Pro Wrestling's Greatest Battles: The Top 100 Matches in WWE History, Nos. 80-51
There are only so many words you can use to describe the perfect match. When two (or four, or six, or even 40) wrestlers lock up in the center of the squared circle, the anticipation is electric. The crowd awaits with bated breath to see which titan of the ring will come out victorious.
In its near-50 year history, World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly the World [Wide] Wrestling Federation) has played host to some of wrestling's most lovable and larger-than-life characters. But it's also been center-stage for some of professional wrestling's greatest matches.
Bleacher Report has assembled a collection of 100 of the greatest matches in the history of WWE. And we've ranked them, from No. 100 all the way down to No. 1. The process was long and arduous, but shall certainly provoke passionate responses from the readers!
Last time, we took down numbers 100 through 81 on our list. Tonight, put your boots on and lace 'em up real tight, as we prepare to enter the mid-latitudes with the 80th greatest confrontation...
80. The Rock vs. Chris Benoit (WWE Championship: Fully Loaded 2000)
It had only taken the Radicalz—Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Perry Saturn— a few short months to find success in the WWE, as all four men would go on to win championship gold during their tenure in the promotion. Out of the four, however, the one to find success the fastest was Chris Benoit.
During the infamous "youth movement" show, Fully Loaded 2000, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, and Chris Benoit all took on three of the company's top stars: the Undertaker, Triple H, and the Rock. It was Chris Benoit who challenged the Rock for the WWE Championship, and produced one of the better matches on a very stacked card.
79. Kurt Angle vs. Shane McMahon (Street Fight - King of the Ring 2001)
Kurt Angle and Shane McMahon were in the midst of a relatively uneventful feud when this contest was signed for the 2001 King of the Ring. With the "InVasion" pegged to begin the very next night, this contest was one of the first undeclared battles in the war between the WWE and the Alliance.
Renowned for its bloodshed and its sick spots involving botched throws through glass, this street fight was one of the more vicious bouts in the promotion's history, and redefined everyone's opinion on Shane McMahon's credibility as an in-ring performer.
78. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho (2/3 Falls Match - Summerslam 2000)
In 2000, the WWE upper mid-card was dominated by three particularly skilled workers. Two of them, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit, were accustomed to facing off against one another by the time Summerslam rolled around.
The two men had competed in outright classics earlier in the year, first at Backlash and later at Judgment Day. At Summerslam, the two continued their epic 2000 series with another stellar match.
77. Evolution vs. The Rock and Mick Foley (WrestleMania XX)
The handicap match at WrestleMania XX pitting the Rock and Sock Connection against the team of Randy Orton, Batista, and "Nature Boy" Ric Flair was expected to be a fun, exciting match in a series of them at the 20th anniversary spectacular in 2004. Instead, it was one of the top 100 matches of all time.
The action was everything it was promised to be and then some, with everyone hitting on all cylinders in one of the best matches of 2004. The match would be followed up with a barbaric garbage match the next month in Edmonton between Mick Foley and Randy Orton, which was great in its own right.
76. TLC III (WWE World Tag Title Match: SmackDown 2001)
The "TLC" (Tables, Ladders, and Chairs) match variant was well known when the Hardy Boyz, Dudley Boyz, and Edge & Christian got together for their third TLC match and their fourth ladder match together since WrestleMania 2000.
On this occasion, however, a fourth team would be added to the mix: the tandem of Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho. The duo, fresh off an incredible victory over the Two-Man Power Trip on Monday Night Raw for the championship, were placed in this high octane induction in the TLC trilogy.
In the end, it was Benoit and Jericho who reigned supreme on SmackDown's TLC match.
75. The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XXVI)
The "Phenom" of World Wrestling Entertainment, the Undertaker squared off with the "Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXV in a legendary confrontation. It made sense, then, for the two icons to get together one year later outside of Phoenix, Arizona at WrestleMania XXVI for the return bout.
With the Undertaker's streak on the line against Shawn's career, the anticipating surrounding the bout was intense. The two men went back and forth, trading blow after blow and riveting the crowd. In the end, as with the year before, Shawn Michaels found himself on the wrong end of the decision, and waved goodbye to the WWE fans in his farewell match.
74. Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind (WWE Championship - Mind Games 1996)
Before Shawn Michaels underwent what many insiders believed was career-ending back surgery in 1998, the Heartbreak Kid was one of the greatest athletic performers in the world. Michaels wound up doing in the 1990s what Ric Flair had done in the 1980s—elevate the game of everyone whom he stepped inside the ring with.
At WWE In Your House: Mind Games, Michaels defended the WWE Championship against Mick Foley. Wrestling as "Mankind", Foley was in the middle of one of his more successful runs with the promotion, and would become a major player in the company following his stellar match with Michaels.
73. Randy Savage vs. Tito Santana (Intercontinental Title - 1986)
The legend of "Macho Man" Randy Savage was already growing by the time this epic encounter took place at the Boston Gardens in the early months of 1986. Tito Santana was approaching the one year mark in his latest Intercontinental Title reign, but it was Savage who was making noise in the WWE.
With a prolific feud against Hulk Hogan still fresh in the minds of the fans, Savage exploded into the Gardens like a man possessed. The two stellar athletes went back and forth, until Savage made use of Danny Davis's shoddy officiating and an "international object" to win the Intercontinental Title.
The match, one of 1986's absolute best, launched Randy Savage into the stratosphere.
72. The Undertaker vs. Edge (World Heavyweight Championship - WrestleMania XXIV)
The Undertaker was riding one of the most impressive streaks in all of professional wrestling entering 2008. Having appeared at fifteen WrestleManias at that point, the Undertaker had emerged victorious at every single one. Yet in many regards, his World Heavyweight Championship bout against Edge at WrestleMania XXIV may have marked his most difficult WrestleMania challenge since his WrestleMania X-Seven bout with Triple H.
The main event at the Citrus Bowl during WrestleMania XXIV was one of the great WrestleMania main events of all time, easily surpassing the two other subpar world championship matches on the card. Though Edge made a great showing, the "Deadman" was on his way to 16-0 in Orlando, coming out victorious.
71. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge and Christian (Ladder Match - No Mercy 1999)
In 2011, most fans are accustomed to seeing variants of the venerated ladder match. Entire pay per views are built around the match type these days. Imagining a time period when tag teams weren't flying off ladders at one another.
But prior to No Mercy 1999, ladders were a thing of the past in the minds of WWE fans. Only three ladder matches had taken place on pay per view prior to the finals of the "Terri Invitational Tournament" between Edge & Christian and the Hardy Boyz, and only three men (Shawn Michaels, Razor Ramon, and Bret Hart) had ever competed in the match variant.
The Hardyz and Edge & Christian went out and put on an aerial clinic in the ladder match, revolutionizing the genre and setting the stage for one of the great tag team rivalries in the history of professional wrestling. With this match, the ladder match became the most popular match variant in the WWE.
70. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho (Ladder Match - Royal Rumble 2001)
After appearing against each other in four different pay per view matches in 2000, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho picked up right where they'd left off at the first show of 2001. The Royal Rumble card that year featured Intercontinental Champion Chris Benoit defending his title against Jericho in a ladder match.
The two men delivered everything that was promised and then some, as the high-flying aerial tactics popularized by the Hardyz, Dudleyz, and Edge & Christian took a back seat to vicious strikes and back-breaking maneuvers with the ladder.
Among the many famous spots from the match include the failed Benoit dive outside the ring into a steel chair hoisted up by Jericho, and Y2J's "Walls of Jericho" on top of the ladder.
69. Rob Van Dam vs. Eddie Guerrero (Ladder Match - Monday Night Raw 2002)
Rob Van Dam and Eddie Guerrero had become entangled in a feud over the Intercontinental Championship during the Spring of 2002. Guerrero, who had recently been rehired by the WWE after a brief layoff due to drug problems, was back in the promotion and on the war path, demolishing Van Dam in short order for the title.
In this rematch, which took place in Alberta, Canada in May of 2002, Eddie and Rob Van Dam used the ever-popular ladder match to determine who would take the title home with them. The two men put on an absolute clinic, wowing the crowd with high-impact offensive and dramatic climbs.
Even the interference of a fan couldn't detract from the magnitude of this epic encounter.
68. The Glamor Girls vs. The Jumping Bomb Angels (Royal Rumble 1988)
Women's wrestling has never been a huge staple in the WWE's line-ups over the years. Though there have been stand-out performers through various eras (Fabulous Moolah, Wendi Richter, Alundra Blayze), there have been few true periods where the dominant female wrestler was challenged by other women for her spot as the promotion's top women's wrestler.
In 1988, though, a rarity occurred, as the WWE introduced a Japanese women's tag team, the Jumping Bomb Angels. The two competitors, Itzuki Yamazaki and Noriyo Tateno, were unlike anything professional wrestling fans had seen in North America.
At the very first Royal Rumble, the two women took on Judy Martin and Lelani Kai, also known as the Glamor Girls, in a best two-out-of-three falls match for the WWE Women's Tag Team Championship. The Angels used maneuvers in the encounter that were rarely even seen in Japan, let alone 1988 WWE. Some of their complex submission maneuvers and powerbombs wouldn't be seen on a regular basis for another ten to fifteen years.
The Angels weren't long for the WWE, but with this match, they left an indelible mark on the future of the business.
67. CM Punk vs. Jeff Hardy (TLC Match - Summerslam 2009)
Jeff Hardy and CM Punk were no strangers to one another when they faced off for the World Heavyweight Championship at the twenty-second edition of Summerslam in 2009. What was unique was the one-on-one TLC rules in which the match went by.
Hardy, the daredevil champion from Cameron, North Carolina took on the "straight edge superstar" in the highly volatile match structure, exciting the crowd as only the two men could. The match, ending with a Punk victory, helped cement him as one of the best main event talents in the business, and served as a coda to Jeff Hardy's career in the WWE (for the time being, at least!)
66. Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley vs. Trish Stratus (No Way Out 2001)
One of the most shockingly great matches on this list took place at No Way Out 2001, the pay per view immediately preceding WrestleMania X-Seven. Despite taking place during a lull creatively for the promotion, No Way Out was one of the greatest pay per views the company has ever produced, and set the stage for an even greater show the following April.
Yet of all the big matches on the card, the fight between Trish Stratus and Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley was incredibly surprising for a number of reasons. Despite the fact that Trish would go on to become one of the greatest female wrestlers in history in the years following this match, she wasn't well known at this point for being a great wrestler (her managerial skills were more pronounced at this point).
When added with Stephanie McMahon's almost-total lack of experience inside the ring (despite being a former Women's Champion!), the match should have been a train wreck. Instead, Trish and Stephanie delivered in one of the most competitive matches the division has ever seen, featuring inventive spots that have since become staples of the promotion.
This match, more than any other, launched the in-ring career of Trish Stratus.
65. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit (Unforgiven 2002)
Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle wrestled each other almost as much as Benoit and Chris Jericho wrestled one another. For a time, the Angle/Benoit tandem was being talked about in the same sentence as Flair/Steamboat for one of professional wrestling's great all-time rivalries in terms of match quality.
While there are too many matches between the two men to count that are worthy of inclusion, Unforgiven's installment of their feud in 2002 proves to be one of the very best. The two were partly responsible for the wave of mat wrestling and technical prowess that made a big comeback in the WWE following the "garbage" era of the late 1990s.
Benoit would win this match, but Angle would go on to win the feud in the end.
64. Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker (Hell in a Cell - No Mercy 2002)
At No Mercy 2002, the reigning WWE Champion Brock Lesnar got a return match with the "Phenom", the Undertaker after an inconclusive result to their first match at Unforgiven the previous month. With the stakes riding in this championship affair, officials had no recourse but to contest this match inside the Hell in a Cell structure.
The lengthy match was largely a power-based affair, with the Undertaker utilizing his striking capabilities (despite an injury to his hand) while Brock Lesnar demonstrated his freakish size, speed, and strength. The match is also notable, among other things, for containing one of the goriest blade jobs in the history of the WWE.
To some insiders, the Undertaker blade job was worse than the infamous Keiji "Great Muta" Mutoh blade job upon which other bleeders are judged in professional wrestling.
63. Shawn Michaels vs. John Cena (WWE Championship - WrestleMania 23)
Shawn Michaels has wrestled in the main event of a pay per view more times than most WWE superstars have appeared at pay per views. His list of accomplishments in the business is virtually unparalleled by any other wrestler, past or present.
Yet for all his accomplishments, Michaels couldn't corral the unstoppable force of John Cena in the Motor City. At WrestleMania 23, the D-X co-founder took on the WWE Champion in the main event of the evening, creating quite a stir in the anti-Cena crowd.
Michaels and Cena delivered a classic bout, featuring near-falls and dramatic moments galore. Despite the crowd being behind him, HBK would eventually tap out to Cena's STF, completing one of the great WrestleMania matches in the past ten years.
62. Steve Austin vs. Dude Love (WWE Championship - Over the Edge 1998)
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin is an interesting case. From his earliest days in WCW, Austin was an exceptional technical wrestler, employing the right mix of power, speed, and agility to truly stand out as one of wrestling's most promising stars.
Despite entering the WWE with this pedigree, the neck injury he sustained at Summerslam 1997 from a botched piledriver changed his wrestling style emphatically. His mobility lessened, Austin began to rely on crazy, outlandish brawls during the heart of the Attitude Era.
Few of his matches delivered in this regard better than his second pay per view clash with Mick Foley, who was competing at this point under the "Dude Love" persona. Austin and Love went all out, brawling all over the place and raising havoc throughout the arena. Austin would retain in what many believe to be one of the best matches from the entire Attitude period.
61. 2004 Royal Rumble Match
There have been 24 Royal Rumble matches in WWE history, with 20 different winners of the big match. And yet while there have been a few clunkers over the years, most Rumble matches are fairly decent encounters simply because of their stature and their history.
On several occasions, however, the booking decisions and competitors in the matches have boosted them from "good Rumbles" to "must see" territory. 2004's Royal Rumble Match is definitely in "must see" territory as far as Rumble matches go.
The event was one of two Rumbles (the other being 1995) where the eventual winner would enter the match at number one. Some of the top wrestlers of the past decade were involved in the Rumble match, All told, the 2004 Rumble will go down as one of the top Rumble matches of all time.
60. Bob Backlund vs. Bret Hart (WWE Title: Survivor Series 1994)
Bob Backlund is an interesting figure in WWE lore. Despite being one of the longest-reigning champions in the promotion's history (only Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan held the title longer), Backlund was virtually forgotten about after dropping the title to the Iron Sheik in 1983.
But in 1993, a scant ten years later, Backlund would return on the scene with a vengeance, surprising fans of all ages with his competitiveness after being out of the promotion for a decade. Backlund, first gaining incredible sympathy with the fan base for his lengthy performance in the 1993 Royal Rumble, parlayed his return into a wildly popular turn as a psychotic heel.
With Backlund on the hot streak of a lifetime, it was a mere formality to move the title onto him at the 1994 Survivor Series. The incredible match that took place between Bret "Hitman" Hart and Backlund has become one of the great matches in the history of the Survivor Series, and would be Backlund's last major accomplishment in a stellar career.
59. 2010 Royal Rumble Match
The 2010 Royal Rumble featured a very surprising return in the form of Edge, who was coming off a lengthy eight-month layoff due to injury. It also featured one of the most ingeniously-booked match layouts in the history of the promotion.
Just like in 2008, the surprise returning superstar managed to pull off the shocking victory en route to an appearance in the main event at WrestleMania. For Edge, the Rumble victory in 2010 was one of his greatest accomplishments as a performer, and stands as one of the most exciting Rumble matches of the last five years.
58. Bret and Owen Hart vs. The Steiner Brothers (Wrestlefest 1994)
The Steiner Brothers were one of the great tag teams of the NWA (and later WCW). Following their departure from WCW, Rick and Scott traveled north to compete in the WWE, where they generally found less successful tag teams staring across from them during matches.
On this occasion, however, two of the greatest mat technicians of all time, Bret "Hitman" Hart and Owen "King of Harts" Hart would square off with the Steiner Brothers in one of the great "lost" classics of the 1990s. Because of the match's release on an old Coliseum Video tape, most fans today have never seen the bout. And that, friends, is criminal.
The see-saw affair featured some of the most bone-jarring maneuvers in all of wrestling, including the fabled Steiner Screwdriver (where Scott picks up the opponent in what appears to be a stalled vertical suplex, twists the opponent, and releases them, drops with them, and catches them for a spine-tingling sitdown piledriver).
The match, easily one of the best tag matches of the decade, was perhaps the greatest match the Steiner Brothers ever participated in outside of their SuperBrawl I match with Sting and Lex Luger.
57. Bob Backlund vs. Pat Patterson (Cage Match - 1979)
Despite his less-than-flattering reputation, Pat Patterson has enjoyed competing in two very brutal matches during his lucrative career in the WWE. Though his Alley Fight with Sergeant Slaughter may be the more memorable of his grudge matches, the 1979 steel cage match with Bob Backlund for the WWE Championship is the better match.
Backlund and Patterson were definitely practitioners of a different style of wrestling, being in the much slower-paced 1970s. Yet Patterson and Backlund would also manage to find themselves at the beginning of a new era in professional wrestling, with the slower '70s making way for the faster 1980s.
As a result, this steel cage match features an unusual amount of violence and over-the-top drama for a match from the time period, and represents one of the most incredible steel cage matches in the history of the company.
56. Kurt Angle vs. Steve Austin (WWE Championship - SummerSlam 2001)
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Kurt Angle have already appeared once on our list, making waves with their many encounters during the InVasion angle of 2001. Out of all their matches, however, their bout for the WWE Championship at Summerslam 2001 may be their very best.
Austin (in the midst of his turn as the leader of the WCW/ECW Alliance) and Angle (fresh off the first babyface turn of his career), went out and put on a heck of a show, producing an engrossing match from start to finish. This match had everything: brawling, excitement, blood, drama.
To be fair to the two men, however, picking between their matches was no easy task. In truth, you could probably find any match between the two and make a case for it being the best between them. There's that much chemistry in the pairing.
55. The Undertaker vs. Edge (Hell in a Cell - Summerslam 2008)
With their WrestleMania XXIV encounter still fresh in the eyes of the fans, the Undertaker and Edge delivered yet another masterful performance inside the confines of the Hell in a Cell structure. And like virtually every other time the duo squared off against one another, the match was simply outstanding.
What was so captivating about this particular match was the sheer pleasure the Undertaker seemed to take in throttling Edge. While Edge resorted to the usage of his trusty chairs, tables, and even a ladder to try and put the Undertaker out of commission, the Phenom returned the favor in kind, eventually ending the night with a ring-crushing finisher.
If you're competing in a Hell in a Cell match, you need at least a little bit of destruction, right?
54. Bret Hart vs. The Undertaker (WWE Championship - One Night Only 1997)
Bret "Hitman" Hart and the Undertaker had competed once already in 1997, where an untimely chair shot from Shawn Michaels on the Undertaker (whom chairs seemed to find often that year) gave Hart the victory and the WWE Championship at Summerslam.
Several weeks after Summerslam, a very special UK-only pay per view took place in Manchester, England. Called "One Night Only", the event featured a return match for the WWE Championship, this time with Bret Hart defending the title.
Though Bret would eventually retain the title, the match proved to be one of the Undertaker's finest in his legendary career, and was one of the last great matches he would have until he rebuilt his character in 2004.
53. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho (Judgment Day 2008)
Shawn Michaels had a rough year in 2008 (storyline wise, at least). After coming to terms with having retired his friend and mentor "Nature Boy" Ric Flair at WrestleMania XXIV in Orlando, Michaels came under attack from Batista for having ended Flair's career.
Yet it was the following feud pitting Shawn Michaels against Chris Jericho that has gone down as the summer of '08's greatest feud. Few angles have matched the intensity and passion that Jericho/Michaels had. Many wrestling fans consider their angle to be one of the greatest in the past decade.
Like other great rivalries, Shawn and Chris have had a number of spectacular matches, all of which could have found their way on this list. For our money, though, this match reigns supreme as their top encounter.
52. Triangle Ladder Match (WWE World Tag Titles - WrestleMania 2000)
When one considers the evolution of the modern ladder match, a lot of people look to the encounter between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon from either WrestleMania X or Summerslam 1995. For tag team ladder matches, a lot of people look to the No Mercy ladder match from 1999, or any one of the many tag team TLC matches.
For completeness, though, the style of ladder match that was begun at No Mercy '99 isn't complete without the coda to that match: the triangle ladder match from WrestleMania 2000 (XVI) in Anaheim. Three teams—the Hardy Boyz, Dudley Boyz, and Edge & Christian—redefined what the human body could endure in a grueling, heart-stopping classic.
Though future matches would evolve the genre even further, the groundwork laid by these three teams during this historic match truly did revolutionize the business.
51. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (WWE Championship - Survivor Series 1992)
When the names "Bret Hart" and "Shawn Michaels" show up on the marquee of a Survivor Series card, most people immediately conjure up images of Montreal in 1997. What most people don't realize is that the two men had actually competed against one another five years earlier at Survivor Series 1992.
For both men, it was essentially their first real crack at a main event in the United States. The only other time Bret Hart had wrestled in the main event was in England for Summerslam 1992, where he lost the Intercontinental Championship to the man who Shawn Michaels beat for it, the British Bulldog. For Michaels, it was his very first main event match, period.
Though most people remember the Iron Man Match as their premier showcase against one another, most would be surprised to know that the '92 Survivor Series match was one of the best matches of 1992, which featured a number of matches involving names like Ric Flair, Randy Savage, and Roddy Piper.
But to think, if this match (and the preceding 49) weren't good enough to crack the top 50, how great do our last inclusions have to be to rank so highly? Find out next time as we conclude our special series here at Bleacher Report with Part III—the Top 50 Matches in WWE History!