The Phenomenal One slugs it out with The Lone Wolf in SmackDown LIVE's incredible main event.02/20/2018 - 22:30
WWE.com's Top 25 Matches of 2014
Whew, 2014, right? What a year it’s been: There were New Days, Uso craziness, Boo-tista, Bluetista, green Stardusts, Eras of Vacancy, good news, bad news (and Bad News), stunt doubles, evil twins and a vanishing Cody Rhodes (seriously, where’d that guy go?). Raw was occupied, Streaks were broken, Hulkamania ran wild, vigilantes dispensed justice, Kings of Swing were crowned and a full-fledged takeover ran rampant down in Full Sail University. And here we are now, when all the eating, sleeping and conquering has repeated itself to the last day of December, to bury and to celebrate 2014 in extravagant fashion.
No WWE fan needs to be reminded of the bar that in-ring competition set for itself this past year, but with so many classic matches in a single 12-month span, the question begs: Which was the best? WWE.com editors convened to select the cream of the crop ( #Madness) and count down the year’s 25 best contests. Here’s how we did it: Several editors convened to select the matches, each of us ranked them on our own and consolidated them into a collective ranking depending on how each match was scored by all the editors. The process was arduous, contentious, and a steel chair may have been wielded at some point, but it was as democratic and collaborative as we get for this annual process. So pull up a chair and relive a hell of a year in WWE competition, presented by Foot Locker, and see what made our No. 1 spot. See you in 2015.
Daniel Bryan vs. Kane — Extreme Rules WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match (Extreme Rules)
WHAT WE SAID: If Daniel Bryan never gets his hands on the WWE World Heavyweight Title again, there are worse ways to close the book on a reign than his sole defense of the undisputed prize. Bryan’s Extreme Rules Match with his hug buddy turned tormentor Kane spilled all over and nearly out of the IZOD Center in New Jersey. This match had Kendo sticks, fire, forklifts and the first ( though not the last) instance of an exploding television on WWE programming in 2014.
Admittedly, it’s weird to see a Superstar as technically proficient as Bryan engage in the Attitudinal shenanigans of his predecessors, but the match is still as intricate as anything he’s ever done, and somehow manages to call back to the pantheon of hardcore classics. The forklift in particular is a nice homage to Mankind-Rock, and the flaming table that ultimately dooms Kane brings Mick Foley-Edge to mind. Alas, an injury cut Bryan down before he could mount a more stately defense of his title, but the revelation that the “Yes!” Man was hardcore was about the most unexpected highlight of his all-too-brief reign. What else is there to say? Thank you, sirs. May we have another? — ANTHONY BENIGNO
WHAT THEY SAID: “I was unhappy with the outcome because I ended up going through a flaming table, which wasn’t cool. … But I thought the match was great. We did a lot of stuff which was unique, including the forklift and the flaming table, so overall, entertainment value, it was a great match.” — KANE
Brie Bella vs. Stephanie McMahon (SummerSlam)
It all came down to this. Although John Cena defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship against Brock Lesnar was SummerSlam’s anticipated main event, the WWE Universe was on the edge of its seat as Brie Bella — the bride of Daniel Bryan — squared off The Authority’s menacing matriarch, Stephanie McMahon.
Returning to action for the first time in more than a decade, The Billion Dollar Princess showed little signs of ring rust as she gleefully punished Brie in the early goings of the match, no doubt taking a few pages out of her husband Triple H’s playbook. Brie ultimately turned momentum in her favor, unleashing on Stephanie with a flurry of furious kicks as she vented her many frustrations against her longtime tormentor before trapping her foe in her husband’s “Yes!” Lock. Brie might have won her the match right there had Triple H not stormed the ring and knocked out the referee.
WWE Network: Shocker caps Stephanie's comeback
After a frustrated Brie incapacitated the intervening Cerebral Assassin, it seemed as though Stephanie would suffer a two-on-one beatdown from both Bella Twins. In a jaw-dropping betrayal, however, Nikki instead attacked Brie and left her sister vulnerable to Stephanie’s Pedigree. Honestly, who saw that coming? — JAMES WORTMAN
Cesaro vs. Randy Orton (SmackDown; Feb. 14)
Since his arrival in WWE, many had pegged Cesaro as a star of the future. But The Swiss Superman did not get a chance to truly prove it until he faced then–WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton on Valentine’s Day 2014.
Cesaro showed off his impressive strength, mat wrestling ability and powerful striking acumen. With Zeb Colter and, surprisingly, the WWE Universe, willing him on, Cesaro took everything The Viper had and answered with blistering offense of his own. The King of Swing lived up to his moniker, dizzying Orton with his patented Cesaro Swing.
In the end, The Swiss Superman reversed an attempted top-rope superplex into a sunset flip powerbomb, followed up with a bone-rattling European Uppercut and the Neutralizer to pick up what should have been a star-making victory. — BOBBY MELOK
Dolph Ziggler vs. Sheamus vs. Christian vs. Alberto Del Rio — Intercontinental Championship No. 1 Contender’s Fatal 4-Way Match (Raw; March 24)
A mad, forgotten classic among the high-profile matches of 2014, this four-pronged brawl for the right to battle Big E for the Intercontinental Championship is notable for a bittersweet reason: It was Christian’s last match in 2014 and, as of this writing, his last televised match, period. The frenetic bout encapsulates exactly what makes the former World Heavyweight Champion such a seminal WWE talent — his savvy, his chicanery, and his personality are all on display — but the other three didn’t look too shabby, either. Sheamus and Del Rio picked up right where their 2012 mega-rivalry left off, and Dolph Ziggler foreshadowed his late-year renaissance with a Zig Zag to a Cross Armbreaker–locked Sheamus, which took out both guys at once. Of course, it’s Christian who immediately hooked the Killswitch for the win, but nobody came out of this looking like a chump. If Captain Charisma is truly denied his “One More Match,” there are worse ways to go out. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Jack Swagger — Money in the Bank Ladder Match for a WWE World Heavyweight Championship Contract (Money in the Bank)
WHAT WE SAID: Six Superstars went to Boston to climb their way into the World Title picture. They wouldn’t be upstaged.
Jack Swagger powerbombed Rob Van Dam from a ladder to the mat. Kofi Kingston hit a reverse Boom Drop on top of a ladder. Dean Ambrose superplexed Seth Rollins to the ring, which Dolph Ziggler followed by dropkicking Ambrose with a ladder. The six competitors made spontaneity the painful norm.
WWE Network: Rollins reaches the heavens
Ultimately, improvisation nearly cost Ambrose his moment, though, as WWE trainers forced him to the back after he injured his shoulder with a devastating DDT on Swagger. But while Rollins scaled the ladder with no one in sight, the crowd chanted, “We want Ambrose!” prompting The Lunatic Fringe to re-enter the fray. With his arm hanging at his side, Ambrose booted Rollins from the ring with several chair blasts until a Tombstone from Kane allowed The Authority’s golden boy to become Mr. Money in the Bank.
Rollins left with the contract, but his countless bruises served as painful collateral he’d never forget. — JEFF LABOON
WHAT THEY SAID: “That’s something you kind of dream about. The history of having that briefcase leads to being a WWE Champion most of the time. To know I have that in my possession and no one can take it from me is real special. And to do it with guys who are competing at that level — we had a hell of a Money in the Bank Match. It really was awesome from top to bottom, maybe one of the better ones in history. I was happy to be part of it and really psyched to come out on top. When you’re sitting on top of that ladder and you got that thing in your hands, knowing what’s inside of it and all that it means and what it stands for, it doesn’t really get any better than that for a young wrestler.” — SETH ROLLINS
The Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal (WrestleMania 30)
WHAT WE SAID: Due to the large number of participants involved and the high potential for injuries to occur, Battle Royals are often awe-inspiring spectacles, but they’re don’t necessarily produce unforgettable moments. The first inaugural Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal at WrestleMania 30, however, was no ordinary Battle Royal.
Honoring the first WWE Hall of Famer ever — The Eighth Wonder of the World, aka “The King of the Battle Royal” — the contest was scheduled to include 30 Superstars until Cesaro, who’d competed earlier in the night on The Grandest Stage of Them All, joined the match unannounced, bringing the total to 31. He joined an incredible pack including eight former World Champions and giants ranging from Big E to Big Show, all of whom were gunning for the handsome trophy featuring Andre’s likeness.
WWE Network: Superstars brawl on the Grandest Stage
The all-star lineup risked life and limb to avoid elimination and notch the milestone victory. Take Kofi Kingston, who was launched sky-high over the turnbuckles but miraculously kept his feet from hitting the floor when he landed on the bottom ring step. Unfortunately, The Dreadlocked Dynamo’s jaw-dropping feat didn’t pay off in end, as the brawl boiled down to Cesaro and Big Show. In a scene that will be replayed for years, The Swiss Superman scooped up The World’s Largest Athlete and slammed him over the top rope, causing the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to erupt in amazement! — JOHN CLAPP
WHAT THEY SAID: “That was my first WrestleMania, it was the first time they ever had the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, and you only get one chance to make a first impression. I made a giant first impression, just showing everybody I’m a giant in the ring. And what better way [to end it] than throwing Big Show out of the ring? … I’m like the mailman. I always deliver.” — CESARO
John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar — WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match (SummerSlam)
The question was never if Brock Lesnar could win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in Los Angeles, but rather how he’d do it. No matter what anybody speculated, no individual could have predicted the disgusting mauling that took place inside of a sold out STAPLES Center.
The match, if you can even call it that, was surreal to experience. Never before has a villain appeared to dominate a lauded champion in the manner Lesnar did to Cena in Downtown LA. Not The Four Horsemen to Dusty Rhodes, not Killer Kowalski to Bruno Sammartino, and not even Stan Hansen to Vader in Japan. The matchbeganwith an F-5, and the damage only escalated from there. The defending champ was the recipient of so much punishment-including the now infamous 16 German suplexes — it sometimes seemed as though Lesnar might continue to inflict pain instead of ever scoring a pinfall.
WWE Network: Eat, Sleep, Suplex, Suplex, Suplex, Suplex ...
Only once did John Cena mount a brief flurry of offense that culminated in an Attitude Adjustment, but it was barely enough to wound the hulking challenger. When Cena managed to lock in the STF, it was quickly reversed into a mixed martial arts–style ground and pound. Lesnar was unstoppable.
The SummerSlam main event wasn’t a back-and-forth technical classic. It was simply an unprecedented bludgeoning in favor of the most dominant man to ever step foot between the ropes. — ZACH LINDER
John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt — Last Man Standing Match (WWE Payback)
John Cena has made a career of beating monsters. But where Bray Wyatt differed was he possessed a compelling style of macabre that fans actually began to cheer for. How does John Cena defeat a monster that some fans don’t want to see defeated? The answer was for Cena give those in attendance a reason to get behind him instead. Easier said than done in the notoriously vicious city of Chicago.
Before the bout began, Wyatt shouted to his followers inside the Allstate Arena: “These are my people!” The Windy City faithful cheered, and it seemed as if “da Bears and da Bulls” might also include “da Bray.”
WWE Network: Cena faces his demons at Payback
Slowly but surely, in the city of Jordan, Hemingway and Capone, Cena did what he does best and became Chicago’s hero. In the melee’s most memorable moment, realizing his fists wouldn’t be enough, Cena hoisted up the ring’s steel steps and hurled them at Wyatt. He even had his own Wonder Twins watching his back when The Usos entered the fray to neutralize the interfering Luke Harper and Erick Rowan.
By the end of the brawl, there were broken tables, broken barricades, and there probably should have been plenty of broken bones. Cena scored the victory by burying the monster under a pile of production crates, finally becoming the hero fans needed, whether they knew it. — ZACH LINDER
El Torito vs. Hornswoggle — WeeLC Match (Extreme Rules)
WWE’s two diminutive Superstars, El Torito and Hornswoggle can often suffer the misfortune of being overlooked, but Los Matadores’ resident bull and 3MB’s fourth man were giants among men in the swamps of Jersey when they clashed in WWE’s first ever WeeLC Match at Extreme Rules. It’s likely the WWE Universe thought this match would be a screwball comedy affair, and it was … at first. But then, the presence of a minute referee and pint-sized commentary team suddenly gave way and the two competitors in the ring began to beat the ever-loving hell out of each other. Tables, ladders and chairs all came into play, and even 3MB and Los Matadores got in on the mayhem (truly, Drew McIntyre’s why- not plancha into a pile of plunder was as fantastic a swan song as The Chosen One could have hoped for in WWE). When the dust settled and Torito finally got the win over Hornswoggle, we like to think that the WWE locker room was all thinking the same thing: Topping this would be a tall order indeed. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Bad News Barrett vs. Dolph Ziggler — Intercontinental Championship Match (Raw; June 23)
Dolph Ziggler and Bad News Barrett’s Intercontinental Title Match had no crazy stipulations, no outside interference and no ulterior motives. This was just two of WWE’s most talented young competitors leaving it all out in the ring for the chance to walk out of the building with championship gold around their waist. The Showoff’s heart was on full display, but so was the titleholder’s toughness, as both Superstars managed to kick out of numerous near-falls. In the end, the difference maker was Barrett’s Bull Hammer, which connected squarely on Ziggler’s jaw like a right hook from “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler.
This bout not only happened to be one of 2014’s best, but also one of Barrett’s final matches of the year as he suffered a shoulder injury the following night, forcing him to relinquish his title. In a bizarre twist of fate, the Intercontinental Title eventually found its way into the hands of Ziggler who currently holds the coveted championship. Who knows, maybe the wrestling gods will look kindly on the WWE Universe in 2015 and deliver a championship rematch between these two rising Superstars on a much Grander Stage. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena vs. Cesaro vs. Christian vs. Sheamus — WWE World Heavyweight Championship Elimination Chamber Match (Elimination Chamber)
Why was the 2014 Elimination Chamber Match — featuring Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Cesaro, Sheamus and Christian at the pay-per-view of the same name — one of the Top 25 Matches of the Year? Let’s see: Five Superstars looked to rearrange “The Face of WWE” Randy Orton and capture his WWE World Heavyweight Title. Competitors constantly hurled each other onto every inch the unforgiving steel structure and through the pods themselves. Cena Attitude-Adjusted one Superstar onto another. And odd alliances were formed to seize the advantage.
Sheamus Brogue Kicked … well … everybody. Cesaro took Orton on a 27-rotation Cesaro Swing. WWE’s Apex Predator superplexed Sheamus (allowing Christian to hit The Celtic Warrior with a Frog Splash from the top of the pod). The “Yes!” movement erupted in every directing of the WWE Universe. The Wyatt Family materialized to obliterate the Cenation leader. And Kane emerged to finally help The Viper RKO Daniel Bryan into oblivion.
Yep, that about covers it. — MICHAEL BURDICK
Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins — Lumberjack Match (SummerSlam)
WHAT WE SAID: Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins’ Lumberjack Match at SummerSlam was a perfect representation of the pure mayhem that was their rivalry.
The Lunatic Fringe selected the match’s stipulation because he thought the “wall of flesh” outside the ring would stop his former Shield “brother” from escaping. Not even a barrier of WWE Superstars could contain the hatred between these two men, however.
Make no mistake, this was a fight. There was nothing pretty about this match, but that’s what made it so great. For every fan that enjoys a Dean Malenko–Eddie Guerrero classic, there’s a fan that loves a knockdown, drag-out fight between two guys who just want to beat each other senseless. This bout had gotten so out of control at one point that WWE’s then Director of Operations, Kane, had to order the lumberjacks to chase and retrieve both men as they fought among the WWE Universe.
This match was chaos at its pinnacle. From the unstable Ambrose’s top-rope dive on top of a sea of Superstars in the process of carrying Rollins back to the ring to the all-out brawl between lumberjacks that led to the match’s dramatic final moments, this was definitely one of the year’s best. — SCOTT TAYLOR
WHAT THEY SAID: “That wasn’t your traditional Lumberjack Match, that’s for sure. If you look back at the guys who were in that match, we beat the crap out of one or all of ’em at some point in our WWE tenure in The Shield. So when they got their chance they were gonna give us a whuppin’, too. … My suggestion to survive a Lumberjack Match is to avoid the lumberjacks! And we did a darn good job of that. But again, you take an opportunity like that, you hit it out of the park, and that’s what I thought the Lumberjack Match was.” — SETH ROLLINS
John Cena vs. Cesaro (Raw; Feb. 17)
WHAT WE SAID: After John Cena challenged Cesaro to step up and face him in the ring on Raw, six nights before both men would be locked inside the Elimination Chamber to vie for the WWE World Heavyweight Title, the WWE Universe knew they were about to witness an athletic tour de force between two of the strongest pound-for-pound Superstars on the roster today. Not only did this confrontation surpass those lofty expectations, but it proved The Swiss Superman could hold his own in any main event.
As both men battled to the point of exhaustion — and after Cesaro swung the 15-time World Champion for a dozen dizzying rotations — Cena countered The King of Swing’s Neutralizer into an Attitude Adjustment, which was, in turn, countered into a big running boot to Cena’s face. In a desperation tactic, Cena halted Cesaro’s momentum with a skull-rattling clothesline before impressively lifting a prone Cesaro from the ground onto his shoulders for a successful Attitude Adjustment. Cena won the match, but both men had reason to be proud that night in Denver. — JAMES WORTMAN
WHAT THEY SAID: “What it comes down to is me being a professional and the best professional at what we do. That was the first time people saw me and John Cena in the ring, and fresh matchups are always exciting, especially when it’s between two athletes of the caliber of myself and John Cena. It just goes to show you the future looks really bright. I see myself as the most exciting professional in WWE because you never know what I’m going to do in this ring. There are a lot of one-trick ponies out there, but that’s what makes it exciting when different styles clash and different Superstars face for the first time. I think that’s why the match with John Cena is that well remembered, because you never know what’s going to happen, and that’s the exciting part. A lot of guys have great entrances, this and that, but when it comes down to it, all seats face the ring, and that’s what I’m the best at.” — CESARO
Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt (Royal Rumble)
The 2014 Royal Rumble was bananas for all the wrong reasons. Few other crowds in WWE history were as audibly disgusted with what was playing out in front of them as the folks in Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center, a collective who actually booed Rey Mysterio when they realized the luchador was the 30th entrant in the Royal Rumble Match and not their chosen hero, Daniel Bryan.
Sure, it was ultimately justified, but all of this public unrest served to overshadow the bristling Rumble opener between Bryan and Bray Wyatt. Conventional wisdom would lead one to think a technical master like D-Bry would have his best matches against an equally outfitted opponent, but position The Beard against an oversized brawler (think Sheamus or even Bryan’s old Ring of Honor rival Takeshi Morishima) and you get a thrilling uphill battle every damn time. That was true here, too, as Bryan threw everything he had at the swamp monster only to have a suicide dive countered with Sister Abigail into the barricade! The chants of “This is awesome!” this match earned soon gave ways to hearty boos when Wyatt pinned Bryan, but that doesn’t mean this one should be overlooked. — RYAN MURPHY
Dolph Ziggler vs. Cesaro vs. Tyson Kidd — Triple Threat Elimination Intercontinental Championship Match (SmackDown; Nov. 14)
WHAT WE SAID: Before being vanquished at Survivor Series, The Authority, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, sought to punish Dolph Ziggler for daring to side against them. One such punishment was Ziggler having to defend his Intercontinental Championship in a Triple Threat Elimination Match against now tag team partners, feline lover Tyson Kidd and The Swiss Superman, Cesaro. From the outset, Dolph was double-teamed by his opponents while all three were in the ring, and at one point, The Showoff was locked in both a Sharpshooter and a crossface simultaneously but refused to tap out. Cesaro was eliminated when Kidd stole the pinfall from Dolph after a Zig Zag. The resulting one-on-one matchup between Ziggler and WWE’s most underrated Superstar, Kidd, was a clinic. In the end, the Intercontinental Champion inexplicably escaped the seemingly inescapable Sharpshooter to land another Zig Zag for the win and leave the WWE Universe in Liverpool, England, screaming for him as if he were the fifth Beatle. They love him, yeah, yeah, yeah. — @JOEYSTYLES
WHAT THEY SAID: “Cesaro and Tyson Kidd are two very underrated guys. If you watch Raw and SmackDown you don’t get to see them very often, which is unfortunate, because they’re not just good. Those two may be better than me at wrestling, and that’s not easy for me to say. Hopefully one day you’ll get to see them [more] on TV. Right now, you see them as wrestler,s and they’re two of the best, and I don’t just say this because the match was good. Those two are great.” — DOLPH ZIGGLER
“The Triple Threat was really cool because it was very eye-opening, I felt, to the fans who [hadn’t seen my matches in] NXT, especially those fans in Liverpool. I’m not saying it’s better than the [NXT Championship] Fatal 4-Way, but … it was a great sense of accomplishment to come backstage, Mr. McMahon was there and Stephanie, andfor them to see it and the rest of my peers on the road to see this Triple Threat. I’m just proving myself every night. I’ll do it in a grassroots way, and if that’s how it has to be, then that’s how it has to be.” — TYSON KIDD
The Usos vs. The Wyatt Family — 2-out-of-3-Falls WWE Tag Team Championship Match (WWE Battleground)
WHAT WE SAID: It was a battle of leaps versus creeps when altitude artists Jimmy & Jey Uso fended off eerie Wyatt Family members Erick Rowan & Luke Harper in a 2-out-of-3-Falls WWE Tag Team Championship Match at Battleground.
A contrast in styles, the frenetic bout began with the brothers Uso literally kicking their opponents from the ring. The bewildered Wyatt Family members regrouped and began to wear down The Usos with their distinct size advantage before Harper eventually dropped Jimmy with a big boot to claim the first fall of the match.
The second fall went to The Usos when Jey took advantage of a careless Harper. As the menacing mountain of a man chased Jimmy from the ring, he failed to notice Jey make the tag and was quickly rolled up for the three-count.
The third leg of the match witnessed Jey get covered for a pair of harrowing two-counts before he was finally able to tag in his brother. Jimmy then took to the skies. His aerial assault saw him twice fly over the ropes, leap from a barricade and spring from the top rope twice again, each time crashing into one of his rattled opponents. In between “This is awesome!” chants from the Tampa faithful, Jey followed suit and launched himself from the top rope onto Rowan with a Samoan Splash. After a hectic sequence by all four, including a superplex of both Usos from the top rope by Rowan, Jimmy & Jey landed a double Samoan splash onto Harper for the victory. The feverish match catapulted all of the Superstars involved and allowed The Usos to extend their WWE Tag Team Title for an impressive 202 days. — GREG ADKINS
WHAT THEY SAID: “That was probably one of the hardest matches we’ve ever been through. The Wyatts are one hell of a faction. It’s hard enough to beat those guys one time, you know what I’m saying? … That third fall, we had to dig for that one. I remember that one, getting ‘Uso Crazy,’ we were winded, had to pick it up and give it to ‘em. What I really remember is the double splash off the same corner, because we almost fell off the top. But we had to do what we had to do, and we got it done.” — JIMMY USO
Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro (NXT ArRIVAL)
WHAT WE SAID: Imagine you’re Sami Zayn and Cesaro.
In 2013, your 2-out-of-3-Falls Match was considered by many to be Match of the Year, the best bout in NXT history at the time … and you’re expected to top it. Oh, and this upcoming Part Four of your rivalry is going to be the first live wrestling event broadcast on the just-launched WWE Network. No pressure.
Well, if you’ve seen the match, that’s the kind of mind set you’d think those two actually had going into it, because they tore the house down and set the bar as high as possible for future NXT live events on WWE Network.
Instant classic: Zayn-Cesaro IV kicks off NXT ArRIVAL
A fast-paced opening that highlighted both competitors’ exceptional mat-wrestling talents eventually gave way to a methodical attack by Cesaro on Zayn’s surgically repaired knee. When Zayn recovered, a series of heart-stopping near falls ensued, showcasing Zayn’s resilience and Cesaro’s mercilessness.
It took a vicious discus European uppercut and Neutralizer for Cesaro to win the contest, but Zayn was just as much the winner of the match. He earned the respect of his opponent and COO Triple H, as well as the love of the WWE Universe; a love that would help propel Zayn to his NXT Title win in December. — MIKE MURPHY
WHAT THEY SAID: “The Cesaro match was a pretty big deal for me for a lot of reasons. It was the first live special, it was a really big deal for the company — it was the first live thing to go on the Network and also the end of a huge story with my biggest rival. Bret Hart, who was a big hero of mine growing up, Shawn Michaels, and all these guys I really just respected the hell out of were there, and I was just hoping to have a good showing. I’m glad people remember it in a positive light, because it’ll definitely go up there with one of the best matches in my career so far.” — SAMI ZAYN
Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H (WrestleMania 30)
This match may have been personal to Triple H for a couple of weeks; but for Daniel Bryan and the WWE Universe, it had been so since the moment the COO screwed Bryan out of the WWE Title at SummerSlam 2013.
There was a defiant air WrestleMania night in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Emotions rode the tsunami-like wave of The “Yes!” Movement into The Big Easy. The months of frustration created an atmosphere that accentuated what was already an incredible contest.
The Game and Bryan battled back-and-forth — from ring and apron to barricade and announce table — throwing everything they had at one another. Fans worried if Bryan’s arm would give out every time the COO targeted the injured limb, all while Stephanie McMahon shrieked encouragement to her husband and insults to the supposed “B+ player.”
But Daniel Bryan would not be denied. After a Pedigree silenced the crowd, there was an eruption of joy when Bryan kicked out. When Bryan’s running knee connected with The Games’s face minutes later for the shocking victory, it became a special, practically euphoric, moment. It would only be topped when Bryan completed the miracle by capturing the WWE World Heavyweight Title in a Triple Threat Match against Randy Orton and Batista later that night. — MIKE MURPHY
Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Batista — Triple Threat WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match (WrestleMania 30)
During the 2014 Royal Rumble Match, the crowd inside Pittsburgh’s Consol Energy Center showered the bout’s eventual winner, a returning Batista, with a chorus of deafening boos when it became evident that fan-favorite Daniel Bryan would not be entering the signature match.
With The Animal’s ticket stamped for WrestleMania 30 and a main-event title match set with WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton, Bryan was seemingly out of the title race. The WWE Universe, however, would not be denied. Due to overwhelming fan reaction at Live Events and on social media, The Authority was forced to reevaluate the “Yes!” Man’s role in the title hunt. As a result, he was given an opportunity to face Triple H at The Show of Shows; were he to defeat The Game, he would then be entered into a Triple Threat Match later that night for the WWE World Heavyweight Title.
After successfully besting Triple H, Bryan lined up across from Batista and Orton for the main event. The 75,000 WWE fans inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans had reached a frenzied pitch by the opening bell. Having endured the punishment of both The Animal and The Viper, as well as interference by The Authority, Bryan nonetheless found himself in the ring alone with Batista near the match’s 23-minute mark. When Bryan slapped on the “Yes!” Lock, Batista tapped out, earning the “Yes!” Man the WWE World Heavyweight Title and a tsunami of “Yes!” chants that rippled throughout The Big Easy well into the waning hours of the historic evening. — GREG ADKINS
Natalya vs. Charlotte — NXT Women’s Championship Match (NXT TakeOver)
Was 2014 the year we stopped grading women’s matches on a curve? The ignorant responded to even the best Divas bouts with dismissive compliments like, “That was good — for girls.” Then Charlotte and Natalya put on a wrestling clinic at NXT TakeOver and now the whole dynamic has changed.
A lot has been written about their bout for the vacant NXT Women’s Championship since it happened in May, but what’s too often missed is how amazing both women looked after it was done. Natalya — a competitor who’s all too rarely given the opportunity to show what she’s capable of — was immaculate on the mat and gracious in defeat. And Charlotte? Who else besides Beethoven and Tiger Woods has been as gifted at something as quickly as the second-generation Diva? Two years into her career and she’s already been part of perhaps the best Divas match ever.
Still, the most telling part of the bout’s greatness may be in the fact that WWE Hall of Famers Bret Hart and Ric Flair were at ringside to add to the gravity of the contest. However, by the time the match hit its stride, you forgot they were even there. — RYAN MURPHY
The Shield vs. Evolution (Extreme Rules)
WHAT WE SAID: It is rare to have an encounter hailed as a dream match months before all competitors are even members of the active roster, but that’s exactly what happened with The Shield and Evolution. The level of expectation reached heights nearly impossible to deliver, but if any two teams could live up to the hype, it’s The Hounds of Justice and the newly reformed trio of Triple H, Randy Orton and Batista.
Exclusive interview: Batista tells all on his return
Both teams had plenty to prove. A royally ticked-off Triple H, Orton and Batista needed to show themselves, the raucous crowd at New Jersey’s Meadowlands and the world that they could still compete with the hottest young Superstars in WWE. Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns were attempting to keep their year and a half of momentum on a roll and prove they could hang with three bona fide icons.
With so much subtext, the faceoff devolved into a chaotic war that escaped the confines of the ropes. In the heat of battle, Rollins dove from the stands of the arena onto his opponents on the floor below. It reminded those watching that while Evolution had the veteran experience, The Shield had evolved into wrestling’s hottest property. — ZACH LINDER
WHAT THEY SAID: “Shield vs. Evolution is kind of the opposite of Shield vs. Wyatts. It was the future vs. the past, all fighting in the present, but that was on a completely different level as far as fighting for elbow space, who’s going to take charge and be the backbone of this company, being that Evolution is headed by Triple H, who is also The Authority and one of the highest figures in this company. It was really just rebellious young men fighting against established Superstars.” — ROMAN REIGNS
“Those are dream matches. When you look at three-man teams vs. The Shield, I mean, I never thought I would wrestle Evolution. They were dead and gone before we even got there. Just to be a part of those matches and to have some standout moments in those matches, particularly the two major dives. … That’s awesome to be one of the stars of those matches and take The Shield to the next level and separate us from the rest of the three-man teams in the history of WWE.” — SETH ROLLINS
Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn vs. Tyler Breeze vs. Tyson Kidd — Fatal 4-Way NXT Championship Match (NXT TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way)
WHAT WE SAID: Fatal 4-Way Matches always end up devolving into a pile-up of bodies, a car-wreck of a match. Rarely are they as beautiful a disaster as the bout that unfolded at NXT TakeOver: Fatal 4-Way. The bout the show took its name from featured then-NXT Champion Adrian Neville desperately trying to hold onto his title in the face of three hungry challengers in a match that he inexplicably requested.
The bout spilled out of the ring quickly, with Kidd and Breeze teaming up to take out their foes. That alliance didn’t last very long, as all four men began to throw everything they had at each other. Breathtaking dives, hard-hitting kicks and bone-crunching submissions had fans on the edge of their seats.
WWE Network: Fatal 4-Way fracas ends in controversy
It looked as if Zayn was going to walk out of Orlando with the NXT Championship, having clobbered Kidd with the Helluva Kick. However, Neville pulled his friend Zayn out of the ring, superkicked him and stole the victory for himself, creating one of NXT’s most heated rivalries in the process. — BOBBY MELOK
WHAT THEY SAID: “I don’t view NXT in any way as, ‘good for NXT.’ Good is good, and those matches are good. Without sounding arrogant, whether I’m a part of them or not, I feel the quality of work coming out of NXT is 100-percent comparable to any given Monday night or any given pay-per-view. To me, it’s just a different show, but it’s still WWE and it’s still got that seal of quality.” — SAMI ZAYN
The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family (Elimination Chamber)
WHAT WE SAID: It was a match the WWE Universe had been clamoring over for months. So much so that it received “This is awesome!” chants before it even began.
In 2012, The Shield arrived and put the entire WWE roster on notice, dominating everyone they came across and cementing themselves as the best trio the business had ever seen … until The Wyatt Family arrived. The backwoods cult led by Bray Wyatt tore through their competition much like The Hounds of Justice before them. It was only a matter of time before their paths crossed to determine which faction was superior.
The weeks of barbs thrown both ways added fuel to what wasn’t just a fire, but an absolute explosion. You could feel the intensity, ferocity, desperation and sheer hatred the two groups shared for one another in every blow and maneuver. Each Superstar treated his body like a weapon, both inside the ring and out, recklessly throwing it at his opponents to make a statement.
Though the Wyatts ultimately made that statement in victory, both trios proved something to the WWE Universe that night: that all six men possess the talent, heart and desire that turn Superstars into WWE Legends. — MIKE MURPHY
WHAT THEY SAID: “I’ve done a lot of things in my career to garner ‘This is awesome’ chants, but that’s the first time it ever happened when I was just standing across the ring staring at somebody. That’s fairly unusual, I would say, and that might be the first time in wrestling history I’ve ever seen that, period. To be a part of that and to feel that energy from the crowd, it literally gave me goose bumps. And knowing what we were capable of and what was to come was pretty exciting as well.” — SETH ROLLINS
Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn — NXT Championship Match (NXT TakeOver: R Evolution)
WHAT WE SAID: The Dec. 11 NXT Championship insta-classic between Adrian Neville and Sami Zayn combined in-ring innovation and eye-popping athleticism with a rare, heartstring-tugging poignancy typically associated with a bygone era. No extramarital affairs or vengeful authority figures factored into the rivalry. Instead, Zayn simply ached to win the NXT Title belonging to his longtime friend, and Neville — desperate to hold onto NXT’s top prize — was willing to do whatever it took, including cut corners, to get the job done.
Occupying the space between prize fight and medieval morality play, the match was a modern version of Hart vs. Piper from WrestleMania VIII. When the ref went down and the NXT Title found its way into the mix, the virtuous Zayn was tempted to forgo his righteous path in the name of championship success and use the NXT Title as a weapon. The emotional investment on behalf of the NXT Universe was obvious, as “Olé” chants convinced him otherwise.
Start to finish, the bout was compelling, and that’s not even taking into consideration the remarkable conditioning and insane risk-taking on display, or the bliss of Zayn’s eventual triumph. It’s only fitting that the main event of a card subtitled “R Evolution” would be both dynamic and timeless. If you’re in need of a match that mixes the best elements of old-school wrestling and new-school sports entertainment, look no further. — JOHN CLAPP
WHAT THEY SAID: “Looking back on my NXT Title reign, the match I’d be most proud of, despite the outcome, would be my most recent [title match] at TakeOver against Sami Zayn. I lost that match, but I put in the performance of a lifetime. It’s one of the best matches of my career, and it’s certainly a match I’m very proud of.” — ADRIAN NEVILLE
Team Cena (John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Big Show, Ryback & Erick Rowan) vs. Team Authority (Seth Rollins, Kane, Rusev, Luke Harper & Mark Henry) — Traditional 5-on-5 Survivor Series Elimination Tag Team Match (Survivor Series)
WHAT WE SAID: As fun as it is to be contrarian, sometimes the best match of the year is simply the best match of the year. There were few — well, actually, no — contests that took the WWE Universe on a wilder journey than the main event of Survivor Series 2014, a 10-Superstar Elimination Tag Team Match that did nothing less than determine the future of the company itself.
And we don’t mean in the sense of the stipulation, either. Somehow, we knew, it was a given that Team Cena would be victorious and Cena himself would be the man to oust The Authority. But the finale the Universe likely predicted — a comeback for an outmanned, outmatched Cena — was flipped immediately on its head when the 15-time World Champion was KO’ed by a traitorous Big Show and the bout suddenly ventured into unpredicted territory.
The spoils of the detour, however, were undeniable: Cena’s elimination ceded the spotlight — albeit unwittingly — to an heir apparent who ended up going the whole damn distance. The hero of the match ended up being Dolph Ziggler, who most, including Ziggler, thought had seen his last main event long ago. Despite Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble proving they still had fight left in them and Triple H and Stephanie McMahon getting in one last burst of villainous venom, “Zig Man” brought it down to the wire and justice was served when Sting showed up to save the day. Come on, what more could you possibly want? — ANTHONY BENIGNO
WHAT THEY SAID: “For the first time in a long time I was nervous about the match. Not just because there was a lot riding on it, but because I hoped it would be in my hands when it came down to it. I knew the team would step up [and] do anything for me, but people’s jobs were on the line, so when it came down to me, I knew I couldn’t possibly let them down. Not was this only a big moment for myself, but it was a big moment for WWE to get The Authority out of power, to find a way to win, which for months and years, I had always done. Someway, somehow, find a way to win.” — DOLPH ZIGGLER