The WWE is the biggest wrestling company in the world, and despite the fact that Vince McMahon likes to promote the company as "sports entertainment", they have put on some amazing matches, so I’ve tried to do the impossible and put together a list of 15 matches that you NEED to see before you die, whether you’re a die-hard fan, a casual fan or just getting into wrestling, I recommend you watching these 15 matches at least twice.
Obviously this list will be controversial, as wrestling is an art form and the huge audience that the WWE brings in will never completely see eye to eye on a list of favorites, whether it be events, wrestlers, commentators or matches like this list. As such, I’ve tried to use a diverse list including technical masterpieces, car crash type matches, blood baths, great story driven bouts and some high flying contests. Still, I encourage you to let us know in the comments which matches you’d like to see on the list instead. (Author's note: I’ve only been watching wrestling since around 2002, so there may be some older matches that I’ve missed, but this is a diverse list that I put together with my own taste in mind.)
Honorable mentions: As stated, this was one of the hardest lists to narrow down, so I’ve simply included a few honorable mentions which just missed the cut, including Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1997 (The Montreal Screwjob), Sasha Banks vs. Bayley at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker in the first-ever Hell in a Cell at Bad Blood 1997 and even Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon in a ladder match at WrestleMania X.
15 DIY vs. The Revival – NXT TakeOver: Toronto (2 out of 3 falls)
This was the most recent bout on the list, and showed the absolute perfection that tag team wrestling can be when done right, and it was the perfect crescendo of a rivalry that has defined the entire NXT promotion over the last 12 months. The bout was held in Toronto, and the crowd was fairly subdued heading into the match, but the chemistry and build these teams had woke them up immediately in the 2 out of 3 falls match, as the Revival quickly gained the first fall with a Shatter Machine. The team of Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa quickly tied it up, and that’s when the match got special, as they told an amazing story of survival and doing anything to win. Then came the false finishes. There wasn’t a single person in the crowd sitting down for the final five minutes of the bout, and DIY managed to apply their signature submissions side by side, leading to the tap out victory, sending the crowd wild, one you definitely need to see if you enjoy tag team wrestling (or want to give it a try).
14 Bret Hart Vs. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XII (60-minute Iron Man match)
“The boyhood dream has come true” is one of the best calls in wrestling history, as the Heartbreak Kid Shawn Michaels finally climbed to the top of the WWE by overcoming his fierce rival, the Excellence of Execution Bret Hart, in what can only be seen as one of the best Iron Man matches in the companies history. The match had a slow build, but was paced fantastically throughout, and with the fans behind both fantastic performers, it could have easily gone either way, but heading into overtime, HBK nailed his patented Sweet Chin Music to finally claim World title gold. Of course the two would go on to have some more memorable bouts (for completely different reasons, as mentioned in the intro), but this one had to be the best from a storytelling and wrestling perspective. Although it’s not the best work of either man’s career, it’s quite influential in the career of both men, and a must-see match.
13 Eddie Guerrero Vs. Brock Lesnar – No Way Out 2004
Truth be told, this was the main event of the first ever Pay Per View that I watched live, and as Eddie Guerrero was and still is my favorite wrestler of all time, it couldn’t have been better, as this match blended the styles of both men perfectly, as well as telling a fantastic, engaging story that got each and every member of the WWE Universe completely, emotionally invested in the bout. It seemed certain that the WWE Champion Brock Lesnar was on his way to WrestleMania as Champion, but after a long, physical match with the underdog Guerrero, he had been slain, to the shock and delight of everyone in the audience. That came after interference by Goldberg and a valiant effort from the legendary Guerrero, and it saw Eddie embrace his family following the bout. With Michael Cole and Tazz calling the action, it couldn’t have been a better introduction to the PPV world for my wrestling fandom.
12 Hulk Hogan Vs. Andre the Giant – WrestleMania III
The in-ring action is what drives the title of "must-see" on the majority of these bouts, but this one is about an iconic bout between two huge stars in a time where the WWE was growing rapidly in the mainstream, and it delivered quite possibly the biggest moment in the history of the company. Up until this point, Andre had never been body slammed by anyone (at least that’s what the WWE liked to promote), and that was a major story heading into the iconic bout of the undefeated Andre and the biggest name in pro wrestling at the time, the Immortal, Hulk Hogan. Like you’d expect, the match was slow and the in ring action was tedious compared to the stuff you can see in the wrestling world today, but the sheer character work and intrigue surrounding the bout made it so good, and when the Hulkster finally slammed Andre, it was heard round the world, and replayed on the screens of fans for decades to come.
11 Sami Zayn Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – NXT TakeOver: Dallas
This is only the second bout from this current era to feature on this list, and it comes from the critically acclaimed NXT Takeover: Dallas show, and it was the perfect representation of what pro wrestling is in today’s modern world. The match marked the arrival of The King of Strong Style to the WWE, as well as the final match in the NXT career of the "Heart and Soul of NXT" Sami Zayn, and the crowd couldn’t have been hotter from bell to bell, and they were treated to a perfectly paced match that showcased the best both men had to offer. Of course the incoming Japanese sensation went over with his patented Kinshasa knee-strike, and the two stars shared a moment of respect before Zayn bathed in the adulation of the sold out Dallas crowd, bidding him farewell after an incredible three year stint with the brand.
10 Triple H Vs. Shawn Michaels Vs. Chris Benoit – WrestleMania XX
This one has been erased from the history books of the WWE for obvious reasons, but looking back on the 20th edition of WrestleMania, it was famous for the terrible bout between Brock Lesnar and Goldberg. Yet it ended on such a high note, with the embrace between best friends Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit, following two utterly phenomenal bouts. Sure, Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero may have been better from a technical standpoint, but the main event for the World Heavyweight Championship was a thrilling contest, with fast-paced action from start to finish. Benoit was on the outskirts of the story from the build, but he made his presence known among the two former best friends from the outset of the match. As the bout came to the crescendo, Benoit took advantage of a bloody Shawn Michaels, making him tap to complete an 18-year journey to the World Championship, and concluded one of the best WrestleMania main events of all time.
9 "Macho Man" Randy Savage Vs. Ricky Steamboat – WrestleMania III
In the world of professional wrestling today, a match like this is fairly common place, as the game has evolved and with the development of the independent scene, the athleticism and things performers can do in the ring have evolved so much, but at the time, this was a show stealer that could have been considered the best match of all time at that point in time. This battle took place for the prestigious (it was at that time, if you can believe it) Intercontinental Championship, and saw two fan favorites battle it out in an absolute technical masterpiece. After a back and forth bout which saw the fans become fully invested, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat used a rollup to pin the Macho Man to claim the Intercontinental title, in one of the smoothest and best-worked matches in the history of the big show.
8 Ric Flair Vs. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XXIV
The one underlying tone with all these bouts is emotion, as that is how wrestlers best grasp the attention of the audience, and when you think of the most emotional finish to a match perhaps in wrestling history, the mind is cast straight to WrestleMania XXIV, and the final WWE match in the career of the greatest champion in the history of the industry, the Nature Boy, Ric Flair. There was only one man for that job, and that was the protégé of Flair, and the man who the majority of fans think is the greatest in-ring performer in history, as his seven inclusions, including honorable mentions suggest, Shawn Michaels. The bout wasn’t an in ring masterpiece no matter how you look at it, but the two told an emotional story on the Grandest Stage, and the final moment will go down in history as an iconic moment. Before delivering the final nail in the coffin of Flair’s career, HBK was readying for a superkick, and mouthed to his hero “I Love you”, which brought tears to the eyes of even the manliest of men.
7 Daniel Bryan vs. Batista vs. Randy Orton – WrestleMania XXX
Ever since John Cena and Randy Orton became main event stars (and got fairly stale), the WWE have had problems creating true main event stars, and that was until the story of Daniel Bryan’s WWE ascent fell into their lap, leading into WrestleMania 30. Of course they resisted, as they tried to give us Randy Orton vs. Batista when ‘Mania rode into New Orleans, but the fans wouldn’t have it, as they wanted Daniel Bryan, who had an organic fanbase that had followed him since the days where he plied his craft as the American Dragon, Bryan Danielson. Reluctantly, the company gave him a chance at the main event if he could defeat Triple H to open the show (which he did), and the Triple Threat to end the night was incredible, with the ultimate underdog coming out on top to one of the most emotional ovations in the history of this great business.
6 Mick Foley vs. The Undertaker – Hell in a Cell
In the intro, I mentioned bloody, hardcore bouts, and when those words are spoken, there is only one man who comes to mind, and that’s the Hardcore Legend, Mick Foley, who put his life on the line every time he stepped into the ring. This bout with the legendary Undertaker was no different, especially when it was contested inside the demonic Hell in a Cell structure. The match itself was typical of two such legendary stars, but this bout has become memorable for two moments that pushed the limits of the human body, and what punishment it can take, as Foley was thrown both off the cell through an announce table, and then again through the roof of the cell to the ring. ‘Taker was already a made man in the WWE, and he has gone on to be quite possibly the most iconic superstar in WWE history, but Mick Foley had something to prove about his chances with the WWE, and he risked his body to prove himself as a top draw. As a result of this match, he went on to win the WWF Championship several times.
5 CM Punk vs. John Cena – Money in the Bank 2011
This match is one that brought many fans back to the WWE, as the product had been stagnant and stale for quite some time, that was until CM Punk woke the wrestling industry back up as he shook the world with his famous “pipe bomb” promo. This worked-shoot led to this heated contest for the WWE Championship. Adding to the incredible build and heat the match had already, was the fact that the match took place in Punk’s hometown of Chicago.
Right from the moment the challengers music hit, the fans were fully invested, and the two elite performers in the ring paid off their emotional investment. The bout went for over half an hour, and it was an engaging story from bell to bell, as Punk promised to leave the company if he won the title, so no one expected it. But after attempted interference by Vince McMahon, Punk won win the GTS to an incredible, raucous ovation. He blew a kiss goodbye to McMahon and the WWE (despite returning 8 days later), and exited through the crowd after the two had completed one of only five Dave Meltzer-rated 5-Star matches in the history of the WWE.
4 The Hardy Boyz Vs. Edge and Christian Vs. The Dudley Boyz – First TLC Match, WrestleMania X-Seven
These three teams are credited for reviving tag team wrestling in the WWE, as well as innovating the stipulation based-matches with the company, as the Dudleyz were famous for wielding their tables, the Hardys with death-defying stunts from ladders, and Edge and Christian for their "Conchairto," and this match combined all three to become the demolition derby we know it as today. Among themselves, the teams had already battled in historic ladder matches and tables matches, but come WrestleMania X-Seven, the three battled for the WWE Tag Team Championship in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs match, and it topped everything they’d done before, also raising the bar for any other tag team that would follow them. There were numerous innovative and incredibly dangerous spots, and although you could have chosen any match these three had together, the first one is always the best, and is must-see for anyone getting into wrestling today.
3 Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin – WrestleMania 13
A well timed and surprising heel/face double turn in WWE can work wonders for the company, turning someone into a star, or even energizing the entire product, so to be able to pull of the difficult double turn, on the biggest event the company has to offer is truly something. And it was something that WWE was able to pull off perfectly in this bout. Bret Hart was disenfranchised with the WWE as he felt like he deserved better and was being treated poorly, and Stone Cold was on the verge of becoming a huge star, so fans knew this bout would be special, but no one at all saw this coming. This battle saw Bret Hart lock the sharpshooter in on the Texas Rattlesnake, and the heel coming in refused to submit, despite his face being covered in blood. Although the match was awarded to Hart due to Austin passing out, it was Austin who came out the bigger star in one of the most enjoyable and important matches in WWE history.
2 The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan – WrestleMania X8
The great thing about wrestling, unlike most professional sports, is that we get to see the biggest names from different generations go head-to-head, and when you think about that concept, there is only one match that comes to mind, and that’s the titanic clash between Hollywood Hulk Hogan and The Great One, The Rock. The two were at the peak of their careers, at least in terms of popularity, and in front of a sold-out, electric crowd in Toronto, the two told an incredible story, and instead of the heel vs. face dynamic everyone expected heading in, the crowd were firmly behind both stars.
The Rock came out on top of this gigantic clash, and the nWo (Scott Hall and Kevin Nash) attacked Hogan following the bout, leading to the rivals for the night teaming up to dispatch of the duo. All in all, this is one you have to see, not for the in-ring action itself, but more for the masterful storytelling by two veterans of the industry.
1 Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker – WrestleMania XXV
This is without a doubt the best match in the history of WrestleMania (quite possibly the WWE as a whole, depending on who you ask), and it was an iconic battle between two of the biggest names in wrestling history, as the great Heartbreak Kid went into the battle trying to do what many men had failed at before, defeating the Undertaker and his streak at the Showcase of the Immortals. The fans were understandably ecstatic coming into the bout, and it delivered in every possible way, despite the very slow, feeling out process to start the bout. That being said, by the match's end, it had been timed perfectly, with the action slowly building to a glorious crescendo, and while the match left everyone breathless, they were also craving more, and they got that in a rematch a year later. But as we all know, nothing can top the original.