Not every wrestling match contested under the WWE banner can be a masterpiece. Not every wrestling match period can be a masterpiece for that matter. There is an endless number of factors that go into creating a great match. The participants involved, the right timing, the stakes, etc. Sometimes, all that matters is the right opponents on the right night and even then, the best wrestlers have had bad matches against each other. There have been many instances in wrestling history where matches that no one expected to be good happen to be great. Even though we are in one of the best times we could possibly be in wrestling where every show out there is capable of putting on amazing contests every week, no one expects for every match on a card to be a great match. When a great match does happen, it often sneaks up on us. For a number of reasons, some matches just look bad on paper. Whether it is because it looks like a throwaway match or those involved are lackluster competitors, there are some matches that we hear about and think they’re either going to be straight up bad matches or matches that are worth taking a bathroom break during. Then, to our surprise, we return from the bathroom and walk in on a classic in the making.
No matter how hard a wrestling promotion tries, no one can unquestionably bank on booking a match that is destined to be great. Getting a great wrestling match is often like shooting fish in a barrel. Or, more appropriately, like fishing. You never know what you’re going to get when you pull your rod out of the pond. There are some days when you expect to pull out a trout and end up reeling in a 10ft shark. Wrestling is weird like that and when you get to see an amazing match you expected to be dreadful, wrestling can be glorious. Here are 15 wrestling matches that were much better than anyone expected them to be and, frankly, better than they had any right to be.
15. The Undertaker vs Batista – WrestleMania 23
At the time, there was a great concern over whether or not The Undertaker and Batista could pull off a good match with each other at WrestleMania. This concern is the reason why backstage figureheads decided to book this World Heavyweight Championship contest for the middle of the show instead of the main event despite Taker winning the Royal Rumble. Batista had spent the last year having flat, forgettable World Title matches and the same was expected to happen at WrestleMania. Driven by an urge to prove their critics wrong, The Animal and The Deadman entered the Ford Field arena and stole the show. The two went back and forth, kept a consistent non-stop action driven pace, and had the crowd on their feet in one of The Undertaker’s best Streak matches. This started off a series of incredible matches the two would have in their feud throughout 2007, but their Mania match remained their best match if only because no one expected it to be as great as it was.
14. Big Show vs Mark Henry – Vengeance 2011
At this time, Mark Henry was enjoying a World Heavyweight Champion reign as a serious main eventer for the first time in his career. After overcoming former champion, Randy Orton, Henry’s next challenger was Big Show. Most fans worried that this would be too much of a clash of similar styles. A slow, methodical big man taking on another slow, methodical big man was bound to make for a slow, boring match. To everyone’s surprise, the similar styles made for an even more startling skirmish. Right off the start, these two monstrous bulls locked horns and only let go when pounding into each other with hard hitting hooves. From beginning to end, the crowd were glued to the action and fully engrossed into the big fight feel. Even when the two rehashed the ring collapse finish from Smackdown in 2003 between Show and Brock Lesnar, that didn’t deter the match at all. In fact, it only helped amp up the crowd even more. Such an exhilarating finish helped fans forget they were robbed of seeing a proper winner to the match.
13. Hornswoggle vs El Torito – Extreme Rules 2014
The concept of having two little men duke it out in a miniature version of a TLC match—dubbed “WeeLC”—sounds ridiculous on paper. In fact, it was ridiculous and even a little childish. When Extreme Rules 2014 approached, fans either didn’t care enough to look forward to the Pre-Show contest, or they were dreading having to sit through it. To everyone’s surprise, the WeeLC Match was loads of fun. This was mostly due in part because WWE knew how ridiculous this was and decided to embrace the ridiculousness. They went all the way with it all. We even got a mini referee, mini ring announcer, mini tables, mini ladders, mini chairs, and a mini commentating team led by Micro Cole and Jerry Smaller. Just like the recent Hardy Final Deletion debacle, the whole affair was so absurd that it was hard not to get a kick out of it.
12. DDP vs Goldberg – Halloween Havoc 1998
The reason why Goldberg was so successful in his career was due to the fact that his matches continued a basic formula. Goldberg starts off with a Spear, hits a Jackhammer, and wins. It was simple, crowds ate it up every week, and it played up Goldberg’s strengths to make up for his lack of in-ring experience. Though it was a formula that worked, it wasn’t destined to last forever, especially when he finally won the WCW World Heavyweight Title. Though he did continue using this formula for his first few defenses, his first big test for a drawn out contest came against Diamond Dallas Page at Halloween Havoc 1998. Initially, the idea of Goldberg trying to wrestling at a length longer than he was used to was a scary one, but his match against DDP managed to deliver. Not only that, but it proved to be one of the best contests in the company’s history. The two worked a surprisingly methodical and technical match, going after each other’s arms to make their opponent’s finisher ineffective, and the crowd went wild for it as if it was one of Goldberg’s usual squash matches.
11. The Miz vs Jerry Lawler – Elimination Chamber 2011
On paper, having The Miz defend the WWE Championship against a 60 year old Jerry “The King”Lawler sounded like nothing more than a filler title match on a filler pay-per-view before WrestleMania. No one thought going into the match that Lawler would win the WWE Championship and if he somehow did, he sure as hell wasn’t going into the main event of WrestleMania to defend against John Cena. However, Lawler made for such a believable underdog that fans in attendance believed he would. Fans wanted to believe Lawler would give one last hurrah comeback and not only win his first WWE Championship, but wrestle his first Mania match by entering the show’s main event as Champion. As well as Lawler played his role well, the match worked in part because Miz played his part just as well a despicable heel that everyone wanted to see win. For a filler show that would be forgotten by time the road to WrestleMania kicked into high gear, this match was much better than it needed to be thanks to the excellent dynamic of those involved.
10. Bill Alfonso vs Beulah McGillicutty – As Good as It Gets 1997
An intergender match between a 20-something Beulah McGillicutty and a man pushing 40 in Bill Alfonso—neither with any prior wrestling experience—should not have been as entertaining as it was. Not only because of how it looks on paper, but because this match was set up as nothing but a way to punish Bill Alfonso for going turncoat and trying to leave ECW in favor of WCW. The original scheduled Bill Alfonso and Rob Van Dam vs Beulah McGillicutty and Tommy Dreamer match quickly dissipated into Alfonso vs McGillicutty which, in itself, turned into a straight up bloodbath that was not for the faint of heart. For 6 minutes, McGillicutty beat the crap out of Alfonso to the point Alfonso was bleeding like a stuffed pig. Worst of all, Alfonso’s artery was accidentally cut and almost died from his wounds. As sour on Alfonso as Paul Heyman was, the ECW promoter couldn’t in good conscience go along with firing Alfonso because of the death defying performance he gave. Not only did Alfonso keep his job, but Heyman cites his match as his favorite match that ever took place in ECW. It turned out that the match embodied everything ECW was about at the time. It wasn’t pretty to watch, but it sure was an ugly bloodfest worthy of the ECW atmosphere.
9. Roman Reigns vs Big Show – Extreme Rules 2015
Straight off the heels of being on the losing end of the WWE Championship main event at WrestleMania 31, many fans were already getting tired of Roman Reigns. After a career spanning over 20 years, many fans had been long bored of the Big Show’s schtick. Prior to Extreme Rules 2015, the two had a flurry of dull encounters and most of us didn’t think that the Last Man Standing stipulation could add much to make a match between these two interesting. We were all wrong on this one. These two spent the night walloping each other with anything they could get their hands on. The brutality the two inflicted on each other had the crowd on their feet. Not a single soul in the Allstate Arena were bored that night. Roman’s performance especially impressed so much that even his biggest detractors in attendance felt inclined to cheer him by the end if only for that night.
8. Goldberg vs Scott Steiner – Fall Brawl 2000
As stated earlier, Goldberg was at his best when wrestling a simple squash formula. Scott Steiner was always at his best when talking on the mic. Neither man was known for or praised for their wrestling ability. In 2000, the idea of putting both man against one another sounded like a disaster waiting to happen. When the two finally wrestled at Fall Brawl, no one would have expected the magic they pulled off in the ring. Call it magic, call it a miracle, but it is unbelievable just how great this contest ended up being. The two fought like two powerhouses or two brutes in a full fledged fight. The constant back and forth high octane offense from each other with one big power move after another made for an exciting bout. There was never a dull moment as each man chucked the other around the ring as if the other was a toddler. The only downside to the match is the interference that occurs during the match, but apart from that, this was a surprisingly great contest that showcased just how powerful these two men were.
7. X-Pac vs Shane McMahon – WrestleMania XV
For as long as we can all remember, we’ve seen Shane McMahon deliver as an exceptional athlete in WWE. This wasn’t always such an obvious fact as when Shane McMahon wrestled early on in his career, he rarely wrestled in his own matches. Given his inexperience, he mostly gave the heavy duty work to his tag team partners and his singles action was reduced to winning short squash matches against the likes of Gillberg, Pat Patterson, and Gerald Brisco. His first real in-ring challenge came when he wrestled X-Pac at WrestleMania XV. At the time, it was hard to imagine Shane holding his own in a legitimate wrestling contest, but that is exactly what he did. His match with X-Pac wasn’t a classic by any means, but it was good enough for a match involving a guy with no prior wrestling experience. Shane put on a performance so good that it gave the company enough faith to put Shane in the ring with legends like Kurt Angle and The Undertaker in the coming years.
6. Big Show vs Floyd Mayweather – WrestleMania XXIV
Celebrity matches rarely make for great matches. Even when working with a veteran level wrestler, a celebrity with no prior wrestling experience tends to struggle their way through a match. If there was ever a celebrity that match that had disaster written all over it, it was Big Show vs Floyd “Money” Mayweather. Mayweather, boxing background aside, was no wrestler and Big Show had only recently returned to wrestling a month or so before Mania after a year long hiatus and there was a chance that ring rust could play a factor. Their Mania match managed to exceed expectations thanks to the two playing off a unique David vs Goliath dynamic. Despite being a plucky underdog, Mayweather’s cocky attitude inspired hate from the fans who desperately wanted to see the giant knock him down a few pegs. We saw Big Show chase a scurrying weasel in Mayweather around the ring, Show took out members of his posse, and Mayweather used weapons to try and topple The World’s Largest Athlete. It all made for a fun No DQ match.
5. Cesaro vs Sheamus – Clash of Champions 2016
When it was announced at the tail-end of Summer 2016 that Sheamus and Cesaro were going to have a Best of 7 Series, the entire WWE Universe groaned in unanimous unison. When it first announced, the two had already spent the last match having multiple matches. Many viewers were already getting sick of seeing the two wrestle and expected each match in the Best of 7 to be a retread of the last. Perhaps the promise of a unique championship opportunity motivated the two, but the two surprisingly exceeded expectations with each bout and were often the highlight of the Raw episode they wrestled on. Still, fans doubted that these two could bring anything new to their 7th and final match at Clash of Champions. That doubt was cast aside as soon as these two came to heavy blows. They pulled off an insanely entertaining match that was so hard hitting that there were times where it looked like the two were ready to kill each other. Things came to a disappointing no contest end, but their Series wasn’t completely in vain. Their efforts did earn them a #1 Contendership for the Tag Titles and eventually, they won the belts. These two proved to have electric chemistry that made them just as engaging to watch as allies as they were all enemies.
4. Michelle McCool vs Melina – Night of Champions 2009
In 2009, the WWE’s Divas division at the time was a far cry from the Women’s Revolution WWE is currently in the midst of. Admittedly, there weren’t as many well versed talented in-ring female athletes among the Divas as there are today and those that were talented couldn’t show their talent in the short time they were given. Which is why it is so surprising that Melina and Michelle McCool were able to pull off an absolute slobberknocker of a bout in a 6 minute contest. From the moment the bell rang when McCool dropkicked Melina during her split entrance, this felt like a fight between two vixens who absolutely hated each other. Not only did the quality of this match shock those in attendance and the millions watching at home, but it shocked the agents working backstage. In fact, as McCool revealed before in an interview, the two women got in trouble when agents yelled at them afterwards for working so aggressive and “too good” for the men to follow up. It took Chris Jericho to vouch for the ladies by telling those agents “Look, if the guys can’t follow what the girls are doing, then the guys need to step it up!” Not only did Melina and McCool have a match that was better than anyone expected, they had a better match than the Divas were allowed to have.
3. Scotty 2 Hotty vs Dean Malenko – Backlash 2000
On paper, Dean Malenko vs Scotty 2 Hotty sounds like another throwaway match that would be put on the card as a bathroom break type of match. Scotty 2 Hotty was saddled with a goofy comedy gimmick while despite being one of wrestling’s best in-ring technicians, Dean Malenko was being held back by the Light Heavyweight division because he was a “small guy” by WWE’s standards. All things considered, the two had a lot to prove during their Light Heavyweight Championship match and decided to deliver with flying colors. The two wowed the crowd by being much more exceptional than the average WWE Light Heavyweight match and for a division that was never taken seriously, fans treated this like a main event caliber contest. On a pay-per-view card that included The Rock and Triple H in the main event for the WWE Championship, Scotty 2 Hotty vs Dean Malenko may have arguably stolen the show. This match was so impressive that it landed a spot on one of WWE.com’s 100 Best Matches To See Before You Die list.
2. Big Show vs Sheamus – Hell in a Cell 2012
A lot of Big Show’s matches have been on this list. As much as so many fans immediately expect a borefest whenever he steps into the ring, the man doesn’t get enough credit for his skillset. There is a reason why the longevity of his career has lasted for as long as it has. He truly is one of the best big men the sport has ever known and when he is properly motivated, he can deliver a great match. He was more than motivated the night he started his first World Title run in 6 years after toppling Sheamus at Hell in a Cell 2012. Based on the participants involved and their underwhelming build-up over the past few weeks, Sheamus vs Big Show looked nothing like a classic bout on paper and yet it turned out to be a classic match. These two laid it into each other in an intense slugfest that exceeded expectations and was much more exciting than anyone would have thought.
1. The British Bulldog vs Bret Hart – SummerSlam 1992
This may seem like a strange entry considering it was between two of the best technical wrestlers in WWE history in one of the highest praised matches to ever take place in the company. However, those who know anything about the backstage problems behind this match know that it was a miracle that this match wasn’t a disaster. As Bret Hart told the story himself in his book and numerous interviews, Hart had spent weeks planning their entire SummerSlam match in his head. Bulldog was dealing with a bad drug problem at the time and after a bad binge the week of the show, Bulldog approached Hart a day before the match explaining that he was in no physical or mental condition to wrestle. Bret assured his brother in law that he will get Bulldog through the match and they spent that night going over what was to be planned for SummerSlam. When it came time to wrestle at the biggest party of the summer, it took all of 5 seconds into the match before Bulldog whispered to Bret that he forgot everything they were supposed to do. Bret begrudgingly called the entire match on the fly by himself that night and surprisingly, it still managed to be an amazing match. Bret Hart cites this as the greatest match and challenge of his career and a lot of us are inclined to agree with him.