The Wrestling Backfire: WWE’s Top 20 Matches, Part 3 (9-1)
by Kyle Riot on August 21, 2013

Well, this is it: the last part (you can read Part 1 here & Part 2 here). I am sure this part is going to some piss people off because I left out several matches that many people believe are classics. The WrestleMania 20 triple threat match is one that comes many people’s mind as a top-tier match. For me, however, something about it just does not shout “epic.” It came off as a by-the-book WWE-style triple threat, in which one wrestler is out of the ring for an extensive period of time. It is akin to watching a bunch of singles matches. Another match that comes to mind is Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels. I really liked this, but it didn’t make the list because of Angle’s no-selling and the amount of many finishers they kicked out of. It became overkill. Lastly, the Angle vs. Chris Benoit missed the cut as well. It is an outstanding match, but I just do not think it is an all-time classic.

At any rate, here we go…

9. Royal Rumble 1992: Royal Rumble —

Pat Patterson was a mastermind at booking two things: finishes and Rumbles, and this match was a definitive illustration of that. Flair was booked to steal the show, and he did just that and then some. Every Tom, Dick and Harry tried to eliminate him, but he was able to overcome the odds. And, unlike Rumble matches nowadays, this had boatloads of star power, and it very much uncertain who was going to win. There were particular mini-stories that went on during the Rumble, which made things more captivating. It also helped the Rumble avoid some of the tiresome “let’s just do stuff until the bigger stars enter” routine that often plagues the match. This had prodigious elimination teases, too, particularly with the bigger stars. There were many occurrences when I believed someone was going to eliminate Flair, but he ended up finding a way to stay in the ring. The greatest booked and performed Rumble ever.

8. Royal Rumble 2000, Street Fight for the WWF Title: Cactus Jack vs. Triple H —

This was one of the best WWE feuds ever. Foley was frustrated of being constantly beat up by Triple H, so he brought back the most evil, sadistic and remorseless persona he had back: Cactus Jack. This was one of the greatest structured hardcore brawls ever. They did not do high spots to receive a cheap pop from the crowd. Every spot they did fit squarely in the context of the story they were trying to tell. Everything that they did had purpose. This was also a star-making performance from Triple H, as the fans started to take him more seriously after this. And even though he played a douchebag character, Triple H’s toughness shone, and the fans respected him for it. Mick Foley ended up making Triple H a star, and Hunter ended up making Foley more sympathetic. Talk about elevating each other to a higher level.

7. WrestleMania X-Seven, WWF Championship: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. The Rock —

When I evaluate a wrestling match, I take everything into consideration, including the way the booking team built up to the match. With that in mind, the Rock and Austin’s angle was one of the most dynamic stories ever told in professional wrestling. Granted, Austin’s heel turn did not work out in the long run, but what happened in the aftermath doesn’t change a thing about how outstanding the rising action leading up to their encounter was. After being hit by a car, Stone Cold was just not the same ass-kicker that he had been before the accident. This was clearly communicated when failed to put Triple H away once and for all in a loss at No Way Out.

Austin’s heel turn came as a total shock to many, but in retrospect, the WWF writing staff brilliantly left a trail of breadcrumbs for anybody who had paid close attention. In a sound byte that was replayed over and over in promos leading up to the match, Austin told the champ “I need to beat you, Rock. I need it more than anything.” What seemed like traditional fare for a pre-match build took on new meaning after the match. Austin knew he lacked the killer instinct he once had, but he desperately wanted to become champion, so he sold his soul to the devil himself… Mr. McMahon. The match itself was amazingly energetic, and it had 60,000 fans in attendance all screaming at the top of their lungs as the two biggest megastars of the 90s slugged it out and pulled out all the stops to be crowned champion. This match had as much of a “big fight” atmosphere as you’ll find anywhere. After adding up all the intangibles, this match deserves to be ranked as one of the all-time greats.

6. No Way Out 2001, Three Stages of Hell: Triple H vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin —

This phenomenal, old school fight mirrored the intensity of Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A.’s “I Quit” cage match from Starrcade ’86. Simply put, it was just two guys that hated one another trying to kill each other, and that was all it had to be. This match had everything a brawl needs: It was brutally violent, cleverly booked and diligently worked, with both wrestlers playing their respective roles to a tee. The finish played marked a pivotal moment that contributed to Austin’s heel turn, too, as noted above. Additionally, the stipulations were creative, unique, and made the bout feel more like all-out warfare than a sanctioned match.

5. WrestleMania X, Ladder Match for the IC Title: Shawn Michaels vs. Razor Ramon —

I did not think I could love this match any more than I already did. That was before Kevin Nash talked about how many things upper management told them they could not do. Michaels envisioned, layered and structured the entire thing, and singlehandedly made the ladder match what it is today. This still holds up today, even though the bumps aren’t seen to be that exceptional nowadays, because HBK scripted a mesmerizing story while wrestling a ladder and, oh yeah, Razor Ramon too. The thing I also liked about this was its believability. In contrast to many ladder matches, this one actually gave off the impression that it could be real. This was beautifully paced, timed and executed, and, most importantly, innovative. To this day, it remains the greatest ladder match ever, and it is all because of Shawn Michaels.

4. WrestleMania III, Intercontinental Championship: “Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat —

This is the greatest 15-minute match ever and way ahead of its time. It was a light heavyweight bout that had nonstop action and executed the most flawless looking spots I have ever seen. The pace was constantly accelerating, while the psychology was off the charts. Other than its originality, the thing that makes this superior than any of its imitators was its flow and realism. Savage and Steamboat did not reach for any convoluted spots (which, in most cases, just seem contrived and hurt a match’s flow). The finish was flawed, no doubt about it. The involvement of George “The Animal” Steele was unnecessary. I am not a fan of him saving Steamboat, even if Savage was trying to end his career. I believe a babyface should overcome arduous situations by themselves. The finish also was just way too complicated to impeccably pull off, and they should have done a finish that would have been much easier to do, too.Nonetheless, Steamboat received a deafening reaction when he won, so, ultimately, it really did not matter and is just me nitpicking. Regardless, a mediocre finish does not mar an otherwise outstanding, immaculately choreographed match.

3. Badd Blood 1997, Hell in the Cell: Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker —

This was the only time the Hell in the Cell match had a purpose behind it other than “I hate you, you hate me. Let’s fight in a Cell”. Before this, a cage match was a way to settle a difference without people interfering, but someone realized that it was making the wrestlers look very nonathletic since they could not climb a cage (something I was able to do at the age of 10). Therefore, being the smart booker that he is, Jim Cornette came up with this genius idea. He will tell you that it was not an original idea. It was just a hybrid between War Games and the Memphis Cage Match, but the design and purpose were brilliant nevertheless. The towering structure served twin purposes, both as a barrier preventing any outside interference and simultaneously a death trap devised to keep Shawn Michaels from escaping the comeuppance he deserved at the handers of The Undertaker. The latter point really sold this match, as Undertaker brutally beat the hell out of Shawn Michaels. HBK’s shuddering bumps and exquisite selling made the pain seem very genuine, and just when it appeared HBK was finally going to get the upper hand and deliver one of his signature moves or his finisher, Undertaker shrugged it off, leaving viewers wondering if it was even possible for HBK to emerge victorious.

And that made the finish even more powerful. I do not know why people seem to hate it so much. In one fell swoop, they finally debuted Kane, they made him look like a total badass by tearing the locked Cell door clean off its hinges, and they allowed the cowardly heel Michaels to win yet another tainted contest, all without damaging The Undertaker’s credibility. Honestly, it’s Booking 101. And what better way to end the HBK and Undertaker feud than with the heel coming out on top. This was a very original and intense match that included the long-awaited début of Kane. Everything about it was just about perfect.

2. WrestleMania 10: Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart —

Bret Hart wrestled twice this night, as he faced Owen Hart in the opener and then Yokozuna for the WWF Championship in the main event. This was a technical masterpiece and arguably the best ever. The timing of the spots, the smooth transitions, the unparalleled chemistry, and both wrestlers being able to progressively build the match all the way to its crescendo solidifies this as the blueprint on how to correctly carry out a wrestling magnum opus.

On top of that, the match told a great story. Owen Hart was fed up being overshadowed by his older brother, so in order to exercise his demons, he decided to prove once and for all that he was better than big brother Bret. The contest illustrated that Bret was definitely the superior wrestler, as he was always one step ahead of his young brother. But Owen was able to pull off a key reversal that allowed him to pull off a major upset. Owen treated his fluky win as though it had been a dominant performance, which helped him develop into an even more exaggerated, overemotional heel. After Bret Hart finally conquered his long-lasting quest to become WWF Champion, Owen came out with a look on his face that said, “Did you forget something? You didn’t beat me.” What was supposed to be a beautiful moment for Bret ended up as a bittersweet moment, because Bret knew that even though he finally won the title, his loss to Owen earlier in the night cast a shadow over what should have been the biggest night of his career. Like I said, there is a case for this match as the greatest of all time thanks to phenomenal booking with superb work rate to match.

1. I Quit Match, WrestleMania 13: Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin —

This was not a wrestling match. This was a battle. These two were both incredibly gifted wrestlers that just seemed to click with each other. As a result, they put on some compelling bouts. On an otherwise uninspiring WrestleMania card, both of these ring magicians defined the suspension of disbelief. This match had nuclear heat, as it gave off the notion that both men truly wanted to massacre each other. They turned a completely bored crowd into one that was on the edge of its seat. And really, that’s just a figure of speech because nobody was sitting down. Everyone in the arena was standing. It had everything you could want in brawl: psychology, storytelling, emotion, selling, realistic facial expressions, an incredible atmosphere and prodigious booking. Above all, both men pulled off exactly what Vince McMahon wanted them to do: Bret Hart turn into a narcissist that only was concerned about winning, which made the fans feel as if he completely turned on him.

And while Stone Cold wasn’t your conventional babyface, this brawl revealed his inner face-like qualities. He had heart and perseverance, and he showed that he was never going to quit. The finish exemplified just that, as refused to tap out to the Sharpshooter to the point where he passed out from the pain. Contrary to modern wrestling, signature moves had a great deal of significance back then. Hart would never lock in his finishing submission maneuver just to inject drama into a match. When Hart put an opponent in the Sharpshooter, winning was usually a foregone conclusion. Long story short, it was a surreal moment when Austin lasted as long as he did in the Sharpshooter. This match was historic, important and just flat-out tremendous.



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Kyle Fitta

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  • Steven Gepp

    Well, I think I agree with only about 50% of your choices. I guess it shows the complete differences it can make as to when people start to watch wrestling.

    But I’m not going to sit here and abuse you for your choices (some in particular), but instead I will say: Bravo for putting this out there, by hook or by crook, and laying your cards on the table. I also liked the way you justified your choices and your omissions. So, well done. And we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

  • Kyle Fitta

    If I did the list over again, I’d probably change a lot of it. There just have been so many great matches in WWE’s history; it’s so hard to figure out which one is better, and it all depends what kind of mood I am in. But I am interested to see what your list would be. Cheers.

  • flamingwombat

    I love your list. You don’t have a match on here that anyone could say absolutely isn’t worthy. Your list is rather close to mine (admittedly mine is just off the top of my head), although I would include some of the matches you listed in the preamble to this column. You most surprising omission to me is that you put on two of the Shawn-Taker matches, but left off the WM25 one, which many seem to consider as the greatest match in recent history. I’d put all three on my list.

    Anyhoo, if you’re interested, here’s my list covering the period from Hogan pinning Sheik to today (with full admission that I’m sure I am forgetting one of my favorite matches or two. That’s a lot of wrestling to think about!)

    1. Rumble 1992 (I could have easily put more Rumbles on here, but resisted)
    2. TLC WM17 (they’re all great, but this is my favorite)
    3. Shawn-Taker WM25
    4. Shawn-Taker WM26
    5, Shawn-Taker Badd Blood (I agree with you about not understanding anyone disliking the ending. Kane’s debut was awesome and the perfect ending to the match)
    6. Shawn-Mankind Mind Games (could honestly have just picked 20 Shawn matches)
    7. Taker-HHH WM28 HitC (was like watching a classic NWA match)
    8. Bret-Owen WM10
    9. Bret-Bulldog (I’d pick this one over the great Owen-Bulldog RAW match)
    10. Savage-Steamboat WM3
    11. Shawn-Razor WM10 (people who come to this match after the fact might not realize how breathtaking and groundbreaking it was)
    12. Angle-Benoit Rumble 2003
    13. Bret-Austin WM13
    14. Bret-Perfect Summerslam 91 or King of the Ring 93
    15. Savage-Warrior WM7
    16. Shawn-Angle WM21 (this one is sort of a forgotten classic, as it was non-title)
    17. Rock-HHH Judgment Day 2000 (Awesomely booked iron man match that is surprisingly MUCH better than the Bret-Shawn iron man)
    18. Austin-HHH 3 Stages of Heck
    19. HHH-Cactus Jack Rumble 2000
    20. DX/Radicals vs. Rock/Cactus/Rikishi/Too Cool (the two matches on your list plus the Shawn-Austin vs. Owen-Bulldog and the Cena-Shawn epic are often considered the best TV matches of this era, but this one is my favorite. The crowd is MOLTEN and everything works even through the great post-match shenanigans. Anyone who hasn’t seen this match should check it out!)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWaEHmLDROI

    So, that’s my twenty cents. The WM20 3way and Rock-Austin from X7 were the last two I cut. Thanks again for a fun column. You actually got me to go back and watch some of these classics that I haven’t seen in too long.

  • Steven Gepp

    I don’t think I could do a list like this much justice. We don’t get a full RAW here (or Smackdown), and from about 1997 to 2000 I avoided WWE/F (though I’ve since caught up on many of the PPVs) because I hated that Attitude Era and found WCW more interesting, and indy wrestling locally more to my taste. I couldn’t really put many (if any) TV matches on it, and the lesser PPVs up till 2002 would most likely get missed out. Also, my list would be a lot of old-school matches that many nowadays find “too boring”.

    My top 8 WWF/E matches, post Hogan winning the title for the first time, would be (in no particular order):
    Bret-Bulldog, S/S 92
    Rumble 92
    Savage-Warrior WM8
    TLC1
    Tag Team SurSer match (88?89? – the one with the BrainBusters in it)
    5-on-5 match (Canadian Stampede)
    Money In The Bank #1 (WM 21?)
    Steamboat-Savage (WM3)

    That’s without looking at anything. I’d gave more WCW.NWA matches in my top list than WWE/F matches. I’m sure with a bit of research I could round out a top 20. I think the only TV matches would be a triple threat tag team match from the days of the Smackdown 6, and maybe the one where Marty beat Shawn (with help from Perfect’s towel) at one of those early Raws.
    There, that makes 10!

  • flamingwombat

    I think that Marty-Shawn match won MOTY that year. It’s really, really good, but also very short. I can’t believe I forgot to put the Stampede match (and the Edge-Mysterio vs. Angle-Benoit tag) on my list! But not sure what I’d knock off…

    Gepper, do you not consider the matches on your list “old school”? Other than the Survivor Series and MitB matches, your list matches up with Kyle’s and mine, so the three of us at least to be on similar pages. I think it’s interesting that despite many of us pining for the good old days, only 2 matches made the cut from WM1-9.

  • Steven Gepp

    Only 3 of my list of ten happened post-1996 (Canadian Stampede, TLC, MitB), none since 2005, so, yeah, I guess I prefer old style matches. I may have come back to WWE/F but the matches people rave about tend to leave me cold.

  • flamingwombat

    I hear what you are saying. I only have a couple from the last 5 years, but I (and Kyle) obviously liked the Attitude days more than you. You don’t think matches like Bret-Austin or Shawn-Foley stand up? I know you’re not enamored with Taker, but what about Shawn? Like I mentioned in my post, I could have picked 20 Shawn matches for this list and not felt like any of them were unworthy.

    Also, do you think NWO era WCW had better matches than Attitude era WWF? I can see putting lots of NWA matches on a best of list, but with later WCW it’s slim pickings.

  • Steven Gepp

    TO be honest, Bret-Austin (WM13) could well make my top 40, but there are very few SHawn matches. One of the Rock-Austin matches (can’t remember which one) from that WM trio they did would be there. But, you know what? There is a women’s match from the early years (Jumping Bomb Angels were one of the teams) that would be in my top 30 as well.
    As to NWO v Attitude… I think at the time some of the undercard matches at WCW PPVs were stunning. If you stopped watching WCW PPVs at about the 2/3 mark, they were generally great PPVs… until late 1998 when everyone started phoning it in. The only WWF PPV I watched was the Rumble. But I watched more out of habit.
    But you also have to remember this was the time of my own in-ring career really being at the top of its game (such as it was) until 2002-ish. I got into Lucha Libre big time and watching Australian wrestling, and revising the historical matches because that was what we wanted to put on. We didn’t want to be WWF/E or WCW – we wanted to be us.

  • CB40

    Here are some of my favorite matches that would be in my Top 20, easily:

    Foley-Hunter Hell In A Cell

    Punk-Cena Money In The Bank 2011

    HBK-HHH, SummerSlam Street Fight

    Angle-Rock-HHH, Triple Threat for the title at the height of the Steph-Angle-HHH love triangle saga, God what a match, my favorite Triple Threat of all time.

    Brock-Punk from this past SummerSlam

    Every Taker-HBK PPV match

    Austin-Rock Mania matches

    Tables Ladders and Chairs 1 – Edge and Christian vs. Dudleyz vs. Hardyz

    Those are just a few off the top of my head.

  • flamingwombat

    The Jumping Bomb Angels match from the first Rumble (the pre-PPV one) was awesome! Those girls were decades ahead of their time.

  • itsKON

    Kyle, what kind of fucking bullshit is this?

    WHERE IS MELINA VS. ALICIA FOX?

  • Finn McInnes

    Has anyone ever done a column on the top 10, 15, 20 worst matches they can remember? I mean truly awful shit matches. Ones so bad that they make you embarrassed to be a wrestling fan? Like Undertaker/Yokozuna from Royal Rumble…let’s see…1994. You know the truly awful coffin match with 12 run ins, the voice over and Marty Jannetty in a ‘Taker costume flying off to the heavens. Although that most likely wasn’t the highest Jannetty got that night.

  • Steven Gepp

    This intrigues me, But the problem is, when you say a match is good, people go, og yeah, I don’t agree, but whatever. If you say something is bad then you get crapped on if it’s a person’s favourite match. But, off the top of my head:

    Undertaker/Giant Gonzales (WM9)
    Undertaker/King Kong Bundy (WM11)
    Undertaker/Yokozuna (RR94)
    Bundy & Midgets/Hillbilly Jim & midgets (WM 3?)
    HHH/Scott Steiner (some Rumble in the 2000s)
    Muraco/Orndorff (WM3)
    Miz/Cena (whatever WM that was)
    Any match involving Mr Kennedy
    Any women’s match 2006-2010

    And that’s just WWF/E. But here’s another issue. Back in the old days the TV shows were filled with god-awful squash matches. How do we rate them? What about those 2 mkinute TV matches Raw and Smackdown throw on?
    Maybe we should restrict it to actual matches on a PPV, or else we’re going to get a column of Ivan Putski v Joe Smith matches that are so awful and inconsequential they aren’t even on YouTube, and YouTube has videos of cats sleeping that are supposedly ‘entertainment’.

  • Steven Gepp

    There are some matches that transcend what even the greatest of us can put into words. There are some matches that go beyond mere wrestling and into the realm of pure performance art. Matches that are so different to anything that has come before or since that it is hardly fair to call them merely “wrestling matches”. Alicia Fox v Melina is in that rarified stratosphere of purity that none can touch.

  • Zork

    Damn Kyle, you picked out a lot matches that I would’ve picked out myself, kudos for Bret vs Austin at WM13 being your number one, as it’s mine as well :P

    I’d take a stab at doing a list like this but I’d have to put a lot of thought into it. I can only come up with a few matches off of the top of my head that are truly some of my top favorites.

  • lawlore

    That’s possibly the only match where I’ve actually felt bad for HHH- fair play to him, he was trying and trying to make it work, bumping all he could, but Steiner was just so very poor. If memory serves, it was his first match, as they’d deliberately kept them apart, and him out of the ring, before that.

    KroniK vs. Kane/Taker jumped to mind, simply for being as bad as everyone remembers it.

    And, in the “godawful squash” category, allow me to nominate Chyna vs. Ivory… at Wrestlemania X-7. An appropriately terrible match to end a terrible storyline.

  • Finn McInnes

    Yeah, the squash matches were what they were, but I wouldn’t count ‘em. I’d say that 2 minute Raw/Smackdown matches wouldn’t count either, unless you really hated them for some reason. Say having to see Dusty Rhodes’s ass crack for 5 minutes or something.

    But I guess I was talking matches that actually meant something or were at least intended to…A couple of good examples I can think of right now – WCW Tower of Doom match were Hogan & Savage beat every heel on the WCW roster and that Wargames match were the Ultimate Warrior used black magic or what ever – those were truly awful. Diesel-King Mable from KotR 96. Fuuuuck that was a soul sucking experience to sit though. Muraco/Orndorff from ‘Mania 2 pisses me off because those two (back then) were both capable of having great matches. Another massive disappointment was the Piper-Bad News Brown abortion from Wrestlemania VI. That should have been an epic brawl…but we got Piper painted half-black, wearing a Michael Jackson glove and doing his best to insult everyone in the audience, black or white.

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