WWE: Ranking the 7 Iron Man Matches
When a score needs to be settled in the WWE, there are times when a simple match is not enough. To test a man's will, and to prove how great he is, he must go the distance with an arch nemesis.
In the history of WWE, seven matches have been contested where endurance and stamina were needed to prove who was the better between two. The Iron Man match is the ultimate measuring stick, and since the first one in 1996, only nine wrestlers have had the technical prowess and cardiovascular conditioning to compete in such a demanding gauntlet.
For thirty minutes or an entire hour, run-and-gun and brute force strategies need to be thrown out in favor of cunning and the ability to pick apart your enemy, one appendage at a time. Only after the clock strikes zero—and sometimes that has not even been enough—can we tell who deserves to stand tall.
Welcome, B/R readers, to my rankings of WWE Iron Man matches. This is, of course, my opinion, and you are not only welcome but encouraged to share your thoughts on my list in the comment section.
I wanted to share this with everyone with the talk that has spread about a possible Iron Man match between CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, and to see where that could potentially sit among the other incredible encounters on this list.
I based my list on factors having to do with the matches themselves—what took place during the allotted time limit, and not necessarily what happened in the buildup to each bout. We can discuss the feuds and other things after the slideshow, which begins...NOW!
7. Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle, Smackdown, 9/18/03
As much as it pains me to put a match between Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle at the bottom of any list, their Iron Man match on an episode of Smackdown had a couple things working against it from the beginning.
First of all, the suspense is immediately destroyed by having a match like this on a pre-taped episode. Obviously, you could have avoided spoilers for this, but the knowledge that what you are seeing on your TV already happened two days prior really brings down the "big fight" atmosphere that an Iron Man match demands.
Michael Cole stated about halfway through the match that UPN had "given them permission" to go over their normal programming block should the match go into overtime, but I doubt even those who avoided early results bought that idea.
Because this match was not live, it also killed the pacing. The jarring interruptions of a commercial break sucked you out of a bout where one slip-up by either Angle or Lesnar could cost them a fall, and I still get annoyed over the fact that Lesnar's fifth decision after a huge superplex spot was delegated to a "during the break" replay.
This is not a bad match by any stretch of the imagination, but compared to what Angle and Lesnar did at Wrestlemania XIX, as well as the six other Iron Man matches on this list, it just isn't up to par.
6. Triple H vs. the Rock, Judgment Day, 5/21/00
With Stone Cold Steve Austin still recovering from neck surgery, Triple H and The Rock headlined pay-per-views for months. At Judgment Day, they wrestled only the second Iron Man match the company had seen, and the referee was the man who had won the other in Shawn Michaels.
The Rock was walking into his first pay-per-view of 2000 as champion while Triple H had crafted the McMahon-Helmsley Faction. Everything exploded into a classic wrestling bout that lasted 56 minutes and 30 seconds.
The train derailed in the last three and a half minutes.
In 210 seconds, horrid communication managed to undo everything that happened in the rest of the match.
The McMahon family and all of DX came out to interfere, with Michaels getting knocked out in the process. The Undertaker made his long-awaited return, riding a motorcycle to the ring and laying waste to everyone remotely affiliated with Triple H. At some point during these shenanigans, everyone lost track of how much time was left on the clock.
After time had very clearly expired, The Undertaker hit Triple H with a Tombstone, causing Michaels to issue the final decision and match victory to the new champion, Triple H.
Judging by the amount of garbage in and around the ring after Howard Finkel's announcement, it was clear that fans were angered by the finish, the screw-up or a combination of both.
If you want to watch this match again, do yourself a favor and stop after The Rock hits Triple H with a Pedigree on the announcer's table. You will be thankful.
5. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H, Raw, 7/26/04
Nobody ever thought Chris Benoit could beat both Shawn Michaels and Triple H in the main event of Wrestlemania XX, and I imagine even less thought he could do it again one month later.
I have no idea how many were left to think he would wrestle a one hour match against Triple H on an episode of Raw, but it happened, whether WWE wants to acknowledge it or not.
I put the other TV Iron Man match at the bottom of this list. Benoit vs Triple H is higher for a couple reasons, the obvious first being that it is live—and to me—the commercial breaks did not break up the pacing of the match with the same amount of disruption that happened to Angle and Lesnar.
Second, and more importantly, I just think this is a better match.
Triple H did not always get the chance to show off how technically skilled he was during some of his later championship runs, but his series of matches with Benoit brought out the best in him.
This was a hard-hitting, punishing bout that saw Benoit come back from a 3-1 deficit, an injured lower back and interference from both Batista and Ric Flair. Benoit did not stay at the top for much longer, but on this night, the mountain was all his—he is the only man to both enter and walk out of a WWE Iron Man championship bout with the title.
4. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit, Backlash, 4/29/01
While this is not strictly an "Iron Man" match, I feel for all intents and purposes that the Ultimate Submission Match should be included on a ranking list of matches where the object is to score the most decisions over your opponent.
This could have been labeled as "The Ankle Lock vs. The Crippler Crossface," and two of the best submission artists to ever face off in the ring each scored a tapout from the other by using his opponent's move.
Cross armbar, bow-and-arrow, elevated single-leg Boston Crab, Sharpshooter—you name it, it was probably done in this match. With only thirty minutes on the clock, Angle and Benoit got the chance to stuff in as much as they could, not just on offense but defense as well.
Something about Paul Heyman's insightful commentary gave this match a foreign flavor, almost as if JR's voice was being dubbed over an original Japanese audio track.
On a list of Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit's best matches, I think this one gets lost in the shuffle, especially compared to their five-star WWE Championship match at the 2003 Royal Rumble.
If you are a technical wrestling fan, or if one person who happens to be reading this is considering training to become a wrestler, check out this gem.
3. John Cena vs. Randy Orton, Bragging Rights, 10/25/09
The most recent Iron Man match was also the only one to add an Anything Goes stipulation. This changed around strategy for Randy Orton and John Cena quite a bit, as the ropes were no longer an escape from a devastating submission move.
Let's be honest. You will not find too many vocal supporters of John Cena on the internet. Should you come across a detractor who is open to discussion, show them this match.
Not only does Cena dig into his arsenal of oft-forgotten moves, a psychotic Randy Orton (who does a brilliant Wile E. Coyote impression while setting off pyro) stops at nothing to do what nobody can seem to do: keep Cena down. He nearly succeeds until the last six seconds of the match.
Of all the Iron Man matches, this one was the most physically demanding. Cena and Orton beat the utter crap out of each other, using steel stairs, fireworks, TV monitors and the Bragging Rights lighting structure for an entire hour.
Cena managed to cut his head open and continue to bleed even as medical staff tried to glue it shut. You can call him "Super Cena" if you want—Jerry Lawler even makes reference to it during the match—but the hero earned this one.
2. Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels, Raw Homecoming, 10/3/05
I would tell you I am biased, but this is my list, after all.
My favorite match is Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle from Wrestlemania 21. I saw it live, but it would have been just as incredible watching at home. If you don't believe me, ask Bobby Heenan, who pulled both men aside after their match to tell them it was "the best match I've ever seen."
The Iron Man match between these two for Raw's return to the USA Network was the pinnacle of everything Angle and HBK could do against each other.
For 30 minutes, they put on a clinic that made you feel like you should be digging into your pockets and throwing money at the screen. Kurt Angle countering Shawn Michaels' moonsault into an ankle lock remains one of my favorite moves I have ever seen on Raw.
I could not get enough of watching these guys go at it, and it killed me when the match ended in a draw, the only Iron Man match in WWE to actually do so.
Alas, we would never find out who the better wrestler truly was—Angle was signed to Smackdown almost immediately after losing an Elimination Chamber match that included Shawn Michaels.
This was Angle's third Iron Man match, including the Ultimate Submission bout against Chris Benoit. Not only has Angle competed in the most Iron Man matches in WWE, he did not win a single one of them. Interesting when you consider the history of his opponent...
1. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels, Wrestlemania XII, 3/31/96
Dreams come true.
A boy becomes a man.
There are many reasons why everyone still mentions the first Iron Man match in WWE with reverence. It marked a serious changing of the guard; no longer did one need to be a bulking behemoth to hold the biggest prize in the industry.
You can see the opposing mindsets as Earl Hebner explains the rules to both men at the beginning.
Bret Hart, barely acknowledging the referee's presence, takes time to wink at his son. Shawn Michaels, main eventing a Wrestlemania for the first time, looks hungry. Starved. Famished. If you can think of another euphemism for a man who craves, insert it there, but I have never seen someone who wants something as badly as Michaels looks here.
The match itself, were there ever to be a history course on professional wrestling, would be in the syllabus. Neither man is outside of the ring for more than a few minutes. "Highspots" consist of dropkicks and shoulderbreakers. Every second that ticks away reminds you that the first man to score a decision has the advantage, and that advantage becomes more critical as the match gets closer and closer to the end of the hour.
Cliched though it may be, there can never be another match like this one because it was the first of its kind in the World Wrestling Federation.
The physical toll it took on both men was so great that when Michaels hit his first superkick, Bret Hart was actually the first to get back to his feet. The second Sweet Chin Music is something we have seen hundreds of times in replays, but the elation captured on HBK's face can only be truly appreciated if you watch the match from beginning to end.
Thank you to everyone who stuck around, and please open up the discussion below!