10. WWF Championship Hell in a Cell: Triple H (c) vs. Cactus Jack – WWF No Way Out 2000
This is my third top ten list to feature a match between Cactus Jack and Triple H. Their match a month before this made my “Non-Rumble Royal Rumble Matches” and “Matches I’ve Seen Live” lists. The chemistry between these two was always something to behold. It just clicked. Despite being a barbaric war, this one is sometimes forgotten due to the nature of their first battle. This was one of the earlier Cell matches and like Undertaker/Mankind or Undertaker/Michaels, it remains one of the best. Like the Royal Rumble match, these two really showcase the hatred for one another. You watch it and you feel like Cactus really wants to kill Hunter. They were smart to add the retirement stipulation, upping the ante from their prior matches. They played off their past, bringing in the barbed wire 2x4, but adding fire to the mix. Outside of the bumps in the King of the Ring 1998 Cell, this had the biggest that I can remember as Cactus took a back body drop through the roof of the cell and through the ring itself. Following that, Triple H hit a Pedigree to retain the title and send Foley into retirement.
9. Barry Windham, Larry Zbyszko, Ric Flair and Sid Vicious vs. Brian Pillman, the Steiner Brothers and Sting – WCW WrestleWar 1991
The lone WCW outing to make this list is a good old fashioned War Games match. For those unaware, the War Games matches work like a big series of hot tags. Things start with two men and the rest join in, one at a time, with the advantage swinging each time. This is one of the better worked War Games matches, but not on the level of the one that would take place in 1992. Still, this was a blast. Everyone seemed to be on their game. It played out like a really violent match. Pillman started with Windham and Windham was busted open before the next guy could even enter the match. That’s what I like to see. That would not be anywhere near the end of the bloodshed either. There were more than a few cool spots throughout this. At one point, multiple figure fours were locked in and they panned to a shot of the fans pretty much losing their minds. The infamous finish came when Sid nearly killed Pillman on a powerbomb before hitting a second powerbomb. El Gigante lumbered out to check on his friend and the match was called. This was certainly one of the better War Games matches in history.
8. Daniel Bryan vs. Roman Reigns – WWE Fastlane 2015
The most recent entry on this list main evented the inaugural Fastlane Pay-Per-View. Brock Lesnar was the reigning WWE World Heavyweight Champion, but was working his part-time schedule. Due to that, a lot of main events around this time didn’t involve the title. Roman Reigns won the Royal Rumble, but Daniel Bryan never lost his title, relinquishing it due to injury the year before. They met in Memphis on this night, with the winner facing Brock at WrestleMania. Wisely, they went with a smart and easy story to tell. Bryan was the better wrestler, but Reigns was clearly the better brawler. It’s simple, but effective. Reigns’ Rumble win was met with sever backlash as he was VERY unproven in the ring. This was the kind of star making performance that he needed. They played into the power vs. technical stuff so very well. Reigns didn’t dominate and neither did Bryan. The viewers knew that neither guy had a serious upper hand so they made sure that the match was even throughout. Unlike a lot of WWE matches, they didn’t overdo the false finishes. They were even wise enough to bring Reigns’ hernia injury into play. Reigns won with the Spear, getting the rub from Bryan, who shook his hand afterwards. At the time of this writing, it remains the best Reigns match.
7. WWE Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Eddie Guerrero – WWE No Way Out 2004
Part of what I said about the Reigns/Bryan match can be applied here. This was one powerful man and one smaller, highly skill guy. The WWE, and wrestling in general, have done plenty of David vs. Goliath stories but I haven’t seen many done better than this. Brock Lesnar was on a roll as the WWE Champion and it was possible that he would head into WrestleMania with the strap. Eddie Guerrero was red hot but it was hard to see him beating Brock. Eddie was a guy that was looked at as someone who would never make it to the top. Not many people had beaten Brock to that point. Off the top of my head, I can remember Kurt Angle and the Big Show doing so. Eddie took a beating in the match, but was so resilient. He was such a likable babyface that the fans were behind his every rally. Despite his best efforts, Brock was still too much. Until Goldberg showed up. Goldberg and Brock were in the midst of a cross-brand rivalry. Goldberg’s involvement led to Eddie hitting the Frog Splash and picking up one of the more emotional title wins in WWE history. It was the crowning moment for one of the greatest to ever lace up a pair of wrestling boots.
6. World Heavyweight Championship: Kurt Angle (c) vs. The Undertaker – WWE No Way Out 2006
Think about the best matches that the Undertaker has had in his career. You’ll remember stuff with Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart, Edge and other guys that are smaller than him. He and Kurt Angle were the same way for the most part. This match at No Way Out was their best outing for sure. After Angle retained his World Title at the Royal Rumble, Undertaker showed up and basically issued a challenge. That led them to this match, which was a great battle of Undertaker’s size going against Angle’s technical ability. Even though Undertaker had the size advantage, he stepped out of his comfort zone and busted out some technical stuff. Undertaker sold the leg work very well, which is something he started doing very well in this era of his career. Kurt Angle was allowed to come off looking like a total badass throughout the entire match. My only issue with this match was the finish. The company wanted to protect both guys so they did a controversial finish that saw Angle retain. Even so, this was a great match and I really think it should have happened at WrestleMania that year instead of Undertaker/Henry.
5. NEVER Openweight Championship: Tomoaki Honma vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW The New Beginning in Sendai 2015
Shortly after I had to cancel my New Japan World account early in the year, this show was held. I heard nothing but incredible things about the NEVER Openweight Title match between Tomoaki Honma and Tomohiro Ishii. I was finally able to check it out and didn’t really enjoy it the first time around, though I blame that on me being preoccupied when I saw it. I’ve see it twice more now and think it’s great, but I’ve never gotten the full five star vibe from it that a lot of people had. So, Togi Makabe was the NEVER Champion but was out injured and these two wrestled for the vacant belt. It was a brutal affair, with both guys just going to war with each other. The crowd absolutely loves Honma, meaning they are not only completely into everything he does, but they bite on every near fall, despite his terrible win/loss record. That red hot crowd reaction added to this. The match goes 24:46 which is not the usual case for my favorite matches these guys have. They both, especially Honma, excel in the G1 style shorter matches, but this was pretty great. Ishii won back the title with a Brainbuster after they beat the hell out of each other for the whole match.
4. WWF Championship: Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin vs. Undertaker vs. Vader – WWF In Your House: Final Four 1997
This was a pretty interesting concept. It wasn’t your typical Fatal Four Way match, since those weren’t even used by the WWF at this time. At the Royal Rumble, Steve Austin illegally got back into the ring and Bret Hart, Undertaker and Vader were all eliminated. None of those eliminations should have counted, so they made up this match. It was elimination rules and you could get dumped by going over the top rope. Shawn Michaels had to vacate the WWF Title when he lost his smile, leading to this being for the vacant belt. These four guys beat the hell out of each other in one of my favorite matches ever. Vader was the MVP by far, just doing some great things and bleeding a ton. Austin was the first one thrown over the top after injuring his knee. I’ve heard that the original plan was for Austin to win here. I’m glad it didn’t happen because his title win at WrestleMania XIV was something special. Anyway, Vader was out next, leaving it to come down to Undertaker and Bret. They went at it, Austin came back out to get involved, but it still resulted in Bret sending Undertaker over the top to win his fourth WWF Title.
3. NEVER Openweight Championship: Tetsuya Naito (c) vs. Tomohiro Ishii – NJPW The New Beginning in Osaka 2014
There would probably be more New Japan stuff on this list if I was able to see more of their shows. I have been going back and watching more, but I’ve only seen the 2014 and 2015 stuff. Tetsuya Naito and Tomohiro Ishii have both become two of my favorite performers in NJPW. The Osaka crowd was not feeling Naito at all, following his failed push after winning the G1 Climax in 2013. Ishii had quickly risen to become one of the bigger cult favorites in Japan. With the crowd completely behind Ishii, the face Naito wised up and made sure to show off his heel tendencies. It was a precursor to the excellent heel run that Naito would have a year later. Ishii had his shoulder worked on, while Naito had his leg targeted. Naito had issues selling the leg during the G1 Climax a year prior but did a really good in doing so here. It was a great way that featured two guys doing everything in their willpower to break each other. Some of the near falls down the stretch were absolutely insane. I knew the result the first time I watched this and still was on the edge of my seat. Ishii won, finally getting himself a big moment in front of a hot crowd.
2. The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family – WWE Elimination Chamber 2014
Just a few weeks after the number three match on this list, this one took place. Throughout the entire 2013 year, the Shield was far and away the best thing about the WWE, as well as the clear cut MVPs. In the back half of 2013 though, a new threat emerged on the scene, known as the Wyatt Family. These two factions were both dominant and you could kind of sense that they would collide at some point. They even teased it on a late 2013 episode of Raw. After the Wyatts cost the Shield a spot in the WWE World Heavyweight Title Elimination Chamber match, the two units were set for war. Something about this match felt really special and I really wish that it was saved for WrestleMania. However, it took place in February and this was spectacular. I’ve never seen anything quite like this. There was unbelievable hype and they more than lived up to it. The crowd was chanting “this is awesome” before they even locked up. This came off as a war. They went on to have a few more matches, but none ever reached this nearly perfect match. The Wyatts won, with Bray pinning Roman Reigns. Of course, this led to Bray Wyatt losing to John Cena at Mania, but on this night, Bray looked like a start.
1. Three Stages of Hell: Steve Austin vs. Triple H – WWF No Way Out 2001