I have compiled a list of the 11 best matches in 2011. I only included pay-per-view contests. Although there were many excellent television bouts, picking out individual matches from RAW and SmackDown would be a burdensome process. I did not include the 40-man Royal Rumble. It would be worthy of a top 11 spot in my mind, but it is more of a rumble and less of a match.
Without further ado...
11. Mark Henry vs. Randy Orton at Night of Champions
A man I've marked for years, Mark Henry, was at the cusp of his monster heel championship run. Randy Orton was champion, however, and did not look like he would be beat, especially by Mark Henry.
The match itself was a solid effort between the two with Orton getting in his licks, while also being on the receiving end of a punishing Henry offense. Randy kicked out of a World's Strongest Slam, and Mark avoided RKO attempts.
Orton was worn down by Henry, who methodically worked over Orton's knee, and eventually succumbed to a second World's Strongest Slam.
Some matches may have been more technical, however, this contained excellent psychology, good pacing and set up the best title run in WWE in ages.
10. John Cena vs. The Miz vs. John Morrison at Extreme Rules
The main event of Extreme Rules pitted John Morrison against John Cena against champion The Miz in a steel cage match. I'm not usually a fan of steel cage matches, however this was a good one.
It had a fast pace, was high intensity and had numerous attempts at escape. Each wrestler hit signature moves early and throughout the match. Especially note worthy was Morrison's Starship Pain onto both Cena and Miz off the cage.
Morrison was on his way to victory until R-Truth made a run in and drubbed J-Mo, effectively taking him out of the match. Soon after, Cena hit a top rope attitude adjustment on Miz for the pin and championship.
I didn't really like Cena as champion at that point. There was some thought that he would hold the championship for almost a year until WrestleMania 28. Luckily, since year-long title reigns are unheard, of he ended up losing it a short time later. At the time, I hoped Miz could have retained until around SummerSlam. Winning at a second-tier PPV took some luster off Cena's victory; however, the match itself was very, very good.
9. Randy Orton vs. Christian at SummerSlam
Orton and Christian had a memorable feud spanning nearly all of the pay-per-view events post-Extreme Rules. They put forth many excellent bouts, and their contest at SummerSlam topped them all.
There was a no-holds-barred stipulation that both wrestlers took full advantage of. Tables, chairs, garbage cans and kendo sticks were used with fury. Christian kicked out of a superplex through a table and Orton kicked out of a big Killswitch.
More finishing moves were hit, with the clincher being a devastating Orton RKO onto steel steps for the pin, the win and the championship.
8. CM Punk vs John Cena at SummerSlam
The main event of SummerSlam featured champion against champion as John Cena took on CM Punk to determine the undisputed WWE title holder. Triple H made his presence felt as guest referee in order to make sure there was a true champion at the end of the night.
The match started similarly to their prior encounter at Money in the Bank, however, the energy from the crowd was not the same at SummerSlam. Signature moves were performed, and before the stretch run both Punk and Cena were outside the ring unable to answer the ten count prompting HHH to roll them both back in the ring so there would be a definitive victor.
Punk kicked out of an Attitude Adjustment and Cena kicked out of a Go to Sleep. Punk hit another GTS, and followed up with pin, which was good for the 1-2-3. Only one problem, Cena's leg was on the rope and HHH missed it.
CM Punk became the undisputed, and controversial, WWE Champion.
7. RAW Ladder Match at Money In The Bank
The RAW ladder match for the MiTB briefcase has not been touted as a match of the year candidate. Many have even said that the SmackDown MiTB match was better, however, I disagree.
I think most on the internet rank the SmackDown match higher due to the state of arousal they were in from Daniel Bryan's victory, which clouded their vision.
The RAW match was 10 minutes shorter, but there were better spots throughout. Jack Swagger and Kofi Kingston getting dumped hard off the ladder toward the end did not look planned. It was a great bump.
The Miz making a run out after possibly injuring his leg was a nice touch as it gave Miz a "moment" in a match he was never going to win. The spot where everyone in the match was up a ladder trying to get the belt was exciting. Evan Bourne's Air-Bourne onto everyone will be replayed for years.
Alberto Del Rio ripping off Rey Mysterio's mask, the non-planned fall and throwing of the mask were off-the-cuff and executed very well. Though Del Rio's win was a predictable end result, the way they went about it was exciting, nonetheless.
This match was more varied in terms of in-ring moves than the SmackDown match and there was an air of danger to this contest, as it seemed like multiple wrestlers were potentially injured during a few different spots.
6. Zach Ryder vs. Dolph Ziggler at Tables, Ladders and Chairs
With Vickie Guerrero, United States champion Dolph Ziggler took on challenger Zach Ryder for the title. The Long Island Iced Z still was gimmicky. However he had an air of seriousness about him that conveyed a sense of fortitude he is not known for.
After trading a variety of offensive gambits, Ryder hit a Broski Boot that felled Ziggler. While making the pin Vickie moved Dolph's boot onto the lower rope. The referee observed this illicit activity and promptly ejected Vickie from ringside. Dolph pressed on and his Mr. Perfect-esque in-ring mannerisms were effectively cocky.
After a series of near-falls, Ryder hit the Rough Ryder for the pin, the win, and the U.S. title.
The crowd roared as Ryder won his first WWE singles championship. The match was an enthralling bout with excellent timing, pacing and choreography.
The combatants were only given 10 minutes to perform. If they had they been given 15 or more, however, the contest would have scored higher and been in the top five.
5. Alberto Del Rio vs. John Cena at Vengeance
The WWE title was up for grabs as challenger John Cena faced Champion Alberto Del Rio in a last man standing match. They put forth a very entertaining match for one of the "no disqualification" ilk. They both took some big bumps, especially Del Rio, as he was blasted through tables and thrown out of the ring directly into a padded wall in a nice spot.
Eventually Awesome Truth ran to the ring and put a hurting on Cena. It didn't stop him though, as he made his way back to his feet only to be met with a belt shot to the grill from Del Rio, which put him down for good. Del Rio retained his belt.
Cena had an "out" due to the interference, plus he had a new feud, which subsequently ended at Survivor Series. Del Rio looked strong throughout and scored a win mainly due to his actions (the belt hit), and not solely the interference. Good booking, and a very good match.
4. CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio vs. The Miz at Tables, Ladders, and Chairs
For the first time ever the WWE championship was on the line in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs triple threat match. Champion CM Punk was challenged by the Miz and Alberto Del Rio.
There were some notable, high risk spots in the match, which included Punk getting enziguiri'ed off the top turnbuckle and through a table on the outside of the ring. Punk was handcuffed, in clever maneuvers by Ricardo Rodriguez and later the Miz, to a ladder, which he kicked apart to free himself, and later to the middle turnbuckle, which he disassembled in order to break free.
Del Rio was knocked off the top of ladder only to crotch himself on the top rope in what looked like a very painful landing. Ricardo took one of the biggest bumps in recent memory as he was knocked off the top of the ladder onto a table on the outside of the ring. Two refs immediately ran over to him, presumably to check to see if he was legitimately hurt as the fall was absolutely brutal.
Punk soon knocked Del Rio off the ladder onto the mat, and gave the Miz the Go To Sleep. This provided him the opportunity to climb the ladder and retain his WWE Championship. The pacing of the match was phenomenal, the spots were risky, and the contest as a whole was captivating throughout it's 18 minutes.
3. SmackDown Elimination Chamber Match
I think this was one of the most underrated matches in recent memory, and certainly a forgotten match of the year candidate for 2011. The contest featured World Heavyweight Champion Edge vs. Kane vs. Big Show vs Rey Mysterio vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Wade Barrett for Edge's title.
It's hard for me to do justice to an incredible match that went over 30 minutes and featured six wrestlers, each with big spots, in a single recap. Some memorable moments from my point of view consist of Big Show getting hit by all the remaining wrestler's finishing moves, with Kane being the one to take him out completely. I love when Big Show gets dominated by other big men. Drew McIntyre's entire performance was excellent. He fit in well, knew his role, and executed everything he did with perfect precision and psychology.
The coup de grâce was the final exchange between Edge and Mysterio. Each performed unique manuevers, had near falls, and hit finishers that were kicked out of. Mysterio finally tasted defeat when Edge hit him with a spear while he was airborne.
2. The Undertaker vs. Triple H at WrestleMania XXVII
The most anticipated match of the WrestleMania XXVII, Undertaker vs. HHH in a no holds barred match, is the second best match of 2011.
The promos leading up to this match were convincing in the notion that the streak was at serious risk to be broken. There were some worries that this bout wouldn't be able to live up to the legend of the previous two Undertaker-Shawn Michaels matches, but these worries were ill-conceived.
This match was legendary. HHH was backdropped off the announcer's table. Undertaker dove head first over the top rope and onto the floor. HHH hit a spinebuster through the Spanish announcer's table. In the ring there were last rides, choke slams, tombstones, and a hoard of pedigrees and chair shots.
I thought the streak may have been over on three occasions; after HHH tombstoned the Undertaker, after HHH's string of multiple pedigrees and after his chair shot to the head of 'Taker. These moves all failed and Undertaker caught HHH in Hell's Gate for the submission victory.
This match was a tiny notch below 'Taker and Michaels' first 'Mania encounter, and a notch above their last one. It was an incredible performance with absolutely perfect pacing, and will be remembered as one of the all-time great WrestleMania performances.
1. CM Punk vs. John Cena at Money In The Bank
The much anticipated main event of MiTB started with CM Punk entering to a raucous reception. The crowd was completely invested in him, and he knew it, as his pre-match in-ring mannerisms were very face-like, which at the time was a change from his then-heel character. (Wow, a sentence with four en dashes, dayum.) John Cena came out to a chorus of boos, except for that one dude at ringside who looked like his twin.
The match was more than 30 minutes in length and was somewhat unusual in the sense that Punk was the one doing the comebacks that Cena is known for. Punk kicked out of two Attitude Adjustments, fought off multiple STF submission holds, and appeared to be on the end of a screw job when Vince McMahon and John Laurinaitis walked to the ringside.
McMahon ordered Johnny Ace to ring the bell prematurely. Cena noticed this, jumped out of the ring, clocked Laurinaitis, gave McMahon a mouthful and entered the ring to a Go-To-Sleep. Punk got the three count and the WWE championship.
McMahon, irate, ripped off Jerry Lawler's headset and called for Alberto Del Rio to come down to cash in his MiTB briefcase. Punk saw this coming, kicked Del Rio in the head, mocked Vince and ran through the crowd belt in hand. The show faded to black with McMahon looking on in anger and Punk celebrating amongst the crowd.
This was, simply put, an all-time match. It was long, but never boring. It had perfect pacing. It had multiple near falls. It had an ill-fated run-in. It had it all. Cena and Punk worked remarkably well together and made this a classic and the best of 2011.
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