WWE.com’s Top 25 Matches of 2018
The time has come to call it a year on 2018. This year saw the WWE universe — not the Universe, though hopefully, that too — expand to its widest umbrella yet: In the last six months alone, we saw the return of the Mae Young Classic, the second season of WWE Mixed Match Challenge, the debut of NXT UK and the first-ever all woman’s pay-per-view, WWE Evolution. So, there was a lot to sift through when it came to determining our 25 favorite matches of the year.
But determine we did: What follows is a collection of the WWE.com staff’s favorite matches, from the first Raw of the year to the one night a year when Raw and SmackDown go head-to-head. (For a similar but different recap, here’s WWE Network’s collection of the year’s best bouts). More than anything, 2018 was a reminder that a great match can happen anywhere at any time, as long as there’s a ref to hit the mat, a timekeeper to ring the bell and two Superstars ready to tango. Let’s dance.
“Woken” Matt Hardy vs. Bray Wyatt — The Ultimate Deletion (Raw, March 19)
If you are looking for the sweet science, this preposterous capper to Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt’s “Great War” does … not have that. But it does have Matt’s wife playing a piano in the woods, a drone who’s a person, a baby who’s a king, a MOWAH OF LAAAWWWNN, a caretaker who’s also a gravedigger and a lake that reincarnates people. Turns out, at the end of the day, that’s just as wonderful. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Seth Rollins vs. Shinsuke Nakamura — Champion vs. Champion Match (Survivor Series)
In case there was any doubt, the Champion vs. Champion Match between Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins and United States Champion Shinsuke Nakamura cemented Survivor Series as the pre-eminent destination for WWE dream matches. Outside of the Royal Rumble Match, Rollins and Nakamura never crossed paths in their illustrious careers, but at Survivor Series, these champions left everything they had between the ropes. The King of Strong Style fell victim to an exhausted Kingslayer, as the Intercontinental Champion proved that he was carrying WWE’s workhorse title. — JEFF LABOON
Ricochet vs. The Velveteen Dream (NXT TakeOver: Chicago)
There is a moment in the early stages of the NXT TakeOver: Chicago II clash between Ricochet and Velveteen Dream that is certain to sweep you up. The Dream, who tried to neutralize Ricochet’s otherworldly athleticism, cannot get his hands on The One and Only despite his best efforts. The two Superstars wind up eye-to-eye in an epic mid-ring face off. Ricochet’s face is a smirk, radiating an assured confidence in his unique abilities. Dream’s face, however, is absolute disbelief, the universal reaction for everyone who sees Ricochet compete. The rest of the match saw both combatants shine bright, but Ricochet prevailed with a 630 Splash that must be seen to be believed. — RYAN PAPPOLLA
Kalisto vs. Buddy Murphy (205 Live, April 3)
Following an impressive showing in the WWE Cruiserweight Championship Tournament and a huge victory in a Fatal 4-Way Match, Buddy Murphy aimed to build on his momentum by facing former WWE Cruiserweight and United States Champion Kalisto. Matching the lucha sensation’s speed, Murphy used his pure power to keep his opponent on defense. The two exchanged a series of near-falls that saw the WWE Universe give the Superstars a standing ovation and rousing chants of “2-0-5!” The fate of the Cruiserweight Title would be decided five days later at WrestleMania, but this match was an early inkling of its long-term destiny. — KEVIN POWERS
Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe — Intercontinental Championship Match (Raw, Jan. 1)
The best way to combat an angry Samoa Joe? Send in a Samoan named Joe. Barely 24 hours into 2018 and the two best examples of why you should never anger an islander threw down in a brawl that set the tone for the year ahead. With the odds stacked against him — had Roman Reigns been disqualified, he would’ve lost the Intercontinental Title — The Big Dog refused to hold back and exchanged with Joe in a scrap that looked more like a fight behind a “locals only” bar on the Big Island than a Raw main event. Reigns won, but each man delivered the Raw brawl of the year on day one. — RYAN MURPHY
AJ Styles vs. Shinsuke Nakamura — WWE Championship Last Man Standing Match (Money in the Bank)
It was a rivalry built on mutual respect and admiration … until Shinsuke Nakamura viciously clubbed AJ Styles below the belt after falling short in his WWE Championship bid at WrestleMania, and the attack forever transformed a friendly duel among allies into a bitter battle between sworn enemies. Their Last Man Standing Match – the grand finale in a series of increasingly grisly bouts -- saw their already obvious disdain for one another somehow reach new heights, as champion and challenger whipped the Chicago crowd into a frenzy with a title fight that had everything: masterful technical grappling, a brawl through the WWE Universe, broken tables galore, and quite possibly the most Phenomenal Forearm of all time. – JON CHIK
Ricochet vs. Adam Cole vs. The Velveteen Dream vs. EC3 vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Killian Dain — NXT North American Championship Ladder Match (NXT TakeOver: New Orleans)
You can talk about the historic nature of the inaugural NXT North American Champion being crowned or the immense pressure that accompanied the first match of TakeOver: New Orleans, which was responsible for setting the tone on WWE’s biggest weekend of the year. But who are we kidding? The only selling point necessary for this match is the action within it. Six Superstars — all young, hungry and on the rise; some beastly brawlers, others high-flying daredevils — demolished each other with steel ladders for a half-hour straight. Watching careers get shortened before your eyes should never be so entertaining. — JOHN CLAPP
Daniel Bryan vs. The Miz (SummerSlam)
Daniel Bryan finally got The Miz one-on-one in the ring and they … put on an old-school wrestling classic? This steady, deliberately-paced bout was like someone took a Mid-South grudge match and time-warped it to the Barclays Center in 2018. That’s about as unexpected as it gets given the insults that fueled this fire, but this low-key clinic’s nods to the industry’s very foundations proved just as rewarding: There were two guys who don’t like each other, a big town starving to see them fight and a devious bombshell lurking at ringside. Sometimes, it’s best not to overthink it. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Cedric Alexander vs. Buddy Murphy — WWE Cruiserweight Championship Match (205 Live, May 29)
For Buddy Murphy, 2018 was a slow burn to greatness. The former NXT Tag Team Champion arrived in the Cruiserweight division after a weight cut and came up short in the WWE Cruiserweight Championship Tournament, but it was apparent that the “Best-Kept Secret” was a champion-in-waiting. His first opportunity came on May 29 against then-champion Cedric Alexander, and it did not disappoint.
Murphy threw everything he had at Alexander, as chants of “this-is-awe-some” poured in from the WWE Universe. Yet, despite Murphy’s best efforts, Alexander — defending the title in his home state of North Carolina — delivered a perfectly-timed Neutralizer and immediately followed up with the Lumbar Check for the win. Even in defeat, however, Murphy proved his ascent to championship status wasn’t a matter of if, but when. Five months later, to be exact. — KEVIN POWERS
Meiko Satomura vs. Mercedes Martinez (Mae Young Classic, Round 2)
Meiko Satomura and Mercedes Martinez aren’t exactly household names, nor are they contracted WWE Superstars. Yet, let there be no doubt that this banger between these two revered veterans — who boast 41 years’ combined ring experience — deserves to be listed among the best matches seen all year. Don’t take our word for it. The match inspired William Regal to tweet that students of the game will still be studying it 20 years from now, and Michael Cole was so moved by the action that he couldn’t help but belt out an exuberant “Hell yeah!” when the deciding fall was scored. — JOHN CLAPP
Roman Reigns vs. Finn Bálor — Universal Championship Match (Raw, Aug. 20)
It was Roman Reigns’ yard, but Finn Bálor had the homefield advantage when he challenged The Big Dog for the Universal Championship the night after Reigns defeated Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam. At the Barclays Center — the very building where Bálor won and relinquished the red brand title two years prior — Bálor put “The Guy” through his paces, but the intensely ring-aware Reigns dodged the Coup de Grâce and countered with a Spear to retain. The Shield’s post-match reunion to prevent Braun Strowman’s Money in the Bank cash-in attempt dominated social media that night, but it’s the incredible battle that preceded it that still has us talking. — JAMES WORTMAN
Mustafa Ali vs. Buddy Murphy — No Disqualification Match (205 Live, July 3)
We already named this the best match in the first 100 episodes of WWE 205 Live, so let’s make it official and count it among the best of the year. In the rubber match of a series that began during the WWE Cruiserweight Championship Tournament, Mustafa Ali and Buddy Murphy put everything on the line to prove who was the better Superstar. The match was filled with jaw-dropping moments like a Spanish Fly onto an announce table and an unbelievable Superplex off the steel steps, but those instances are just a sampling when it comes to the thrills delivered in this contest. Ali emerged victorious, but the Cruiserweight division benefitted most: This nearly 30-minute contest rocketed #205Live to the top of Twitter’s worldwide trends. — KEVIN POWERS
Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Asuka — SmackDown Women’s Championship Triple Threat Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match (WWE TLC)
Rightfully capping off a year of milestones for WWE’s women was this bar-raising barnburner of a main event at WWE TLC. In one corner stood Asuka, winner of the history-making Women’s Royal Rumble Match. In the other corner, Charlotte Flair, owner of the longest SmackDown Women’s Title reign. Across from them, Becky “The Man” Lynch, unarguably the 2018 sports-entertainment MVP. As hosts of the first-ever Women’s TLC Match, these three trailblazers blitzed each other with Kendo sticks, turned everything near the ring inside the SAP Center to a woodshop class, and, oh my, The Man’s death-defying leap to Flair off the ladder. But the debris that billowed after this unbelievable battle wasn’t just from the tapestry of broken ladders, tables and chairs sprawled around the canvas; it was also a product of the proverbial glass ceiling shattering yet again. — RALPH BRISTOUT
Shayna Baszler vs. Kairi Sane — NXT Women’s Championship Match (NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn)
Shayna Baszler wore a dismissive sneer as she marched to the ring for her championship defense, beaming with arrogance and truly believing her claims that the kind-hearted Kairi Sane couldn’t bring the requisite ruthlessness to wrest the title from her iron grasp. Surprise.
The plucky Pirate Princess absorbed tremendous punishment from the merciless Baszler, whose countless devastating blows and attempts to break the challenger’s ankle only provoked Sane to keep coming back for more. By literally going head-to-head with The Queen of Spades before engaging in a shoving match and an exchange of brutal forearms, letting out a war cry and vehemently commanding the champion to crack her full-bore in the face, Kairi proved she can indeed “go there” and do whatever it takes to hang with The Submission Magician in a pressure-packed championship fight… and plunder her title in the process. – JON CHIK
Ricochet vs. Pete Dunne vs. Adam Cole —NXT North American Championship Triple Threat Match (NXT, Oct. 10)
A special thanks goes to The Undisputed ERA. Prior to this electric Triple Threat Match, NXT North American Champion Ricochet and WWE United Kingdom Champion Pete Dunne battled in a rare Champion vs. Champion Match that was forced into a no-contest after meddling by Adam Cole (with Undisputed ERA in tow). Yet, who said spoils can’t turn into riches? Fast-forward to this instant classic from the Oct. 10 edition of NXT.
The furiously paced triangle showdown truly lived up to its supersized billing. You had Cirque du Ricochet’s video game-like athleticism colliding with ironman Dunne’s cerebral mat-based game, and lurking right along them was the dastardly commando Cole. How these Superstars turned an NXT TV main event into a fully loaded TakeOver-style affair is a testament to their bulletproof in-ring prowess. Watch this match. Watch it good. Then thank Undisputed ERA for providing the alley-oop that made it all come together. – RALPH BRISTOUT
The Bludgeon Brothers vs. The New Day —SmackDown Tag Team Championship No Disqualification Match (SmackDown LIVE, Aug. 22)
The Bludgeon Brothers unleashed pain on the SmackDown Tag Team division in 2018, leaving tandems battered while holding the blue brand’s twin titles for 135 days. But on that 135th day, they ran into a pair of unicorns. Harper & Rowan tormented Kofi Kingston & Xavier Woods in this No Disqualification Match, but neither member of The New Day would stay down. Somehow, Kingston had the wherewithal to use Harper’s mallet against him, setting Woods up for a decisive elbow drop through a table to make The New Day five-time (three ain’t enough) Tag Team Champions. — JEFF LABOON
Ronda Rousey & Kurt Angle vs. Stephanie McMahon & Triple H (WrestleMania 34)
Pressure was at an all-time high at WrestleMania: Ronda Rousey’s in-ring WWE debut, Stephanie McMahon’s first WrestleMania match, and Kurt Angle’s return to The Show of Shows after a 12-year hiatus. That this was all happening in the same bout only added to the tension, but everyone delivered. Rousey proved to be a natural in the ring. Angle and Triple H proved there was no love lost in their now 18-year rivalry. Stephanie proved she was tough as nails. Rousey and Angle stood tall, we practically fell out of our seats, and the match will be talked about for years. — JEFF LABOON
John Cena vs. Roman Reigns vs. Seth Rollins vs. The Miz vs. Finn Bálor vs. Braun Strowman vs. Elias — Gauntlet Match (Raw, Feb. 19)
Seven hungry competitors. Five jaw-dropping pinfalls. Four shocking upsets. Three summarizing words: Seth Freakin’ Rollins! Oh, what a night this was. Set aside the one-sided ending of Braun Strowman trouncing The Miz to become the last monster standing. This gauntlet competition saw the cream of Raw’s crop duke it out and painstakingly exemplify what it takes to step inside those legendary red ropes. Evincing that notion best, of course, was a Super Saiyan performance by Rollins, who survived an hour and five minutes of competition whilst dropping Roman Reigns and John Cena back-to-back. In fact, never mind setting the ending aside — the whole match was sports-entertainment at its finest, with nearly two hours of endurance-testing action packed into one history-making battle. — RALPH BRISTOUT
Andrade “Cien” Almas vs. Johnny Gargano — NXT Championship Match (NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia)
Before Andrade “Cien” Almas called SmackDown LIVE home or Johnny Gargano tapped into his more sinister instincts, El Ídolo and Johnny Wrestling threw down in a match that epitomized all that is right with wrestling. The action was intense, featuring strikes so fierce they’d make Johnny Valentine wince. Gargano was at his heroic best in front of NXT’s Philly fanatics, putting in a gutsy performance that recalled Rocky Balboa. There were plenty of dramatic twists and turns, too, from Candice LeRae leaping out of the crowd to offset Zelina Vega’s interference, to the shocking post-match return of Tommaso Ciampa. Bell to bell (and beyond), every second was special. — JOHN CLAPP
Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre vs. Dean Ambrose & Seth Rollins — Raw Tag Team Championship Match (Hell in a Cell)
Although late 2018 saw their partnership crumble, Dolph Ziggler & Drew McIntyre spent much of the year as a resourceful and dominant duo, reigning over Raw’s Tag Team division. There’s no better example than this showdown with another now-fractured pair: Seth Rollins & Dean Ambrose.
The former Hounds of Justice, though only back together for a few weeks at this point, showed they hadn’t lost a step, and they nearly dethroned the champions in a high-octane bout that had the WWE Universe on the edge of their seats. However, McIntyre proved one step ahead of the Shield brethren when he clobbered Rollins with a Claymore mid-Falcon Arrow that allowed Ziggler to pin The Kingslayer. This action-packed battle looked like it was the beginning of a long rivalry, but unfortunately, the strong personalities of these four Superstars ensured things turned out differently. —BOBBY MELOK
Seth Rollins vs. The Miz — Intercontinental Championship Match (Backlash)
Don’t take our word for it when we tell you that the Intercontinental Championship has once again become one of the most prestigious prizes in the industry; just look into the eyes of Seth Rollins and The Miz before, during or after their thrill-a-second Backlash bout and see for yourself just how important the title had become to each competitor. The aftershocks of the Superstar Shake-up brought the intensity to a fever pitch since whomever lost this clash wouldn’t get another crack at the title for a very long time, but if we’re lucky, Rollins and Miz may again find themselves on the same brand, burning it down with yet another awesome Intercontinental Title fight. – JON CHIK
Moustache Mountain vs. The Undisputed ERA — NXT Tag Team Championship Match (NXT, July 11)
Tyler Bate & Trent Seven shocked the NXT Universe when they dethroned The Undisputed ERA in their home country of England. However, Moustache Mountain’s time at the summit of NXT’s Tag Team division did not last as long as they would have liked, due to the pure ruthlessness of Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong in one of the most dramatic matches of 2018.
The bout was tense from the outset, as Undisputed ERA targeted Seven’s injured knee, slamming it into the steel ring steps, trying to rip the protective brace off and stomp it into oblivion. With Seven essentially on one leg, Tyler Bate kept the champions in the fight singlehandedly, using his unbelievable power to hurl Strong & O’Reilly. But Seven eventually tagged in to give Bate a reprieve, which would prove to be Moustache Mountain’s undoing. The Don fought valiantly, but a series of submissions targeting his leg left a deeply conflicted Bate with no choice but to throw in the towel, surrendering the match and the NXT Tag Team Titles. —BOBBY MELOK
Brock Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan — Champion vs. Champion Match (Survivor Series)
Few matches had as much baggage going into them as this one did, and few upended audience expectations quite so efficiently and brutally. We started with Daniel Bryan as a sniveling cheap-shot artist and easy money for a disinterested Brock Lesnar, but a trip through Suplex City turned him into a demented anti-hero with a death wish, and Lesnar’s boredom led him straight into a buzzsaw he didn’t notice until the last possible second. By the end, Brock Lesnar was the underdog in peril, with Bryan inching closer and closer to the jugular. The Beast didn’t so much prevail as escape, and Paul Heyman’s final, punch-drunk stare as he wandered up the ramp summed it up best: What the hell just happened? — ANTHONY BENIGNO
Johnny Gargano vs. Tommaso Ciampa — Chicago Street Fight (NXT TakeOver: Chicago)
Blinking was hardly an option for the spellbound NXT Universe when Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa tore into each other with unbridled fury, as it was immediately evident to anyone watching that neither man would be content with a simple 1-2-3. No, this was the story of a friendship gone so horrifyingly wrong that the match would only end when one man was beaten so severely that he could no longer fight back.
Try as you may, you can never un-hear the sickening thud that echoed throughout the Allstate Arena when The Blackheart savagely drove Johnny Wrestling’s skull into the exposed wood beneath the canvas with a stomach-churning DDT. One glimpse at the final images of TakeOver: Chicago II — a cackling Ciampa callously waving goodbye to Gargano; a battered Johnny Wrestling left in a crumpled heap; the ring literally torn apart and a despondent Candice LeRae comforting her husband — tells you everything you need to know about the harrowing war that just unfolded. – JON CHIK
Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair — SmackDown Women’s Championship Last Woman Standing Match (WWE Evolution)
One bit of persnickety house-cleaning before we get to the good stuff: This technically wasn’t the first-ever Last Woman Standing Match to happen under the WWE umbrella (NXT did one in 2017), but we don’t envy the women who’ll have to follow it. Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair brought WWE’s first all-women’s pay-per-view to the kind of urgent, passionate, steal-the-show-or-die-trying crescendo usually reserved for WrestleMania main events in a bout that doubled as Becky’s ascension to certified main-eventer and Charlotte’s rebirth as a platinum-haired psychopath.
Ronda Rousey’s signing in January may have been the natural endpoint of the Women’s Evolution, but it’s this brutal, personal battle that provided the blueprint for the next step after her, where matches like this aren’t spurred on by some kind of cultural movement, but happen simply because the Superstars are capable and empowered enough to pull it off. Despite the name of the show it appeared on, this match was not so much a product of an evolution as it was, perhaps, the first glimpse of a final form. — ANTHONY BENIGNO