Brock Lesnar’s Top Ten Greatest WWE Matches

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.

HONORABLE MENTION:

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.

Also considered:

  • 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.

Rob Van Dam’s Top Ten Greatest Matches

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!

HONORABLE MENTION:

  • 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)

10. Van Dam, Austin, & Angle.jpg

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)

9. Van Dam & Storm I.jpg

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)

8. Van Dam & Benoit.jpg

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)

7. Van Dam & Sabu I.jpg

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.

Shawn Michaels Top Fifteen Greatest WWE Matches

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)

2. Michaels & Angle I.jpg

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.

Mick Foley’s Top Ten Greatest Matches

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.

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