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WWE.com's Top 25 matches of 2013
2013 was a very good year for sports-entertainment. And not just in the sense of the spectacle, the pageantry, and the general ballyhoo that WWE brings. Bearing heroic displays of heart, Herculean feats of strength and Olympian conquests of World Championship gold, 2013 was a great 365 days for the actual art of wrestling itself - so much so that we thought it was only appropriate to pick the best bouts out of a year that was bursting with unforgettable action.
Here’s how we did it: A team of WWE.com editors narrowed the year down to our 25 favorites and determined the rankings by scoring the matches, adding up the totals and ordering them appropriately. The process was arduous and often contentious (John Cena vs. Mark Henry, the Broadway Brawl and the Elimination Chamber Match all barely missed the cut), but it was as honest and democratic as it gets. So, without further ado, here are the Top 25 Matches of 2013, as presented by “The Legend of Hercules.”
The Miz vs. Wade Barrett - Intercontinental Championship Match (Raw; April 8)
WE SAID: After losing the Intercontinental Championship to The Miz during the WrestleMania 29 Pre-Show, Wade Barrett wasted little time in demanding his automatic rematch. The surly Brit got his second chance at the coveted title just one night later on the infamous post-WrestleMania edition of Raw. The crowd that night in New Jersey made the show extremely interesting, perhaps no more so than during this match. On any other night, The Miz would have been cheered by the WWE Universe. However, there were still thousands of Brits in town for Raw, and they were clearly in Barrett’s corner.
With a crowd chanting and singing songs in his honor, Barrett was invigorated. Fighting with a renewed sense of purpose, Barrett dropped The Awesome One with a vicious neckbreaker on the apron and followed up with a tribute to Cactus Jack. The bare-knuckle brawler bellowed “Bang, bang!” before dropping a running elbow from the ring apron to a prone Miz on the arena floor.
The Miz fought valiantly, even trapping Barrett in the Figure-Four Leglock again,but when the Brit escaped, there wasn’t a doubt as to who would win. Barrett knocked Miz out cold with The Bull Hammer, sending the IZOD Center into a frenzy as he held the Intercontinental Title high. – BOBBY MELOK
THEY SAID: “It’s always hard when you’re out there and you’re getting into the final quarter of the match where we’re hitting our bigger moves, getting into those near-falls and the crowd’s biting into all that. I think that was the moment where I really knew we got them. I always felt there was good momentum in the match throughout, and I knew the crowd was getting into it by a lot of the chants and cheers that were going on. I knew something special was happening. It’s definitely up there for me. I’ve had bigger matches in terms of the weight of the match and how much the match would mean, but in terms of my favorite matches — with my performance and solely looking at what I did there — I’d say that was my best.” – BAD NEWS BARRETT
Kofi Kingston vs. Antonio Cesaro - U.S. Championship Match (WWE Main Event; May 1)
Months before the Cesaro Swing became fodder for “The Soup,” there was Kofi Kingston vs. Antonio Cesaro. Prior to the contest, Cesaro — who’d lost the United States Championship to The Wildcat weeks earlier — promised to take back not only the title, but also his “identity.” In his first year in WWE, the Swiss strongman, once a highly touted prospect on the independent circuit, gallivanted around with Aksana and made multilingualism a defining characteristic. All the while, his loyal followers waited for a true breakthrough moment that would showcase his wrestling ability.
That moment came on May 1. Packed with full-force physicality, the innovative title match was the stuff highlight reels are made of. Cesaro’s unbridled power counterbalanced Kingston’s spring-loaded offense. Among the more amazing sights was Cesaro, standing on the middle rope, suplexing Kofi from the apron into the ring. In the end, though, it was Trouble in Paradise — delivered to the back of Cesaro’s skull — that brought the thrilling bout to a close. – JOHN CLAPP
The Shield vs. The Usos - WWE Tag Team Championship Match (WWE Money in the Bank 2013 Kickoff)
As much as 2013 was, in many ways, “The Year of The Shield” — they’ve got four Slammy Awards to prove it — The past 12 months also saw the emergence of The Usos as one of the most impressive tag teams in WWE today. The second-generation Samoan sensations spent much of 2013 in pursuit of the WWE Tag Team Championships, a prize they nearly captured during their WWE Money in the Bank Kickoff encounter with defending titleholders Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins.
Both teams dazzled the raucous Philadelphia crowd as Jimmy & Jey Uso took the fight to the relentless Hounds of Justice. In an “OMG”-worthy moment that dropped jaws around the globe, Jey Uso attempted to counter Rollins’ top-rope suplex to his brother which, in turn, was countered by a Reigns powerbomb that sent all four men crashing down to the canvas in a thunderous collision. With the WWE Universe remaining on its feet for the duration of the bout, it was the combination of Rollins’ turnbuckle powerbomb and Reigns’ spear that left Jimmy down and out. The Usos might not have earned the WWE Tag Team Titles that night, but they earned something nearly as valuable: respect. – JAMES WORTMAN
John Cena vs. Damien Sandow - World Heavyweight Championship Match (Raw; Oct. 28)
WE SAID: It’s a shame that this match will always be viewed through the prism of a failed Money in the Bank cash-in instead being remembered for the first-class caliber with which Damien Sandow fought in pursuit of his first World Title. John Cena had battled through freshly repaired triceps to claim the World Heavyweight Championship from Alberto Del Rio at Hell in a Cell the night before; while “The Uncrowned World Champion” greatly overestimated Cena’s limitations when he cashed in the next night, The Intellectual Savior of the Masses mounted an all-world effort to knock off the freshly anointed Champ. Even though Sandow became the first man to lose on a cash-in (persnickety historical footnote: Cena failed his own cash-in the previous year, yes; but he won the match by DQ), his Herculean effort made him a brand-new man in the eyes of a WWE Universe, which had previously thought him a haughty goon who rested solely on his literary laurels. You could almost say they were enlightened. – ANTHONY BENIGNO
THEY SAID: “My feelings on the match? Number one, the referee counted too fast, and I’m not done with any of the people involved, John Cena included. It was the biggest accolade of my career and it was taken from me. Of course I’m not happy about that; I didn’t walk away with the championship. If anything, I have a bigger chip on my shoulder.” – DAMIEN SANDOW
CM Punk vs. Dean Ambrose (Raw; Dec. 9)
What was it this year with former independent wrestling main-eventers tearing it up on Raw? 2013 was a banner year for formerly unheralded prospects, and CM Punk and Dean Ambrose — both famous veterans of the indies — delivered a late-game classic in a Raw rematch of a SmackDown clash that had happened only a few days prior. If matches with eye-popping falls are your personal Kryptonite, this one might not have been for you. But the pace with which the two fought was surgical and cerebral; the presence of The Shield on the outside added an element of danger, and Ambrose’s tension with his teammates kept Punk hopeful just long enough that he’d find an opening to get the win.
Of course, that’s what happened, as Ambrose’s ballooning ego didn’t sit too well with his teammates, who walked out on their self-proclaimed captain in a fit of irritation and sent him walking right into the path of a waiting Punk. Granted, their match a few days later at WWE TLC was more epic, with Punk knocking off all three Hounds by himself. The intimacy and urgency of this one, though, burned it deeper into our memories. – ANTHONY BENIGNO
Chris Jericho vs. CM Punk (Raw; Feb. 4)
WE SAID: Eight days removed from Royal Rumble 2013, CM Punk arrived at Phillips Arena in Atlanta missing two important things: the WWE Title he lost to The Rock, and an opponent for the evening. After complaining about the former, SmackDown General Manager Booker T stepped forward to resolve the latter by putting Punk in a historic match.
Booker T ordered that the WWE Universe would choose Punk’s adversary from three of his past WrestleMania foes — Rey Mysterio, Randy Orton and Chris Jericho — in the first-ever WWE App Vote Match. The fans responded by voting in droves on the WWE App for Y2J.
After the polls closed, the WrestleMania XXVIII opponents renewed their rivalry in a suspenseful battle to see who was truly the “Best in the World.” After Walls of Jericho and Anaconda Vise attempts failed to get the job done, Punk prevailed by finishing off a stunned Y2J with an emphatic Go to Sleep. – MATTHEW ARTUS
THEY SAID: “[I remember] that match was a fan vote, and the powers-that-be were convinced that Punk was gonna end up facing Orton. I was like, ‘Are you sure? I don’t agree.’ And when they announced the results about 20 minutes before the match, I said, ‘See? I told ya.’ So having 20 minutes to mentally prepare for a match with someone like CM Punk is not a lot of time, but sometimes that makes the match even better and I think that’s why that match went as good as it did. When you have the right guy, the right opponent, and can go take advantage of that, that’s the best way to have a match, for sure.
I was kind of pissed off none of [my matches with Punk] made it onto the best-of-the-year DVD. I find whenever I leave WWE, I’m kind of the forgotten man. But if you watch my match with Punk [on Raw] and if you watch my match with Punk in Chicago on pay-per-view, I think it was the best match of the night. I don’t really know what a ”Match of the Year” is, but I think 2013 was one of the best years of my career, in-ring wise. If people like those matches, I know I do, so that’s cool to hear.” – CHRIS JERICHO
Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Jericho (Raw; July 15)
WE SAID: It’s tempting to think that Chris Jericho and Rob Van Dam were sending a message to the greenhorns in the locker room when they went all out in their July 15 thriller on Raw. And, yet, Y2J and RVD weren’t looking to impress anyone — having great matches is just what they do.
Locking up on Raw for the first time in nearly 10 years, Van Dam and Jericho didn’t posture like two veterans on a farewell tour. Instead, they pushed the pace for nearly 20 minutes, trading knife-edge chops and suplexes like they did back when they were wowing the ECW Arena faithful. RVD ultimately beat Jericho with a thundering Five-Star Frog Splash, but this was the rare match where who won and who lost wasn’t important. Both Superstars left the arena shining like new money that night. Everyone else was behind them, struggling just to keep up. — RYAN MURPHY
THEY SAID: “I’ve worked with Rob many times, but it had been about 10 years since we wrestled last. I’ve known Rob for a long time. I know exactly what he does, and he knows me. I never expected it to be as good as it was, but you never know what you’re gonna get!” – CHRIS JERICHO
Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton - Street Fight (Raw; June 24)
Remember when everyone thought Daniel Bryan was a weak link? Good times! Strange as it may seem now, there was that one weird stretch in the wake of Team Hell No’s breakup where Bryan questioned his own dominance and picked a fight with anything that moved. In an eerie bit of foreshadowing, he targeted Randy Orton in particular, and their miniature rivalry culminated in an App-voted Street Fight that put both men through hell and back.
Admittedly, picking this match out of the four or five classics Bryan and Orton had this year was a tough one. The implications weren’t as big here. But the two of them never fought with such wild intensity as they did in this match, with Orton trying to shake the mad Bryan and the submission master — hungry for a legitimate win over The Apex Predator — savagely wrenching The Viper into submission with a Kendo stick-assisted “Yes!” Lock. Even six months and however many Bryan vs. Orton matches later, it stands the test of time. As for the notion of Bryan as a weak link? It’s a thankfully distant memory, to nobody more so than Randy Orton. – ANTHONY BENIGNO
John Cena vs. Randy Orton - Champion of Champions Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match (WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs)
John Cena and Randy Orton are no strangers to making history, and on Dec. 15, WWE’s two most decorated Superstars delivered an unforgettable performance with, literally, the eyes of the sports-entertainment world upon them.
As past champions looked on from around the globe, and (hopeful) future champions paid particularly close attention to the main event matchup, The Champ and The Viper lived up to the enormous hype surrounding their title contest.
WWE’s Apex Predator had to use the ring itself to ultimately bring down the Cenation leader, a true testament to the never-give-up attitude of The Champ. Still, despite Cena’s legendary resolve, it was Orton who held high all the championship gold and unified the two titles to cap off one of the most historic nights in WWE history and become the first WWE World Heavyweight Champion. – ALEX GIANNINI
Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar - No Holds Barred Match (WrestleMania 29)
The No Holds Barred clash between Brock Lesnar and Triple H wasn’t just about broken arms or a destroyed office. The legendary career of The Game was on the line. For someone who thrives on competition like Triple H, that means more than any championship.
Watch: Lesnar terrorizes WWE HQ
But to keep his in-ring career alive, The Cerebral Assassin had to defeat the animalistic Lesnar. The ring couldn’t contain the two warriors. The Beast Incarnate hurled Triple H around ringside as if he were a small child, eventually suplexing him through the Spanish announce table. The Game hit the stadium floor with a sick thud as Lesnar unleashed a primal roar that reverberated throughout MetLife Stadium.
Photos: The Game battles for his career
Triple H sought to even the odds with his trusty sledgehammer, but The Beast was able to evade it at first. Lesnar’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for carnage would eventually be his undoing. The monster brought the steel ring steps into the squared circle, slamming The Game onto them to escape a submission.
The epic bout reached its apex when The King of Kings was finally able to bash Lesnar in the face with the sledgehammer and the steel steps as well. Triple H then finally slayed Lesnar with a Pedigree onto those same cold, metal steps to keep his career alive. – BOBBY MELOK
Alberto Del Rio vs. Christian - World Heavyweight Championship Match (SummerSlam 2013)
What happens when you combine Christian’s jaw-jacking punches, Alberto Del Rio’s ferocious kicks, a World Heavyweight Championship and a sold-out STAPLES Center in Hollywood? Well, as the WWE Universe found out at this year’s SummerSlam, one helluva match. For roughly 15 minutes, Captain Charisma and The Essence of Excellence savagely tried turning each other’s faces into hamburger meat, with dozens of stinging strikes echoing throughout the arena, and thanks to their almost uncomfortable display of brutality, an instant classic was born.
Far be it, however, for two of WWE’s premier technicians to rely on vicious strikes alone. There were elements of lucha libre and traditional mat wrestling. Most impressively, Del Rio scouted Christian to a tee: A Christian back elbow was turned it into a top-rope backstabber, and a late-game spear attempt was halted by a dropkick to the face. Christian did eventually hit the spear, but in doing so, further weakened his already injured shoulder, leaving him an easy target for the Cross Armbreaker. – JOHN CLAPP
The Undertaker vs. Dean Ambrose (SmackDown; April 26)
WE SAID: As many WWE Hall of Famers will tell you, going against The Deadman ain’t easy. Four days after The Shield defeated The Undertaker, Kane & Daniel Bryan on Raw, Dean Ambrose had the rare opportunity to battle The Demon from Death Valley in singles action on SmackDown (“singles action” being a relative term when it comes to The Shield). With Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins at ringside, Ambrose’s ferocity and striking abilities kept The Undertaker on the defensive, and The Shield’s wildcard even earned a near-pinfall over The Phenom at one point with well-timed DDT.
Yet, despite staggering The Undertaker, the bell tolled for Ambrose, who succumbed to The Last Outlaw’s Hell’s Gate submission hold to end the bout. After the match, The Hounds of Justice swarmed The Deadman before Reigns speared The Undertaker through the ringside barricade. The attack left The Phenom vulnerable to The Shield’s Triple Powerbomb, which drove The Deadman through the announce table. The Undertaker hasn’t been seen since. – JAMES WORTMAN
THEY SAID: “The most surreal experience of my entire career. You look across and it’s The Undertaker; you feel like you’re in some sort of creepy dream. It doesn’t seem real. Every match, though, once you make the first contact it’s kind of like a football game. You got that nervous energy, but once you make contact, the dimensions of every ring are the same. It’s 20x20, you’re in there and then it’s just like any other match. The nerves melt away. It went by so quick, it felt like it was over in an instant. But it’s something nobody can ever take away from you, that you got the opportunity to share the ring with the greatest of all time, probably.” – DEAN AMBROSE
Kaitlyn vs. AJ Lee - Divas Championship Match (WWE Payback)
More than one year after their an emotionally troubled AJ Lee ended her friendship with Kaitlyn with a couple of stinging slaps across the face, the pint-sized powder keg set her sights on her former bestie’s Divas Championship at WWE Payback. Pulling at Kaitlyn’s heart strings with a plot involving messages from a “secret admirer” (SPOILER ALERT: It was AJ all along), the diabolical challenger entered Chicago’s Allstate Arena with a clear psychological advantage over Kaitlyn.
In a show of wince-inducing ferocity — more brutal than any Divas match waged in 2013 — Kaitlyn and AJ held nothing back, with the champion ultimately subduing her embattled ex-BFF with a bone-jarring spear. However, instead of going for a pinfall after leaving AJ prone, Kaitlyn stalled to blow her former friend a kiss, allowing AJ ample time to recover and lock the pretty powerhouse in her signature Black Widow submission hold. – JAMES WORTMAN
Goldust vs. Randy Orton (Raw; Sept. 9)
WE SAID: When the inevitable WWE DVD release celebrating Dustin Runnels’ career is assembled, the Sept. 9 match between Goldust and WWE Champion Randy Orton may demand a chapter unto itself. The bout had all the hallmarks of an emotional must-see. There was family pride on the line, as Goldust was competing to earn back his brother Cody’s job. It was a story of redemption, too, as the match was The Bizarre One’s opportunity to make up for past personal indiscretions and do right by his unfailingly responsible younger brother.
Most of all, the match kicked off an improbable career renaissance. To chants of “You’ve still got it,” the leaner and quicker than ever Goldust glided around the ring and kept The Viper on his heels. As Orton’s methodical attack took over, Goldust’s face paint faded, exposing Runnels’ countenance. In a hopeful moment, Goldust, borrowing from Cody’s repertoire, reversed an RKO attempt into the Cross Rhodes. Ultimately, the WWE Champion would not be beaten that night, yet to describe the match as anything less than a moral victory for Goldust would be a disservice. – JOHN CLAPP
THEY SAID: “That match stands out above any match I’ve had in a long, long time for the reason that it was emotional and there was a story behind it. And I guess we went out there and tore up the show. I think it was a test of, ‘Does Goldust still have it or not? We’re gonna see.’ And I did. And it shocked and awed a whole bunch of people, so I’m very thankful for that and I’m thankful to Randy for giving me a hell of a match. I really don’t think it hit me till afterwards when I took a shower and calmed down a little bit. It was like, ‘Wow, I went to battle and swung one out of the park.’ I heard from Dad, and he said, ‘Hell of a job, kid.’” – GOLDUST
Money in the Bank Ladder Match for a World Heavyweight Championship Contract (WWE Money in the Bank)
WE SAID: Seven Superstars — United States Champion Dean Ambrose, Cody Rhodes, Damien Sandow, Antonio Cesaro, Jack Swagger, Fandango and Wade Barrett — found themselves at Money in the Bank with a real chance to claim a World Heavyweight Title opportunity. To earn it, one of the competitors needed to rise above the rest and take hold of the Money in the Bank contract hanging above the ring.
A major opportunity like that meant seven ruthless grapplers lacking any World Heavyweight Championship experience would undoubtedly pull out all the stops. The competitors earned “This is Awesome!” chants from the capacity crowd in Philadelphia for a wild clash, but a bitter betrayal ultimately left the Philly faithful in stunned silence.
As Rhodes climbed the ladder to grab the contract, The Intellectual Savior of the Masses slid into the ring to push his Team Rhodes Scholars partner down to the canvas. Sandow then made his own ascent, clinching himself a new nickname in the process: Mr. Money in the Bank. – MATTHEW ARTUS
THEY SAID: “The best-officiated match in the history of this company. I think that what people described as a betrayal of Cody Rhodes was simply a display of courage and heroism. The second I came through the curtain, I knew [I would win].” – DAMIEN SANDOW
Cody Rhodes & Goldust vs. The Usos vs. The Shield - Six Man WWE Tag Team Championship Match (WWE Hell in a Cell)
Quick question: When was the last time WWE tag team wrestling was as good as it was in 2013? Team Hell No, Team Rhodes Scholars and the emergence of The Shield gave way to a glut of tandems that spoiled a WWE Universe hungry for a resurgence in the division, and that resurrection arguably peaked with the WWE Tag Team Title Triple Threat Match at WWE Hell in a Cell. With one team of established veterans (Cody Rhodes & Goldust), one of hungry newcomers getting better by the day (The Shield) and a final duo of established workhorses finally getting their due (The Usos), the match was madness in the most glorious sense of the word. It was fun, it was frantic and — most essentially for a title match — it was urgent. Everyone involved wanted those titles, and everyone deserved to have them. And we couldn’t wait to see who pulled it off. – ANTHONY BENIGNO
Team Hell No & Randy Orton vs. The Shield (SmackDown; June 14)
Do you believe in miracles? Beating The Shield was about as close as a WWE Superstar could get to one for the better part of the last year. Such was The Hounds of Justice’s dominance that their first collective loss — a disqualification drop to John Cena & Team Hell No — was immediately nullified by a brutal pasting of the Cenation leader only moments later. By all accounts, Team Hell No & Randy Orton shouldn’t have been the ones to finally crack the code. Never mind that Kane and Bryan’s partnership was tenuous on their good days, but the addition of the inscrutable Orton threw another element into the mix.
Basically, none of it should have happened. The former WWE Tag Team Champions shouldn’t have operated as smoothly as they did in in their final months as a unit. Orton — still hunting for the definitive win that would right his ship — shouldn’t have bought into the team philosophy. The Shield’s numbers game shouldn’t have failed. But all three of those scenarios did, in fact, happen, and poor Seth Rollins took the brunt of it by being shoved off the top rope into an RKO, and then torqued into a “Yes!” Lock for his squadron’s first defeat. Everything that was wrong was right. Black was white, up was down, cats and dogs were living together, etc. But it happened anyway. So, we ask again: Do you believe in miracles? YES! – ANTHONY BENIGNO
Dolph Ziggler vs. Alberto Del Rio - World Heavyweight Championship Match (WWE Payback)
WE SAID: As Dolph Ziggler will surely tell you, he kind of has everything going for him, and as of last summer he had the World Heavyweight Championship, to boot. But the first defense of his hard-won World Heavyweight Championship at WWE Payback still left the WWE Universe heartbroken for the show-stealing antihero they loved to hate.
The then-champion had fought hell and high water to claim the World Heavyweight Title belonging to Alberto Del Rio (who had recently been reborn as a folk hero to the people),and fate turned against him almost immediately when an extremely serious concussion promptly took Dolph out of the game. Ziggler’s return against Del Rio at WWE Payback seemed like it would cement his spot at the top until “Mexico’s Greatest Export” took the easy way out and teed off on The Showoff’s formerly concussed skull, kicking him repeatedly in an effort to not so much beat Dolph as humiliate him.
Photos: Ziggler shows his heart
Ziggler refused to stop the match even with his girlfriend AJ Lee in tears at ringside, but the damage had already been done, and the ruthless Del Rio didn’t even have to ply his signature Cross Armbreaker to take back the gold. If the crushed look on Ziggler’s face wasn’t enough, the sentiment was shared by every single member of the WWE Universe. Yes, it’s hard to feel sorry for a guy like Ziggler when he’s a villain, but what happened wasn’t so much an instance of payback as the big reveal: The Showoff was always the people’s hero, and Del Rio the slithering snake with an eye for gold. Dolph didn’t just get taken for a ride; we felt like we’d all been duped along with him. – ANTHONY BENIGNO
THEY SAID: “Sometimes people go to the dark side or go to the good side because it’s planned out or that’s what’s ‘best for business,’ or it just happens on a whim. For someone like myself, who, as a career bad guy for eight years, was getting more cheers than some of the good guys because of the entertainment value I deliver, it organically happened. And to run with something organically and make it that much better is a gift that Del Rio has and also I have. [He is] so good at what he does … we have this thing where I don’t know him that well. We’re not friends, we never were. But when we get in that ring, you can see, not the hatred, butit’s this awesome chemistry we have as opponents, no matter the situation. I was crushed to lose the World Title; you can legitimately see it in my face that I am crushed I did not come out on top in that match. But it was an awesome experience and I don’t know that any two people in this business could have done it better.” – DOLPH ZIGGLER
The Undertaker & Team Hell No vs. The Shield (Raw; April 22)
THEY SAID: “Feelings on the match? We’re in London, we double-shotted that night. We actually started the night in Cardiff, then we choppered over to Raw like superstars — because that’s what we are — and we went in there and we dominated the greatest of all time. Much respect to The Undertaker, too. He’s in semi-retirement; he only wrestles once, twice a year. That’s a special engagement. For us to have that opportunity is something special. And if you didn’t know we were clutch before that, it just cemented our status as the most clutch performers in WWE.” – SETH ROLLINS
“You couldn’t really have your back put against the wall more or be put in a more intense situation than we were live on Raw. Coming right off a helicopter, literally walking right into the arena … whatever point the fans saw us get off the helicopter, that was when we got to London. We literally walked right into the building, up the concourse, came down the steps and tore it up live on Raw. It was the biggest trial by fire imaginable. Anytime anything’s a little hard, just think back and it’s not as hard as that.” – DEAN AMBROSE
“All that being said, the chopper, the double-shot, being in London, that’s cool. But the coolest part was we stared The Deadman in the face and we didn’t back down. We hit him in the mouth and showed him who The Shield was.” – ROMAN REIGNS
WE SAID: What they said.
John Cena vs. CM Punk - No. 1 Contender's Match (Raw; Feb. 25)
John Cena vs. CM Punk is a match that could main event WrestleMania on its own. But on the Feb. 25 edition of Raw, the two squared off for the opportunity to challenge then-WWE Champion The Rock at The Show of Shows.
With the match of a lifetime on the line, The Second City Saint and the Cenation leader fought with everything they had to move onto The Grandest Stage of Them All. Cena shocked Punk by reversing the Anaconda Vise into a pinfall that almost ended the match. The Straight Edge Superstar did everything he could to wear down the 11-time WWE Champion.
Playlist: Cena & Punk's contentious history
The two Superstars threw everything but the kitchen sink at each other. Punk kicked out of the Attitude Adjustment and Cena, the GTS. Just as Cena escaped the Vise, Punk survived Cena’s STF. Out of pure desperation, Punk spiked Cena with a piledriver that brought a hush over the arena, the announcers and the WWE Universe.
But destiny was on Cena’s side. The Champ evaded Punk’s top-rope elbow, unleashed a surprising hurricanrana and followed up with an Attitude Adjustment to win. It was, perhaps, the greatest example of the lengths Superstars are willing to go to in order to have their name etched in history at WrestleMania. – BOBBY MELOK
Daniel Bryan vs. Antonio Cesaro (Raw; July 22)
WE SAID: It seems unfathomable at this point that the recently voted Superstar of the Year’s abilities were ever in question from anyone. Yet for some reason, everyone in WWE and their mother decided to put Daniel Bryan through the ringer to see if he was really worthy of the WWE Title Match John Cena had decided to give him at SummerSlam. Of all those opponents in that run up to the summer classic, nobody — nooobody — gave Bryan more hell than Antonio Cesaro.
As the second opponent in a three-pronged challenge Bryan faced one July night (the first was Jack Swagger and the third ended up being Ryback), Cesaro used the already-tenderized Bryan as his bearded punching bag, deploying the full scope of his heavy-artillery offense in a contest that veered quickly into a brawl. Make no mistake: Despite the victory for “Mr. Small Package,” the match was a win for everyone involved. Not only did Bryan show he was ready to fight for the ultimate prize; Cesaro made a strong case for himself as well, and it’s only a matter of time before we see this unfold again on a much grander stage. – ANTHONY BENIGNO
THEY SAID: “You know, that was one of the matches that stood out because me and Bryan have some history and it was the first time we fought in WWE as far as I remember. There’s a lot of history and it’s cool that we could meet on this stage and show the world what we’re capable of. It still stands out because there was a lot of energy in that building and that match. I think it just scratched the surface.” – ANTONIO CESARO
Cody Rhodes & Goldust (w/Dusty Rhodes) vs. Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns (w/Dean Ambrose) (WWE Battleground)
WE SAID: Whether you call it pro wrestling or sports-entertainment, this tag team battle is as close as this business gets to perfection.
This match wasn’t about championships. Something greater was on the line. The Rhodes family name was hanging in the balance. If Cody Rhodes & Goldust lost, they, along with their father, ”The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, would be out of their jobs in WWE and NXT, respectively.
Standing in their way was The Shield, perhaps the most cohesive unit in WWE history. Throughout 2013, Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose laid out titans of the ring like The Undertaker, John Cena and Big Show. Rollins and Reigns perhaps saw the Rhodes brothers as a night off for them, another duo to add to their long list of victims. Oh, how wrong they were.
In a bout that would have fit in just as well on a 1980s NWA card in the Carolinas as it did in 2013 WWE, Cody Rhodes & Goldust threw caution to the wind. After all, The Authority had taken everything away from them. What else did they have to lose?
With their father watching from ringside, the Rhodeses weathered everything The Shield had, giving it right back to the WWE Tag Team Champions. The veteran Goldust moved around the ring like a man 20 years younger, ready to prove that what the WWE Universe chanted was true, that he “still had it.” Cody did everything he could to prove that he deserved to be in WWE. A picture-perfect moonsault press from the youngest Rhodes brought the WWE Universe to its feet.
And when Dean Ambrose was about to stick his nose into the bout, The American Dream was right there, unleashing a Bionic Elbow with Ambrose’s name all over it . When the ringside chaos calmed down, it was Cody alone in the ring with Rollins in his clutches. One Cross Rhodes later, the WWE Universe exploded in elation, while a father and his two sons embraced in the center of the ring, knowing something truly special just took place. – BOBBY MELOK
THEY SAID: “There again, it’s a story-driven match, me tagging with my brother for the first time in history, it’s Dad being there at ringside with us. Emotions were strong. I’ve never been as motivated as I am right now because of being in there with my brother. I can’t explain it. He was little when I got into the business, and here I am standing toe-to-toe with the 20-year-olds, giving them a run for their money and showing them how a veteran can do things.” – GOLDUST
The Undertaker vs. CM Punk (WrestleMania 29)
I’ve had the good fortune of being in the arena for several matches on this list, but, far and away, Undertaker-Punk at The Show of Shows was the single most exciting wrestling match I witnessed in 2013.
From The Phenom’s fiery entrance on The Grandest Stage to the back-and-forth clash inside the ring, I might even go so far as to say that their battle was the most epic match I’veeverseen in person.
It takes a whole lot for me to be stunned into silence, but the sight of The Deadman slowly approaching the squared circle truly left me speechless, and watching two of history’s greatest Superstars perform at WrestleMania left an indelible mark on me as a fan.
Simply put, it’s a match I’ll never forget. – ALEX GIANNINI
John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan - WWE Championship Match (SummerSlam 2013)
WE SAID: Who made whom in this match? Was it the contest where all the John Cena snarking was irrevocably silenced and the jeering taunts of “You can’t wrestle!” dissipated forever as The Champ went move-for-move with the best technician in the game? Or was it the match where everyone who wrote off Daniel Bryan as a sawed-off “Lord of the Rings” refugee who was hopelessly out of his league was left to eat their words at the same time the mighty Cena ate Bryan’s battering-ram knee to the face?
Even a few months later, it’s tough to tell. The match played out like a blur then and it still does now; this match was shockingly stripped-down for a SummerSlam main event. It was a bout between two wrestlers at their peak that would have been just as welcome in Bryan’s hallowed high school gymnasiums as the main event of a WWE pay-per-view.
No need to get into the shenanigans after Bryan fulfilled his promise to defeat John Cena. Frankly, it doesn’t dampen the achievement of the night. We could call this a David vs. Goliath match, but that really wouldn’t be true, because that would apply someone had an inherent disadvantage. The revelation of SummerSlam was that John Cena and Daniel Bryan were always — and have always — been on the same level of excellence. It was about time we saw how much. – ANTHONY BENIGNO
THEY SAID: “The interesting part to me is I don’t remember feeling nervous. You get to a point where you’re ready, and the only thing that made me nervous was how good the CM Punk-Brock Lesnar match was. I was like, ‘Oh, crap, we gotta follow that?!’ But it was very surreal and it was 10 years from when I wrestled John Cena before [on WWE Velocity]. And what a difference that makes from being on Velocity to main-eventing SummerSlam.” – DANIEL BRYAN (EDITOR’S NOTE: This quote was taken from an earlier interview)
CM Punk vs. Brock Lesnar - No Disqualification Match (SummerSlam 2013)
In hindsight, it’s hard not to imagine CM Punk knew what he was getting into. Picking a fight with Brock Lesnar is like slaying a great white shark with a spork – just ain’t gonna happen. A No Disqualification stipulation should, conceivably, have evened the field, but Punk was still at what appeared to be an insurmountable disadvantage against Lesnar. Even with the burden of rules removed, there were really no two ways around it: The Best in the World was a dead man walking.
Except, all of a sudden, he wasn’t. Punk didn’t beat The Anomaly, but he gave the former UFC Champion a run for his money, pulverizing Lesnar’s gargantuan form with every weapon he could get his hands on, and using Brock’s own Kimura Lock against him. If not for the timely interference of Paul Heyman, who always was Punk’s true target in the match, it’s entirely likely the bout would currently stand as WWE’s greatest upset.
The excitement of the WWE Universe built to a fever pitch as Punk chased the impossible dream; alas, it was not to be, and the monster prevailed in the end. There’s not a whole lot we can say on top of it, really. The match speaks for itself (though Heyman’s contributions certainly deserve their own essay). As far as a humble, succinct summary of what happened, though? Let’s go with “That was awesome” and leave it at that. – ANTHONY BENIGNO