Home > Retro Columns, wwe > Retro TJR: The Top 50 WWE PPV Matches from 2000-04 (#50-11)

Retro TJR: The Top 50 WWE PPV Matches from 2000-04 (#50-11)

Note from John: I wrote this column in May of 2005. I originally posted it on Rajah.com and The Wrestling Oratory in five parts. If you were reading my work five years ago you might remember it. For my blog, it’s going in here in one post. It’s over 40,000 words in length. It’s the longest column I’ve ever written. I’m not taking out Benoit parts. Yes, I don’t like his work today as much as I did in the past, but I’m not going to omit him from the column. Nothing was edited in this column. You’re seeing it as it was originally posted. To answer the question that I know I’ll be inevitably asked, I am not planning on doing a top 100 for the entire decade although I’ve thought about it. I just don’t have the time today that I did five years ago. I had to post this in two parts because I guess there’s a word limit. This part has matches #50 to #11 with the second part having the top ten. Enjoy!

The Top 50 WWE PPV Matches from 2000-04 (#50-11)
Original posting date: May 5, 2005

When somebody asks you why you like the wrestling business, what do you tell them? Is it the characters, is it the in-ring action, is it for the interviews or is it for any combination of those three? Most of us would say a combination. If you truly like the business then you like it for all the reasons. For me, as a fan of WWE for over twenty years now, it’s the matches that stand out to me the most. It’s the matches that make me remember why I love the business so much. This column is a tribute to the great wrestling we have witnessed in WWE in the past five years.

What I’ve done here is taken a look at the past five years of WWE matches strictly on PPV. I’ve compiled a list of the top 50 matches over that time, which means every PPV from Royal Rumble 2000 all the way up to Armageddon 2004. That’s a total of 62 PPVs in all. While I’m not about to count every match on every card, if you say there’s an average of seven matches per show then that totals over 430 matches. Out of all those matches, only the top 50 will be written about here. Remember, nothing from 2005 is on this list. It’s only the last full five years. If I included matches from this year then you’d probably see Angle/Michaels, the Elimination Chamber and Michaels/Edge on here too, but they’re not here. It’s only 2000-2004, as it says in the title. The reason I didn’t include TV matches is because they’re less accessible for me. While I’ve seen a lot of great ones that could have easily made this list, I didn’t always tape them, so it would have been hard to write about matches I didn’t have available to re-watch if need be.

For each match, in blue font, you’ll see the competitors in the match listed, the PPV it took place at and the date of the event. I’m also going to go into some detail about why it made the list. Three things, which I also use in my “Wrestling’s Greatest Matches” series, will be talked about after you see the listing of the match:

The Story – How the match being discussed came to be. Usually I call this “The Feud” in my Greatest Matches columns, but I’ve changed it for this list.

The Match – A summary of the key points of the match. What kind of match was it? Who won? How long was it? Some write-ups will be more detailed than others depending on the match. For some, if I did a writeup during a live PPV then it’ll mostly be taken from that and for others it’ll be from the notes I made while watching the match. If a title is on the line in the match, the man or team holding the title will be listed first.

The Analysis – This part will be the area where I’ll be able to explain why the match made the list in the first place. I’ll also use this area to talk about what worked, what didn’t work and what could have been done to make things better.

The order of the matches will be based on my star ratings for the matches. You’re probably familiar with the star rating used to rate matches. (If you want to know more about them, check out this column I wrote about star ratings a month ago). Five stars is the highest possible rating for a match under the star rating system. The ratings break down after that using quarter of a star ratings. Every match you see listed in this top fifty will be ***3/4 for the low ones all the way up to five stars for a few at the very top. Keep in mind that star ratings are merely for personal opinion. I could have come up with this same list without using the stars, but by using them it helped me achieve this list much easier. I fully realize that one of the matches I give five stars could be something like three stars to you. That’s fine. It’s all opinion. You’ll see my ratings at the end of my “The Analysis” section, which should give you an idea as to why that particular match received the rating it did. Also, please note that some of the ratings you’ll see here are different than the rating I gave matches when I reviewed them live simply because I’ve re-watched the match and changed the rating on it. Sometimes you overrate matches on the first viewing, other times you underrate them. It happens. Can’t help that and I’d rather not go into my old recaps to change the ratings around.

The way I determined what matches to use for this column came simply from using my memory. For whatever reason, I remember wrestling shows fairly well. When I see a PPV lineup I can separate the good from the bad fairly easily. I’ve had the luxury of seeing every single WWE PPV during this time period and I have all the matches either on DVD, tape or in computer format. I went to one of my favorite sites, The Wrestling Information Archive, to look at full PPV cards, the dates of the shows and also the times of the match. After looking at the cards, I marked down the matches I considered over the three star level figuring there’d easily be over fifty of those. Turns out there was nearly a hundred, so I had to whittle it down to fifty because I thought one hundred would be excessive. Getting the top thirty or so was pretty easy. It was the ones between 31 and beyond that were tough. You’ll see the cutoff point here was ***3/4 and I’d say there are another twelve or so at that level that almost made this list.

Once the whole thing is done, I’ll let you know who had the most matches in the list, what PPV had the most matches, what year had the most matches and other fun stats like that. I’ll even break it down by telling you what titles appeared the most on here and things like that. To give you an idea about the size of this column, it’s over 36,000 words and 55 pages in Microsoft Word’s Times New Roman font at size twelve. That’s just the matches by themselves without the concluding parts. That’s why it’ll be posted in four parts. I don’t expect anybody to read all of it in one day or in one sitting. I began working on the concept at the end of January, came up with the list after deliberating for about a week and then wrote it over the course of the next three months. There were times when I wrote about five matches in a day and then I’d write nothing for this in a week. It was just something I did whenever I had the time and/or desire for it. If I wasn’t busy I would have been done in two weeks, but it was a busy time for me, so it took a good three months to get it done. You’ll notice as you read it that some writeups are longer than others. Most of the time, the bigger and better the match the longer the write-up. It’s just easier to write more about the great ones, ya know?

Another point to make since I know I’ll be asked. Since WWE changed their names from the World Wrestling Federation to World Wrestling Entertainment in the spring of 2002 the matches that took place before that were for WWF titles rather than WWE. I know this, but I’m going to do what WWE does and get the F out, so all WWF stuff is replaced by WWE in this column. I wanted to clarify that before I had people emailing me asking why I called a 2001 title match a WWE match. Just trying to be consistent. That’s all.

The very last point before I begin: This column is strictly based on my OWN opinion. There was no consultation with others. It’s not some list from a panel or whatever. It’s me, John C., telling you about what I feel are the fifty greatest matches from the past five years of WWE/E programming. You want to disagree with me? Fine, I welcome it. There are things that you’ll learn about my tastes that you may disagree with. Just show me some respect and I’ll show it back to you. That’s all I ask.

So without further Apu…

50. Jeff Hardy vs. Rob Van Dam for the Hardcore Title @ Summerslam – 08/21/01
The Story: This was a Hardcore Title (remember that?) ladder match. RVD had just debuted in WWE on that infamous Raw less than two months before this match where ECW reformed. He was over huge by this point, one of the rare babyfaces in the WCW/ECW Alliance. They had a good match the previous month and this time they raised the stakes a bit. That match from Invasion was close to making this list too, but when it came time to decide I ended up going with this one. Due to the success of the previous one, they went for a rematch and made this one a ladder match.

The Match: With RVD and Hardy having the rep, a well deserved one, as being the biggest high fliers in WWE at the time, expectations were high. The match started out with a bunch of innovative spots by both guys, including a memorable suplex off the ladder and Hardy’s sunset flip powerbomb spot that was very innovative at that point. They put their body on the line, like when RVD hit that rolling senton on Hardy with the ladder there, as well as when both guys attempted their finishers off the ladder only to miss their opponent on the mat. The finish saw Jeff climb, RVD follow with a superplex to take him down. Then RVD went up and Jeff powerbombed him down. Jeff climbed again, hung off the belt and RVD went to kick him down, but missed. Jeff fell down anyway. Jeff went up again, RVD shoved him off once more sending him crashing into the ropes in a sick spot and that allowed RVD to climb up to grab the belt after 16 minutes.

The Analysis: The match was one of the more physical ladder matches you will ever see. They took some risks, they took hard bumps and they wowed the crowd throughout. The finish was messed up a bit, but I think that’s forgivable considering all the crazy high spots they did throughout. The reason it didn’t garner a higher rating is because it lacked psychology pretty much the whole way through. The match didn’t tell a story. It was just high spot after high spot. Thing is, it was mostly great high spots and I have to reward the guys for putting their bodies on the line the way they did. I would have loved it with some psychology, like if one of them had an injury or coming in and the other guy focused on that. I guess with both guys being faces it constituted an even match that gave the fans a sense that anybody could win at any time with the right big move.
Rating: ***3/4

49. Chris Benoit vs. Randy Orton for the World Title @ Summerslam – 08/15/04
The Story: The build for this match wasn’t anything special, which is part of the reason why the most recent Summerslam was just like any other PPV. It was the long standing (four months counts as long these days) World Champion Benoit against the young, upstart challenger Orton. Orton was a still a heel at this point, although it seemed like WWE was going to take him in a different direction after this match and the crowd in Toronto could sense that. Both men were cheered, which I guess is what WWE was aiming for when they did this match.

The Match: The story for this match early on was Orton going after Benoit’s neck possibly to set up the RKO while Benoit was just trying to break Orton down. Then the tide turned when Benoit attempted a suicide dive to the floor, Orton ducked out of the way and Benoit went head first into the barrier. It’s a crazy spot. I thought Benoit was legit hurt when it happened and actually I met him the next day, asked him how his neck was and he just brushed it off, saying it would be fine. Tough dude. The match continues to be even until Benoit misses his headbutt and Benoit sells like a champ as usual. Following a nice sequence with each guy going for their finisher, Orton wins it with the RKO out of nowhere after about 20 minutes.

The Analysis: This was basically a straight up match. With Orton not being booed heavily at all, it seemed like a face vs. face match. I liked it a lot because it was a simple match for the world title. No overbooking, no interference and no unnecessary ref bump. It was just your regular match with a lot on the line, and I like that every once in a while. Heading into the match I expected more, but ultimately I was satisfied with what they gave us. Also, they had a rematch one night later at the Raw that I attended and while people will always remember the end where Evolution turned on Orton, the actual match is better than this one.
Rating: ***3/4

48. Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio @ Summerslam – 08/25/02
The Story: Mysterio debuted in WWE just a few weeks before this. In a tag match on Smackdown, he scored a pin over Angle. That infuriated Angle, prompting him to deliver the very excellent “he’s a freakin’ 12-year-old” interview backstage. This match was the opener of the PPV, which showed how Angle was willing to take a back seat to put others over. A year before he was in the World Title match and at this show he opened up the PPV against a new guy to the company, trying to make him a star in WWE.

The Match: The match started fast with Mysterio on the offensive, the idea being he had to hit and run in order to beat Angle. Mysterio hits a headscissors, but the 619 misses, so Angle gets control. The story early on is Mysterio using his speed while Angle tries to keep him grounded by pounding him down. Angle goes for the Angle Slam, but Rey turns it into an arm drag, which is a sick counter. That’s not easy. With Kurt out on the floor, Rey flies over the ref and the top rope with a perfect hilo onto Angle, followed by a springboard legdrop for two. Angle comes back with the Ankle Lock, Mysterio counters, hits the 619, then the West Coast Pop and that gets two. Kicking out of finishers in opening matches? I guess it’s alright since Rey was still new in WWE. To the top, Angle countered the hurricanrana by shoving Mysterio off, keeping his balance and then like a hunter on its prey, hooking Mysterio into the Ankle Lock for the tapout victory. Match came in at just under ten minutes. Shortest match on the list.

The Analysis: This was the perfect example of how you start off a great PPV with a strong opener, which this PPV and this match were. Mysterio was his usual awesome self while Angle was amazing as always. The timing, the bumping, the counters, it was perfect stuff. Angle looked strong and so did Mysterio. Even though he lost, there’s no shame in losing to a former world champ like Angle. I’m sure somebody reading this is questioning why a match under ten minutes got the rating that I gave it. Well, I think this is the answer to the question I get asked every so often about if a shorter match can be considered great. Yes they can. It’s Mysterio vs. Angle. Ten minutes of awesomeness. They had other matches against eachother on Smackdown in singles, triple threats and tags (one which you will read about later), but this is their only one on one PPV match. It’s a quickie, but a damn good one. With another five or ten minutes of time on it, this could have been a Match of the Year contender easy. I have no doubt about that.
Rating: ***3/4

47. Dean Malenko vs. Scotty 2 Hotty for the Light Heavyweight Title @ Backlash – 04/30/00
The Story: This was for Malenko’s WWE Light Heavyweight Title. Another blast from the past, huh? It was a couple of months after Malenko joined WWE along with Benoit, Saturn and Guerrero. He was quickly thrust into this division to help spark it and for a short time he actually did. Then of course management remembered they hate anybody under six foot tall and now we are where we at today. The story here basically was Malenko as a heel champ who cheated to beat Scotty in a previous match and this was Scotty’s chance for revenge.

The Match: The match was really strong with lots of heat. As usual, Scotty was over really well and Malenko did his part in playing the cold heel. It’s the perfect contrast because Scotty basically celebrates after every move while Malenko just kills him at many points. Malenko works on the knee for a large portion of the match, getting some good crowd reactions the whole time. Plenty of nearfalls with some backslides and cradles thrown in to keep the action fast paced. After Scotty hits the WORM, Malenko comes back, tries to get a pin using the ropes (the same way he beat Taylor on TV before this match), but this time the ref catches it. The absolute highlight of the match is the finish when Scotty sets up on the top for a superplex, but Malenko fights out of it and hits a DDT off the top! It was sick. It’s not like it’s a tornado DDT, Malenko had his back to the turnbuckle, they leapt off and he dropped Scotty hard on his noggin to get the win after 12 minutes. Sick finish. One of the better ones I can ever remember.

The Analysis: I think Scott Taylor has been one of the most underrated and underappreciated wrestlers in WWE during the past decade or so. He’s always been a solid wrestler. It’s just that smart fans are too busy bitching about the WORM to realize that. Well, guess what, this match is great. The crowd was into the whole thing, Malenko played his part awesomely well and Scotty was over just as he always is. What can I say about that finish? It was amazing. Honestly, if you’ve seen it just once it’s the kind of thing you’ll never forget. This is the kind of match that you look at and shake your head at because if every cruiserweight match was given thirteen minutes like this one, plus a backstory we’d be getting good stuff at every PPV, not just once in a while.
Rating: ***3/4

46. Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker for the WWE Title @ No Mercy – 10/20/02
The Story: This was Brock’s first title feud after winning the title (first Undisputed, but by this point it was known as the WWE title on Smackdown) and it was the second straight month with this match for the title. The month before they had a match that ended in a double disqualification. There was speculation going on at that time that Undertaker refused to put Lesnar over, so that’s why it ended like that. I don’t know if that’s true or not, especially after watching this one. I think it was just a case of them wanting to get more mileage out of the feud, nothing more than that. Anyway, this was a Hell in a Cell match and while the outcome of the match was easy to figure out, nobody really knew how good it would be. Oh, and another thing to note was that this was the match and feud where Paul Heyman hired a woman to pretend like she was having an affair with Undertaker. Very bad angle. He also had a cast on his hand during the match and they played that up for weeks going in. I guess it was the way to get Undertaker some sympathy.

The Match: The first part of the match basically saw Undertaker beating up Lesnar and even Lesnar’s manager, Paul Heyman. Heyman bladed for the match and at one point was rammed headfirst into the cage by the Undertaker, who was yanking on his tie. Yes, it’s as funny as it reads. Lesnar comes back with some ferocious offense, including several chair shots onto Undertaker’s cast. He finally got the cast off and then at one point kicked at Undertaker while hanging onto the cage’s roof. Undertaker busted out that suicide dive that he used to do in his healthier days, which is always a good sign. Then Lesnar got the advantage again with a shot to the head with steel steps and Undertaker bleeds huge. The blood is sick. As much as I’ve seen in any match ever, really. Undertaker started stomping on Brock’s arm just because he was so frustrated that Lesnar stomped on him so much. The last four minutes or so saw Lesnar kick out of a chokeslam, Undertaker escape a Lesnar Last Ride attempt (Undertaker’s move, obviously), then Undertaker finally hit the Last Ride and everybody thought that was it until Lesnar got his hand on the bottom rope. Undertaker went for a Tombstone, but Lesnar amazingly countered it into an F5 for the pinfall as Undertaker loses cleanly in piles of his own blood after 27 minutes.

The Analysis: Like most matches in the bottom part of the list, the first half was pretty slow. It set the tone for what was a methodical brawl in a match that was better than most expected. Remember, this was at a time when Lesnar was still pretty new and had yet to have the “great” matches under his belt, so we didn’t know what to get from him. As for Undertaker, he’s been off and on a lot over the past five years or so and I’d say this was one of those matches during his on period. People that have seen this match will always remember Undertaker’s blood loss. It was, as I said above, excessive. You couldn’t even see his face by the end because there was so much blood coming out of his head. That worked for the match, though. Maybe without the blood it would be a half star less. I don’t know, but what I do know from what I saw was a bloody and beaten man who lost to a younger, fresher man. He put Lesnar over the right way. Together they gave us a strong world title match.
Rating: ***3/4

45. Team Austin (Shawn Michaels, Booker T., Rob Van Dam, Dudley Boys) vs. Team Bischoff (Chris Jericho, Christian, Mark Henry, Scott Steiner, Randy Orton) @ Survivor Series – 11/16/03
The Story: Yes, you’re seeing that right. Mark Henry! This match was only good because of him. Okay, maybe not. There were two GMs on Raw at this point. The stipulation here was Austin picked a team of wrestlers to face a team of Bischoff picked wrestlers. If Austin’s team won, he would be allowed to beat people up again. If his team lost, he would be forced to step down as the GM of Raw and “leave” Raw. There was a lot of anticipation for it even though everybody had the idea that Austin’s team was going to lose. Still, it was nice to see a classic Survivor Series match again and all we were hoping for was a quality match.

The Match: Things really didn’t pick up until the tail end, so the early eliminations can be handled quicker. Booker eliminated Steiner with the Bookend, then moments later Henry eliminated Booker with his fall forward slam move. After Mark Henry ran through his arsenal of moves (about three clotheslines), the Dudleys hit him with a 3D and RVD with a frog splash to eliminate Henry. RVD took advantage on Jericho, but then he got shoved off the top and Randy Orton came in to eliminate RVD to tie the match up at 3-3. Heel shenanigans lead to Jericho pinning D’Von Dudley after a spinning neckdrop, making it 3 on 2 for Team Bischoff. Bubba is next to get eliminated after more heel cheating leads to Christian pinning him with the Unprettier, leading to Orton, Jericho & Christian vs. Michaels. Michaels bleeds massively soon after thanks to a slingshot into the pole, but Michaels comes back to beat Christian with a superkick, making it two on one. Michaels played dead for much of the next bit as the heels tried to work him over. Jericho ducked a superkick, went for the Walls, but Michaels reversed it into a rollup leading to the pinfall and elimination of Jericho. After losing, Jericho came back into the ring and cracked Michaels in the face with the chair. Michaels’ blood loss was tremendous. Following the chair shot, Orton covered for a near two, which was a great nearfall. Orton went for a crossbody, but Michaels ducked and Orton knocked the ref out. Bischoff came into the ring, kicked Michaels and that led to Austin coming into the ring, throwing Bischoff out and hitting a Stunner on Orton while the crowd was going nuts for all of it. Austin brawled with Bischoff to the back as Batista came in through the crowd to hit the Batista Bomb on Michaels. Orton crawled over for the cover and got the cheap pinfall as the ref came to at the right time. Post match, Austin got a huge ovation for his farewell, shook Michaels hand and then gave a speech after. Match was 27 minutes long.

The Analysis: You can separate this match into two parts. The first half was pretty boring as the guys who you didn’t expect to last long got eliminated leaving it down to the three heels against Michaels. It was done in such a way that Christian and Jericho didn’t look that weak when they took the falls. Christian simply lost to the veteran performer while Jericho got outsmarted by the rollup, although he came back quickly with that vile chair shot after the match. During all of this, Michaels lost as much blood as I can remember him losing in any match, even that first HIAC with Undertaker. It was everywhere. Not just on his face, but his whole body. That’s what made the match rule because the story was told just by looking at him. The ending with Batista coming in made sense at the time because they were really looking to push Evolution by this point, so it seemed right to have him cost Michaels the match. The crowd ate all of it up with a spoon, which is a sign of a great match. Due to it being so slow and pedestrian at the beginning, I couldn’t really rate it as high as I did on my first viewing, which was four stars.
Rating: ***3/4

44. Eddie Guerrero vs. Chris Benoit @ Armageddon – 12/15/02
The Story: Guerrero was a tag champ with Chavo at this point. They were heels at the time. Benoit was a babyface here. Two weeks prior to this match on Smackdown there was a fantastic four way elimination match to determine the number one contender for the WWE title (Kurt Angle won that). In the match, Benoit eliminated Guerrero. After getting eliminated, Eddie took out his frustrations by drilling Benoit in the neck with the tag belt and cost Benoit his chance to win the match. His dream of becoming champion. They were really pushing Benoit to the top, so it was a good way to get this feud over.

The Match: Lots of mat wrestling at the start, about five minutes worth. Things picked up when Guerrero came off the top with a plancha to the floor. Guerrero worked on the knee, Benoit came back with German suplexes, five of them, which got him a nice ovation. He then blew some snot on Guerrero (I always love that!) and hit two more Germans for a total of seven. Benoit went for a powerbomb, but Guerrero countered that into three Germans of his own, then a vertical suplex. Frog splash hits for just two to the surprise of many. Guerrero took him to the floor, then he distracts the ref and that allows Chavo Guerrero to come out, crack Benoit in the head with his tag title, but that only gets two also. Lasso from El Paso from Guerrero (he needs to use that move more), but Benoit gets ropes. Benoit came back with chops and a STIFF powerbomb. Really hard. Benoit up top, Chavo went after him, but got knocked down for his efforts. That led to a Benoit headbutt, but Guerrero countered by putting him into the Lasso. Benoit countered that by grabbing Guerrero’s foot, putting him in the Crossface and forcing the tap out soon after. Awesome counter. Match was 17 minutes long.

The Analysis: I thought they really did a good job of putting Benoit over in this match. They had him kick out of a Frog Splash cleanly as well as a belt shot. Guerrero was made to look good at times too, but this match obviously was all about proving Benoit’s toughness. I think they were going for a submission, mat based match here. They really didn’t brawl at all here, sticking to the mat stuff and trying to win the crowd over with that. It didn’t really work since the crowd wasn’t that great during the match, but the work in the ring was still top notch. The first five minutes probably killed them a bit. By the end of it, especially the last five minutes, the crowd was popping for all the signature spots and I thought the finish worked really well. Benoit’s counter was great at the end. Not a blowaway match or anything, but pretty much what you’d expect from these two once they get over fifteen minutes to have a match. They had one at Vengeance 2003 that was equally good, but failed to make the list because I disliked the interference in that one too much.
Rating: ***3/4

43. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H for the World Title @ Vengeance – 07/11/04
The Story: This was billed as their first one on one match in the WWE, which frustrated anybody with a memory because they wrestled at No Mercy 2000 (keep reading to find that one). Then there was Benoit’s first ever WWE match on Smackdown in February 2000, which was against HHH, so again, somebody call the logic police I think they clarified it by saying it was the first time since Benoit was on Raw or something like that. Anyway, this was during the time when HHH was pretending to be Eugene’s friend while everybody watching at home knew he was simply using him to his advantage. Going in, there was a feeling that there’d be some kind of interference here.

The Match: Early on HHH dominated with suplexes, back breakers and moves to work on Benoit’s ribs. Benoit came back with his usual array of offensive holds. Benoit goes to the top for a headbutt, but HHH rolls out of the way, then takes control for a few minutes. HHH picks him up for a suplex, but then tosses him forward so he lands sternum first. Cool move because it follows the psychology of Benoit having hurt ribs. That gets two. He does another suplex toss on the ribs for two. Then HHH slows it down with an abdominal stretch and a sleeper. Benoit comes back with a Sharpshooter, but HHH makes ropes. Benoit gets advantage with the three rolling German suplexes. Triple H rolls out of the ring during the headbutt signal. Benoit charges and hits a suicide tope through the middle ropes. Benoit’s body bounced off the barricade wall, as did HHH’s back. Ref bump, DDT for HHH and then he signals for Eugene. Benoit hits a Crossface. Benoit is yelling at Eugene to get the ref. HHH taps out while the ref is on the floor. Benoit knocks down Eugene, HHH hits a low blow, and then a Pedigree for the nearfall. Eugene hands HHH the chair, then takes it away and Benoit cracks HHH with it, then Flair and Batista as they run in. Benoit gets knocked down, but he low blows HHH and everybody’s out except for Eugene. The finish comes with Eugene and Benoit struggling for the chair until Eugene yanks on it, cracking HHH in the face. Benoit cradles HHH for the win after 29 minutes.

The Analysis: This one had all the makings of a classic early on with HHH working on the ribs of Benoit in the perfect way. I was marking out hard for those suplex throws. Such an impressive move to do and for Benoit to take. It’s just cool looking. I don’t know how else to say it. The Eugene interference here was so obvious that people were groaning when he came out, rather than cheering him. Looking back, you have to wonder if it was right to kill what was going to be a great match here in order to prop up the Eugene/HHH match at Summerslam that was basically a midcard match that everybody knew HHH was going to win. The good thing was an Ironman match soon followed on Raw (although that ended too with Eugene interfering), so we were able to get more HHH vs. Benoit. Both guys were great in their roles, as was Eugene, but you have to wonder if it was the right idea booking wise. I mean, you have a thirty minute match for the title and the last ten minutes of it is basically all about what Eugene is going to do.
Rating: ****

42. Team WWE (The Rock, Undertaker, Chris Jericho, Big Show, Kane) vs. Team Alliance (Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Booker T., Rob Van Dam, Shane McMahon) @ Survivor Series – 11/18/01
The Story: This was billed as the biggest match ever by the WWE at the time. “Everything” was on the line here. If Team Alliance won then they would “own” the WWE. Of course, nobody believed the Alliance would win a damn thing just like they didn’t win a damn thing during the course of the feud (which is why it failed in the first place). In case you didn’t know, Team Alliance were the heels in this even though Austin was getting cheered by this point and RVD wasn’t getting booed a whole heck of a lot either. Then there’s Shane McMahon, a guy who had some decent matches over the course of his life, but not a true wrestler and probably the wrong choice to be in the “biggest match ever.” Oh well, he’s a McMahon. You can’t stop it. Going in we knew it would be a long match and had a sense that it would probably end with Rock-Austin at some point. That was something to get excited about since they didn’t have that much interaction since Austin turned heel at WrestleMania that year.

The Match: This was a long match, so I’ll just skip some of the details and hit the high points. Big Show got eliminated first after taking an Angle Slam, an axe kick, a frog splash and a Shane McMahon elbow. Then Shane is out next following a Kane chokeslam, Undertaker Tombstone and Jericho Lionsault. RVD gets rid of Kane soon after followed by Undertaker getting eliminated by an Austin Stunner two minutes after that. Twenty minutes in, we’re left with Austin, Angle, Booker and RVD vs. Rock and Jericho as all the large guys are gone. A few minutes later, Rock eliminates Booker with a cradle and Jericho gets rid of RVD via pinfall. The great stuff began here since it was Austin and Angle against Rock and Jericho. Lots of nearfalls follow until it’s Rock left in there against Angle, so they exchange some holds with Rock winning by forcing Angle to lose to the Sharpshooter. Austin’s all alone as Jericho Lionsaults him, but misses and that gets two for Austin. Missile dropkick gets two more for Jericho, then a rollup by Jericho is countered into one by Austin that gets the fall to eliminate Jericho. Match ends with Austin vs. Rock, as expected. After Rock gets a Spinebuster, Jericho turns on him to continue their rivalry and Austin takes Rock out on the floor. Back in, Rock hits a Stunner for a two count that is broken up by evil Alliance referee Nick Patrick, which then led to Austin hitting a Rock Bottom for two. Rock then hits a Stunner, but with Hebner out there’s no fall for him to have and Kurt Angle comes in, hits Austin and that leads to a Rock Bottom for the final pinfall after 45 minutes.

The Analysis: Prior to re-watching this match for this list, I had only seen this match once, which was during the live airing. On the second viewing I liked it a little less than I remember because it’s almost as if they should have just done Austin vs. Rock rather than involving all the others. That would have had a bigger impact and probably would have drawn bigger numbers considering how well WrestleMania X-7 did. That said, the roles of Undertaker, Kane and Big Show were pretty limited. They didn’t do a lot. This was during the WWE’s time where they disliked Show because he was out of shape, not focused and just performing poorly to the point where they had to send him to OVW. The last four guys in the match (Austin, Angle, Rock, Jericho) were what we expected since Rock was the WCW Champion at the time while Austin was the WWF Champion and the other two obviously were great in their roles. The finish with Angle costing Team Alliance the match was a creative one that worked perfectly. He got cheered for it, but the next night on Raw he went back to being a heel and all was right again. Solid match that was a notch above the ten man tag that took place at Invasion four months prior.
Rating: ****

41. Eddie Guerrero vs. Kurt Angle for the WWE Title @ WrestleMania XX – 03/14/04
The Story: Before this match took place, Eddie Guerrero was in a feud with his nephew Chavo. Angle pretended to be a peacemaker in that feud, but ultimately he ended up beating the hell out of Eddie on multiple occasions. In between the Chavo/Eddie feud and Eddie/Kurt, Eddie won the WWE title from Brock Lesnar in a match you’ll read about later. The most memorable occurrence in this feud came on Smackdown before WrestleMania when Eddie proclaimed he could beat then GM Paul Heyman with both hands tied behind his back. On the same show, Angle appeared “via satellite” to cut a promo. During the match, Heyman ducked out of the ring, ran up the aisle and fled while Kurt Angle shockingly came out. He took Eddie in the ring, beat the holy hell out of him while he was in handcuffs and gave us a memorable moment to head into this match with.

The Match: Nice mat wrestling to start, although it might have been too much since it went about five minutes while the crowd was starting to lose interest. After about seven minutes some suplexes followed as Guerrero missed a double axe on the floor, injuring his ribs. Angle spent a lot of time working the midsection with suplexes and holds centering on the ribs. Guerrero sold it all great. Angle went for the top rope suplex, but Guerrero shoved him off, went for a Frog Splash and as Angle moved out of the way, Guerrero hurt his ribs some more. Angle goes for an Angle Slam, but Eddie counters with an arm drag and a hurricanrana. After Angle sunk in an ankle lock 12 minutes in, it started to heat up. Pop up suplex got two. Another ankle lock attempt, but Eddie turned it into a cradle for two. Angle Slam countered into a DDT was phenomenal. I don’t know if I’ve seen that counter before. Frog Splash gets only two to the shock of the crowd. Angle plays dead, then jumps on him with another ankle lock. Thirty seconds later, Eddie kicks him to the floor. Now he starts to untie his boot while Angle’s on the floor. He never sees him untie it. Angle is pissed, Eddie gives an “oh shit” expression on his face and Kurt comes in with an ankle lock. This time Eddie kicks at Angle’s arm until he yanks off the boot. Angle’s wondering what is going on, so Eddie gets a tight inside cradle for the win, allowing him to retain the title after 21 minutes. Clever finish.

The Analysis: The first five minutes of this match were pretty slow, I must say. It was an example of what WWE is trying for with this “new style” of theirs. Things picked up the moment Guerrero went rib first into the railing in a Randy Savage style bump. I liked that. It would have been nice to see Guerrero go on offense a bit more than what he did because it really came off like Guerrero wasn’t doing much. His selling was great, though, so it’s not a big gripe. It also makes sense that the Frog Splash only got two since Angle wasn’t beat down a whole lot. The finish was fun and creative. Angle was relentless in going for the Ankle Lock, Guerrero sensed that so he ended up using that to his advantage by outsmarting Angle at the end leading to the boot trick and cradle for the win. This was like a song that starts up slow, then ever so slowly gets momentum and by the end it hits the crescendo, hitting all the big notes at the right time. This wasn’t a match full of highspots or anything like that, but it was full of good straight up wrestling from two of the best.
Rating: ****

40. Shane McMahon vs. Kurt Angle in a Street Fight @ King of the Ring – 06/24/01
The Story: This was one of the most insane matches you will ever see in WWE history. It came about because Angle was bragging about winning King of the Ring a year before. He said he’d do it again, but before he could continue his speech Shane McMahon came out to ruin the fun. Why? Well, there wasn’t a great reason why. I just think they did this match as a way to keep Shane involved with the company since they’d be doing the invasion angle a month later. This was made into a street fight and it would be Angle’s third match of the show, since he beat Christian and lost to Edge earlier. That just shows how awesome the man is.

The Match: To start out, Angle schooled McMahon with his wrestling skills. Then Shane figured he can’t beat him like that, so he just starts brawling with him. Then it starts getting violent. There’s some cool spots in here like Shane’s Shooting Star press attempt that misses and of course all the stuff that happens by the entrance way. It’s hard to describe, but there was this glass casing that had the “KOR” logos all over it. Angle decides to do a belly to belly throw on Shane with the idea that he’d go through the glass. The glass didn’t break and Shane lands right on his head. So Angle does it again, this time it breaks. Sick stuff. They’re all bloody because of the glass. Now they’re inside the casing there, so Angle tries to suplex him through another glass, but that doesn’t break. Another sick landing. Then he goes for it again, still no break, but at least this time Angle was there to break the fall. Then Angle’s frustrated, so he simply throws Shane through the glass. Those were some of the most insane moments I’ve ever seen in a match. Back near the ring, Shane tries to fight back, but it’s not enough. Angle eventually puts him away by setting up some plywood across the top rope and giving him an Angle Slam off that for the finish. It was a 25 minute match.

The Analysis: This was really an example of how good Kurt Angle is as a wrestler and how willing Shane McMahon is to put his body on the line. Some of the stuff in this match still shock me today and it’s a match I’ve seen a half dozen times by now. I remember people online complaining about how McMahon was made to look like this superman type guy because he was able to last that long with Angle after all those insane spots. Personally, I didn’t mind. I think McMahon held his own and Angle did his part in making Shane’s offense look believable. That’s why it was a street fight, to help Shane look better. I think it worked. This was a brutal match, both in the literal and figurative sense. Watching it the first time made me cringe and after watching it a few times now I still wonder how Shane survived those landings on his head. They were unreal. Fun match, that is, if you think guys getting thrown onto their heads is fun. How great is Angle, seriously? Not only did he wrestle three times in a night, but he put his body on the line like this after two previous matches? Dude is nuts. No wonder his neck is always messed up.
Rating: ****

39. Chris Jericho vs. The Rock for the Undisputed World Title @ Royal Rumble – 01/20/02
The Story: This one had been built up for a while and wasn’t the first match you saw between these two. At No Mercy in October, Jericho beat Rock for the WCW Title (that match is later in the list) in a match where they both went in as babyfaces, but Jericho was turning heel by that point. A month later, during the elimination tag match (#42 on the list) Jericho did a cheap shot on Rock after he got eliminated just because he was jealous. A month after that, during the Unification Title mini-tournament, Jericho beat Rock again thanks to Vince McMahon’s help in a match that nearly made this list and maybe I’ll be asked why it’s not here in emails. Oh well. By this point, Jericho was up 2-0 on Rock in major PPV title matches and really was on a roll during his first heel run in WWE. These two had great chemistry together, so going into the match we were expecting good things.

The Match: The match started out pretty fast with both guys busting out big moves early including a Rock superplex that kept them down early on. Jericho came back after a Rock belly to belly with a bulldog and two Lionsaults for two. Rock grabbed the Sharpshooter, then Jericho hit his own version of the Rock Bottom for two (the move that beat Rock at Vengeance a month earlier). Jericho’s People’s Elbow got countered by a kip up and then a sick Rock Bottom on the table on the floor knocks him out good. In ring, Rock Bottom is blocked and Walls of Jericho are locked in, but Rock makes ropes. Another Walls, another reversal and then a ref bump, so Jericho drills Rock with the title. Corrupt heel ref Nick Patrick counts the two, but when Rock hits a DDT he stops counting after one. Rock takes out Patrick, then hits the People’s Elbow, but there’s no ref. Jericho hit Rock with a low blow, put him face first into the turnbuckle he exposed earlier and then rolled him up with his feet on the ropes for the cheap victory after 18 minutes.

The Analysis: I loved the evil ways of Jericho in this match. It was so cheap that after the match all the fans wanted to kill Jericho. He did a great job in the match, coming so close to beating Rock legit with the Lionsault and the Walls, but then resorting to the cheap maneuvers because he knew that’s all he could really do. Rock was fantastic in his role as usual, selling everything perfectly and doing a good job in showing how frustrated he was with the match through his facial expressions. The finish was obviously cheap, but going into the match it was to be expected. They never booked Jericho THAT strong to begin with because even when he got wins over top guys like Rock and Austin they were always tainted. It was never the kind of win that was distinct or clear cut. That’s why this worked.
Rating: ****

38. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho for the Intercontinental Title @ Backlash – 04/30/00
The Story: This was their first major singles match in the WWE. The month before, Benoit won the IC title in a triple threat match at WrestleMania that also involved Kurt Angle (a match that barely missed this list). Benoit was the heel here while Jericho was the babyface. The purpose of this feud was to add a little toughness to Jericho’s character, which up to this point had been basically a comedic figure and at its worst almost like a sidekick of Chyna’s. Yeah, I cringe at that memory too. I was very much looking forward to this match because since both were free of the politics of WCW it would be nice to see them have a long match in a company that knows how to accentuate a wrestler’s strengths.

The Match: They chop the hell out of eachother to start, then Benoit gets the suplexes, but Jericho went to the floor and Benoit dove at him on the floor, crashing on his head. Ouch. Then in a great spot, Benoit dropkicked the ring steps into Jericho’s crotch. Ouch again. Benoit follows that up in the ring with a number of moves to work on Jericho’s ribs, including a gutbuster. Jericho fought back, hit a Lionsault for a delayed two count because his ribs were so sore. Jericho followed up with a bulldog for two and a rollup for two. Benoit went up top, but Jericho brought him down with a back superplex and then his double powerbomb (he needs to use that again!) only gets him two. Out of the pinfall, Benoit countered into the Crossface, tearing back on Jericho until Y2J made it to the ropes. Then Jericho gets the Walls for a little while until Benoit makes ropes. Flying forearm by Jericho takes out the ref, so Benoit nails Jericho with a belt shot, then a snap suplex on the belt. He went up top for the headbutt, but as he came down Jericho held the belt up and Benoit went crashing into the belt. The ref came to just at that moment, so Jericho was disqualified and the match was over after 15 minutes.

The Analysis: This match lived up to the hype that myself and others had for it coming in. They really did a good job of being physical, chopping eachother a lot early on and never slowing the pace down a whole heck of a lot. I liked how every move Benoit did was countered by Jericho in a way that it was like neither man ever really had the advantage. I also enjoyed the finish a lot even if the crowd shit on it completely. I understand why they did it because the match was building and building to something that seemed like it would be an epic finish until it all came crashing down with that ref bump. The finish was creative, which is why I liked it. It was Benoit who did the cheating, who brought the belt in the first place and he eventually won through disqualification because Jericho used it almost as a measure of self defense. It was a nice twist that gave us a rematch a month later (that match is higher on the list).
Rating: ****

37. Edge vs. Kurt Angle @ Backlash – 04/21/02
The Story: This came at a time when WWE wanted to push Edge as a singles wrestler, so they put him in a feud with Kurt Angle. Edge got a win on Angle on Raw, leading to a couple of PPV matches with this one being the first. The build for this match saw some nice brawling from both guys and some nice comedy as Edge busted out pictures of he and Angle in happier times (Team ECK, baby!) while the audience got to see the back of pictures that had phrases like, “I have no testicles” on it. Edge challenged Angle for Backlash, so this is what we got.

The Match: This match was pretty fast paced from the get go. There were some cool spots in here with Angle being relentless in going for the suplexes and the ankle lock, but Edge kept fighting. He even busted out a couple of suplexes of his own. The finishing sequence was excellent as usual. Edge went for his DDT finisher, the Impaler, but Angle turned it into an Angle slam that only got two. Ankle lock got reversed into a cradle by Edge for two, so Kurt went to the floor to get a chair. That missed, but he hit his own face with the chair after it bounced off the ropes and Edge gets another near fall out of that. Edge tries to capitalize by going for a spear, but Angle knees him in the face. Why don’t more people do that? Another Angle Slam gets the win for Kurt after about 14 minutes.

The Analysis: I re-watched this match for this column for the first time in about two years and I have to say I didn’t remember much of it originally. In watching it again, it makes you appreciate how great Angle is, especially when it comes to working with a young guy who is wrestling in what had to be considered Edge’s biggest singles match of his career. They were even the whole way until the finish, when Angle outsmarted him. It worked perfectly. These guys really developed some great chemistry in working together over the years. They had a match a month later where Edge won the feud and Kurt was forced to cut his hair. I didn’t like it as much, so it’s not on this list. This match was great, though.
Rating: ****1/4

36. Triple H vs. The Rock for the WWE Title @ Backlash – 04/30/00
The Story: This was the match that many people felt should have been the main event of WrestleMania a month earlier. Instead, WrestleMania was a four way elimination match that saw HHH retain the title after Vince McMahon, who was a babyface in the corner of the Rock, turned on Rock during the match, giving the victory to his then on-camera son-in-law. It was a finish that united HHH with his “wife” Stephanie, his father in law Vince and his son in law Shane. In the build to this match, the sane McMahon, Linda, announced that Steve Austin would return for this match to be in the Rock’s corner in some capacity. Austin had been out since November with neck surgery and while he wouldn’t wrestle for another six months his return was eagerly anticipated. The ref in the match was Shane McMahon, so the storyline going in was the Rock was all alone here. Also, before the match began Vince McMahon announced Austin wouldn’t be there. It was the classic “deck is stacked against the babyface” angle.

The Match: From the early going, every time Rock was on top of HHH, Shane did his part to get him off, like when he literally pulled him off HHH. They went to the floor and Vince tossed him into the ring post, then when Rock was back in the ring HHH got the high knee for a very fast two count. HHH hit a knee drop and had Shane count it fast each time, three times in total getting two counts. Then HHH put him in a chinlock with his feet on the ropes as Shane did nothing about it, drawing the ire of the crowd. When Rock fought back, Vince hit him with the title. Rock then hits a DDT but gets no count out of it since Shane refused. They go out on the floor, Rock counters a Pedigree attempt on the table and hit a Rock Bottom on HHH and Shane through the table! Damn! Realistic? No. Cool looking? Yes. Vince went after Rock, so Rock chased him, but then he got stopped by a HHH low blow and Pedigree. Still no Shane as the ref, so Brisco and Patterson come out in ref gear, but Rock kicked out. Amazing nearfalls. Vince hit Rock with a massive chairshot, then HHH went to finish him off with the Pedigree, but the glass breaks and Austin comes out sporting a beer gut. He literally hit everybody except Stephanie and Rock in the head with chairs. I’m talking vicious shots. Linda came out with ref Earl Hebner, shoved Stephanie down and the crowd was going absolutely nuts by this point. Rock hit a Spinebuster and a People’s Elbow to get the victory after 19 minutes of fun.

The Analysis: The idea to hold off this match for Backlash paid off huge for WWE. It drew a huge buyrate, one of the best ones ever for a non big four PPV. Not just big four, but any PPV, really. The crowd ate up the HHH-Rock interaction as well as the return of Austin, which totally lived up to the hype. The coolest thing about this match was how corrupt Shane was as the referee because it made for such an interesting dynamic. While watching it you kind of knew Rock was going to win, the question was how? How could he survive all of this? In terms of drawing a crowd into a match and getting a reaction out of them for the finish, there aren’t many matches that can top this. However, I can’t give it a higher rating than what I’ve given it because of all the outside interference, even if it did have a part in the story being told. You can’t ignore that stuff. Rock and HHH were so good together by this point that if you gave them fifteen minutes together you were guaranteed at least a ***1/2 match and usually higher than that. This one is no exception. There would be a rematch and you will be reading about it later on in this list.
Rating: ****1/4

A review 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

Now we pick up where we left off with matches #35-21.

35. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Kane vs. Booker T. vs. Chris Jericho for the World Title @ Survivor Series – 11/17/02
The Story: This was the first ever Elimination Chamber match. The title on the line was HHH’s World Title, which was handed to him by Eric Bischoff a couple of months prior. Since he won the belt, he defeated both Rob Van Dam and Kane on PPV. The Kane match was the result of the horrible Katie Vick angle that we’d all like to forget. Jericho was in the match because he was the second top heel while Michaels was in only his second match since he came back after a four year layoff. Booker was yet to really be a top guy although he would face HHH at WrestleMania a few months later, so this was a preview of things to come. Going in, the story was the structure itself. Fans wanted to know what the cage was like. There were two miles of chain, ten tons of steel and it was ten feet high. Four guys would be locked in chambers while two guys fought in the ring. Every five minutes somebody comes in. You get pinned or submit and you’re out. History making match here.

The Match: Triple H and RVD started it. HHH bled after about two minutes in, which has to be a record even for him. Memorable early spot was RVD hitting the Rolling Thunder on HHH while he was laying on the steel outside the ring, RVD flipped over the top rope to land on him. The first five minutes was RVD beating on HHH basically. Jericho came in to help the heels beat up RVD. RVD did a Spiderman like spot, jumping at Jericho, but then hanging onto the side of the cage. Booker came in next. Another big moment came when RVD climbed one of the cages and came off on HHH trying to do a frog splash. Problem was there wasn’t enough room, so he landed with his feet on the ground and his knee right in HHH’s throat. HHH had a legit injury, I think his trachea, so he spent the next few minutes trying to cope with that while the others went at it. With RVD limping around, Booker pinned him with a missile dropkick. Kane came in next. In a sick spot, he whipped Jericho through the plexiglas in one of the chambers, busting it open and bloodying Jericho. Booker worked over Kane a bit leading to Jericho low blowing Booker, Kane chokeslamming him and then Jericho pinning him after the Lionsault. All three guys were out when Michaels came in. Kane quickly took advantage, chokeslamming them all. Kane went to Tombstone HHH, but Michaels superkicked him, HHH Pedigreed him and Jericho hit the Lionsault to pin Kane. Down to three guys. They go to double Michaels, but that didn’t last long since they argued about who gets to pin him. Jericho put HHH in the Walls, so Michaels superkicked him and Jericho got pinned. Down to HHH and Michaels as we expected. The crowd in New York got really hot for this part. HHH hit a slingshot through one of the chambers in another sick spot. Michaels fought back, hit the big elbow off one of the chambers although it wasn’t that pretty. Superkick blocked, Pedigree hits, but HHH slowly covers for only two. Another Pedigree, backdrop and superkick finish it for Michaels after 39 minutes.

The Analysis: As I said in the opening part, there was a lot of intrigue here for the actual Elimination Chamber itself. We got to see this video package highlighting what it was like, but it was seeing the thing that really had the interest of most fans. With a match going this long it’s hard to keep everything going at the right flow, but I think they did a good job here. The start was fun with RVD and HHH, especially because RVD dominated it. It led to the crowd getting into the match right away, which is something you really want in a long match. I thought Jericho played a big role in the match because with HHH being hurt early on they needed somebody to step up, so that’s what Jericho did. I thought the big spots in the match were done well. When Kane put Jericho through the chamber you could feel the pain just from watching it. The finishing sequence with Michaels and HHH was really strong. Remember, this was Michaels second match back from his injury, so he was hugely over with the crowd here. The title reign didn’t last long, but this was still a cool moment to remember as one of WWE’s prodigal sons returned home to reclaim the title he used to fight so hard for. Damn, all these match writings has me sounding like JR!
Rating: ****1/4

34. Rey Mysterio vs. Chavo Guerrero for the Cruiserweight Title @ Great American Bash – 06/27/04
The Story: A match from the Great American Bash? Yep. One of the worst WWE PPV’s ever, but there is this gem that took place at that show. A couple of weeks prior on Smackdown Mysterio won the Cruiserweight Title from Chavo’s dad, who had a “classic” run with the belt that lasted all of two days. Keep in mind this was also a month after the moronic title run by Jacqueline. It was as if WWE admitted that the Jacqueline title reign was a stupid idea, so their way of apologizing was tossing out this Rey/Chavo might to hopefully restore some credibility to the belt.

The Match: As expected, it was a fast start with four pinfall attempts in the first two minutes and then an amazingly fast sequence of counter wrestling. What a start. The match slows down after Chavo knocks Rey off of the top and Mysterio comes back up clutching at his left knee. Chavo worked over the knee with the usual moves that you see and does a nice knee breaker by dropping Rey’s knee on his own upper thigh, then he grabbed a sick looking single leg crab. Then when Rey fights back he’s unable to run because he falls down, selling that leg. I love that. Guerrero does a bow and arrow submission (wrapping the leg around his head), and Rey eventually fights back with a hurricanrana, then Chavo rams his own shoulder into the ring post and Mysterio hits a senton on the floor. Awesome. If you’re keeping track, that’s a bad knee for Mysterio and a bad shoulder for Guerrero. They go up top and at the same time hit a dual facebuster, Chavo eventually covered, Mysterio kicked out and cradled him for two of his own. Mysterio fought back, going for a hurricanrana again, but got it reversed into a Gory Bomb by Chavo, which was an awesome counter. The best part was he couldn’t hook the leg because his arm was hurting too much. Mysterio caught him with an enziguri and a 619 that we’ll call the Limp-1-9 since he limped across, but then on the West Coast Pop attempt he got caught by Chavo. Single leg crab led to the crowd going nuts as Mysterio fought it to get to the ropes about thirty seconds later. Guerrero went to set him up for another Gory Bomb, but Mysterio countered that into a sunset flip powerbomb for the pinfall after 20 minutes.

The Analysis: I hadn’t seen this match since the original airing and I have to say I liked it more the second time around. The selling they did here was perfect. That’s the stuff you want to see in every match. I loved how Mysterio sold that leg the whole time. Not just when he was on the ground like some people do. He sold it while he was running by falling down. It’s just smart wrestling. Need to see more of that. Then you had Chavo having his arm worked on by Mysterio early on, then after it got hurt again he sold it by not being able to hook the leg. That’s just great. Stupid wrestlers, take note! You know what part I really loved, though? The ending sequence with Chavo putting Rey in the single leg crab and the crowd getting all excited for it. Now, tell me, when was the last time a WWE crowd went wild for a submission hold in a cruiserweight match? Never happens! It was tremendous wrestling by both guys and a match that if it were to take place at a WrestleMania would be talked about forever as a classic. However, since it was on a card that also had Torrie/Sable, Gunn/Suzuki, Holly/Mordecai and the horrendously bad Undertaker/Dudley thing it’s not like it receives the most praise.
Rating: ****1/4

33. The Rock vs. Kurt Angle for the WWE Title @ No Mercy – 10/22/00
The Story: To set the stage here, Rock had been the world champion since he won the belt four months prior in an overbooked tag match at King of the Ring. Yes, you read that right, he won a singles title in a tag match when he pinned Vince McMahon. I’ confused too. Anyway, Angle was coming up to his one year anniversary in the WWE by this point having won the major singles titles except for the big one. Rock was the face, Angle was the heel. If you’re lucky, you’ll remember a great “interview” in the weeks leading up to this where Angle interviewed Rock. He asked questions and Rock’s answers came from a number of different interviews, which made for some good comedy. Stephanie McMahon was the manager of Kurt Angle at this time. Also of note for this match is that Rikishi had turned heel prior to it saying that he ran over Steve Austin in a car for the Rock. Who can forget the “I did it for the Rock” promo that was supposed to come off as sinister, but was more funny than anything because it came from a dancing fat man? Or wait, phat man. With Rikishi wanting to help Rock so much it kind of made the finish to this one obvious, but they still had to wrestle anyway under no disqualification rules.

The Match: They quickly took things out to the floor, fighting up the aisle early on and brawling through the technical area back there. Rock worked on the knee, then slapped on the Sharpshooter, but Stephanie distracted the referee. Following another distraction, Angle hit a nice belly to belly suplex and then they went out on the floor. Angle cracked him with the belt after another Steph distraction for two. Then he followed up with a German suplex and the moonsault that missed, which is not something new. Rock hit a belly to belly of his own, then Steph decided to come in the ring and she took a Rock Bottom for that one. Triple H comes out to beat up Angle a bit I guess for letting his wife get hurt and then Pedigrees Rock for payback for what he did to princess Stephanie. That got two for Angle in a fantastic nearfall. Watching it live, I thought that was it. Rock came back with a Rock Bottom as Rikishi made his way to ringside. He accidentally avalanched Rock and superkicked him by mistake. Sometimes I wish the Rikishi heel push was an accident too. Angle capitalizes by hitting the Angle Slam on both guys (because he can) and pinning Rock for the victory after 20 minutes.

The Analysis: This match sure didn’t seem like it went twenty minutes in length. It was so fast paced and so full with spots that it felt shorter than the actual time. That’s a testament to both guys because they kept the action going from the start. It never slowed. Angle at this point hadn’t developed the viciousness that his character would later get. He was still basically a coward in every sense of the word, relying on heel comedy techniques to get over more than anything. Rock was over huge as usual, so Angle winning did come off as sort of an upset. Obviously, though, they protected Rock huge by having so much interference against him. Part of the reason this match doesn’t have a higher rating is because of all the interference. Thing is, all of it worked good. None of it was excessive or over the top. When it works, I can forgive it. I also loved Angle’s title celebration. Just classic.
Rating: ****1/4

32. Triple H vs. Chris Benoit @ No Mercy – 10/22/00
The Story: I don’t remember a whole lot about this feud, or any story going in. I think it was just a case of two good wrestlers having a good match because neither one really had anything to do for the show this month. Not that I’m complaining. HHH was almost a tweener at this point because the crowd was sympathetic to him due to Stephanie managing Kurt Angle and almost leaving HHH to be with Angle. Benoit was the heel here while HHH was getting some pops from the crowd. Earlier in the night, HHH told his wife Stephanie that he didn’t need her help and to stay in the back.

The Match: HHH worked over Benoit’s knee early, outwrestling him for the first five minutes or so. Benoit dumped HHH over to the top to the floor in a back suplex position, then hit HHH with a slingshot into the post and a hard whip into the ring steps. Single arm takedown by Benoit and then a whip into the turnbuckle as he continued to work on HHH’s shoulder/arm combination. Northern Lights by Benoit got a good nearfall and then HHH lured him out to floor for some brawling until Benoit rolls him back in after a counter. After some more moves on the arm, Benoit hits the headbutt onto the left arm/shoulder. Inside cradle by HHH got a good nearfall, then he countered a move with an inverted suplex, which is a move you rarely see. HHH took control with a high knee, neckbreaker and a superplex. Benoit counters the Pedigree, then hits two Rolling Germans and then a Dragon Suplex for two as HHH got his foot on the ropes. Then another Dragon Suplex that HHH kicks out of again. Crossface time, HHH fights it off and turns it into a Samoan Drop/Death Valley Driver variation after about two minutes. Stephanie comes out to ringside and slaps Benoit. Kick to the gut, Pedigree countered to another Crossface, but HHH fights it off for a Pedigree, Benoit counters again, so HHH hits a low blow during a Steph distraction and Pedigrees Benoit for the pin after 19 minutes.

The Analysis: Really strong match here as both guys showed off their strengths at various points. It was a different match then what they did in 2004 because this was a lot more mat based, which is not something to complain about. They did some strong counter wrestling from the get go. I think what hurt the match a bit is that neither guy was a face, so it was hard for the fans to get behind either of them. They did end up cheering for HHH early on and at some later points in the match, but not the way they would have in a face vs. heel type of match. Still, the actual wrestling was of high quality and they were able to bring across a strong match without much of a storyline. I guess the ending proved that HHH did need his wife as you could tell from Steph’s “acting” post match when she walked up the aisle with a big grin on her face.
Rating: ****1/4

31. The Undertaker vs. Kurt Angle vs. The Rock for the Undisputed World Title @ Vengeance – 07/21/02
The Story: Undertaker was the heel champion at the time and doing a damn good job of it, I might add. He was turning face by this point, however. I’d say he was a tweener more than anything. Angle was his usual smarmy heel character who was always hovering around the world title. Rock had just returned to WWE after being off for a few months filming a movie (I think Scorpion King) and it was well known that he’d be off again in the fall. It was going to just be Undertaker vs. Rock here, but they added Angle in after he wrestled to a draw with champion Undertaker on Smackdown. It was a combination of Angle submitting Undertaker and Undertaker pinning Angle with the refs not being sure who won, so they decided to throw Angle into this match. Angle was basically thrown in here because they had nothing else for him at this time and they knew with him in there the match would be damn good. They were right.

The Match: The start of this match ruled with Angle standing there waving his arms while Rock-Undertaker had a staredown and then they turned to him only to knock him on his ass. Undertaker’s out on the floor early leaving Angle in the ring to suplex the hell out of Rock. Rock hit a DDT, then they were on the floor where Undertaker punches them around. Then the fun begins as Rock hits Taker with a chokeslam, then slaps the Ankle Lock on Angle and then Angle comes back with a Rock Bottom on Rock, then Undertaker comes back with an Angle Slam on Angle. Every time a pin was attempted, the other guy broke it up. Rock gets People’s Elbow on Taker, Angle breaks that up, Undertaker brawls on the floor and gets the advantage on Rock in ring. The ref gets bumped, so Angle took a chair, nailed Undertaker with it and then hit an Angle Slam on Rock, getting two on both guys. Rock gets Kurt into the Sharpshooter, Undertaker breaks that, Last Ride to Rock, then Angle with the Ankle Lock until Undertaker fights out. Last Ride is countered into the triangle choke that Angle used on Smackdown to set up this match, Undertaker’s arm was going to go down for the third time until Rock saved him. Rock Bottom countered into an Ankle Lock, which is then countered into a rollup for a great nearfall. Angle eats a chokeslam, then Undertaker eats a Rock Bottom and kicks out at two. Angle with a rollup on Rock with the tights only gets two, then Angle hits an Angle Slam on Undertaker. Rock surprised Angle with a Rock Bottom for the pinfall after 19 minutes of fun. Undertaker lunged to break it up at the last minute, but was half a second too late.

The Analysis: I don’t think there’s ever been a triple threat match with more nearfalls than this one. Man, they just didn’t stop. It seemed like every two minutes there was one and it wasn’t just one, there were several. The live crowd was digging it too. All three guys were really good here, but Angle stood out like a sore thumb. He was unreal here. Everything he did was absolutely perfect. The moves he did, the bumps he took, he was the glue that held this match together. That’s not to say Undertaker or Rock sucked, but Angle was the one that stood out here. Best way to describe this match is fun. It was non-stop action from the moment the bell rang right until the finish. Usually I hate triple threats because they are too formulaic with everybody getting pins broken up at two, but this one worked because they were kicking out of falls on their own, stealing finishers and not slowing down at any point.
Rating: ****1/4

30. Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho @ Summerslam – 08/27/00
The Story: This was a 2/3 falls match. Benoit was a heel coming off of a World Title match loss against Rock a month earlier (a match higher up on this list) while Jericho was a babyface coming off a big loss against HHH a month (a match even higher on the list). These two previously wrestled on PPV in 2000 at WrestleMania in a triple threat, then in singles matches for the IC title at Backlash (#38) and Judgment Day (still coming). There was no great reason given for this match to happen here except they started attacking eachother on TV prior to this match and neither had anything to do, so why not, right? I’ll never complain about getting Benoit vs. Jericho, that’s for sure.

The Match: Quick brawl early on leads to a fight on the floor, then they go back in, fight over their submission moves and Jericho ends up with the advantage. Benoit then comes back by reversing a tombstone into a shoulder breaker. Jericho fights back, hits knee with the Lionsault and Benoit slaps on the Crossface as Jericho taps out to it clean in about three minutes. Quick fall. Then Benoit puts it on again because he’s a mean bastard. He rams Jericho shoulder first into the post a few times, then hits a few of his German suplexes to slow it down even more. Jericho comes back by slapping on the Liontamer and Benoit taps eight minutes in to make it 1-1. They trade nearfalls until Benoit busts out the Dragon Suplex (like a German, but hands are locked around the neck, not the waist) for two. Fighting on the top sees Jericho bust out a hurricanrana off the top, which is rare for him in WWE, followed by some clotheslines for two. He nails the Lionsault, but can’t cover right away, goes for a rollup, and Benoit counters that into a rollup of his own while also grabbing the ropes for the cheap victory and the final fall after 13 minutes.

The Analysis: I hate when matches are shorter than they should be. A 2/3 match getting only 13 minutes is ridiculous. You know what else took time on this PPV? A ridiculously bad Lawler vs. Tazz match and a “classic” between Terri and The Kat and some non-match crap featuring Undertaker taking Kane’s mask off a bit, then it just ended there. Because of that, because of that “great” stuff this match wasn’t given more time. What a travesty. This match was fantastic from the minute it began and as it went along the crowd was eating it up with a spoon. As usual with them, they were very stiff in the match. The reason I can’t go higher on the rating is because it didn’t get enough time and the finish, while understandable, was pretty weak. This match left me wanting more when I first saw it and in watching it a few times since then I still want more of it. What a shame that it was cut so short.
Rating: ****1/4

29. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit @ WrestleMania X-Seven – 04/01/01
The Story: “Lose the freakin’ cowboy hats! You’re not seven years old anymore. Please!” I love Angle. The story here was that Angle had just lost the World Title to the Rock at No Way Out a month earlier (check #21), so he was pissed off. Benoit, meanwhile, was a babyface at this point without much in the way of a feud. One of them cut a promo in the middle of the ring proclaiming to be the best technical wrestler in the company, then the other came out and that’s how this whole thing started. Angle was the pissed off heel who wanted to prove he was still championship material while Benoit was the admirable fighting babyface that was fighting his way up the ladder. This wasn’t their first singles match or even their first PPV match (they were in a triple threat at WrestleMania the year prior), but it was their first singles match on PPV and for that reason it was special. The result was this, one of my personally most anticipated WrestleMania matches ever.

The Match: The first few minutes saw some tremendous mat wrestling with each man going for holds and the other countering it. When they’d break, the crowd would applaud. They’d do it again, the crowd would cheer again. It was a beautiful sight. They go at it some more with Benoit winning two straight times, so Angle goes to the floor. When he comes back in, he punches Benoit in the back as it has now become a fight. He throws him into the steps and then hits him with a suplex in ring, then another one for two. Benoit fights back, but Angle gets him in two straight belly to belly suplexes. Benoit fights back with his usual array of chops, then a snap suplex and a superplex got him a two count. Angle countered the Germans into an Ankle Lock, then Benoit got one of his own. Benoit then slapped in the Crossface and Angle put Benoit into one of his own. Crowd was loving all of this. The ref got bumped, then Benoit put Angle into the Crossface, Angle tapped out and of course with no ref there it was not seen. Benoit went for the ref, Angle hit an Angle Slam for only two. Great nearfall. He went up for the moonsault, but that hit knees and Benoit went up for the headbutt for two. After another exchange, Angle went low and got a rollup along with the tights for the pinfall win after 14 minutes.

The Analysis: During the match, announcer Paul Heyman said it was the greatest example of counter wrestling that he had ever seen. At the time, I’d say he was pretty close to being right as far as being in a WWE ring. This was like the modern era’s version of Steamboat/Savage at WM3 or Hart/Hart at WM10. It was straight up wrestling save for that little brawl out on the floor. I loved how they told a story from the opening minutes of freestyle wrestling to the point where Angle decked Benoit because he was frustrated. That’s great booking and a perfect way to portray a heel. I also enjoyed the parts where Benoit put the anklelock on Angle and Angle put the Crossface on Benoit. The counters were believable and the crowd was eating it up with a giant spoon (just an expression, not literally). The reason this match wasn’t higher is because of the ref bump, the match was only 14 minutes (it needed another five minutes or so) and other than that it was really strong. The good thing was they’d have more matches. In fact, they wrestled at both Backlash and Judgment Day but I didn’t like either match enough to put it in this list. However, there are two more Angle-Benoit singles matches on this list that are still to come. Don’t worry, I love them as much as you do. Believe me.
Rating: ****1/4

28. Triple H vs. Cactus Jack for the World Title in a Hell in a Cell Match @ No Way Out – 02/27/00
The Story: Triple H had won the belt in early January from the Big Show in a TV match. A month prior to this at the Royal Rumble, these two wrestled in a classic in New York (much higher up on the list) under street fight rules. For this one, they go with a Hell in a Cell gimmick with the stipulation that if Foley lost he would retire from wrestling. The result of the match wasn’t in doubt especially for those of us on the net since worked leaked from Foley himself in late 1999 that he was going to retire soon. He wanted to retire a few months prior, but with Austin getting hurt they needed a babyface for HHH to fight before he went on to the Rock and Foley was the right choice. Although Foley did come back a month later at WrestleMania, this was his last match as a regular performer and it was eagerly anticipated because we all wanted to give him the goodbye he deserved.

The Match: Trips started out on the advantage early on, tossing Cactus to the floor and beating on him using both the steps and the cage itself. He cracked him with some chairs and then hit a DDT for two. Cactus came back with a low blow, then a DDT on the chair for two of his own. HHH got the advantage after a drop toehold into the chair, then they went out on the floor and Cactus hit HHH with a slingshot into the cage, bloodying the champion. Elbow with the chair onto HHH out on the floor and then he chucks the steps at HHH, but he ducks and it opens the cage up to a big applause from the crowd. Outside the cage, he piledrives HHH and finds a barb wire bat. He drills HHH in the face with it, then Trips climbs to the top with the crowd cheering like mad. Foley took a fall through the table although not as big as in the HIAC match from ’98, which is a good thing. Foley DDTs him on the cage, then busts out a lighter, lights up the barb wire and cracks HHH in the head with the flaming bat. Foley goes for a piledriver, but HHH counters with a backdrop that sends Cactus through the cage and into the ring where he goes through the ring. It was gimmicked, yet still very impressive. HHH climbed down, saw Foley moving around a bit and decided to hit a Pedigree for the pinfall in Foley’s “last match” after 24 minutes.

The Analysis: In Foley’s book, he said he wished the Rumble match was his last one because he liked it more than this one. I liked it more too, but this match is still very good and very much holds up on its own. Plus, they drew a good buyrate and when you do that there’s not much to complain about. There were so many things that made it special including the bumping of Foley and the desire to succeed that Triple H shows in EVERY match he is in. From everything ranging from the call of JR to the three count by the referee, it was the sort of match that every wrestling fan will never forget. When Foley walked out of the ring hearing his name being cheered and a tear streaming down his bloody face, it was heart wrenching. Well, about as heart wrenching as you can get in a business where people pretend to fight. Foley’s first HIAC match back at KOTR ’98 was memorable due to the fantastic bumps he took, but this one was greater in terms of workrate and memorable because it was the last match Mick Foley ever had. The blade jobs were excellent, the Cactus elbow was one of the best ever and the bump through the cage was very impressive. Yeah I know there were many things that made sure he was safe, but I’m willing to bet that most pro wrestlers would not even attempt to take a fall like that. Strong match that is largely forgotten because its predecessor was so strong. There are a lot of matches in this list like that, I’ve found.
Rating: ****1/4

27. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit @ Unforgiven – 09/22/02
The Story: This came a few months after Chris Benoit had jumped to the Smackdown roster back in the day when wrestlers left shows. He came back from neck surgery a few months earlier on Raw, then started up on Smackdown a few weeks before this. He quickly forged a rivalry with Kurt Angle and that led to their first PPV match here since the spring of 2001. Both guys were pretty much heels at this point although Benoit was in the process of turning face. The story going in wasn’t that great, but we all knew it was the start of something. It sure was.

The Match: They started out mat wrestling early on with Benoit going for the Crossface immediately. Angle countered by clotheslining the back of Benoit’s surgically repaired neck, which of course is well documented. They did the German Suplexes counter and counter and more countering. Benoit hit the German that Angle took into a Moonsault bump on his chest, Benoit went up top and Angle hit the top rope belly to belly for the great nearfall. They tease a Tombstone sequence that Benoit eventually wins with a shoulderbreaker. Crossface by Benoit countered into the Ankle Lock from Angle, then Benoit counters that with a Crossface and Angle again counters to the Ankle Lock until Benoit makes ropes to break it. Frustrated, Angle goes for the Crossface of his own, but Benoit grabs the ropes and Angle kicks the ropes away. They do a roll through sequence that ends with Benoit on top as he grabs the ropes for leverage and the big victory after about 13 minutes.

The Analysis: There have been a number of great Angle-Benoit matches (many of which are on this list), but this is the one that is the most pure in terms of being a wrestling match. They literally throw no punches. It’s just straight on mat wrestling. There’s no bailing to the outside or brawling on the floor. It’s flat out in-ring wrestling featuring some of the best holds and counter holds you will ever see in any wrestling match. With that said, it’s also a fault because maybe if there was that extra something it could have been even better. Really, though, the thing that prevented it from getting that extra 3/4* is that it was cut after 13 minutes. This is the same show that had the “Hot Lesbian Action” involving Stephanie and Bischoff. I guess they couldn’t cut some of that “greatness” short and so this match was cut short before it could really be epic. Not the best Angle/Benoit match (keep on reading for that), but I liked it slightly more than the one at WrestleMania X7 (#29) because they had better chemistry in this one.
Rating: ****1/4

26. Brock Lesnar vs. Big Show vs. Kurt Angle for the WWE Title @ Vengeance – 07/27/03
The Story: This was Angle’s first match on PPV since he had neck surgery following WrestleMania XIX four months prior. He came back to massive ovations from the crowd because they missed him and because of that awesome video package WWE played a lot with that song “Clocks” by Coldplay. When he came back, he proclaimed that the one person who supported him the most was Brock Lesnar, his onetime rival who was now his friend. The result of this friendship was a lot of buddy-buddy stuff backstage where they tried to play up the friendship. Big Show was Lesnar’s main adversary when Angle was out, so it fit to have him in this match too as a clear-cut heel. Before the match began, it was announced that there’d be no DQ’s, which was a smart move because it would allow for brawling on the outside.

The Match: Show gets a chokeslam on Lesnar early, but Angle breaks that up, then Show clotheslined him down shortly thereafter. Angle fights back, hits the Ankle Lock until Show pushes him off. Show hit a side neckbreaker on Lesnar for two. The buddies beat down Show with a trashcan lid. They go to double suplex Show, but he reverses it and suplexes both of them. Double chokeslam by Show is blocked by Lesnar & Angle. They double chokeslam him! Cool reversals there. Lesnar’s pinfall is broken by Angle. They fight, Angle gets a clothesline. Kick to the gut, F5 by Lesnar. Angle rolls away to the bottom rope. Show comes over, F5 by Lesnar on him gets two. Angle pulls ref Mike Chioda out. Lesnar beats up on Angle on the floor. Show works over Lesnar on the floor with some stomps. He lifts him to the top rope. He starts the climb slowly. Show throws Angle off the apron to the ground. That gives Lesnar time to deliver a running powerbomb on Show from out of the corner! Damn! It was different from Taker’s powerbomb since he was running and threw him out. Amazing move. Angle drills Lesnar in the back with a chair to break the count. Then he drills him hard in the head with it, sending him to the floor. He goes to cover Show for two. Show rolls outside. Chokeslam reversed into an Angle Slam through the announce table! Awesome spot there. In ring, Lesnar and Angle fight it out, F5 is blocked by the ropes. Lesnar just heaves him out over the top to the floor. Kurt recovers, then reverses a whip to throw Brock back first into the ring steps. Headfirst to the steps a couple of times. In the ring, German Suplex by Angle. Brock goes for a clothesline, Kurt reverses that to a German and Lesnar takes the bump on his stomach. Amazing athlete. Spinebuster by Lesnar gets two. After a Lesnar submission hold, Show comes in with legdrops on both guys for two. Double chokeslam. Lesnar is up at two and when he pins Angle, Brock breaks that up. Another chokeslam, low blow by Brock to counter. Angle grabs the ankle lock while Brock is standing. Show breaks it up. He gets Show with an Angle Slam. Angle Slam on Lesnar. He pins Brock for the win and the title after 19 minutes.

The Analysis: Watching this live, I was surprised they’d have Lesnar take the pin because I had assumed that they’d be doing Lesnar/Angle again in the future (they did), so it didn’t seem right to have Lesnar take a pin here. As we learned in the future, it was probably the right idea because this is what facilitated Lesnar turning heel. I really liked this because it was a match that saw each guy take their turn in being the dominant figure in the match. It was Show early on, then it was Lesnar and by the end it was Angle when he hit the Angle Slam on both guys in impressive fashion. I also liked that it was a no DQ match because I feel with that stipulation guys are able to be more creative and more realistic in terms of a triple threat match. A lot of times in triple threat matches it seems like the guys are too crowded in the ring, but in this one it wasn’t like that. I was also amazed at how quickly Angle recovered from his neck surgery and had such a good performance in this match. The man is a freak, in every good way imaginable.
Rating: ****1/4

25. The Dudley Boys vs. The Hardy Boys vs. Edge & Christian for the Tag Team Titles @ WrestleMania XVI – 04/02/00
The Story: This is the first ever three team ladder match that WWE had. The gimmick here was tables and ladders. The belts were hanging from the ceiling, as you know. Chairs would be introduced later in the series. The Dudleys came into this match as the tag team champions working as heels by this point although they were definitely leaning towards being babyfaces by this point. The Hardys were, as they always were as a team in WWE, the babyface team that got over with the crowd through their exciting offense. E&C were the heels although to this point they weren’t cutting many promos. That would come after this match. Another cool note was that this was the first WM for all six guys, so they were all set to make history.

The Match: It’s hard to catch everything, so I’ll just hit on the bigger spots. Early on they brawled to set up ladder spots with Jeff Hardy missing a 450 splash on Bubba on a ladder. Ouch. Bubba hits a senton onto the ladder while Edge landed on Matt while riding a ladder. Fun spot saw Bubba put the ladder on his shoulder and spin around with it, smacking people in the head with the thing until E&C dropkicked the ladder into his own face. They take out D’Von, then Christian leaps onto Bubba and Matt out on the floor. There is some climbing, an Edge spear off the ladder and Matt coming off the ladder with some sort of slam. Christian went up, so Bubba set one up and took him down with a Bubba Cutter off the ladder in a nice visual. That fun ends for Bubba as he takes a leg drop from Matt and a splash from Jeff in another cool moment. Everybody climbs as three ladders get set up, the Dudleys dominant and clear them all out. Time for the tables, so the Dudleys set up a scaffolding with a table on top of the two ladders. Then Bubba powerbombs Matt through a table on the floor while D’Von misses a splash off the ladder to put his own body through a table in ring. Testify, I guess. Jeff’s running along the railing is countered by a face shot with a ladder by Bubba, who then picks up that 16 foot (or something like that) ladder. After Christian knocks Bubba up, Jeff climbs that huge ladder and hits the Swanton Bomb on Bubba through the table in one of those visuals that you’ve seen on WWE TV even if you never saw this match. It rules. D’Von climbs now, but Matt gets him down with a Twist of Fate. With Christian already at the top of the scaffolding, Edge took Matt down and E&C climbed to grab the belts for the win after 23 minutes.

The Analysis: At the time this match was sick in all the good ways and it still is even now five years later. I don’t care if there’s been better ones (and there has), this one was the first triple threat team ladder match that featured some insane bumping. What I liked about it was that there was never a point where one team was really in the advantage except for that one time when it was the Dudleys. It came across as an even match with each guy getting their own chance to take control and showcase the athleticism that they had. The most memorable moment in the match was definitely Jeff’s Swanton through Bubba off the big ladder. That was magical. The thing that hurts this match is that there was probably too much standing around and setting up spots, which hurts the credibility of the match. You’ll notice the match time here is 23 minutes whereas the one they had a year later was 15 minutes, which made it a better match. I’ll get to that when I get there. This match is still damn good on its own.
Rating: ****1/4

24. The Rock vs. Chris Benoit for the World Title @ Fully Loaded – 07/23/00
The Story: Rock is the world champion here, having won it the month prior in an overbooked tag match at King of the Ring. Benoit is the number one contender and he’s got Shane McMahon as his manager. This was WWE’s way to help Benoit get over more by having Shane cut his promos and pull out all the old heel tricks. Benoit attacked Rock many times over the weeks prior to this match to make it personal. He also turned up the evil man quotient by sticking ref Earl Hebner in the Crossface. Rock came back with a good brawl that ended with a memorable Rock Bottom on the hood of a limo. New commissioner Mick Foley reasoned that since Rock might get disqualified due to the hate involved in this rivalry, the title will change hands on a DQ. There was some really great intensity in the build to this match.

The Match: Rock started out on fire, chasing Shane around the ring and slingshotting Benoit into him. Benoit worked on the ribs a bit, but Rock fought back with a back suplex off the top. Shane slid Benoit the belt, distracted the ref and the belt shot got two early on. Sharpshooter for Benoit, but Rock got ropes. Now Benoit worked on the knee and when he tossed Rock into the ropes, Shane pulled them down sending Rock to the floor. Rock fights back against Benoit, sending him into the steps and crotching him on the ring post. Rock’s figure four forces Benoit to get ropes. To the floor, Shane beats on Rock a bit before sending him back in. Back in, Rock hit a surprise DDT for two. Benoit goes to work on the lower back, Rock fights back by putting him in a powerbomb position and draping him neck first across the top rope. Benoit soon came back and got a headbutt for two. Rock got his second wind with a Spinebuster and People’s Elbow, but Shane is up to stop any count from happening. After being down for like ten seconds, the ref finally comes over and counts two. Really good nearfall. Superplex for Benoit got two. Benoit went for a chair, Rock stole it. Shane sees that, so he chairs Hebner in the back. Out goes Shane, Crossface on Benoit, he doesn’t tap. Hebner rings the bell, everybody thinks Benoit gave up. Hebner DQ’s Rock for thinking he chaired him, so Benoit is awarded the belt. During all this, Shane chaired Rock to bust him open although Rock was never a good bleeder. Foley comes out, says the ref made the wrong call and the match restarted. On the restart, three Germans for Benoit and a Crossface, but Rock gets ropes. Quick Rock Bottom and that’s it after 25 minutes.

The Analysis: The best way to describe this match is to say that it was very even. It wasn’t something where heel dominates for five minutes, then the face comes back for five of his own. It was back and forth. It seemed like every time Benoit did something, Rock came right back. When Rock did something, it was either Benoit doing something or Shane interfering on Benoit’s behalf. Because of that, the flow of the match was incredibly fast and the crowd was into it from the very beginning. All the submissions worked, all the nearfalls worked and even the finish worked. I liked the screwy finish because Foley was just hired as commissioner and they worked that into this match by having him make a tough decision here. It gave him credibility as the commish. Benoit came out of it looking strong too, which was great to see because this was his first main event in WWE. Rock, like usual, was his awesome self. The role of Shane McMahon cannot be forgotten either. He was perfect as the heel manager here. It makes you wonder why WWE doesn’t do more matches like this where there’s a heel manager who actually makes a difference in a match. This was an energetic, fast paced and exciting world title match that was pretty much the norm for WWE in 2000.
Rating: ****1/4

23. Randy Orton vs. Cactus Jack in a Street Fight @ Backlash – 04/18/04
The Story: This match had been brewing for months. Foley had made some appearances on Raw at the end of 2003 and Orton was growing into his gimmick of the Legend Killer by that point. He got into Foley’s face and memorably spit into his mug backstage. Foley didn’t retort, he just walked away without a fight. Eventually, Orton’s taunts led to Foley wanting to retaliate. They first met in a handicap match a month prior at WrestleMania as Orton, Ric Flair and Batista beat Rock and Foley in a handicap tag match that saw Orton score the pin on Foley. The feud wasn’t over there, however, so they made up this match where Foley told us he’d have to wrestle this Street Fight as Cactus Jack. The winner wasn’t in much doubt, but the question going in was could Orton really hang with the Hardcore Legend?

The Match: Early on, Foley goes after him with the barbed wire bat (named “Barbie” by Mick), but Orton escapes and hits a drop toe hold onto the steps. They fight up the ramp and Orton whips Foley by the back of his head into the ramp for two. Back in, low blow by Cactus, then a clothesline and he brings out Mr. Socko. He looks at Barbie, introduces it to Socko, tosses Socko down and decides to go with Barbie. Funny moment. Barbie shot to the face cuts Orton open. Barbwire elbow for Foley. Running knee in the corner. He drops a leg onto Barbie while it’s on Orton’s genitals. Ouch. Foley goes under the ring, getting a can of gasoline. Bischoff says no to that. He goes under the ring, pulling out a board with metal sticking out from it as “Holy Shit” chants start from the crowd. Foley punches Orton, but young Orton counters by throwing powder in his face. It’s Fuji Dust! Slam onto the wires gets him two. He whips him Jack back first into the bard wire board. Foley’s left arm is cut open. Nasty cut. Orton pulls out a bag of thumbtacks and pours them out all over the ring. Orton charges in, goes for an RKO, but Jack counters, dropping Orton back first onto the tacks as he rolls around to let us see the tacks sticking in his back. Foley gets two. They go up the ramp, so Foley tosses Orton off the stage through some tables that just happened to be there. They act like it’s over, but Orton continues on. Foley charges on the ramp and drops the HUGE elbow off the stage onto Orton down below. Awesome visual again. Foley covers him there, but it only gets two. Crowd seems shocked by that. Back in the ring, double arm DDT by Cactus only gets two. Crowd is shocked by that too. Orton escapes to the floor, looking for some kind of weapon. Foley stands up the barbed wire board once again. He comes after Orton, but Orton hits him in the head with Barbie, busting him open now. Couple more shots with Barbie. He puts the sock on his hand again, putting the mandible claw on Orton causing a “Socko” chant to start up. Orton fights out with a punch and low blow. He puts the claw on again. Orton counters with an RKO right in the middle of the ring. That gets two. Orton only has a few tacks in his back now. Back up, Orton gets an RKO on Barbie, right on the wire for the pin after 22 minutes.

The Analysis: The answer to the question above is yes. Orton could hang. He did a masterful job in this match, as did Foley. They really did great in terms of putting over the physicality of the match since both guys were taking the kind of bumps that make you say “ouch” more than once. Some of the bumps were flat out sick. We kind of knew Foley would do that since he’s a nutcase (in a good way), but when Orton went through the tacks it was shocking because he’s got no shirt on and it wasn’t something we had ever seen from him before. It just showed how willing he was to put his body on the line and probably scored him some points with management and the boys in the back. As for Foley, what can you say? This was his first WWE singles match in over four years and it was as if he didn’t lose anything. The timing was there, all the spots were there and of course his bumps were perfect. Just great stuff all around by both guys. One other note, I never thought I’d talk so kindly about a wrestling match that featured the names Barbie and Socko so much.
Rating: ****1/4

22. Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title @ Summerslam – 08/24/03
The Story: Following the match at Vengeance when Angle won the title (#26), most people (myself included) believed that the WWE would do something rare and have Angle defend the title against Lesnar at Summerslam in a babyface vs. babyface match. It turns out that the WWE had different ideas. They created an Angle vs. McMahon match on SD with Lesnar as the referee. Lesnar turned heel, siding with Vince McMahon, and ending the friendship with Angle by beating him senseless inside of that steel cage. The Lesnar attacks continued on helpless victims in order to build him up as a heel monster who just didn’t care about those around him. I wasn’t really sure if I liked the move. I thought a face vs. face match could have been great to see. As time wore on, I warmed up to it because it was obvious that Lesnar was more comfortable working as a heel. That brought us to Summerslam with Angle defending the title against Lesnar.

The Match: Angle has the advantage early on, outwrestling Lesnar and forcing Brock to spaz out on the floor. After some brawling outside, they go back in as Kurt gets an overhead belly to belly for two. Brock reverses a whip into a gorilla press where he tosses Angle to the floor. Kick to the ribs by Brock. Brock throws him face first into the steel steps. He steps on Kurt’s throat. Brock gets a backbreaker for two, then a rear naked choke to slow things down. Brock picks him up over his head in a Fisherman Suplex position, holds him up over his head in a cradle position and drops back in a Samoan Drop position. Lesnar hurts his left shoulder after a corner charge, so Angle charges into him with a shoulderblock to the left arm twice and then a dropkick to the knee. German suplexes get two for Kurt. Brock gets a sick overhead belly-to-belly suplex. Kurt fights back, kick, and an Angle Slam is reversed into a spinebuster by Lesnar for a good nearfall. F5 by Brock is countered into a Tornado DDT by Angle for two. They screwed it up the first time, then did it right the second time. Angle Slam, and the slow cover for the two. Kurt puts the straps up, and then takes them down again because he rules! Ankle lock by Angle, Brock does a forward roll to get out of it as the ref gets bumped. Ankle Lock again, Brock makes ropes, but Angle won’t break because there’s no ref. Lesnar taps. Vince McMahon comes in to drill Angle in the back with a steel chair to the surprise of nobody. Brock is back up to his feet, kick to the gut, selling his leg by not even stepping on it, then he hits an F5 on one leg that gets a great nearfall. Vince tells Brock to do it again, but Kurt counters it into another ankle lock on the left leg. Brock gets ropes for a second, but Kurt rips him off. Brock breaks it three times in the ropes, but Kurt won’t let go and Lesnar taps out! Angle wins it after 21 minutes. Post match, he puts Vince through a seated chair with the Angle Slam.

The Analysis: This was a really fun match that I liked more on my repeat viewings. I wasn’t a huge fan of the ref bump or the obvious McMahon interference, but it ended up working because it made Angle look really strong. Interference isn’t so bad if it backfires on the heels every once in a while. I also have to question the ending sequence because Lesnar clearly made it to the ropes three times during the final moments, yet the Ankle Lock was never broken by Angle. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if you make it to the ropes for even half a second shouldn’t the hold be broken? I think so. That’s a fault I saw in the match. Also, watching this one live was pretty surprising because I thought Lesnar was going over here especially after that one legged F5, which was damn cool looking. When Angle kicked out of that it was shocking. Then, to see Lesnar tap out clean like that was pretty shocking because the idea of Lesnar tapping clean was a foreign one at this point. That’s why I liked the match, though. It was unpredictable and gave us a strong finish we can remember for a while. This is also the match that led to the fun “YOU TAPPED OUT” chants that greet heels whenever they tap out in major matches. I love that chant.
Rating: ****1/4

21. Kurt Angle vs. The Rock for the WWE Title @ No Way Out – 02/25/01
The Story: The build for this one was pretty good, I have to say. Angle beat Rock for the title at No Mercy (#33 on the list) and held on to it all the way up until this match where anybody with a brain knew he was dropping the belt to Rock. Why did we know? Simply because Steve Austin had won the Royal Rumble and by this point it was pretty much known that it would be Austin vs. Rock at WrestleMania X7. Thus, they had to get the belt off of Angle and onto Rock. Still, with the outcome known beforehand the match was anticipated because their first go around was pretty good. The encore would be, in my opinion, just a bit better. Also of note before I get to the match was Rock’s awesome promo before this match. It was the one where he would look in the camera and say “tick, tock, tick, tock” as if to tell Angle that the time was ticking on his title reign. I just thought it was very effective. What was cool about the build for this is that both guys dropped the comedy act pretty much and it was taken more seriously as a result. This was one of the starting points for Angle using the Ankle Lock too.

The Match: They brawled early on, mostly Rock in control until Angle slowed him down with the Ankle Lock until Rock made ropes. Rock came back, then locked in the Sharpshooter as Angle made it to the ropes. Samoan Drop followed and then a superplex got two for Rock. After Rock hit a DDT, Big Show came out to chokeslam both guys and then he walked away. He had a mini-feud going with Rock at this point although it was nothing that necessitated this interference. With a ref down, Angle made a cover for two and then Rock capitalized with a belt shot for two. With Rock selling a knee injury, Angle trips him up, put him in the Ankle Lock and drops an F bomb as he tells Rock to give up. Rock fought back, hit a Spinebuster and a People’s Elbow for only two, which was pretty surprising. Angle hit a low blow, then removed the turnbuckle, shoved Rock into it and hit an Angle Slam for only two. Amazing nearfall there. When Rock fought back, Angle kicked him in the knee/ankle, which is a great counter. Rock countered an Angle attack by putting him into the exposed corner, then he hit a Rock Bottom for only two. More shock there. Then he hit another Rock Bottom for the victory and another title reign after 17 minutes.

The Analysis: You’re probably wondering why this match is better than the other title match these two had. To me, it’s better because the ending here was stronger. Both matches, as matches, are equally great, but the ending of this one was much better. Obviously that was the case because the babyface went over clean. Plus, the amount of nearfalls in this match was fantastic. There were at least three points in the match where I thought it was over and keep in mind this was after I knew, not think but KNEW, Rock was winning the belt here. That’s how good this was. They fooled us even if we thought we knew what was going to happen. If that’s not great wrestling then I don’t know what is. These two had tremendous chemistry with one another and this match was the best example of that chemistry. It’s a shame that the stupid Big Show interference happened because had it not then this match would be even higher on the list.
Rating: ****1/2

A review 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.
Rating: ****1/2

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.
Rating: ****1/2

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.
Rating: ****1/2

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.
Rating: ****1/2

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.
Rating: ****1/2

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.
Rating: ****1/2

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.
Rating: ****1/2

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.
Rating: ****1/2

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.
Rating: ****1/2

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.
Rating: ****1/2

Due to the word limit, we’ll have to stop here. Part two can be read RIGHT HERE.

See you in part two!

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