Ranking WWE's 10 Best United States Championship Matches of the Last Decade
With the Intercontinental Championship always having had a reputation for being the workhorse title of WWE, the United States Championship tends to be overlooked by fans more often than not.
Its long lineage dates back to 1975, when Harley Race won a tournament sanctioned by the NWA to become the inaugural champion, though it wasn't until 2001 that it officially became property of WWE when WCW went under. Upon its reactivation in 2003, Eddie Guerrero captured the title and took it to new heights on SmackDown.
Unfortunately, nothing the company has done with the belt lately has made it feel like a truly coveted championship. Aside from Apollo Crews (who is still relatively early on in his reign), no one who has held the gold in the last few years has managed to make it more than just a stepping stone, at least not since John Cena in 2015.
However, that isn't to say that the title hasn't been defended in its fair share of thrilling outings over the past decade. Several Superstars have seen their careers catapulted after winning the star-spangled prize, while others have gone to great lengths to elevate it to the best of their ability.
In honor of the upcoming Independence Day holiday, this list will look at the top 10 greatest matches contested for the United States Championship of the last decade and rank them based on their build, in-ring action, crowd reaction, overall significance and aftermath, among other factors.
10. Kalisto vs. Ryback (Payback 2016)
If you don't remember Ryback vs. Kalisto for the United States Championship being a part of the WrestleMania 32 card, you likely aren't the only one. They produced a forgettable match on the Kickoff show that was won by Kalisto.
Unbeknown to most viewers, the feud continued past that point and into the Payback pay-per-view in early May 2016. They once again ended up on the Kickoff show, but that didn't stop them this time from putting on a phenomenal performance and almost stealing the show early.
Kalisto had largely flown under the radar for the few months he held the title for, but Ryback was easily the best opponent he competed against during that second reign of his. The David vs. Goliath dynamic they had allowed them to tell a simple yet effective story, and the sense of urgency they worked with was refreshing as well.
Interestingly enough, this wound up being Ryback's final match ever in WWE, as he essentially quit the company a few days later. Thus, it makes sense in retrospect that he wrestled with a couldn't-care-less attitude during this bout in front of the Chicago crowd that night, and as a result, he had one of the most entertaining matches of his entire career.
Kalisto wasn't able to capitalize off his momentum due to dropping the strap to Rusev a mere three weeks later, but he and Ryback should be applauded for having an all-time classic Kickoff match when fans least expected it.
Additionally, The Big Guy couldn't have gone out on a better note, at least from an in-ring standpoint.
9. John Cena vs. Dean Ambrose (Raw, March 30, 2015)
Spoiler alert: John Cena appears a handful of times on this list, and for good reason. He will go down as one of, if not the greatest WWE United States champion of all-time.
Not only did the title essentially elevate him to the main event scene from when he initially won it in 2003 to when his third reign ended in early 2005, but his two runs as U.S. champ in 2015 were also the stuff of legend. He vowed to put the gold up for grabs every week, starting the night after he regained it from Rusev at WrestleMania 31 on Raw.
The first Superstar to answer his open challenge? None other than Dean Ambrose.
Both men were bruised and battered from their respective wars at WrestleMania the night prior, but that hardly made this match any less enjoyable. Ambrose put forth an excellent effort and powered out of everything Cena threw at him until it was too much to overcome.
Cena and Ambrose didn't have many matches against each other in WWE, but whenever they did cross paths, magic ensued. Having a hot crowd right after WrestleMania helped their cause plenty as it gave them an electric atmosphere to feed off of.
Cena's U.S. Open got off to a strong start with this match against Ambrose, while The Lunatic Fringe gained a ton in defeat.
8. Dolph Ziggler vs. Zack Ryder (TLC 2011)
It may be hard for some fans to fathom now, but Zack Ryder was indeed one of WWE's most popular performers for the better part of 2011.
His sudden surge of success stemmed from his YouTube show, Z! True Long Island Story, catching on with the audience and crowds chanting his name every week on WWE programming when he wasn't being used. It took time, but he eventually earned a regular role on Raw and worked his way toward United States Championship contention.
That built to a hotly-contested clash between him and then-champion Dolph Ziggler, who had been riding high as the brash and cocky titleholder for over six months. Fans in attendance at TLC 2011 oh so badly wanted to see Ryder take the title from him in the night's opener, but there were no guarantees that WWE would grant them their wish and not just rip the rug right from underneath them instead.
The two of them had the crowd in the palms of their hands throughout the bout. Everything Ryder did was met with a roar of approval, while Ziggler was mercifully booed whenever he was on offense.
The momentum shifted back and forth before finally Long Island Iced Z hit an emphatic Rough Ryder out of nowhere for the victory. Ryder's rigorous journey was worth it alone for the moment of him celebrating his first singles title win in WWE with his father at ringside.
Ryder's reign was unceremoniously cut short a month later, but the beautiful story surrounding this contest as well as the exciting in-ring action warrants it cracking the list.
7. Andrade vs. Rey Mysterio (Raw, January 20, 2020)
Truth be told, Rey Mysterio's two reigns as United States champion last year should have felt more special than they did. His first ended abruptly as the result of an injury, and then the second was short-lived after dropping it to Andrade within a month.
The same be can said for Andrade, who reigned as champ for five months but didn't have many memorable title defenses at all, except for one from the January 20, 2020, edition of Raw.
Mysterio and Andrade have had nothing but great matches together dating back to when they first faced off in late 2018 on SmackDown. They've competed against each other no less than a dozen times since then, but perhaps their best bout together occurred when they met for the United States Championship six days before the Royal Rumble.
Even with this marking the first Ladder match held on Raw in over a dozen years, the two exceptionally talented luchadors did not disappoint. They made effective use of the stipulation, kept fans guessing as to who would win, and endured plenty of punishment.
The only thing holding this matchup back from reaching that elusive next level was the constant commercial breaks interrupting its flow. Had this taken place on pay-per-view, it likely would have been ranked higher on the list.
Nevertheless, this was an exhilarating affair that surely left both guys feeling the effects the next day. Andrade solidified his superiority over Mysterio with the win and ended the rivalry on top.
It's a shame this was basically the peak of Andrade's run as U.S. champion, as it was all downhill for him from there between getting suspended for violating the WWE Wellness Policy and later injured.
6. Kevin Owens vs. AJ Styles vs. Chris Jericho (SmackDown, July 25, 2017)
AJ Styles and Kevin Owens arguably should have had a much better rivalry over the United States Championship in the summer of 2017, at least as far as their matches went. None of them were particularly great, with most of them having flat finishes.
Oddly enough, the Triple Threat match they had also involving Chris Jericho on the July 25, 2017, edition of SmackDown was the best part of their program.
Jericho had history with both men, so it made perfect sense for him to return after two months away from WWE TV and immediately set his sights on regaining the gold he lost to Owens (twice). The in-ring chemistry between Styles and Owens was lacking at this point, so Jericho felt like the missing ingredient and helped them hit their stride.
This was all action from bell to bell with a rowdy crowd to boot. Owens was fresh off winning his third United States title two nights prior at Battleground, so Styles was gunning for the gold and Jericho just wanted to prove he could still hang with two of the best the blue brand had to offer.
This match may not have been remembered as fondly if it wasn't for that fantastic finish that saw Styles swoop in and steal the pin on Jericho after Owens had already put Y2J down for the three count with a bullfrog splash. With the win, Styles was now a two-time holder of the star-spangled prize.
Although the rest of their rivalry was nothing special (thanks, Shane McMahon), this SmackDown main event managed to give the belt the boost it needed.
5. Samoa Joe vs. Ricochet (Stomping Grounds 2019)
Samoa Joe originally captured the United States Championship in March 2019 and had a decent run before losing it in under a minute to Rey Mysterio at Money in the Bank. As a result of an injury Mysterio suffered that night, the decision was made for Joe to be given the belt back and be declared a two-time champion.
He was portrayed as an unstoppable force while champ, making him a fantastic foil for someone smaller than him like Ricochet. Their feud was in its embryonic stages heading into Stomping Grounds, and fans wondered how well they would match up.
As it turned out, their lack of history in the ring together didn't prove to be a problem at all. In fact, it worked to their advantage because of how fresh the encounter felt and how it flowed so smoothly.
Joe was dominant on offense and attempted to keep Ricochet grounded, but his efforts were thwarted. Once Ricochet's aerial abilities took control, it was all over, and a new champion being crowned seemed inevitable.
Sure enough, Ricochet found a way to eke out the victory and emerge as the new holder of the star-spangled prize. His reign was also unspectacular because of him losing it at the next pay-per-view to AJ Styles, but at least the moment of him becoming champion is something that can never be taken away from him.
Let this match serve as a reminder of better times when Ricochet was actually utilized properly by the company and the title meant marginally more than it does today.
4. John Cena vs. Cesaro (Raw, July 6, 2015)
A plethora of unique opponents challenged John Cena for the United States Championship throughout 2015, but of everyone who went up and answered the U.S. Open on Raw, no one gave him as much of a fight as Cesaro did in back-to-back weeks.
Cesaro and Cena originally clashed on the June 29, 2015, edition of Raw, but as a result of interference from Cena's then-rival Kevin Owens, the match was thrown out. It was an awesome encounter, yet the rematch the next week on Raw (which wasn't spoiled by a disqualification finish) was that much better.
It wound up taking place in the main event of that night's show, and that was exactly where it belonged. Cesaro was ready to be pushed toward the main event level even then, which was especially evident with the way he pushed Cena to his limit.
On paper, most fans probably would assume that Cena and Cesaro wouldn't have the strongest chemistry because of their conflicting styles, but the opposite was actually true. They made every minute of this match matter and electrified the audience with everything they did from start to finish.
Cesaro came within literal seconds of clinching the title, but he couldn't escape the super Attitude Adjustment off the top rope that spelled the end for his championship aspirations. Cena did his part in showing the world that Cesaro was on his level, so it was disappointing that WWE didn't return the favor by cementing Cesaro as a top talent after that.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
3. The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan (Night of Champions 2010)
Looking back on it now, The Miz had every right to claim that 2010 belonged to him. His long list of accomplishments that year included him winning the tag titles, holding the United States Championship twice, and cashing in the Money in the Bank briefcase to become WWE champion.
However, his best work in 2010 was with Daniel Bryan, who he was assigned to "mentor" on WWE's newest competition show, NXT. The two butted heads for the entire season, but once Bryan was eliminated from the show and eventually fired at the beginning of the Nexus angle, it seemed as if their rivalry was over without ever getting a proper conclusion.
Fast forward to SummerSlam, where Team WWE is in need of one more member. Miz offered his services but was denied at the last second by John Cena because the squad already found someone else to serve as his replacement, and that man was, of course, Daniel Bryan.
Their feud escalated from there and was set to culminate in a match for the United States Championship at the Night of Champions pay-per-view. Granted, it was less about the title than it was Bryan proving a point to his "pro" from NXT, but it hardly mattered because of how tremendous both men were in their respective roles.
The Chicago crowd rallied behind Bryan throughout and thought he was done for once Alex Riley—Miz's newest protege—made his presence felt at ringside. Bryan was able to thwart his interference, secure Miz in the LaBelle Lock and tap him out for the monumental submission victory.
The audience rejoiced when Bryan celebrated with his newly won United States Championship, mere months into his main roster run. It was another year before he was crowned world champion, but this (no pun intended) awesome outing put those wheels into motion for the bearded wonder.
2. Sheamus vs. Cesaro (Night of Champions 2014)
Sheamus and Cesaro have always had incredible chemistry together. In fact, it was their stellar Best of 7 series in 2016 that led to them officially forming The Bar, one of the best makeshift tag teams WWE has seen in years.
What fans tend to forget is that they first feuded over the United States Championship two years earlier. Cesaro had a near-eight-month-long reign from 2012 to 2013 and initially tried to reclaim the championship from Sheamus at Payback 2014, but to no avail.
Cesaro tried his hand at the title again several months later at Night of Champions, and that was where they went above and beyond by contesting a classic. Their in-ring styles matched up perfectly and resulted in an incredibly hard-hitting affair that fans could feel watching from home.
It was an all-out war between two of WWE's most physically-imposing Superstars. Sheamus ultimately emerged victorious, but Cesaro proved with this performance that he's in a league of his own when it comes to flipping the switch and stealing the show regardless of who he's up against.
The biggest knock against this outing is that there wasn't a compelling storyline going into it and there was no aftermath of any kind. It was simply spectacular for the sake of being spectacular and nothing more, which isn't always a bad thing.
1. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins (SummerSlam 2015)
While a Winner Take All bout between Adam Cole and Keith Lee is set to headline Night 2 of WWE NXT The Great American Bash next Wednesday, it'll have a tough time topping this title for title gem from SummerSlam 2015.
As previously noted, Cena defeated everyone who stepped up to challenge him for the United States Championship that summer, including Seth Rollins himself. That earned Cena a shot at Rollins' WWE Championship at the biggest event of the summer, and if he won, he'd walk away with both belts.
For as much great work as Cena was doing with the star-spangled prize, Rollins was ripping it up as well in his own role. He successfully retained his title against the likes of Randy Orton, Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose and Brock Lesnar, but Cena was an entirely different obstacle all together.
Winner Take All matches were a rarity in WWE up to that point, so there was no telling for sure who would win and whether it would have a clean finish or not. Thankfully, there was a decisive victor, but it didn't go down exactly how fans envisioned it.
The match itself was outstanding and perfectly showcased the skills of WWE's two top performers in 2015. They worked a frantic pace, busted out moves fans forgot were in their respective arsenals, and made those titles feel like they were of equal value for the first time.
This was well on its way to being the best Winner Take All matchup of all-time before former Daily Show host Jon Stewart interfered on Rollins' behalf—despite their bad blood up to that point—and laid out Cena with a steel chair shot to the gut. Being the slimy opportunist that he was, Rollins followed up Stewart's betrayal of Cena with a thunderous Pedigree to secure the victory and both belts.
Those final few moments aside, this was a masterpiece of a match with the right result. Rollins dropped the United States Championship just over a month later right back to Cena in anticlimactic fashion, but on the whole, the title had never felt more prestigious in WWE than it did in 2015.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, has specialized in sports and entertainment writing since 2010. Visit his website, Next Era Wrestling, and "like" his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.