Normally you’d see me on Tuesday, Saturday, or Monday morning for Raw and SmackDown recaps, but this time, I’m here with something different.
I came back to wrestling in 2012 the night after WrestleMania 28 and have been a fan, for better or worse, since then. I came up with an idea to challenge myself and select my top 5 favorite matches.
The rules - I can only select modern day wrestling matches from 2012-2019. I have left out 2020 to eliminate recency bias, so no FIrefly Fun House, Stadium Stampede, Roman Reigns vs. Jey Uso. But also, no CM Punk vs. John Cena. Well… not that match. 2011 is out.
I went back and watched all of these matches, and a few others that I thought were going to make the list. So here are my top 5 favorite matches!
5. Roman Reigns vs. Sheamus - Raw after TLC (Dec. 14, 2015)
This is what WWE should have called Roman Reigns’ coronation.
It was in the very same building on this night earlier that year when Roman won the Royal Rumble. Philadelphia, PA. It was down to Roman and Rusev, and the crowd wanted Rusev just out of spite. Big Show and Kane came in after they were eliminated to attack Roman, but the Rock made the assist for his cousin. Roman won, and Rock stood there with Roman’s arm raised and heard nothing but relentless boos from the crowd. His facial expression that night told the whole story.
And that led to TLC, nearly a full year later. That evening, Roman Reigns tried and failed, thanks to a lot of interference by the League of Nations, to win back the WWE at that time dubbed “World Heavyweight Championship’’ from Sheamus, who cashed in on him after he won against Dean Ambrose at Survivor Series. “Sheamus 5:15 says I just Brogue Kicked your arse!” Incensed, he destroyed the League of Nations with chairshots and then battered Triple H to a crowd that chanted for the very first time, “Thank you, Roman!” You could actually see the happiness in his face.
Vincent Kennedy McMahon made his return to television the night after and was goaded into giving Roman another title match when Roman insulted his ego. So Sheamus went after him with Vince in his corner. Of course, he couldn’t let it be a clean fight. After a couple of near falls, Roman Superman Punched Sheamus, and right as the referee was slapping the mat for the three count, Vince pulled him out, and the League of Nations came back to interfere again.
But Roman had the wherewithal to put them all down, and then Superman Punch the boss! One last spear and Roman captured the title again. The same crowd that booed him mercilessly now cheered like their baseball team just won the World Series. Roman was rehabilitated, and we hoped that it would lead to the best things and a month later it was already ruined.
Look at 2020, though! Roman Reigns is pretty much the hottest thing in wrestling right now.
4. Ricochet vs. Will Ospreay - Best of the Super Juniors (May 27, 2016)
This is a special one for me, because it became the first time my curiosity thrust me into non-WWE and non-American wrestling. It would be four years before I would even sit and watch a single match outside of WWE programming in full, and this was it.
The wrestling world was buzzing from this match so much so, it was at times all I could read about on wrestling sites and Twitter. So one night about a week or two after the match, I found it on DailyMotion and pressed play. The contrast to American wrestling for me was damn near bizarre at first. The announcer in Japanese introduced Will Ospreay, who I’d never heard of before, and Ricochet, who I knew of from Twitter and seen a couple of gifs here and there of his work in Lucha Underground.
The bell rang, and my wrestling perspective was forever changed.
The first two minutes are best described as the two Supermans pointing at each other meme. Back flips, front flips, literal acrobatic moves all over the ring, into a simultaneous bounce off the ropes and flip into the pose which Ricochet still does to this day. I sat there stunned. It was just the beginning.
Ricochet sent Ospreay face first into the turnbuckle, whipped around and kicked him in the face, and dove off the top rope and Ospreay drop kicked him in mid-air. The twisty submissions from both men were so painful looking. Ospreay cursed all the way through, something I had not yet heard so freely spoken on wrestling television. Ospreay somersaulted out of the ring to Ricochet, and then sunset flip powerbombed him. Nearly nine minutes in and the first pinfall attempt went to a near fall. They predicted what each other would do throughout the match and importantly, both not just sold the moves, but sold the physical exhaustion of performing.
With every gravity defying spot, Ospreay grows frustrated and they open palm slap each other. It was here where I saw how unreal Ricochet’s selling ability is. Headscissors galore in this and this was the first time I saw a standing shooting star press. The ending sequence of Ospreay’s insane Oscutter and he laid his whole body weight on Ricochet for the pinfall. It was an absolutely incredible performance to watch from both men. It was so inspiring to me at the time, that I wrote a FanPost called “How Ricochet and Ospreay made me a wrestling fan” and I spent a whole night into early morning writing it. I couldn’t go to sleep that night.
That’s exactly what wrestling should do.
3. Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair - Evolution (Oct. 28, 2018)
It’s easy to say what the best women’s match is of the last decade, because you’ve seen it in everyone’s top 5. I’m different. While Bayley vs. Sasha at TakeOver: Brooklyn is iconic, I was not an avid viewer of NXT at the time.
Becky Lynch’s rise to “The Man” has always been my number 1 women’s evolution moment in WWE. Of course it started at SummerSlam 2018, when Charlotte Flair shoehorned her way into this singles match between Carmella and Becky. When Becky had it won, Charlotte took advantage and pinned her “best friend” to take it for herself, and that set off a pissed off Becky. Always in the shadows, always one step behind Charlotte, who took herself to be a champion for Becky, when all she did was steal her spotlight.
WWE tried to make Becky the heel, but the crowds never gave in. Every segment had cheers for Becky and boos for Charlotte. Every single one. Even leading up to this match, when Edge hosted “The Cutting Edge” and tried warning Becky that her life would go down a path of loneliness, Becky told him to get out of her ring and to not injure his neck again while doing so, and the crowd ate it up. Nothing she said or did got her booed. WWE kept trying to get it done by having Becky DQ herself twice, once at Super Show-Down and again at the next SmackDown Live, but it didn’t work. The fans were instead booing WWE for the booking.
All of this culminated into the final (until after Survivor Series) match between the two to send Becky into superstardom. WWE’s first all women Evolution pay-per-view was a fun show, and featured this match, a first time ever Last Woman Standing match. My favorite female wrestler in one of my favorite gimmick matches, and it was their best match.
Both women tried to one up each other to start the match. Becky sent Charlotte to the floor and the coolest spots were when both women tossing all the chairs into the ring and Becky tossed Charlotte onto them, and when Becky introduced a ladder and Charlotte did a Figure 8 with Becky’s legs through it. Then the big spot with Becky leg dropping Charlotte off the ladder through the German announce table. Becky tried burying her under a bunch of stuff but she powered out and set Becky up on another table, but it didn’t work for her. Charlotte got powerbombed through it and couldn’t answer the 10 count.
Why the story worked particularly well, is because Becky had to resort to vindictiveness because she was put in this spot so many times and just let her natural babyface tendencies step in when she was wronged. But her supposed best friend would never return the favor.
WWE tried to make Becky the heel, but it never worked. And thankfully it didn’t, because she elevated the women’s division by being The Man.
2. CM Punk vs. John Cena - Raw (Feb. 25, 2013)
Another match you typically see in everyone’s top 5 - CM Punk vs. John Cena Money in the Bank 2011. Iconic. Remember though, I’m only allowed to do matches I’ve seen since returning to wrestling. This match doesn’t get mentioned as much, but it is one of the matches I have watched most in the last near decade.
2013 was a mixed bag for Punk. He set the championship reign record of 434 days and lost the championship to Rock at the Royal Rumble. He then lost the rematch at the Elimination Chamber. So Cena in his infinite wisdom, gave Punk the opportunity to take his Royal Rumble win away from him, even though he’d never defeated Punk in singles action previously.
The match that followed would be one of the more memorable between the two.
Cena had extra spunk and both men started off with a lot of urgency. Punk tried to wear Cena down with a flurry of elbows and headscissors. Cena was able to power through it, and started his classic shoulder tackle into the Five Knuckle Shuffle, but Punk showed his scouting ability by ducking a shoulder tackle. That was the first time he countered classic Cena. He then countered a powerbomb into an Anaconda Vice. Cena locked in the STF, and Punk countered again into an Anaconda Vice. They traded submissions and Cena got the upper hand.
Once again, Punk countered the Five Knuckle Shuffle and got a near fall that took the breath out of the audience. Cena powerbombed Punk for a near fall and you could see some Cena shirt wearing folks thinking it was over. Both men couldn’t believe the other was still in it. Cena got a near fall with his first successful Attitude Adjustment, and then Punk got another near fall with the Go to Sleep. It’s an insane match that isn’t even over yet. Punk did the first non-Undertaker piledriver on television in years, a legitimate banned moved in WWE, but it wasn’t enough. Cena pulled off a Hurricanrana and an Attitude Adjustment for the win.
The drama and tension of the whole match still gives me goosebumps. Cena finally vanquished his personal demon, and Punk would never get his WrestleMania main event. He wouldn’t even be in the company a full year later.
And his departure from the company leads to my number 1 favorite match since returning to wrestling.
1. Daniel Bryan vs. Batista vs. Randy Orton - WrestleMania XXX (Apr. 6, 2014)
The first match I ever cried watching. Daniel Bryan had quite a year from SummerSlam 2013 to this match. And if CM Punk never left the company, it likely never would have happened.
Bryan beat John Cena at SummerSlam and finally won the top prize, only to be betrayed by referee Triple H and cashed in on by Randy Orton. The Authority was formed, and The Shield and the Wyatt Family would make Bryan’s life hell. Fans were behind him all the way, and at the 2014 Royal Rumble, were ready to see Bryan come out and win to face Orton at WrestleMania.
Instead, Rey Mysterio came out at number 30, and got the worst reaction quite possibly of his entire wrestling career. The next night on Raw, Bryan confronted The Authority who sent The Shield after him again, and later on he won a six man tag to face Orton in the Elimination Chamber. Kane interfered in that match (Corporate Kane era!) and that then led to the highlight of Bryan’s WWE career at that time.
Daniel Bryan then challenged Triple H to a match at WrestleMania. Occupy Raw sent the Yes! Movement to the ring, where Triple H finally accepted, but Bryan managed to shoehorn in getting added to the World Heavyweight Championship match if he won. The Authority then spent the remainder of the month attacking Bryan, until he finally got his hands on Triple H on the Raw before the show of shows. Bryan attacked Triple H on commentary and whipped him with a kendo stick.
Bryan and Triple H faced off to start WrestleMania, and actually won clean without any interference from The Authority’s henchmen. Triple H and Stephanie then attacked him post match, because a battered Bryan was exactly the Bryan that was always supposed to enter the biggest match of his career.
In the main event, Bryan had Orton in the Yes! Lock, then The Authority came out to interfere like they loved doing, and pulled the referee out of the ring, installing their crooked referee Scott Armstrong. Bryan kicked Armstrong out of the ring and dove onto The Authority and the crowd roared back to life. (The streak ending really took the wind out of the SuperDome.) Triple H tried to use the sledgehammer, but Bryan got it from him and knocked him down to the floor. Orton and Batista teamed up and took out Bryan with the powerbomb/RKO combo. Bryan got strapped to a stretcher but stopped the medical personnel on the ramp which again injected exhilaration into the crowd.
Batista speared Bryan and Orton gave him the RKO, making everyone think the match was over, but Batista kicked out. Batista did the Batista bomb on Orton and Bryan hit the flying knee and Yes! Lock to win! They showed Connor Michalek (Connor the Crusher) cheering on his favorite wrestler and the tears started flowing again. It was the best conclusion to the first WWE pay-per-view I ever watched, thanks to the WWE Network launching a month prior.
And that’s my top 5 list! I hope everyone had a great time going on this journey, and it’d be awesome if some of these matches are your favorites as well.
Let me know what your favorite matches are!