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The 100 best matches to see before you die
What are the best matches ever?
Who knows? We haven’t seen every single match ever. That’s damn near impossible, unless you’ve somehow been to every single mat contest since George Hackenschmidt won the World Title in 1905. What we have done, however, is watch every single match on WWE Network. From WrestleMania 30 to ECW Hardcore TV #97, we’ve reviewed everything available on WWE’s groundbreaking streaming platform, and done our very best to rank its greatest 100 matches.
Here now, an A-to-Z guide for both novices and longtime squared-circle diehards alike for what to watch. See them all and you’re pretty well-covered. It’s WWE.com’s biggest list ever, and the definitive guide to the 100 best matches available on WWE Network.
Some criteria and notes:
- The match must be available on WWE Network. Sorry to all you AWA and Smoky Mountain devotees. We love Nick Bockwinkel and Dirty White Boy, too.
- The list reflects WWE Network’s availability at the end of Sunday, Nov. 9, 2014. The following day’s addition of Hardcore TV episodes and three ECW supershows were not taken into consideration, which includes the spectacular Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko farewell match.
- WWE.com recognizes sports-entertainment as ultimately subjective. The best match is up to you, the WWE fan. Which do you think is best?
Chris Jericho vs. Triple H – Last Man Standing Match: Fully Loaded 2000
Chris Jericho — much like The Attitude Era itself — was in a period of transition during summer 2000. The WCW émigré had established himself as a world-class technician with a jackass charm, but there was a necessary hardness lacking in Y2J that he finally found when positioned against Triple H. In the same way The Game proved his resilience in brawls with Mick Foley, Jericho’s own grit was unleashed in what was only the second Last Man Standing Match in WWE history. Throwing fists and chairs with the verve he typically reserved for “Spinal Tap” references, Y2J left Triple H gushing red stuff like an elevator in The Overlook Hotel. In the end, the night belonged to The Game, but Jericho’s evolution was what mattered here. — RYAN MURPHY
Goldberg vs. Diamond Dallas Page – WCW Championship Match: Halloween Havoc 1998
The clash between Goldberg and Diamond Dallas Page over the WCW World Championship at Halloween Havoc 1998 was far from a mat wrestling classic, but it had the crowd at the edge of their seats all the same. The contest brought fans on an emotional tilt awhirl thanks to a missed spear that left the undefeated Goldberg looking vulnerable for the first time in his career.
Although the showdown featured the finest in-ring performance of Goldberg’s career, it became infamous after the pay-per-view ran long and was cut off before the match’s conclusion. Don’t worry, you can watch the entire event, uninterrupted on WWE Network. — SCOTT TAYLOR
The Great Sasuke, Gran Hamada & Masato Yakushiji vs. bWo Japan (Taka Michinoku, Terry Boy & Dick Togo): ECW Barely Legal 1997
Once upon a time, a small organization based in northeast Japan so perfected its intricate and high-flying take on the three-on-three match format that it birthed a genre unto itself called the Michinoku Pro Six-Man Tag. There was hardly a more cutting-edge act in the mid-’90s, and ECW, a small organization based in northeast U.S., looked to bolster the lineup of its pay-per-view premiere by importing six of the Michinoku Pro’s top performers, including Kaientai, who arrived in Blue World Order threads. What resulted was 15 minutes of nonstop, rapid-fire collisions, dives and triple-team maneuvers that simply haven’t been duplicated on pay-per-view since. Don’t blink. — JOHN CLAPP
Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty – Intercontinental Championship Match: Raw, May 17, 1993
"It was a surprise that [Marty] was coming back out of the blue. He and the company had mended the fence, they decided to bring him and back, and they said, 'If we're gonna bring him back, let’s bring him back with a bang.'
"Marty and I had great chemistry working with each other as a team, but wrestling each other is one of those things that was never truly played out to its fullest. The Rockers' breakup was so big, so epic, and never fully got the mileage that it could have gotten. But at least the parts that were taken advantage of were a part of the beginning of Raw’s history and the Intercontinental Championship.
"Back then, Raw just seemed so weird. Monday night was so not wrestling. Wrestling was Saturday nights, but the intimacy of those Manhattan Center crowds was phenomenal. I didn’t get Vince’s vision, but it just took off and the place was electric. The setting was perfect. [The fans] were right on top of you. You couldn’t beat it. It was that hungry New York crowd, so it was impossible not to want to go out there and just work your tail off. It was just an unbelievably exciting time. Seeing what Raw became, that both Marty and I were a part of the original was a very special thing." — SHAWN MICHAELS, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
Natalya vs. Charlotte – NXT Women’s Championship Match: NXT Takeover, May 29, 2014
The sole Divas Match on this list displayed the incredible athleticism, strength and desire of two women with arguably the most impressive pedigrees in WWE. Natalya — WWE’s first third-generation Diva, granddaughter of Stu Hart, daughter of Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, niece of Bret Hart — battled Charlotte — daughter of 16-time World Champion Ric Flair — with WWE Hall of Famers Bret and Ric at ringside.
Following submission attempt after submission attempt, including Sharpshooters and Figure-Four Leglocks by both Divas, the self-proclaimed "genetically superior" newcomer hit the Hart Dungeon-trained Diva with her vicious Bow Down to the Queen for the win. In a display of true grace and sportsmanship, the competitors emotionally embraced after the unforgettable match. The athletic Charlotte captured the NXT Women’s Championship against a ring veteran, giving the WWE Universe a taste of what’s to come in the Divas Division. — KARA MEDALIS
Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant – WWE Championship Match: WrestleMania III
It was awe-inspiring, it was history personified, it was "the irresistible force meeting the immovable object." It was, quite literally, the WrestleMania main event that served as the foundation for everything that WWE is today.
The 15-year undefeated Andre the Giant stepped over the top rope to face WWE Champion Hulk Hogan in front of more than 93,000 members of the WWE Universe. When it was all over, Hogan's iconic slam of The Eighth Wonder of the World served as the moment when the torch was passed to a new leader of the WWE revolution. Hulkamania started running wild on that day, and still hasn't stopped. — MICHAEL BURDICK
Cactus Jack vs. Triple H – Falls Count Anywhere Street Fight: Raw, Sept. 22, 1997
"It all stemmed from an interview I did with Jim Ross in the WWE studios in Connecticut. I look at that as the event that turned Mr. McMahon into a Mick Foley fan. He wasn't aware of the stories behind the characters. He knew I'd been Cactus Jack, but had no idea that there was this Dude Love character I'd wanted to be when I was 17 or 18 years old. It was Mr. McMahon's idea to let me become these characters, because they all had unique stories and they kind of worked in conjunction with Mankind. That night, September 1997, was just the perfect place, the perfect time, and a great opponent in Triple H, who took it to the next level and allowed me to have that moment in the sun.
"It was like the fans in Madison Square Garden sensed something was coming, but it was almost like they thought, 'No way, they’re not going to do this.' I don’t think there’s ever been a case where a guy reverted back to a character he’d been in his pre-WWE career. But that interview with J.R. did such a great job of building Cactus Jack into something bigger than he actually was. The moment Triple H reacted to Cactus Jack, from that point on Cactus was the go-to, larger-than-life, mythological character who is bigger, better and badder than anyone else I’d ever be." — MICK FOLEY, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
Ric Flair vs. Lex Luger – NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: WrestleWar 1990
The reputations of Ric Flair and Lex Luger as in-ring performers are firmly established. Luger was a bronzed god who couldn’t wrestle his way out of a paper bag, while Flair was the type of preternatural genius who could have a good match against a paper bag. But don’t dismiss this WrestleWar 1990 main event as another night of “The Nature Boy” dragging an outmatched opponent to the Promised Land. When inspired, The Total Package could go, and he showed that during an NWA Title opportunity that was originally intended for an injured Sting. Luger ultimately lost via count-out — leaving the ring to save The Stinger from a Horsemen attack — but he emerged as both a hero to the people and a legitimate big-time player. — RYAN MURPHY
Team Hell No & Randy Orton vs. The Shield: SmackDown, June 14, 2013
The Shield debuted at Survivor Series 2012 and carved a path of destruction that appeared to have no end in sight. In this Friday night clash, however, the trio would finally be stopped. In the midst of complete disorder with bodies flying everywhere, Kane hurled Seth Rollins off the top rope and into the waiting RKO of The Viper. While the WWE Universe was still catching its breath, Daniel Bryan snapped in the "No!" Lock and made his black-clad adversary tap out. The victory put to rest the idea that Bryan was a "weak link" and proved The Shield could be beaten. — MITCH PASSERO
Dean Malenko vs. Scotty 2 Hotty – Light Heavyweight Championship Match: Backlash 2000
The WWE Light Heavyweight Championship never garnered the same praise as the WCW Cruiserweight Title, but that doesn’t mean the division didn't have its moments of brilliance, such as Backlash 2000. Newly arrived to WWE, the ever-serious Malenko was a natural foil for the goofy, bucket-hat-wearing, Worm-performing Scotty 2 Hotty. But don’t let Scotty’s appearances fool you: The vertical-haired half of Too Cool was a well-versed veteran by the time he and Malenko tangled over the Light Heavyweight Title. In turn, their pay-per-view match became something of a show-stealer, punctuated by its jaw-dropping ending in which The Man of 1,000 Holds reversed a superplex attempt into a top-rope DDT. Yes, you read that right. — JOHN CLAPP
Ric Flair vs. Kerry Von Erich – NWA World Heavyweight Championship No Disqualification Steel Cage Match: WCCW Christmas Star Wars 1982 (aired on WCCW, December 28, 1982)
So many of the greatest matches are two top-tier performers going toe-to-toe in the ring – that’s what wrestling’s built on. But some of the best moments in pro wrestling history involve a third party, and there’s no match that balanced three separate sets of motivations better than this one. When Flair came to Texas to put his NWA Title on the line against Kerry Von Erich, the fans hoped they would see their local hero score an upset against the established champ, but what they got was even better — a moral victory that spun off into the greatest rivalry in Texas wrestling history: the Von Erichs versus the Freebirds.
But this match was more than a jumping off point. It was a pitch-perfect old-school championship bout, a match that felt big not because of the effects or the stage, but because everybody in the arena so fully believed that this was the most important match ever. The double-cross that led to "The Nature Boy's" victory was bound to leave the Dallas crowd unhappy. But, by the time the match was over, fans didn’t even care about Flair anymore. All they wanted was to see The Freebirds get their comeuppance. — DAVID SHOEMAKER
DAVID SHOEMAKER (AKA The Masked Man) is a writer for Grantland, the host of the Cheap Heat podcast, and the author of The Squared Circle: Life, Death, and Professional Wrestling (available on Amazon). @AKATheMaskedMan
Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn vs. Tyson Kidd vs. Tyler Breeze – NXT Championship Fatal 4-Way Match: NXT Takeover: Fatal 4-Way, Sept. 11, 2014
Four of WWE's Superstars of Tomorrow left an indelible mark in the minds of the WWE Universe at NXT TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way. High-flying NXT Champion Adrian Neville battled three worthy competitors — the world-renowned Sami Zayn, the self-absorbed Tyler Breeze and "Nattie’s husband," the overconfident Tyson Kidd — in the NXT Arena in the brand's first Fatal 4-Way Match.
After Neville pulled the referee from the ring as Zayn attempted to pin Kidd, the NXT Champion shockingly superkicked his friend Zayn and connected with a thrilling Red Arrow on Kidd for the victory. With the odds stacked against him — Neville didn’t have to be pinned or submit to lose the NXT Title — The Man That Gravity Forgot did everything he could to remain the face of NXT, solidifying his spot in the NXT record books. — KARA MEDALIS
The Nasty Boys vs. Cactus Jack & Maxx Payne – WCW Tag Team Championship Falls Count Anywhere Chicago Street Fight: Spring Stampede 1994
It’s startling how quickly certain matches can shift from the territory of mindless fun to almost wince-inducing brutality. "Now this is a good, old-fashioned street fight," commentator Bobby Heenan exclaimed at the start of Spring Stampede’s tragically overlooked Falls Count Anywhere Chicago Street Fight. The brawl fit in broken pool cues, crashed merchandise tables and a shovel, and was way more dangerous than anything else happening at the time. The most harrowing moment came near the end, when Jerry Sags tested the durability of the human spine by shoving Cactus Jack back-first off a ramp onto the floor. And for good measure, Sags bludgeoned Cactus’ face with a shovel. "I’ve seen enough," Heenan said, satiated, even a little disgusted, after the pinfall. — JOHN CLAPP
Kidman vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Juventud Guerrera – Cruiserweight Championship Triangle Match: Starrcade 1998
"Rey and Juvi were great competitors and I always had a tough time with both of them, but always enjoyed working with them. To face them both at the same time, especially going in there as the champion who didn’t need to be pinned to lose the title, I knew I was in for a battle.
"Starrcade was the biggest pay-per-view for WCW every year, so to open the show as champion was great. The match itself had quite a few miscommunications that worked out well in the ring, so it was one of those nights that everything just clicked. It was the first night I ever tried the Shooting Star Press to the floor. And I did it on both of them. It was from the actual turnbuckle, and it was pretty scary to try.
"I had a match with Eddie [Guerrero] immediately after the match, and later on, when I was in the locker room changing out of my gear, Bret Hart came up to me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'You know what, kid? You’re a credit to the business.' That was something that always stuck with me, and was one of the biggest compliments that I’ve had in my entire career. To be recognized by someone of that stature is an honor." — BILLY KIDMAN, AS TOLD TO BRIAN PELLEGATTO
Christian vs. Randy Orton – World Heavyweight Championship No Holds Barred Match: SummerSlam 2011
"I wouldn't have necessarily predicted beforehand that Orton and Christian would have been so great together. A lot of people loved Christian and had been waiting for him to have that moment in the main event, and he turned out to physically be the perfect match for Randy Orton. It's one of those magic things where it’s hard to point out why it worked so well.
"The rivalry was thought of so highly in spite of the fact that Orton was a hero. When people talk about Randy Orton, it's usually not as a hero, but he was perfect for the kind of opportunistic scoundrel villain that Christian was. You really wanted to see Christian get his comeuppance and people were really excited to root for Randy Orton against a guy fans were traditionally used to cheering. Each of their matches had meaning.
"What they do in the ring is so good, it doesn't even matter how their rivalry got started. You can watch it as a standalone amazing match and see it unfold. That’s the tell-tale sign of two guys who know what they’re doing. Christian's been around a long time and Randy Orton's a third-generation Superstar who is so natural. They executed it like two veterans do." — PETER ROSENBERG, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
PETER ROSENBERG is the host of The Hot 97 Morning Show on Hot 97 in New York, the host of the Juan Epstein and Cheap Heat podcasts, and former host of "Hip Hop Squares" on MTV2. @RosenbergRadio
Ricky Steamboat vs. Rick Rude – 30-Minute Iron Man Challenge: Beach Blast 1992
There is no greater test of a wrestler's stamina than an Iron Man Match. Ricky Steamboat and "Ravishing" Rick Rude showed that at Beach Blast 1992. Rude had the bout expertly planned out, as he tried to gain an insurmountable lead, going up 3-1 within the first 10 minutes of the half-hour-long contest.
The resilient Steamboat, however, knew that he had it inside him to overcome the odds. The Dragon played the long game and tied the bout up at three falls with less than 10 minutes left, and reversed a sleeper hold into a pinfall to take the lead as time ran out in the grueling contest. — BOBBY MELOK
Yoshihiro Tajiri vs. Super Crazy: ECW Guilty as Charged 1999
Guilty as Charged 1999 will be remembered as the event at which Tazz finally won the ECW Championship, but the best match on the pay-per-view was Tajiri vs. Super Crazy. Commentating bouts between The Japanese Buzzsaw and The Insane Luchador was always fun. Besides having to call every move and counter as if my voice was being sped up by audio editing, I witnessed firsthand some of the most amazing sequences in history. The 11 minutes of mayhem saw the two future WWE Superstars use everything in their offensive arsenals as well as lots of steel chairs. In the end, the madman from Japan won this battle in what was a war of many matchups between the two human highlight reels. — @JOEYSTYLES
Sting, Brian Pillman & The Steiner Brothers vs. The Four Horsemen (Ric Flair, Barry Windham & Sid Vicious) & Larry Zbyszko – WarGames: WrestleWar 1991
"Sid Vicious powerbombing Brian Pillman is one of those moments that could have gone horribly wrong for a person, but something you absolutely have to watch. Pillman basically gets folded over his head and somehow survives enough to take a second powerbomb. It’s one of those moves where every time you watch it you don’t remember how bad it was. Whenever Sting and Ric Flair are together in any kind of match, they attract eyes, but to me, this entire match was just a story about Brian Pillman.
"From the beginning, the way Pillman dominated Barry Windham for the first full five-minute section of the match was sort of unexpected, because Windham was a lot bigger than Pillman, and at that point at least, a lot more established than Pillman was. [Announcers] Dusty Rhodes and Jim Ross kept making mention of the fact that 'Flyin'' Brian was by far the smallest guy in the match and still, getting the best of his opponents throughout the match. He seemed to be becoming this main event-caliber guy, which is weird to think about in the perspective of 1991. Wrestling was still Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior and the big guys; it was still the land of the giants, so for Brian Pillman to be such a star in this match, WCW was way more ahead of their time than they’ve gotten credit for." — SAM ROBERTS, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
SAM ROBERTS is a SiriusXM Radio host, Executive Producer of Opie with Jim Norton, and host of The Sam Roberts Wrestling Podcast. He has been featured on WWE Network’s "Countdown." @notsam
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. Dude Love – WWE Championship No Disqualification Falls Count Anywhere Match: Over the Edge 1998
There may not be another match that embodied WWE’s Attitude Era more than "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and Dude Love’s battle for the WWE Championship at Over the Edge 1998. Mick Foley described the bout best when he told WWE.com that his clash with Austin was, "The kind of match you could show to someone and say, 'This is why I’m a wrestling fan.' It was wild for all the right reasons."
This match had it all, from Pat Patterson’s over-the-top ring announcements to the final chaotic moments that led to The Texas Rattlesnake using Mr. McMahon’s lifeless arm to make the three-count. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Dean Malenko vs. Ultimo Dragon – Cruiserweight Championship and J-Crown Unification Match: Starrcade 1996
There was never more at stake for Dean Malenko than at Starrcade 1996 where his WCW Cruiserweight Championship and Ultimo Dragon’s eight Junior Heavyweight Championships from Japan, Mexico and Great Britain — known collectively as the J-Crown — were all at stake.
No matter how many amazing aerial moves Dragon hit Malenko with, The Iceman stayed focused and repeatedly tried to lock on The Texas Cloverleaf. Unfortunately for Malenko, when he finally snatched Dragon out of the air and caught him in the hold, manager Sonny Onoo got involved and cost Malenko the match … and his title. — @JOEYSTYLES
The Midnight Express vs. The Fantastics – NWA United States Tag Team Championship Match: Clash of the Champions I, March 27, 1988
Years before ECW mastered the in-your-face, crash-TV style of wrestling, these two teams introduced it to the world, as the rivalry between The Midnight Express and The Fantastics exploded in a vicious brawl.
The bout started with all four men brawling around ringside. Announcers Tony Schiavone and Jim Ross had trouble keeping up with the action as the teams launched tables and chairs at each other. In the heat of the moment, Bobby Fulton tossed the official out of the ring, costing The Fantastics the match just as they had the bout won. Jim Cornette and The Midnight Express left with the last word, as they brutally whipped The Fantastics, ensuring the rivalry would continue. — BOBBY MELOK
Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan – World Heavyweight Championship 2-out-of-3 Falls Match: Extreme Rules 2012
"I knew going into Chicago it would be an unpredictable and hostile crowd, and it really was. It wasn't your typical 2-out-of-3 Falls Match. The crowd obviously had a lot to do with it, but I got the Brogue Kick out of the corner, which caught everybody off-guard, then I passed out in the 'Yes!' Lock and he got [disqualified]. It was a very unique, hard-hitting match. It was back and forth the whole way, and one of the best matches I've had in my career.
"The physicality and our different styles have created a great chemistry. It's a matter of my physical prowess against his technical and high-flying ability. He never dies. He's tough as hell. Daniel Bryan is still my favorite opponent, and I just hope we get to have more matches like that. It ranks in the top five matches I've had in my entire life." — SHEAMUS, AS TOLD TO JUSTIN LESLIE
Harley Race vs. Ric Flair – NWA World Heavyweight Championship Steel Cage Match: Starrcade 1983
The run-up to this match included some of the greatest hairdos and outfits ever worn in wrestling history, and the match certainly lived up to such sartorial expectations. This main event saw the changing of the guard from the Race Era to the Flair Era in the NWA, both in real life and in on-screen terms — and more than that, it was the moment when the NWA entered fully into the modern era.
The match was grueling, with Race targeting Flair’s injured neck and Flair battling back valiantly. By the end, both men were busted open (There is literally nothing better than the overhead camera looking down on that red-stained, baby-blue ring mat) and their exhaustion was tangible and harrowing. When Flair pulled out the win by jumping off the top rope with a cross body, it was such an amazing moment that you could understand why Flair tried (and failed) that move in every match he had after that. — DAVID SHOEMAKER
Diamond Dallas Page vs. "Macho Man" Randy Savage – No Disqualification Match: Spring Stampede 1997
Spring Stampede’s No Disqualification main event was the perfect marriage of Randy Savage at his unhinged best and DDP at his absolute scrappiest. The grudge match had all the hallmarks of a classic brawl: arena-sprawling fisticuffs, assorted weaponry (chairs and trash cans in this case) and the prevailing sense that none of it could actually be controlled or regulated.
"We both knew that we had to go all out and lay everything on the line," DDP once told WWE.com. "The thing about both me and Savage was that neither one of us liked to do a lot of talking when it came to settling our differences. We both wanted to just slug it out."
Savage abused everyone caught in his crosshairs, piledriving referee Mark Curtis and slapping announcer Dave Penzer, while DDP — the hardest-working man in WCW — earnestly fought the good fight. If you’re looking for a match that possesses rare, borderline scary intensity, look no further. — JOHN CLAPP
Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho: WrestleMania XIX
In many ways, Shawn Michaels was the perfect wrestler. Chris Jericho would probably agree with that assessment, as Y2J grew up idolizing The Showstopper. So when the two decorated Superstars locked up in Seattle at WrestleMania XIX, it was a meeting of similar styles in a bout that became the ace in a stacked deck of a card.
The perfect mix of technical mastery and main event-level appeal, Michaels and Jericho traded kip-ups and Superkicks in a fast-paced affair that saw HBK walk away with a big Show of Shows victory. Although their post-match hug was short-lived — and offset by Jericho kicking Michaels in the crotch — their meeting at WrestleMania will go down as one of sports-entertainment’s true show stealers. — ALEX GIANNINI
Money in the Bank Ladder Match: WrestleMania 21
Most consider the very first Money in the Bank Ladder Match to be the best of all time. When you watch this one on WWE Network, it won't take long for you to realize why. The inaugural ladder-wrecking melee was chock-full of daring and innovative maneuvers, many of which were executed by the uber-agile Shelton Benjamin. The Gold Standard truly set the standard for creativity in these types of matches with such feats as a twirling powerslam off a ladder, and even using a ladder as a ramp to reach an opponent on a separate ladder.
Every single minute of this bout was intense and every competitor added his own wild moments to the highlight reel in a mad scramble for the coveted Money in the Bank briefcase. And it was only fitting that The Ultimate Opportunist himself, Edge, wound up seizing the briefcase in the end by utilizing a steel chair as the decisive equalizer. — TOM HERRERA
Steve Austin vs. Ricky Steamboat – United States Championship Match: Bash at the Beach 1994
Before he was the most successful @**-whooper in history, Steve Austin was an amazing mat wrestler who could hold his own with anybody in the world, including Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. With "Dragon Slayer" sewn on his black trunks in plain white block letters, Austin delivered a performance that was anything but plain. Still, no matter what Austin did on this night, Steamboat was one step ahead. Austin tried everything he could to retain the U.S. Title, including attempting to get himself disqualified to lose the match but not the gold. In the end, the man who would one day become "Stone Cold" used the ropes to steal a win and extinguish "The Dragon," temporarily. — @JOEYSTYLES
The Undertaker vs. The Rock vs. Kurt Angle – WWE Championship Triple Threat Match: Vengeance 2002
It was a great Vengeance in July 2002 — and an unbelievable Triple Threat main event — that saw WWE Undisputed Champion Undertaker, The Rock and Kurt Angle strike down upon each other with furious anger … and with one another’s signature moves, including a Rock-charged chokeslam, an Angle-executed Rock Bottom and an Undertaker-driven Angle Slam.
An Angle Slam by the gold medalist himself ensured Undertaker would not leave Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena with the WWE Undisputed Title, though neither would Angle. The Brahma Bull Rock Bottomed him to the canvas for a three-count that was a nanosecond beyond Undertaker’s disruptive reach. In capturing his seventh World Championship — his last for the next decade — The Rock left no room for dispute that he was, indeed, The Great One. — MIKE McAVENNIE
The Midnight Express vs. The Southern Boys – NWA United States Tag Team Championship Match: Great American Bash 1990
"The wild-eyed Southern Boys of [Steve] Armstrong & [Tracy] Smothers faced off against the Stan Lane & Bobby Eaton version of The Midnight Express. That’s a level of tag team expertise you don’t see anymore. A lot of tag team wrestling can be very paint-by-numbers. That’s what new wrestlers are learning today. But compared to what you see on TV today, The Southern Boys versus The Midnight Express is advanced trigonometry." — DEAN AMBROSE, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
Bret Hart vs. The 1-2-3 Kid – WWE Championship Match: Raw, July 11, 1994
As the old adage goes: "It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game."
Never has that saying been more appropriate than the WWE Championship Match between Bret Hart and an up-and-coming competitor named The 1-2-3 Kid. The Kid, whose numerical nickname came about after he netted a huge upset victory against Razor Ramon, earned one of the earliest title opportunities in the history of Raw by doing it the hard way.
Hart, whose years of experience in the ring dwarfed his challenger, still showed The Kid proper respect. The "Hit Man" shook the No. 1 contender’s hand at the bout's outset. He later requested the match be restarted after the referee missed The Kid's foot on a rope during a pinfall. And when the champion finally prevailed despite a spirited effort by the challenger, they embraced as a sign of respect.
If every championship match in WWE showed this kind of reverence, no one would ever feel like a loser in the end. — MATTHEW ARTUS
Ric Flair vs. Dusty Rhodes – NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: Starrcade 1985
One of the most storied rivalries in wrestling history reached one of its high points at Starrcade 1985, as Dusty Rhodes battled back from a broken ankle suffered at the hands of Ric Flair and The Four Horsemen to challenge for "The Nature Boy’s" NWA World Title.
Naturally, Flair targeted Rhodes' ankle from the get-go, sending Dusty scrambling into the Atlanta crowd to recover. It was elementary that Flair soon applied the Figure-Four Leglock, but Rhodes fought through the pain, survived the Horsemen’s interference and caught the champion in a small package to win the title. That night, The American Dream became reality. — BOBBY MELOK
Ultimo Dragon vs. Rey Mysterio – J-Crown Match: World War 3 1996
It’s not every day an up-and-coming competitor gets to challenge for eight unified championships at once. Of course, when a challenger like Rey Mysterio gets afforded that kind of rare opportunity, he seems obligated to make the most of it, right?
Thankfully, The Ultimate Underdog rose to the occasion against Ultimo Dragon at WCW World War 3 ’96. Mysterio challenged Dragon for possession of the J-Crown, a collection of unified titles that the reigning champion wore to ringside with relish. Of course, the No. 1 contender was no slouch, having previously claimed the WCW Cruiserweight Championship on two separate occasions.
Now that you have the backstory, just go watch this match. It remains one of the most memorable, energetic and enthralling Cruiserweight clashes of all time, succeeding at raising the profile of Mysterio and Ultimo Dragon as well as the bar for all of sports-entertainment. — MATTHEW ARTUS
Roddy Piper vs. Greg Valentine – Dog Collar Match: Starrcade 1983
Fifteen years before the advent of WWE’s Attitude Era, the sports-entertainment world witnessed true mayhem at the National Wrestling Alliance’s first Starrcade event. There, the notorious Roddy Piper went head-to-head with Greg Valentine in an infamous Dog Collar Match. Not convinced that guys took it to the extreme back then? Try this on for size. The competitors wore dog collars that connected them by a long metal chain. This set the scene for the hated adversaries to beat the senses out of each other. Literally. Not only did the match result in a gory mess, but as a result, the "Rowdy One" lost a portion of his hearing forever. — MICHAEL BURDICK
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. Triple H – Three Stages of Hell Match: No Way Out 2001
"Usually a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match doesn’t feel like three separate matches, but Austin and Triple H wrestled three separate matches back-to-back, and it wasn’t even the main event of the pay-per-view. It was intense, because Steve Austin wins the regular match with a Stunner, and then it’s time to start again, this time as a Street Fight. You think, ‘OK, these guys have had a lot taken out of them, so this will probably be a quick one.’ But no, halfway through the Street Fight, you forget about what happened in the first fall, because you’re now wrapped up in this brawl.
“Triple H gets the win, but you don’t have a second to catch your breath as a viewer, because you just saw this crazy Street Fight and you’re like, ‘These guys have taken everything they can out of each other,’ and then the cage starts lowering and you’re going ‘What?! What’s Austin gonna do, hit a Stunner and then walk out the cage door?’ But they do a full-on Steel Cage Match. Plus, there’s a barbed-wire 2x4 in the ring. At the end of the match you’re assuming this is the last match that either of these two guys will ever have, and neither of these two guys will ever get up again." — SAM ROBERTS, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
The Undertaker vs. CM Punk: WrestleMania XXIX
Before Brock Lesnar became the "1" in 21-1, CM Punk was the one who came oh-so-close to ending The Undertaker's legendary WrestleMania Streak.
Punk was arguably the most personal — and despised — of The Phenom's opponents on The Grandest Stage of Them All. For weeks, The Straight Edge Superstar attempted to mentally assault Undertaker, going so far as to desecrate the late Paul Bearer's urn on Raw. The relentless mind games continued into this bout, with Punk mocking The Deadman's signature moves and gestures. The Second City Savior also wasn't afraid to go high-risk, connecting with a brutal top-rope elbow drop onto Undertaker as he lay across the announce table.
The Hart Foundation vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust and The Legion of Doom: In Your House: Canadian Stampede
The Hart Foundation’s opposition was in enemy territory in summer 1997 when Bret Hart led Owen Hart, British Bulldog, Jim Neidhart and Brian Pillman into war against "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust and The Legion of Doom in The "Hit Man’s" hometown of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Though reviled by much of the WWE Universe for his anti-U.S. angst, Bret still had a very strong sect of support in the north. He and his brothers-in-arms were seen as kings in competition against their five American foes. The Foundation’s triumph is palpable no matter with whom you sided in one of Hart’s finest showdowns with his Texas Rattlesnake rival. — CRAIG TELLO
Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler: Bragging Rights 2010
Do you love wrestling? Really love wrestling? If so, finish reading this list, grab a tasty beverage, settle down in a comfy seat and immediately get eyes on the Champion vs. Champion Match featuring Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler from Bragging Rights 2010. Prior to hugging teammates or filling arenas with choruses of "Yes! Yes! Yes!," Bryan was long considered a sound ring technician and submission specialist. Such skill, matched with The Showoff’s amazing move set, electrified the crowd inside Minneapolis’ Target Center. With chants of “This is awesome!” raining down, the two carried out several outstanding sequences until Bryan, the United States Champion, finally snapped the LeBell Lock onto his opponent, forced the irate Intercontinental Champion to tap out, and cemented both of their well-earned reputations. — GREG ADKINS
Sting vs. Cactus Jack – Falls Count Anywhere Match: Beach Blast 1992
"Cactus Jack was awesome in WCW, because he was so different. He was like that anywhere he went, but he stood out like a sore thumb in WCW. Watching at a young age, I was creeped out and weirded out by him. Nobody moved like him or had that deranged 'never say die' attitude like he did.
"For whatever reason, he was really good at adapting to different guys' styles. He was able to adapt to Sting and was one of his better opponents. They had a great chemistry together, and then you add in the element of them brawling all over the building — Sting wasn’t known for that. It was a cool dynamic to see Sting try to take the fight to Cactus Jack." — SETH ROLLINS, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
John Cena vs. CM Punk – No. 1 Contender Match: Raw, Feb. 25, 2013
John Cena and CM Punk shared a special kind of animosity. They always had their issues, but neither could deny that the other brought out his best. And after battling in enough five-star classics, they knew each other’s moves like the backs of their hands. With an opportunity to challenge The Rock for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29 on the line, Cena and Punk dug deep into their arsenals to create an instant classic on Raw. The match is must-watch just to see the 251-pound Cena break out a hurricanrana. — JEFF LABOON
Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro – 2-out-of-3 Falls Match: NXT, Aug. 21, 2013 (aired on This is NXT, Feb. 24, 2013)
You can trace the moment NXT became must-see television to the second the final bell rang in this jaw-dropping 2-out-of-3 Falls Match between Sami Zayn and Cesaro.
The contest alternated between a fast-paced, high-flying affair and a slow, methodical bout as Zayn and Cesaro split the first two falls. The two competitors had the NXT Universe hanging on every move they executed, each one looking like it could end the match. The crowd was on its feet as Cesaro muscled Zayn into the air for a European uppercut and Neutralized him to win the bout, and stood in amazement at the epic match they had just witnessed. — BOBBY MELOK
Tazz vs. Bam Bam Bigelow – ECW Television Championship Match: Living Dangerously 1998
Double-crossing Tazz was a very bad idea, unless you enjoyed getting suplexed onto your head. Yet that's exactly what Bam Bam Bigelow did, setting up this personal slugfest between two of the toughest men in ECW, right in Bam Bam's hometown of Asbury Park, N.J.
From the get-go, Tazz and Bam Bam tore into each other like two predators on a National Geographic documentary. The Human Suplex Machine clotheslined Bigelow through the timekeeper's table, and later T-Bone Tazzplexed him off the entrance ramp and onto the steel guardrail. The Beast from the East answered with plenty of punishment of his own, including the "Oh My God!" moment of the night when the ring canvas buckled from the force of Bigelow crushing Tazz with his 365-pound frame. The entire crowd stood on their feet — with jaws agape wider than the hole in the ring — as Bam Bam then pinned Tazz to become the new ECW World Television Champion. — TOM HERRERA
Team WWE vs. Team Alliance – Winner-Take-All Elimination Match: Survivor Series 2001
For years, WWE, WCW and ECW battled in a war for sports-entertainment supremacy. But at Survivor Series 2001, the war finally hit the ring when 10 of the biggest, baddest Superstars came to fight for their respective companies.
Even the World Titles were reversed as The Rock entered with the WCW Championship and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin captained the WCW and ECW Alliance while WWE Champion. Two major betrayals, the constant bickering on commentary between Jim Ross and Paul Heyman, and an epic final showdown between Rock and Austin brought a fitting end to the war for sports-entertainment domination. — JEFF LABOON
Dean Malenko vs. Rey Mysterio – Cruiserweight Championship Match: Great American Bash 1996
"The fun part for me was the challenge of working with someone that I'd never worked with before. I was fortunate to see some tapes of [Rey Mysterio] from Mexico and matches he'd had in Japan with Psychosis and Juventud Guerrera. I was really intrigued by his style and was looking forward to getting in the ring with him.
"It was a special night for us both. It was his big debut in a big American company. What really stands out for me and Rey personally was the locker room was very intrigued by how small Rey was and how young he looked. It was funny to watch the guys looking at Rey like, 'You gotta be kidding me. Is this guy old enough to drive a car?'
"The best thing was, after the match, walking into a locker room with a bunch of guys who'd been in the business for many years and were big stars, standing up and giving this guy a standing ovation. Kevin Nash and Scott Hall made a big deal out of it, and they had just started with the company. We definitely did our job that night.
"I don’t think Rey knew it was a pay-per-view. He thought it was just a regular match, and all of a sudden he got thrown onto a pay-per-view when he showed up. Rey's a very special performer, as we all know. It was something I'll always remember and cherish, working with one of the greatest masked wrestlers ever in our industry. He's one in a million." — DEAN MALENKO, AS TOLD TO BRIAN PELLEGATTO
The Steiner Brothers vs. Sting & Lex Luger – WCW Tag Team Championship Match: SuperBrawl I
If you’re a fan of tag team wrestling then you must watch The Steiner Brothers’ World Tag Team Championship Match against Sting & Lex Luger at SuperBrawl I. Both duos represented four of WCW’s most popular stars at the time, making this a unique and rarely seen battle of fan favorites.
This was about as pure a tag team match as you’re going to find. No ulterior motives, no chicanery, just four legendary competitors squaring off to find out which tag team was the best. — SCOTT TAYLOR
The Undertaker vs. Triple H – Hell in a Cell Match: WrestleMania XXVIII
Triple H’s third attempt at ending The Undertaker’s legendary WrestleMania winning Streak ranks high among the most emotional wars waged on The Grandest Stage of Them All, with Satan’s Structure serving as an all-too-appropriate battleground for the carnage. With his longtime friend Shawn Michaels serving as the unpredictable special guest referee, Triple H used every tool in his arsenal — including steel chairs, ring steps, his signature sledgehammer and multiple Pedigrees — to put The Deadman down for good.
Although Hell in a Cell brought out the very best, and the very worst, in The Cerebral Assassin, The Undertaker ultimately sealed the victory with a Tombstone Piledriver as a weary HBK made the three-count that ended an era. There had never been another WrestleMania match quite like this and, perhaps, there never will be. — JAMES WORTMAN
Sting vs. Big Van Vader – King of Cable Tournament Finals: Starrcade 1992
When considering the greatest rivals of The Man Called Sting not named Ric Flair, one person comes to mind: Big Van Vader. Their first meeting resulted in Sting being sidelined with injuries. Their second meeting resulted in Vader taking Sting’s WCW Championship. However, it was their third clash at Starrcade 1992 that truly defined their rivalry.
Among the best bouts of WCW’s pre-Nitro era, Sting’s victory in the finals of the King of Cable Tournament was a dramatic encounter that highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of both competitors and became the most talked-about match of the event. — KEVIN POWERS
John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan – WWE Championship Match: SummerSlam 2013
Daniel Bryan was riding high on a wave of "Yes!" chants when he arrived in L.A. for SummerSlam 2013. Despite never having held the WWE World Heavyweight Title, the crowd favorite exuded confidence as he stood toe-to-toe with 15-time World Champion John Cena. With a capacity crowd chanting "Yes!," Bryan hit Cena with a running knee 26 minutes, 47 seconds into the bout. After a three-count by special guest referee Triple H, Bryan hoisted the title in victory. The celebration, however, would prove short-lived. Mr. Money in the Bank, Randy Orton, entered the arena with a knowing grin. The Game then shocked the WWE Universe when he nailed Bryan with a Pedigree and served him up to The Viper, who quickly pinned Bryan and closed the night as the new WWE World Heavyweight Champion. — GREG ADKINS
Mick Foley vs. Edge – Hardcore Match: WrestleMania 22
"When I retired from full-time wrestling in 2000, you didn’t really hear anything about 'defining WrestleMania moments.' It wasn’t until a few years later, when that term came into the wrestling lexicon, that people started pointing out that I hadn’t actually had one of those. So WrestleMania 22 with Edge was realistically my last chance to try to carve out that spot in my legacy. I put enormous pressure on myself to come through, and I thought I had the best all-around performer in the business in Edge to try to do that with.
"It was a lot briefer than some of the other confrontations I'm known for. It was around that 14-minute mark, but I think, in a way, that allowed people to enjoy it even more, because you could take a casual fan and say, 'You have your doubts about wrestling? Take a look at this.' And in that brief time period they could experience everything that Edge and I went through.
"Believe me, even as the referee was making the three-count, even as I was surrounded by the potpourri of burnt hair, charred flesh and blood, as I was losing, I realized I was having that defining WrestleMania moment." — MICK FOLEY, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar – WWE Championship 60-Minute WWE Iron Man Match: SmackDown, Sept. 18, 2003
WWE Iron Man matches don’t happen often, especially on weekly TV programming. In fact, before this rubber match between Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar, the WWE Universe had never seen one on SmackDown or Raw.
The two competitors had been at each other’s throats over the WWE Championship for the entirety of 2003 at this point, and everything came to a head here. Both men knew it would, as they threw their best at one another in this grueling 60-minute contest. Pinfalls, submissions and even disqualifications played a hand in the final result, which was highlighted by Angle fighting desperately — and futilely — for a comeback in the final 15 minutes. — MIKE MURPHY
Vader vs. Ric Flair – WCW Championship Match: Starrcade 1993
Ten years after main eventing the inaugural Starrcade, Ric Flair’s legacy nearly came to an end at the 1993 edition of WCW’s marquee event. In his hometown of Charlotte, N.C., Flair put his career on the line against the monstrous Vader’s WCW Championship.
As many expected, the 450-pound Mastodon imposed his will on the two-time WWE Hall of Famer, pummeling Flair around ringside. The Nature Boy fought back in spurts, even sending Vader face-first into the ringpost. Though Vader escaped the Figure Four, Flair was able to take out the giant’s weakened knee and pin him to win the title and continue his epic career. — BOBBY MELOK
The Undertaker vs. Mankind – Hell in a Cell Match: King of the Ring 1998
We defy you to think of the Hell in a Cell Match without picturing The Undertaker throwing Mick Foley off the side of the demonic structure and onto a table below. And as vicious a moment as that was, the rest of the iconic contest proved just as volatile. The war between The Phenom and The Hardcore Legend went everywhere, even to the top of the haunting configuration. For Foley, the worst fall of all came when he was dropped onto the roof where the cage beneath him suddenly gave way and he plunged to the ring below. How he ever got up — let alone competed again — we’ll never know. But the epic showdown at King of the Ring will forever live in infamy. — MICHAEL BURDICK
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. The Rock: WrestleMania XIX
"It might not have necessarily been a great idea for Austin to even have this match. Physically, his body was completely worn out and The Rock was no longer a regular WWE Superstar, so to have this incredibly meaningful match was special. Not to mention, the huge crowd in Seattle looked so amazing the whole show and were loud the entire night. There was a special energy there. You could make the case that this was the best of their three WrestleMania matches because they knew each other so well at this point. There was so much history, and it never manifested better than it does in this match.
"It was always so hard to tell who the crowd was going to root for more. They were so different and so popular, but popular for exactly opposite reasons. Rocky was entertaining, and Austin was no-nonsense, but they meshed so perfectly. There’s a moment when they go outside the ring and The Rock wears Austin’s vest. He’s so obnoxious and you’re able to root against him. He hits a Stunner on Austin while wearing the vest, and when The Rock lands three Rock Bottoms to finish the match, it is a slow, sad three-count. It’s not quick or super exciting, but The Rock finally finished off Austin.
"I don’t think there’s anyone who watches professional sports who ever believes it’s truly the end for a competitor. When you watch the match, you have a feeling that the only people who truly know it’s the end are Austin and The Rock. And the most special part is after the match, The Rock sits over Austin and they have a long conversation just the two of them. We’d never seen that before. If there was a giveaway that was the end, that was it. They needed each other and wrestling wouldn’t be what it is today without 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin and The Rock, and this match was the culmination of that." — PETER ROSENBERG, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
Hulk Hogan vs. The Ultimate Warrior – WWE Championship and Intercontinental Championship Match: WrestleMania VI
In an epic clash on The Grandest Stage of Them All, WWE Champion Hulk Hogan attempted to defend his title in an encounter that would determine if there was indeed a force in the universe as strong as Hulkamania — namely, the power of then-Intercontinental Champion The Ultimate Warrior. In a classic Champion vs. Champion struggle, both Superstars left everything they had on the canvas, before Warrior overcame The Hulkster and took his place in the annals of WWE greatness. — MICHAEL BURDICK
Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H – Unsanctioned Street Fight: SummerSlam 2002
"I love that match because of the unpredictability of it. First of all, I didn’t know if Shawn would ever come back. He had retired and it was very unceremonious and under the radar. It made me feel like we had seen the last of Shawn Michaels, and it was very sad. As a fan, knowing he was coming back to have a match was probably the most excited I’d ever been. When they finally set the match in place, I almost couldn’t believe it. I was so stoked to see it.
"But then you think, 'He’s been away for four years. His back was in terrible condition. What kind of human being was he?' He had that whole chip on his shoulder with Triple H where they were best friends, but jealous of each other. There was so much reality there, and it was awesome to see how it all played out. Through the duration of the match, Shawn was the underdog, and you didn’t know if he’d be able to pull it out. It was awesome to see that he could get right back on the bike after four years like he’d never left." — SETH ROLLINS, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
Team Hell No & Ryback vs. The Shield – TLC Match: WWE TLC 2012
Has there ever been a better coming-out party in WWE history than that of The Shield? Not only did Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns formally debut by going after the biggest, baddest dog in the yard (that’d be Ryback), but their first match was against that same guy,andthe most dominant Tag Team Champions since D-Generation X, in a Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match in WWE’s Brooklyn debut.
If you want glorious, Attitude-Era chaos in the PG Era, check out this match, which featured some inspired steel chair work and a wince-inducing tumble through three tables by Seth Rollins en route to a Shield victory from which The Hounds of Justice never looked back. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Chris Jericho vs. Rey Mysterio – Intercontinental Championship Mask vs. Title Match: The Bash 2009
To a luchador, a mask isn’t just part of a costume. It’s an identity. And when that identity is put on the line in a match, it makes that bout incredibly personal.
That’s what happened when Rey Mysterio put his mask on the line against Chris Jericho’s Intercontinental Championship at The Bash 2009. But it wasn’t just the personal drama that made this one of the best Intercontinental Title Matches of all time. It was how the future WWE Hall of Famers seemingly turned back the clock by a decade, delivering some of the most jaw-dropping maneuvers and counters we’ve ever seen out of the two men. — MIKE MURPHY
Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind – WWE Championship Match: In Your House: Mind Games
"You can’t predict chemistry. You can guess at it, but until guys get in the ring, you don’t know for sure whether they have chemistry together. And Shawn Michaels and I clicked from the first 30 seconds of that match.
"Shawn was the perfect opponent because he was small enough that I could do some big guy stuff. I suplexed Shawn from the turnbuckles into the announce table, and he turned it into a crossbody. That was the same move that actually dislocated John Laurinaitis’ elbow in Japan in '91, and now [I had] to trust that this is going to work out fine from greater heights.
"It was a really good action-adventure story, but as much as I love that match, it’s the one match that leaves me with that ‘what if’ feeling. What if we had gotten a bigger platform? What if we had a real [rivalry] heading into a pay-per-view? What if we had a WrestleMania to work with? But within the confines of what we had, it felt like we were creating art out there." — MICK FOLEY, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
World Heavyweight Championship Elimination Chamber Match: Survivor Series 2002
New York City's legendary Madison Square Garden was the epicenter for an unprecedented five championship title changes at Survivor Series 2002, the last of which came about after six Superstars put their very careers on the line in the first-ever Elimination Chamber Match.
From within this structural-grade steel hell, World Heavyweight Champion Triple H, Kane, Chris Jericho, Booker T, Rob Van Dam and Shawn Michaels battered each other beyond belief. Tempered glass — from the pods that randomly released Superstars into the Chamber at various intervals — was shattered, and bodies littered the canvas. It came down to best friends-turned-archrivals, and HBK — in just his second match after a back injury forced him into retirement four years earlier — silenced Triple H's title reign with some Sweet Chin Music. It was a defining moment for Michaels, who celebrated his last World Championship in his WWE Hall of Fame career. — MIKE McAVENNIE
Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar – WWE Championship Match: WrestleMania XIX
You can't overpower The Beast Incarnate, you can only hope to outwrestle him. The speedy and technically-gifted Kurt Angle gave Brock Lesnar some of the toughest tests of his career, the most memorable of which was their rivalry-defining classic at WrestleMania XIX. Following The Rock and Steve Austin's showdown is no easy task, but Angle and Lesnar put on a clinic while constantly pushing each other's competitive hunger to another level.
With both Brock and Angle coming from standout amateur wrestling backgrounds, it's no surprise these two elite athletes took their battle to the mat at first, before The Anomaly poured on the pure strength to wear down his opponent. Interestingly, it was an incredibly uncharacteristic Shooting Star Press that nearly doomed Lesnar, yet The Beast Incarnate recovered and ravaged Angle with an F-5 for the win. — TOM HERRERA
Masato Tanaka vs. Mike Awesome: Heat Wave 1998
There was nothing pretty about a match between Masato Tanaka and Mike Awesome. Every minute was full of unadulterated, wince-inducing punishment — and the ECW fans loved them for it. In a years-long rivalry that spanned two continents, Tanaka and Awesome took their hostility toward each other to new heights with their ruthless brawl at Heat Wave 1998.
Awesome wowed the Ohio crowd with his eye-opening agility, but Tanaka's display of heart in this classic was really something to behold. The warrior known as "Dangan" (Japanese for bullet) endured some ferocious chair strikes — including one off the top rope — and still roared back with a powerbomb over the top rope that drilled the 6-foot-6, 295-pound beast through a table. The bout soon reached its end with Tanaka's tornado DDT onto two steel chairs, leaving the ECW faithful both staggered and elated by the wanton destruction they witnessed in a short period of time. — TOM HERRERA
The Rock vs. Hollywood Hogan: WrestleMania X8
Unquestionably, watching a People’s Champion on the verge of electrifying millions through other avenues go toe-to-toe with a sports-entertainment legend who had lost his way to the vices of "Hollywood" — and a New World Order — is appointment viewing. Yet it was the record 68,237 fans inside Toronto’s Skydome that made WrestleMania X8’s epic "Icon vs. Icon" Match truly historic.
Was The Rock victorious that momentous March night in 2002? How did the nWo's Scott Hall & Kevin Nash factor into the contest? At the risk of being interrupted by The Brahma Bull,does it matter? Just watch the WWE Universe vocally will Hulk Hogan into ditching the "Hollywood" moniker ... and in the process help him regain his place as the Immortal that WrestleMania was meant to showcase. — MIKE McAVENNIE
Eddie Guerrero vs. Dean Malenko – ECW Television Championship Match: Hostile City Showdown 1995 (aired on Hardcore TV, May 2, 1995)
Though their 2-out-of-3 Falls "farewell match" later that summer would become the stuff of legend, Malenko and Guerrero’s time-limit draw in May 1995 was no less mesmerizing. Whereas the ECW faithful were all but obligated to applaud Malenko and Guerrero on the night of their sendoff, the standing ovation in response to their half-hour draw felt more organic, less expected, and truly emblematic of the pair’s artistic struggle. In the bout’s opening minutes, the ECW Arena fans, distracted by a disorderly fan, chanted "Throw him out!" and seemed almost disinterested in the action. Some 30 minutes later, it was clear they didn’t want Malenko vs. Guerrero to end. — JOHN CLAPP
The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family: Elimination Chamber 2014
Believe in The Shield or follow the buzzards? That was the question on the minds of many in the WWE Universe throughout the winter of 2014. In the weeks leading up to the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, The Wyatt Family cost the members of The Shield an opportunity to compete inside the sinister structure for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. But as Bray emphatically told the Hounds of Justice, "I welcome this war!" The buzzards eliminated Dean Ambrose and put Seth Rollins through an announce table before Bray pinned Roman Reigns for the victory and solidified The Wyatts as a dark, commanding presence within WWE. — GREG ADKINS
The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels – No. 1 Contender Hell in a Cell Match: Badd Blood: In Your House
WWE's first Hell in a Cell Match is best known for giving us our first glimpse of Kane, who tore the door off the notorious structure to get his hands on The Undertaker, costing his brother the match. However, the debut of The Devil's Favorite Demon, as iconic as it was, shouldn't overshadow one of the most brutal confrontations in either The Phenom's or HBK's legendary careers.
Throughout the bout, The Undertaker relished the opportunity to punish the degenerate inside the steel — payback for Michaels costing The Deadman the WWE Title at SummerSlam that year. The wince-inducing clash established that Hell in a Cell was WWE’s most sinister stipulation when both rivals took the fight atop the structure before HBK tumbled off the side of the Cell and through the Spanish announce table. — JAMES WORTMAN
Mr. Perfect vs. Ric Flair – Loser Leaves Town Match: Raw, Jan. 25, 1993
This was one of those perfect storms of pro wrestling — a Loser Leaves Town Match between two top-level wrestlers on a stray episode of Raw one night in January. The backstory is that Flair was on his way out the door to return to WCW, and so this match was slapped onto Raw without a ton of promotion, but that hardly mattered: These two guys told a complete story in the ring (with the aid of Flair’s manager, Bobby Heenan, who was on commentary) that somehow elevated these unusually legitimate stakes.
It goes without saying that Flair, knowing he was on his way out, could have sandbagged this match, but he was an absolute pro in competing against Perfect. It says a lot about Flair the institution, but the match speaks even more loudly about the potential of Curt Hennig the hero — a role which he played here better than he ever did. In many ways it was a simple match in a relatively humble setting, but inside the ring, this was an epic. — DAVID SHOEMAKER
Cactus Jack vs. Big Van Vader – Texas Death Match: Halloween Havoc 1993
Vader and Cactus Jack battled in one of the most vicious matches in wrestling history at Halloween Havoc 1993. Both men took turns clobbering each other around the arena in a barbaric Texas Death Match, living up to their legendary reputations for being able to inflict and tolerate high amounts of pain.
At one point, The Mastodon crushed The Hardcore Legend beneath his hulking frame, prompting Mick Foley’s career to flash before his eyes. "I really thought it was going to be the last move I ever did in wrestling," Foley told WWE.com. "I thought I would collect on the Lloyd's of London policy that would kick in after a 450-pound man sandwiched me."
If you like watching two men beat the tar out of one another, this is just the match for you. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Jushin Thunder Liger vs. Brian Pillman – WCW Light Heavyweight Championship Match: SuperBrawl II
Need a crash course on why a dedicated sect of sports-entertainment fans is still holding out hope for the resurgence of a Cruiserweight Division? Look no further than the WCW Light Heavyweight Championship Match that stole the show at SuperBrawl II.
Challenging for a title that was less than six months old at the time of this match, "Flyin'" Brian needed to find a way to keep WCW Light Heavyweight Champion Jushin Liger off balance. So, the Cincinnati-born competitor tried to employ a ground-and-pound attack against the Japanese titleholder. Liger, however, matched that strategy and stayed up tempo enough to put Pillman at risk for a loss.
Flyin' Bryan added altitude to his arsenal that elevated the contest into a truly memorable encounter. The challenger ruled the day, but the methods making that result possible set the bar for all of the Cruiserweight competitors who would follow in the footsteps of these larger-than-life fighters. — MATTHEW ARTUS
Edge vs. John Cena – WWE Championship TLC Match: Unforgiven 2006
Every factor was working against John Cena's favor heading into his hot-blooded Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match against WWE Champion Edge. Not only was this bout in Edge's backyard of Toronto, but it was also Cena's first foray into theunforgivingrealm of TLC Matches. The Rated-R Superstar, on the other hand, had been undefeated in such matches.
That didn't stop the Cenation leader from pulling off one of the most remarkable upsets of his career, as he somehow found a way to batter Edge's resolve in spite of a hostile crowd that loudly chanted "Cena sucks!" from the opening bell.
What really made this match so special was how these rivals tirelessly one-upped each other in a series of viciously creative, momentum-swinging maneuvers before "The Champ" reclaimed his throne by throttling Edge with an Attitude Adjustment off a ladder and through two stacked tables. — TOM HERRERA
Sting’s Squadron vs. The Dangerous Alliance – WarGames: WrestleWar 1992
"Being inside WarGames is intimidating. Two rings, covered by a cage, no way out and a lot of hair and blood flying. Here’s the deal: Those are my teachers that were in that match — Larry Zbyszko, Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton. And then Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat, Sting and I were on the same team. For me to be involved in that thing was a great honor, especially with the way Sting was loved by the people, it was crazy.
"To get to start that match off was awesome. They told me, 'Dustin, shut up. Go in there, do your thing and feel it.' That’s how I learned by listening to these guys, my mentors. I remembered what Ricky Steamboat taught me about showmanship, what Bobby Eaton taught me about punching, Arn with his general a**kicking and I tried to mimic everything I did after Barry Windham. We were having a blast and the crowd was electric. I was young then, and I was in the ring with all of these guys that had taught me the business. It was a big time for me and I loved it." — GOLDUST, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER AND NICKY SAMPOGNA
Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn – ECW Television Championship Match: Hardcore Heaven 1999
Rob Van Dam vs. Jerry Lynn is like the sports-entertainment equivalent of the Arturo Gatti vs. Micky Ward boxing rivalry. One had the flash and showmanship, the other was pure grit and desire. Together, their in-ring chemistry made for unforgettable bouts.
"Jerry Lynn was amazing and we just have this chemistry where we both push ourselves and each other," RVD has told WWE.com. "It’s something that happens naturally in the ring."
Van Dam and Lynn first stole the show at Living Dangerously, but they upstaged that encounter with this back-and-forth Hardcore Heaven 1999 tour de force. Both competitors were battered and bloodied as they unloaded from their diverse arsenal of moves, with Lynn delivering perhaps the biggest highlight of the night: a sunset flip powerbomb that drove RVD through a table on the outside floor. In the end, though, it was Mr. Pay-Per-View who dealt the final blow with a soaring Five-Star Frog Splash. — TOM HERRERA
Tully Blanchard vs. Magnum T.A. – United States Championship "I Quit" Steel Cage Match: Starrcade 1985
One of the most infamously vicious battles you’ll find on WWE Network is also one of NWA/WCW’s finest. The animosity between Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A. came to a head at Starrcade 1985 in an "I Quit" Steel Cage Match. Magnum’s goal was not only to win back the coveted U.S. Title from Blanchard, but also humiliate his opponent and, ultimately, Tully’s Four Horsemen cohorts.
The two competitors engaged in a ferocious brawl where it seemed that neither would ever relent. Ironically, after a wooden chair was tossed into the unforgiving steel confines, T.A. used it to his advantage, forcing Blanchard to quit and reclaiming the U.S. Title. — KEVIN POWERS
Edge & Christian vs. The New Brood (The Hardy Boyz) – Ladder Match: No Mercy 1999
The managerial services of Terri Runnels and $100,000 were on the line when The Hardy Boyz went to war with archrivals Edge and Christian in the deciding match of the Terri Invitational Tournament. Throwing caution to the wind, both teams pushed their bodies to the limit in a Ladder Match display the likes of which the WWE Universe had never seen before. Although it was Jeff and Matt Hardy who claimed victory, all four Superstars received a standing ovation the next night on Raw. The match stands as a landmark moment in all of their careers. — MITCH PASSERO
CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar – No Disqualification Match: SummerSlam 2013
"I always wanted to be a Paul Heyman Guy. Always." — CM Punk
Those words provided the backdrop of betrayal that framed the match billed as "The Best vs. The Beast." At SummerSlam 2013, CM Punk faced off against Brock Lesnar while Heyman cheered on the monster from ringside. This, just four weeks after Punk’s most trusted advisor cut him down at the knees right when it appeared he was poised to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship contract at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view. Despite fits of offensive brilliance by The Straight Edge Superstar in the No Disqualification Match, The Beast Incarnate emerged victorious with an F-5 onto a steel chair … and more than a little help from the nefarious Heyman. — GREG ADKINS
Ric Flair vs. Sting – NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: Clash of the Champions I, March 27, 1988
At the inaugural Clash of the Champions, NWA World Heavyweight Champion Ric Flair was poised to teach relative upstart Sting a lesson. Flair was well established as "The Nature Boy" while Sting was a face-painted maverick rising in popularity thanks to his electric charisma. In the first-ever meeting of the men who would become WCW’s signature rivals, Sting and Flair battled back and forth, displaying uncanny technical prowess and in-ring ability. The breathless contest ended in a 45-minute time limit draw, and that enmity defined WCW until its very last match. — KEVIN POWERS
Triple H vs. Cactus Jack – WWE Championship Street Fight: Royal Rumble 2000
"My statement for this match was, 'I want to retire, and I want to go out the way I came in, as Cactus Jack having the type of matches that I made my name doing.' Triple H’s statement was, ‘I am a main-event wrestler, I’m not part of a group, I can excel on my own,’ and I think we both proved those points pretty emphatically.
"I was so fortunate to have fought all the great guys from The Attitude Era, but Triple H caught me at the tail end of my full-time career. We had our big series of matches in '97, but by 2000 I was really feeling the effects of that hardcore in-ring style. Triple H was a guy who was able to bring out the best in me, and that’s one of the hallmarks of a great opponent. I bruised my sternum, because I did the running knee in the corner and hit my sternum because I was literally moving faster than I ever had before. That was by way of Triple H bringing that out. He helped bring me up to that level that I did not think I was capable of reaching.
"I was told in no uncertain terms by Mr. McMahon that there would be no Pedigrees into the thumbtacks, but I just decided I would take it and apologize later. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. I knew I was going against the boss’ wishes, but it just seemed like it was 'best for business' at the time." — MICK FOLEY, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels – World Heavyweight Championship Ladder Match: No Mercy 2008
"Chris and I were not big on going into a Ladder Match. I was in my 40s and he was knocking on the door. We were not about to go out there and have a crash-and-burn Ladder Match under any circumstances, so it benefited us that the [rivalry] didn’t call for that.
"It was about making the small things mean a lot. From a crash-and-burn standpoint, no, it was not going to be like that. But for the fan that was really enjoying the intricacies and the methodology and the psychology and the depth of the Jericho-Michaels rivalry at the time, I think it really did a good job of that.
"The greatest thing about that rivalry is that each week it changed, because there was no destination in sight, and one of the things that got added to it as the rivalry was progressing was Chris getting white-hot and winning the World Championship. It really wasn’t a rivalry about who was better. It was about which way the pendulum happened to swing on that particular day." — SHAWN MICHAELS, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
Ric Flair vs. "Macho Man" Randy Savage – WWE Championship Match: WrestleMania VIII
What made this match so dramatic was the fact that Ric Flair claimed to the world that he had a prior "romantic" relationship with Randy Savage's wife, Elizabeth. Flair even went so far as to provide altered photos to WWE Magazine long before the advent of Photoshop or TMZ. Maybe "The Nature Boy" thought that getting inside "Macho Man's" head would make Savage lose focus, get disqualified and in doing so, fail to win the WWE Championship. Instead, despite the presence of Mr. Perfect at ringside, an incensed Savage lived up to his name by beating, battering and bloodying Flair before winning the title. — @JOEYSTYLES
The Undertaker vs. Triple H – No Holds Barred Match: WrestleMania XXVII
In front of more than 70,000 fans in the Georgia Dome, two Superstars who defined an era clashed in an epic No Holds Barred Match. Yet, just like 18 other brave souls before him, Triple H fell to The Undertaker. Although The Deadman won, it was The Game who rose to his feet and walked up the entrance ramp. The Undertaker was so battered that he could not exit under his own power; in fact, he had to be carted away. It was a shocking sight that reminded the WWE Universe that The Phenom was most certainly mortal. — MITCH PASSERO
Royal Rumble Match: Royal Rumble 1992
Mixing the relatively recent faces of Ric Flair and Sid Justice who’d popped up in WWE with stars like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage and Roddy Piper, plus, a rapidly ascending Undertaker, the 1992 Royal Rumble Match had the composition of a dream Battle Royal. Did we mention the vacated WWE Championship was at stake for the first — and only — time ever in the Rumble? The loathed "Nature Boy" earned both the ire and respect (begrudgingly) of WWE fans as he entered the 30-man clash at No. 3 and bamboozled victory in the closing moments of an unbelievable final four dance with Savage, Sid and The Hulkster, himself. — CRAIG TELLO
Randy Orton vs. Mick Foley – Intercontinental Championship Hardcore Match: Backlash 2004
"Best-case scenario for a match is when everybody benefits. I think this is one of those great cases where the same match benefitted both guys enormously. I think it helped people see Randy in a different way. There was a sudden respect because he had just gone through years of learning in one night. He suffered greatly, as did I.
"It was very important for me in terms of redeeming myself for what I thought was a very disappointing appearance at WrestleMania XX. I got a little overwhelmed seeing the magnitude of the occasion, being in the Garden, having The Rock as my tag team partner and a legend like Ric Flair as my opponent. I just, for whatever reason, couldn’t feel the moment that night.
"The biggest challenge for me was to take the things in my head that seem so vibrant and real and make them happen in the ring. I wasn’t able to do that at WrestleMania, so I approached Backlash with Randy in a completely different manner. This was the biggest match in my career and probably the last time that my heart was completely in being in the ring. I left it out there that night.
"I love the match. The fact that it’s my personal favorite and Randy’s personal favorite, given all the great matches he’s been through, is pretty telling. It was wild and it was extreme. There are matches I look back on and think, 'Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to that extreme. Maybe that wasn’t the right thing to do.' But I’ve never questioned the wild nature of that match, because it was exactly what we both needed." — MICK FOLEY, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk – "I Quit" Match: Clash of the Champions IX: New York Knockout, Nov. 15, 1989
Funk offered Flair a chance to quit before this match even started. That’s one little thing, simple but beautiful — and that’s this rivalry in a nutshell. Flair and Funk were operating at such a high level at this point in time that they could hardly go wrong, but somehow they exceeded any expectations, elevating each other’s games to a sort of pro wrestling platonic ideal. There was brawling, wrestling, the most palpable antipathy between two performers feasible, and an undisputed victor that somehow didn’t demean the loser at all.
It’s also the ideal moment in WCW history — modern enough to feel vital but old enough to still feel totally raw. For my money, this is one of the absolute best matches of all time. In interviews before the match, both guys agreed: It’s not about a title — it’s about pride. They both must have been proud after this one. (And all of this before the post-match beatdown, which featured Lex Luger destroying a trophy with a steel chair and Sting making a run-in in slacks, which is about all you can ask for.) — DAVID SHOEMAKER
Razor Ramon vs. Shawn Michaels – Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match: WrestleMania X
"Up to that point, there had been only one other Ladder Match, and it had been on Coliseum Home Video. So, to see a Ladder Match live was a big deal. The two Intercontinental Titles were hanging above the ring, and Razor Ramon was my favorite at the time. But I had just started to like Shawn and root for the bad guys. I didn’t know who I wanted to win, but the moment when Razor climbed up and grabbed both titles became such an iconic moment, especially for me as a kid, because I was there.
"It was an incredible match, and if you watch it back now, it still holds up like a great movie. It’s very innovative and not dated at all. They do stuff in that match that’s never been replicated. It stands the test of time." — ZACK RYDER, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
Mr. Perfect vs. Bret Hart – Intercontinental Championship Match: SummerSlam 1991
Before SummerSlam 1991, Bret "Hit Man" Hart was an unknown commodity as a singles wrestler. Fresh off a third reign as World Tag Team Champions with Jim Neidhart, Hart was clearly gifted, but no one knew if he could cut it on his own.
The "Hit Man" proved himself inside Madison Square Garden where he stood toe-to-toe with Mr. Perfect with the Intercontinental Title hanging in the balance. In a match that can be considered one of the finest displays of technical wrestling ever, Perfect worked over Hart and thought he had retained his title, only for the "Hit Man" to kick out of the Perfect Plex. Moments later, Hart locked on The Sharpshooter to capture the title, launching one of the most prolific careers in WWE history. — BOBBY MELOK
Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair – NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: WrestleWar 1989: Music City Showdown
Ric Flair sure was a bad guy. Maybe the best, in fact. A flamboyant, cocky and dastardly grappler that was an expert in his craft — and he knew it. In 1989, Flair was Kanye 15 years before "The College Dropout" hit shelves. But by the time his third match against Ricky Steamboat for the World Title came around, fans just couldn’t deny how great "The Nature Boy" was inside the ring.
Steamboat was your prototypical hero — a returning favorite who had conquered the evil perennial champ all while showcasing his folksy values and mat expertise. Their three matches throughout that year were revelatory, but the grand finale in Nashville featured the most unexpected outcome of all. Following a grueling half-hour war that lived up to any of their — or anyone else’s — previous battles, Flair finally scored a three-count over his Mr. Nice Guy rival. But that wasn’t all.
Nashville should have booed. They should have screamed. They should have pleaded for Ricky to do something about it. But something funny happened. After a trilogy of matches that changed sports-entertainment forever, Flair earned the respect of all that had despised him. When fans needed a new hero atop the NWA, it turned out to be The Nature Boy himself. Ric Flair might not have been a good guy, but the fans loved him for it. — ZACH LINDER
Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart: WrestleMania X
"Everything about Bret and Owen Hart was a situation anybody with siblings could identify with. I’m the oldest in my family and have a little brother. The little brother, Owen, was cast in Bret’s shadow and was always compared to Bret. And coming from the Hart family, the expectations were very high. Seeing them butt heads was very identifiable, and when they actually went at it, it was very emotional and real. On top of that, they were two of the best in-ring performers.
"Imagine competing at a WrestleMania against your brother. I identified with Bret. I always tried to embrace my little brother, and Bret always did what he could to be a big brother to Owen. But it always could go the other way. You might have a brother who always wants to be better. The situation was very relatable." — KOFI KINGSTON, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar – Extreme Rules Match: Extreme Rules 2012
If it is carnage you seek, you’ll find it at Extreme Rules 2012, wherein Brock Lesnar elbowed John Cena’s head into the proverbial crimson mask within minutes of the opening bell and didn’t wrestle the Cenation leader so much as torture him for the duration of this 20-minute flogging disguised as a pay-per-view main event.
As brutal as Brock was, Cena was pretty awesome, too. The 15-time World Champion, reeling from a loss to The Rock and all but emasculated in the weeks leading into the Lesnar match, tapped into that same well of savagery that allowed him to survive, say, JBL in an "I Quit" Match, and ultimately came out with the win. Yeah, we still don’t know how he did it, either. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle: WrestleMania 21
"Kurt came with a reputation. Everyone talked about what great shape he was in, and of course, I had at least a little bit of a reputation as a guy that could wrestle an hour, so I knew going into the match that this might be the one guy who can give me a run for my money. So I trained like nobody’s business. But Kurt Angle is a guy who wanted his dream match to be in the ring with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania. There comes a point in your career, and I don't know when it happens, where you go from being the guy wanting to be in the ring with people to being the guy that people want to be in the ring with. At some point, that had happened to me.
"The greatest thing for me was Kurt knew he had the background of an Olympic wrestler and I was the pro wrestler, and he knew we had to merge those two worlds. Kurt helped me and showed me how I can look like a better wrestler, reversing moves and getting out of holds and things of that nature. For me, that’s always fun to get in the ring with a guy that has a different style than you. Kurt can do anything. He can do all the pro wrestling stuff you want, but can also do the other stuff, and that’s what was so much fun for him and I — mixing and matching the two. That brought a lot more to the match on a technical level. I can't all of a sudden become a great amateur wrestler, but I can be the underdog Shawn Michaels.
"If you’re gonna get beat by a guy, you might as well get beat by his best move. I submitted, and everybody looks at it and goes, 'Dang, what a match!' And that’s the most important thing. You want everybody to forget about who won or lost. If you tear the frickin' house down, that'll usually take care of it." — SHAWN MICHAELS, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels – No Disqualification Streak vs. Career Match: WrestleMania XXVI
"The year before, one of our camera guys, Stu, asked how old my son was. I told him he’s 9, and he said, 'Oh, he’s halfway gone.' And I said, 'What do you mean?' and he said, 'He's halfway to 18. Once he’s 18, he’ll be out the door,' and I said. 'Holy cow, you're right.' In 2002, I’d discussed with my wife that I wasn't gonna do this forever. I said, 'I don’t want to miss my kids growing up.' So, when Stu said that, that was the point where I started thinking about retiring. Several months later, people started talking WrestleMania, and the realization of really ending it on a high point was there, and nobody does that. Everybody seems to push it and go beyond that peak. I didn’t want to do that and be like George Costanza. I wanted to end on a high note.
"Obviously, the challenge was whether I could top the previous match. That was the blessing and the curse of the whole thing. That’s the blessing of 'Can you do it?' and it’s also the challenge of 'What’s your desire to try?' I think everybody sort of feels 25 is a smidge better than 26, but not enough to bother anybody.
" 'Taker and I, when we see each other, we feel like two old war buddies that shared a bunker together and lived through it. It’s a cool relationship, it really is. You don’t have to talk every day, but when you do, it’s special, and it’s always there." — SHAWN MICHAELS, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
The Rock vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin – WWE Championship No Disqualification Match: WrestleMania X-Seven
Sports-entertainment fans can be a jaded bunch. So when something happens that truly surprises them, you know it’s a moment that many will carry with them forever. In ranking these moments, it’s tough to top "Stone Cold" Steve Austin siding with the Devil himself and becoming Mr. McMahon’s corporate champion at the close of WrestleMania X-Seven. That he did so after a bloody No Disqualification contest between himself and The Rock only added to the hurt, especially since Austin cemented his new allegiance with 16 blows from a steel chair to The Brahma Bull. All these years later, it still hurts, but such a classic can only hurt so good. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Ric Flair vs. Ricky Steamboat – NWA World Heavyweight Championship Match: Chi-Town Rumble
Watching these two certified WWE Hall of Famers duke it out at Chi-Town Rumble should be near the top of every WWE fan’s bucket list.
Despite being nearly four years removed from their last one-on-one encounter, Steamboat and Flair displayed a unique familiarity with one another. "The Dragon" knew how Flair’s stylin’ and profilin’ was a source of confidence and pride. "The Nature Boy" came prepared for Steamboat’s unquestioned tactical superiority. And each showed up ready for the fight of their lives.
The match built from a grinding start to a controversial crescendo that involved a second referee and a split-second decision. In many ways, the opening chapter of the legendary Steamboat-Flair trilogy played out like the first movement of a symphony. That means the only way to appreciate their historic trio of clashes is to experience the pace and exhilaration of this opening Allegro in its entirety. — MATTHEW ARTUS
Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels – WWE Championship 60-Minute WWE Iron Man Match: WrestleMania XII
To this day, Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels stands as one of the greatest rivalries in WWE history. Perhaps the biggest testament to that fierce conflict was their WWE Iron Man Match for the WWE Title at The Showcase of the Immortals. There, two of the top competitors of all time battled to a stalemate for 60 minutes. Then — by order of WWE Commissioner Gorilla Monsoon — they were forced to take it even further. HBK ultimately reigned supreme, allowing the "boyhood dream" of Mr. WrestleMania to finally be realized. It also set the pair on a collision course that would culminate in the infamous incident in Montreal the following year at Survivor Series. — MICHAEL BURDICK
John Cena vs. CM Punk – WWE Championship Match: Money in the Bank 2011
This match, though. Everyone seems to remember the bookend moments of their instant-classic rivalry, such as Punk’s hot-fire pipe bomb where he took Cena to task for his perceived dominance and trashed WWE itself for imposing a glass ceiling over underappreciated mid-carders, and of course, The Second City Saint’s kiss-off goodbye to Mr. McMahon with the title in hand. But the middle portion — the match itself — demands just as much respect as those two milestones.
The focus was rightly on Punk, riding the feeding frenzy of his hometown Chicago crowd, but Cena’s defiance in the face of not just one man but an entire city was equally as compelling. It was perfect. All of it. And yeah, it was pretty cool when he blew The Chairman a kiss goodbye, too. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz vs. Edge & Christian – World Tag Team Championship TLC Match: WrestleMania X-Seven
What feverish mind dreamed up the atrocities that unfolded during TLC II? It’s hard to tell where one team’s madness began and the other’s ended in this frankly ludicrous, 10-car pileup of a match that saw Edge & Christian retain their World Tag Team Championship against The Dudley Boyz and The Hardy Boyz on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
Swanton Bombs and Spears off ladders are what everybody remembers; what they forget is that Rhyno, Spike Dudley and Lita all got involved, too, essentially making the match a 9-way affair. By the time Rhyno helped Christian get the titles back for him and his buddy, the WWE Universe was both thrilled to see the champs retain and relieved that the mayhem was finally over. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Bret Hart vs. The British Bulldog – Intercontinental Championship Match: SummerSlam 1992
It was statement enough that the Intercontinental Championship Match was the main event at SummerSlam 1992 (which also featured Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage for the WWE Title). Add a Hart Family conflicted in support of two universally beloved Superstars and this unparalleled mat classic became an emotional showdown that made WWE’s "No. 2 title" feel like its most coveted. In front of Bulldog’s fellow Brits, Bret Hart and Davey Boy Smith got Wembley Stadium to rattle at its core, while viewers around the world teetered at their seat’s edge for the culmination of a squared circle chess match. You’d be foolish not to rush to relive it. — CRAIG TELLO
The Ultimate Warrior vs. Randy Savage – Retirement Match: WrestleMania VII
Set aside the ignominious ending for Savage — this match was an absolute beauty. Perfectly paced and executed, and it was Warrior’s best match by a mile. Sherri Martel was immaculate, Gorilla Monsoon and Bobby Heenan were hitting on all cylinders, and the recurring shots of Miss Elizabeth in the audience were perfectly done. It’s 20 solid minutes of edge-of-your-seat drama; even if you go in knowing the ending, it’s impossible not to get wrapped up. The endgame — five Savage elbow drops failing, then three huge shoulder blocks from Warrior to set up the pin — was ahead of its time. And the reunion at the end was amazing. Forget it, don’t set aside the ending — he didn’t go out on top, but this is every bit a worthy Retirement Match. — DAVID SHOEMAKER
Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio – Cruiserweight Championship Mask vs. Title Match: Halloween Havoc 1997
What many of Rey Mysterio’s most flagrant imitators — and there’s a generation of them — too often overlook is that the lucha icon didn’t perform dazzling maneuvers just because they looked cool. Instead, it was Mysterio’s lack of size that necessitated his moveset. Just watch him in the very best match of his career against Eddie Guerrero at Halloween Havoc 1997. When Mysterio leapt from the apron to the top rope, moonsaulted and caught Guerrero with a DDT on the way down, it was because he had to. A head-on attack would have been moot, but Rey created opportunities in ways other competitors could not. There were nights where Mysterio was more astounding, but never a match where his theatrics were more appropriate. — RYAN MURPHY
Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair – NWA World Heavyweight Championship 2-out-of-3 Falls Match: Clash of the Champions VI: Ragin’ Cajun, April 2, 1989
"That was my favorite of the three matches in our trilogy, because we put in 55 minutes. When you’re putting in that much time, the thought process behind it is you’ve got to have a couple guys who know how to do it. If you have guys that just have been working 20, 25 minutes every night, and then you tell them to go out there and do an hour, they may find it difficult. Early on, I was schooled on putting in time, especially working with Flair. Of course, you’re going to have some moments where it’s going to be a low point of the match, but it’s designed that way so we were going to be able to get them back up later in the match. That’s the expression, 'Take them on a roller coaster ride.' " — RICKY STEAMBOAT, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
Randy Savage vs. Ricky Steamboat – Intercontinental Championship Match: WrestleMania III
This was supposed to be Ricky Steamboat's cup of coffee in the big time. Instead, it defined the enduring legacy of "The Dragon," "Macho Man" Randy Savage, the Intercontinental Championship that switched hands from the latter to the former, and some would say WrestleMania (if not wrestling) itself.
The match was simplicity incarnate, a back-and-forth affair that ended in a roll-up, and that was the source of its genius. The frills were minimal, the pace was fast — beginning to end, it goes down quicker than an actual cup of coffee — and the showcase was meant to be on the back-to-basics efficiency that settled the often-bizarre rivalry preceding it. Purists balk at the role George "The Animal" Steele played in the final outcome, claiming it denied the WWE Universe a truly decisive victory. This is a fair, if disputable, point. But if you're looking for sports-entertainment nirvana, you'll never get closer than this. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Bret Hart vs. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin – Submission Match: WrestleMania 13
"I was 13 years old when this match happened, and I cannot state enough how much of a Bret Hart fan I was. I hated Steve Austin, and hated him for years after this match. I didn’t come around to respecting him until 2000 or 2001. It took years for me to get over his rivalry with Bret Hart. I can’t pinpoint why I liked Bret so much. It wasn't one thing. There was just something very humble and working-class Canadian about his overall presentation, and he looked so cool.
"But even I, Bret Hart’s staunchest supporter, found it hard to not get behind Austin in that match. There was this kid I grew up with who came over to watch WrestleMania 13. He loved Bret Hart just like me, but as the match was unfolding, he started to hate Bret and love Austin. I was in denial, but couldn’t help but agree with those feelings. For me to even question my unabashed hero and almost side with whom I viewed as the ultimate enemy, how could one match do that?
"It’s a masterpiece." — SAMI ZAYN, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER
The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels: The 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania
"I'm on record as saying that it’s probably impossible to wrestle a perfect match, but I think it's as close as I ever got. 'Taker's on record saying the same thing. Very proud of it.
"Everything aligned and came together. If you are fortunate enough, work hard enough, hit all your marks, don’t make any mistakes, you hold up your end, your guy holds up his end, and the situation, aura, awe, mystique and everything else falls into place, you get that match. I am fortunate to have those things happen more times than not in my life, which is why I am continuously, unbelievably thankful and amazed at what I was fortunate enough to be a part of.
"After the match, we sat in a room by ourselves and just sat there quietly. We looked at each other, smiled and just took it in. It’s just one of those things that not a lot needs to be said. It’s one of those things you share with each other." — SHAWN MICHAELS, AS TOLD TO ZACH LINDER