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The 88 Best Matches in WWF/WWE History: Part Two

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

This is Part 2.  Part 1 is here.




We take a step up in quality with the best 25 matches in WWF/E history; each match is 4 1/2 stars and up making each worthy of consideration for the best match of that particular year, and the five star matches should be considered on a list for best matches of all time. 

25. No Mercy [10/’02] Chris Benoit/Kurt Angle d. Rey Mysterio/Edge (22min)4 ½
-This would have been the equivalent of say, Escobedo v. Illinois; not as well known by laypeople as Miranda but a critical piece of the period (that's probably as far as I'll extend the metaphor, but if you get to the top 10 of this list and I talk about the double turn from In Re Gault try not to hold it against me). This was the finals for a tag tournament; Angle gets Edge to tap in play off their hair v. hair finish for those of you who have forgotten that Kurt used to be non-bald.  


24.      Money in the Bank: (7/’11)CM Punk d. John Cena (33 min)4 ½
The doctrinal divide between wrestling as sport/wrestling as entertainment took a turn in the past few years as there developed body of opinion that bad is the new good. Meaning, it used to be that the lines were clearly drawn - sure, maybe you liked Hulk Hogan, but you didn't confuse his matches with workrate. McDonalds has billions served,  but no one suggests they deserve a boatload of Michelin stars.

John Cena has now won Meltzer's Wrestler of the Year award which is supposed to combine box office and work ability; and there has developed a body of opinion around his matches (and Hunter, and Undertaker, and most of the top WWF guys) that they aren't just the equivalent of Hogan (popular but kinda crappy) but instead worthy of critical acclaim.

This, I'd suggest, is error. 

It's a longer conversation as to how we got here. A combination of corporate cognitive capture (WWE has won the ideological war about what wrestling is) and Benoit blowback (don't work hard, work smart - Eddy Guerrero's dead and Kevin Nash still draws paychecks). 

Regardless, I hate me some John Cena. It's not that he's terrible (I find the character terrible, but I don't much care about things like that) but I hate him for the reason we had anyone in the culture; it's directly proportional to my sense of the distance between his acclaim and his merit.  If Cena were just pushed more than I wanted to see him pushed, I'd dislike that - but it's the degree to which he's overrated by workrate minded analysts that makes him wrestling's Tebow.  

This was a great angle and a super match.  



23. NXT Arrival (2/'14) Cesaro d. Sami Zayn (23 min) 4 1/2 
A match not on television or PPV - this served as the effective opening act of the streaming platform called the WWE Network and featured an independent star El Generico turned developmental prospect Sami Zayn facing another former independent star, Claudio Castagnoli turned Cesaro, in the best match of what had been a helluva 2013 series.  This slowed down ROH match in an NXT ring became the best WWE match since 2005.  


22.      Summer Slam (8/’95) Shawn Michaels d. Razor Ramon (Ladder) (25 min)4 ½
-While I was ranting about Cena I missed that we had hit the twenty best matches in WWF/WWE history - hey, look, it;'s Shawn and Razor climbing a ladder.  This was the sequel, and it was great - it wasn't Empire Strikes Back great but you could call it Temple of Doom.


21.      Good Friends/Better Enemies (4/’96) Shawn Michaels d. Diesel (No Holds Barred) (18 min)4 ½
-If it were a Friends episode the title would be: The One With Mad Dog Vachon's Leg and you'd know exactly what match this is.  

20.      No Way Out (2/’01) HHH d. Steve Austin (2/3 Falls)(40 min)4 ½
-They did different stips for each of the three falls; Austin got Hunter with the stunner to go up 1-0; a really terrific brawl ended with a sledgehammer shot to even it at 1, and Hunter got the final fall in the cage despite taking a barbed wire 2x4 shot.  There's one Helmsley match still to come but this was his best individual performance.  


  19.      WM XXV (4/’09) Undertaker d. Shawn Michaels (30:30)4 1/2
This is the best version of what has become the template big Wrestlemania type match; standing around punctuated by big moves and nearfalls.  I like the big moves and nearfalls part; the standing around is less compelling.  I hate to be overly critical of a match I'm saying is one of the 20 best in WWF history, but as a formula, replacing athleticism with facial expressions doesn't move me.  There was plenty of what was good in this particular match to warrant this spot.


18.      Badd Blood (10/’97) Undertaker d. Shawn Michaels (Hell in a Cell) (30min)4 1/2
-The first ever Cell match remains the best, and despite the acclaim of their recent Mania matches, Shawn/Undertaker in '97 had their best ever bout.  Brian Pillman died the night before; were you compiling a list of the 40 best WCW matches of all time, his house show match with Liger (not the Superbrawl match, but a December house show match) was the 6th best ever, like this one, a 4 1/2 star match.  I'll probably attach that list to something at some point.  


17.      Vengeance ( 6/’05) Shawn Michaels d. Kurt Angle (26min) 4 ½
We go back to back here midway through the teens; Angle took Mania, Michaels the rematch.  They fed both Sherri and Marty Jannetty to Kurt in the Mania build; WWF utilizing Shawn's history really well in his late period matches.  


16.      WMXXI (4/’05) Kurt Angle d. Shawn Michaels (27:30 min)4 ½
-And this was the Mania match.



15.      Summer Slam (8/’00)  Edge/Christian d. Hardys/Dudleys (TLC) (15min)4 ½
-The first match labeled as TLC checks in.  




14.      WM12 (3’/96) Shawn Michaels d. Bret Hart (Iron Man) (62:00) 4 ½
-I don't know that I had yet seen any Iron Man matches when I watched XII, so I was surprised by the "this was not as good as we expected it would be" popular reaction.  Subsequently, of course, I saw every wrestling match ever - and just a couple of years ago I rewatched Bret/Shawn again to see if I had been too easily impressed.  

Nope.  This match is terrific; they shouldn't have changed a thing.


13.      WMXX (3/’04)  Chris Benoit d. HHH/HBK  (25min)4 ½
-My favorite match ever, and one that led to one of my favorite sports moments ever, the show closing hug between Benoit and Guerrero.     I own one wrestling t-shirt, it's a Chris Benoit shirt - and, as a very young boy, my first ever sports hero was OJ Simpson.  Weirdly, my favorite meat truck driver was not Richard Speck.  So you can't pigeonhole me like that.



12.      WM17 (4/’01) Edge/Christian d. Dudleys/Hardys (TLC) (16 min)4 ½
Spike Dudley was involved in the 12th best match in WWF history.  The Dudleys success really surprised me; I was an ECW fan but recognized that most of the acts would not resonate on a larger stage    (Balls Mahoney was never going to win the Intercontinental Title).  I would have bet money that the Dudley Boys (I have been in an arena where they nearly started a race riot) would not have traveled.  But here they are with two of the 20 greatest WWF matches ever, and in 2012 Bubba remains the most relevant ECW act.  It's as if New Jack were main eventing at the biggest TNA show of the year. 

11. Royal Rumble (1/'15) Brock Lesnar d. Seth Rollins/John Cena (23 min) 4 1/2
A babyface Brock Lesnar and a turned up to ROH levels Seth Rollins threw suplexes and hit table bumps for a Philly crowd in the best WWE match in over a decade.

10. NXT (4/'16) Shinsuke Nakamura v. Sami Zayn (19 min) 4 1/2
By early 2016, what had begun as a centralized developmental system, a more systematized OVW, was now picking off many of the best talent in the world.  This was Nakamura's WWE debut; he did a modified version of his New Japan moveset to beat the former El Generico in what just a few years prior would have been an indepedent wrestling dream match which a promotion like ROH would have run as counter programming to WWE.  

9.      Mind Games (9/’96) Shawn Michaels d. Mankind (DQ)(26:30)4 ¾
-Mick Foley's best wrestling match; I marked out like a tiny, tiny child all night long - I was invested in the ECW as anti-establishment wrestling promotion worldview, and Sandman and Dreamer sitting in the front row in Philadelphia was everything that was good about everything.  When Foley brought the full Cactus Jack against Shawn Michaels it felt more paradigm shifting than it was; it felt like the war of ideas about which word in the phrase "sports entertainment" was more important had taken a turn.  It hadn't, not really, it never really does in Stamford, not really - but try to permit my momentary ebullience. 


8.      WMIII. (3/’87) Ricky Steamboat d. Randy Savage (14:30)4 ¾
And now, a word from the Hulkster:

You remember Wrestlemania 3, brother - Andre the Giant had been dead for a week and a half and rigor mortis had driven up his body weight to eleven hundred pounds; as I stood in the ring I didn't know if he was going to do business or not; but when I lifted his corpse high over my head and heard those 2.6 million Hulkamaniacs in the Silverdome cheering me on, brother, I felt his life essence flow into my vital organs; and it was at that moment that I invented the NWO.  I went to the back and called Ted Turner, who was running old tapes of Ric Flair wrestling a pig in the Omni...


7.      Summer Slam (8/’92)Davey Boy Smith d. Bret Hart (25min)4 ¾
This is the one from Wembley.  I assume you've seen it.  

6.      Summer Slam (8/’94)  Bret Hart d. Owen Hart (Cage)(32min)4 ¾
-And this is the cage match that involved both Davey and Neidhart.  Owen was in two of the ten best matches in promotion history and he's almost as little of a presence in WWE mythology as is Benoit.  Eddy gets to be the sainted dead wrestler; Benoit's the name that one dare not speak; the circumstances of Owen's death (killed by the negligence of the promotion) and potential intellectual property litigation make it easier just to make him the dead wrestler we forget and every other dead wrestler is treated as if he's alive in perpetuity as a character; Rick Rude didn't die at 40, he's still an action figure or a video game character.  Sort of like Mike Webster or Jim McMahon.


5.      WM13(3/’97) Bret Hart d. Steve Austin (Submission) (21 min)4 ¾
This was the double turn with Ken Shamrock stopping the match when Austin passed out as opposed to submitting to the Hit Man.  Austin, of course, was the hottest act in promotion history and this was the match where they turned him face...but it wasn't the best match these two ever had.


4. Survivor Series (11/’96) Bret Hart d. Steve Austin (28:30)4 ¾ 
Yes, I attended the fourth best wrestling match in WWF history.  Yes, yes I did.

Austin and Bret were both way over as babyfaces with the MSG crowd; HBK, then the babyface champ, got booed out of the building; and the two showlong chants that anyone who attended a show in late '96 all of '97 know about were E-C-W and N-W-O (through a quirk, I attended WWF shows like my name was Vlad in '96, hitting shows in San Francisco, West Palm Beach, and New York - no one was as over at a WWF show as was the NWO). I went to Survivor Series '96 with my long time on again/off again writing partner Kirk Hiner. We met our freshman year in college and one of the ways in which our friendship was formed was our mutual affection for Owen. We spent more than one WWF PPV Sunday together at some area watering hole (no, that's not a euphemism, we went to school in rural Ohio) and used to sneak into his religious fraternity in the summer of '91 to catch All-American or Superstars or whatever WWF programming it was that was re-airing in the middle of the night at that time. When you watch 3 AM wrestling you learn who corporate America thinks you are, as the advertisements were nothing but phone sex lines.   It was an unfortunate mirror; corporate America was telling me who I was - the type of person who watched professional wrestling at 3 in the morning on a weekday is also likely to spend $1.99 for the first minute, $3.99 for each additional minute talking to "Kandi" from some boiler room in New Mexico (when she says she's okay with "light" bondage talk, just believe her.  Word to the wise.)

20 years later, with two graduate degrees and a way too hot to be married to me woman next to me, I was up late one night a couple weeks ago, watching some re-run on some cable channel - when a commercial aired for a payday loan website endorsed by the Octomom.

When you think Octomom - what's the second thing that comes to mind?  Money troubles - right - that she's broke.  But yet, there she was, giving the predatory payday loan pitch "do you need a thousand dollars this weekend...?

Who in the hell is getting financial advice from the Octomom?  Who sees this commercial and says "here is a woman with a good handle on my cash flow situation?

Me, apparently, or people similarly situated.  Otherwise I wouldn't have seen the commercial.

Octoloan.  Not quite as dumb as lining up all day for a chicken sandwich to support the right of a multi-millionaire CEO to express his bigotry, but you can see it from there.  Because that's the real victim in our economy, multi-millionaire conservative Christians, Following college, as all of us do, we had choices to make regarding our wrestling fandom. Kirk gradually moved away from the sport for more grown up pursuits like children and mortgages and occasional discussion of superfancy gadgets; whereas I...well, I am not hooked up right.


3.  Royal Rumble (1/’03) Kurt Angle d. Chris Benoit (20min)5
Two of the best half dozen workers in company history had their best ever match together 9 years ago.  You should see it.  



2.  WMX (3/’94) Owen Hart d. Bret Hart (20)5
1.      WMX (3/’94)  Razor Ramon d. Shawn Michaels (Ladder) (19)5 
The only time in my life of wrestling fandom that I had the opportunity to escape was 1994; I hadn't been exposed to puroresu yet, so really all I had was WWF; I was in the middle of law school, so all of my time was spoken for; and there was no internet - certainly not for me; if you were on a Prodigy messageboard, more power to you, but I didn't even own a computer. The match quality and booking of the title at Wrestlemania IX left me really disenchanted with the promotion, and I had active thoughts about "leaving childish things behind" at this point in my life.

Over the summer, I rented the double VHS tape of Wrestlemania X (with the Spike Lee "inspired" cover art); I am unsure if I even knew the results. 

Those two matches were catalyzing, I probably watched each half a dozen times before returning the videotapes; and when the fall semester started, I got my first email address and used the university computers less for habeas corpus research and more to find out the names of suplex variants.  I started subscribing to Meltzer's newsletter (a subscription I keep, even at the pricepoint, even when I no longer pay for actual wrestling) started trading Japanese and ECW tapes, writing fantasy cards, and eventually filled in the gaps left by my youthful miseducation.

It doesn't happen without this show - the two best matches in WWF/WWE history, both from Wrestlemania X.






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