Welp, today is my 22nd birthday. This journey has been an incredible one for me, and one of the ways that I’ve seen how much I’ve grown is writing for EWN, and I am so happy to be a member of such a wonderful team. I’m probably going to get wasted tonight, and since I don’t know if I’ll be the same afterward, and I thought I would share my favorite 22 matches ever.
I actually started watching wrestling on a regular basis right before WrestleMania season in 2012, but I’ve become a bit of a historian and I’ve dug deep into the archives to find some of my favorite matches that never bore me to this day. With that said, while you may have different choices, here are my favorite matches.
22. The Shield vs. Ryback, Kane and Daniel Bryan – Six-Man Tables, Ladders and Chairs Tag Team Match (TLC 2012)
The reason why I loved The Shield so much was that they were a heel faction that proved that they didn’t always need to cheat in order to win. What made them formidable is that they worked like a well-oiled machine. Before this match, they were building up The Shield up as this trio that just ganged up on people 3 on 1. For this match, however, they gained the numbers advantage not through cheating, but through strategy. Ryback was in the midst of what you could call a push, and Team Hell No were the Tag Team Champions at the time, so The Shield also had credibility. The match was chaotic and awesome, showing the risks what the three young NXT upstarts were willing to do to make a name for themselves.
21. AJ Styles vs. Samoa Joe vs. Christopher Daniels – X Division Championship (TNA Unbreakable 2005)
Any triple threat match should be weighed up against this match in terms of how great it can be. AJ, Daniels, and Joe are three of the greatest performers TNA had ever hired, and in their primes, these three delivered in a huge way for the X Division Championship. All three men got most of their offense in, and they were able to alter some of their movesets in order to adapt to both of their opponents. The chances people such as Daniels and Joe took as well were momentous to see as well. It was just a glimmer of what TNA used to be like.
20. Edge vs. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho vs. Christian vs. Shelton Benjamin vs. Kane – Money In The Bank Ladder Match (WrestleMania 21)
The inaugural Money In Th Bank Ladder match remains the greatest one of its kind. It put the Rated R Superstar, Edge, on the map, and gave other superstars on RAW who weren’t in the main event something productive to do. This laid out the concept of unpredictability in Money In The Bank and led to some of the most greatest cash-ins in recent memory. This match featured a coming out party for Shelton Benjamin, whose incredible athleticism was on display for all to see.
19. Sasha Banks (C) vs. Bayley – NXT Women’s Championship (NXT Takeover: Brooklyn)
If you want to see where the “women’s revolution” started, look no further. NXT had already begun to gain great praise for the quality of women’s matches, and two of the four horsewomen took it upon themselves to deliver in a fantastic way in front of a hot Brooklyn crowd. Sasha’s heel gimmick was the perfect foil to Bayley’s happy-go-lucky attitude, and the combination led to an emotional match that earned the respect of fans across the world.
18. CM Punk vs. Samoa Joe – ROH Joe vs. Punk II
Punk and Joe were some of the stalwarts that held down Ring of Honor over a decade ago, and I’d like to believe that their sixty minute match that went to a draw was one of the matches that put independent wrestling on the scene. In a world where sports entertainment was dominated by WWE, for some fans who wanted an alternative, matches such as these presented just that. Of course, WWE eventually gets their hands on most of the big name independent wrestlers, and CM Punk would go on to have a legendary WWE career despite his untimely exit. Joe? Not so much.
17. Johnny Gargano vs. Tomasso Ciampa – NXT Takeover: New Orleans
It’s so crazy because Johnny Gargano could have had multiple entries on this list. 2018 has been such a breakout year for him. I could have easily put on his NXT Title match against Almas, his match against Aleister Black, but this match stands out to me. It was a test of endurance and a match that was two years in the making with an intriguing backstory and very high stakes. While Johnny has since turned heel, this match is the perfect hero vs. villain slugfest. Ciampa is such a perfect bastard to root against, and Johnny is a believable face. That is what makes this match so perfect.
16. Chris Benoit (C) vs. Chris Jericho – Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match (Royal Rumble 2001)
You’d think that Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit would be known for their technical prowess and ring-work, and they are. However, their best encounter was arguably their ladder match over the IC Title in 2001. With a main event roster of legends such as The Rock, Stone Cold, Triple H and the Undertaker, it was on them to remind everyone that the mid-card had value to offer. This is a forgotten gem because of the actions of one of the competitors in the match, but this was a fantastic and brutal slugfest.
15. Kenny Omega vs. Kazuchika Okada – Wrestle Kingdom 11
Omega and Okada are two of the greatest wrestlers of all time, and this was a match that broke the scale on almost every wrestling reviewer’s scale. While some may say the first 20 or so minutes of this match was dull, it was just building up anticipation for an absolutely electric final sequence where the two just beat the ever loving shit out of each other. Okada came out victorious in the end, but let’s face it. We are all winners just for observing such a masterpiece.
14. AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – Wrestle Kingdom 10
Keeping on with the NJPW theme here, AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura’s match at WK10 had a long-lasting significance. If you don’t believe me, just know that WWE used this match to promote their match at WrestleMania this year. It was extremely special and it showed what both men, especially Shinsuke, can do if they do not have anything limiting them and are just allowed to go out there and wrestle. Nothing more needs to be said.
13. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels – Unsanctioned Match (Summerslam 2002)
The stalwart match of the legendary feud between Triple H and Shawn Michaels is their unsanctioned match in the summer of 2002. Shawn had returned after a four-year hiatus as a result of a back injury, and Triple H felt like Shawn was back to steal his thunder after playing second fiddle to him. It was a fight between two former best friends turned bitter rivals. The only way to settle grudge matches such as this one is to have a match with no rules. Be prepared to see more of Shawn on this list.
12. Edge and Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. The Dudley Boyz – Triple Threat Tag Team Title TLC Match (WrestleMania 17)
The fact of the matter is that tag team wrestling was put on the map all because of the legendary triple threat feud between The Hardy Boyz, The Dudley Boyz and Edge and Christian. This presented something that fans could get them into and showcased what these tag teams were willing to do to make tag team wrestling feel important. Of course, the most special part about this trio feud was that each tag team specialized in a certain area of a TLC match, with E+C being your chair guys, the Dudley Boyz taking care of tables and the Hardy Boyz handling the ladders. It all comes together so beautifully and of course, no one can forget Edge’s legendary spear to Jeff hardy from the top of the arena like a missle.
11. Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guererro – Halloween Havoc 1997
The fact of the matter is the cruiserweights of WCW are not spoken about enough. They were a huge reason as to why WCW got an edge on Monday Night RAW in the ratings war in the mid-90s, and two superstars that held the division down was Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guererro. Some call this the greatest match between two cruiserweights ever, and while it is up for debate, you cannot deny that it comes damn close. This match defined what cruiserweight matches are supposed to be about. High-octane offense, supreme athleticism, and incredible ingenuity. We miss you, Eddie.
10. Brock Lesnar vs. CM Punk – Summerslam 2013
This match showcased how great Brock Lesnar can be when he shows that he actually gives a damn and is willing to put his opponent over instead of an endless supply of German Suplexes and F’5’s. This is arguably Brock’s greatest performance, and if you look at his history, you’ll see that his greatest matches comes with smaller wrestlers such as CM Punk and Kurt Angle. The last-minute added no disqualification stipulation opened up the possibilities, because beforehand, we knew Punk couldn’t defeat Lesnar in a straight up fight. What we do know is that Punk can take advantage of the stipulation, and he nearly won if it wasn’t for Paul Heyman. Listen to the hot Staples Center crowd and tell me this wasn’t a barn-burner.
9. The Rock vs. Steve Austin – WrestleMania 17
Two of the greatest superstars of all time in the main event of WrestleMania is all you need to know about how great this match was. Not only did we get the unpredictable ending of Stone Cold aligning himself with Vince McMahon, but we got an endless supply of wondering who couldn’t kick out of whose finishers after a certain point. I understand some aren’t a fan of two superstars just kicking out of each other’s signature moves, but when you consider the intensity of the brawl and the heat of the crowd, every near-fall took your breath, and if you watched it live, it was highly debatable who would come out the victor.
I kid you not, I probably have watched this match 10 times in its entirety since I saw it for the first time. The match is that good. Ricochet debuted in a huge way, showcasing some otherwordly acrobatics. You had a power struggle of Lars Sullivan and Killian Dain. You had EC3 playing the role of an opportunist. You had Velveteen Dream take chances and nearly kill himself a dozen times over. And of course, you had Adam Cole superkicking everyone in sight and walking away the victor. Makes you wonder how NXT is under the WWE banner.
7. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit – Royal Rumble 2003
If you want to talk about a technical clinic, look no further than Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit. The almighty struggle of the Ankle Lock against the Crossface never fails. This was a freaking clinic. You could have had me convinced that Angle would tap out at so many junctures, and after Kurt hit his 2nd Angle Slam after a series of technical wizardry, you could have told me that he would have won. I was on the edge of my seat when I saw this for the first time, and to this day, I am always on edge seeing the same thing over 15 years later. The match is that special folks.
6. Edge and Rey Mysterio vs. Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle – No Mercy 2002
If there was a way to inject this match into my veins via an intravenous line, I would do so immediately. This is what tag team wrestling is supposed to be about. The Smackdown Six of Smackdown in its heyday carried the brand, making it a better watch than Monday Night RAW, and this match was one of the reasons why. Four of the greatest in-ring performers ever trading near falls after near-falls. The teamwork of Rey and Edge here were especially incredible, and the closing sequence of Edge and Kurt trading ankle locks was the best drama imaginable. Unbelievable non-stop action.
5. Cactus Jack vs. Triple H – No Way Out 2000
Hell In A Cell rarely fails, and if it involves Triple H and Mick, you know it’s going to be good. Cactus, as we all know, is one crazy son of a bitch, but he doesn’t care. He puts his body through unbelievable pain. Then, when you place a Hell In A Cell veteran such as Triple H in there, you’d see what makes this match such an unbelievable match. The feud between Triple H and Foley in 2000 is an underrated one, and I think it helped give Triple H some much-needed credibility as a main eventer. This match went a long way in doing just that.
4. Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker – WrestleMania 25
Some call this the greatest wrestling match in WWE history. It certainly has a case when compared to other main event matches. Michaels’ uneventful “return” last month only led me to appreciate what he and the Undertaker were like in their prime that much more. Their series of matches at WrestleMania 25 and WrestleMania 26 were the stuff of legend, but most critics agree that WM 25 version was superior. All you have to do is listen to Jim Ross’ reaction to Shawn Michaels kicking out of the Tombstone and Undertaker’s facial expression afterward to get a glimpse of how special this was.
3. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Benoit – WrestleMania 20
Unfortunately, had Chris Benoit not did what he did, this would easily be remembered as one of the greatest moments in wrestling history. It may still be from those who only look at Benoit as a performer and not anything beyond WWE reality. But this match was still unbelievably awesome. Triple H and Shawn Michaels, who had their own beef, were not only concerned with tearing each other apart, but isolating Chris Benoit, the underdog who wasn’t supposed to make it in WWE. The small guy that started off as number 1 and lasted all the way to the end to eliminate The Big Show and win the Royal Rumble. And ultimately, Chris did the unthinkable, making Triple H tap out in the main event of WrestleMania. His post-match embrace with Eddie was emotional and somber for reasons we all understood years after the fact.
2. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin – WrestleMania 13
The legend of one of the greatest superstars in WWE history was created the moment when Stone Cold was placed in the Sharpshooter for what felt like an eternity, and despite a bloody face, and despite Ken Shamrock begging Stone Cold to give him the indication that he had enough, Austin would not die, and it would lead to a legendary double turn of Bret and Steve. Bret would not head to WCW not too long after this event, and Austin would arguably have the greatest brief main-event run in WWE history. There is just one more match that incites great feelings in my soul about wrestling.
1. Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle – WrestleMania 21
There have probably been greater matches than this one, but to me, this will always be the greatest match I’ve ever seen, kill me dead. You have wrestling’s biggest stage, WrestleMania. You have two of the greatest in-ring performers, Shawn Michaels and Kurt Angle, who had never met one on one before, and what we got will go down as arguably the greatest match in WrestleMania history and one of the greatest matches ever. We started with Shawn frustrating Kurt by beating him at his own game. Then you had Kurt gain the advantage because he’s a wrestling aficionado.