Wrestling is one of those amazing professions which can bring together generations of fans. Those fans can spend hours talking about their favorite wrestlers and matches. Every wrestler that steps into the ring does their best to deliver a top notch match and give their fans something to talk about long after the winner is declared. Occasionally everything lines up perfectly and the performers in the ring are able to put on an instant classic, “five star” match that has those fans talking about it for decades.
There are a lot of things that can go into crafting the perfect match. The story that builds anticipation for a match, how well that story can be explained in the ring, and how much we buy into the match we are watching. Whether it is David vs Goliath or the ultimate gladiators going toe to toe, we want to believe everything we are seeing. The chemistry between the wrestlers plays a big part of the storytelling and match quality too. When there is great chemistry, the story told in the ring can be effortless and really helps us buy into what we are seeing.
Shawn Michaels vs The Undertaker at WrestleMania XXV, Ric Flair vs Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV, Daniel Bryan vs John Cena at SummerSlam 2013, Ric Flair vs Ricky Steamboat at Chi-Town Rumble 1989 and AJ Styles vs Samoa Joe vs Christopher Daniels at Unbreakable 2005 are a few matches that fans still talk about years later. There are matches, however, that are just as good as those but because they weren’t on a pay per view, they get missed by the majority of fans. Thanks to the WWE Network and most wrestling promotions having channels on YouTube, we can now see some of the greatest performances ever. Let’s take a look at 16 of those matches that you have probably never seen.
16. Shelton Benjamin vs Shawn Michaels
Sometimes the chemistry and talent is so good between two wrestlers that no build up is needed. That was the case the night after Backlash 2005 in this first ever meeting between The Showstopper and The Gold Standard. Raw general manager Eric Bischoff announced a tournament to crown a new number one contender for Batista’s Heavyweight Championship. In one of those matches, we got unbelievable athleticism and drama throughout that kept us on the edge of our seats. The commentary team of Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler mixed with a hot Boston crowd to give an electric atmosphere. A jaw dropping ending which HBK won only added to this first round match in the Gold Rush Tournament.
15. Mr. Perfect vs Ric Flair
On the January 24th, 1993 episode of Raw, Curt Hennig and Ric Flair fought to decide which of the two would leave the WWE. This was only the third episode of Monday Night Raw and showed exactly what Vince McMahon’s dream could be. The dirtiest player in the game and a bloodied Mr. Perfect, both in the prime of their careers, put on a stellar pay per view quality match. Not only were the two at the top of their game for this one, but so was Bobby Heenan who was doing commentary. For over half an hour, these two had a fantastic back and forth match with Ric Flair playing the evil heel and Mr. Perfect playing the resilient face, with Mr.Perfect winning and Flair going back to WCW.
14. CM Punk vs. Dolph Ziggler
A Champion vs Champion match on the November 21st. 2011 Raw saw the new WWE Champ, CM Punk, face off against the U.S Champion, Dolph Ziggler. This match had two of the most technically sound and best sellers in the history of the WWE. The Showoff lived up to his name by playing to the crowd on a number of instances and Punk showed us why he was the most popular wrestler in the WWE in 2011. Innovative offense kept everyone involved in the match all the way through. Counters and near falls helped the drama build and the payoff at the end with CM Punk winning was fitting of the match that we had just seen.
13. Brock Lesnar vs Chris Benoit
SmackDown on December 4th, 2003 was an epic night for Chris Benoit. who was involved in two fantastic matches. The week before John Cena and Benoit were eliminated from a number one contender battle royal at the same time, they squared off against each other in a number one contender’s match earlier in the night with Benoit moving on to face Brock Lesnar in the main event. We saw a perfect mesh of styles with Lesnar’s athleticism and power meeting Benoit’s technical superiority and intensity in a match, won by Lesnar, that defined SmackDown during The Ruthless Aggression Era.
12. Team Hell No and Randy Orton Vs The Shield
No team was hotter than The Shield in the first half of 2013. Kane and Daniel Bryan formed to become Tag Team champions and they teamed up with Randy Orton on the June 14th edition of SmackDown to try and take down The Shield. Rollins, Orton and Bryan provided a technical master piece that mixed great with the unhinged fury of Dean Ambrose and the power of Kane and Reigns. The fans love for Daniel Brian was on full display in this one as they cheered loudly for everything he did while the fast paced action of all six men kept us on the edge of our seats with excitement. While this was an incredible match, it’s a little insane that The Shield lost their first match as a group on a random episode of SmackDown.
11. Eddie Guerrero vs Kurt Angle
Latino Heat had climbed the mountain top to win the WWE Championship early in 2004 and feuded with all the main eventers on SmackDown even after losing his title. However, his greatest feud on SmackDown was arguably with Kurt Angle. On September 9th, the two faced off in a Lumberjack match. Typically Lumberjack matches are not very good with way too many moving parts, but this one was a rare technical masterpiece put on by Guerrero and Angle. The ending may have broken down to a brawl with no winner, which is expected in this type of match, but it still didn’t take away from what they did in the ring before that.
10. Ric Flair vs Kerry Von Erich
WCCW Christmas Star Wars 1982 was the site of one of the greatest cage matches of all time. Having Michael Hayes as the special guest referee and Terry Gordy ringside added to the drama and played off the Von Erich/ Fabulous Freebirds feud very well. At the time of this match, Ric Flair was not only the NWA heavyweight champion. but also widely considered the greatest wrestler in the world. Von Erich and Flair alternated controlling the match and. at one point. a bloodied Flair, according to legendary announcer Bill Mercer, was beaten to a bloody pulp. The two of them gave all they had to entertain the fans in this fantastic championship match, which Ric Flair won.
9. John Cena vs Shawn Michaels
The Raw before Backlash in 2007 was in London and featured an absolute classic between John Cena and Shawn Michaels. They continued their rivalry with a slow start that emphasized the mind games these two had played with each other for weeks. Having plenty of time to tell a great story, the match moved at a deliberate pace where each move felt like it meant something. Power moves and wrestling holds were the main emphasis of this match, which made it feel different then their WrestleMania encounter and showed the world just how well Cena can perform in the ring. Michaels ended up winning with a Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere, much to the delight of the crowd.
8. John Cena vs CM Punk
The February 25th, 2013 edition of Raw saw Cena put up his number one contender’s slot (AKA, a match against The Rock at WrestleMania) against CM Punk, which meant a great match as there was always amazing chemistry between these two. Punk was coming off a record setting run as champ, and he played the heel role to perfection and made people actually cheer for Cena. Both were on the top of their game and showed the world why they were considered the top two performers in the WWE, with back and forth action filled with high spots, innovative offense, near falls and counters. As you likely have figured, Cena won the match and went on to face The Rock at WretleMania.
7. Sting vs Diamond Dallas Page
By April of 1999, WWE was completely in control of the Monday Night Wars. Diamond Dallas Page was in the middle of a World Heavyweight Title run and had recently turned heel. His title was up for grabs on this episode of Nitro against Sting. The match itself started off slow, letting us feel the match build to a fantastic ending. They both played to the crowd and worked a very cerebral match with a good blend of mat wrestling and power moves. We all thought the fight was over but we would soon find out it was just the beginning as Kevin Nash and Bill Goldberg would be added to form a fatal four way match to main event the show. The entire night told a great story and one fantastic match started the story off right.
6. Sami Zayn vs Cesaro
Back when both men were in NXT, Sami Zayn had an incredible rivalry with Cesaro and the grudge these two had would be settled in a two out of three falls match. Zayn started it off by diving over the top rope onto Cesaro as he made his entrance and the action never slowed down from there. Sami Zayn and Cesaro not only have very similar styles but they are both Internet Wrestling Community darlings, and rightly so. This match, which was won by Cesaro, is a perfect example of the work they can do on the main roster.
5. Eddie Guerrero vs Dean Malenko
At ECW’s Hostile City Showdown ’95, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko put on an absolute clinic for the ECW Television Championship. Part of the reason this match was so great was the pacing, which blended a fast pace. high flying style with slower mat based submission elements. They countered each other’s moves at perfect times and matched each other move for move for the majority of the contest. The unique announcing style of Joey Styles and a very knowledgeable and passionate ECW crowd added a lot to an already great match between two of the greatest technical wrestlers in the history of the wrestling business. This match is one of the major reasons that ECW found itself on the wrestling map. Neither man would end up winning, as the match was a time limit draw.
4. Marty Janetty vs Shawn Michaels
Marty Janetty challenged his former tag team partner for the Intercontinental Championship on the May 16th edition of Raw in 1993. This fast paced match got the crowd into it from the start and well timed big spots had the crowd involved right until the final bell. Bobby Heenan and Randy Savage were brilliant on commentary and the ending, with Jannetty getting the roll-up due to a distraction from Mr.Perfect, was done perfectly to keep up with the storylines at the time. There was a reason The Rockers were one of the most exciting tag teams of the ’80s and that athleticism was on full display on this episode of Raw.
3. Bret Hart vs The 1-2-3 Kid
Back in 1994, WWE was experiencing a changing of the guard with Raw as their flagship show and a “New Generation” of wrestlers. On July 11th, Heavyweight Champion Bret Hart squared off against the 1-2-3 Kid. Sean Waltman has caught a lot of heat through out his career, with the term “X-Pac Heat” becoming synonymous with Waltman and which means that a wrestler is being booed because he sucks, not because he’s generating heel heat. However, watching this match will demonstrate just how talented he actually was. A fun false finish and a match restart really added to the story telling and showing how badly Hart wanted to get the 1-2-3 Kid over with the crowd. Bret retained the title, but the 1-2-3 Kid got put over big time and even earned a standing ovation from Randy Savage.
2. Cactus Jack vs Hunter Hearst Helmsley
The three faces of Foley were introduced in a pre-match vignette as Dude Love and Mankind got together to introduce Triple H’s opponent for the night, Cactus Jack. In the words of Jim Ross, “this was far from a wrestling match, this was a fight.” They made full use of the falls count anywhere stipulation by fighting all over Madison Square Garden on September 22th, 1997. This match defined what The Attitude Era was all about and the Madison Square Garden crowd who remembered Cactus Jack from his ECW days made his first appearance in the WWE a memorable one. The fact that Jack won made it all the better.
1. AJ Styles vs Kurt Angle
AJ Styles and Kurt Angle had some phenomenal (pun intended) matches during their time together in TNA. A ladder match from Hardcore Justice in 2012, a Last Man Standing Match from Hard Justice 2008 and a fantastic match from Slammiversary 08 are great examples of that. None of those compares to this instant classic from Impact on January 4th, 2010. Styles came in as the Heavyweight Champ and the two put on a hard hitting match that left the crowd chanting for more. The mutual respect shown between the two really highlighted how important the match was and the back and forth contest was a lot of fun to watch. Near falls and counters left the outcome in question right until the very end. Styles would end up getting the win, much to the delight of the crowd.
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