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The 96 Best Matches in WWE/WWF History Part One

Friday, September 28, 2012




I've been watching WWF/E since Snuka came off the top of the cage; I've been watching since before I understood better wrestling existed, sort of like eating at McDonalds before you knew there better burgers.

I still eat the occasional quarter pounder and I've never stopped watching (and complaining) about WWF.  But occasionally, occasionally, an exceptional match makes it past quality control and I gobble it up.

These aren't necessary the most important matches, the most famous matches, or the matches the featured the biggest stars (although some are).  This is strictly a qualitative assessment from someone who has seen every significant WWF/E match of the PPV era.

The matches that just miss (every 4 1/4 star match in promotion history which isn't on the list proper) are first.

96. 2018 NXT Jan   Cole v. Black 4 1/4
95. 2017 UK Tournament Jan  Bate v. Dunne 4 1/4
94. 2006 Judgment Day  Benoit d. Fit 4 ¼
93. 2015 Feb NXT Owens v. Zayn 4 1/4
92. 2014 RAW August Rollins d. Ambrose 4 ¼
91. 2014 Payback Cena d. Wyatt 4 ¼ 

90. 2013 Feb RAW: Cena d. Punk 4 ¼
89. 1997 Ground Zero HBK draw Undertaker 4 ¼ 
88. 2013 Money In the Bank: Sandow d. Barrett/Cody/Ambrose/Fandango/Swagger/Cesaro 4  1/4
87. 2011 Elimination Chamber: Edge d. Rey/Kane/Drew/Show/Barrett 4 1/4
86. 1995 IYH2  HBK d. Jeff Jarrett 4 ¼ 
85. Nov 1994   Harts v Steiners 4 ¼
84. July 1992 Bret v. Shawn 4 ¼
83. Summer Slam 2011 World Title No Holds Barred: Christian d. Randy Orton 4 ¼
82. 2004 No Way Out Eddie Guerrero v. Brock 4 ¼
81. 2013 Elimination Chamber: Swagger d. Orton/Bryan/Jericho/Henry/Kane 4 1/4

80. 2014 NXT December Zayn d. Neville 4 ¼ 
79. 2015 RAW July Cena d. Cesaro 4 1/4 
78. 2016 Royal Rumble Dean Ambrose v. Kevin Owens 4 1/4
77. 2016 Backlash Dean Ambrose v. AJ Styles 4 1/4
76. 2013 Summer Slam Daniel Bryan v. John Cena 4 1/4
75. Summer Slam  (8/’09) CM Punk d. Jeff Hardy (TLC) (21:30)4 ¼
74. 2016 CWC (8/'16) Kota Ibushi v. TJ Perkins 4 1/4
73. NXT (11/'16) Samoa Joe d. Shinsuke Nakamura (22 min) 4 1/4
72.Smackdown (9/’03) Brock Lesnar d. Kurt Angle (Iron Man)(60 min)4 ¼
71. Elimination Chamber (2/'17) Bray d. AJ/Cena/Miz/Ambrose/Corbin 34:30 4 1/4

70. NXT (4/'17) AoP d. Revival/DIY 23:30 4 1/4
69. IYH 22: Over the Edge (5/’98) Steve Austin d. Dude Love (Falls Count Anywhere)(22:30) 4 ¼
68.KOTR (6/’98): Undertaker d. Mankind (Hell in the Cell) (17 min)4 ¼
67.KOTR (6/’01) Kurt Angle d. Shane McMahon (Street Fight)(26 min)4 ¼ 
66. Payback (6/'14) John Cena d. Bray Wyatt (Falls Count Anywhere) (24 min) 4 1/4
65.   SSeries: (11/’92) Bret Hart d. Shawn Michaels (26 min) 4 ¼
64. RAW (6/’01) Kurt Angle d. Chris Benoit  (Cage) (14:30)4 ¼
63.    Smackdown (5/’01)Steve Austin d. Chris Benoit (19:30)4 ¼
62.    In Your House 13: Final Four (2/’97) Bret Hart d. Steve Austin/Undertaker/Vader (24 min)4 1/4
61.     No Mercy (10/’08)Chris Jericho d. Shawn Michaels (22 min) (Ladder)4 ¼

60.  WM VIII. (4/’92) Randy Savage d. Ric Flair (18min)4 ¼
59.     Summer Slam (8/’91): Bret Hart d. Mr. Perfect (18 min)4 ¼
58. SummerSlam (8/'17) Universal Title: Brock Lesnar d. Samoa Joe/Roman Reigns/Braun Strowman (21 min) 
57. MITB: (6/'17) Corbin v. Zayn v. Owens v. Styles v. Nakamura v. Ziggler (MITB) (30 min) 4 1/4
56. 205 Live: Strong v. Itami (17 min) 4 1/4
55. Tables, Ladders, Chairs (12/'15) New Day d. Usos/Lucha Dragons (TLC) (17:30) 4 1/4 
54. HIAC (10/'17) Usos d. New Day (HIAC) (22 min) 4 1/4 stars
53. War Games (11/'17) O'Reilly/Cole/Fish v. AoP/Strong v. Sanity (NXT) (36:30)
52.   Canadian Stampede: (7/’97) Owen Hart/Bret Hart/Brian Pillman/Davey Boy Smith/Jim Neidhart d.Steve Austin/Goldust/LOD/Ken Shamrock   (24:30)    4 ¼ 
51. Survivor Series (11/'17) Brock Lesnar v. AJ Styles (15:30) 4 1/4 stars

The 50 best matches in WWF/E history are next #50-26


50. Cruiserweight Classic: (8/'16) Kota Ibushi d. Brian Kendrick (14 min) 4 1/4
-Quarterfinals of the first ever WWE worldwide juniors tournament saw two 4 1/4 matches, it's the poor man's (only 9.99) version of Wrestlemania X.  

49. NXT R Evolution (12/'14) Sami Zayn d. Adrian Neville) (23:30) 4 1/4
The first of two NXT matches from 2014 to make the list of the greatest matches in the history of the promotion; Zayn and Neville bring just enough of their independent style to Triple H's developmental arm of WWE; here, Zayn wins the NXT belt and is then taken out by his longtime indie partner, Kevin Steen (now Owens, making his NXT debut).

48. Extreme Rules (5/'16) IC: Miz d. Cesaro/Owens/Zayn (18:30) 4 1/4
One of the places WWE managed to find itself in 2016 was with the storyline flexibility to incorporate an independent program (the breakingup of the great tag team Steen/Generico) into their own narrative. Here, despite new names and the loss of Generico's entire identity, they're still able to utilize their backstory and make it central to this match; one in which all of the multi-person spots came off without hitch.

47. Cruiserweight Classic (8/'16) Gran Metalik d. Akira Tozawa (16 min) 4 1/4
Take Mascara Dorada, one of the best luchadores in the 2010s - add him to one of the best Japanese workers of that same time period, and you get an all time great WWE match. 


46. Battleground (7//'16) Sami Zayn v. Kevin Owens (18:30) 4 1/4
The seeming blowoff to a decade plus long storyline spanning multiple promotions, Sami Zayn overcoming his partner turned heel rival Owens with some indie level work in a shiny WWE bottle.

45. NXT (12/'17) Pete Dunne v. Tyler Bate (22 min)
-It had no stakes witin the broader architecture of WWE programming - but these young UK wrestlers tore it down again on an end of the year NXT show.

44. Summerslam (8/'16) AJ Styles v. John Cena (23 min) 4 1/4
-AJ Styles couldn't get much interest in WWE despite years of great TNA work, but a couple of runs with the IWGP title belt bought him a contract in 2016; this was the blowoff to a good program with Cena, who appeared to be at the end of his full time commitment to the promotion.

43. Royal Rumble (1/'17) AJ Styles v. John Cena (24 min) 4 1/4
-Best comparison to the Styles/Cena Summer Slam match is the Styles/Cena Rumble match; this was Cena's 16th title win.

 42  Smackdown (5/’01) Chris Benoit/ Chris Jericho d. Edge/Christian/Dudleys/Hardys (TLC)(21 min)4 ¼
 Benoit got taken to the back but did the superhero  return to win the match.  If I'm in the WWE writing room when they decide to push Danielson as a legit serious babyface, that's how I pitch they do it. This was the best free TV match in WWF history to that date.  

41. SummerSlam (8'13) Brock Lesnar d. CM Punk (25 min) 4 1/4 
How much sense does this make in, say, 2007 - Lesnar and Punk, in a feud the central point of which was Paul Heyman, will be the best WWE match of 2013.   But it was true; the Paul Heyman Guys went out it in what was not just the best match of Brock's run, to date - it was the best match of his life.  That it was against Punk, who also got the best match of John Cena's life, is probably not a coincidence.  

40. Cruiserweight Classic (8/16) Kota Ibushi d. Cedric Alexander (15 min) 4 1/4
In 2016, Kota Ibushi was in a pure sports based juniors tournament in WWE in which Bryan Danielson was an announcer.  If that sounds totally normal to you, the future of WWE is a very different place than its past.

39. UK Championship (5/'17) Tyler Bate v. Mark Andrews (22:30) 4 1/4
Part of WWE's attempt to turn the rest of the world into a territory system involved gobbling up young European talent, that turned into a UK tournament which, in 2017, led to the winner of that tournament, Bate, defending against Andrews in a helluva match.  

38.       WM 16(4/’00) Edge/Christian d. Hardy Boys d. Dudley Boys (Ladder) (22:30)4 ¼
They didn't call this a TLC match, but that's what it was - WWF went headfirst into an era of high octane collision matches at WM16.  I tend to cut the Hardys a ton more slack than do workrate minded wrestling fans, feeling as if they gave their bodies for a handful of all time classic matches.  If Matt's hooked on painkillers and Jeff's got an intent to distribute charge lingering, they should be able to play the tapes of a half dozen collision matches and skate at least for another decade or so.  

37.      Royal Rumble (1/’01): Chris Jericho d. Chris Benoit (Ladder (18:30)4 ¼  
I can still picture Benoit suplexing Jericho out of the ring.  I'm not any more amenable to the notion that one can't appreciate Benoit's work because of what he did outside the ring than I would be that Ty Cobb shouldn't be considered when talking about the greatest baseball players ever.  But - if say, you can't think about Junior Seau today without the degree to which concussions impacted his decision to kill himself, I'd understand seeing Jericho nail Benoit with the midair chairshot during his tope suicida and not being able to get past how much brain atrophy was revealed in the autopsy.  



36.       No Way Out (2/’00) HHH d. Cactus Jack (Hell in the Cell)(24 min) 4 ¼
You'd think Hunter would be a little more grateful to Foley as Mick gave the end of his full time career in order to give Triple H some credibility.  In a terrific angle, Foley was able to get you to believe that Cactus Jack was really a different guy than his other two gimmicks, and bringing him out of mothballs would mean a higher level of match.  And he was right.  This was the rematch, what was sold as Foley's retirement match, and the second best Cell match ever.

35.      Royal Rumble: (1/’00) HHH d. Cactus Jack (Street Fight) (27 min)4 ¼
And this was the first match; we near the halfway point of the countdown of the greatest WWF matches of all time - two pedigrees finished off Cactus in front of a superhot MSG crowd.  Foley made Hunter in this program the same way he'd make Orton four years later.  


34.      Armageddon (12/’06): Paul London/Brian Kendrick d. Hardys d. MNM d. Steve Regal/David Taylor (20 min)(Ladder)4 ½
-Everything came together in exactly the right way in this match (Joey Mercury's face may take issue with that characterization). It's the Hardys last ever great match as a team; it's London/Kendrick getting to show on PPV what had previously been limited to Velocity or Jakkkkkkked or whatever show WWE was throwing away at the time; and it was Steve Regal, one of the most skilled professional wrestlers who ever lived, bringing the mean.  It would be five years before there was a better WWE match.   


33. NXT (11/'16) DIY d. Revival (22 min, 2 of 3 falls) 4 1/2 
-At this point, NXT has established itself as having historically great big matches; most of them, however, have featured tremendous wrestlers who, in this time of WWE hegemony, made their way to NXT and wrestled in (generally somewhat lesser) versions of their previously great matches.  The Revival are WWE homegrown products, Dash and Dawson, doing an Anderson/Blanchard no frills gimmick; Gargano and Ciampa come from the independent ranks, but unlike, say Zayn or Cesaro or Nakamura, they have never been perceived as among the very most elite workers in the world. This match did a near perfect job incorporating more modern stuff with the Revival's well done old school approach.

32.      No Mercy (10/’99)Hardys d. Edge/Christian (Ladder) (16:30)4 ½
-If Armageddon was the last great WWF/E tag collision match; the Finals of Teri Runnels invitational was the first.  Spotfest is generally used as an epithet; not for me.  When I hear a worker or an analyst say something like "they need to learn to do less, to slow it down to make it mean more" what I hear is "stop working so hard, you're making the guys at the top of the card look bad." The trickle down theory that wrestling promotions follow offends my egalitarian sensibility.  And I like to see guys fall off ladders.  

31. NXT (5/'17) Pete Dunne d. Tyler Bate (15:30) 4 1/2
At the time of this writing the two best WWE matches of 2017 took place within the span of a week and both featured Pete Dunne, this was the second one, a real corker with both stiff work and terrific aerial spots.  I've got it as the third best NXT match to that date.  

30.      Over the Limit (5/’12) CM Punk d. Daniel Bryan (24 min)4 ½
The best WWE match in 2012 as of this writing wasn't at Wrestlemania; it was these two independent veterans going 24 minutes in May.  If you read part I of this list, you may have seen my appending my 80 best matches in Ring of Honor history.  All 80 are 4 1/2 and up; Bryan Danielson wrestled in 24 of those 80 matches, including three 5 star matches. He has put up a body of work as impressive as any American wrestler in history.  I hope he achieves the level of status in WWE that his abilities deserve, but it doesn't matter -anytime you have the opportunity to watch a 20 minute Daniel Bryan match, even if its booked from Full Sail University, you need to make it a point to take it.  


29.Backlash: (4/’04): Chris Benoit d. HHH/HBK (30min)4 1/2

-It's Shawn Michaels submitting to Chris Benoit in a title match in Edmonton.  That actually happened. The Earl Warren Supreme Court had a demonstratively progressive bent; for a couple of decades in the middle of the 20th century the Court was an apparatus of the federal government that worked on behalf of those Americans who were marginalized by the combination of governmental structural and private power.  But that's an aberration - if you look at the totality of Supreme Court history you are left with the clear conclusion that it has by and large been an instrument used to protect and expand that power.  The Warren snapshot is not reflective of the broader panorama.  I recognize comparing the Warren Court to early 2000s WWF is cliche, but if you watched this match and thought this was a company clearly based on workrate, you would have been in for a hella surprise when John Cena handed down the Citizens United decision.


28. 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.  


27.      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.  



26. 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.  

That's the second half of the best matches in WWF history. The top half is here.






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