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.