The Wrestling Backfire: Top 20 WWE Matches Of All Time (20-10) (John Cena, CM Punk, Brock Lesnar)
by Kyle Riot on August 15, 2013

By the way, I made a quick change. I decided I’m just going to go with top 20, knocking Davey Boy Smith vs. Bret Hart @ Summerslam 1992 off the list. I’m still keeping number 10 on Part Two, though. Needless to say, but this was supposed to be an all-time top 20 list, but there were too many independent and overseas matches that would’ve come into play. And you know, once Japanese matches are involved, they’d become like 90-percent of the list. I might do a TNA list and possibly a ROH or WCW list. We’ll see.

 Top 20 WWE Matches Of All Time (20-10):

20. Raw 1997: Davey Boy Smith vs. Owen Hart —

Hart and Smith displayed some great athleticism that most WWF fans were not accustomed to at the time. This had tons of back-and-forth action and great pacing and timing. More importantly, there was reasoning behind each individual spot. They were not doing them just for the sake of doing them, like you might see in a typical independent match. If this match had longevity or more importance, it would be ranked higher.

19. Survivor Series 1996, Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin —

This was a very different match than their famous “I Quit” bout, but it was awesome nonetheless. This scientifically sound match built to the finish and transitioned at each turn. It should be noted that Steve Austin called most of this match as it proved that Hart knew he good was. Pre-neck injury Austin could mechanically wrestle with some of the best of them.

18. Summerslam 1994, WWF Championship: Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart —

This is the best cage match that had the escaping rule in effect. The teases and false finishes were both well done and greatly timed. There were so many times where the match looked like it was going to end before it finally did. These two just had great chemistry, and it was on full display here.

17. Wrestlemania 7, Career Match: Ultimate Warrior vs. Macho Man Randy Savage —

Savage carried Warrior to not only his greatest match ever, but also one of the best matches ever. Savage played to Warrior’s strengths, doing an excellent job of dictating the pace and setting up Warrior’s hope spots and comebacks. I used to believe matches that were called on the fly came off more natural, but Savage proved that a match could be mapped out in advance and come off equally organic and genuine. It really is a credit to Savage’s imagination that he could see everything playing out almost exactly when he was designing this match. The match also had one of the most historic and emotional moments in wrestling history when Savage and Elizabeth reunited. The entire post-match sequence was so well booked, and Savage teased and sold it beautifully. It also completely made up for a rather lackluster finish to the contest.

 16. Mind Games 1996, WWF Championship: Shawn Michaels vs. Mick Foley —

This match proved that Mick Foley was more than just a glorified stuntman. He went move-for-move, hold-for-hold and toe-for-toe with HBK for half an hour. Some wrestlers have a difficult time selling consistently because they lack the ability to tell a compelling story surrounding the injury. Foley sold TWO body parts at the same time and weaved a great narrative in which he had to adapt to those injuries. Both wrestlers played their roles and strengths, and the only thing that marred this match was the botched finish. Otherwise, it is virtually perfect.

15. Canadian Stampede 1997, Bret Hart, Owen Hart, the British Bulldog, Brian Pillman & Jim Neidhart vs. Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust & the Legion of Doom —

This is one of the greatest booked multi-man matches ever. It had NUCLEAR heat and atmosphere, and it was incredibly well structured for a match that had that many wrestlers in it. The combination of intensity and psychology made this a prodigious match, but the pure emotion radiating from the crowd elevated it to an unprecedented classic.

14. Summerslam 2000, TLC I: Edge & Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz —

All the workers in this busted their tails to get this match over, and they got each other even more over in the process. These three teams refurbished WWE’s tag division and, in the process, transformed a once lacking tag division into one of the best in wrestling history. They essentially raised the bar every time they wrestled, too. This had bell-to-bell action with zero down time. It was innovative, told a great story, had very few contrived spots and countless “Holy Sh*t” moments. Most importantly, as the bodies piled up, the intensity continued to rise, all the way to the crescendo.

13. No Way Out 2002, Chris Benoit & Kurt Angle vs. Edge & Rey —

Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle were arguably the greatest “strange bedfellows” tag team ever, and the only reason they coexisted was that they would be suspended if they did not. They put their differences aside here and delivered one of the greatest tag matches in WWE history. They all wrestled each other differently, which brought an incredible level of psychology into the match. And quite awesomely, the wrestlers were three steps ahead of everyone watching. In other words, just when you assumed that they were going in one direction, they would go into a totally different direction. They built their reversals and counters based on their clichéd spots, and they made this into a bout that had so many twists and turns. Just a creative, action-packed match.

12. Raw 2001, Stone Cold Steve Austin & Triple H vs. Chris Jericho & Chris Benoit —

This is best non-gimmick tag match in WWE, and it is incredibly underrated. There is no doubt about it: This should have been on PPV. If it had been, it might receive more of the recognition it rightfully deserves. The four used every trick conceivable to keep the babyface in peril on an island away from his partner and prevent him from making a “hot tag.” They did so much to build up the tag that the crowd absolutely exploded when Jericho finally tagged in Benoit. The work rate was incredible, and the wrestlers were able to read the crowd’s reaction, identify the boiling point, and then make the tag as the crowd was at its fieriest. This was also exceptionally hectic, with the action spilling out all over the announce table.

11. Wrestlemania 26, Streak vs. Career: Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels —

This was one of the most emotional rollercoaster rides since HBK’s match against Ric Flair, but work rate was much better in this. The Streak seems essentially indestructible, but both wrestlers did an excellent job in building the idea that HBK had a chance of winning. This was accomplished through impeccably selling not only moves but the entire match as a whole. It took us on an eventful journey that we simply did not want to end, especially because we did not want either man to lose. Deliberately, however, Shawn Michael’s entire career was flashing before us (which enforced the fans rally behind him). Most of us did not think he was going to win, but we just did not want to believe he was going to lose. This also had all the other the usual elements a terrific match has: psychology, storytelling, timing, in-ring characterizations, etc. Even in his last match, Shawn was able to steal the show. How many wrestlers can say that?

 10.  Money in the Bank 2011, WWE Championship: CM Punk vs. John Cena -

This had a big match feel to it that I have not experienced in WWE since possibly The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 17. There was so much to win, and neither man could afford losing. The atmosphere made it feel as if the Chicago Cubs were facing the Boston Red Sox in the World Series. This had genuine, not fabricated, drama, intensity, and heat. And, most of all, Punk and Cena just didn’t do things for the sake of doing them. Everything made sense and fit the context of the story they were telling. Nothing happened that was impractical like, oh let’s just say Cena hitting a DDT, flipping Punk over, and then putting in the STF. No, instead, a spot in the match went like this: Punk went a cross body, but Cena caught him and rolled through. Cena went for a FU, but CM Punk wiggled out. He set him up for the GTS, but Cena caught Punk’s knee and locked in the STF. Sequences like that allowed everything to feel natural and flown like a river.

This also had impeccable pacing and timing, and they magnificently built the match to its crescendo. The finish also enhanced the drama. Then, ultimately, Cena’s concern for his  “goodie two shoe” image wound up being a character imperfection that caused him to fail. Sometimes, you know, nice people finish last. There were some sloppy spots, but it made me realize that it sold them being both fatigued and desperate better. There were also great things in this, such as Cena’s body language showing his nervousness as a result of the atmosphere in the beginning and then his intense determination toward the end; Punk changing his wrestling style to fit his new character, and the perfect blend of 80s storytelling and psychology but with today’s state-of-the-art moves and characterizations

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Kyle Fitta

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  • Tim West

    Wasn’t the tag team on RAW where Trips had that brutal injury on his quads I believe? As for Cena v. Punk. In the weeks building to it, there was so much speculation on what would happen, if ROH guys were going to run in, etc etc. It was a feeling, a sensation I hadn’t felt in a long time. Even during the match, Lawler, who butchered this match on commentary said there was a charge in the air, one he had not felt. For once, I had actually agreed with him.

  • Kyle Fitta

    Yes it was. It was supposed to set up a feud between Triple and Stone Cold. They were going to finally turn Triple, which was what the fans wanted, but he suffered that quad injury, and he has never been close to the same in the ring.

  • Michael L

    It’s been a while, but if memory serves, the 2/3 falls math between Benoit/Angle and Edge/Mysterio was better than their PPV match, which I felt to be somewhat disappointing given the reviews (I caught it on DVD a few months later). Granted, the PPV (which I believe was No Mercy) match was still quite solid, but not the all-time classic that belongs on this list.

    And Kudos for including the Summerslam TLC match, as it was the best between the three teams. I can only hope that you don’t include the vastly overrated TLC 2 (or in reality TLC 3, since their WM2000 triangle match was essentially a TLC match in all but name).

  • flamingwombat

    I think that Benoit/Angle vs. Edge/Rey match on Kyle’s match is a forgotten classic. Really, really good tag team match.

    On what event is the TLC match that you consider “vastly overrated”? It would be interesting if you mean the WM 17 one, because that match is in the top 3 of my personal list. I think all the TLCs were great, but the WM 17 one is one of my favorite matches.

    Good list so far, Kyle. A good combination of the indisputable classics that would be on all our lists, mixed in with a couple of sometimes overlooked super matches like the tag match and the Bret-Austin from SS.

  • Michael L

    I’m talking about the WM17 match. It was a very good match, but it was not the all-time classic that either the WM2000 triangle match or the Summerslam match. Most of the spots they did at TLC 2 were done before in some variation, and the one major spot that was unique was Jeff Hardy walking the tops of the ladders–and he almost blew that one at the end (although granted that was an extremely difficult one to pull off successfully).

  • Zork

    This is a pretty damn good list, a few things.

    – Your first pick being Owen and Bulldog, do you mind dating that? Cause I know they had a few matches that year but I’m not really sure which one is the one you’re talking about. Was it the one in Europe featured on the Hart Family DVD that was put out a few years back? If not, that one was probably one of the best matches I’ve ever seen from either man and was easily Bulldog’s best match.

    – Maybe it’s just me, but I had an easier time believing Shawn could beat Undertaker in their match at Wrestlemania 25. Maybe I need to revisit their 26 match again? Admittedly I’ve not seen the PPV since it aired.

    – The Mankind vs Shawn Michaels match at In Your House: Mind Games is actually one of my personal favorites. It was a very interesting match and it does really showcase Mick’s in-ring storytelling abilities.

  • Kyle Fitta

    3/1/97 European Finals.

  • Kyle Fitta

    Unfortunately, TLC @ WM 17 didn’t make the list. Great match with inventive and crazy spots. Just missed the list by a hair, along with many other matches.

  • Dude

    Didn’t read the list at all, as “WWE” has only been around since 2002. Title should read “WWF/WWE”.

  • flamingwombat

    And didn’t they follow that match with another RAW match in Canada between Benoit and Austin that was also pretty awesome, if I remmeber correctly. Turning Austin was a bad idea, but it’s easy to forget that he actually got himself over as a heel and a lot of good happened during that heel run.

  • flamingwombat

    The spot when Edge speared Hardy while he was dangling from the belt is one of greatest mark out wrestling moments. Plus I like how that match featured a third for each team (Lita, Spike, Rhino) who also added to the match. I agree that they were all great matches, but this one is my fave. To each his own! (I’m going to have to go back and re-watch the Summerslam one now :)

  • flamingwombat

    You knew there were some WWF matches on the list without reading it “at all”?! You mentalist you!

  • Kyle Fitta

    I agree Austin was awesome in 2001, and he had several great TV matches with Benoit.

  • Kyle Fitta

    Well, I wouldn’t read your list if you made one either because you didn’t include WWWF.

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