WWE's Top 10 Match Concepts of All Time

Jack WoodfieldFeatured ColumnistMarch 28, 2013

WWE's Top 10 Match Concepts of All Time

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    WWE's concept (or gimmick) matches have ranged from the vicious Hell in a Cell to the gruelling Iron Man match in the company's bid to provide fans with drama and entertainment.

    Some matches failed to catch on after their initial outings (the Kennel from Hell match immediately springs to mind), but throughout WWE's rich, diverse history, enough quality concepts have been devised to constantly engage the masses.

    While concept matches are primarily used to settle long-standing feuds, WWE's decision to host gimmick-themed pay-per-views has resulted in particular matches used on a more frequent basis.

    However, coupled with WWE's choice to conform to TV-PG programming in 2008, the outcome, in some cases, has been the spectacle of several matches nullified to an extent.

    To rank the criteria of these gimmicks; historical importance, consistency and the overall contribution to the company's history will be the categories, as we also take a trip through time to note the origins of the selected matches.

    Here, I'll analyse the best 10 match concepts throughout the annals of WWE, and examine how the company fans know and adore would not be the same today without them.

Honourable Mentions Part 1

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    Casket

    Reportedly beginning life in the 1970s, the Casket match was introduced by WWE at Survivor Series 1992, going on to become a signature match of The Undertaker.

    Originally, being locked in the casket would be the fate of a pinned superstar, but the rules eventually changed, with the victor being the wrestler who sealed the lid of the casket with his opponent inside.

    The casket match has seen some historic moments over the years, including Undertaker being twice trapped inside the coffin before Kane and Randy Orton respectively set it alight.

    Falls Count Anywhere

    This unique match prevents wrestlers from being confined to the ring alone, allowing a No Disqualification match to conclude anywhere in the arena.

    The most remarkable use of this stipulation occurred in 1999, when Hardcore Holly pinned Al Snow in a frantic battle that concluded on the banks of the Mississippi River at St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1999.

    The match has also spanned variations of the concept over the years, including a Submissions Count Anywhere stipulation at Breaking Point 2009, in a match that usually serves to prolong a feud rather than settle it.

    Parking Lot Brawl

    Similar to the Iron Circle match contested by Ken Shamrock and Steve Blackman in 1999, the Parking Lot Brawl pits two superstars against each other until a pinfall or submission occurs.

    Sporadically used, the match has often been symbolised by its brutality, with John Cena's 2008 war with John "Bradshaw" Layfield a particularly violent affair.

    Nowadays, the match is an afterthought in WWE, but occasionally brawls do still occur in the parking lots of arenas, which helps to amplify the intensity of a rivalry, as it did with Big Show and Sheamus in 2012.

Honourable Mentions Part 2

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    Last Man Standing

    A match originally renowned for its brutality, the Last Man Standing match sees a wrestler triumph by beating his opponent to the point he is unable to answer a count of 10 from the referee.

    Some classic battles have been contested in this stipulation, including Triple H's wars with Chris Jericho in 2000 and Shawn Michaels in 2004, which garnered the match immediate recognition.

    However, the match has fallen victim to TV-PG guidelines over the years, with the path to victory now based more around cunning and tactics rather than guile and fortitude.

    Buried Alive

    There have only been five Buried Alive matches in WWE history, all including The Undertaker, in which the winner throws his opponent into an open grave before burying them in dirt.

    Incredibly, for a man so familiar in this environment, Undertaker has only won one of these matches, which included memorable collisions with Mankind, Kane and Vince McMahon.

    It is one of the more unique concepts in WWE history, often used to settle scores, and frequently impressing with the realism created by the supposed burial of a superstar.

10. 2 out of 3 Falls

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    Origins:

    Two out of three falls bouts date back to the 1920s, where the victor would win the majority of the falls in a series of three successive single matches.

    Traditionally, the first fall was fought in a Greco-Roman style, the second in a catch as catch can, with the third decided by a coin toss.

    Historical importance: 4/5

    As one of the oldest concept matches in pro wrestling history, its unique place in WWE folklore is enhanced further for being a match where only the best ring technicians compete.

    As well as featuring some of the biggest names in WWE history such as Bret Hart, Kurt Angle and Eddie Guerrero, two out of three falls also helped devise the best of five or seven falls series, and the Three Stages of Hell match, which will be touched on later.

    Few matches without disqualifications really illustrate the grueling lengths wrestlers will go to in their bid to triumph like this one, with each victory appearing more significant as a result.

    Consistency: 4/5

    This match is an ideal battlefield for spectacular wrestlers to display their skills, with Angle's 2004 encounter with Guerrero on SmackDown showcasing the in-ring prowess of both.

    While the match rarely features on pay-per-view, television battles, such as the recent clash between Antonio Cesaro and The Miz, remain as entertaining a TV match available, where the midcard can really shine and hone their skills.

    Overall contribution: 4/5

    Few two out of three falls matches have disappointed in WWE history, regardless of the competitors, although its lack of prestige prevents it from being an attraction fans clamour to see.

    Regardless, the match's influence in relation to ring psychology, and the aforementioned proceeding gimmicks, make it an invaluable part of WWE history.

    Total: 12/15

9. Steel Cage

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    Origins:

    The Steel Cage match has long been a mainstay in WWE programming, with its designed intention to prevent wrestlers escaping the ring, ensuring that a decisive finish occurs.

    The origins of the match date back to the 1930s, where chicken wire reportedly surrounded the ring to keep opponents out of Jack Bloomfield's battle with Count Petro Rossi.

    The concept's evolution has seen chain-link fencing now wholly used for safety and manufacturing reasons, and the Steel Cage match has since developed into a battleground for long-term rivalries to conclude.

    Historical importance: 5/5

    Established as a bona fide WWE attraction in 1983, following Jimmy Snuka's highlight-reel Superfly Splash on Don Muraco, almost every recent WWE great has since stepped into the unforgiving structure.

    The Steel Cage also featured in a major moment at WrestleMania 2, when Hulk Hogan and King Kong Bundy fought inside the structure with the WWE title on the line, one of only two gimmick matches to headline the "Show of Shows."

    Consistency: 3/5

    The cage match is one that essentially every pro wrestler can compete in, with its basic premise ensuring flowing action with infrequent moments, like Snuka's splash, that live throughout time. 

    Its longevity has proven that the match is renowned as a crowd pleaser, and while it may not be the most dramatic, violent or fresh of concepts, it remains a certified favourite.

    Overall contribution: 4/5

    With WWE incorporating the rule that escaping the cage can result in triumph; dastardly, cowardly heels have seen their careers skyrocket with big cage victories.

    For babyfaces, a victory contested inside the cage appears far more dominant with a pinfall or submission, illustrating their prowess over the opponent, and ensuring that there is rarely a weak winner from a Steel Cage battle.

    The concept has also inspired several variations of the match, such as Hell in a Cell and Elimination Chamber, ensuring its place in WWE folklore and pro wrestling history forever.

    Total: 12/15

8. Three Stages of Hell

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    Origins:

    A direct extension of the two out of three falls match, freestyle wrestling takes a back seat in Three Stages of Hell, with the intention to maim one's opponent over three different matches.

    Its premise for violence and bad blood is overwhelmingly different to a regular two out of three falls match, with each fall given a separate gimmick where the winner often resembles a broken man at the end.

    The first battle of this type occurred at No Way Out 2001, where the bitter rivalry between "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was concluded first in a singles match, then a Street Fight, with a Steel Cage hosting the finale.

    Historical importance: 3/5

    Admittedly, as Three Stages of Hell only has three outings to its name, all involving Triple H, it will not be renowned as one of the most influential concepts pro wrestling has produced.

    However, such was the grandeur of all three battles, especially in Triple H's first with Austin, the drama and stories conveyed by the involved superstars made it a unique, decisive way to settle a feud.

    Consistency: 5/5

    With only three matches recorded in WWE history, it is fitting that all three were classic battles, which featured grim assaults as well as storytelling, a match which few wrestling concepts can do.

    The lengths superstars have gone to in this match really displayed their desire to be top dog, and just what exactly they will do to ensure victory over their greatest of foes.

    Overall contribution: 4/5

    A unique match that has not been given the run-outs it deserved, Three Stages of Hell remains as original a gimmick that remains a delight to play in WWE's video games.

    It may be some while before we see it again, but with three magical wars created in its conditions, it is arguably the most consistent gimmick in WWE history.

    Total: 12/15

7. Ladder

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    Origins:

    While Shawn Michaels' celebrated WrestleMania X encounter with Razor Ramon made the Ladder match famous, it was reportedly conceived by Stampede Wrestling booker Dan Kroffat in 1972.

    Contested between Kroffat and Tor Kamata originally, the object of the match was to grab a bag of money. Nine years later, Bret Hart competed in the match and recommended it to Vince McMahon upon his move to WWE, who would turn the concept into the legend we know today.

    Historical importance: 4/5

    Michaels' leap onto Ramon is an image engrained in the head of every pro wrestling fan, with "HBK" displaying how a ladder could be used as a weapon as well as a diving board.

    As the match evolved, wrestlers began to devise far more dangerous, creative ways of using the ladder, which in the Attitude Era resulted in several spot-heavy battles between Edge & Christian, the Hardy Boyz and the Dudley Boyz.

    Two of their acclaimed battles scooped Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year awards in 2000/2001, which went some way in establishing the match as one of the most intense that WWE had to offer.

    Consistency: 4/5

    Due to the high standards that matches from 1998-2002 set, the Ladder match has perhaps suffered in recent years as fans have become accustomed to the various spots they will be presented with.

    However, there is no disputing the work of the aforementioned tag teams, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho and Rob Van Dam over the years, whose reckless disregard for their bodies ensured thrilling battles on a regular basis.

    This match not only ushered in a new era of spectacle for WWE, but for Extreme Championship Wrestling as well, who under the guidance of Paul Heyman devised several variations of the match such as the Stairway to Hell.

    Overall contribution: 5/5

    When looking back at wrestling history, few would believe that a portable structure would have proven such an effective method of engaging fans.

    Going on to spawn additional matches such as Tables, Ladders & Chairs and Money in the Bank, the contribution the Ladder match has made in the annals of pro wrestling is unlike many others.

    Total: 13/15

6. Elimination Chamber

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    Origins:

    Combining elements of the Royal Rumble match, Survivor Series elimination matches and World Championship Wrestling's War Games, the Elimination Chamber became an immediate hit following its debut in 2002.

    Occurring at Survivor Series, Shawn Michaels' World Heavyweight Championship win ushered in a concept that offered several different ingredients at the same time.

    Similarly to the Royal Rumble match, two wrestlers would start, before another four would eventually enter randomly on a time interval. Eliminations would take place by pinfall or submission until one superstar was left triumphant.

    Historical importance: 4/5

    Initially, every sporadic chamber match from 2002-2006 was contested specifically for either the WWE or World Heavyweight Championship.

    Lasting moments occurred during this period, including HBK's win and Edge's Money in the Bank cash-in on John Cena in 2006, following a successful WWE title defence in the chamber, which provided some immediate grandeur to the match.

    It was only when the No Way Out pay-per-view was resurrected in 2008 that the match took on a whole new dynamic, as it served to decide the No. 1 contender for respective WWE and world title shots at WrestleMania.

    One year later, the championships themselves were being decided, and in 2010 the annual February PPV was renamed Elimination Chamber, with the road to WrestleMania becoming more vicious and compelling than ever before.

    Consistency: 5/5

    Very few Elimination Chambers have failed to impress over the years, and the combination of steel, glass and chain has ensured many brutal encounters witnessed, including in the PG era. 

    The demonic structure has also hosted its fair share of sensational moments, from Shawn Michaels costing The Undertaker the World title in 2010 to John Morrison's "Spiderman" jump on to Sheamus the following year.

    Overall contribution: 4/5

    With the match now featured once or twice yearly on WWE's February PPV, the Elimination Chamber match continues to see its spectacle and importance increase as time goes on.

    The last stop before WrestleMania has now become must-see television, and the future of the match only promises to be brighter with so much on the line for the warriors who enter its doors.

    Total: 13/15

5. Tables, Ladders and Chairs

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    Origins:

    With the 1970s origins of the Ladder match previously touched upon, it was Extreme Championship Wrestling that helped bring the Tables match into the mainstream.

    With the Dudley Boyz keen on launching foes through wooden tables, the duo's move to WWE in 1999 saw the act become popular, especially in the spot-heavy Attitude Era.

    Combined with the Hardy Boyz' love for ladders and Edge and Christian's talents with chairs, the first Tables, Ladders and Chairs match took place at SummerSlam 2000, earning immediate acclaim. 

    Historical importance: 4/5

    Nowadays, the TLC lacks the value of its early years, but upon its initiation, its first two matches scooped Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year awards.

    As well as establishing the aforementioned three teams as standout midcard stars, the creativity and teamwork utilised by each team elevated the status of the WWE Tag Team Championships to a level unseen before.

    Nobody came off the losing end of the early TLC matches, which added immensely to WWE's product, which proved how stunts and violence could also blend with cunning and tactics.

    Consistency: 5/5

    As far as pure entertainment is concerned, few matches compare to the thrills and spills of TLC, which has seen more bodies crash and fall than most other gimmicks.

    When multiple tag team battles were dropped, the match admittedly lacked in terms of relentless, jaw-dropping action, but each match since has relied on storytelling and timing to ensure the concept remains relevant.

    Overall contribution: 4/5

    In The Miz's match with Jerry "The King" Lawler in 2010, the beating Miz took proved he was tough, but his character was also built further with a win that exploited an attack on Lawler by Michael Cole.

    With CM Punk experiencing a similar boost to his character in January's TLC bout with Ryback, where he snuck a win from his foe's grasp, the match has shown that it can adapt to different eras better than other concepts.

    Total: 13/15

4. Money in the Bank

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    Origins:

    "Devised" by Chris Jericho in 2005, the Money in the Bank Ladder match has evolved into one of the most revolutionary concepts in WWE history.

    Initially contested only at WrestleMania, several superstars would compete with a guaranteed WWE or World Heavyweight Championship shot at stake, held in a briefcase, which was eligible for a year.

    After the sixth annual WrestleMania match, won by Jack Swagger, 2010 saw the match designated its own pay-per-view, which still exists to this day under the catchy title of Money in the Bank.

    Historical importance: 4/5

    At New Year's Revolution 2006, Joey Styles' cry of "Edge has shocked the world!" became as memorable a phrase in WWE history when Edge cashed in the very first briefcase on John Cena.

    It was the method of Edge's cash-in that turned the concept on its head though, with the "Rated R Superstar" waiting until John Cena had defended his WWE title inside the Elimination Chamber before pouncing.

    This moment gave birth to several other shock cash-ins over the years, with the element of unpredictability attached to the briefcase making it unique and dynamic in WWE history.

    Consistency: 5/5

    In a match designed primarily for the mid card, every performer has traditionally given his all in this environment, which has featured some unforgettable spots along the way.

    Ladder matches generally excite live crowds, and few, if any Money in the Bank battles have failed in this respect, with every competing superstar normally given a standout moment in each match. 

    Overall contribution: 5/5

    Few matches have given rise as many fresh main-eventers as Money in the Bank, with CM Punk and Edge becoming certified WWE legends as a result of their respective victories.

    Even in today's TV-PG climate, this concept remains as exhilarating as it did upon its inauguration, and with the match now featuring established stars such as John Cena, the future is very much bright for this gimmick.

    Total: 14/15

3. 60-Minute Iron Man

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    Origins:

    While 30-minute Iron Man matches were showcased by World Championship Wrestling in 1992, 60-minute battles were incorporated by WWE in 1996.

    Unlike a regular wrestling match, the winner would be the superstar that collected the most pinfalls or submissions in a specific time period, to leave no doubt as to who would the better man really was.

    Historical importance: 5/5

    The debut of the 60-minute match instantly became one of WWE's most important and beloved bouts in history, with Shawn Michaels winning his first WWE Championship in overtime against Bret Hart.

    Comparatively, every other battle has paled somewhat in comparison, but with Michaels' win coming on the grand stage of WrestleMania 12; it was a war, and a moment that would end up representing a generation.

    Consistency: 5/5

    There have been only been five 60-minute Iron Man matches in WWE, and while each one delivered, it is not a match that just any superstar could compete in.

    Only the finest of athletes with elite stamina and cardio have competed in this modern-era match, which has coincided with its importance as a match worthy of ending the bitterest of feuds.

    Triple H vs. The Rock was an outstanding affair from 2000, while Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle in 2003 earned Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year acclaim, as did Michaels vs. Hart.

    Overall contribution: 4/5

    While wrestling for 60 minutes is far from a rare event in pro wrestling history, the drama of WWE's modern day version has consistently created a relentlessly dramatic spectacle.

    Sadly, two of their five matches were given away on free television, and the concept's extremely infrequent outings leave its place in WWE a little to be desired.

    However, the romance of Michaels' win 17 years ago coupled with the sheer quality of the other four bouts boost its reputation grandly, and each match is worthy of tracking down and admiring several times over.

    Total: 14/15

2. Hell in a Cell

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    Origins:

    Few matches have made more of impact in WWE than the Hell in a Cell match, reportedly designed by Jim Cornette in 1997.

    With elements taken from World Championship Wrestling's War Games match, as well as the 1983 cage match between Buzz Sawyer and Tommy Rich in Georgia Championship Wrestling, Hell in a Cell quickly morphed into one of the most popular concepts in WWE history.

    Historical importance: 5/5

    While the debut of Kane in The Undertaker's battle with Shawn Michaels, which marked the first outing for the cell, was a landmark moment, it was Undertaker's war with Mankind in 1998 that ensured the cell would live in infamy.

    Upon launching Mankind off the roof of the cell through a table, Undertaker then hurled Mick Foley through the roof itself, famously resulting in a tooth of Foley's appearing through his nose.

    With the bar set so recklessly high in 1998, the match has since toned down in terms of stunts, but several epic rivalries have concluded in the cell, including Michaels vs. Triple H in 2004.

    Consistency: 4/5

    The early Hell in a Cell years were only marred by a fairly poor WrestleMania 15 clash between Undertaker and Big Boss Man, but until the birth of the PG era, every cell match remained as striking and visceral as the last.

    It was after the inception of TV-PG programming that the aura of the cell became limited, with many matches from 2008 essentially becoming single matches that co-incidentally were surrounded by the structure.

    Overall contribution: 5/5

    From the years spanning 1997-2002, Hell in a Cell was arguably the most anticipated match in WWE, especially as it served to act as the final war between two rivals.

    The match was designed for a brutal climax to a rivalry, and as well as hosting one of the most shocking battles in pro wrestling history, it also became one of the most adored.

    Total: 14/15

1. Royal Rumble

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    Origins:

    When Vince McMahon created The Royal Rumble in 1988 as a means of competing with Jim Crockett's Bunkhouse Stampede pay-per-view, the most exciting match in WWE history was born.

    Beginning with 20 superstars, before increasing to 30, two wrestlers would start the match, before a new competitor would emerge shortly after, followed by others on a repeated time loop.

    Initially, the wrestlers only fought for glory, but following Ric Flair's 1992 success that earned him the WWE Championship, 1993's Rumble match saw the victor claim a world title shot at WrestleMania.

    While rivalries are normally settled in concept matches, the Rumble match is unique as numerous feuds can often begin as a result of eliminations, with John Cena's WrestleMania 27 main event with The Miz stemming from a Royal Rumble confrontation.

    Historical importance: 5/5

    Legends have been born due to their triumphs in the Rumble match, with those going on to successfully win championship gold at the "Showcase of the Immortals" establishing themselves as essential parts of WWE history.

    Consistency: 5/5

    When the match gets down to the final four, the heads of fans worldwide race in debating who will be the last man standing, and for that reason, the Royal Rumble is regularly the most exciting match WWE has to offer.

    Nowadays, the Royal Rumble PPV holds further value as it marks the beginning of WrestleMania season, where storylines traditionally become far more compelling as WWE looks to rigorously promote its yearly extravaganza.

    Overall contribution: 5/5

    Following its inception 25 years ago, the Royal Rumble match remains the most anticipated battle on the WWE calendar.

    It has proven a milestone match in the company's history, and it is hard to argue that the Royal Rumble is not the most gripping WWE concept match to date.

    Total: 15/15 

    Twitter - @JWoodfield365