Pro wrestling expert Jim Jividen breaks down 25 of the top 50 matches in WWF history, and gives his picks for this week’s football games.
I’ve been watching WWF/E since Snuka came off the top of the cage; I’ve been watching since before I understood better wrestling existed, sort of like eating at McDonalds before you knew there better burgers.
I still eat the occasional quarter pounder and I’ve never stopped watching (and complaining) about WWF. But occasionally, occasionally, an exceptional match makes it past quality control and I gobble it up.
These aren’t necessary the most important matches, the most famous matches, or the matches the featured the biggest stars (although some are). This is strictly a qualitative assessment from someone who has seen every significant WWF/E match of the PPV era.
Here are the 50 best matches in WWF/E history, #50-26.
50. 7/92 Bret Hart d. Shawn Michaels: Ladder Match (13 min) 4 ¼ stars
Before there were torrents and all of wrestling history could be stored on an external hard drive there was tape trading. In the mid 90s I bought a second VCR to create my own compilations; on one 8 hour VHS tape was nothing but puroresu; it’s where I stored all those big Triple Crown matches and the ’94 JCup. On another was a lot of early ECW and the first time the ladder match gimmick was used in the WWF. It was here, from July of ’92. You may be seeing these two names a few more times as the list proceeds.
49. In Your House 5:Seasons Beatings (12/’95) Bret Hart d. Davey Boy Smith (21 min) 4 ¼
Really smartly plays off their more famous Wembley match from ’92; Bret bleeds all over the place and cradles the Bulldog for the win. I won’t keep a running tally of the bodies, but the Bulldog’s no longer with us.
48. RAW (5/’01) Chris Benoit/Chris Jericho d. Steve Austin/HHH (14 min) 4 ¼
The first title switch on the list; Austin and Hunter were the “Two Man Power Trip”, top card heels carrying a bunch of belts; Benoit and Jericho had just finished a long feud; Jericho beat Benoit at the Rumble in a match that will appear a little later on this list. With Paul Heyman joining the booking committee WWF was able to tap into the desire of the more wrestling inclined portion of the fanbase (sort of akin to what Paul Wellstone used to call the “Democratic wing of the Democratic Party”) to see the better workers in the company move up the card. This is a match historically remembered for Hunter’s tearing his quad, but for me it was about Jericho pinning Austin to win the tag belts for my preferred side.
47. Elimination Chamber (2/’11) Edge d. Rey Mysterio d. Kane d. Big Show d. Wade Barrett d. Drew McIntyre (Elimination Chamber) (31:30) 4 ¼
I’m not inherently a cage match fan, when WWF increased their use of violence in the late 90s the lack of movement available in a cage made other gimmick matches significantly more appealing. This is the best of the Elimination Chamber Matches, a fast paced 20 minutes followed by a terrific ten minute one on one showdown between Edge and Rey, with Edge spearing Mysterio for the fall. There aren’t any battle royals on the list, but my third favorite in WWF history was a Smackdown battle royal that ended with a long wrestling sequence between Eddy and Angle; as a booking matter, I think that’s an underutilized finish.
46. Summer Slam (8/’11) Randy Orton d. Christian (No Holds Barred) (23:30)4 ¼
Randy Orton is sometimes a good worker and sometimes enjoys siesta long headlocks; he’s had two dozen higher profile matches, but this is his best and his only match on the list. They do multiple table spots and the match ends with an RKO onto the steps. My hope, as a Christian fan, is for a late career renaissance that will see him get a good veteran run with the title belt, but if it doesn’t come, his losing the World Title here (not the WWF Title, the World Title, which is essentially their secondary belt) to Orton ends his best ever singles stretch.
45. IYH2: The Lumberjacks (7/’95) Shawn Michaels d. Jeff Jarrett (20 min) 4 ¼
This was in Nashville; the showlong storyline being that Jarrett (billed as a country singer) was finally going to sing live. He did; until we found out that he didn’t. This was early in Shawn’s first singles babyface run; he took the IC with the superkick. Jarrett’s best ever match until his 2011 TNA program with Angle. I don’t want to rule out eventually doing a top 50 TNA matches of all time, although I don’t currently have plans.
44. Summer Slam (8/’09) CM Punk d. Jeff Hardy (TLC) (21:30)4 ¼
-n the Summer of 2011, CM Punk cut a promo on RAW that got discussed as possibly being a shoot on Jim Rome’s radio show and earned him an hour long guest shot on Bill Simmons’s ESPN podcast. But when WWF couldn’t capitalize there were some old school wrestling analysts who said it was evidence that his appeal was limited to guys like me. Two years previous, Punk was doing his straight edge heel gimmick against open and notorious drug user Jeff in a terrific program. This was Jeff Hardy’s best ever singles match.
43. IYH 22: Over the Edge (5/’98) Steve Austin d. Dude Love (Falls Count Anywhere)(22:30) 4 ¼
You’re going to see all 3 of Mick Foley’s gimmicks on this list; this was the heel version, working with Vince (and the Stooges) to try to stop monster, monster babyface Austin. It was crazy overbooked in that signature Russo way, that not much more than a year after this match would feel interminable, but the guts were the type of wild brawl that WWF really did well in the era.
42.Smackdown (9/’03) Brock Lesnar d. Kurt Angle (Iron Man)(60 min) 4 ¼
Brock’s best ever wrestling match; he took a 5-2 lead in falls at about the 40 minute mark, gave up the next two but held on 5-4. I don’t ever need to see another hour long match; my appreciation for anything over half an hour really starts to diminish these days. But the feat is significant: an hour long match that is mostly movement gets cardiovascular snowflakes.
41.KOTR (6/’98): Undertaker d. Mankind (Hell in the Cell) (17 min )4 ¼
My brothers and I started watching wrestling together in 1983; I was 13, they were 5 and 6 – my dad was opposed, so we’d huddle in my room and watch with the sound as low as possible. Dad was opposed to wrestling and hockey; I was only able to give up the latter. As of this date, KOTR ’98 was the last event we all watched together (I think…we went to several ECW shows in an around that time, but I’m going to say the last show all three of us watched was this one) I’m super analytic as I watch graps (as I do everything, really) but each of us came out of our chairs when Foley took those bumps from the top of the cage. I had seen all the Japanese death matches; I knew what Cactus Jack had done to his body, but to see him take that second back bump through the cage was jawdropping at the time.
40.KOTR (6/’01) Kurt Angle d. Shane McMahon (Street Fight)(26 min)4 ¼
Eddy Guerrero was one of the greatest wrestlers ever (his ECW series with Malenko one of the most influential in modern wrestling, and probably did more than any other to teach me what was possible from US indies) worked for years in the WWF, and he does not have a single match on this list. My apologies. But Shane McMahon is here. Go figure. This was the match where Angle threw Shane into the Plexiglas, the best match in King of the Ring history.
39. RAW (6/’01) Kurt Angle d. Chris Benoit (Cage) (14:30)4 ¼
The very best match in the thousand+ episode history of RAW; they did the german suplex sequence, Angle missed the top of the cage moonsault, Benoit hit the top cage headbutt. Angle went over after Austin interference. This stretch in May/June of 2001 was the best free television period for wrestling in WWF history.
38. SSeries: (11/’92) Bret Hart d. Shawn Michaels (26 min) 4 ¼
5 years later they had one of the most infamous matches in wrestling history, but Bret and Shawn had a better Survivor Series match in 1992, Bret submitting Shawn with the sharpshooter. No one (one assumes) punched Vince after the match. Wrestling With Shadows, incidentally, is on the short list for best sports movie ever made; and maybe even better than Hoop Dreams for best ever sports documentary.
37. Smackdown (5/’01)Steve Austin d. Chris Benoit (19:30)4 ¼
A week and a half after the tag match that checked in at #48 came this; I’d make the joke that Benoit was probably still German suplexing Austin someplace, but you know…
36. In Your House 13: Final Four (2/’97) Bret Hart d. Steve Austin/Undertaker/Vader (24 min)4 ¼
Bleeding from the eye turned out to be the high water mark in Vader’s WWF run; this was a high octane elimination brawl; Bret took out Austin to move them closer to the Mania double turn match; had they put Vader over the Undertaker they could have moved him into Sid’s spot and made for a much better Mania matchup. Vader, considering his workrate and success in Japan is one of the fifty greatest wrestlers who ever lived. Sid is not, but I rooted for his kid on Big Brother 14.
35. No Mercy (10/’08)Chris Jericho d. Shawn Michaels (22 min) (Ladder)4 ¼
If you’re scoring at home, that’s four matches on the list for Shawn, tying Bret and Austin. This was the superhot program where Jericho legit punched Shawn’s wife in the face. Fun finish (except for the Cade run in) with Jericho headbutting Michaels out of a tug of war over the belt.
34. WM VIII. (4/’92) Randy Savage d. Ric Flair (18min)4 ¼
Flair’s best ever WWF match is his only appearance on this list; I’ve never been to a Wrestlemania and it’s now super unlikely I ever go, but when I was a senior in college I had tickets to this one. I didn’t make it. I had a good reason, there was a girl who was willing to sleep with me on a regular basis, which was not something that occurred all that often. I gave up graps for sex, yes. Yes I did. You know Flair would approve. Oldest ride. Longest line. Wooooo.
33. Summer Slam (8/’91): Bret Hart d. Mr. Perfect (18 min)4 ¼
This was the first WWF match I can recall that was specifically sold on the basis of workrate; there has been good WWF matches previously, but the build for this match was first and foremost about wrestling – I recall having discussions about Star Trek when I was like 9-10 years old that centered on Nimoy being a better actor than Shatner; for whatever reason the idea that you could dig a little bit beyond the marquee to find quality penetrated by brain early. I was 20 here and no longer interested in a lot of the WWF product – but I watched this show at a friend’s apartment, copied down the Frost poem “A Line Storm Song” on a piece of loose leaf paper, and decided that if WWF was going to give me the occasional match like this I could stick it out.
32. Canadian Stampede: (7/’97) Owen Hart/Bret Hart/Brian Pillman/Davey Boy Smith/Jim Neidhart d.Steve Austin/Goldust/LOD/Ken Shamrock (24:30) 4 ¼
6 matches for Bret, 5 for Austin. This was my favorite ever atmosphere for a WWF match; I loved the “Bret’s a babyface in Canada and a heel in the US” angle; it seemed smart to me. “In Canada we take care of the sick” was a babyface pop for Bret in 1997 in the same way that “let him die” got cheers at a GOP debate in 2012; I hate to stand shoulder to shoulder with Vince Russo – whose view that match quality doesn’t matter is everything that’s wrong with everything – but I don’t love a strict face/heel structure; I much prefer wrestling characters to be vivid and let the fans react how they react.
31. Smackdown (5/’01) Chris Benoit/ Chris Jericho d. Edge/Christian/Dudleys/Hardys (TLC)(21 min)4 ¼
This is 4 matches so far for Benoit; and 3 of them occurred within the same week and a half. He was the focal point of this one; Benoit got taken to the back but did the superhero return to win the match. If I’m in the WWE writing room when they decide to push Danielson as a legit serious babyface, that’s how I pitch they do it. This is the best free TV match in WWF history.
30. WM XXV (4/’09) Undertaker d. Shawn Michaels (30:30)4 ¼
This is the best version of what has become the template big Wrestlemania type match; standing around punctuated by big moves and nearfalls. I like the big moves and nearfalls part; the standing around is less compelling. I hate to be overly critical of a match I’m saying is one of the 30 best in WWF history, but as a formula, replacing athleticism with facial expressions doesn’t move me. There was plenty of what was good in this particular match to warrant this spot.
29. WM 16(4/’00) Edge/Christian d. Hardy Boys d. Dudley Boys (Ladder) (22:30)4 ¼
They didn’t call this a TLC match, but that’s what it was – WWF went headfirst into an era of high octane collision matches at WM16. I tend to cut the Hardys a ton more slack than do workrate minded wrestling fans, feeling as if they gave their bodies for a handful of all time classic matches. If Matt’s hooked on painkillers and Jeff’s got an intent to distribute charge lingering, they should be able to play the tapes of a half dozen collision matches and skate at least for another decade or so.
28. Royal Rumble (1/’01): Chris Jericho d. Chris Benoit (Ladder (18:30)4 ¼
5 matches for Benoit ties him with Austin for second place thusfar on the list; I can still picture Benoit suplexing Jericho out of the ring. I’m not any more amenable to the notion that one can’t appreciate Benoit’s work because of what he did outside the ring than I would be that Ty Cobb shouldn’t be considered when talking about the greatest baseball players ever. But – if say, you can’t think about Junior Seau today without the degree to which concussions impacted his decision to kill himself, I’d understand seeing Jericho nail Benoit with the midair chairshot during his tope suicida and not being able to get past how much brain atrophy was revealed in the autopsy.
27. No Way Out (2/’00) HHH d. Cactus Jack (Hell in the Cell)(24 min) 4 ¼
You’d think Hunter would be a little more grateful to Foley as Mick gave the end of his full time career in order to give Triple H some credibility. In a terrific angle, Foley was able to get you to believe that Cactus Jack was really a different guy than his other two gimmicks, and bringing him out of mothballs would mean a higher level of match. And he was right. This was the rematch, what was sold as Foley’s retirement match, and the second best Cell match ever.
26. Royal Rumble: (1/’00) HHH d. Cactus Jack (Street Fight) (27 min)4 ¼
And this was the first match; we hit the halfway point of the countdown of the greatest WWF matches of all time – two pedigrees finished off Cactus in front of a superhot MSG crowd. Foley made Hunter in this program the same way he’d make Orton four years later.
That’s the second half of the best matches in WWF history.
None of those 25 matches are as good as any of the 80 best matches in Ring of Honor history. Here, without the commentary, because I’m just the one dude and I have football games to incorrectly pick, is the second half of that list:
41. Bryan Danielson v. AJ Styles 4 ½ (24 min)11/03
42. Bryan Danielson v. AJ Styles 4 ½ (31:30) 1/06
43. Austin Aries v. Davey Richards 4 1/2 (45:00) 11/09
44. Briscoes v. Doi/Shingo 4 ½ (22:30) 3/07
45. Yoshino/Doi/CIMA v. Evans/Strong/Aries 4 1/2 stars (16min) 3/06
46. Bryan Danielson v. Jamie Noble 4 ½ (32:30) 9/05
47. Davey Richards v. Roderick Strong 4 ½ (30:30)12/10
48. Low Ki v. Joe v. Danielson v. Corino 4 ½ (45 min) 12/02
49. Paul London v. AJ Styles 4 ½ (24:30) 5/03
50. Low Ki v. Styles 4 ½ (20 min) 8/02
51. Nigel McGuinness v. Austin Aries 4 ½ (22min)12/07
53. Kings of Wrestling v. Briscoes 4 ½ (18min) 6/10
54. Eddie Edwards v. Roderick Strong 4 ½ (44min) 9/11
55. Kevin Steen v. El Generico 4 ½ (23min) 3/12
56. Naomichi Marufuji v Nigel McGuinness4 ½stars (18min)12/08
57. Bryan Danielson v. Austin Aries 4 ½stars (17:30) 11/07
58. Jimmy Jacobs v. BJ Whitmer 4 1/2 (24:30) 3/07
59. Briscoes v. American Wolves 4 1/2 stars (23min) 12/09
60. Marufuji/Briscoes v. Marvin/Sydal/Aoki 4 1/2 stars (22:30)7/07
61. Generico/Shingo/DKid v. Yoshino/Doi/Hulk 4 ½stars (22:30) 8/08
62. Bryan Danielson v. Roderick Strong 4 1/2 (56 min) 3/06
63. Eddie Edwards v. Chris Daniels 4 ½ 2/11
64. Kenta/Marufuji v. Bryan Danielson/Samoa Joe 4 1/2 (33:30) 3/06
65. Bryan Danielson v. Austin Aries 4 ½ (30:30) 5/05
66. Takeshi Morishima v Nigel McGuinness 4 ½ (20min)7/07
67. Samoa Joe v. Takeshi Morishima 4 ½ (18 min) 2/07
68. Naomichi Marufuji v. Nigel McGuinness 4 ½stars (22:30) 9/06
69. Nigel McGuinness v. Tyler Black 4 1/2 stars (22min) 5/08
70. Nigel v. Black v. Danielson v. Claudio 4 ½ (30:30) 8/08
71. Samoa Joe v. CM Punk 4 ½stars (31:30) 12/04
72. Bryan Danielson v. Austin Aries (73 min) 4 1/2 8/04
73. Eddie Edwards v. Chris Daniels 4 ½ (30 min) 4/11
74. Samoa Joe v. CM Punk 4 ½ (60 min) 6/04
75. El Generico v. Kota Ibushi 4 ½ (16 min) 4/08
76. Eddie Edwards v. Roderick Strong 4 ½ (25:30) 3/11
77. Samoa Joe/Adam Pearce/BJ Whitmer v. Super Dragon/ Chris Hero/Necro Butcher 4 ½ (25:30) 4/06
78. Go v. Marufuji 4 1/2 (23 min) 8/08
79. Kenta v. Nigel McGuinness 4 ½stars (25:30) 3/09
80. Tyler Black/Kenta v. Austin Aries/Katsuhiko Nakajima (22min) 4 1/2 4/09
I’m back below .500, 38-39-1 for the year. Boo. Booooooo.
Air Force -10 Navy
Temple +5 SFla
Boise St -11 SMiss
Ball St +2.5 NIll
Duke -2 UVA
Mary -5.5 Wake
UF +2.5 LSU
Purdue +3 Mich
NTex +12 Hou
UTEP -2.5 SMU
Eagles +3.5 Steelers
Colts +7 Packers
Dolphins +3 Bengals
Panthers -3 Seattle
Broncos +6.5 NE
Here’s my baseball postseason picks.
ALWC: Texas d. Baltimore
NLWC: Atlanta d. StL
AL: Texas d. NYY
Oakland d. Detroit
AL Champs: Oakland
NL: Nats d. Atlanta
Reds d. SFG
NL Champs: Nats
WS: Washington d. Oakland in 6.
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