Before I get started, just wanted to make a note to let you know that the next News & Views will be posted Thursday early in the day. Then tomorrow night the final part of this series will be posted. Due to being busy so far this week I haven't had time to do the News & Views, but I'll be able to do it and have it ready by tomorrow rather than the usual Tuesday posting.
This is part three of my four part series that is a look at the best WWE matches on PPV over the course of five years. Here are links to the previous parts in case you missed those: Part One and Part Two. What I've done here is compiled a list of the top 50 matches over the last five full calendar years, which means every PPV from Royal Rumble 2000 all the way up to Armageddon 2004. Easy to understand, right? I think so.
Here is the list so far:
50. SSlam 01 - RVD over Jeff Hardy (Hardcore Ladder) - ***3/4
49. SSlam 04 - Orton over Benoit (World Title) - ***3/4
48. SSlam 02 - Angle over Mysterio - ***3/4
47. Backlash 00 - Malenko over Scotty 2 Hotty (WWE Light Heavy Title) - ***3/4
46. No Mercy 02 - Lesnar over Undertaker (WWE Title - HIAC) - ***3/4
45. Survivor Series 03 - Team Austin (Shawn Michaels, Booker T., Rob Van Dam, Dudley Boys) vs. Team Bischoff (Chris Jericho, Christian, Mark Henry, Scott Steiner, Randy Orton) - ***3/4
44. Armageddon 02 - Benoit over Guerrero - ***3/4
43. Vengeance 04 - Benoit over HHH (World Title) - ****
42. Survivor Series 01 - Team WWE (Rock, Taker, Jericho, Big Show, Kane) over Team Alliance (Austin, Angle, Booker, RVD, Shane) - ****
41. WM 04 - Guerrero over Angle (WWE Title) - ****
40. KOTR 01 - Angle over Shane (Street Fight) - ****
39. Rumble 02 - Jericho over Rock (Undisputed World Title) - ****
38. Backlash 00 - Benoit over Jericho via DQ (IC Title) - ****
37. Backlash 02 - Angle over Edge - ****1/4
36. Backlash 00 - Rock over HHH (World Title) - ****1/4
35. Survivor Series 02 - Michaels over HHH, RVD, Kane, Jericho & Booker (World Title - Elim Chamber) - ****1/4
34. GAB 04 - Mysterio over Chavo (Cruiser Title) - ****1/4
33. No Mercy 00 - Angle over Rock (World Title) - ****1/4
32. No Mercy 00 - HHH over Benoit - ****1/4
31. Vengeance 02 - Rock over Undertaker, Angle (Undisputed World Title) - ****1/4
30. SSlam 00 - Benoit over Jericho (2/3 Falls) - ****1/4
29. WM 01 - Angle over Benoit - ****1/4
28. NWO 00 - HHH over Cactus (HIAC World Title) - ****1/4
27. Unforgiven 02 - Benoit over Angle - ****1/4
26. Vengeance 03 - Angle over Show, Lesnar (WWE Title) - ****1/4
25. WM 00 - E&C over Hardys & Dudleys (Tag Title Tables & Ladders Match) - ****1/4
24. Fully Loaded 00 - Rock over Benoit (World Title) - ****1/4
23. Backlash 04 - Orton over Cactus Jack - ****1/4
22. SSlam 03 - Angle over Lesnar (WWE Title) - ****1/4
21. NWO 01 - Rock over Angle (World Title) - ****1/2
Now we pick up where we left off with matches #20-#6.
20. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho for the Intercontinental Title @ Judgment Day - 05/21/00
The Story: The month before, heel Benoit retained his IC title when he went for a headbutt only for the babyface Jericho to block it with the IC title causing the DQ and bloodying Benoit's face in the process (match #38 on this list). Benoit wanted to prove to Jericho that he was the better man, so he challenged him to a submission match. In the build to this match they just went at eachother brutally, bringing the physicality up a new level. On the Smackdown before this match, Bob Holly beat on Benoit's knee with a chair quite a bit, causing Benoit to come into this match wearing a brace on his left knee.
The Match: The match was quick from the start. Early on, Benoit hit a shoulderbreaker and a headbutt on Jericho's shoulder about three minutes in. Out on the floor, Jericho dropped Benoit's injured knee on the steel steps. Jericho missed a charge going shoulder first in the corner, so Benoit takes off the top turnbuckle and rams Jericho shoulder first into it. Love the physicality. Cross armbar for Benoit, but Jericho breaks that. Benoit goes knee first into the turnbuckle and then into the mat on the knee. Benoit has his brace taken off by Jericho, who then proceeds to be beat Benoit with it all over the leg. Good stuff. Dropkick to the knee, then a Lionsault to the knee for Jericho. The brutality continues as Jericho drapes him over the ropes and puts him in the Walls of Jericho through the ropes. Think like a reverse version of Tajiri's Tarantula move. Awesome spot. Benoit fought back with the German suplexes, Jericho went for the Walls, but Benoit finds the brace and drills him in the head with that. Crossface, but Jericho fights out, so Benoit has to beat him down some more. More Crossface although now it's like a choke, Jericho's face turns red/blue to signal him passing out and Benoit gets the win due to Jericho passing out. Match was about 15 minutes. Benoit limped away still the Intercontinental Champion.
The Analysis: This was a very physical match from the moment the bell rang right through to the finish. The whole feud was built up this way and the match lived up to that. I loved how each guy focused on a body part that set up their finishing move because that helped tell the story of the finish of the match. The way it worked, you felt like whoever got the submission hold on first was going to win the match. Jericho did get the Walls of Jericho on, but it was while Benoit was in the ropes, so it didn't lead to any sort of victory. When he went for it again, Benoit drilled him with the brace to counter it. That would have been a DQ in a regular match, but since it was a submission match it fit within the story perfectly. I loved the pass out finish too. It makes Jericho look tough because he wouldn't tap out while Benoit was made to look like a total badass because he forced a guy to pass out in his hold.
19. Edge & Christian vs. Hardy Boys vs. Dudley Boys for the Tag Team Titles @ Summerslam - 08/27/00
The Story: Edge and Christian were the tag champions here, having won the tag titles for the first time at WrestleMania earlier in the year in a match that you've already read about on this list. Mick Foley was the commish for a couple of months by this point and the skits he had with E&C around this time were fantastic. E&C were creaming the Hardys and Dudleys at every opportunity with their conchairto (double chair shot), but then the Hardys and Dudleys, both babyface teams, fought back. While E&C had the chairs, the Hardys had the ladders, the Dudleys had the tables and what did you get when you put them all together? Tables, ladders and chairs. Oh my.
The Match: How do you talk about this match? It was a lot of spots, a lot of moments where guys are falling off ladders, taking chair shots or going through tables making you say "ouch" with every one. Bubba's full nelson bomb on Christian off the ladder was a sick spot early on. Then there was Jeff Hardy getting shoved off the ladder by Edge, only to land on a prone ladder that ends up slingshotting into Matt's face while he is on the ground. There's so many other things going on, it's hard to get 'em all. I liked the part where they did the spot from WM16 where Jeff Hardy swantoned onto Bubba, except this time Bubba moved. I think it's amazing how much they took. I mean, there were parts of the match where Edge was creaming the Dudleys with really stiff chairshots, but they barely get a reaction because it seems like nothing compared to the Hardy's legdrops off the ladder or Christian getting tossed off the top landing on Edge while he is sandwiched in between a ladder. Towards the end, Bubba climbed the "20 foot ladder" in the middle only to be shoved off over the top rope all the way to the stacked tables on the floor. So then Matt gets to climb, but D'Von pushes the ladder back backwards into some tables on the other side of the ring in another sick landing. That one was really dangerous. With everybody out, Lita came out to shove E&C off the big ladder. Then Edge attacks Lita, but with love. Awww, what a couple. Sorry, Hallmark moment. D'Von and Jeff were up there holding the belts with no ladder underneath, then D'Von fell to a crashing halt while Jeff was still hanging there. The finish came when E&C knocked down Jeff Hardy while he was hanging from the titles, unable to pull them down and the champs made the climb to retain after 19 minutes of pain.
The Analysis: I remember most people, myself included, thinking the Hardys would win this one because it was in Raleigh, North Carolina, also known as Hardy country. Instead, they kept the belts on Edge & Christian. There were plenty of title matches and great moments between these teams over the course of a couple years, but this match is always going to stand out in my mind as one of their best moments. The spots they did were done perfectly. They made sense too. I think it was more than just climb up and get knocked down. And how can you not respect and admire these six guys for putting their careers on the line like this? Five years after the fact, I'm still saying "ouch" during the whole match. I don't know how any of them even walked after this match, much less wrestled again.
18. Triple H vs. Chris Jericho in a Last Man Standing Match @ Fully Loaded - 07/23/00
The Story: As it says up above, this was a Last Man Standing match. Rules are you have to beat down your opponent enough that he'll stay down for a ten count. A match WWE hadn't done many times before this. The feud had been brewing for months due to Jericho making lewd remarks towards HHH's then on screen wife, Stephanie McMahon. At King of the Ring, Jericho laid a kiss on Stephanie, which was the big event that made this match happen. Jericho cost HHH the number one contender spot during a match on Raw and he also set HHH up for a stinkface by Rikishi. He even got HHH to lose on Smackdown to the Brooklyn Brawler due to Jericho's interference. Jericho had the upperhand, so HHH and his boys in DX set him up for a beatdown where they beat him up with the help of a sledgehammer, forcing this to be a blood feud.
The Match: Jericho dominated the early going with high impact moves. HHH slowed it down, worked on Jericho's ribs with shoulderblock, knees and straight punches. Out on the floor, HHH hit a suplex in the aisle then worked on the ribs some more. Jericho tried to come back, but the Lionsault hit knees. He sold the ribs awesome. DDT got a seven count for HHH. Sleeper got HHH a count of nine. Jericho asked for more, so HHH Pedigrees him and that gets nine. HHH chaired him in the ribs twice. HHH went to Pedigree him on the chair, ref Mike Chioda told him to stop so HHH shoved him and Jericho low blowed him. They got up, Jericho chaired him to the face and HHH bled awesomely for the eight count. Jericho came back with a dropkick and a bulldog on the chair. Out on the floor, HHH whipped Jericho rib first into the steps. Pedigree on the steps countered into a backdrop. They struggled up, each had a monitor and they cracked eachother in the head at the same time. Back in the ring, Walls of Jericho. HHH tapped, but it didn't mean anything in this match. He got to the ropes, but Jericho didn't have to break, so Steph came in and grabbed Jericho by the hair. Walls of Jericho on Steph, but HHH broke that up. HHH finds his sledgehammer, Jericho blocked it and slingshotted HHH to the ring post. Jericho hit HHH in the ribs with the sledge. HHH on the table, Jericho goes to Lionsault him off the barrier onto the table, but HHH lowblows him. Back suplex through the table with Jericho taking more of the bump. Count time as both are down and as we hit nine HHH gets to his feet, Jericho stays down, the ref rings the bell and HHH collapses at the end for the win. Match was 23 minutes.
The Analysis: The idea behind this match was to add some toughness to Jericho's character. Up to this point he had been merely the funny babyface, so they put him in this bloody brawl with HHH. The result? One of the better brawls you will ever see. The selling in this match was perfect. Jericho was on the defensive the whole time, selling the ribs perfectly and even when he was on the offensive he was selling the damn ribs. That's what I love. I thought HHH was on his game here like usual. They had great chemistry from the moment the bell rang right until the finish. I thought HHH's blood loss was crucial because Jericho didn't really work on a body part, so HHH's pain was shown in his face, which is something he does really well. The reason this wasn't a higher rating is because I'm not a huge fan of the Last Man Standing gimmick. I certainly don't hate it because the result was a great brawl here, but I love nearfalls in matches so much that when you get ten counts instead it just isn't the same. The ending was strong, though. It gave HHH the win, but it's not like it was decisive. You could even say it was a fluke because he stumbled up, then fell down.
17. The Rock vs. Chris Jericho for the WCW Title @ No Mercy - 10/21/01
The Story: The Rock was the WCW Champion, having won the belt from Booker T. at Summerslam. It was treated as a major win although most WWE fans didn’t embrace the belt as much as the company’s own title. Jericho was a babyface for two whole years until he started to show signs of turning heel during this feud. His reasons for turning were basically because the fans loved Rock, thinking of him as a savior of sorts while Jericho felt slighted due to being overlooked for much of his career. The two occasionally found themselves on the same team, miscommunicating much of the time due to Jericho being jealous of Rock’s success, fame and popularity. It was the start of a push for Jericho, one that was welcome and necessary. They played up that he never won "the big one," a reference to never winning the WWE or WCW title. They had great promos with eachother, even dating back to Jericho’s first night in August ’99, but could they have the same magic in the ring? This was their first real test.
The Match: They do some work on eachother's arms to start, then Jericho got the Walls on until Rock made ropes, so Jericho dropkicked him out. Backbreaker gets two for Jericho, then Rock counters into a pinfall attempt for two of his own. Rock comes back with a superplex as they do a double knockout spot pretty early on. Rock hits a Samoan drop, then a clothesline and suplex for a couple of nearfalls. Rock slows it down with a chinlock garnering some heel heat as Jericho comes back with a missile dropkick. He follows that up with a neckbreaker, hurricanrana and a Rock Bottom. Sweet. Then a Lionsault gets two. Bulldog, then a People's Elbow from Jericho misses and Rock gets him in the Sharpshooter until Jericho gets the ropes to break that up. Out on the floor, he puts Jericho through the Spanish Table with a Rock Bottom. Then he breaks the count, comes back out and punches Jericho in the mouth. I love when Rock acts like a heel. Rock Bottom in ring blocked by Jericho, spinebuster hits and People's Elbow is countered by Jericho, who locks him in the Walls. Crowd loves that. Stephanie McMahon, sporting a new rack, comes out for some reason with a chair. Rock DDTs Jericho, then Rock hits Steph with the Rock Bottom and Jericho takes advantage with a front legsweep on Rock on the chair (think Jeff Jarrett's stroke finisher) for the pinfall victory after 24 minutes. Post match, Rock is pissed, he picks up the chair and basically calls Jericho a pussy because he had to use the chair although he never said it. It's Rock, though, you can see it in his face. Jericho doesn't give a damn since he won his first major belt.
The Analysis: This match was one of those that I liked a lot more when it originally happened. That's not to say I dislike it at all now. It's just that when it originally aired and Jericho won the WCW belt it was a huge markout moment. It was right there with Guerrero and Benoit winning their belts last year although the difference here was that Jericho won it in a cheap manner as a tweener while the other two were faces. Still, Jericho spent so much time losing to the big dogs that when he beat somebody of The Rock's caliber it drew a big reaction from me. That's what I mean when I say at the time it was so momentous. Jericho just didn't beat the big names, until this match. As for this match, it was so much fun. They both wrestled as heels and faces even. The crowd in St. Louis (go Rams!) was on the side of Jericho more than Rock, but they still reacted to everything in a good way. It's not like they booed Rock out of the building, it was more like mild booing. I like how they took turns dishing and receiving punishment, with Rock looking vicious doing the routine with the Spanish table, then sadistically beating the hell out of Jericho when he was down. I wasn't a huge fan of Stephanie's interference. She wasn't on the side of either guy and neither man was a part of the WCW/ECW Alliance team. She had been against both of them forever, but it was kind of ironic that she helped her enemy Jericho win the "big one" for the first time. If 2001 wasn't so loaded with great matches then this would have been match of the year. As it is, it was probably in the top five although if you count TV matches too then it's not even top five. Great match and in my opinion the best of the three Rock-Jericho singles matches on PPV.
16. Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H for the World Title @ Backlash - 04/18/04
The Story: The month prior to this, Benoit won the title from HHH in a very memorable match at WrestleMania XX (that one is higher on the list). Almost immediately after that, the rematch was set for Backlash for two reasons. First, the match at WMXX ruled so much that seeing a great match again was definitely a good thing. Second, it was in Benoit's hometown of Edmonton and WWE wanted to come up with a good way to put him over strong in his home city. At first I thought it would just be Benoit vs. Michaels or Benoit vs. HHH, but when they said it would be a rematch I wasn't upset at all. I don't think it was possible to top the emotion of Benoit's initial win although I was not going to complain about them trying to top it. Keep in mind that since this was in Edmonton, Michaels was booed heavily so instead of two faces and a heel it was like having one babyface and two heels.
The Match: Benoit dominated the early going, hitting the German suplexes on both guys and trying to get the Crossface on until he went up top and Michaels shoved him off before he could do his headbutt. Then he comes back and after HHH puts Michaels down, he hits his headbutt for two. Irish whip, Benoit drops down, Michaels decks referee Mike Chioda with the forearm, sending him down. Sharpshooter is put on HHH as there is a HUGE ovation for that. Michaels comes in, Benoit gets him in the Crossface while there is still no ref. After trying to revive a ref, Michaels gets the Sharpshooter on Benoit as the crowd is booing like crazy and there’s Earl Hebner. Crowd is going apeshit during the Survivor Series '97 memory even starting up a “You Screwed Bret” chant. More back and forth brawling between the three as Benoit and HHH go at it on the floor. Michaels goes up top, they both duck and Michaels goes right through the Spanish table. In ring, HHH works over Benoit shoulder and sinks in the Camel Clutch. Benoit fights out, he hits three rolling Germans and then he misses the headbutt. Pedigree by HHH on Benoit, slow cover and Michaels makes the save out nowhere. Michaels gets a slam on HHH, then the top rope elbow as he superkicks Benoit while he's on the apron, sending him out to the floor. Low blow by HHH, Pedigree countered with a backdrop over the top. HHH gets Sledgie and nails Michaels in the back with it but he can't capitalize because Benoit pulls him out to the floor and slingshots him into the ring post, sending him flying into the crowd. With HHH out of the picture, Michaels goes to superkick Benoit in ring, but Benoit catches it and puts him in the Sharpshooter. With the crowd going nuts, Michaels taps out with the crowd yelling at the top of their lungs in excitement. Match was 31 minutes long.
The Analysis: Another strong match from these guys, as we expected. I loved the action from start to finish with a lot of little things being done right. The crowd was fantastic, booing Michaels and HHH for everything they did. The end was amazingly good. Michaels tapping clean to the Sharpshooter was the perfect finish because everybody in the building wanted it to end like that and when it did there was a sense of relief and a feeling of something being done right. I loved how they teased Survivor Series ’97 with Hebner out there just as Michaels put the Canadian Hero into the Sharpshooter. Smart touch. I honestly didn't see that coming especially since Hebner originally was not the referee of the match. I loved how they all took turns having the advantage throughout the match. It made it believable that anyone could win, which is what triple threat matches are supposed to do. Watching it live, I liked it as much as the original one except looking back on it now I thought the spots were better in the first one just enough that I'd put it above this. Not by a whole lot, but since I know I'm going to be asked I just think they could have cut off about five minutes and it would have made for a more realistic match. Thirty minutes plus for a triple threat is a bit unrealistic. Again, minor gripe, but that's my reason for it not being higher.
15. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels in a Street Fight @ Summerslam - 08/25/02
The Story: This was billed as an unsanctioned match, which is another term for saying it was a street fight. Michaels came back to WWE a couple months before this in a "manager" type role supporting his buddies in a forgettable NWO return. After HHH lost the belt, they did a thing about what show he'd be on. He chose Raw because of his "best friend" Shawn Michaels. On Raw one week, they formed DX again, HHH did his usual spiel, then turned on Michaels, hitting the Pedigree. After a seven month run as a face, HHH was heel again. That's good. More shenanigans followed as Michaels was beat up backstage by somebody mysteriously. HHH played the role of former friend, denying that he did it and trying to find out who did. Then we saw some grainy video that showed it was Triple H. Michaels said he was hurt bad, but would be fine by Summerslam. Bischoff said the match was on, but it would be unsanctioned, meaning there'd be no rules. This was Michaels first match in a WWE ring after a four years plus absence. He did wrestle once in his TWA promotion in between, but it's not like he was in ring shape. Nobody knew what to expect here except that Michaels well publicized back injury would be the story.
The Match: Michaels starts out on fire as they brawl on the floor. Four minutes in, HHH got control. Every time he hit a backbreaker or move on HBK's back you cringed because we didn't know what shape it was in. You knew it was operated on, but does that mean it's 100% healed? Probably not. More stuff with HHH working on the back followed. Michaels got busted open, but it was tame compared to his usual stuff because he probably used a capsule rather than a blade. Every time HBK went to fight back, HHH hit him in the back. There was great interplay throughout with HHH and ref Earl Hebner. Hebner kept trying to tell HHH to take it easy, but Trips would never let up since it was unsanctioned. More back bumps for Michaels as he took a backbreaker on a seated chair as well as the sidewalk slam on a folded chair. Michaels got the momentum back with a low blow followed by a superkick into the chair, which then hit HHH in the face leading to a double KO spot. HHH bleeds huge. Big chairshot to the head for Michaels followed by a nice bulldog on a ring steps outside of the ring. He busts out a ladder, beats him down a bit with it for two. Biggest spot of the match was HBK propping up a table on the floor, laying HHH across it and splashing him off the top. In the ring, he hit an elbow drop off the ladder. Finish saw the superkick get blocked, then the Pedigree countered into a roll though reverse cradle for Michaels getting the three. Post match, HHH hit him twice in the back with his trusty sledgehammer, Sledgie. Okay, so it doesn't have a name, but that's what happened. Match was about 28 minutes.
The Analysis: This was a very good brawl that really was better than I thought it would be at a time. Who knew that Michaels would come back after four years to be this good again? It was awesome. Watching it live, all I could think about was how all I wanted was to see Michaels walk out of there safe. Once it was over, I had no idea Michaels would wrestle again. This was a one match thing. Of course, he did come back and that's awesome, but watching it live this was one of the most emotional matches I can ever remember. It was great for HHH too. His face run, as fun as it was for a couple of months, just didn't work that well. He's more natural as a heel and this was his first big match as a heel in over a year. He delivered in spades. The spots they worked were perfect. Everything made sense, everything had the right flow and as is always the case with these guys, the timing was spot on. Really fun, emotional match that is one of those memorable ones that will last a lifetime.
14. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho @ WrestleMania XIX – 03/30/03
The Story: Michaels had come back to WWE the previous summer, beating HHH at Summerslam (see the match above). Jericho was a heel in the midcard, situated in the number two heel spot behind HHH for a while. After the Michaels feud with HHH ended in December ’02 they needed to find him a new feud, so they went with Jericho. At the Royal Rumble, Jericho tricked Michaels and ended up attacking him from behind, eliminating him early on. From there, the feud escalated. They played up the fact that Jericho grew up in the business wanting to be like Michaels, showing pictures of Jericho’s early wardrobe and how similar it was to what Michaels wore in his Rockers days. While Michaels wasn't wrestling as much as he is these days, he was on Raw weekly and they were able to build the feud up well. It had over three months of solid build. Heading in to the match, it was very exciting due to it being Michaels’ first match at WrestleMania in five years.
The Match: They mat wrestle early on, Michaels wins it, so Jericho slaps him and Michaels retaliates by knocking him out to the floor. HBK gets him with a baseball slide on the floor. Cross body by HBK gets two and Jericho comes back with a spinning heel kick followed by some punching. Jericho goes for a running bulldog, but Shawn reverses it so that Jericho goes groin first into the middle turnbuckle. Jericho reverses a Michaels figure four, tries to throw him out, but HBK skins the cat and takes Jericho out with a headscissors. HBK nails a plancha onto Jericho on the outside. Michaels misses a dropkick, Jericho puts him in the Walls on the floor and works on the back of Michaels. He slows it down with a backbreaker, then a submission with the knee in the back and a back body drop is countered into a Michaels DDT as both guys are now out. Jericho hits a Michaels-like forearm and a nip up only to see Michaels do the same thing in a cool moment. Michaels comes back with the atomic drop, clothesline, back body drop and a standing moonsault that gets two in a great nearfall. They exchange rollups for two, Walls of Jericho reversed and then Jericho gets a Northern Lights suplex for two. Jericho nails a facecrusher, then a Lionsault for two. He’s frustrated now. Whip in, Michaels with a hurricanrana countered into a Walls of Jericho, but Michaels scrambles to make it to the ropes. Inside cradle by Michaels gets two, Jericho with a backbreaker for two, then a reverse elbow and he hits a superkick for two! Awesome spot. HBK with a slingshot, Jericho comes back going for a back superplex, but Michaels counters with a crossbody for two. Michaels to the top, Jericho boots the ref into the ropes, crotching Michaels and his superplex is reversed as he lands face first and then eats an HBK elbow. Crowd is going nuts. Superkick turned into the Walls, Michaels gets ropes after thirty seconds. Jericho argues with the ref, turns around and gets hit with the superkick for a great nearfall. After another shot to the back, Michaels counters Jericho by grabbing an inside cradle for the pinfall after 24 minutes. Post match, Jericho kicks him in the nuts after HBK extends his hand.
The Analysis: Originally I gave it five stars, but that was back in my early days of doing live reviews and I was prone to overrating things. I understand why I gave it that rating. I just don’t agree with it now. Not a knock on the match, more on my rating style back then. The reasons why I liked this match so much back then and now was because they really did a great job in making believable nearfalls, timing everything perfectly well and playing up the idea that Michaels was the idol of Jericho during Chris’ early days as a wrestler. The coolest spot was when Jericho hit the forearm, did the kip up and the HBK pose, then Michaels did the same kip up and Jericho was shocked by it. I also liked how Jericho focused on the back not just because Michaels had a hurt back, but also because his finisher centers in on the back. Every time he went for the Walls the fans were gasping because they know of Michaels’ injury. It was the right kind of psychology. I had no idea who was going to win, I thought it would be Jericho. The finish was creative because it didn’t end after a Michaels superkick. When Jericho kicked out of that, it was shocking to say the least. The final finish with Michaels grabbing a cradle was a good one topped off by Jericho hitting the low blow post match. Not a perfect match, but still damn great.
13. Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title @ WrestleMania XIX - 03/30/03
The Story: Angle was the heel WWE Champion while Lesnar was the babyface challenger who earned this title shot based off his winning the Royal Rumble. This came a few weeks after online reports that Angle’s neck was in seriously bad shape. Four weeks before WrestleMania most believed he was going to be unable to compete in the match due to all the pain in his neck. As it turned out, he went to Vince McMahon weeks before the match, told him he could tough it out and would wrestle the match. It was pretty well known by the smart fans, so as you’d expect at a show like WrestleMania where smart fans make up a large percentage of the audience, there was a lot of sympathy for Angle. He probably got more cheers than Lesnar in the match. Regarding the storyline, it was strong. Lesnar was tricked by Angle into being his friend, helping Angle beat Big Show at Armageddon for the title. Angle stole Lesnar’s agent Paul Heyman, Lesnar retaliated with an F5 into a ring post and then Angle made sure to dodge Lesnar at every turn. A few weeks before the match on Smackdown, they announced Angle vs. Lesnar to the shock of many. We thought Angle was dropping the belt there, then they’d do something like Lesnar vs. Benoit at Mania. Instead, they had Kurt Angle’s brother dress like Lesnar, Brock went for him and the real Angle ended up getting a cheap pinfall in what was the shortest big match ever. It was clever when you think about it, since they worked us smart fans. By the time the match came, all I could think about was Kurt’s health. I wrote a column at the time talking about how emotional it would be to watch Angle in the match knowing how serious his neck injury was. Every time he took a bump, how could you not worry about the injury?
The Match: They mat wrestle early on, separating after a minute to let the crowd cheer. Lesnar with a shoulder block, then he gets a powerslam, but is then caught in an Angle German suplex. Angle works on the ribs a bit only to see Lesnar counter with a overhead press slam. Angle comes back with a German suplex into the turnbuckle that Lesnar sells by going over the top to the floor in a fantastic spot. Angle with some suplexes, then a submission focusing in on Lesnar’s taped ribs. Lesnar comes back, but Angle keeps him ground with an overhead belly to belly, then some hard knees to the back. Lesnar with a spinebuster, then a couple of overhead belly to belly suplexes of his own. Angle hits four Germans, Angle Slam countered into F5, which is then countered into an ankle lock and turned into a half crab. Angle then hits a release German suplex that sends Brock onto his stomach. First time I saw Lesnar do that spot and I still love it. Angle Slam gets two, another one gets turned into a Brock cradle for two. F5 by Lesnar, slow cover and Angle kicks out at two, which was very rare. Angle with the Ankle Lock, then he drops down going for the hook on the mat, but Lesnar drags him to the ropes showing amazing strength. Angle gets a rollup for two, another Angle Slam is countered into another F5 for Lesnar. No cover. He looks at Angle on the mat, then ascends to the top rope with Angle more than halfway across the ring. He goes for the Shooting Star Press, but comes up short, landing right on his head. Everybody is just shocked. Angle improvises, covers for just two and then they work into another F5 for the third time and that ends it after 24 minutes. Lesnar was dazed, being knocked out legit from that fall. They shook hands post match.
The Analysis: The anticipation I had for this match going on was huge. Not just because of Angle and his neck situation, but because of both guys. If you followed wrestling closely the past five or six years then you knew about both of these guys being touted as the future of the company. Obviously Angle was established by this point while Lesnar was still pretty raw, not having worked a WM before. In the exchanges they had before, they showed incredible chemistry. Due to their awesome pedigrees in the amateur wrestling world, they had a bond there that nobody else on the roster really had. Lesnar-Angle was one of the most anticipated matches for me as a fan ever. Not just at this WrestleMania or that year, but for any year at any show. I was very excited for it. Two years later and I don’t think they disappointed at all. I’m still amazed that Angle was able to put in the performance he did especially after seeing on the documentary of this show that he had to be hospitalized after the match due to all of the injuries he had at the time. It’s scary to think about. Then there was Lesnar landing square on his head after that SSP. It was a moment worth cringing where the crowd didn’t know how to react. They just had dead silence and I don’t blame them one bit for that. The main reason this match ruled so much? Simply because when you watched it you knew these two were doing moves that only a few wrestlers could do. The holds, the counters and the crispness with which they did the moves made it special. Great match that would have been even greater if it ended on that SSP by Lesnar as it was supposed to. Oh well, they can be forgiven. For what it's worth, I like the Ironman match from Smackdown in September 2003 better than this one, but this is their best PPV match against eachother. For more on the Angle/Lesnar series, check out this column from two years ago when I was really optimistic about Lesnar's future. Sigh.
12. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho for the Intercontinental Title @ Royal Rumble - 01/21/01
The Story: This was a ladder match for the Intercontinental title, which was held by Benoit at this point. Benoit was the heel here with Jericho the babyface. They had a series of matches in 2000 that were fantastic, as you've seen previously in this column (matches #38, 30 and 20), but this one was different. It was a ladder match, a match that neither guy had in WWE up to this point and also the first one on one ladder match on PPV since 1998, that one being an excellent Rock vs. HHH match.
The Match: The match was filled with everything you would want in a ladder match. There were some insane spots like Benoit flying through the middle ropes into a steel chair held by Jericho out on the floor. That was sick. Then there were the half dozen times it seemed that Jericho was going shoulder first into the ring post, the steps and the floor. The most memorable spot in the match was Benoit being trapped in the Walls of Jericho at the top of the ladder. Jericho ended up winning the match after tossing Benoit to the floor when Benoit was at the top of the ladder and making the climb to win this magnificent battle after nearly twenty minutes.
The Analysis: It was a ladder match with psychology. It wasn't just climb, do spots and fall down (like Hardy vs. RVD, #50 on this list), they used the ladder to help tell the story. They also used a chair to help tell the story that they would be willing to do anything to get the win in this match. Many fans, myself included, will say that the ladder match is overdone to this point. This match, however, is one of the three best one on one ladder matches in WWE history, behind only the two that Michaels and Ramon had in the mid-90s. As mentioned, Jericho and Benoit had a number of matches against one another in 2000 that were memorable in their own way. This one trumps those ones, though. It's the best match these guys ever had against eachother, in my opinion. Also, I thought this was going to be the 2001 match of the year almost immediately after I saw it, but I was wrong in that regard. It wasn't even second or third, in my opinion. That's how strong 2001 ended up being.
11. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels in a Hell in a Cell Match @ Bad Blood - 06/13/04
The Story: This was a Hell in a Cell match that was the culmination of a very long and mostly great feud between these two real life buddies. While they were friends during the ‘90s, when Michaels came back in 2002 he beat HHH at Summerslam (#15), then won the title in the Elimination Chamber match at Survivor Series (#35) and then HHH won his title back at Armageddon a month later (not good enough to make this list, but close to it). In 2003, while they were still rivals they mostly did other things until the last Raw of the year when they had a classic match that almost saw Michaels leave the world champion. At the Rumble they had a Last Man Standing match that underwhelmed, then they followed that up with two classics with Chris Benoit at WrestleMania (keep reading) and Backlash (#16). On TV a month later, Michaels wrestled Benoit one on one for the title, but ended up losing a close match thanks to HHH interfering and costing Michaels the match. Why did he interfere? Because he didn’t want to see Michaels as the world champion. It was a personal rivalry that had great build. Bischoff turned it into a Hell in a Cell match, which was the perfect gimmick since Michaels wrestled in the first one and HHH wrestled in more HIAC matches than anybody on the roster.
The Match: This is a LONG match, so I might skip over some things since I don't want to play by play the whole thing. They brawl in the ring a bit, then out on the floor where HHH eats some cage. They brawl some more out on the floor leading to HHH getting busted open early on. HHH works on the back after Michaels can't hit a suplex, so he focuses on it with backbreakers, suplexes and a whip into the cage a few times. In ring, backbreaker on the chair, chairshot to the back get a couple of nearfalls. Michaels comes back, they brawl on the floor and HHH reverses a piledriver on the steps (ode to Michaels/Taker) into a backdrop. He beats on Michaels with a chair a bit, then Michaels come back until he misses a superkick and HHH cracks him in the head with the steps, busting him open now. HHH works over the cut a bit, then hits a spinebuster and a sleeper to wear Michaels down. Michaels fights back with a DDT, then some nice chairshots for a two count. Michaels gets knocked to the floor, then finds a ladder and whips HHH hard into it. Another whip, HHH counters and Michaels goes into the ladder, then HHH goes for a table. He sets it up, Michaels chops him down however and HHH lays on the table as Michaels goes up the ladder and hits an elbow drop through the table in a very cool spot. That only gets two, to the shock of many. They struggle up, superkick is blocked with a low blow and Pedigree for only two. That's a rare Pedigree kickout. Up again, Michaels gets the superkick for just two of his own. Another Pedigree for HHH with no pinfall. Then he hits ANOTHER Pedigree, falls on top of Michaels and gets the pinfall to win the match after 47 minutes.
The Analysis: I think the best word to describe this one is methodical. I know a lot of people who love this match as much as me, as well as some people who hated it because it was either too long or too slow for their liking. For me, I liked that they were able to incorporate so much from their past matches into this one. Not just their own matches, but other HIAC matches too. I also liked how they didn’t have to go outside the cell to add to the match. I think that’s where people were disappointed by it. If you think about it, though, the purpose of the cell is to keep you in the ring and the fact that it broke open so many other times should have been an exception rather than the norm. I guess you can blame WWE for conditioning fans to seeing somebody fall of the cage in one of these matches, which is a shame because that wasn't the original goal of this concept in the first place. Since this was a 47 minute match, it's definitely one of the longest single matches in WWE history under single fall rules. I don't know of one that was longer, especially in this era. My gripe with the match was the time of it. I thought 47 minutes was too much. There were a few times in the match where they were selling to the point that it was more than what was necessary and it slowed the match down at times when it could have used more action. During this whole column I've talked about matches being too long and too short. This one was too long by about ten minutes. Shave off that time and it would have been a bit more realistic and better. Still great, no doubt about that. Much better than the Armageddon 2002 match that was overbooked way too much. This was a great capper to one of WWE's best feuds ever.
10. Brock Lesnar vs. Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Title @ No Way Out - 02/15/04
The Story: Guerrero had won a Smackdown only 15 man Royal Rumble type match on the first SD after the Rumble to determine who would face Lesnar for the title here at No Way Out. This was built as the typical favorite versus underdog type match. Even though Guerrero had about fifteen years of more experience than Lesnar, he was the underdog due to his size. Lesnar is considerably larger, so obviously Guerrero had an uphill battle to climb. The other thing to note is that Steve Austin over on Raw bought Bill Goldberg a "ticket" for No Way Out to watch Lesnar, which was a continuation of the Goldberg/Lesnar feud that became hotter at the Royal Rumble. Earlier in the show, Goldberg attacked Lesnar in ring and was arrested for his actions by then GM Paul Heyman. Also of note was that pretty much everybody online knew at the time of this match that Guerrero was winning. For me, it didn't hurt the match, but for some people it might have. Lesnar's leaving wasn't known at this point either. That came about a week or two after this.
The Match: Lesnar overpowered Guerrero from the start, working over Guerrero's ribs and countering a hurricanrana into a stiff powerbomb as well as a couple of overhead belly to belly suplexes. Then Lesnar did a super belly to belly throw that sent Guerrero all the way down to the floor. Guerrero slowed him down by ramming the knee into the post, but Lesnar countered by sending Eddie shoulder first into it. Brock continues with a Fisherman's Buster and a hard German Suplex as well while continuing to work on the ribs. Lesnar went for the high knee he connected on earlier, but Guerrero moved and Brock went over the top to the floor clutching the knee. Guerrero puts him into the STF while the crowd thought that was it, but Lesnar fought out. Guerrero continued to work on the knee, slapping on the figure four for about a minute until Lesnar made it to the ropes. He followed that up with a Texas Cloverleaf, another STF and that was it because Lesnar busted out another German Suplex as well as a spinebuster for two. Guerrero misses a missile dropkick, so Lesnar busts out the one legged suplex because he's awesome at selling the leg, then he works on the ribs some more. He grabs him in a reverse bearhug, Eddie counters with headbutts and finally gets a headscissors. Guerrero hits his patented Three Amigo suplexes, then a frog splash attempt missed because Lesnar moved out of the way. Lesnar hit the F5 right into the referee, knocking both Guerrero and ref Brian Hebner out. Lesnar grabs the belt, Goldberg comes in, hits Brock with a spear and leaves. Crowd chants for Eddie, he crawls on top for the cover that only gets two. Thought that was it. The ref was still groggy, so they fought over the belt, F5 attempt by Lesnar countered into a DDT by Guerrero on the belt. Then he chucks the belt out, climbs the top and hits the perfect frog splash for the pinfall victory after 30 minutes.
The Analysis: Wow, I really loved this match. I remember when Eddie won, in my write-up I was so genuinely excited for Guerrero. Watching it again, I'm still excited about this match. I liked the psychology of the match with Guerrero working on the knee as a way to slow Lesnar down while Brock targeted Eddie's shoulder area because it was an easy part of the body for him to work on. The pacing of the match was perfect too. It was slow at the right times and fast at the right times too. The best thing was it wasn't too long. Sometimes a match will go thirty and you'll groan because it would have been better at twenty. This one was the right amount of time because of all the work both guys did in trying to slow the other one down. The only things that kept it from being higher rated is the ref bump and the interference. Other than that, this was outstanding wrestling. My favorite story in any wrestling match is always the big man vs. little man dynamic. I loved it in past matches like Michaels vs. Undertaker in the first Hell in a Cell match, Flair vs. Vader at WCW's Starrcade '93 and Michaels vs. Diesel back in April of '96. I think big man vs. little man prevents the easiest storyline for a wrestling booker to tell. All you have to do is look at the size of the guys and you have your story right there. It's that easy. Anything you can put on top of that is just gravy, which is what this match had due to Guerrero never being at the top of the mountain before while Lesnar played the bully role so well. It's a shame Lesnar walked out because this was their first match on PPV and I think it's safe to assume that if they had more they would be just as good as this one.
9. Edge & Christian vs. The Dudley Boys vs. The Hardy Boys for the Tag Team Titles @ WrestleMania X7 – 04/01/01
The Story: This was the third triple threat match in the series between these three tag teams. You read about the first one from WrestleMania 16 (#25) and the second one from Summerslam 2000 (#19). This one was, in my opinion, the best of the three. There wasn’t as much of a storyline for this one as there was in the other two. The first match came as a result of the Hardys and E&C wrestling a ladder match while the Dudleys and Hardys wrestled in a tables match. They put those two together and came up with the table and ladder format. The second one was the result of E&C beginning to use chairs as weapons, leaving each team with their own weapons of choice. This one had less of a story. It came together basically because of how good the previous two were and management knew that if they put this match out there they’d be guaranteed of a great match. There was on difference, however. Each team had a sidekick at the time. The Hardys were managed by Lita, Rhyno had become an ally of E&C while the Dudleys had their “brother” Spike at their side. The impact of those three would provide a different feel to this match, the final one in this series of the three greatest tag teams of this era.
The Match: Oh boy, this is hard to write as always. I'll do my best. Dudleys take control early, then the Hardys get a turn until E&C come in with the ladders to knock everybody out. Double nut stomp on Matt (seeing Edge do that to Matt now after the Lita thing is really mean, eh?), but Matt gets back up and speared down by Edge. Edge goes up, Jeff dropkicks him down and the Dudleys get taken out too. After some more fun, Dudleys get the tables, then with Edge set up on the table, Bubba powerbombs Jeff through him. Ouch for both guys. The Dudleys then go to the floor and stack up four tables on the floor, two on the ground and two on top. All six guys get in the ring now, they all climb at the same time and they all get knocked down with my boy Christian taking the worst of the falls by going straight to the floor. He's the only one that went all the way down to the floor. Edge is the first one to climb, but Spike Dudley runs in, knocks him down and hits Christian with a Dudley Dog outside of the ring through a table on the floor in such a cool bump. Now it's Ryhno's turn to run-in, so he nails the Dudleys and Hardys with gores, allowing Edge to climb once again. Lita stops Edge, he hits on her (actually no, but it would be funny in retrospect), and she gives Rhyno a headscissors that sends him into the ladder, knocking Edge off. Lita rips off her shirt like the slut that she is (hey, she is, what can I say?) and eats a 3D from the Dudleys. Maybe eats is a bad word to use for Lita. Oh well, too lazy to edit. Edge decks Bubba with a chair as Jeff Hardy pulls out that 16 foot ladder (or however tall it is) on the floor. We see Spike and Rhyno on the tables, so Jeff comes off of there with the Swanton through both tables. Actually it was just Spike's since Rhyno's didn't break, but damn, that's gotta hurt. Christian and D'Von climb up, then they hang onto the belts and fall down. Meanwhile, Jeff is back up to walk across the ladders, but he stumbles on the last one, climbs up and hangs off the belts, unable to pull them down. Then in the spot of the match, Bubba pulls the ladder out from under Jeff, he swings forward and Edge spears him off a high ladder all the way to the floor. Ouch, man, just plain ouch. Matt and Bubba fight up on top of the big ladder, but Rhyno comes back from the dead to shove the ladder and that sends Matt and Bubba into those stacked tables all the way in the aisle. Wow. That's the sickest bump of the match. Now it's a race between E&C and D'Von, but Rhyno assists Christian by putting him on his shoulders and E&C win the match after 16 minutes.
The Analysis: You want words to describe that? How about sick, painful, disgusting, amazing, athletic, insane and awesome all at the same time? There's more I could use, like holy shit. This was unreal. I don't care that the concept was done before. It's not easy to partake in one of these matches and anybody that thinks this concept is old or boring is being naïve. Yeah, this was the third one in the series so there was nothing they could do that was unseen before, but they found ways to make it different. The addition of Rhyno, Spike and Lita added something good to the match that wasn't there before. The spots in this match were once again awesome as all six guys, plus their three friends, busted their asses to put on a great show. As usual, Jeff Hardy took the most insane bumps with the Swanton onto two people as well as the biggest bump of the night which was the spear he took from Edge while hanging onto the belts. It was one of the sickest bumps I have ever seen and quite frankly I'm surprised he could walk after that one. I'm always shocked by these guys walking away without major injuries, although Edge has had neck surgery now. My favorite in the match, Christian, took some crazy bumps as well. While all six guys were climbing to get the belts Christian fell all the way to floor when he was pushed. Two minutes later when Spike Dudley came down Christian took the Dudley Dog from inside the ring to the floor through a table. Then of course there was the bump by Matt Hardy & Bubba Ray Dudley off the giant ladder through the stacked tables on the floor. That was just sick.
The other thing that sticks out is the chemistry these teams had by the time of this match. They had everything planned out so meticulously and perfectly. It worked in every way possible. I liked the ending of this one better than the other two, which makes it the best of the three. I liked it because it was heels acting like heels, cheating to win a match on the biggest stage of them all. I like that a lot. Also of note is the time of the match. I talk so much about match times and if you look at his one compared to the Summerslam TLC match you'll note that it was three minutes shorter. I like that because it's unrealistic to expect guys to kill themselves like this for over twenty minutes. Sixteen minutes is the right amount of time. I'd give it five stars, but I can't in good conscience due to the interference and the ending, even if I liked both of those things.
8. The Rock vs. Triple H for the World Title in an Ironman Match @ Judgment Day - 05/21/00
The Story: This was the 60-Minute Ironman match for Rock's World Title, which he won from HHH the month before at Backlash (match #36 on this list). This was during that time when Steve Austin was out with neck injury, so Rock was the top face and HHH was the top heel. Triple H at this point was aligned with all of the McMahons as well as with DX, who at the time was Road Dogg and X-Pac. They were called the McMahon-Helmsley Regime, or as Edge & Christian once called them: "The Fac-gime," a play on the words faction and regime. They brought back Shawn Michaels to be the referee for this match. Rock pointed out that last time they were in a ring with HBK as ref he cost Rock the match. That on the first weekly Smackdown in August 1999. This feud was built up really well.
The Match: With this being a sixty minute match, I'll try to condense this part. First ten minutes were pretty slow. Rock hit a Rock Bottom eleven minutes in to go up 1-0. They brawled on the floor with Rock suplexing him back into the ring, then working on HHH's left knee and sinking in a figure four leglock for a while. Rock whipped him into the steps knee first to work on that injury. Another figure four is countered, HHH hit the Pedigree and got the second fall to tie it 1-1 after 25 minutes. HHH got him in a cradle a minute later for another fall to go up 2-1. The story there was Rock was dazed from the Pedigree. The next few minutes saw some fighting up the aisle as they passed the 30 minute mark. HHH got another fall after a facebuster and a piledriver at the 32 minute mark, taking a 3-1 lead. Rock got a La Majistral cradle for two. Rock busting that out? Awesome. HHH goes for a sleeper to wear him down a bit. Rock came back with a side belly to belly for two. Rock went for his spinning DDT, slipped, but then recovered for a regular DDT to get the fall to make it 3-2 for HHH after 40 minutes. On the floor, HBK took a chair away from HHH, Rock whipped him shoulder first into the steps, then a neckbreaker on the floor. Back in, HHH desperately cracked Rock in the head with a chair, drawing blood and a DQ to allow Rock to tie it at 3-3 after 44 minutes. A minute later, he pins Rock with his feet on the rope to make it 4-3 for HHH. With Rock woozy, a sleeper makes it 5-3 for HHH at the 48 minute mark. HHH and HBK shove, allowing Rock to get back eventually with a superplex for two. Clothesline sends HHH out, then a sling shot into a pole and HHH whips him into the steps. At the announce table, HHH goes for Rock Bottom that Rock turns into a Pedigree. Table doesn't break. Rock goes back in, HBK counts HHH out to ten for Rock to get a fall and make it 5-4 for HHH with under five minutes left. McMahon's come out, Rock hits a DDT, punches Shane and Vince, then hits a Spinebuster and People's Elbow to tie it at 5. Road Dogg and X-Pac out, Rock whipped into Michaels, knocking him out to the floor. Undertaker's new music starts up, he comes out on the bike and beats up all the McMahon's. Before he got there, HHH Pedigreed Rock on a chair. Undertaker chokeslam on HHH with a few seconds left, Michaels sees it. Undertaker Tombstone after the clock, Michaels now rings the bell for the DQ. Looks like they missed that cue by about 15 seconds. Ah well, it's forgivable. Rock gets DQ'd due to Undertaker, so HHH wins the match 6-5 after 60 minutes.
The Analysis: I think the best compliment I've heard or seen about this match is that it was so good that you didn't realize it was 60 minutes long. It was one of those matches that was smartly paced from start to finish. It wasn't perfect, but it was so good for so long that it deserves all the praise you can heap on it. One of the faults obviously was the ending because they screwed up when Undertaker was going to hit that Tombstone on HHH. I'm guessing they wanted it about 15 seconds earlier. As it was, the buzzer went off, Michaels made no signal and we were left to wonder what happened. Once Undertaker hit that Tombstone, Michaels signaled for the DQ, which should be invalid because it was after the bell. Oh well. I'll forgive them, but I won't give them five stars either.
I loved the work of both guys in the match. Rock was busting out stuff like a side belly to belly, the figure four and La Majistral out of nowhere. It was great to see. He should have used those in future matches. What impressed me most about Rock here was the way he was able to sell those beatings in his face. That's why he's such a good actor. After taking that Pedigree, he had that glazed look in his face for several minutes. Later on, he was using the same look. As for HHH, he was really on too. He sold that knee great early on, and while I wish he continued to sell it the whole match I understand why he didn't since Rock didn't go after the knee past the first twenty minutes. This was around that time period where you could stick these two in there for 15 minutes and you'd get ***1/2 easy. Thing was, we didn't know how well they'd do over 60 minutes since they are both legit 250+ pound guys. It's not easy going that long. This match lived up to all the hype and delivered in spades. Outstanding Ironman match, and arguably the best in WWE history. For me, it's this or Angle/Lesnar. Hart/Michaels was a notch below because it was just too slow early on and Benoit/HHH is about the same due to the interference at the end of it.
7. Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle for the World Title @ Summerslam - 08/21/01
The Story: This was a World Title match. They were allies for a couple of months during the WWE vs. WCW/ECW Invasion angle. Just before the Invasion PPV in July, Austin came back as a babyface for just one week giving hope to WWE fans along with Vince McMahon. During the big ten man tag match at the Invasion PPV (a match that almost made this list), Austin ended up turning on WWE by attacking Angle, which allowed Booker T. to get a pin for team WCW. He justified his turn by blaming his former ally Vince McMahon saying that he was grooming Angle to be the next champion and Austin didn't like that. From that, you had Angle playing the screwed over babyface and Austin playing the aggressive, over the top heel who would do whatever it took to retain his title belt promising to make Angle "bleed for the Alliance." This was built up as a physical encounter and boy did it deliver.
The Match: Before the bell rang, they brawled in the aisle after an awesome staredown. Early on, Angle hit seven German suplexes in a row. In the first ten minutes, after Austin hit Angle with vertical suplexes and a superplex, he hit the Stunner. That got a two, which was frustrating to Austin. He hit another Stunner, but this time Angle went bouncing out to the floor. Outside the ring, Austin whipped Angle headfirst into the ring post six times. Each time, Angle took the bumps beautifully, barely blocking the blows and making it look very realistic. Angle was busted open at this point, probably the best blood I've seen from Angle in a match. Austin throws him back in, but he can't pin him, so they go out on the floor some more. One of my favorite spots was Angle putting the Ankle Lock on the floor, then dragging Austin into the ring by his ankle to apply the hold in the ring until Austin gets to the ropes. More memorable spots: Angle's belly to belly on the floor, Angle hitting a beautiful moonsault, Austin grabbing the Million Dollar Dream in a flashback to the old days. Angle countered it by pushing off the ropes with his feet, pinning Austin in the process. Just like Bret Hart did to beat Austin at Survivor Series '96. Austin hits a Stunner, Angle kicks out at two again. Angle Slam follows, but Austin kicks out at two. Ankle Lock time again, but Austin gets to the ropes. He gets up, then decks referee Earl Hebner. DDT gets two for Angle thanks to ref Tim White, who eats a belt shot from Austin. Now WCW ref Nick Patrick, the heel ref during this angle, goes to count a pinfall for Angle, but instead he rings the bell. He announces Angle wins via disqualification. Post match, Angle put Patrick in the Ankle Lock while Austin stammered away still the champion after 21 minutes of wrestling awesomeness.
The Analysis: Where do I begin? I guess the start is a good place. This match was hot from the very beginning when they did that awesome staredown in the aisle. It never slowed down after that. Austin started out the aggressor, beating the hell out of Angle in the ring and with those sick head first bumps into the ringpost. It happened six times, every one of them making you cringe. Then when Angle was on the offensive he just did it with physical wrestling, the way he knows how. From his German suplexes to the overhead belly to belly on the floor, he busted out everything. He even hit a moonsault! He never hits those. I liked the kicking out of finishers because when Angle did it early it made sense since Austin didn't beat him down that much before. When he got him with it later, it was just a way to show Angle's toughness. Plus, they had Austin kicking out of the Angle Slam, so it was even in that part.
When I initially saw this match I disliked the finish. However, once I thought about it some more it made sense. They didn't have a whole lot of choices for babyface opponents for Austin at this point since HHH was hurt, Benoit was hurt, Rock was off filming movies (although he made his PPV return at this show after four months off), Jericho was turning heel and that left Angle as the only viable choice. They had to do it one more time. The finish led to a rematch a month later at Unforgiven, which Angle won in a match that I rated at ***1/2, which made it fall just short of making this top fifty list. Austin then won the belt back again on Raw a couple of weeks later. Back to the point, the finish worked. Austin couldn't put Angle away, so he intentionally got himself disqualified in order to retain his title. It was desperate, it was cheap and it was perfect for the top heel of the company at the time.
This match worked on so many levels because both guys were on their games as well as I could ever remember. I can't think of a match where Angle wrestled better as a babyface. Austin was at his heel best here. People who think his heel run didn't work because the crowd was reluctant to boo him need to watch this match. He got massive heat, and Angle had them jumping for everything he did too. I can't give it five stars, but I can call it the best match not to get five stars in this list. I loved this match so much that if somebody wanted to argue about this one being five stars or that it should have been higher up on the list I'd have a hard time disagreeing with that.
6. Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit vs. Edge & Rey Mysterio for the vacant WWE Tag Titles @ No Mercy - 10/20/02
The Story: Ah, the Smackdown Six, how I miss thee. After the brand extension (or roster split) in the spring of 2002, there were no tag team titles on Raw as the only ones were kept on Raw. Then GM Stephanie “Hootie McBoob” McMahon decided to bring tag team titles to Smackdown and a mini-tournament was made to see who would be crowned the tag champions at No Mercy. At the time, the four men involved in this match were having matches with eachother on a regular basis, so they decided to form up to make teams to give some credibility to the new tag team titles. With Undertaker and Lesnar busy in the main event, these four (along with Eddie & Chavo Guerrero) became the teams that the new tag division was built around. Angle and Benoit were heels, playing the role of reluctant tag team partners who didn’t care for one another, but they both wanted to be around the gold, so they put the differences aside in order to be a team. Edge and Mysterio, meanwhile, were the typical babyface team that were friends going together to win these new titles. Mysterio was still new in WWE at this point, Benoit had come back from his neck surgery a few months before while Angle & Edge had a rivalry earlier in the year that Edge eventually won, shaving Angle’s head in the process. While the storyline wasn't great, the face/heel lines were clearly drawn and it was just a matter of going out and having the best match they could. You know what else ruled about this going in? I had no idea who was going to win the match. That's always a plus. It was a complete tossup.
The Match: Mysterio and Angle start with Angle overpowering him early until Rey comes back with a head scissors, then a slap in the head and a tag to Edge. They lock up, Edge gets an armdrag and a dropkick as Angle tags Benoit in because he just got owned twice. Edge and Benoit do a mat exchange, then Edge gets a gutbuster and a backbreaker until Benoit comes back with the chops, but Edge comes back with a flapjack followed by a rollup for two. Angle tries to distract Edge and it doesn't work the first time, but he does it again and now Benoit hits Edge with a clothesline to slow things down. They work over Edge, hitting some suplexes with Benoit nailing the rolling Germans. He goes up top, but Edge superplexes him and tags out. Rey hits a dropkick on both guys, legdrops Benoit for two as Edge and Angle go out on the floor. Mysterio goes for his spinning bulldog counter move, but Benoit shoves him off and slaps on the Crossface. Edge saves Rey, then Angle takes him out and Benoit counters a 619 by catching Rey although that doesn't work because Edge hits a missile dropkick on them for two. Great move. Rey to the top, and Angle comes out of nowhere for the top rope superplex that we all know and love. Angle hits a belly to belly, then tags in Benoit who gives Rey a huge back body drop because Mysterio is awesome. Back suplex gets two, then he charges, eats a boot, Rey springs off the ropes and puts him in a headscissors, whipping him into the turnbuckle, then he tags in Edge. He gets a back body drop on Edge, a face slam on Benoit and then the Edge-o-Matic move that no announcer ever seems to call right. Benoit takes a spear from Edge, then a Bronco Buster from Rey and I'm glad Rey doesn't do that move anymore. He's too good for that. Edge sets Angle up on the top rope, then with Rey charging him he launches him onto Angle on the top and Rey comes off with a hurricanrana off the top perfectly done. Wow. That only got two for Edge. Benoit's headbutt misses Edge, but it hits Angle as Benoit is thrown out and Edge covers again for two. Angle comes back with a German suplex, then in another awesome spot Edge tosses Rey belly to belly suplex style into Angle so that Rey smacks Angle's face. Wow again! With Edge waiting on Angle, Benoit gets the Crossface on Edge and Rey breaks that up with a 619 while Benoit has Edge in the Crossface. Fantastic way to break up a move. Angle comes out of nowhere to hit an Angle Slam on Rey, then the Ankle Lock on Edge, but that's countered into a cradle for two. The crowd thought that was it. Edge gets a spear for just two because Benoit's there to break that up. Rey takes Benoit out with a baseball slide and then in another amazing move, Edge picks up Rey in a powerbomb-like maneuver and Rey leaps off his shoulders moonsault style onto Benoit on the floor. Amazing. Never seen that before or since. When Edge turns around, Angle's there to put him in the ankle lock and Edge tries to fight out of it, but Angle ends up forcing the tap out for the victory for his team after 22 minutes.
The Analysis: I’ve seen it four or five times now and watching it for this column was the first time I’d seen it in about two years. I still love it as much as I did the first time. This was during the time when Paul Heyman was booking Smackdown, there were twenty plus minute matches on TV on a regular basis and in cases like this they carried over to PPV once in a while too. The crowd was loving this match from start to finish because they followed the traditional tag team formula. The tag team formula is of course the heel team beating on a single member of the babyface team for a period of time, the face making the hot tag and a finish coming off of that. What was great about this match was that there were TWO hot tag sequences. First Edge got his ass kicked by the bad guys, then Rey made the save and the Angle/Benoit duo were able to isolate him too. It's rare that you see that in WWE these days. After the first one, I thought the finish was coming, but then they got some more time and it dragged on in every good way possible.
I remember the spots in this match the same way I do in the TLC match. The reason these are more effective to me was because they were so innovative. I've seen partners throw eachother into opponents before, but nothing like this. To see Edge first launch Mysterio into Angle on the top and then for Mysterio to come off with a hurricanrana was mind blowingly good. Then it was topped with a belly to belly that sent Rey into Angle. After that, it was topped even more when Rey came off of Edge's shoulders with a moonsault on Benoit all the way to the floor. What can you say? Mysterio is an athlete unlike any other in the wrestling business. He does stuff that nobody else can do and in this match he was wrestling against the two guys who are arguably the best at making their opponents look great.
Simply put, this is my favorite traditional tag match by any promotion anywhere from any year or any time. I love this match so much. There's not a thing in it I would change. The finish was right, the amount of time the match got was right and there were no major spots blown or contrived. It was magic. If this was at a show like WrestleMania then this would be remembered as one of the best matches ever. Since it took place at the show where the Katie Vick feud was resolved, it's not remembered as fondly by the average fan. It's a shame because this match is a classic.
That's it for part three. Five more matches to go, all of which I have rated at five stars. If you've followed WWE closely you can probably figure out what those are. It's
The fourth and FINAL part will be posted Thursday night after Smackdown, so at some point in that 10-11pmET hour, I hope. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org so please direct any and all comments or questions to that address. Ask me about anything or send along any comment you have. It is all appreciated.