Some fans enjoy the wrestling for the characters, others enjoy the athleticism, and their unpredictable and limitless story telling wins over other fans, but what every fan of wrestling enjoys most, is the wrestling. While the storytelling and backstage politics sometimes take over in the WWE, there is no denying the fact that they have had some legendary performers, who had provided fans with amazing matches that will never be forgotten.
Whether you like high flying action, or the technical, gritty style, or just great story telling from big time stars, the following 15 matches, which I have chosen as the match of the year should hopefully appeal to all.
15 2016: DIY vs. The Revival – 2 Out Of 3 falls, NXT TakeOver: Toronto
2016 was one of the best years in WWE from an in-ring perspective, and there were many amazing matches, but this one stands out to me, as it was almost the perfect tag team match. The team of Johnny Gargano and Tomasso Ciampa had been defeated by The Revival in Brooklyn, and they headed into Toronto looking to finally win the tag team titles, and after a slow start, this match kicked into overdrive, and never slowed down. The Revival took the first fall, and it genuinely felt like they would go on to win the bout 2 falls to 0. After some back and forth, DIY found themselves a chance to tie the match at 1-1, and they did just so, lifting the intensity of the match into overdrive. What then followed was a few minutes of back and forth with so many false finishes, the one stand out being DIY’s use of the Shatter Machine. Eventually, the match climaxed with DIY locking in their signature submissions together, finally making the Revival tap and finishing their amazing run to the titles.
14 2015: Bayley vs. Sasha Banks – NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn
Whether you think this match or the subsequent rematch in a 30 Minute Iron-woman match was better, there is no doubting that Bayley and Sasha Banks were the stand out performers in 2015, and definitely deserved this honor. From the get go, this seemed like a huge event, with Sasha making a true ‘boss’ like arrival, and both performers playing to their character absolutely perfectly. From the opening bell Sasha was on the offensive, but Bayley, like the underdog she is kept battling back, proving all her doubters wrong, that she could indeed hang with someone the caliber of Banks. The finish to the match was as dangerous as it was exhilarating, with Bayley hitting a reverse hurricanrana from the top into a Bayley to Belly, sealing the win in front of a raucous Brooklyn crowd.
13 2014: Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan – WrestleMania XXX
This was one of the hardest years to choose from, as the wrestling was truly solid all year, but there was no one match that stood head and shoulders above the rest. You had that years WrestleMania main event, Bryan vs. Wyatt and the Rumble, Wyatt vs. Cena and many others, but none were more emotional or technically sound as the match that kicked off WrestleMania 30, a match which was 7 months in the making. Ever since Triple H turned on Bryan at SummerSlam, their issues were building, and for Bryan to reach the main event, he would have to go through the Game. While it seems the obvious choice to have Bryan go over like he did, fans were still very skeptical after the way the Royal Rumble was booked, so they were on the edge of their seats from the beginning of the show. The two told an emotional story, and Bryan managed to come out on top, leading to the fantastic finish to one of the best ‘Mania’s in recent memory.
12 2013: CM Punk vs. The Undertaker – WrestleMania 29
CM Punk was famously vocal about the fact that he never got to main event a WrestleMania, but that doesn’t mean he never stole the show on the grandest stage of them all, as his bout with the Undertaker was one of the standout matches of both men’s careers. The tactics to build heat for the match may have been quite distasteful in the eyes of many fans, as Punk and his manager Paul Heyman mocked the memory of the Undertakers late friend and manager Paul Bearer, but it worked, as fans were hotter for this match than any on the card. The action was constant in the 20+ minutes these two worked, and they told an emotional story very well, with the Undertaker looking for pay back, as well as keeping his streak alive. He ended up doing both after pinning the Straight Edge Savior with his famed tomb stone pile driver.
11 2012: The Undertaker vs. Triple H – Hell in a Cell, WrestleMania XXVIII
After his friend Shawn Michaels couldn’t do it, Triple H had his 2nd crack at The Undertaker's streak at WrestleMania XXVII, and after falling short, he enlisted Michaels as the special guest referee for his Hell in a Cell bout, hoping that the third time would indeed be the charm. While the match was never going to be a classic from a technical stand point, the two men told a great story, and as you’d expect from two veteran stars, they used the environment of the cell to their advantage, to the point where fans though The Game would finally be the one to defeat The Undertaker. Despite interference from HBK, to what was the longest 2 count in wrestling, The Undertaker again prevailed, which led to a sign of respect, making this match known today as ‘the End of an Era.’
10 2011: John Cena vs. CM Punk – Money in the Bank
This is the last time (and one of 5 all time, according to Dave Meltzer) that a WWE match received a 5-star rating, and deservedly so, as it was on the back of an industry revitalizing promo from CM Punk, and a story that perfectly blended fiction with reality. Punk was unhappy with his standing in the company, and he publicly revealed that his contract was up the night of Money in the Bank, and declared that he was going to leave the WWE with their World Championship in hand. When MITB rolled around, fans didn’t know what to expect, but the atmosphere was one of the best in wrestling history, as it was held in Punk’s hometown of Chicago, Illinois. What occurred was a master class in big match wrestling, and as the match reached its crescendo, Punk pinned Cena 1-2-3 with his GTS. The fans reacted on an unparalleled level, and after dispatching of Alberto Del Rio, Punk left through the raucous crowd with the WWE Championship in tow.
9 2010: Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker – WrestleMania XXVI
If their bout a year earlier wasn’t good enough, HBK and The Undertaker went at it one more time, with Michaels becoming obsessed with being the one man that could finally say he defeated the Deadman on wrestling’s biggest stage. Rightfully so, this match was elevated to the main event, and it split fans right down the middle, with some saying the emotion of the Streak vs. Career stipulation made it better than 25, while others follow the saying that ‘sequels are never better than the original.’ Whether or not it was better will always be up for debate, but it was an amazing match, with new spots and different sequences, it felt familiar to the year before, but offered a fresh take on this legendary rivalry. ‘Taker would win once again and end the amazing career of Michaels, and it was no doubt the way HBK would have liked to go out.
8 2009: The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XXV
The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels are two of the greatest to ever step foot in a wrestling ring, and aside from their ground breaking rivalry in the late 90s, which featured the first ever Hell in a Cell match, we hadn’t seen them interact too much. Sure they did battle at the end of the 2007 Royal Rumble, in the greatest finish in that matches 30-year history, but we hadn’t seen them engage in a meaningful rivalry. That was until the two legends decided to do battle, to see if the greatest in ring performer of all time, Mr. WrestleMania could do what almost 20 other men could not, and that is defeatingThe Undertaker at the biggest event on the calendar. The two would battle for over 25 minutes, in a match that was back and forth and perfectly paced, with the crowd biting on every move both men made. Eventually, after all the false finishes, ‘Taker would hit his legendary Tombstone to add another to his list of WrestleMania victims.
7 2008: Ric Flair vs. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XXIV
When fans thinking of legendary careers and emotional, heart wrenching matches, there is one man and one match that will always be at the top of that list. Ric Flair was one of the best performers of all time, and although fans knew his retirement was imminent, it didn’t take away from the moment at all. The match was WrestleMania XXIV, in a battle between perhaps the greatest Champion in wresting history, and one of his best friends, arguably the best wrestler in history, Shawn Michaels. With both men at the back end of their careers, this was never going to be a fast paced classic, but every action in this match meant something, and the fans were fully invested from bell to bell. In the end, Michaels was tuning up the band for his Sweet Chin Music one final time when he mouthed “I love you” to the Nature Boy before putting him away for the 1-2-3. This was the perfect finish to what is still to this day one of the best told stories in wrestling history.
6 2007: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels – Monday Night RAW
John Cena and Shawn Michaels had a great match at WrestleMania 23, and they did it while holding the World Tag Team Championships together, but it was only after they broke up as a team that they managed to put their best effort forward. It was a throwaway episode of Monday Night RAW when the two went to battle in a non-title match, in a classic that no one saw coming. The match would last just over an hour, with every spot feeling fresh and exciting, which is impressive considering the two had done battle many times over the previous two months. Unlike their WrestleMania encounter, Shawn managed to get the best of Cena in this ironman effort, which has to be rated one of the top matches in Monday Night RAW history.
5 2006: Edge vs. Mick Foley – WrestleMania 22
In 2006, Edge had just won his first WWE Championship, and he was on the cusp of breaking out as a main event star, and it turns out that this hardcore match with Mick Foley was just the thing to catapult him into superstardom. Even though we had seen Edge, along with his ‘brother’ Christian tear it up in the early TLC matches, no one quite knew what to expect from the Rated-R Superstar, even though he was going into a hardcore match with the Hardcore Legend, Mick Foley. What ensued blew everyone away, as both men used every weapon imaginable to take each other out, and with one shot to finally put away the resilient Legend, Edge took it to another level entirely. Lita on instruction lit a table on fire, and luckily for the bloodthirsty fans in attendance, it came into play, as Edge speared himself and Foley through the table. This was enough to get the pin fall, and cemented Edge’s position as one of the biggest stars the industry had.
4 2005: Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle – WrestleMania 21
This was a genuine dream match, and with the talent involved, these two needed nothing more than motivation to put on a great match to do it, no titles, no careers, just pride on the line. Like you’d expect from two Hall of Famers who happen to be two of the most diverse performers in the history of the business, Michaels and Angle went out and did everything imaginable to steal the show, which they did handily. WrestleMania 21 was all about WWE going Hollywood, and that was apt for two men who performed best under the bright lights, as their 25 minute encounter which consisted of technical prowess, false finishes and amazing reversals proved. Eventually, like so many before him, Michaels would succumb to the Ankle Lock, cementing both men as the best of their generation.
3 2004: Chris Benoit vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels – WrestleMania XX
This is widely regarded as the best Triple Threat match in WWE history, as there was just so much story that went into the match, and on that night, three of the best performers in this era went as hard as they could to try and top the earlier Kurt Angle vs. Eddie Guerrero match. While the main issues in the match were between former best friends Triple H and Shawn Michaels, Benoit had finally earned his way into a main event match after 18 years, and he wasn’t about to let that opportunity slip. The match allowed all three performers to shine, and even featured a fair bit of HBK’s blood, but in the end, even after being put through the announcers table, Benoit couldn’t be denied, forcing Triple H to tap. This led to one of the most emotional embraces in wrestling history, as longtime stars Benoit and Eddie Guerrero embraced in the middle of the ring to celebrate finally making it to the top of the mountain.
2 2003: Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle – 60 Minute Ironman Match, Smackdown
Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle will go down as two of the most legit tough guys in WWE history, and in 2003, they were involved in a brutal, hard-hitting rivalry over the WWE Championship that defined the young Smackdown brand. After their epic encounter at WrestleMania which saw Angle retain the WWE title, the two decided to top themselves on a random episode of Smackdown, as they would wage war in a 60 minute Ironman match, and it would top everyone’s expectations. As you’d expect, the match was going back and forth with some interesting tactics used by both men, but unfortunately for Kurt, Lesnar found himself up 5-2 with just under 20 minutes to go. Angle fought his way back into it at 5-4, and locked in his Ankle Lock with 30 seconds to go, but Lesnar held on for what seemed like an eternity to earn the WWE Championship in a match still widely regarded as the best in Smackdown history.
1 2002: Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit vs. Rey Mysterio & Edge – No Mercy
With the way tag team wrestling is valued on the main roster in WWE, especially over the past 15 years, it may be surprising to see such a match on this list, but when you think back to the landscape of Smackdown in the early days, it’s no surprise that 4 members of the ‘Smackdown 6’ put a tag team match on such a list. Made up of these 4 plus Eddie & Chavo Guerrero, the Smackdown 6 defined the Smackdown brand under the tutelage of Paul Heyman, as they told simple yet effective stories by backing them up with amazing wrestling matches. This was one of those, as it was a battle of the young underdogs against the grizzled veterans to see who would be named the first ever Tag Team Champions on the blue brand. The match was incredibly fast paced, with constant action, as Angle and Benoit won the war to be named first ever Champions. The match was so good that it was even rated 4.75 stars by Dave Meltzer.
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