Greetings, my fellow wrestling fanatics. Today, I begin to take a look at one of the most debatable and arguable topics in all of wrestling, the greatest matches of all time.
Everyone has their favorites, and everyone has their own criteria for what makes a match great.
Let’s face it; there have been so many matches in history, so many wrestlers, so many promotions, in so many locations, it would be almost impossible to make a perfect list that everyone would agree on.
There have also been many, many matches that have gone unseen. There are countless non-televised events, or “house shows” that take place during the course of a year, as well as dark matches and things of that nature which make it very difficult to make a perfect list.
Bret Hart famously spoke about how some of the greatest matches he ever took part in were at non-televised events with the likes of Curt Hennig and his brother Owen.
Steve Austin has also claimed that some of the greatest matches of his career were when he was in a program with Shawn Michaels in 1997 and they would go at it at non-televised house shows all over the country.
Having said that, I have read many great lists over the years, ranging from professional wrestling journalists like Dave Meltzer and Mike Mooneyham, to young fans on the internet, and there are a slew of great matches that most of the true wrestling fans in this world can agree upon.
Most are high profile matches that have taken place at annual Pay-Per-Views, like Wrestlemania, SummerSlam, and The Royal Rumble. These are the events where the professionals usually step up their game, realizing there are millions of people around the world who are watching and waiting for something great to happen. This is where a mid-card wrestler can become a main event star.
Then there are the weekly televised shows, like Monday Night Raw and Friday Night Smackdown.
These shows are normally used to create vendettas or feuds between wrestlers, and build up their storyline heading into the next Pay-Per-View. We do get matches on these shows, but they are usually shorter, less intense bouts, solely used for enhancing the rivalry and setting up the major Pay-Per-View match.
However, we do occasionally get that hidden gem during these shows, where everything clicks and two competitors go all out and give us a memorable, Pay-Per-View quality match. It doesn’t happen that often, but there are definitely a handful of classic matches that have come to us via free TV.
Today I start recapping what I, a longtime wrestling fan of over twenty five years, consider to be the fifty greatest matches in WWE history. I kept this endeavor restricted to the WWE because that is what I know best, so don’t pull the fire alarm because you don’t see Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair from Wrestlewar ‘89 here. That is a fantastic match, it just doesn’t qualify for this particular list.
I am sure there will be matches here that you agree with, and matches that you don’t. There may be matches you consider overrated, or matches you have never seen. You may not agree with the order of the matches. You wouldn’t be wrong. Opinions are exactly that, opinions. Right now you’re reading mine.
These are the matches that I consider for one reason or another, historic. I will be counting down from number fifty to number one, revealing ten matches every couple of days. I’m confident you will agree with most of them.
On we go, Ladies and Gents.
50. Eddie Guerrero vs. Brock Lesnar (No Way Out, 2/15/04)
This match for the WWE championship was truly one of the most emotional and inspirational of all time. Lesnar was the reigning champion, and at 6'4", 300lbs, dwarfed the smaller challenger. The crowd at San Francisco’s historic Cow Palace was hot on this night and they were clearly in Eddie’s corner.
Guerrero won a number one contenders Battle Royale on Smackdown the week prior, last eliminating Kurt Angle. This win gave him a shot at Lesnar’s title at the No Way Out Pay-Per-View.
Lesnar was in complete control for most of the match, tossing Guerrero around the ring like a rag doll, hitting one suplex after another. But, much like the obstacles he was overcoming in his personal life, Eddie persevered. After delivering an F5 to Guerrero that also knocked out referee Brian Hebner, a shocked Lesnar was met in the middle of the ring by a vicious spear, courtesy of his arch nemesis, Bill Goldberg.
After the dust settled, Lesnar was about to hit Guerrero with another F5 in an attempt to end the match. Guerrero was able to counter it into a DDT, climb the top rope and hit his finisher Five Star Frog Splash. The crowd then proceeded to count with the ref in unison One-Two-Three, and explode into a celebration the likes of which we do not see very often in this industry. Eddie celebrated at ringside with his proud family and crazed fans, and capped off a very passionate and dramatic contest the new WWE champion.
49. Randy Orton vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Kurt Angle (Wrestlemania 22, 4/2/06)
A Win for Eddie!!
The lead-up to this match was both emotional and exhausting. After the tragic death of Eddie Guerrero three months earlier, Rey Mysterio dedicated his Royal Rumble performance to his lost friend, claiming he would win the whole thing in memory of Eddie.
To make matters even harder, Rey had drawn the second spot in the match. He’d have to outlast twenty nine other men for a very long period of time in order to win. Well, that is just what Rey did, winning the 2006 Royal Rumble, setting a new record by lasting over 62 minutes to earn a title shot at Wrestlemania 22.
Rey was having some problems with Randy Orton, and made a bad decision by placing his title opportunity on the line during their bout at No Way Out. Orton won that match, and a distraught Rey had seemingly lost everything.
Smackdown general manager Teddy Long felt badly about what happened to Rey, and told him he could manipulate the rules a little bit to get him back into the main event at Wrestlemania. It would now be a triple threat match, with Mysterio again facing Orton, as well as current World Heavyweight champion Kurt Angle.
In one of the fastest, back and forth triple threat matches of all time, these three superstars put on one hell of a show. This match stands as the shortest amongst my top 50, lasting slightly over nine minutes, but the effort and passion that was exuded in this contest is something I will never forget.
There were two men going at it with the third not far behind the entire time, with German suplexes, hurricanranas, and RKO’s all happening at a frantic rate.
When Rey countered an Angle slam by throwing Kurt out of the ring, and then hit Orton with a 619/West Coast Pop combo, the announcers, crowd, and I were stunned as Rey Mysterio claimed his one and only World Championship with the WWE. This was truly an inspirational event in the annals of wrestling history, all in the name of Eddie Guerrero.
48. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho (Wrestlemania 19, 3/30/03)
Imitation is not always flattering!
This was the first Wrestlemania match in five years for Shawn Michaels. His last bout was at Wrestlemania 14, when he lost the WWE title to Stone Cold Steve Austin and immediately retired due to a severe back injury.
Chris Jericho had grown up idolizing Shawn Michaels. He emulated his every move, cultivated his look and his wrestling style to mirror that of The Heartbreak Kid, and no one was happier to see Shawn back in a wrestling ring than Y2J.
Until the point in time came where Jericho became sick and tired of living in HBK’s shadow and being told he could be the next Shawn Michaels. He no longer wanted that. He wanted to be the first Chris Jericho. He became obsessed with being better than Michaels, to the point where he was hurting and attacking him every chance he had.
This led into a feud which culminated with exactly what Jericho wanted, a match at Wrestlemania. What we got was a classic contest between, quite possibly, the two greatest pound for pound wrestlers of all time. A beautiful back and forth match ensued, with the two showmen mixing great technical mat wrestling with a high flying aerial assault, with no one clearly gaining the upper hand at any point.
Jericho was very loud and boisterous during this encounter, constantly exclaiming how great he was and that he was better than Shawn Michaels. He then began mocking HBK, dancing around the ring like him, doing his pre-match poses, and using trademark moves from his arsenal including Sweet Chin Music.
After beating on eachother for over twenty minutes, with each wrestler trying to stay one step ahead of their competitor’s game plan, Michaels countered a side suplex into a beautiful roll up pin and defeated his opponent.
Immediately after the match, Michaels approached a visibly shaken and distraught Jericho, and offered him his hand for congratulations. Jericho, with tears in his eyes, grabbed his former idol and gave him a hug, giving the entire wrestling universe a warm and fuzzy Wrestlemania moment.
Or so we thought.
He then violently kneed Michaels between the legs, spit at him, and pushed him to the canvas. Never pretend to know what Chris Jericho is thinking.
47. Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior (Wrestlemania 6, 4/1/90)
There’s only room for one at the top!
This was Goliath vs. Goliath. Champion vs. champion. The company’s two biggest stars, set to due battle at the industry's biggest event, Wrestlemania. It was billed as “The Ultimate Challenge”
Hogan was a year into his second reign as WWE champion after winning it back from Randy Savage at the previous Wrestlemania. Warrior was enjoying his second reign as the Intercontinental champion, which he gained with a win over Rick Rude at SummerSlam 88.
In front of almost 68,000 people at the Skydome in Toronto, this bout had a very “big match” feel to it. The card had fourteen matches scheduled to take place, but this was clearly the one that everyone was waiting for. Nothing else before this mattered.
I am not a big fan of either of these competitors, and you will most likely not see either of them again on this list. Neither was ever credited with being a great ring general. They were popular more for their gimmicks and cartoonish personalities, which was a staple of professional wrestling in the late '80s and early '90s.
But, on this night, both of them had the match of their careers. It actually lived up to its enormous expectations and for twenty three minutes, the wrestling world was captivated.
These evenly matched gladiators started off the contest with a face to face stare down and then some tests of strength. Neither man gains a clear advantage, until Warrior clotheslines Hogan over the top rope and Hulk's knee gives out.
Warrior works over Hogan’s knee for a bit, until Hulk makes a comeback and over-powers Warrior with some elbow drops and clotheslines into the corners. The two continue pounding each other throughout the match, trading roundhouses, body slams, and clotheslines. A technically sound bout is taking place before our eyes.
One of the best parts of the match was the crowd. The fans in attendance were so loud and passionate, the atmosphere was electric. It was truly anyone’s match, and with the referee momentarily unconscious, both men had their opponent pinned for a three count, but it didn’t matter.
In an impressive feat of strength, and something up to that point I had never seen before, Warrior had Hogan above his head for a gorilla press slam. After the slam and a splash, Hogan kicked out at two and Hulked up.
This was the point of the match where, over the last seven years, Hogan would come back and win.
But, in a stunning turn of events, Hulk missed his trademark finisher leg drop, and Warrior followed it up with a big splash and pin to win his first WWE championship.
The crowd was absolutely wild, and a beaten Hogan, in one of the classiest moments in Wrestlemania history, presented Warrior with the belt and raised his arm in victory. A giant step towards immortality.
46. Edge vs. Eddie Guerrero (Smackdown, 9/26/02)
These two warriors had been feuding for the past three months, with Edge defeating Eddie at SummerSlam in an incredible bout, and Eddie picking up a win in a great contest at Unforgiven. This was the rubber match, and this time it was no holds barred.
The premise behind this feud was simple. Eddie was the ladies man of Smackdown, he was Latino Heat. But, the strapping Edge had been doing well with the ladies of Smackdown and become very popular with the female fans. Eddie became insanely jealous, and wanted to show Edge who the true man was.
It’s not very often that you get a Pay-Per-View quality match during one of the weekly TV shows. What’s even more surprising is that this contest would exceed their previous epic encounters.
Edge was clearly the fan favorite in this match. He recently disbanded the legendary Edge & Christian tag team to try his hand at singles competition. Guerrero was popular, but was no where near the beloved Eddie that the WWE universe would fall in love with in 2004. “Eddie sucks” chants echoed throughout the arena.
A very violent match for an episode of Smackdown took place, and these two men hit each other with everything they had. They are two of the fastest workers in the business and it showed. It soon turned into a ladder match after Edge pulled one out from beneath the ring, and Eddie brought in a second shortly after.
High spots included Eddie hitting Edge with a sunset flip powerbomb off the top of the ladder, Edge back flipping a charging Eddie onto a ladder propped up in the corner of the ring, and the finish which saw Edge hit Eddie with a devastating “Edgecution” from atop the ladder, knocking Eddie out cold for the three count.
The crowd was wild for this match, and these two performers gave us one of the best matches in Smackdown history. RIP Eddie.
45. The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin (Wrestlemania 19, 3/30/03)
The sun sets on a legend.
This was the third match between these two legends to take place at Wrestlemania. They headlined Wrestlemania 15 and 17 together, and the chemistry these men had in the ring gave us some of the greatest matches and moments of all time.
This match would take place under slightly different circumstances. The Rock already had one foot out the door for Hollywood, and there was one thing that he felt left his wrestling career incomplete. The “Great One” never beat Stone Cold on the industry’s biggest stage, Wrestlemania.
Almost nobody knew it at the time, but this would be the final match of Stone Cold Steve Austin’s career. Years and years of destroying his body inside a wrestling ring had finally caught up and it was time to call it quits. What better way to end a legendary career, than to have one more epic match with his biggest rival, for a third time, at the company's most prestigious event?
Unlike their first two encounters, this match was not for the WWE championship. It was for pride. It was for the Rock to say he finally beat Steve Austin at Wrestlemania. It was for Austin to show everyone he still had it.
The fans knew exactly what was happening, and they were wild for it. They cheered their hero Austin, and booed the Hollywood heel Rock. Back and forth they went, with one very memorable moment coming when Rock put on Austin’s black vest and wrestled half the match with it on.
These two wrestling immortals gave us a classic, emotional, see-saw match, which ultimately saw Rock finally get his win after hitting Austin with three Rock Bottoms, capping off, quite possibly, the most storied rivalry in WWE history.
44. Triple H vs. Batista (Vengeance, 6/26/05) Hell in a Cell
The Decay of Evolution.
This was the third installment of their classic series of matches from 2005, and it was “Hell in a Cell”.
After the dismissal of Randy Orton from the Triple H headed faction known as Evolution, the stable was hanging on by threads. Everyone was well aware that Batista was coming into his own as a singles competitor and hot for a world title opportunity. After he won the 2005 Royal Rumble, things really started to fall apart for The Game.
Frustrated with playing second fiddle to Triple H, Batista was setting his sights on bigger and better things. The Game sensed this happening, and concocted a plan to get Batista to transfer to Smackdown. This way he’d be contesting for the WWE championship, instead of Triple H’s World Heavyweight title.
Batista knew what was happening, and with a very emphatic power bomb through a table on Raw, Batista officially announced to Triple H he would be facing him at Wrestlemania 21.
After Batista’s win at Wrestlemania, and a successful title defense at Backlash, the third match was going to be Triple H’s last chance. The two would meet in “Hell in a Cell” at Vengeance.
Triple H was already a five time veteran of these matches, but Batista had never participated in one. After losing two high-profile title matches in a row to The Animal, The Game was considered the favorite heading into this match.
In what I feel is Batista’s best effort to date, these two gladiators pounded on each other for close to thirty minutes, pulling out all the stops. An array of weapons and the cell itself were used by both competitors, and it showed.
A very violent and bloody battle had taken place, including Triple H drilling Batista between the eyes with a steel chain, and Batista nailing Triple H in the throat with his own sledgehammer. After many near falls throughout the brutal bout, Batista countered a pedigree into a spine buster onto the steel steps.
It then seemed as if Triple H was going to escape the Batista bomb when he grabbed his sledgehammer on the way up, but he couldn’t connect, and Batista mightily slammed him to the canvas and covered for the three count.
This was a surprising end to a very brutal match, which truly made Batista a big time player and champion for years to come.
43. Mankind vs. Shawn Michaels (In Your House “Mind Games,” 9/22/96)
Sexy meets Sadistic!
This was an incredible bout, between two contrasting styles and opponents the likes of which we had never seen.
Mick Foley claims this match to be one of his top two of all time, and I can see why. The WWE had never quite seen a character like Mankind, a boiler room dwelling maniac who wore a brown leather strap over his face, resembling a lunatic you’d most likely find roaming a prison psychiatric ward.
Shawn Michaels was blonde, handsome, in shape, and the poster boy for WWE. He was also the WWE champion, something Mankind wanted badly.
These two polar opposites gave us a war for the ages. Had it not been for the unsatisfactory ending to the match, it would rank a lot higher, but more on that later.
The WWE was in a transitional period at this time, and hardcore matches like this were rarely seen. Performers like Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Mick Foley, and The Undertaker were starting to put on more intense, violent matches than the audience was used to.
As this wild, back and forth match went on, things started to get bizarre. Mankind squealed like a pig, grabbed his urn for comfort, and even repeatedly jammed a pencil into his leg to try and get some feeling back after Michaels had worked it over.
At one point, Mankind had Michaels up on the top rope and was about to suplex him onto the announcers table. HBK countered the move and fell on top of Mankind as they fell through the table. This was a spot that had never been seen before this contest.
The end of the match saw Michaels hit a flying Sweet Chin Music with a steel chair to Mankind’s face. Before he could get the pin, all hell broke loose as Vader charged the ring to attack Michaels, which led to Psycho Sid coming to the ring, which led to a disqualification. Michaels retained his championship.
All in all, a disappointing finish to an unforgettable match that hinted at the birth of the attitude era.
42. The Hardy Boys vs. Edge & Christian (No Mercy, 10/17/99) Ladder match
This is the match that started it all. There had been a few ladder matches in the WWE before this one, but never with tag teams, and never this extreme.
This was the final match in a series of five set up by Terri Runnels for her “Terri Invitational Tournament.”
She picked these two teams to go to war, and offered the winners a bag of money containing $100,000, as well as the rights to her managerial services. All they had to do was climb the ladder and grab the bag hanging above the ring. Sounds easy enough, right?
Nothing like this had ever been seen before in professional wrestling, with these two teams performing stunts and moves with the ladder the likes of which no one had ever dreamed.
This was the first match that featured the top of the ladder leap frog leg drop, as well as Jeff executing his Swanton from the top step of the ladder. Not to mention the four youngsters just absolutely destroying each other with the ladder itself, performing high risk moves and flying all over the ring, risking serious injury. It was evident that the crowd was completely into it.
Simply put, Jeff, Matt, Christian, and Edge changed the professional wrestling industry forever with this contest, laying the groundwork for what is maybe the most popular gimmick match in wrestling today.
On this night, it was The Hardy’s who won the match, but in the end, all four men were clearly winners, receiving a standing ovation from the raucous crowd, solidifying themselves as major players in the WWE, as well as future world champions.
41. The Undertaker vs. Mankind (King of the Ring, 6/28/98) Hell in a Cell
The Destruction of Mankind
If I was ever truly afraid for the welfare of a professional wrestler in twenty five years of watching, this was it.
If you haven’t seen the match, you’ve undoubtedly seen the highlights. Some of the clips from this match are the most widely used for promotional spots in the history of the WWE. I hope Mick Foley gets paid every time they’re shown.
Foley claims he wanted to do something different in this match, and turned to his friend Terry Funk for advice. Funk (probably jokingly) suggested that he should start the match on top of the cell. Well, that is just what Mankind did. The rest is history.
As Mankind stood atop the cell waiting The Undertaker’s entrance, you could sense something drastic was going to happen. Foley had already earned a reputation for being crazy and sacrificing his body like no one before him, and the “Attitude era” was upon us, there was no telling what Undertaker was capable of.
Undertaker immediately climbed the cage, and the two battled back and forth for about a minute, before history took place.
Going punch for punch towards the edge of the cell, Undertaker, seemingly out of nowhere, grabbed Mankind by the arm and flung him off the top of the cell, sending the 300-pounder flailing through the air into the announcers table. His body hit the ground so hard, he actually wound up underneath and almost on the complete opposite side of the ring barricade. The crowd was completely stunned.
“Good God almighty, Good God almighty, they’ve killed him!!” This was the famous line delivered by a shocked Jim Ross right as it happened.
There are so many reactions that took place, you could re-watch this moment ten times and always find something new. The screams of the fans as Foley sailed through the arena, Spanish announcer Hugo Savinovich being knocked completely out of his chair, Jerry Lawler softly uttering “That’s it, he’s dead” behind the screams of Ross, and my favorite moment, ring announcer Howard Finkel who buries his face in his hands, unable to look at the carnage unfolding ten feet to his right.
Amazingly, after being attended to by doctors and WWE officials for close to ten minutes, Foley got up off the stretcher and started scaling the cell again to go after Undertaker.
Not thirty seconds after he arrived, ‘Taker proceeded to choke slam Foley through the cell down to the ring floor, taking quite possibly an even worse fall than the first. No one had ever seen anything like this, and it wasn’t unreasonable to fear that Foley’s career, and possibly his life, had ended right there in the ring.
Even more amazingly, Foley again continued on with this match for a little bit longer, even managing to counter “Old School” and deliver a piledriver to the deadman onto a steel chair.
A little bit of a back and forth battle ensued, but Foley was just too weak.
‘Taker slammed Foley onto a pile of thumbtacks, hit his finisher “Tombstone,” and the most brutal beating a WWE superstar has ever received was complete. This was a historic battle to say the least.
Stay tuned for matches 40-31, coming soon.
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