10 awesome matches that opened the card
Just like the way an appetizer can make or break an entire dinner — let’s face it, a wedge of dried-out iceberg lettuce won’t get you enthused for the main course — an opening match can dictate the complexion of a whole wrestling card.
Fortunately, for every order of rubbery calamari or thawed-out mozzarella sticks, there’s an artisanal cheese plate waiting to be devoured. Here are the sports-entertainment equivalents of Fourme d’Ambert.
Whether you’re looking for a game-changing, mind-blowing stunt-show between luchadors, or a high-end technical wrestling display between world-class grapplers, these 10 opening matches all have the same thing in common: They set an incredibly high standard for the rest of the night’s contests to follow, and for that, they deserve celebration.
European Champion D’Lo Brown vs. Val Venis, SummerSlam 1998
The Attitude Era is best remembered for its memorable Superstars and wild situations. Yet, another component of what made the period great was how absolutely stacked events were from start to finish. European Champion D’Lo Brown vs. Val Venis, the opening contest from SummerSlam 1998, perfectly encapsulates the first part of that equation — the start.
With the WWE Universe in Madison Square Garden amped from the get-go, Brown and Venis dazzled with an impressive series of counters, reversals and sheer athleticism that‘s often uncommon for two men of their size. Both would also whip out several impressive maneuvers, including a Texas Cloverleaf from D’Lo and a double-underhook suplex from Venis.
Venis, however, would lose his cool toward the end of the match, ripping off Brown’s signature chest protector and shoving down the referee, earning himself a disqualification. A letdown for sure, but not enough to overshadow the Lo-Down on this contest: It was absolute money. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
Jerry Lynn vs. Lance Storm, ECW Anarchy Rulz 1999
If you were asked — say, around the time that the Y2K bug still seemed like a catastrophic threat — to design a prototypical Superstar for the new millennium, you might come up with somebody resembling Lance Storm. Or, for that matter, Jerry Lynn. Obscenely skilled yet evenly matched, Storm and Lynn embodied the athleticism, creativity and technical prowess that ensured ECW was way more than blood-and-guts gore.
Their opening contest at Anarchy Rulz 1999 was defined by its parity. For every move Storm threw Lynn’s way, ECW’s “New [Freaking] Show” responded with a counter. The one-upmanship was so intense that at one point they traded 11 consecutive near-falls in the span of roughly 20 seconds, winning the approval of ECW’s hard-to-please hardcores. Sure, a steel chair found its way into the proceedings (because hey, it’s ECW), but that didn’t prevent the thriller from ending via a three-quarters nelson pinfall by Calgary’s greatest athlete, Storm. — JOHN CLAPP
Jushin “Thunder” Liger vs. Tyler Breeze, NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn
Is “spectacle” the right word to describe the opening battle of NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn in 2015 between an eccentric Japanese wrestling legend and a budding Superstar with supermodel aspirations?
In one corner, there was Jushin “Thunder” Liger, a grappler known as much for his full-body, superhero-like costume and mask as for his influential move set. The other corner featured Tyler Breeze, an athletically gifted Superstar seeking both championship glory and an impeccable selfie.
Yet these two fired up the capacity crowd at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center through fighting spirit rather than flamboyant attitude. Liger, appearing for the first time in a WWE ring, put Prince Pretty through the competitive ringer. Breeze, for his part, threw everything but the kitchen sink at Liger before finally succumbing to defeat.
So maybe “spectacle” isn’t the right word to describe this match. Instead, just call it “spectacular.” — MATTHEW ARTUS
Johnny B. Badd vs. Brian Pillman, WCW Fall Brawl 1995
When talking about pioneering openers featuring Brian Pillman, it’s easy to first think of his revolutionary 1992 match against Jushin “Thunder” Liger. However, for a deeper cut, try “Flyin’” Brian’s U.S. Championship No. 1 Contender’s Match against Johnny B. Badd that occurred three years later.
WCW fans watched as the two respectful fan favorites pushed each other’s boundaries. The bout went the distance and beyond, necessitating an overtime period after the initial 20-minute time limit elapsed. Most fascinating was the way the neck-and-neck competition seemed to harden Pillman before our eyes, transforming him into a visibly frustrated and more cynical Superstar. In the course of a half-hour, Pillman went from shaking Badd’s hand to slapping his face.
Badd won, barely, pinning Flyin’ Brian after a mid-air collision went Badd’s way, and before the end of the night, the now-hapless Pillman was aligning himself with nefarious “Enforcer” Arn Anderson. — JOHN CLAPP
Blitzkrieg vs. Juventud Guerrera, WCW Spring Stampede 1999
Even though WCW’s Cruiserweight Division was known for its hybrid of wrestling styles, the opening match of Spring Stampede 1999 only showcased one of those: The death-defying aerial abilities of Blitzkrieg and Juventud Guerrera. Juvi was well established as a competitor willing to sacrifice his body for the integrity of a match, whereas the mysterious Blitzkrieg burst onto the scene in WCW earlier in the year, stunning audiences with his unbelievable arsenal of twisting leaps and dives.
The battle between Guerrera and Blitzkrieg did not disappoint, turning into an all-out aerial war from the beginning. Juvi found himself on the defensive, having to absorb a series of breathtaking dives from the upstart. However, Blitzkrieg’s all-out offensive style caught up with him in the end, as Juventud gained the upper hand and spiked his rival with a Juvi Driver off the ropes that won the match and saw the crowd erupt in cheers. — BOBBY MELOK
WWE Tag Team Champions The Usos vs. The Wyatt Family — 2-out-of-3 Falls Match, Battleground 2014
Looking to start a show with a bang? How ‘bout some twin magic? Facing Luke Harper & Erick Rowan in a 2-out-of-3 Falls Match at WWE Battleground, Jimmy & Jey Uso opened the show with a dazzling display of heart and coordination to hand the swamp monsters a near-unfathomable double-defeat, and retain their WWE Tag Team Titles in the process.
Even more remarkable was that they had to come from behind to achieve the feat, as The Wyatts scored the first pinfall over the wonder twins to put The Usos in an early hole. A roll-up and the first-but-not-last double splash gave the champs two more consecutive falls. To call either team the “loser,” however, would be a grave injustice as both tandems were better for having fought each other. WWE Battleground was better for it as well. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
The Rockers vs. The Orient Express, Royal Rumble 1991
The Orient Express weren’t wasting any time. Even before the opening bell of their match at Royal Rumble 1991, Tanaka and Kato ambushed challengers The Rockers, attacking Marty Jannetty from behind and clashing with his tag team partner, Shawn Michaels.
The attack would prove to be just a prelude to the frenetic action that followed. With Gorilla Monsoon and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper providing pointed commentary, and a frenzied crowd howling “U.S.A.!” chants, the teams showcased impressive athleticism, including moonsaults, double dropkicks and suicide dives. By the time Jannetty hit a sunset flip for the win, the arena exploded.
In fact, The Rockers were so excited that, according to legend, they strode backstage and challenged fellow Superstars to “Top that!” If true, the braggadocio might not have earned the duo many fans among the roster, but it certainly raised the bar on what would prove to be an unforgettable Royal Rumble. — GREG ADKINS
U.S. Champion Daniel Bryan vs. Intercontinental Champion Dolph Ziggler, Bragging Rights 2010
Two Superstars you can always count on to deliver inside the squared circle are Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler. So, when they were scheduled to go head-to-head in a Champion vs. Champion Match in the opening contest of WWE Bragging Rights 2010, you knew the pay-per-view was a spectacular start.
Bryan and Ziggler set the bar insanely high for the rest of matches to follow, thanks to their show-stealing performance. And let’s not forget Vickie Guerrero, whose antics at ringside — in support of her beau, Ziggler — only added to the crowd’s fervor. With chants of “This is awesome!” ringing throughout the arena, this showdown had fans clamoring for more. If it weren’t for Bryan’s LeBell Lock submission forcing Ziggler to tap out, you got the feeling these two could have battled the entire night … something the WWE Universe surely wouldn’t have minded. — SCOTT TAYLOR
Rey Mysterio vs. Psicosis, WCW Bash at the Beach 1996
WCW Bash of the Beach 1996 changed the sports-entertainment landscape forever. Yet before The New World Order ever ushered in a new age of wrestling in the Bash’s main event, Rey Mysterio and Psicosis kickstarted a cruiserweight revolution in WCW.
The masked rivals’ combinations, counters and aerial moves to the outside — including Psicosis’ ridiculous suicide dive over the top rope — had the crowd gasping for breath. Mysterio reversed a top-rope crucifix bomb into the decisive Frankensteiner, dropping everyone’s jaws to the floor and helping to set the tone for the high-paced action of the Monday Night War. — JEFF LABOON
Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart, WrestleMania X
Bret and Owen Hart fought for years. But at WrestleMania X, they finally did it in a WWE ring. Unlike the noogies that fill most brother vs. brother battles, the technically skilled Harts punished one another with perfectly timed monkey flips and suplexes.
The brothers knew each other’s moves and had perfect counters, causing each Superstar to dive deep into their arsenals — like Owen breaking out a rare, must-see Tombstone.
“Hit Man” ended the evening with the WWE Title in his hands, defeating champion Yokozuna in the main event. However, he started the night with his shoulders on the mat. Owen stole the win with a roll-up, scoring a rare victory for younger brothers everywhere. — JEFF LABOON