.
The story going in was Foley, who was WWE Champion at the time, built up the fact that the I Quit match was a match that “[The Rock] could not win and that he, Foley, could never lose.” Mankind said he had never given up and that pain was his life’s calling.
The Corporation was in full swing by this time, and The Rock was the companies top heel. So an I Quit match with the most hated man in the company going against a man who could absorbed so much punishment was really smart booking.
“The Rock is in uncharted waters.” -Michael Cole
The Rock was just beginning his accent to becoming ones of the companies most recognized stars and Mick Foley was really the buffer between he and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Rocky was sort of portrayed as the
ambitious up-and-coming main eventer who was in over his head with the hardcore, WWE Champion, Mick Foley.
The goal of this program was to make The Rock look credible against Austin at WrestleMania. It worked. It worked magnificently.
We had seen The Rock have some pretty nasty matches before, like his Ladder match with Triple H, but his match with Mankind at the Royal Rumble was something people still point to as the benchmark of brutality in WWE history.
After nearly 20 minutes of slamming one another into just about anything and everything but the inside of the ring, a handcuffed Mankind passed out on the entrance ramp. The Rock, taunting, the fans and his opponent, held the microphone down to the WWE Champion’s mouth one last time.
I’ve never known how to feel about the unique ending to this match. A sound clip of Foley saying “I Quit” was played by the Corporation while The Rock held the microphone to the lips of an unconscious Mankind. It was clever, but almost too much for me. Foley was an absolute punching bag in the match and may have taken more offense here than any other match.
But, he kept to his promise. He never quit.
Foley truly deserves a lot of credit for being the first to “dance” with The Rock as he ascended into main event status. He put him over in grand fashion, and he’d do it again only one year later…
1. MICK FOLEY AS CACTUS JACK VS. TRIPLE H (ROYAL RUMBLE 2000)
A year later, Mick Foley would once again be battling for the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble.
In the same arena he watched “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka jump off the top of a Steel Cage onto Don Maraco years earlier, Mick Foley main evented the Royal Rumble against Triple H in a Street Fight for the WWE Championship.
How could Foley ever top main eventing Madison Square Garden for the WWE Championship? This was everything he wanted to achieve when he became a professional wrestler.
Near the end of his active career, Foley wanted to go out in a blaze of glory and put over one of the men who would carry the company for the next decade. While, Foley would not really stay away for long he did indeed
become the first man to make Triple H look like a bona-fide badass.
This match, while probably not as vicious as some of the matches we talked about earlier in this Countdown, was a Street Fight in every sense of the word.
Foley brought out the barbed wire baseball bat, mallets, steel chairs, and more. Triple H may have been out of his element compared to the sadistic Cactus Jack, but it never takes the “Cerebral Assassin” long to adapt.
Triple H, while bloodied, managed to stay in control as the match entered it’s final moments.
He back -dropped Foley on the very tacks he poured in the ring then delivered the Pedigree, but to his shock Cactus Jack was not finished. He kicked out at two!
Jack got up and charged “The Game” again, but got kicked in the gut and ate another Pedigree. This time, face-first onto his signature thumb tacks. Triple H retained as “My Time” echoed through the New York arena.
In true Cactus Jack fashion, he would get the last world by attacking the WWE Champion as he was being wheeled away. Madison Square Garden returned in kind chanting “Foley” as we faded to black.
While the comparisons to amateur wrestling and professional wrestling seem obvious very few men have been able to make the transition to professional wrestling in the modern era.
Kurt Angle is the total package. He has athletic ability, intestinal fortitude, and is probably one of the most surprisingly entertaining men considering his background. No matter if he was main evening WrestleMania or opening match, Kurt Angle made sure his performance was remembered over all others.
While the last few years have been somewhat uneventful in his career there is no doubt in my mind that there is no one who has accomplished so much in such a short amount of time as Kurt Angle.
The Olympic gold medalist has won every title there is in the WWE and TNA and will no doubt be looked back on as one of the greatest professional wrestles of the early 21st century.
In his nearly 15 year career, half with WWE and half with TNA, he has had some of the best matches in both companies history so deciding on only ten was absolutely agonizing. There are only a select few men I enjoy watching in the squared circle more than Angle and many of those men will also be talked about today.
So without further adieu I present my tribute to a man with integrity, a man with intelligence, and a man with unmatched intensity. Oh it’s true – it’s (damn) true.
KURT ANGLE VS. SHANE MCMAHON (KING OF THE RING 2001)
Leave it to Kurt Angle to get a five star match out of a man who is not even a professionally trained wrestler. Shane McMahon might legitimately be certifiable. The spots he did in matches during the early 2000s were just bat shit crazy.
Angle and McMahon had a really intense street fight that worked to the benefit of the son of the WWE owner, and showed off what the traditional wrestler, Kurt Angle, could do outside of his element.
This matches claim to fame is obviously the spot when Kurt Angle attempts to throw “The Prodigal Son” through the King of the Ring’s glass displays.
Twice he bell-to-back supplexed him into the glass only for him to fall on his head. Angle, ever determined, muscled Shane ‘O Mac through the spots and then had to wheel his delirious opponent back to the ring on a piece of portable storage.
I mean it was almost as if Angle was wrestling a rag doll.
Shane managed to finish the match and even get some offense in near the end, but an Angle Slam off of the top turnbuckle sealed his fate and allowed Kurt Angle to get a measure of revenge against the owner of the newly emerging Alliance.
10. KURT ANGLE VS. AJ STYLES (HARD JUSTICE 2008)
This was the rematch to their first encounter at Slammiversary 2008 in which Angle was seeking revenge for Styles marrying his former wife, Karen Angle.
When Kurt Angle entered TNA in the late summer of 2006 I was beyond ecstatic. I immediately wrote a short list in my head of opponents I wanted him to meet. At the very top of list was AJ Styles.
The flashy high flying style from AJ really mixed well the seemingly endless variants of supplexs in Angle’s arsenal.
Since 2006 Styles and Angle have been opponents many times over, been in an alliance together at least twice, and even won the TNA Tag Team Championship together.
However, when they meet in the ring you can expect nothing but the best match of the night. Watch any match they’ve had and you’ll understand.
In the end this Last Man Standing match ended the same way their match at Slammiversary ended, with “The Phenomenal One” once again standing over a broken Kurt Angle.
The following TNA iMPACT! AJ Styles would even win Kurt Angle’s Olympic gold medal before Angle finally got his final redemption over Styles and his (storyline at the time) ex-wife later on. The two have a very storied history now and may once again find themselves on the same side of the ring when Kurt Angle returns.
9. KURT ANGLE VS. EDDIE GUERRERO (WRESTLEMANIA XX)
The interesting thing about Kurt Angle is that when he has one great match with an opponent he seems to continue to have many more.
With almost every opponent on this edition of the Countdown I could probably name two to three other great matches Angle had with them.
However, when it comes to Eddie Guerrero and Kurt Angle one clearly stands above the rest and that is their match at the 20th Anniversary of WrestleMania.
This match was a heel Kurt Angle spouting nonsense about how he had to give the fans a WWE Champion that they could be proud of. He brought up Eddie’s drug and alcohol addiction and his runs in with the police in an attempt to slander him.
Guerrero and Angle have a really good mat based encounter and add in Guerrero’s catch-catch-can reversals and you get a perfect WWE Championship match.
Guerrero sneaked out the victory by loosening the laces of his boot and luring Angle into applying the Angle Lock.
One he did so, Guerrero slipped out leaving the Olympic gold medalist holding his boot in bewilderment. Angle then unwisely charged Guerrero who rolled him up and used the ropes to get a quick three count.
Guerrero lied and cheated to defeat Kurt Angle and stole the match on the grandest stage of them all. it was a perfect ending to one of Guerrero’s best matches. Often the best matches someone has are when they are putting someone else over.
Angle certainly did a wonderful job of giving Eddie Guerrero his most notable moment.
8. KURT ANGLE & CHRIS BENOIT VS. REY MYSTERIO & EDGE (NO MERCY 2002)
To put it frankly this has to be among the greatest Tag Team matches in WWE history.
I can scarcely think of a Tag Team match that’d I’d be more okay with main eventing a Pay-Per-View event. This honestly could have closed No Mercy and I doubt anyone would have complained.
Few titles active in the WWE have had as good of a start as the WWE Tag Team Championship which was crowned to the winning team of this match.
Kurt Angle, with his reluctant partner Chris Benoit, took on the babyface pairing of Rey Mysterio and Edge in the finals of a tournament to decide the newly christened belts.
2002 was truly a great year in the WWE from an in-ring perspective.
WWE was enjoying the fruits of their monopoly and the influx of ECW and WCW talent had bloated the roster so much that McMahon and his team separated their brands.
In 2002 and 2003 WWE Smackdown! truly enjoyed the better roster. This is a prime example.
While these Edge was really the only tag team specialist every one in this match used some wonderful tag team maneuvers with their partners.
The rivals, Angle and Benoit, eked out the victory and became the first ever WWE Tag Team Champions. If you hate the state of the tag team division now go back and watch every detail of this match.
7. KURT ANGLE VS. JEFF JARRETT (LOCKDOWN 2011)
Art always finds a funny way to mimic reality.
I have no problem admitting that I think Jeff Jarrett is a complete joke. He is a great storyteller and has a wonderful understanding of the professional wrestling business, but his thinking he was a star that could stand among the likes of Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair is ridiculous.
However, it would be unfair of me to slight this awesome Steel Cage match and many of his other very entertaining performances.
This rivalry is very similar to the Edge-Matt Hardy-Lita saga from 2005.
TNA turned a real life situation between Jeff Jarrett and Kurt Angle and spun it into a storyline. Kurt and Karen Angle did in fact get a real divorce in late 2008 and she did go on to marry Jeff Jarrett in 2010.
So in the early months of 2011 this feud was drummed up due to the fact that most of the iMPACT wrestling fans already knew about it, and the company thought it would make for good television.
So= they went ahead and made a really personal, and somewhat uncomfortable, storyline about it. It was not the best told story, but the matches these two had were better than I would have ever imagined.
Honestly though, Kurt Angle gave Jeff Jarrett the best matches of his career and I think this Steel Cage match might actually be the single greatest match of his career.
Steel Cage matches are perfect for really personal rivalries like this and I’m glad I got to watch this live.
Near the end Angle, at 42, moonsaulted off of the top of the cage and missed Jarret. I thought his career might have been over after that. It looked so nasty.
Angle fought back, but his ex-wife would be the deciding factor in this match and allowed “Double J” to escape the cage. Angle would get the last laugh months later when he defeated Jarrett and “sent him to Mexico.”
6. KURT ANGLE VS. SAMOA JOE (TURNING POINT 2006)
Kurt Angle deserves the distinction of having the greatest debut in TNA history. Not only that, but his first feud/opponent might also be one of his greatest.
There MMA style bout at Lockdown 2008 is often pointed at as their best encounter, but as time has passed I think their original series of matches aged much better. None more so, than their second encounter at Turning Point 2006.
A month earlier Kurt Angle had his first ever match in TNA at Genesis 2006.
A match in which he handed Samoa Joe his first ever pin fall loss in TNA after over a year+ of being undefeated.
Angle, having just debuted, was really able to act both like a heel and fan favorite in this match. This made it interesting as he was able to low blow and use a chair against Joe, but somehow not come off like “the bad guy.”
This match was really the Angle Lock versus the Coquina Clutch.
It was great seeing all the reversals and counters. Just seeing Angle in a new environment with new opponents really revitalized his career for the next couple of years (even though it is now stale again).
I still maintain that nothing he has done in TNA has eclipsed the excitement and hype around his first series of matches with Samoa Joe.
This is how I like to remember TNA. Before Hogan. Before Bischoff. Just the best of the independent scene meeting the most unappreciated of the WWE. It was a formula that worked. In 2006 and 2007 it was the perfect mix of both worlds. Joe vs. Angle really captured that essence.
5. KURT ANGLE VS. THE UNDERTAKER (NO WAY OUT 2006)
Its no secret. This is one of my favorite matches of all time. Being a huge Undertaker and Kurt Angle fan, this is my Holy Grail.
The action in this match speaks for itself. I honestly think it is one of the few matches I could enjoy with no commentary from anyone.
There was no in depth storyline in this feud. It was just Undertaker wanting Angle’s World Heavyweight Championship. Simple. The match these two created was off the charts awesome. Kurt Angle controlled the pace of much of the match and dominated Undertaker in the offensive.
It is such a rare thing to see Undertaker play defense for such a majority of the contest, but it made for an unpredictably exciting 25 minutes.
The ending was perfect when it could have been disastrous to the match.
Angle reversed Undertaker’s gogoplata into a pinning combination. Angle won and looked like a badass for defeating “The Phenom” without burying the challenger by making him tap out after a long match where he played defense to the World Heavyweight Champion.
Many have speculated that this was, and should have been, Smackdown’s main event for WrestleMania 22.
Truth be told, I’m glad it was the main event of No Way Out instead. It truly shined bright on this smaller card and it might have just suffered terrible time restrictions on the latter WrestleMania show.
To me, this was Undertaker’s greatest non-gimmick match. He managed to put on one of the best matches of his career even when the bright lights of WrestleMania were not on.
As much as I love “The Deadman,” we all know that he cannot have great matches with just anyone, but when the right guy comes along he can absolutely put on match of the night no problem. Angle always brought out the work horse in Undertaker.
They had many good matches, but to me this was their bets collaboration.
4. KURT ANGLE VS. STEVE AUSTIN (SUMMERSLAM 2001)
Anytime I hear Jim Ross utter the words “slobber knocker” this is the match that immediately pops into my head.
Like the last match we discussed this is a personal favorite of mine. This is one of SummerSlam’s best main events and felt worthy of being a WrestleMania main event if I am being honest.
This match occurred during one of my most loathed story arcs in WWE history. The Invasion.
In saying that, some of the matches that occurred during this nearly endless story arc are amazing. The main event of SummerSlam 2001 probably being the greatest of all of them. It was a sloppy mess of a match, but Austin and Angle made their odd mixing of styles work and the end results is really entertaining.
Austin and Angle really more or less had a brawl rather than a match, but it looked so bad ass. To me, this might even be better than the main event of WrestleMania X-Seven which had occurred several months earlier.
The only knock I can give this match is the overbooked ending in which multiple referees are knocked out and an “Alliance” referee screws Kurt Angle out of the WWE Championship.
It was all a vehicle to make Austin the most hated man in the WWE, but now out of context the ending is too much. Even with the crap ending, this match just barely misses the top three.
3. KURT ANGLE VS. BROCK LESNAR (WWE SMACKDOWN!, SEPTEMBER 2003)
Where Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart missed the mark, Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle set the president for all future Iron Man matches to come.
I went back-and-forth on whether I wanted to give the third spot to this match or their more notable match at WrestleMania XIX.
Finally, I settled with their Iron Man match from WWE Smackdown! later that year. This may not be a popular decision, but for me it feels like the right one.
At SummerSlam, Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar had a second match which Angle won, but not before Lesnar enlisted the help of Mr. McMahon effectively turning him heel. So going into this rubber match both men had switched roles.
Not only is this one of Kurt Angle’s greatest matches, but it might be the greatest match in WWE Smackdown! history.
It was a one hour-Broadway, the WWE Championship changed hands, and it was a match between two of the most talented and over guys in the WWE at the time.
Stuff like this is what made the Thursday night show the “A Show” during it’s 2002-2003 run.
This also marked one of the last major one-on-one matches between the two men who spent most of 2003 feuding.
I have to say, after fantastic matches at WrestleMania, SummerSlam, and elsewhere, this match on Smackdown! was the perfect ending to one of the most back-and-forth rivalries in the WWE Championship’s history.
Brock Lesnar regained the title after Angle could not secure a fifth fall to tie the two men at five falls each. If he had he would have kept the WWE Championship.
Angle had the Angle Lock on Lesnar’s foot, but “The Next Big Thing” held on long enough for the time limit to expire and take the WWE Championship off of Kurt Angle for the second time in a year.
This would be the beginning of Brock Lesnar’s final reign as WWE Champion before an eight year exile to football and mixed martial arts.
I may regret not selecting their WrestleMania match, but like an good trilogy the final act is always the most well received.
2. KURT ANGLE VS. CHRIS BENOIT (ROYAL RUMBLE 2003)
There WrestleMania X-Seven match and their Steel Cage match from WWE Raw came to mind, but those honestly pale in comparison to Benoit and Angle’s clash at the 2003 Royal Rumble.
This match is a visual and audible example of why Benoit and Angle were in a league of their own during their WWE runs. They did what so many other men could not. They made mat wrestling entertaining.
To me this looked like WWE seeing how the crowd would react to “The Rapid Wolverine” in the main event. I don’t think management was disappointed.
They both wrestled a nearly perfect match for over 20 minutes. Supplexs of every kind, chops, submissions, and more unique counters than I could possibly name. This might be one of my personal favorite WWE Championship matches of all time.
What made these two so good was their pride. They both took so much pride in delivering the best match their worn down bodies could afford. I have so much respect for them for their efforts on this night.
Angle won after slipping out of the Crippler Crossface and locking in the Angle Lock for the final time. Benoit had no choice, but to submit to the champion.
After the match the Boston crowd gave Chris Benoit, the man who lost, a standing ovation as he stood in the center of the ring. Something which is almost unheard of in this day and age of professional wrestling.
A year later Chris Benoit would be the first man to enter the 2004 Royal Rumble – and the last to leave.
1. KURT ANGLE VS. SHAWN MICHAELS (WRESTLEMANIA 21)
We’d hate to be predictable, but in this case we were backed into a corner with nowhere to run.
“What is your dream match?” is the question wrestling fans often ask one another.
Angle and Michaels would not have sprung to my mind, but after watching this match live I think the meaning of “dream match” was forever redefined for me.
Some professional wrestlers just step into the ring and can make anyone of the roster look a million times better than they actually are. Angle and Michaels were two of those guys.
So even though they were wrestling for the very first time, their immeasurable skill at match-making allowed them to deliver one of the most revered WrestleMania matches of the modern era.
I suppose I need to point out that this is the third time Shawn Michaels has given someone their number one match on the Pro Wrestling Countdown.
Chris Jericho and The Undertaker being the previous two. I don’t want this to take anything away from the other three men. I think it is just proof that when you put two men who are some of the best at what they do, amazing things happen.
Kurt Angle forced Shawn Michaels to submit to his Angle Lock to end the match.
This finish followed an incredible 25+ minutes of chain wrestling, reversals, moonsaults, and near falls. They would go on to have two more matches of equal quality, but nothing could recapture the magic that these two created at under the lights of Hollywood and WrestleMania.
To me, was the closest WWE has ever come to replicating something like Flair/Steamboat. Bar none this is simply one of the best one-on-one matches I have ever seen.
“The Nature Boy” Ric Flair is often cited as being one of last (and possibly most successful) NWA main event draws. His career, spanning over 40 years, has produced some of the most important matches, influential promos, and ground breaking stables in wrestling history. Flair’s name has been synonyms with success.
While Hulk Hogan may always be the greatest wrestling superstar of the 1980’s there is no doubt that Flair was it’s greatest and prolific wrestler. Period.
Credited as either a 16 or 21 time World Champion, Ric Flair stands second to no one when it comes to “being the man.”
However, accomplishments aside, Ric Flair has put on some of the most textbook smart wrestling matches ever. While these contests are absent of the modern flashy moves we have all become custom to they are without question some of the most powerful wrestling matches ever caught on tape.
Regardless of whether he was 28 or 58 Ric Flair knew how to entertain and, more importantly, tell a story.
I won’t remember Flair for his insane antics, but for his being probably the best storyteller in professional wrestling history. Today, we look at Flair’s greatest stories given to us through his blood, sweat, tears, and perseverance to be “the man.”
RIC FLAIR VS. SHAWN MICHAELS (WRESTLEMANIA XXIV)
For pure emotion alone this match deserves recognition.
I think this match with Shawn is a fitting tribute to the active career of a man who wrestled for many decades.
Both men had strong motives and difficult decisions to make. Flair’s determination to prove that he was still the great wrestler he once was forced him into picking someone he considered to be one of the greatest of all time to wrestle at WrestleMania. Shawn’s difficult dilemma of having to possibly “pull the trigger” and end the career of a man he loves and respects.
These elements provided a deeper layer of story and context to the match gave the ring work great purpose.
It isn’t even close to either man’s greatest technical marvel and I will say that this match would not have even grabbed the honorable mention spot without these story elements that really made this match ten times better than it actually was.
Being Flair’s “last match” (in the WWE at least) also helped it claim the honorable mention spot over several other worthy matches from his second run with McMahon’s promotion.
This match is more raw emotion than ring action, but it without a doubt achieved it’s goal of evoking a response from the viewer. I think, even if it is not longer his final match, that this will be his final match worth talking about. The spiritual end of his storied career. I suppose that makes it important enough, still.
10. RIC FLAIR VS. HULK HOGAN (BASH AT THE BEACH 1994)
I will not lie to you and say that this was a technical marvel, but it was just good enough to skate into the final position. Where this match really wins the viewer over is the entertainment aspect of that match. This was the two biggest stars of the 1980s finally going at it in one of the biggest money matches in professional wrestling history.
While Flair may have been one of the most beloved and respected men in professional wrestling in the early 1990s, at his pinnacle of popularity, Hulk Hogan was bigger than all of professional wrestling. He transcended pop culture.
This match, like many matches in WCW, would be done to death. Once a dream match, these two have had more rematches than I would care to recap. They had matches in WCW, WWE, TNA for over three decades. It actually became embarrassing, but at Bash at the Beach 1994 it was still special.
I sort of felt bad for Flair as I watched this match as Hulk Hogan, who was having his first ever match for WCW, won the belt off of the man who helped carry WCW (Jim Crockett Promotions) for almost a decade at that point.
Then he just got pushed aside. It’s terrible really, but Flair made Hulk Hogan look so much better than he actually was. Hogan could pop the crowd for sure, but Flair made this match worth a damn from an in-ring perspective.
9. RIC FLAIR VS. TRIPLE H (TABOO TUESDAY 2005)
I tried very hard to avoid putting any matches from Flair’s second run into the Pro Wrestling Countdown as I felt it would have been disrespectful to all of the wonderful matches he had in his prime. However, I have a huge respect for the program he did with “The Game” Triple H in 2005.
It was the last match I added to this Countdown, but I feel like you will all see where I am coming from in giving it this position. I originally was going to have his match with Shawn Michaels represent his entire second run, but after viewing his work with Triple H in 2005 I had to renege my decision and add this contest.
This story was very much the old master taking on the young samurai. Triple H wanted to put Flair out of his misery so he could stop “embarrassing himself.” Triple H said that he was tarnishing the memory of his idol.
Triple H used Flair as a punching bag for much of the contest with Flair only getting in enough offense to defend himself.
Pro wrestling is a perfect playground for the Student/Teacher storyline. This was two master of pacing going at it. Triple H controlling the entire match with Flair only being able to fend him off was a perfect metaphor for the old guard standing the test of time.
Flair played the beaten down old master who may not have had the precision he used to, but the fire for competition still burned. Triple H was the youthful student putting down his old master. It was just perfect storytelling.
This was an old school style dissection from both guys on one other. While it might have been a tad slow for some, it was really engaging when they picked up the pace. The hot crowd at Taboo Tuesday didn’t hurt either.
Flair won here, but only by the skin of his teeth.
8. RIC FLAIR VS. MR. PERFECT (WWE RAW, JANUARY 1993)
Occurring on only the third ever edition of WWE Monday Night Raw, Curt Hennig and Ric Flair had what I would say was the first match worth watching in this shows now 20+ year history.
Incredibly all this time has passed and it still stands as one of the most noteworthy matches in the history of the weekly show, and one of my personal favorites. This was also a Loser Leaves Town match that was set up to give Flair a logical exit so he could return to WCW later that year.
This match was a result of Mr. Perfect having a falling out with Flair and Heenan months earlier after “The Brain” insinuated that he could no longer wrestle at the level he once did. This was marked the face turn of Mr. Perfect and his return to the ring following an extended leave following his match with Bret Hart at the 1991 SummerSlam.
Flair and Hennig had several matches together with the later ones occurring in WCW, but for me nothing topped their surprisingly good television match which occurred in an era where the idea of giving long and engaging matches away on free television was just beginning to come around.
I don’t know if Hennig played the babyface role to perfection here, but we do see Flair ham-up his heelish tactics. He used just about every clique move in the book behind the referee’s back to try to send Mr. Perfect packing and I think this helped sway the crowd to pop for Hennig.
My only complaint is with a few awkward spots that interrupted the flow and like most matches from this era there were a few slow moments, but that was just the style of the time. Outside of that this was a stellar display of entertainment and pacing.
Ric Flair would be back in WCW less than a month after this match. Hennig would spend very little time in the ring for the WWE after 1993 and also later jumped ship to WCW in 1997.
Probably one of Raw’s most forgotten classics. If you’ve never had the opportunity to catch it go do so. It was the quickest 20 minutes match I’ve ever watched.
7. RIC FLAIR VS. HARLEY RACE (STARRCADE 1983)
I’m starting to believe the cage matches will never be able to live up to the glory they once did.
I think the problem lies in the fact that it has seen so many variations that now make a traditional one-on-one cage match look like a relic from a bygone era. In saying that, matches like this contest between two legendary NWA performers, are what helped establish the gimmick as one of the most brutal of all time.
In 1983, WCW was still known as Jim Crockett Promotions and was still under the heavy guise of the National Wrestling Association. Naturally this match was for Race’s NWA Heavyweight Championship and occurred at the first ever Starrcade event which would go on to be WCW’s answer to WrestleMania.
This match I think does a great job of communicating what the NWA was all about. Traditional, old school, professional wrestlers. No glitz. No glamour. Just two men. Tough as nails. Entertaining the crowd with a fight.
Many current fans do not have a adequate appreciation for Harley Race’s accomplishments and his work, but he was absolutely vicious in this match with Flair.
He dropped countless knees right on the challenger’s head, bloodied him, and repeatedly delivered straight headbutts to a downed “Nature Boy.”
If you watch this match you’ll see how brutal Race was and why he earned the nickname of “Mad Dog.”
Ric Flair endured the punishment and found his opening as he scaled the cage and hit a high crossbody from the top turnbuckle and scored a three count to win his second (or third depending on who you ask) NWA Heavyweight Championship.
This match, while not without flaw, was a great example of why Flair was made the star of Jim Crockett Promotions.
With blood dripping from his snowy white hair and fans refusing to silence Flair celebrated inside the ring with his contemporaries as the first ever Starrcade drew to a close.
“This is the greatest night of my life, and I can’t thank you enough.” -Ric Flair, after defeating Harley Race.
6. RIC FLAIR VS. RANDY SAVAGE (WRESTLEMANIA VIII)
Ric Flair has seriously done it all. Even though he sharpened his teeth under the NWA banner while beginning to cement his legacy in Jim Crockett Promotions, it didn’t stop him from taking a few years away to go visit the McMahon’s company and stand among the other stars of the Federation.
For most of the 1980’s Flair was used by the NWA as the main franchise to combat McMahon’s emerging dominance after going national. So when he left WCW in 1991 there was only one place big enough to hold all of his success and charisma. The WWE.
While Hulk Hogan vs. Ric Flair was supposed to be the main event of WrestleMania VIII I have to admit that this match was better than any Flair/Hogan match, ever. Macho Man was a far better athlete and along with Flair had a very entertaining match.
Like most matches it has a flaw, and this matches flaw is it was just a little too focused on the campy story elements that involved Miss Elizabeth and supposed affair with Ric Flair.
Her involvement at WrestleMania VI was perfect, but at WrestleMania VIII it was a little bit of a tired concept to me.
That takes away very little from the match that should have closed WrestleMania VIII. Even in the early 1990s McMahon was booking the wrong matches to close the show. Hogan and Sid would end the show, but were unable to do anything that eclipsed the match Savage and Flair had.
It won’t be remembered much as a classic WWE Championship match, but to me this was the greatest match of Flair’s WWE career.
He was still capable of putting on a great match and not just a great match for a 50+ year old. Imagine the matches he could have had he never gone back to WCW?
5. RIC FLAIR VS. STING (CLASH OF THE CHAMPIONS I)
Emanating from the very first ever Clash of the Champions event, Flair and Sting kicked off the legacy of not only this important WCW event but a rivalry that would rage off and on for the next 15 years. This was their first ever one-on-one match together.
In the late 1980’s Crockett and McMahon began thumbing their noses at one another by scheduling their events on the same day as one another. Supposedly, this was usually McMahon’s doing.
In retaliation Crockett scheduled the first ever Clash of the Champions which aired for free on television head-to-head against McMahon’s WrestleMania IV! Clash of the Champions would air against WrestleMania the following year as well.
Crockett gave fans a pay-per-view quality show which culminated in this bout for the NWA Heavyweight Championship between, the champion, Ric Flair and, the challenger, Sting.
Getting past the history of the promotion we have a huge main event in which really was the moment we saw Sting established as a cornerstone of the promotion.
Sting came so close to winning his first NWA Heavyweight Championship on this night, but the time limit expired as Sting held in the Scorpion Deathlock.
He did still make himself known as a force to be reckoned with by being capable enough to avoid losing to the “Nature Boy” who was at this point had been the top man in the NWA for some time.
These two legends would go on to have countless rematches for the next 15 years, but to me this match had an air of magic many of their others do not. The only other match of their’s I truly love is their 1994 match from Clash of the Champions XXVII.
After awhile the Sting vs. Flair match began to get a tad redundant, but here it still felt like a spectacle.
Sting and Flair would go on to be cornerstones of the next 35 episodes of Clash of the Champions . It’s inventor, Jim Crockett Jr., however would not.
Even though his ideas were hit-and-miss and he had some of the best talent in the business Crockett had to sell his promotion to Ted Turner who would officially rename the promotion World Championship Wrestling later that year.
4. RIC FLAIR VS. BIG VAN VADER (STARRCADE 1993)
The absolute most fun I’ve ever had watching Vader wrestle. When I think of Vader I typically think of the time frame I was familiar with him which was his late 90’s run in the WWE,
This was better than I could have ever imagined. I openly scoffed when seeing people suggest this match to me, but after watching it from beginning to end I feel like my cynicism was largely misplaced.
Ten years after his epic clash with Harley Race inside of a steel cage Ric Flair returned to WCW to reestablish himself as the true icon of the promotion. Strangely enough, it was Harley Race who accompanied the WCW Heavyweight Champion to the ring on this night in hopes of seeing Flair’s historic career 10 years after he ended Race’s final reign with the NWA Heavyweight Championship
Big Van Vader was at the pinnacle of popularity and Flair was had just returned to the promotion months prior following a stint in the WWE.
Vader, at this point, was a monster of a WCW Heavyweight Champion and was looking to end the career of “The Nature Boy.””
Flair, wrestling smart, yielded the power to the larger man and really put over Vader as a untouchable behemoth.
He ducked, dogged, bobbed, and weaved past every move he could, but still Vader dished out a cavalcade of punishment on the future WWE Hall of Famer.
Flair fought back with immeasurable intensity and his hometown crowd went wild every time he got on the offensive side of things.
The finish was a tad awkward, but the crowd went bloody nuts for “Naitch” when he quickly pinned Big Van Vader before he could fling the North Carolinian off his barrel chest.
Fireworks, confetti, and tears accompanied the roars of the crowd. This match was a really different type of main event match for Flair. Typically he wrestled men around his own size, but here fans had the opportunity to see what he could do with a man he couldn’t wrestle in the traditional sense.
3. RIC FLAIR VS. RICKY STEAMBOAT (CLASH OF THE CHAMPIONS VI)
This was the second match from the now legendary trilogy of matches between Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and “Nature Boy” Ric Flair in 1989.
This was the rematch for the NWA Heavyweight Championship which Flair and lost to Steamboat at Chi-Town Rumble four months earlier. This was also a Two out of Three Falls match.
It also might be one of the most bearable hour long matches I’ve seen. Often the matches drag on, but since this not a case of the match having a time limit it actually felt very natural.
“The Dragon” and the “Nature Boy” put on an exhibition of drama, pacing, technical skill, and entertainment every moments of the match.
While both men are wrestlers in a very traditional scene they sneaked in several very innovate and interesting spots in the match.
Flair won the first fall, with Steamboat getting the second and third allowing him to retain his NWA Heavyweight Championship belt after the two men went back and forth for almost 60 minutes.
The thing was, Flair’s foot was under the bottom rope during this final pin fall. This discrepancy would lead to the third and final match of the series.
Flair’s final opportunity at Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat would occur at WrestleWar 1989 just one month after this contest. The trio of matches have gone down in history as some of the most revered displays of showmanship and skill.
Any man or woman who wants to become a professional wrestler should watch this series of matches before they even put on their boots.
2. RIC FLAIR VS. TERRY FUNK (CLASH OF THE CHAMPIONS IX)
Terry Funk may be more well known now as a mad man who did moonsaults at 52 years old in ECW, but the soft spoken Texan is far and away one of the greatest professional wrestlers to ever live. He has stood in the rings of more promotions than you could number and is in more wrestling Hall of Fames than just about anyone.
With a dream team of Jim Ross and Gordon Sollie on announcing duties the two legends competed in an I Quit match following the fallout of the very first ever Halloween Havoc in which Flair and Sting defeated Terry Funk and his partner, The Great Muta.
While these two are often thought of when younger professional wrestlers mentioned the “old men who never know when to hang it up” Funk and Flair, at this stage, could still deliver some of the most captivating matches of the time.
Funk was brilliant in this contest and exhibited a lot of brutality and viciousness here.
The challenger, Funk, brought offense that really fit the structure of the I Quit match and also brought in moves like the piledriver that just looked sickening.
Flair, not be outdone by anyone, had his fair share of extreme action too. Slamming Funk’s head into the back of a wooden table and suicide diving onto his back whilst escaping around the ring.
After fending off Funk, Flair began to focus all of his offense on the knees and legs of Terry Funk. Wearing him down in preparation for the Figure Four Leg Lock.
Terry avoided it for as long as he could, but eventually the “Nature Boy” found his opening and locked it in. Funk repeatedly shouted “Never!” as the referee asked him if he wanted to give up.
Finally, Funk relented and screamed “I quit” after he could neither reverse or escape the hold.
This match was probably as close to hardcore as the classic NWA ever got. It felt really unique compared to the other matches on the card that night. While it may have been a gimmick match, Flair and Funk still brought logic and ring psychology to the contest.
1. RIC FLAIR VS. RICKY STEAMBOAT (WRESTLEWAR 1989)
Many regard the match I listed at number three to be their best encounter, but from my point of view I cannot see how anyone ranks their television match over this. The conclusion to what is probably the greatest wrestling trilogy of all time.
While their match at Clash of the Champions was much longer, that does not make it the best encounter. At WrestleWar they exceeded anything and everything they did before and since.
To me, this match personifies professional wrestling in its purist form.
If you don’t think you are a fan of Ric Flair I implore you to watch this match, uninterrupted, in full. This match ranks right among my favorite matches of all time.
This was Flair’s final opportunity at the World Heavyweight Champion, Ricky Steamboat.
In 1989 the Jim Crockett Promotions was trying very hard to maintain professional wrestling’s image as a “sport.” There were “judges” and 15 minute “rounds” and it all just sounds silly in hindsight. While this match lacks much of the glitz and glamour that could be found in the WWE at this time what you got was wrestling.
When I say wrestling it may make it sound ordinary, but you have to realize these are two of the best scientific wrestlers to ever live. Flair brought tradition, pacing, and drama to the match and Steamboat was able to keep the match from dragging, and added some high octane offense to the match.
You have iconic matches like Hogan/Andre, Michaels/Taker, and Austin/Rock, but for me the most iconic rivalry off all time might well be “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair versus Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat.
It’s tradition personified. It is everything that made Ric Flair – Ric Flair.
In 2009, Ric Flair inducted Ricky Steamboat into the WWE Hall of Fame. At the ceremony the two locked up one final time.