Ranking the 10 Greatest October Championship Matches in WWE History

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistSeptember 27, 2013

Ranking the 10 Greatest October Championship Matches in WWE History

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    Outstanding championship matches are typically associated with World Wrestling Entertainment's most prominent pay-per-view events.

    Fans immediately think of WrestleMania, SummerSlam or the Royal Rumble as producing the best championship matches in WWE history, but there is another, less-celebrated month that has produced its fair share of outstanding title bouts.

    Stars such as Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Edge, Kurt Angle, Rey Mysterio and The Rock have added to their Hall of Fame resumes with show-stealing performances on pay-per-view events such as No Mercy, Cyber Sunday, Taboo Tuesday and Bragging Rights.

    To celebrate the upcoming arrival of October, here is a look back at the greatest championship matches WWE has produced in the fall month.

    Who knows, perhaps the upcoming matches between Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton and Rob Van Dam and Alberto Del Rio will earn a spot on this list after WWE's Battleground pay-per-view on October 6.

10. Iron Man Match for the WWE Title: John Cena vs. Randy Orton

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    The main event of the inaugural Bragging Rights event from 2009 was the culmination of a rivalry between two Superstars who, at one time, were considered the future of professional wrestling.

    John Cena and Randy Orton are the face of the sport's current generation. Throughout the course of 2009, they competed for the WWE Championship on a number of occasions. In fact, beginning with Night of Champions in July and ending in October, they would face each other in five consecutive pay-per-view matches.

    The final chapter of their near year-long rivalry would feature a stipulation that is rarely used in World Wrestling Entertainment and is a test of two Superstars' endurance and will to win. The feud-concluding bout would be an Iron Man match.

    While previous Iron Man matches featuring Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Kurt Angle, Brock Lesnar, Chris Benoit and Triple H would focus more on outstanding in-ring product, Cena and Orton would borrow a page from The Rock and Triple H's and deliver a story-heavy bout that was the perfect wrap-up to their heated angle.

    Determined to drive Cena from Raw, which would have happened had the leader of the Cenation lost the match, Orton attempted to utilize pyrotechnics to blow his opponent up.

    You read that right.

    In the end, Cena defeated Orton to regain the WWE Championship and reserve his spot on the Raw roster.

    Around the absurdity of some of the spots was a well-wrestled match that cemented Cena and Orton's legacies as the top two homegrown stars of the decade.

9. World Heavyweight Title Match: Sheamus vs. Big Show

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    The idea of Sheamus defending the World Heavyweight Championship against Big Show at Hell in a Cell in October of 2012 did not strike many as a good one.

    After all, as great a worker as Sheamus had become since capturing the title the previous April at WrestleMania 28, few thought he would be able to drag a solid match out of a Big Show, who many thought was on the downside of his career.

    With all of the attention on then-WWE champion CM Punk and new No. 1 contender Ryback, the Celtic Warrior and the World's Strongest Athlete set out to steal the show with a classic battle of celebrated heavyweights.

    They did just that, utilizing hard-hitting, high-impact offense and several dramatic near falls to keep the crowd hot and invested in the story they were telling.

    The big men traded blow after blow, but neither could keep the other down. Back to his feet and watching as his gigantic opponent struggled to get back to his, Sheamus called for the Brogue Kick. The fans in the Phillips Arena in Atlanta were at their most vocal, chanting "Brogue" every time Sheamus pounded his chest.

    With Show finally back in a standing position, Sheamus took off across the ring for his trademark Brogue Kick. Unfortunately for the champion, Big Show caught him coming in with the Knockout Punk and proceeded to pick up the pinfall victory.

    Very rarely are expectations set so low for a match, only for it to deliver in a way that stuns an audience.

    Sheamus and Big Show heard the critics, knew the bar was set low and delivered a performance that managed to shut all of the naysayers up. They would go on to have very good matches at Survivor Series in November and TLC in December, but for right now, their Hell in a Cell masterpiece is the crown jewel of their months-long rivalry.

8. World Heavyweight Championship: Batista vs. The Undertaker

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    In 2007, Batista found out just how difficult it is to defeat The Undertaker.

    At Wrestlemania 23, in front of 80,000 fans in Detroit's Ford Field, he defended the World Heavyweight Championship against The Phenom in a Match of the Year candidate. Unfortunately, the man known as "The Animal" became just another tally on Undertaker's unblemished WrestleMania resume.

    A month later, Batista battled Undertaker to a draw in a chaotic, brutal and barbaric Last Man Standing match.

    Injury would strike and the Dead Man would find himself sidelined for a large portion of the spring and summer.

    He would make his return in September at Unforgiven, the same event at which Batista regained the World Heavyweight Championship. Taking into consideration that their feud ended indecisively earlier in the year, it was only a matter of time before they rekindled the rivalry and Undertaker attempted to once again relieve Batista of his title.

    They would meet in the main event of Cyber Sunday in 2007. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, as voted on by the WWE Universe, would serve as the guest referee, adding even more star power to a match that did not necessarily need it.

    Like Sheamus and Big Show would five years later, Undertaker and Batista crafted a classic heavyweight battle.

    Both champion and challenger had exhibited tremendous chemistry with one another throughout the year and they tapped into that chemistry once again for one of the most underrated matches in the careers of the legendary performers.

    The Undertaker, just as he did in Detroit, provided a strong challenge to Batista's challenger, and just as he did at WrestleMania, Batista put up a valiant fight.

    This time, however, the tables would be turned.

    A fired-up Batista caught his challenger in the midsection with a big boot, lifted him on his shoulders and delivered a thunderous Batista Bomb. Three seconds later and Steve Austin was raising the champion's arm in victory.

    It was arguably the biggest win of Batista's career to that point. After several attempts, he managed to pin Undertaker's shoulders to the mat without controversy or special stipulations.

7. WWE Championship Match: John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle

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    For the second consecutive year, Shawn Michaels would challenge for a major singles championship thanks to the votes of WWE fans.

    Taboo Tuesday was a revolutionary (though flawed) concept that began in 2004. The idea behind the event was to have fans vote on opponents and stipulations for the night's matches. It was their answer to the monumental success of American Idol and other reality shows and the opportunity for fans to voice their opinions regarding the night's events.

    At the inaugural show in '04, Michaels was chosen by fans to challenge Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship.

    One year later, he would beat out Big Show and Kane to earn a spot in the main event Triple Threat match for the WWE title. The match would also include champion John Cena and No. 1 contender Kurt Angle.

    Michaels and Angle had history with one another having competed in three outstanding matches throughout 2005.

    The first came at WrestleMania 21. That match, won by Angle, was universally applauded and would be named the Pro Wrestling Illustrated Match of the Year. The second would come just under three months later at Vengeance. Michaels would win that match to even the series.

    On October 3, WWE presented Raw Homecoming, a special episode of the Monday night program that celebrated the company's return to USA Network. During that broadcast, Michaels and Angle would meet for a third time in a 30-Minute Iron Man match. The match aimed to determine the better man but, when it ended in a 2-2 draw, little was settled. 

    The renewal of their rivalry and the addition of John Cena to the mix would assure that Taboo Tuesday 2005 would be topped off with a phenomenal WWE title match.

    The match followed the Triple Threat match formula for the most part. Two men fought on the inside while a third recovered at ringside.

    When it did not follow the formula, the match was focused on putting John Cena over as a world beater, so much so that Michaels and Angle even teamed up to temporarily eliminate him from the equation. 

    The finish of the match featured Michaels delivering Sweet Chin Music on Angle only for Cena to recover from an ankle lock applied by Angle earlier in the match and deliver the FU (Attitude Adjustment for those of you under the age of 10).

    It was a major step in the continued recognition of Cena as the new face of the business and an outstanding match on top of it all.

    The Michaels-Angle situation would resolve itself in January of 2006 when Michaels defeated Angle on Monday Night Raw to win the overall series once and for all.

6. Last Man Standing Match for the WWE Title: Triple H vs. Randy Orton

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    Triple H and Randy Orton have had several matches against one another over the course of their illustrious careers. More times than not, however, they have exhibited a decided lack of chemistry with one another. Their matches at Unforgiven 2004, Royal Rumble 2005, Great American Bash 2008 and WrestleMania 25 have been considered disappointments at best, despite above-average build and storyline support behind most of them.

    The exception to the rule would come in October of 2007.

    Six days before the No Mercy pay-per-view, John Cena suffered a torn pectoral muscle. The near-catastrophic injury forced the creative team to come up with a replacement for the company's top star and deliver a show worth the hard-earned money fans would be expected to pay.

    The best replacement for one future Hall of Famer, it turned out, was another.

    Enter Triple H.

    No Mercy kicked off with Vince McMahon presenting Randy Orton with the WWE Championship. Triple H would interrupt the celebration and goad McMahon into sanctioning a title match between he and Orton to start the show.

    The match was made and Triple H rolled Orton up to win the title. In the first half-hour of the show, the WWE title had changed hands twice!

    Enraged over his real-life son-in-law's victory, McMahon informed the new champion that his scheduled match against Umaga would go on as planned, and now, it would be for the WWE title.

    Triple H withstood the onslaught of the savage Samoan Superstar and ended his threat to the title with a Pedigree.

    His ribs throbbing with pain, exhausted following two pay-per-view title matches against two quality opponents, Triple H was approached by McMahon, who again ordered him to defend his title. He would once again face Orton, this time in a Last Man Standing match.

    The match proved to be the best ever between the two and one of the best title bouts ever held in the month of October.

    Triple H and Orton took advantage of the lack of disqualifications and count-out, crafting an outstanding drama-filled match that played on Triple H's exhaustion and injured ribs and made Orton look like a vicious, heartless competitor.

    Orton would defeat The Game and regain the WWE Championship in a physical, violent main event.

    The Legend Killer was heavily favored to leave No Mercy with the title, even before the Cena injury, so his win in the main event did nothing to alter the future of the promotion.

    Triple H, on the hand, should be commended for his performance on the show. He wrestled three very different matches against two very different opponents and delivered in every one of them. Though he appeared in three matches and in one promo segment, he never felt stale and that is the ultimate testament to a performer.

5. WWE Championship Match: The Rock vs. Kurt Angle

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    Kurt Angle was a phenomenon for World Wrestling Entertainment in 2000.

    A performer with less than a year of experience on the main roster, his above-average in-ring skills and his goody-two-shoes, all-American character had struck a nerve with fans. On a roster full of overly serious, bad-ass main event stars, he was a breath of fresh air.

    Coming off of a feud with Triple H over the affections of the lovely Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley, he was as hot as any other Superstar on the roster, and by the fall, it was apparent that he was in line for a run with the WWE Championship.

    At October's No Mercy, he was booked to challenge The Rock for the title in the night's main event. Most believed the former Olympic gold medal winner would leave Albany, New York with the title, so the outcome of the match was not so much in question.

    What was surprising, however, was how well he would perform in the biggest match of his career.

    Conversely, The Rock was on the hottest streak of his career. Matches against Triple H, Chris Benoit and The Undertaker had showcased his evolved in-ring abilities, and with Steve Austin sidelined with an injury, The Great One had become the undisputed top star of professional wrestling.

    He and Angle delivered an outstanding main event, which is saying something because Kurt was still not the all-time great performer he would become later. Both performers, however, masked Angle's inexperience with dramatic spots, such as a belt shot to Rock's face and interference from the challenger's business partner, the aforementioned Mrs. McMahon-Helmsley, which led to a Rock Bottom for her trouble.

    The finish of the bout came after 22 minutes of action. Rikishi, who was fresh off a heel turn that saw him admit to being the man who ran over Steve Austin a year earlier, limped to the ring and accidentally kicked Rock in the face. Angle dispatched of the super heavyweight Samoan and delivered the Angle Slam to Rock.

    Three seconds later, he was the new WWE champion.

4. Hell in a Cell for the WWE Title: The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar

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    By October of 2002, Brock Lesnar was an unstoppable force in World Wrestling Entertainment.

    He defeated The Rock for the WWE title in a classic at August's SummerSlam. Then he survived a match against The Undertaker a month later at Unforgiven. That match ended in a double disqualification, ensuring that the rivalry would continue.

    The feud between Lesnar and Undertaker became personal as it built to a rematch at No Mercy. A mysterious woman named Tracy was brought into the picture by Lesnar's agent, Paul Heyman. She claimed to have had an affair with The Phenom.

    It was an attempt by Heyman to get into the No. 1 contender's head, to distract him heading into his match with Lesnar, a match that SmackDown general manager Stephanie McMahon announced would be a Hell in a Cell match.

    Add to that distraction the fact that Undertaker entered the match with a broken hand, courtesy of Lesnar, and there was reason to believe the Superstar known affectionately as The Next Big Thing would have little trouble defeating his veteran opponent.

    Behind the cameras, there was plenty of intrigue surrounding the main event of No Mercy.

    Lesnar's first title defense against Undertaker a month earlier, while good enough, was not exactly what most expected. Questions abounded as to whether or not Lesnar could deliver an outstanding performance in a high pressure spot on the card. After all, Hell in a Cell was a favorite of fans everywhere, and for the most part, it had become synonymous with violent classics.

    The story was there, the match stipulation was there and fan anticipation was there. The Undertaker had plenty of experience inside the cell. Lesnar's performance would dictate how the match would be remembered.

    In his first big test as champion, Lesnar would pass with flying colors. His performance inside Hell in the Cell proved to the world that he was not only a jacked-up freak-of-an-athlete, he was also a talented performer who could tell stories between the ropes and captivate audiences with the things he could do that no one else could.

    The match was a blood-soaked war that left each man with the proverbial crimson mask caked on their face.

    Even Heyman bled for his craft.

    The story of the bout centered around Undertaker's broken hand. Lesnar targeted it, bashing it repeatedly with a steel chair. Undertaker utilized the cast around it as a weapon, connecting with several hard shots to the face of Lesnar, busting him wide open.

    Late in the bout, The Phenom called for the Tombstone piledriver but Lesnar countered. He tossed Undertaker on his shoulders as if he were nothing more than a sack of potatoes, then he sent him crashing to the mat with the F5.

    Three seconds later and Lesnar had defeated the most respected star in the industry in one of the most brutal and violent matches in WWE history.

3. WCW Championship Match: The Rock vs. Chris Jericho

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    If you had told me way back in 2001 that The Rock vs. Chris Jericho would be eclipsed as the greatest October title match in WWE history by not one but two other matches, I would have felt very good about the future of professional wrestling.

    That is how good Rock-Jericho for the WCW Championship really is.

    By the fall of 2001, Chris Jericho had done all that he could as a middle-of-the-card performer and was clearly ready to break through the proverbial glass ceiling. At the height of the war between the then-WWF and the Alliance, Jericho was one of the top stars for Vince McMahon's company and was sick of being treated as an afterthought.

    He and The Rock had begun a rivalry that saw The Great One repeatedly mention the fact that Jericho frequently failed to win the big one. A match between the two, for Rock's WCW title, was booked for No Mercy.

    It would be the first major pay-per-view bout between the two and expectations were high.

    And rightfully so.

    Rock and Jericho delivered an outstanding wrestling match that established Jericho as a Superstar on the level of the the very top wrestlers in the industry. 

    Tempers between the two were held largely in check until late in the match when Jericho delivered The Rock's own Rock Bottom finisher to the WCW champion, then attempted a People's Elbow. He arrogantly removed his elbow pad, tossed it on The Rock's motionless body and took off into the ropes. He bounced off, twisted his body and dropped the elbow.

    Unfortunately for the challenger, he crashed into the mat seconds after The Rock rolled out of the way.

    Action would spill to the outside, where Rock delivered his version of Rock Bottom to Jericho, through the Spanish announcer table. It appeared that, for all of his hard work and never-say-die attitude, Jericho would once again fall just short of achieving main event glory.

    Then Stephanie McMahon appeared at ringside. The storyline owner of ECW, she had no reason to be at ringside for a match between two WWF talents, other than her dislike of The Rock. She tried to distract him but paid for it, dearly.

    For the second No Mercy in a row, Stephanie fell victim to the Rock Bottom.

    Jericho capitalized on his momentary opening and delivered the Break Down to Rock onto a steel chair, and he picked up the win and the WCW Championship.

    It was the biggest win of Jericho's career at the time and the launching point for a run as one of WWE's most decorated main event talents.

2. Ladder Match for the World Title: Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho

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    In 2008, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho were involved in one of the most complex, layered storylines in WWE history.

    Jericho had idolized Michaels growing up, but after the Heartbreak Kid retired Ric Flair at WrestleMania 24 and feigned injury to defeat Batista at Backlash, Jericho lost respect for Michaels. He savagely attacked Michaels, throwing him face-first through the (obscenely expensive) Jeri-Tron 5000.

    After an attitude change, he became colder and more calculated. He spoke slower and referred to himself as the "best in the world" at what he does.

    More importantly, he hurt people. Badly.

    An eye injury suffered by Michaels, at the hands of Jericho at the Great American Bash, nearly forced the legendary competitor into premature retirement.

    One month later, at SummerSlam, Michaels was in the middle of announcing said retirement when Jericho made his way to the ring. Jericho continued to insult Michaels, but Shawn was unfazed. Instead of allowing Jericho's words to affect him, Michaels fought fire with fire, telling Jericho that he could try as hard as he wanted, but he would never be Shawn Michaels.

    This infuriated Jericho, who wound up and punched...Shawn's wife Rebecca by accident.

    The vile act lit a fire under Michaels, who returned to the ring and brutally beat Jericho from pillar to post at September's Unforgiven. Despite leaving his opponent a bruised, bloody and beaten mess, Michaels had to watch as Jericho limped to the ring later that night and captured the World Heavyweight Championship as a last-minute replacement for CM Punk in the Championship Scramble match.

    The rivalry between Michaels and Jericho was strong enough that it did not need the title, but the addition of the big gold belt was the centerpiece in an October classic.

    At No Mercy, Michaels and Jericho brought their critically acclaimed rivalry to an end in a ladder match.

    It was masterfully crafted bout that did not introduce new, dangerous, death-defying spots but instead, it simply built upon some of the more intense spots in ladder match history.

    By the end of the night, Jericho may have been missing teeth, but he retained his title.

1. WWE Tag Team Title Match: Edge & Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit

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    Take four of the best professional wrestlers in the industry, pair them up on two teams and let them steal the show in one of the best matches in the long and storied history of the sport.

    That is exactly what happened at No Mercy in 2002 as Edge and Rey Mysterio met Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit in the finals of a tournament to crown the first WWE Tag Team champions.

    The late summer and fall months brought with them the finest stretch of wrestling programming ever on SmackDown, thanks largely to booker Paul Heyman's willingness to take four above mentioned Superstars, as well as Eddie and Chavo Guerrero, and stick them in the ring in different pairings every week.

    Those six Superstars became known by fans and critics alike as the SmackDown Six.

    With four of them set to do battle, fans expected a show-stealing performance.

    What they could not expect was the Match of the Year for 2002 and one of the finest tag team bouts of any generation.

    Benoit and Angle utilized their ground-and-pound mat skills to try and keep Edge and Mysterio from using their speed to their advantage.

    An electric crowd added to the action inside the ring. The reaction to the near falls and high impact maneuvers was proof that the four all-time great wrestlers had fans on the edge of the edge of their seats.

    When Angle blocked an impaler DDT attempt and locked in the ankle lock, Edge had no choice but to tap out. The fans applauded the finish, not because they preferred the heels to the babyfaces, but because they were fully aware that the match they had just witnessed was an instant classic.

    Edge and Mysterio would capture the titles a few weeks later in yet another Match of the Year candidate.