The 10 Most Defining WWE Matches of the Last Decade
The decade has brought fans of WWE some of the most exciting, outstanding in-ring content ever produced by Vince McMahon's company, a cornucopia of excellence unmatched by any other era in the long and illustrious history of The E.
Quality is only one necessary element for a match to truly define a period of time, though. Historical significance and the ability to change the culture within the company and, on a larger scale, the industry also weigh heavily on a bout's ability to be recognized as a defining contest.
With less than a month to go in the decade, relive these 10 matches that not only captivated fans but also defined the highs and lows of WWE since 2010.
Honorable Mention: Emma and Paige vs. The Bella Twins
On the surface, a 30-second TV tag match pitting Paige and Emma against The Bella Twins would not seem destined to make any list of defining matches of a decade, but when one dives deeper into the long-reaching effects of that contest, it becomes more difficult to deny it a spot on this countdown.
Even if it is as an honorable mention.
The February 23, 2015, match sparked an internet movement that championed greater focus and respect for women's wrestling after The Bellas, Paige and Emma were given less than a minute to work. #GiveDivasAChance trended worldwide and left WWE officials no other choice but to re-evaluate the afterthought their women's division had become.
That match sparked what would eventually become the Women's Revolution and a greater emphasis on women's wrestling. While the women of NXT had been stealing shows and proving their worth, it was the first and most necessary instance of the larger WWE Universe demanding change in regard to female talent.
Without that match and the outrage that it generated, who knows what women's wrestling in WWE would look like today.
Kofi Kingston vs. Daniel Bryan (WrestleMania 35)
To understand why Kofi Kingston's victory over Daniel Bryan at WrestleMania 35 is a defining match of the decade, one must look no further than the emotion painting Xavier Woods' face as he entered the squared circle to embrace his friend. Tears streaming down his face, the gravity of the moment became all too clear.
For the first time since 2011, WWE crowned an African American heavyweight champion. On the grandest stage in professional wrestling. Not as part of some buzzwordy push, but because Kingston's hard work and the fans' response demanded it.
Kingston won the title because he deserved it, and the fans believed he deserved it. In the weeks and months that followed, including on the After The Bell podcast with host Corey Graves, Woods, Big E and Kingston would be very open and reflective on the cultural significance of the match and its outcome.
And rightfully so.
Kingston joined Mark Henry, Booker T, Ron Simmons and The Rock as the most prominent African American world champions in WWE history. Unlike those men, he accomplished it in a show-stealing classic that will stand the test of time.
The Rock vs. John Cena (WrestleMania 28)
Dream matches simply do not exist in today's WWE, primarily because of age, timing or unavailability of one star or another. Yet, in 2012, fans were treated to a showdown between two stars of different eras, a battle for the ages a year in the making between John Cena and The Rock.
The hotly anticipated match packed Sun Life Stadium just north of Miami and delivered everything it promised. An epic encounter between two stars whose issues with each other transcended the wrestling industry and bled over into real life, the match was a titanic clash that lived up to even the loftiest of expectations.
The Rock won in front of his hometown fans, closing out the show victoriously as a dejected Cena watched from the entrance ramp.
Unfortunately, "Once in a Lifetime" became two years in a row, diminishing the effect of the original just enough to cost it several spots on this countdown.
Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Ronda Rousey (WrestleMania 35)
Three years of evolution and revolution culminated in a historic first for women's wrestling as Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Ronda Rousey main-evented WrestleMania 35, something previously unheard of for the long-marginalized women of WWE.
The match, an action-packed Triple Threat that was preceded by pomp and circumstance, saw The Man, The Queen and The Baddest Woman on the Planet deliver the most important performances of their careers. A failure to live up to expectations would have been disastrous for the women's revolution. Instead, those three performers lived up to the enormity of the moment, closing out a lengthy broadcast with Lynch becoming both Raw and SmackDown women's champion.
The consequences of the move to promote the women in the main event of the pay-per-view could be seen eight months later as Lynch, Bayley and Shayna Baszler headlined Survivor Series, becoming the first women to accomplish headlining that particular event.
The Undertaker vs. Triple H (WrestleMania 28)
WrestleMania 28 signified the end of an era as Triple H and The Undertaker settled their differences inside Hell in a Cell with Shawn Michaels as guest referee.
For 30 minutes, the icons of a bygone era captivated fans with a dramatic, story-heavy match that saw Michaels pledge his friendship to The Game and nearly cost The Deadman the match (and his undefeated streak).
Ultimately, The Phenom overcame the odds and defeated a defiant Triple H, preserving his streak for another year and closing the chapter on their rivalry. As the bout came to an end, three of the most influential and significant stars in WWE history embraced in a crowd-pleasing moment that meant as much to them as it did the fans who had jam-packed the Sun Life Stadium.
2014 Royal Rumble Match
Not every match on this list is defining for the right reasons.
The 2014 Royal Rumble match represented WWE Creative's stubbornness in not giving fans what they wanted, resulting in a contest and outcome that left the wrestling world fuming about the current state of the sport.
Daniel Bryan, the most popular star in the industry, was not involved in the match. Batista, who had just returned to WWE after a four-year hiatus, was and won the match to the dismay of the fans who had demanded a push for Bryan.
The chorus of boos that greeted Batista was proof positive that the audience was no longer willing to sit back and absorb what WWE officials were force-feeding it. After years of booing John Cena, fans straight up rejected Batista and the idea of him returning for a high-profile pay-per-view payday at the expense of Bryan, who had worked his way through the indies to earn that same spot.
The reaction would force WWE officials to re-examine plans for The Showcase of the Immortals and give the audience what it wanted. The company would not necessarily learn from the moment, repeating the same mistakes throughout the rest of the decade, but never was it as blatant and obvious a screwup as the 2014 Rumble match, which left a bad taste in the mouth of a fanbase tired of being told what it was going to support.
Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H (WrestleMania 30)
The People's Champion vs. The Authority.
It is a story that has been a staple of WWE programming for two decades, but rarely has it been met with the raw emotion that Daniel Bryan's journey to the top of the industry was in 2014. For months, the bearded wonder was beaten down, screwed over and left out of championship clashes by Triple H and The Authority.
Dubbed a "B+ player" by The Game and wife Stephanie McMahon, Bryan set out to prove his doubters wrong and reward the fans' belief in him as he squared off with Triple H in the opening contest of WrestleMania 30. The match, a battle between the resilient hero and his oppressive boss, was a brilliant piece of storytelling that captured everything wonderful and real about the rivals.
Bryan overcame a shoulder injury, interference from Stephanie and determination by Triple H to bury him and prevent him from heading to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match later in the night. He cashed his ticket to the marquee bout by pinning the COO of WWE in what was the real money match of the enormous card.
He would go on to win the top prize in WWE, thus paying off months of unwavering support despite a considerable amount of tumultuous booking.
The Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania 30)
For 21 years, The Undertaker rolled into WrestleMania and laid to rest anyone who tried to put the first blemish on his unbeaten streak at The Showcase of the Immortals. Industry icons, towering giants and cerebral assassins had been struck down by The Deadman's Tombstone piledriver, and in 2014, it appeared as though Brock Lesnar would be next on the list.
The Beast Incarnate had been a major promotional asset to WWE, but surely he was not the Superstar the company would waste such a monumental victory on, right?
In a moment that left the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in stunned silence and fans mourning the legendary streak as if they had lost a piece of their childhood, Lesnar delivered an F-5 and defeated Undertaker. The match brought two decades of excellence to a sudden, unexpected halt and set up Lesnar to be the dominant force he would be for the next five years.
To this day, wrestling insiders and historians debate the timing of the booking decision and whether WWE did the right thing by choosing Lesnar for the honor. Given his multiple championship reigns and ability to remain consistently over thanks to mouthpiece Paul Heyman, it is a valid debate.
Bayley vs. Sasha Banks (TakeOver: Brooklyn)
Determined to prove that women's wrestling could take fans on the same emotional roller-coaster ride that their male counterparts did, Bayley and Sasha Banks entered Barclays Center in Brooklyn for their NXT TakeOver women's title match.
What ensued was a classic display of storytelling, physicality and raw emotion that forever altered perceptions about the role of women in WWE. The epic encounter captivated fans, leaving them enthralled by every near-fall, reversal and counter.
More importantly, Bayley and Banks proved that women were no longer the bathroom-break match of the card. They were the draw. They were the match fans most looked forward to. They were the stars of the show, regardless of gender.
What The Bella Twins, Emma and Paige sparked in response to the disrespect shown them by management in February of that year, Bayley and Banks built on and turned into a full-fledged movement.
Bayley won the match, bringing her story to a proper end, but both her and Banks made stars of themselves in a single match, setting them up as cornerstones of women's wrestling for the rest of the decade.
Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania 31)
Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins are as closely associated with the last decade in WWE as any two Superstars, and with good reason. The former Hounds of Justice found success both as partners and singles stars, establishing themselves as the current faces of McMahonland.
The main event of WrestleMania 31 had a great deal to do with that.
Reigns won the 2015 Royal Rumble to earn his opportunity to challenge WWE champion Brock Lesnar and spent most of the marquee match as a tackling dummy for The Beast. Just as he mounted somewhat of a comeback, though, Rollins' music played and the Money in the Bank winner rushed the ring and handed over his briefcase, turning the main event of wrestling's most important night into a Triple Threat match.
Rollins slithered out of an F-5 as Reigns obliterated Lesnar with a Spear, delivered the Stomp to The Big Dog and left Santa Clara, California, three seconds later as the new champion.
The match, booking and surprise outcome stunned the wrestling world and reminded fans that even in the age of the internet, the company was still capable of pulling out a shocker from time to time. This one just so happened to result in the greatest conclusion to a WrestleMania ever.
CM Punk vs. John Cena (Money in the Bank 2011)
Wrestling fans had grown tired of the monotony and stupidity that had defined WWE booking through the first full year of the decade and, by the summer of 2011, were demanding something fresh and exciting.
Enter CM Punk.
Punk, disenfranchised by the company's use of him, had no intention of signing a new contract and had set the Money in the Bank pay-per-view as his final date with WWE. On the June 27 episode of Raw, he cut a now-iconic "pipebomb" promo in which he ran down Vince McMahon, his family, the fans and the idea that anyone was better at what he did than him.
The result was the shot in the arm the industry needed and set up a monumental showdown between Punk and WWE champion John Cena just outside the challenger's hometown of Chicago.
In what was arguably the best match of the decade, Punk and Cena fed off the electric crowd and provided fans a dramatic and unpredictable encounter that concluded with The Voice of the Voiceless dropping The Champ with Go to Sleep and capturing the WWE title.
Punk left with the gold, creating a genuine mainstream star and a hero for fans to cheer for even after his tumultuous departure three years later.