When somebody asks you why you like the wrestling business, what do you tell them? Is it the characters, is it the in-ring action, is it for the interviews or is it for any combination of those three? Most of us would say a combination. If you truly like the business then you like it for all the reasons. For me, as a fan of WWE for over twenty years now, it's the matches that stand out to me the most. It's the matches that make me remember why I love the business so much. This column is a tribute to the great wrestling we have witnessed in WWE in the past five years.
What I've done here is taken a look at the past five years of WWE matches strictly on PPV. I've compiled a list of the top 50 matches over that time, which means every PPV from Royal Rumble 2000 all the way up to Armageddon 2004. That's a total of 62 PPVs in all. While I'm not about to count every match on every card, if you say there's an average of seven matches per show then that totals over 430 matches. Out of all those matches, only the top 50 will be written about here. Remember, nothing from 2005 is on this list. It's only the last full five years. If I included matches from this year then you'd probably see Angle/Michaels, the Elimination Chamber and Michaels/Edge on here too, but they're not here. It's only 2000-2004, as it says in the title. The reason I didn't include TV matches is because they're less accessible for me. While I've seen a lot of great ones that could have easily made this list, I didn't always tape them, so it would have been hard to write about matches I didn't have available to re-watch if need be.
For each match, in blue font, you'll see the competitors in the match listed, the PPV it took place at and the date of the event. I'm also going to go into some detail about why it made the list. Three things, which I also use in my "Wrestling's Greatest Matches" series, will be talked about after you see the listing of the match:
The Story - How the match being discussed came to be. Usually I call this "The Feud" in my Greatest Matches columns, but I've changed it for this list.
The Match - A summary of the key points of the match. What kind of match was it? Who won? How long was it? Some write-ups will be more detailed than others depending on the match. For some, if I did a writeup during a live PPV then it'll mostly be taken from that and for others it'll be from the notes I made while watching the match. If a title is on the line in the match, the man or team holding the title will be listed first.
The Analysis - This part will be the area where I'll be able to explain why the match made the list in the first place. I'll also use this area to talk about what worked, what didn't work and what could have been done to make things better.
The order of the matches will be based on my star ratings for the matches. You're probably familiar with the star rating used to rate matches. (If you want to know more about them, check out this column I wrote about star ratings a month ago). Five stars is the highest possible rating for a match under the star rating system. The ratings break down after that using quarter of a star ratings. Every match you see listed in this top fifty will be ***3/4 for the low ones all the way up to five stars for a few at the very top. Keep in mind that star ratings are merely for personal opinion. I could have come up with this same list without using the stars, but by using them it helped me achieve this list much easier. I fully realize that one of the matches I give five stars could be something like three stars to you. That's fine. It's all opinion. You'll see my ratings at the end of my "The Analysis" section, which should give you an idea as to why that particular match received the rating it did. Also, please note that some of the ratings you'll see here are different than the rating I gave matches when I reviewed them live simply because I've re-watched the match and changed the rating on it. Sometimes you overrate matches on the first viewing, other times you underrate them. It happens. Can't help that and I'd rather not go into my old recaps to change the ratings around.
The way I determined what matches to use for this column came simply from using my memory. For whatever reason, I remember wrestling shows fairly well. When I see a PPV lineup I can separate the good from the bad fairly easily. I've had the luxury of seeing every single WWE PPV during this time period and I have all the matches either on DVD, tape or in computer format. I went to one of my favorite sites, The Wrestling Information Archive, to look at full PPV cards, the dates of the shows and also the times of the match. After looking at the cards, I marked down the matches I considered over the three star level figuring there'd easily be over fifty of those. Turns out there was nearly a hundred, so I had to whittle it down to fifty because I thought one hundred would be excessive. Getting the top thirty or so was pretty easy. It was the ones between 31 and beyond that were tough. You'll see the cutoff point here was ***3/4 and I'd say there are another twelve or so at that level that almost made this list.
Once the whole thing is done, I'll let you know who had the most matches in the list, what PPV had the most matches, what year had the most matches and other fun stats like that. I'll even break it down by telling you what titles appeared the most on here and things like that. To give you an idea about the size of this column, it's over 36,000 words and 55 pages in Microsoft Word's Times New Roman font at size twelve. That's just the matches by themselves without the concluding parts. That's why it'll be posted in four parts. I don't expect anybody to read all of it in one day or in one sitting. I began working on the concept at the end of January, came up with the list after deliberating for about a week and then wrote it over the course of the next three months. There were times when I wrote about five matches in a day and then I'd write nothing for this in a week. It was just something I did whenever I had the time and/or desire for it. If I wasn't busy I would have been done in two weeks, but it was a busy time for me, so it took a good three months to get it done. You'll notice as you read it that some writeups are longer than others. Most of the time, the bigger and better the match the longer the write-up. It's just easier to write more about the great ones, ya know?
Another point to make since I know I'll be asked. Since WWE changed their names from the World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment in the spring of 2002 the matches that took place before that were for WWF titles rather than WWE. I know this, but I'm going to do what WWE does and get the F out, so all WWF stuff is replaced by WWE in this column. I wanted to clarify that before I had people emailing me asking why I called a 2001 title match a WWE match. Just trying to be consistent. That's all.
The very last point before I begin: This column is strictly based on my OWN opinion. There was no consultation with others. It's not some list from a panel or whatever. It's me, John C., telling you about what I feel are the fifty greatest matches from the past five years of WWE/E programming. You want to disagree with me? Fine, I welcome it. There are things that you'll learn about my tastes that you may disagree with. Just show me some respect and I'll show it back to you. That's all I ask.
(The intros for the other parts will be much shorter. I promise.)
So without further Apu…
50. Jeff Hardy vs. Rob Van Dam for the Hardcore Title @ Summerslam - 08/21/01
The Story: This was a Hardcore Title (remember that?) ladder match. RVD had just debuted in WWE on that infamous Raw less than two months before this match where ECW reformed. He was over huge by this point, one of the rare babyfaces in the WCW/ECW Alliance. They had a good match the previous month and this time they raised the stakes a bit. That match from Invasion was close to making this list too, but when it came time to decide I ended up going with this one. Due to the success of the previous one, they went for a rematch and made this one a ladder match.
The Match: With RVD and Hardy having the rep, a well deserved one, as being the biggest high fliers in WWE at the time, expectations were high. The match started out with a bunch of innovative spots by both guys, including a memorable suplex off the ladder and Hardy's sunset flip powerbomb spot that was very innovative at that point. They put their body on the line, like when RVD hit that rolling senton on Hardy with the ladder there, as well as when both guys attempted their finishers off the ladder only to miss their opponent on the mat. The finish saw Jeff climb, RVD follow with a superplex to take him down. Then RVD went up and Jeff powerbombed him down. Jeff climbed again, hung off the belt and RVD went to kick him down, but missed. Jeff fell down anyway. Jeff went up again, RVD shoved him off once more sending him crashing into the ropes in a sick spot and that allowed RVD to climb up to grab the belt after 16 minutes.
The Analysis: The match was one of the more physical ladder matches you will ever see. They took some risks, they took hard bumps and they wowed the crowd throughout. The finish was messed up a bit, but I think that's forgivable considering all the crazy high spots they did throughout. The reason it didn't garner a higher rating is because it lacked psychology pretty much the whole way through. The match didn't tell a story. It was just high spot after high spot. Thing is, it was mostly great high spots and I have to reward the guys for putting their bodies on the line the way they did. I would have loved it with some psychology, like if one of them had an injury or coming in and the other guy focused on that. I guess with both guys being faces it constituted an even match that gave the fans a sense that anybody could win at any time with the right big move.
49. Chris Benoit vs. Randy Orton for the World Title @ Summerslam - 08/15/04
The Story: The build for this match wasn't anything special, which is part of the reason why the most recent Summerslam was just like any other PPV. It was the long standing (four months counts as long these days) World Champion Benoit against the young, upstart challenger Orton. Orton was a still a heel at this point, although it seemed like WWE was going to take him in a different direction after this match and the crowd in Toronto could sense that. Both men were cheered, which I guess is what WWE was aiming for when they did this match.
The Match: The story for this match early on was Orton going after Benoit's neck possibly to set up the RKO while Benoit was just trying to break Orton down. Then the tide turned when Benoit attempted a suicide dive to the floor, Orton ducked out of the way and Benoit went head first into the barrier. It's a crazy spot. I thought Benoit was legit hurt when it happened and actually I met him the next day, asked him how his neck was and he just brushed it off, saying it would be fine. Tough dude. The match continues to be even until Benoit misses his headbutt and Benoit sells like a champ as usual. Following a nice sequence with each guy going for their finisher, Orton wins it with the RKO out of nowhere after about 20 minutes.
The Analysis: This was basically a straight up match. With Orton not being booed heavily at all, it seemed like a face vs. face match. I liked it a lot because it was a simple match for the world title. No overbooking, no interference and no unnecessary ref bump. It was just your regular match with a lot on the line, and I like that every once in a while. Heading into the match I expected more, but ultimately I was satisfied with what they gave us. Also, they had a rematch one night later at the Raw that I attended and while people will always remember the end where Evolution turned on Orton, the actual match is better than this one.
48. Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio @ Summerslam - 08/25/02
The Story: Mysterio debuted in WWE just a few weeks before this. In a tag match on Smackdown, he scored a pin over Angle. That infuriated Angle, prompting him to deliver the very excellent "he's a freakin' 12-year-old" interview backstage. This match was the opener of the PPV, which showed how Angle was willing to take a back seat to put others over. A year before he was in the World Title match and at this show he opened up the PPV against a new guy to the company, trying to make him a star in WWE.
The Match: The match started fast with Mysterio on the offensive, the idea being he had to hit and run in order to beat Angle. Mysterio hits a headscissors, but the 619 misses, so Angle gets control. The story early on is Mysterio using his speed while Angle tries to keep him grounded by pounding him down. Angle goes for the Angle Slam, but Rey turns it into an arm drag, which is a sick counter. That's not easy. With Kurt out on the floor, Rey flies over the ref and the top rope with a perfect hilo onto Angle, followed by a springboard legdrop for two. Angle comes back with the Ankle Lock, Mysterio counters, hits the 619, then the West Coast Pop and that gets two. Kicking out of finishers in opening matches? I guess it's alright since Rey was still new in WWE. To the top, Angle countered the hurricanrana by shoving Mysterio off, keeping his balance and then like a hunter on its prey, hooking Mysterio into the Ankle Lock for the tapout victory. Match came in at just under ten minutes. Shortest match on the list.
The Analysis: This was the perfect example of how you start off a great PPV with a strong opener, which this PPV and this match were. Mysterio was his usual awesome self while Angle was amazing as always. The timing, the bumping, the counters, it was perfect stuff. Angle looked strong and so did Mysterio. Even though he lost, there's no shame in losing to a former world champ like Angle. I'm sure somebody reading this is questioning why a match under ten minutes got the rating that I gave it. Well, I think this is the answer to the question I get asked every so often about if a shorter match can be considered great. Yes they can. It's Mysterio vs. Angle. Ten minutes of awesomeness. They had other matches against eachother on Smackdown in singles, triple threats and tags (one which you will read about later), but this is their only one on one PPV match. It's a quickie, but a damn good one. With another five or ten minutes of time on it, this could have been a Match of the Year contender easy. I have no doubt about that.
47. Dean Malenko vs. Scotty 2 Hotty for the Light Heavyweight Title @ Backlash - 04/30/00
The Story: This was for Malenko's WWE Light Heavyweight Title. Another blast from the past, huh? It was a couple of months after Malenko joined WWE along with Benoit, Saturn and Guerrero. He was quickly thrust into this division to help spark it and for a short time he actually did. Then of course management remembered they hate anybody under six foot tall and now we are where we at today. The story here basically was Malenko as a heel champ who cheated to beat Scotty in a previous match and this was Scotty's chance for revenge.
The Match: The match was really strong with lots of heat. As usual, Scotty was over really well and Malenko did his part in playing the cold heel. It's the perfect contrast because Scotty basically celebrates after every move while Malenko just kills him at many points. Malenko works on the knee for a large portion of the match, getting some good crowd reactions the whole time. Plenty of nearfalls with some backslides and cradles thrown in to keep the action fast paced. After Scotty hits the WORM, Malenko comes back, tries to get a pin using the ropes (the same way he beat Taylor on TV before this match), but this time the ref catches it. The absolute highlight of the match is the finish when Scotty sets up on the top for a superplex, but Malenko fights out of it and hits a DDT off the top! It was sick. It's not like it's a tornado DDT, Malenko had his back to the turnbuckle, they leapt off and he dropped Scotty hard on his noggin to get the win after 12 minutes. Sick finish. One of the better ones I can ever remember.
The Analysis: I think Scott Taylor has been one of the most underrated and underappreciated wrestlers in WWE during the past decade or so. He's always been a solid wrestler. It's just that smart fans are too busy bitching about the WORM to realize that. Well, guess what, this match is great. The crowd was into the whole thing, Malenko played his part awesomely well and Scotty was over just as he always is. What can I say about that finish? It was amazing. Honestly, if you've seen it just once it's the kind of thing you'll never forget. This is the kind of match that you look at and shake your head at because if every cruiserweight match was given thirteen minutes like this one, plus a backstory we'd be getting good stuff at every PPV, not just once in a while.
46. Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker for the WWE Title @ No Mercy - 10/20/02
The Story: This was Brock's first title feud after winning the title (first Undisputed, but by this point it was known as the WWE title on Smackdown) and it was the second straight month with this match for the title. The month before they had a match that ended in a double disqualification. There was speculation going on at that time that Undertaker refused to put Lesnar over, so that's why it ended like that. I don't know if that's true or not, especially after watching this one. I think it was just a case of them wanting to get more mileage out of the feud, nothing more than that. Anyway, this was a Hell in a Cell match and while the outcome of the match was easy to figure out, nobody really knew how good it would be. Oh, and another thing to note was that this was the match and feud where Paul Heyman hired a woman to pretend like she was having an affair with Undertaker. Very bad angle. He also had a cast on his hand during the match and they played that up for weeks going in. I guess it was the way to get Undertaker some sympathy.
The Match: The first part of the match basically saw Undertaker beating up Lesnar and even Lesnar's manager, Paul Heyman. Heyman bladed for the match and at one point was rammed headfirst into the cage by the Undertaker, who was yanking on his tie. Yes, it's as funny as it reads. Lesnar comes back with some ferocious offense, including several chair shots onto Undertaker's cast. He finally got the cast off and then at one point kicked at Undertaker while hanging onto the cage's roof. Undertaker busted out that suicide dive that he used to do in his healthier days, which is always a good sign. Then Lesnar got the advantage again with a shot to the head with steel steps and Undertaker bleeds huge. The blood is sick. As much as I've seen in any match ever, really. Undertaker started stomping on Brock's arm just because he was so frustrated that Lesnar stomped on him so much. The last four minutes or so saw Lesnar kick out of a chokeslam, Undertaker escape a Lesnar Last Ride attempt (Undertaker's move, obviously), then Undertaker finally hit the Last Ride and everybody thought that was it until Lesnar got his hand on the bottom rope. Undertaker went for a Tombstone, but Lesnar amazingly countered it into an F5 for the pinfall as Undertaker loses cleanly in piles of his own blood after 27 minutes.
The Analysis: Like most matches in the bottom part of the list, the first half was pretty slow. It set the tone for what was a methodical brawl in a match that was better than most expected. Remember, this was at a time when Lesnar was still pretty new and had yet to have the "great" matches under his belt, so we didn't know what to get from him. As for Undertaker, he's been off and on a lot over the past five years or so and I'd say this was one of those matches during his on period. People that have seen this match will always remember Undertaker's blood loss. It was, as I said above, excessive. You couldn't even see his face by the end because there was so much blood coming out of his head. That worked for the match, though. Maybe without the blood it would be a half star less. I don't know, but what I do know from what I saw was a bloody and beaten man who lost to a younger, fresher man. He put Lesnar over the right way. Together they gave us a strong world title match.
45. Team Austin (Shawn Michaels, Booker T., Rob Van Dam, Dudley Boys) vs. Team Bischoff (Chris Jericho, Christian, Mark Henry, Scott Steiner, Randy Orton) @ Survivor Series - 11/16/03
The Story: Yes, you're seeing that right. Mark Henry! This match was only good because of him. Okay, maybe not. There were two GMs on Raw at this point. The stipulation here was Austin picked a team of wrestlers to face a team of Bischoff picked wrestlers. If Austin's team won, he would be allowed to beat people up again. If his team lost, he would be forced to step down as the GM of Raw and "leave" Raw. There was a lot of anticipation for it even though everybody had the idea that Austin's team was going to lose. Still, it was nice to see a classic Survivor Series match again and all we were hoping for was a quality match.
The Match: Things really didn't pick up until the tail end, so the early eliminations can be handled quicker. Booker eliminated Steiner with the Bookend, then moments later Henry eliminated Booker with his fall forward slam move. After Mark Henry ran through his arsenal of moves (about three clotheslines), the Dudleys hit him with a 3D and RVD with a frog splash to eliminate Henry. RVD took advantage on Jericho, but then he got shoved off the top and Randy Orton came in to eliminate RVD to tie the match up at 3-3. Heel shenanigans lead to Jericho pinning D'Von Dudley after a spinning neckdrop, making it 3 on 2 for Team Bischoff. Bubba is next to get eliminated after more heel cheating leads to Christian pinning him with the Unprettier, leading to Orton, Jericho & Christian vs. Michaels. Michaels bleeds massively soon after thanks to a slingshot into the pole, but Michaels comes back to beat Christian with a superkick, making it two on one. Michaels played dead for much of the next bit as the heels tried to work him over. Jericho ducked a superkick, went for the Walls, but Michaels reversed it into a rollup leading to the pinfall and elimination of Jericho. After losing, Jericho came back into the ring and cracked Michaels in the face with the chair. Michaels' blood loss was tremendous. Following the chair shot, Orton covered for a near two, which was a great nearfall. Orton went for a crossbody, but Michaels ducked and Orton knocked the ref out. Bischoff came into the ring, kicked Michaels and that led to Austin coming into the ring, throwing Bischoff out and hitting a Stunner on Orton while the crowd was going nuts for all of it. Austin brawled with Bischoff to the back as Batista came in through the crowd to hit the Batista Bomb on Michaels. Orton crawled over for the cover and got the cheap pinfall as the ref came to at the right time. Post match, Austin got a huge ovation for his farewell, shook Michaels hand and then gave a speech after. Match was 27 minutes long.
The Analysis: You can separate this match into two parts. The first half was pretty boring as the guys who you didn't expect to last long got eliminated leaving it down to the three heels against Michaels. It was done in such a way that Christian and Jericho didn't look that weak when they took the falls. Christian simply lost to the veteran performer while Jericho got outsmarted by the rollup, although he came back quickly with that vile chair shot after the match. During all of this, Michaels lost as much blood as I can remember him losing in any match, even that first HIAC with Undertaker. It was everywhere. Not just on his face, but his whole body. That's what made the match rule because the story was told just by looking at him. The ending with Batista coming in made sense at the time because they were really looking to push Evolution by this point, so it seemed right to have him cost Michaels the match. The crowd ate all of it up with a spoon, which is a sign of a great match. Due to it being so slow and pedestrian at the beginning, I couldn't really rate it as high as I did on my first viewing, which was four stars.
44. Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit @ Armageddon - 12/15/02
The Story: Guerrero was a tag champ with Chavo at this point. They were heels at the time. Benoit was a babyface here. Two weeks prior to this match on Smackdown there was a fantastic four way elimination match to determine the number one contender for the WWE title (Kurt Angle won that). In the match, Benoit eliminated Guerrero. After getting eliminated, Eddie took out his frustrations by drilling Benoit in the neck with the tag belt and cost Benoit his chance to win the match. His dream of becoming champion. They were really pushing Benoit to the top, so it was a good way to get this feud over.
The Match: Lots of mat wrestling at the start, about five minutes worth. Things picked up when Guerrero came off the top with a plancha to the floor. Guerrero worked on the knee, Benoit came back with German suplexes, five of them, which got him a nice ovation. He then blew some snot on Guerrero (I always love that!) and hit two more Germans for a total of seven. Benoit went for a powerbomb, but Guerrero countered that into three Germans of his own, then a vertical suplex. Frog splash hits for just two to the surprise of many. Guerrero took him to the floor, then he distracts the ref and that allows Chavo Guerrero to come out, crack Benoit in the head with his tag title, but that only gets two also. Lasso from El Paso from Guerrero (he needs to use that move more), but Benoit gets ropes. Benoit came back with chops and a STIFF powerbomb. Really hard. Benoit up top, Chavo went after him, but got knocked down for his efforts. That led to a Benoit headbutt, but Guerrero countered by putting him into the Lasso. Benoit countered that by grabbing Guerrero's foot, putting him in the Crossface and forcing the tap out soon after. Awesome counter. Match was 17 minutes long.
The Analysis: I thought they really did a good job of putting Benoit over in this match. They had him kick out of a Frog Splash cleanly as well as a belt shot. Guerrero was made to look good at times too, but this match obviously was all about proving Benoit's toughness. I think they were going for a submission, mat based match here. They really didn't brawl at all here, sticking to the mat stuff and trying to win the crowd over with that. It didn't really work since the crowd wasn't that great during the match, but the work in the ring was still top notch. The first five minutes probably killed them a bit. By the end of it, especially the last five minutes, the crowd was popping for all the signature spots and I thought the finish worked really well. Benoit's counter was great at the end. Not a blowaway match or anything, but pretty much what you'd expect from these two once they get over fifteen minutes to have a match. They had one at Vengeance 2003 that was equally good, but failed to make the list because I disliked the interference in that one too much.
43. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H for the World Title @ Vengeance - 07/11/04
The Story: This was billed as their first one on one match in the WWE, which frustrated anybody with a memory because they wrestled at No Mercy 2000 (keep reading to find that one). Then there was Benoit's first ever WWE match on Smackdown in February 2000, which was against HHH, so again, somebody call the logic police I think they clarified it by saying it was the first time since Benoit was on Raw or something like that. Anyway, this was during the time when HHH was pretending to be Eugene's friend while everybody watching at home knew he was simply using him to his advantage. Going in, there was a feeling that there'd be some kind of interference here.
The Match: Early on HHH dominated with suplexes, back breakers and moves to work on Benoit's ribs. Benoit came back with his usual array of offensive holds. Benoit goes to the top for a headbutt, but HHH rolls out of the way, then takes control for a few minutes. HHH picks him up for a suplex, but then tosses him forward so he lands sternum first. Cool move because it follows the psychology of Benoit having hurt ribs. That gets two. He does another suplex toss on the ribs for two. Then HHH slows it down with an abdominal stretch and a sleeper. Benoit comes back with a Sharpshooter, but HHH makes ropes. Benoit gets advantage with the three rolling German suplexes. Triple H rolls out of the ring during the headbutt signal. Benoit charges and hits a suicide tope through the middle ropes. Benoit’s body bounced off the barricade wall, as did HHH’s back. Ref bump, DDT for HHH and then he signals for Eugene. Benoit hits a Crossface. Benoit is yelling at Eugene to get the ref. HHH taps out while the ref is on the floor. Benoit knocks down Eugene, HHH hits a low blow, and then a Pedigree for the nearfall. Eugene hands HHH the chair, then takes it away and Benoit cracks HHH with it, then Flair and Batista as they run in. Benoit gets knocked down, but he low blows HHH and everybody's out except for Eugene. The finish comes with Eugene and Benoit struggling for the chair until Eugene yanks on it, cracking HHH in the face. Benoit cradles HHH for the win after 29 minutes.
The Analysis: This one had all the makings of a classic early on with HHH working on the ribs of Benoit in the perfect way. I was marking out hard for those suplex throws. Such an impressive move to do and for Benoit to take. It's just cool looking. I don't know how else to say it. The Eugene interference here was so obvious that people were groaning when he came out, rather than cheering him. Looking back, you have to wonder if it was right to kill what was going to be a great match here in order to prop up the Eugene/HHH match at Summerslam that was basically a midcard match that everybody knew HHH was going to win. The good thing was an Ironman match soon followed on Raw (although that ended too with Eugene interfering), so we were able to get more HHH vs. Benoit. Both guys were great in their roles, as was Eugene, but you have to wonder if it was the right idea booking wise. I mean, you have a thirty minute match for the title and the last ten minutes of it is basically all about what Eugene is going to do.
42. Team WWE (The Rock, Undertaker, Chris Jericho, Big Show, Kane) vs. Team Alliance (Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Booker T., Rob Van Dam, Shane McMahon) @ Survivor Series - 11/18/01
The Story: This was billed as the biggest match ever by the WWE at the time. "Everything" was on the line here. If Team Alliance won then they would "own" the WWE. Of course, nobody believed the Alliance would win a damn thing just like they didn't win a damn thing during the course of the feud (which is why it failed in the first place). In case you didn't know, Team Alliance were the heels in this even though Austin was getting cheered by this point and RVD wasn't getting booed a whole heck of a lot either. Then there's Shane McMahon, a guy who had some decent matches over the course of his life, but not a true wrestler and probably the wrong choice to be in the "biggest match ever." Oh well, he's a McMahon. You can't stop it. Going in we knew it would be a long match and had a sense that it would probably end with Rock-Austin at some point. That was something to get excited about since they didn't have that much interaction since Austin turned heel at WrestleMania that year.
The Match: This was a long match, so I'll just skip some of the details and hit the high points. Big Show got eliminated first after taking an Angle Slam, an axe kick, a frog splash and a Shane McMahon elbow. Then Shane is out next following a Kane chokeslam, Undertaker Tombstone and Jericho Lionsault. RVD gets rid of Kane soon after followed by Undertaker getting eliminated by an Austin Stunner two minutes after that. Twenty minutes in, we're left with Austin, Angle, Booker and RVD vs. Rock and Jericho as all the large guys are gone. A few minutes later, Rock eliminates Booker with a cradle and Jericho gets rid of RVD via pinfall. The great stuff began here since it was Austin and Angle against Rock and Jericho. Lots of nearfalls follow until it's Rock left in there against Angle, so they exchange some holds with Rock winning by forcing Angle to lose to the Sharpshooter. Austin's all alone as Jericho Lionsaults him, but misses and that gets two for Austin. Missile dropkick gets two more for Jericho, then a rollup by Jericho is countered into one by Austin that gets the fall to eliminate Jericho. Match ends with Austin vs. Rock, as expected. After Rock gets a Spinebuster, Jericho turns on him to continue their rivalry and Austin takes Rock out on the floor. Back in, Rock hits a Stunner for a two count that is broken up by evil Alliance referee Nick Patrick, which then led to Austin hitting a Rock Bottom for two. Rock then hits a Stunner, but with Hebner out there's no fall for him to have and Kurt Angle comes in, hits Austin and that leads to a Rock Bottom for the final pinfall after 45 minutes.
The Analysis: Prior to re-watching this match for this list, I had only seen this match once, which was during the live airing. On the second viewing I liked it a little less than I remember because it's almost as if they should have just done Austin vs. Rock rather than involving all the others. That would have had a bigger impact and probably would have drawn bigger numbers considering how well WrestleMania X-7 did. That said, the roles of Undertaker, Kane and Big Show were pretty limited. They didn't do a lot. This was during the WWE's time where they disliked Show because he was out of shape, not focused and just performing poorly to the point where they had to send him to OVW. The last four guys in the match (Austin, Angle, Rock, Jericho) were what we expected since Rock was the WCW Champion at the time while Austin was the WWF Champion and the other two obviously were great in their roles. The finish with Angle costing Team Alliance the match was a creative one that worked perfectly. He got cheered for it, but the next night on Raw he went back to being a heel and all was right again. Solid match that was a notch above the ten man tag that took place at Invasion four months prior.
41. Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle for the WWE Title @ WrestleMania XX - 03/14/04
The Story: Before this match took place, Eddie Guerrero was in a feud with his nephew Chavo. Angle pretended to be a peacemaker in that feud, but ultimately he ended up beating the hell out of Eddie on multiple occasions. In between the Chavo/Eddie feud and Eddie/Kurt, Eddie won the WWE title from Brock Lesnar in a match you'll read about later. The most memorable occurrence in this feud came on Smackdown before WrestleMania when Eddie proclaimed he could beat then GM Paul Heyman with both hands tied behind his back. On the same show, Angle appeared "via satellite" to cut a promo. During the match, Heyman ducked out of the ring, ran up the aisle and fled while Kurt Angle shockingly came out. He took Eddie in the ring, beat the holy hell out of him while he was in handcuffs and gave us a memorable moment to head into this match with.
The Match: Nice mat wrestling to start, although it might have been too much since it went about five minutes while the crowd was starting to lose interest. After about seven minutes some suplexes followed as Guerrero missed a double axe on the floor, injuring his ribs. Angle spent a lot of time working the midsection with suplexes and holds centering on the ribs. Guerrero sold it all great. Angle went for the top rope suplex, but Guerrero shoved him off, went for a Frog Splash and as Angle moved out of the way, Guerrero hurt his ribs some more. Angle goes for an Angle Slam, but Eddie counters with an arm drag and a hurricanrana. After Angle sunk in an ankle lock 12 minutes in, it started to heat up. Pop up suplex got two. Another ankle lock attempt, but Eddie turned it into a cradle for two. Angle Slam countered into a DDT was phenomenal. I don't know if I've seen that counter before. Frog Splash gets only two to the shock of the crowd. Angle plays dead, then jumps on him with another ankle lock. Thirty seconds later, Eddie kicks him to the floor. Now he starts to untie his boot while Angle's on the floor. He never sees him untie it. Angle is pissed, Eddie gives an "oh shit" expression on his face and Kurt comes in with an ankle lock. This time Eddie kicks at Angle's arm until he yanks off the boot. Angle's wondering what is going on, so Eddie gets a tight inside cradle for the win, allowing him to retain the title after 21 minutes. Clever finish.
The Analysis: The first five minutes of this match were pretty slow, I must say. It was an example of what WWE is trying for with this "new style" of theirs. Things picked up the moment Guerrero went rib first into the railing in a Randy Savage style bump. I liked that. It would have been nice to see Guerrero go on offense a bit more than what he did because it really came off like Guerrero wasn't doing much. His selling was great, though, so it's not a big gripe. It also makes sense that the Frog Splash only got two since Angle wasn't beat down a whole lot. The finish was fun and creative. Angle was relentless in going for the Ankle Lock, Guerrero sensed that so he ended up using that to his advantage by outsmarting Angle at the end leading to the boot trick and cradle for the win. This was like a song that starts up slow, then ever so slowly gets momentum and by the end it hits the crescendo, hitting all the big notes at the right time. This wasn't a match full of highspots or anything like that, but it was full of good straight up wrestling from two of the best.
40. Shane McMahon vs. Kurt Angle in a Street Fight @ King of the Ring - 06/24/01
The Story: This was one of the most insane matches you will ever see in WWE history. It came about because Angle was bragging about winning King of the Ring a year before. He said he'd do it again, but before he could continue his speech Shane McMahon came out to ruin the fun. Why? Well, there wasn't a great reason why. I just think they did this match as a way to keep Shane involved with the company since they'd be doing the invasion angle a month later. This was made into a street fight and it would be Angle's third match of the show, since he beat Christian and lost to Edge earlier. That just shows how awesome the man is.
The Match: To start out, Angle schooled McMahon with his wrestling skills. Then Shane figured he can't beat him like that, so he just starts brawling with him. Then it starts getting violent. There's some cool spots in here like Shane's Shooting Star press attempt that misses and of course all the stuff that happens by the entrance way. It's hard to describe, but there was this glass casing that had the "KOR" logos all over it. Angle decides to do a belly to belly throw on Shane with the idea that he'd go through the glass. The glass didn't break and Shane lands right on his head. So Angle does it again, this time it breaks. Sick stuff. They're all bloody because of the glass. Now they're inside the casing there, so Angle tries to suplex him through another glass, but that doesn't break. Another sick landing. Then he goes for it again, still no break, but at least this time Angle was there to break the fall. Then Angle's frustrated, so he simply throws Shane through the glass. Those were some of the most insane moments I've ever seen in a match. Back near the ring, Shane tries to fight back, but it's not enough. Angle eventually puts him away by setting up some plywood across the top rope and giving him an Angle Slam off that for the finish. It was a 25 minute match.
The Analysis: This was really an example of how good Kurt Angle is as a wrestler and how willing Shane McMahon is to put his body on the line. Some of the stuff in this match still shock me today and it's a match I've seen a half dozen times by now. I remember people online complaining about how McMahon was made to look like this superman type guy because he was able to last that long with Angle after all those insane spots. Personally, I didn't mind. I think McMahon held his own and Angle did his part in making Shane's offense look believable. That's why it was a street fight, to help Shane look better. I think it worked. This was a brutal match, both in the literal and figurative sense. Watching it the first time made me cringe and after watching it a few times now I still wonder how Shane survived those landings on his head. They were unreal. Fun match, that is, if you think guys getting thrown onto their heads is fun. How great is Angle, seriously? Not only did he wrestle three times in a night, but he put his body on the line like this after two previous matches? Dude is nuts. No wonder his neck is always messed up.
39. Chris Jericho vs. The Rock for the Undisputed World Title @ Royal Rumble - 01/20/02
The Story: This one had been built up for a while and wasn't the first match you saw between these two. At No Mercy in October, Jericho beat Rock for the WCW Title (that match is later in the list) in a match where they both went in as babyfaces, but Jericho was turning heel by that point. A month later, during the elimination tag match (#42 on the list) Jericho did a cheap shot on Rock after he got eliminated just because he was jealous. A month after that, during the Unification Title mini-tournament, Jericho beat Rock again thanks to Vince McMahon's help in a match that nearly made this list and maybe I'll be asked why it's not here in emails. Oh well. By this point, Jericho was up 2-0 on Rock in major PPV title matches and really was on a roll during his first heel run in WWE. These two had great chemistry together, so going into the match we were expecting good things.
The Match: The match started out pretty fast with both guys busting out big moves early including a Rock superplex that kept them down early on. Jericho came back after a Rock belly to belly with a bulldog and two Lionsaults for two. Rock grabbed the Sharpshooter, then Jericho hit his own version of the Rock Bottom for two (the move that beat Rock at Vengeance a month earlier). Jericho's People's Elbow got countered by a kip up and then a sick Rock Bottom on the table on the floor knocks him out good. In ring, Rock Bottom is blocked and Walls of Jericho are locked in, but Rock makes ropes. Another Walls, another reversal and then a ref bump, so Jericho drills Rock with the title. Corrupt heel ref Nick Patrick counts the two, but when Rock hits a DDT he stops counting after one. Rock takes out Patrick, then hits the People's Elbow, but there's no ref. Jericho hit Rock with a low blow, put him face first into the turnbuckle he exposed earlier and then rolled him up with his feet on the ropes for the cheap victory after 18 minutes.
The Analysis: I loved the evil ways of Jericho in this match. It was so cheap that after the match all the fans wanted to kill Jericho. He did a great job in the match, coming so close to beating Rock legit with the Lionsault and the Walls, but then resorting to the cheap maneuvers because he knew that's all he could really do. Rock was fantastic in his role as usual, selling everything perfectly and doing a good job in showing how frustrated he was with the match through his facial expressions. The finish was obviously cheap, but going into the match it was to be expected. They never booked Jericho THAT strong to begin with because even when he got wins over top guys like Rock and Austin they were always tainted. It was never the kind of win that was distinct or clear cut. That's why this worked.
38. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho for the Intercontinental Title @ Backlash - 04/30/00
The Story: This was their first major singles match in the WWE. The month before, Benoit won the IC title in a triple threat match at WrestleMania that also involved Kurt Angle (a match that barely missed this list). Benoit was the heel here while Jericho was the babyface. The purpose of this feud was to add a little toughness to Jericho's character, which up to this point had been basically a comedic figure and at its worst almost like a sidekick of Chyna's. Yeah, I cringe at that memory too. I was very much looking forward to this match because since both were free of the politics of WCW it would be nice to see them have a long match in a company that knows how to accentuate a wrestler's strengths.
The Match: They chop the hell out of eachother to start, then Benoit gets the suplexes, but Jericho went to the floor and Benoit dove at him on the floor, crashing on his head. Ouch. Then in a great spot, Benoit dropkicked the ring steps into Jericho's crotch. Ouch again. Benoit follows that up in the ring with a number of moves to work on Jericho's ribs, including a gutbuster. Jericho fought back, hit a Lionsault for a delayed two count because his ribs were so sore. Jericho followed up with a bulldog for two and a rollup for two. Benoit went up top, but Jericho brought him down with a back superplex and then his double powerbomb (he needs to use that again!) only gets him two. Out of the pinfall, Benoit countered into the Crossface, tearing back on Jericho until Y2J made it to the ropes. Then Jericho gets the Walls for a little while until Benoit makes ropes. Flying forearm by Jericho takes out the ref, so Benoit nails Jericho with a belt shot, then a snap suplex on the belt. He went up top for the headbutt, but as he came down Jericho held the belt up and Benoit went crashing into the belt. The ref came to just at that moment, so Jericho was disqualified and the match was over after 15 minutes.
The Analysis: This match lived up to the hype that myself and others had for it coming in. They really did a good job of being physical, chopping eachother a lot early on and never slowing the pace down a whole heck of a lot. I liked how every move Benoit did was countered by Jericho in a way that it was like neither man ever really had the advantage. I also enjoyed the finish a lot even if the crowd shit on it completely. I understand why they did it because the match was building and building to something that seemed like it would be an epic finish until it all came crashing down with that ref bump. The finish was creative, which is why I liked it. It was Benoit who did the cheating, who brought the belt in the first place and he eventually won through disqualification because Jericho used it almost as a measure of self defense. It was a nice twist that gave us a rematch a month later (that match is higher on the list).
37. Edge vs. Kurt Angle @ Backlash - 04/21/02
The Story: This came at a time when WWE wanted to push Edge as a singles wrestler, so they put him in a feud with Kurt Angle. Edge got a win on Angle on Raw, leading to a couple of PPV matches with this one being the first. The build for this match saw some nice brawling from both guys and some nice comedy as Edge busted out pictures of he and Angle in happier times (Team ECK, baby!) while the audience got to see the back of pictures that had phrases like, "I have no testicles" on it. Edge challenged Angle for Backlash, so this is what we got.
The Match: This match was pretty fast paced from the get go. There were some cool spots in here with Angle being relentless in going for the suplexes and the ankle lock, but Edge kept fighting. He even busted out a couple of suplexes of his own. The finishing sequence was excellent as usual. Edge went for his DDT finisher, the Impaler, but Angle turned it into an Angle slam that only got two. Ankle lock got reversed into a cradle by Edge for two, so Kurt went to the floor to get a chair. That missed, but he hit his own face with the chair after it bounced off the ropes and Edge gets another near fall out of that. Edge tries to capitalize by going for a spear, but Angle knees him in the face. Why don't more people do that? Another Angle Slam gets the win for Kurt after about 14 minutes.
The Analysis: I re-watched this match for this column for the first time in about two years and I have to say I didn't remember much of it originally. In watching it again, it makes you appreciate how great Angle is, especially when it comes to working with a young guy who is wrestling in what had to be considered Edge's biggest singles match of his career. They were even the whole way until the finish, when Angle outsmarted him. It worked perfectly. These guys really developed some great chemistry in working together over the years. They had a match a month later where Edge won the feud and Kurt was forced to cut his hair. I didn't like it as much, so it's not on this list. This match was great, though.
36. Triple H vs. The Rock for the WWE Title @ Backlash - 04/30/00
The Story: This was the match that many people felt should have been the main event of WrestleMania a month earlier. Instead, WrestleMania was a four way elimination match that saw HHH retain the title after Vince McMahon, who was a babyface in the corner of the Rock, turned on Rock during the match, giving the victory to his then on-camera son-in-law. It was a finish that united HHH with his "wife" Stephanie, his father in law Vince and his son in law Shane. In the build to this match, the sane McMahon, Linda, announced that Steve Austin would return for this match to be in the Rock's corner in some capacity. Austin had been out since November with neck surgery and while he wouldn't wrestle for another six months his return was eagerly anticipated. The ref in the match was Shane McMahon, so the storyline going in was the Rock was all alone here. Also, before the match began Vince McMahon announced Austin wouldn't be there. It was the classic "deck is stacked against the babyface" angle.
The Match: From the early going, every time Rock was on top of HHH, Shane did his part to get him off, like when he literally pulled him off HHH. They went to the floor and Vince tossed him into the ring post, then when Rock was back in the ring HHH got the high knee for a very fast two count. HHH hit a knee drop and had Shane count it fast each time, three times in total getting two counts. Then HHH put him in a chinlock with his feet on the ropes as Shane did nothing about it, drawing the ire of the crowd. When Rock fought back, Vince hit him with the title. Rock then hits a DDT but gets no count out of it since Shane refused. They go out on the floor, Rock counters a Pedigree attempt on the table and hit a Rock Bottom on HHH and Shane through the table! Damn! Realistic? No. Cool looking? Yes. Vince went after Rock, so Rock chased him, but then he got stopped by a HHH low blow and Pedigree. Still no Shane as the ref, so Brisco and Patterson come out in ref gear, but Rock kicked out. Amazing nearfalls. Vince hit Rock with a massive chairshot, then HHH went to finish him off with the Pedigree, but the glass breaks and Austin comes out sporting a beer gut. He literally hit everybody except Stephanie and Rock in the head with chairs. I'm talking vicious shots. Linda came out with ref Earl Hebner, shoved Stephanie down and the crowd was going absolutely nuts by this point. Rock hit a Spinebuster and a People's Elbow to get the victory after 19 minutes of fun.
The Analysis: The idea to hold off this match for Backlash paid off huge for WWE. It drew a huge buyrate, one of the best ones ever for a non big four PPV. Not just big four, but any PPV, really. The crowd ate up the HHH-Rock interaction as well as the return of Austin, which totally lived up to the hype. The coolest thing about this match was how corrupt Shane was as the referee because it made for such an interesting dynamic. While watching it you kind of knew Rock was going to win, the question was how? How could he survive all of this? In terms of drawing a crowd into a match and getting a reaction out of them for the finish, there aren't many matches that can top this. However, I can't give it a higher rating than what I've given it because of all the outside interference, even if it did have a part in the story being told. You can't ignore that stuff. Rock and HHH were so good together by this point that if you gave them fifteen minutes together you were guaranteed at least a ***1/2 match and usually higher than that. This one is no exception. There would be a rematch and you will be reading about it later on in this list.
That's it for part one. I'll be posting them every other day. Here's the posting schedule for the remaining three parts.
Part Two: Monday. It will be matches #35-21.
Part Three: Wednesday. It will be matches #20-6.
Part Four: Friday. It will be matches #5-1. It'll also feature my concluding thoughts, then some stats to let you know what wrestlers, years, PPVs and other things did the best.
My email address is email@example.com so please direct any and all comments or questions to that address. I would appreciate it if you refrained from asking about a match you didn't read about in this part because there are 35 more that are to come in the coming days. For now, stick to just commenting or asking about the matches written in each part and at the end of the whole thing feel free to ask about any match. I'm ready for any question, believe me.
Also, if you're wondering I won't be doing any sort of Backlash preview or recap. I won't be seeing the show live, nor have I been home for the past week to provide a preview.
Smell ya later,
John C. - firstname.lastname@example.org
P.S. Thanks to my buddy Greg for the editing help. You rule!