We never forget our first time.
The first time we saw gimmick matches. The first time we saw Ric Flair bleed or Tully Blanchard scream, "I quit." How about the time when Billy Graham and Dusty Rhodes tore down the house in New York? Or when the Road Warriors won the Jim Crockett Memorial Cup?
Those matches will live in infamy.
Over the years, the WWE has had a way of taking gimmick matches and making them the stuff of legend—so much so that pay-per-view events are built around them.
That’s not to say every match ever created was a WWE brainstorm or originated in Mick Foley’s garage, but they are some of the best we have ever seen. The kind we talk about 20 years later.
These are the greatest gimmick matches in WWE history.
I would remiss if I did not take a stroll down memory lane. Gimmick matches were not sole property of the WWF or WWE.
Dusty Rhodes, in his prime in the NWA, was a huge part of building elaborate matches and events. His fertile mind was one of the reasons why matches were so successful and why his time in the NWA was so valuable to the likes of Eddie Graham and Jim Crockett.
Rhodes helped to develop Starrcade and was a willing participant in matches like The Bunkhouse Stampede, The Texas Bullrope Match and Barbed Wire matches.
The one match I loved more than any as a kid was the Loser Leaves Town Match. If it were not for that kind of match, where the face or heel would leave the territory for an extended period of time, we never would have gotten to know the Midnight Rider.
Another match that should be added to the list is the Bra and Panties Pillow Fight. Had to throw it out there. Can’t be mad at a match where hot female wrestlers get in a ring, hit each other with pillows in bras and panties, and make it part of a pay-per-view.
That wasn’t a Dusty Rhodes idea. We can thank Vince McMahon for that.
7. Steel Cage Match
There is something to be said for tradition. The original cage with steel and fencing surrounded the ring like two animals were set to fight to the death. Watching Bruno Sammartino, The Sheik or even Terry Funk made wrestling appear real.
There were things about a steel cage that were guaranteed—especially blood.
Back in the day, wrestlers had to go through the front door to get out. Now, wrestlers are acrobatic enough to climb up the side and over the top to get to the floor.
6. Casket Match
This is in reference to The Undertaker and part of what makes him the icon he is today.
Images of The Undertaker and Kane or Undertaker and Mark Henry ring in my brain. Nothing had been attempted like that before and it was an evil concept of sorts, playing into the minds of many and making Paul Bearer a household name.
It actually became popular with Dusty Rhodes and Ivan Koloff in the 1970s. The casket match was popularized again in 1994 for a match between The Undertaker and Yokozuna.
5. Ladder Match
First off, Shawn Michaels will always be the king of the ladder march. While he and Razor Ramon has an epic match for the Intercontinental Title, Michaels had a match with the ladder, as others have said in the past. It’s like Ric Flair having a match with the broom and making the broom look like a million dollars.
The ladder can be used as a weapon, an opponent or a lifeline. Jeff Hardy, Rob Van Dam and Christian make it look so easy. But they all take a backseat to Michaels and what he can do with an steel object.
4. The Royal Rumble
Back in its heyday, there was more excitement surrounding this match. Maybe the lack of sizzle has something to do with the predictability.
Nevertheless, seeing retired wrestlers return for this engagement (Road Dogg, Rikishi) sets this match apart from other events.
When someone like Rey Mysterio or Kofi Kingston can do something that we have not seen before in a match like this, it becomes something we talk about for months.
3. I Quit Match
I am partial to the NWA-style I Quit match, but there have been others in the WWE that have been good as well. The Rock and Mankind put on a show.
This is the WWE’s way of showing the wrestling community who is top dog.
At the Royal Rumble in 1999, The Rock and Mick Foley (as Mankind) battled for just over 20 minutes in a particularly brutal match. It ended after Foley took 11 unprotected chair shots to the head.
2. Hell in a Cell
To be completely honest, I was not sold on the idea and the concept. I even hated it at times.
After seeing Triple H and Undertaker at WrestleMania 28, though, I am still reliving that match as the greatest I have ever seen.
The fact that it takes place in a steel cage, objects under the ring can be used and there is usually a title or stipulation on the line makes it unique and captivating. Add legends to the mix and it is forever etched in our minds.
I think the match will be immortalized after seeing Triple H, Undertaker and Shawn Michaels all walk out of the ring together in Miami. We all felt every chair shot, every sledgehammer blow and every tombstone pile driver.
That is what a match like this does to the fan and the participants.
1. Table, Ladders & Chairs
I guess we can thank the Dudleys, The Hardys and Edge and Christian for this. We can also thank the likes of Terry Funk and Mick Foley for making it the norm in extreme or hardcore wrestling.
When these three objects are used in matches, it can only mean chaos, a beatdown and one dynamic match. When all three tag teams were involved, it may have been the greatest match we've ever seen.
While it is still used today, it is not as successful because imitation is the best form of flattery, but it is not the real deal to say the least.