WWE: 10 Best Candidates for 2011 Match of the Year
CM Punk takes advantage of Money in the Bank opponent John Cena
Throughout the course of 2011, we've bared witness to some of the greatest wrestling in recent years, with a few matches even being considered some of the best of the decade.
Despite some questionable booking at times, there's no doubt that the WWE Superstars have certainly upped the ante when it comes to in-ring action.
From the headlining main events of pay-per-views to the opening contests of Monday Night Raw, intense wrestling could be found on just about any WWE program at one point or another—even the likes of the WWE Superstars and NXT.
Quite honestly, I don't have the patience to wait for next week's Slammys special, so take my presentation of my Top 10 candidates for the best matches of the year as an early Christmas gift instead.
With the year of double-digits quickly coming to a close, it's that time of the year to reflect back on the highlights of what's being considered one of the better years in terms of fast-paced, suspenseful, solid wrestling.
Although we may come across another potential for match of the year between now and New Year's Eve, this is just the "rough draft," so-to-speak, of what I believe are the most memorable, entertaining bouts of 2011.
The Miz vs. John Morrison in a Falls Count Anywhere Match (Raw, Jan. 3)
The Miz vs. John Morrison for the WWE Championship
Nearly a year ago, The Miz successfully cashed-in his Raw Money in the Bank briefcase on Randy Orton to be crowned the new WWE champion.
After retaining the belt in a fluky fashion in a Tables Match against the Viper at the WWE TLC pay-per-view the following month, The Miz was shaping up to be the top heel in the company.
Meanwhile, John Morrison was receiving the biggest push of his career with hard-fought victories over two former WWE champions in Chris Jericho and Sheamus.
After defeating the Celtic Warrior in a Ladder match at WWE TLC to become the new No. 1 contender for the WWE championship, Morrison decided to utilize his title shot on the premiere Raw edition of 2011, in a Falls Count Anywhere Match no less.
Despite interference from The Miz's protegé, Alex Riley, the Shaman of Sexy was able to hold his own for the majority of the match-up, including an extremely impressive maneuver off the stage. However, the Awesome One was able to dodge Morrison's Starship Pain through the table by following up with the Skull Crushing Finale for the victory.
Ironically enough, the former Dirt Sheet duo would compete in the exact same matchup last week on Raw in what was believed to be John Morrison's final appearance for WWE. I'm pretty sure we know who the Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty is of the two by this point.
CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio (Capitol Punishment, June 19)
CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio Highlights
Shortly after the 2011 WWE Draft concluded, both Rey Mysterio and CM Punk were left without direction on Monday nights for a substantial amount of time.
The former WrestleMania opponents crossed paths yet again in late May, trading victories on the flagship show.
In a rubber match that was announced only six days prior to the event taking place, Punk and Mysterio provided the most entertaining contest that was no doubt the highlight of the lackluster Capitol Punishment pay-per-view.
The finish came about when Punk caught Mysterio in mid-619, capitalizing with a Go to Sleep of his own moments later.
From there, the Second City Savior would go to to enter the WWE championship picture in what would be one of the most controversial angles in WWE history.
No matter how hard they may try, Mysterio and Punk are incapable of ever having a bad match together.
SmackDown Elimination Chamber (Elimination Chamber, Feb. 20)
SmackDown Elimination Chamber Match Highlights
Going into the event, WWE Elimination Chamber was easily one of the most predictable pay-per-views in a good while, given its shortage of star power and suspense. However, my original prediction of this being a lackluster show ended up being dead wrong, as it was rather one of the most entertaining events of the year instead.
Kicking off the show was Edge defending his newly-won world heavyweight championship against the illustrious likes of Rey Mysterio, Wade Barrett, Kane, Big Show and Drew McIntyre in a brutal Elimination Chamber match.
There was never a dull moment, with all the talent in the contest landing impressive maneuvers as well as keeping the bout fast-paced and intriguing.
When the smoke cleared, it was the Rated-R Superstar emerging victorious with the belt remaining around his waist following a nicely-timed Spear to Mysterio in midair.
Moments later, the 2011 Royal Rumble winner ambushed his WrestleMania opponent, Edge, only to be interrupted by the returning Christian.
Can't ask for anything more than that.
Edge vs. Dolph Ziggler for the World Championship (Royal Rumble, Jan. 30)
Edge vs. Dolph Ziggler Match Highlights
At the dawn of 2011, then-world heavyweight champion Edge was engaged in a feud with the rising Dolph Ziggler, who proved he was worthy of a shot at the title on numerous occasions on previous editions of Friday Night SmackDown.
At the Royal Rumble pay-per-view, Ziggler was given his first opportunity at the golden prize against the Rated-R Superstar in one of the most electrifying contests in Ziggler's brief WWE career.
With their natural chemistry, both bleached-blonde Superstars were able to provide an incredibly strong opening contest for the premiere pay-per-view of 2011.
In cunning fashion, Edge avoided utilizing his banned Spear maneuver by finishing Ziggler off with a Killswitch instead—a well-done foreshadowing of things to come.
SmackDown Money in the Bank Ladder Match (Money in the Bank, July 17)
SmackDown Money in the Bank Ladder Match Highlights
Similar to the previous year, SmackDown's version of the Money in the Bank Ladder Match at the pay-per-view of the same name was once again nothing short of awe-inspiring action that kept your attention the entire time—so much so that it was difficult for live bloggers and tweeters to follow the action simultaneously.
Although the bout didn't acquire the same amount of star power as Raw's incarnation of the contest later in the night, the natural chemistry between all eight Superstars involved in the match made for high intrigue and anticipation as to what was bound to transpire next.
Even newcomers such as Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel had their shining moments, whereas veterans such as Kane and Cody Rhodes were able to pull off some impressive spots as well.
In a shocking turn of evens, it was the IWC favorite Daniel Bryan capturing the briefcase in unexpected fashion in the opening contest, setting a nice tone for the remainder of the highly-praised show.
Noticing a trend here?
Cody Rhodes vs. Rey Mysterio (WrestleMania 27, April 3)
Cody Rhodes vs. Rey Mysterio Match Highlights
When Cody Rhodes was moved to SmackDown via the 2010 WWE Supplemental Draft last April, many speculated he was destined for greatness as a singles competitor on Friday nights.
A few months later, he would debut his new "dashing" gimmick, a retread moniker that would hold him back from bigger things than just the mid-card.
During his match with Rey Mysterio earlier this January, Rhodes suffered a "broken nose that required surgery" in a storyline. In turn, he was fitted with a hideous mask that forced him to develop a much darker side to his stale character.
For weeks leading up to WrestleMania 27, Rhodes looked more and more impressive as time progressed, finally being taken seriously as a legitimate threat.
At the Show of Shows, Rhodes pulled off a tremendous upset in an exciting contest against the Ultimate Underdog that solidified his push he so rightfully deserved.
Since then, Rhodes has captured his first singles title in the intercontinental championship as well as picked up victories against the likes of Daniel Bryan, Sheamus and even Randy Orton.
Christian vs. Alberto Del Rio in a Ladder Match (Extreme Rules, May 1)
Christian vs. Alberto Del Rio Match Highlights
Only eight days removed from the historic WrestleMania 27, Edge announced his shocking retirement from professional wrestling, thus vacating his world heavyweight championship in the process.
Both his best friend Christian and arch rival Alberto Del Rio qualified for the Ladder Match at Extreme Rules that would determine the new world heavyweight champion.
Given Christian's past history with TNA Wrestling and Del Rio's proclaimed destiny, the chances looked slim for Captain Charisma to pull out the victory, despite his long history in Ladder matches.
Nonetheless, with some help from the Rated-R Superstar, Christian was able to overcome the odds by retrieving the brass ring and capturing his first-ever world championship in WWE in one of the most emotional moments of 2011.
Randy Orton vs. Christian for the World Championship (Over the Limit, May 22)
Randy Orton vs. Christian Match Highlights
Only a mere five days later, Christian unceremoniously dropped the world heavyweight championship to Randy Orton in the main event of SmackDown.
As per his contracted stipulation, Christian was allowed one rematch for the world championship against Orton, which he decided to use at the Over the Limit pay-per-view.
With the rest of the event being horrendous, Christian vs. Randy Orton was the saving grace of this lackluster show in the eyes of many fans.
Unlike their first excellent match, their rematch at Over the Limit had me doubt, at some points, my original prediction of Orton retaining given their tremendous chemistry and ability to provide an extremely solid matchup.
Although the Viper did indeed still walk out the champion, it was an early foreshadowing of Christian's eventual heel turn a few weeks later.
Sure, every match that Christian and Orton contested against one another was amazing, but this specific one was the best in the series.
Triple H vs. Undertaker in a No Holds Barred Match (WrestleMania 27, April 3)
Triple H vs. Undertaker Match Highlights
For months leading up to the highly anticipated WrestleMania 27 event, it was unclear as to who would step up to challenge the Undertaker's infamous streak at the Show of Shows.
On the Feb. 21 edition of Raw, both Undertaker and Triple H returned to television staring down one another, signaling an epic encounter at WrestleMania.
Originally, I wasn't looking forward to the match, given the fact that they contested against each other at Mania a decade prior, and I'd much rather see fresh talent take the spot. But, their 30-minute-plus bout proved me wrong big-time.
With both veterans suffering sidelining injuries only a few months beforehand, it was quite surprising to see them work at the rate that they did during their No Holds Barred match. The stipulation allowed them to avoid wrestling and stick to mostly brawling, a strategy they utilized to perfection.
In the longest-ever Hell's Gate submission hold ever applied, Triple H reluctantly tapped to hand a wounded Taker the victory, thus expanding the streak to an unprecedented 19-0.
Triple H has only stepped in the ring a handful of times since that night, whereas the Deadman hasn't been seen on WWE television since.
John Cena vs. CM Punk for the WWE Championship (Money in the Bank, July 17)
John Cena vs. CM Punk
Without a doubt, CM Punk vs. John Cena at Money in the Bank is one of the (if not the sole) top candidates for the greatest match ever contested in 2011. This belief was obvious minutes after the pay-per-view concluded, with almost every aspect of this match being executed perfectly.
Regardless of their past history, CM Punk's infamous promo made on the June 27 edition of Monday Night Raw is what really made their rivalry personal—not to mention being one of the most controversial moments in all of wrestling history.
The following build-up was hyped to the maximum, as it should have, with the drama and anticipation at its climax.
Fast forward to the night of July 17 in Chicago, and you find yourself in one of the most electric atmospheres ever; the fact of CM Punk's departure from the company was common knowledge by this point.
Surprisingly enough, Cena delivered some of the best wrestling he's provided in years against Punk, who also brought his A-game to the championship match.
Despite interference from Vince McMahon and John Laurinaitis, the Second City Savior was able to capitalize on the given opportunity with a nicely-timed Go to Sleep for the pin-fall to capture his first WWE championship.
Punk was also able to outsmart then-Mr. Money in the Bank Alberto Del Rio as he fled the arena, expected to never be seen or heard from again.
Combined with the fact that the Money in the Bank event has been considered the best pay-per-view of the year, the headlining main event is what made Cena, Punk and—even wrestling itself—relevant again.
CM Punk vs. Randy Orton Match Highlights
CM Punk vs. Randy Orton in a Last Man Standing Match at Extreme Rules - Extremely close to making the list. Their solid bouts at Extreme Rules and WrestleMania are worth a second look.
Dolph Ziggler vs. CM Punk on Raw - Would love to see more from these two going forward, especially over the WWE championship.
John Cena vs. CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio at Hell in a Cell - A very entertaining Hell in a Cell Match that saw Del Rio outsmart Cena to capture the WWE championship.
CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Alberto Del Rio on Raw - A highly underrated match that took place in the midst of CM Punk's push in June. All three men worked incredibly well with chemistry in what was undoubtedly one of the best television matches contested this year.
Mark Henry vs. Daniel Bryan in a Steel Cage Match on SmackDown - Their storytelling made their bout worth watching on last week's holiday edition of SmackDown, with it being the saving grace of the horrendous show.
Randy Orton vs. Kane in a Street Fight on SmackDown - Kane's last match on television before his storyline injury. They were given great time and made awesome use of the environment around them.
Daniel Bryan vs. Sin Cara on SmackDown - This was the premiere match between the two upon their drafting to SmackDown in early May. Unfortunately, we were never given a proper rematch with Hunico portraying Sin Cara at the time.
Daniel Bryan vs. Ted DiBiase on NXT - DiBiase proved impressive in his final chance against then-United States Champion Daniel Bryan, with DiBiase pulling out the victory.
Sheamus vs. Randy Orton in a No Disqualification Match on SmackDown - Great effort by both men. Even though the world championship wasn't on the line, the Celtic Warrior proved himself worthy.
Trent Barreta vs. Tyson Kidd on Superstars - This rivalry on the Thursday afternoon web show escalated this past spring, but their bout with Michael Hayes in Kidd's corner proved to be their best.
Daniel Bryan vs. William Regal on Superstars - There's no better storyline than pitting the master against the apprentice, in Regal's hometown of England no less. Enjoyable technical match.
Randy Orton vs. Dolph Ziggler on Raw - This was the first match of the Raw SuperShow exchange back in August. Ziggler came off as a huge star here.
Christian vs. Randy Orton in a No Holds Barred Match at SummerSlam - Although it's a repeat of a previous slide, this bout was the blow-off to the feud of the year in my opinion, ending with a picture perfect RKO to Christian on the steel steps.
Christian vs. CM Punk on SmackDown - Despite some overbooking, Christian and Punk's great chemistry made for a solid Friday night main event.
Daniel Bryan vs. Alberto Del Rio on SmackDown - In a battle of the briefcase winners, their submission styles clashed in a very fun bout back in August.
CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio at Survivor Series - In what was the best wrestled match on the show, Punk took the victory from Del Rio here at MSG, as well as the WWE Championship.
Cast Your Vote!
Alberto Del Rio vs. CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio
With my personal candidates now in the books, now it's time for you to voice your opinions for early candidates for the best WWE match of 2011!
Don't agree with my list? Think I forgot to include a match? Think I should remove a specific contest?
Drop a comment below with your thoughts on the best matches of 2011 as well as any additional notes that should also be considered. Make sure to take the match's wrestling, drama, build-up, storytelling, star power, anticipation and aftermath into consideration before placing your vote.
Thanks for reading, Bleachers, and I'll be sure to announce the respective winners in a future article or slideshow of mine. Your feedback and overall criticism of this piece is greatly appreciated.