I originally wanted to do the top 20 greatest
North American matches, but I figured out that there are just way too
many awesomely wrestled independent matches, and I was not quite sure
where to put them on the list. So, I just decided to do a top 20 WWE list
because I didn’t want to go crazy from trying to include every single top-tier North
American match. The reason I did this was because I
was completely bored on a day off from work and school.
Top 20 WWE Matches Of All Time:
20. Raw 1997: Davey Boy Smith vs. Owen Hart —
Hart and Smith displayed some great athleticism that most
WWF fans were not accustomed to at the time. This had tons of back-and-forth
action and great pacing and timing. More importantly, there was reasoning
behind each individual spot. They were not doing them just for the sake of
doing them, like you might see in a typical independent match. If this match
had longevity or more importance, it would be ranked higher.
19. Survivor Series 1996, Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve
This was a very different match than their famous “I Quit”
bout, but it was awesome nonetheless. This scientifically sound match built to
the finish and transitioned at each turn. It should be noted that Steve Austin
called most of this match as it proved that Hart knew he good was. Pre-neck
injury Austin could mechanically wrestle with some of the best of them.
18. Summerslam 1994, WWF Championship: Bret Hart vs. Owen
This is the best cage match that had the escaping rule in
effect. The teases and false finishes were both well done and greatly timed.
There were so many times where the match looked like it was going to end before
it finally did. These two just had great chemistry, and it was on full display
17. Wrestlemania 7, Career Match: Ultimate Warrior vs.
Macho Man Randy Savage —
Savage carried Warrior to not only his greatest match ever,
but also one of the best matches ever. Savage played to Warrior’s strengths,
doing an excellent job of dictating the pace and setting up Warrior’s hope
spots and comebacks. I used to believe matches that were called on the fly came
off more natural, but Savage proved that a match could be mapped out in advance
and come off equally organic and genuine. It really is a credit to Savage’s
imagination that he could see everything playing out almost exactly when he was
designing this match. The match also had one of the most historic and emotional
moments in wrestling history when Savage and Elizabeth reunited. The entire
post-match sequence was so well booked, and Savage teased and sold it
beautifully. It also completely made up for a rather lackluster finish to the
16. Mind Games 1996, WWF Championship: Shawn
Michaels vs. Mick Foley —
This match proved that Mick Foley was more than just a
glorified stuntman. He went move-for-move, hold-for-hold and toe-for-toe with
HBK for half an hour. Some wrestlers have a difficult time selling consistently
because they lack the ability to tell a compelling story surrounding the
injury. Foley sold TWO body parts at the same time and weaved a great narrative
in which he had to adapt to those injuries. Both wrestlers played their roles
and strengths, and the only thing that marred this match was the botched
finish. Otherwise, it is virtually perfect.
15. Canadian Stampede 1997, Bret Hart, Owen Hart, the British
Bulldog, Brian Pillman & Jim Neidhart vs. Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock,
Goldust & the Legion of Doom —
This is one of the greatest booked multi-man matches ever.
It had NUCLEAR heat and atmosphere, and it was incredibly well structured for a
match that had that many wrestlers in it. The combination of intensity and
psychology made this a prodigious match, but the pure emotion radiating from
the crowd elevated it to an unprecedented classic.
14. Summerslam 2000, TLC I: Edge & Christian vs. The
Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz —
All the workers in this busted their tails to get this match
over, and they got each other even more over in the process. These three teams
refurbished WWE’s tag division and, in the process, transformed a once lacking
tag division into one of the best in wrestling history. They essentially raised
the bar every time they wrestled, too. This had bell-to-bell action with zero
down time. It was innovative, told a great story, had very few contrived spots
and countless “Holy Sh*t” moments. Most importantly, as the bodies piled up,
the intensity continued to rise, all the way to the crescendo.
13. No Way Out 2002, Chris Benoit & Kurt Angle vs.
Edge & Rey —
Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle were arguably the greatest
“strange bedfellows” tag team ever, and the only reason they coexisted was that
they would be suspended if they did not. They put their differences aside here
and delivered one of the greatest tag matches in WWE history. They all wrestled
each other differently, which brought an incredible level of psychology into
the match. And quite awesomely, the wrestlers were three steps ahead of
everyone watching. In other words, just when you assumed that they were going
in one direction, they would go into a totally different direction. They built
their reversals and counters based on their clichéd spots, and they made this
into a bout that had so many twists and turns. Just a creative, action-packed
12. Raw 2001, Stone Cold Steve Austin & Triple H vs.
Chris Jericho & Chris Benoit —
This is best non-gimmick tag match in WWE, and it is also
incredibly underrated. There is no doubt about it: This should have been on
PPV. If it had been, it might receive more of the recognition it rightfully
deserves. The four used every trick conceivable to keep the babyface in peril
on an island away from his partner and prevent him from making a “hot tag.”
They did so much to build up the tag that the crowd absolutely exploded when
Jericho finally tagged in Benoit. The work rate was incredible, and the
wrestlers were able to read the crowd’s reaction, identify the boiling point,
and then make the tag as the crowd was at its fieriest. This was also
exceptionally hectic, with the action spilling out all over the announce table.
11. Wrestlemania 26, Streak vs. Career: Undertaker vs.
Shawn Michaels —
This was one of the most emotional roller
coaster rides since HBK’s match against Ric Flair, but work rate was much
better in this. The Streak seems essentially indestructible, but both wrestlers
did an excellent job in building the idea that HBK had a chance of winning.
This was accomplished through impeccably selling not only moves but the entire
match as a whole. It took us on an eventful journey that we simply did not want
to end, especially because we did not want either man to lose. Deliberately, however,
Shawn Michael’s entire career was flashing before us (which enforced the fans
rally behind him). Most of us did not think he was going to win, but we just
did not want to believe he was going to lose. This also had all the other the
usual elements a terrific match has: psychology, storytelling, timing, in-ring
characterizations, etc. Even in his last match, Shawn was able to steal the
show. How many wrestlers can say that?
10. Money in the Bank 2011, WWE Championship: CM
Punk vs. John Cena –
This had a big match feel to it that I have not experienced
in WWE since possibly The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at Wrestlemania 17.
There was so much to win, and neither man could afford losing.
The atmosphere made it feel as if the Chicago Cubs were facing the
Boston Red Sox in the World Series. This had genuine, not fabricated, drama,
intensity, and heat. And, most of all, Punk and Cena just didn’t do things for
the sake of doing them. Everything made sense and fit the context of the story
they were telling. Nothing happened that was impractical like, oh let’s just
say Cena hitting a DDT, flipping Punk over, and then putting in the STF. No,
instead, a spot in the match went like this: Punk went a cross body, but
Cena caught him and rolled through. Cena went for a FU, but CM Punk wiggled
out. He set him up for the GTS, but Cena caught Punk’s knee and locked in the
STF. Sequences like that allowed everything to feel natural and to flow like a
This also had impeccable pacing and timing, and they
magnificently built the match to its crescendo. The finish also enhanced the
drama. Then, ultimately, Cena’s concern for his “goody two shoe” image
wound up being a character imperfection that caused him to fail. Sometimes, you
know, nice people finish last. There were some sloppy spots, but it made me
realize that it sold them being both fatigued and desperate better. There were
also great things in this, such as Cena’s body language showing his nervousness
as a result of the atmosphere in the beginning and then his intense
determination toward the end; Punk changing his wrestling style to fit his new
character, and the perfect blend of 80s storytelling and psychology but with
today’s state-of-the-art moves and characterizations.
9. Royal Rumble 1992: Royal Rumble —
Pat Patterson was a mastermind at booking two things:
finishes and Rumbles, and this match was a definitive illustration of that.
Flair was booked to steal the show, and he did just that and then some. Every
Tom, Dick and Harry tried to eliminate him, but he was able to overcome the
odds. And, unlike Rumble matches nowadays, this had boatloads of star power,
and it very much uncertain who was going to win. There were particular
mini-stories that went on during the Rumble, which made things more
captivating. It also helped the Rumble avoid some of the tiresome “let’s just
do stuff until the bigger stars enter” routine that often plagues the match.
This had prodigious elimination teases, too, particularly with the bigger
stars. There were many occurrences when I believed someone was going to
eliminate Flair, but he ended up finding a way to stay in the ring. The
greatest booked and performed Rumble ever.
8. Royal Rumble 2000, Street Fight for the WWF Title:
Cactus Jack vs. Triple H —
This was one of the best WWE feuds ever. Foley was
frustrated of being constantly beat up by Triple H, so he brought back the most
evil, sadistic and remorseless persona he had back: Cactus Jack. This was one
of the greatest structured hardcore brawls ever. They did not do high spots to
receive a cheap pop from the crowd. Every spot they did fit squarely in the
context of the story they were trying to tell. Everything that they did had
purpose. This was also a star-making performance from Triple H, as the fans started
to take him more seriously after this. And even though he played a douchebag
character, Triple H’s toughness shone, and the fans respected him for it. Mick
Foley ended up making Triple H a star, and Hunter ended up making Foley more
sympathetic. Talk about elevating each other to a higher level.
7. WrestleMania X-Seven, WWF Championship: Stone Cold
Steve Austin vs. The Rock —
When I evaluate a wrestling match, I take everything into
consideration, including the way the booking team built up to the match. With
that in mind, the Rock and Austin’s angle was one of the most dynamic stories
ever told in professional wrestling. Granted, Austin’s heel turn did not work
out in the long run, but what happened in the aftermath doesn’t change a thing
about how outstanding the rising action leading up to their encounter was.
After being hit by a car, Stone Cold was just not the same ass-kicker that he
had been before the accident. This was clearly communicated when failed to put
Triple H away once and for all in a loss at No Way Out.
Austin’s heel turn came as a total shock to many, but in
retrospect, the WWF writing staff brilliantly left a trail of breadcrumbs for
anybody who had paid close attention. In a sound byte that was replayed over
and over in promos leading up to the match, Austin told the champ “I need to
beat you, Rock. I need it more than anything.” What seemed like traditional
fare for a pre-match build took on new meaning after the match. Austin knew he
lacked the killer instinct he once had, but he desperately wanted to become
champion, so he sold his soul to the devil himself… Mr. McMahon. The match
itself was amazingly energetic, and it had 60,000 fans in attendance all
screaming at the top of their lungs as the two biggest megastars of the 90s
slugged it out and pulled out all the stops to be crowned champion. This match
had as much of a “big fight” atmosphere as you’ll find anywhere. After adding
up all the intangibles, this match deserves to be ranked as one of the all-time
6. No Way Out 2001, Three Stages of Hell: Triple H vs.
Stone Cold Steve Austin —
This phenomenal, old school fight mirrored the intensity of
Tully Blanchard and Magnum T.A.’s “I Quit” cage match from Starrcade ’86.
Simply put, it was just two guys that hated one another trying to kill each
other, and that was all it had to be. This match had everything a brawl needs:
It was brutally violent, cleverly booked and diligently worked, with both
wrestlers playing their respective roles to a tee. The finish played marked a
pivotal moment that contributed to Austin’s heel turn, too, as noted above.
Additionally, the stipulations were creative, unique, and made the bout feel
more like all-out warfare than a sanctioned match.
5. WrestleMania X, Ladder Match for the IC Title: Shawn
Michaels vs. Razor Ramon —
I did not think I could love this match any more than I
already did. That was before Kevin Nash talked about how many things upper
management told them they could not do. Michaels envisioned, layered and
structured the entire thing, and singlehandedly made the ladder match what it
is today. This still holds up today, even though the bumps aren’t seen to be
that exceptional nowadays, because HBK scripted a mesmerizing story while
wrestling a ladder and, oh yeah, Razor Ramon too. The thing I also liked about
this was its believability. In contrast to many ladder matches, this one
actually gave off the impression that it could be real. This was beautifully
paced, timed and executed, and, most importantly, innovative. To this day, it
remains the greatest ladder match ever, and it is all because of Shawn
4. WrestleMania III, Intercontinental Championship:
“Macho Man” Randy Savage vs. Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat —
This is the greatest 15-minute match ever and way ahead of
its time. It was a light heavyweight bout that had nonstop action and executed
the most flawless looking spots I have ever seen. The pace was constantly
accelerating, while the psychology was off the charts. Other than its
originality, the thing that makes this superior than any of its imitators was
its flow and realism. Savage and Steamboat did not reach for any convoluted
spots (which, in most cases, just seem contrived and hurt a match’s flow). The
finish was flawed, no doubt about it. The involvement of George “The Animal”
Steele was unnecessary. I am not a fan of him saving Steamboat, even if Savage
was trying to end his career. I believe a babyface should overcome arduous
situations by themselves. The finish also was just way too complicated to
impeccably pull off, and they should have done a finish that would have been
much easier to do, too.Nonetheless, Steamboat received a deafening reaction
when he won, so, ultimately, it really did not matter and is just me
nitpicking. Regardless, a mediocre finish does not mar an otherwise
outstanding, immaculately choreographed match.
3. Badd Blood 1997, Hell in the Cell: Shawn Michaels vs.
This was the only time the Hell in the Cell match had a
purpose behind it other than “I hate you, you hate me. Let’s fight in a Cell”.
Before this, a cage match was a way to settle a difference without people
interfering, but someone realized that it was making the wrestlers look very
nonathletic since they could not climb a cage (something I was able to do at
the age of 10). Therefore, being the smart booker that he is, Jim Cornette came
up with this genius idea. He will tell you that it was not an original idea. It
was just a hybrid between War Games and the Memphis Cage Match, but the design
and purpose were brilliant nevertheless. The towering structure served twin
purposes, both as a barrier preventing any outside interference and
simultaneously a death trap devised to keep Shawn Michaels from escaping the
comeuppance he deserved at the handers of The Undertaker. The latter point
really sold this match, as Undertaker brutally beat the hell out of Shawn
Michaels. HBK’s shuddering bumps and exquisite selling made the pain seem very
genuine, and just when it appeared HBK was finally going to get the upper hand
and deliver one of his signature moves or his finisher, Undertaker shrugged it
off, leaving viewers wondering if it was even possible for HBK to emerge
And that made the finish even more powerful. I do not know
why people seem to hate it so much. In one fell swoop, they finally debuted
Kane, they made him look like a total badass by tearing the locked Cell door
clean off its hinges, and they allowed the cowardly heel Michaels to win yet
another tainted contest, all without damaging The Undertaker’s credibility.
Honestly, it’s Booking 101. And what better way to end the HBK and Undertaker
feud than with the heel coming out on top. This was a very original and intense
match that included the long-awaited début of Kane. Everything about it was
just about perfect.
2. WrestleMania 10: Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart —
Bret Hart wrestled twice this night, as he faced Owen Hart
in the opener and then Yokozuna for the WWF Championship in the main event.
This was a technical masterpiece and arguably the best ever. The timing of the
spots, the smooth transitions, the unparalleled chemistry, and both wrestlers
being able to progressively build the match all the way to its crescendo
solidifies this as the blueprint on how to correctly carry out a wrestling
On top of that, the match told a great story. Owen Hart was
fed up being overshadowed by his older brother, so in order to exercise his
demons, he decided to prove once and for all that he was better than big
brother Bret. The contest illustrated that Bret was definitely the superior
wrestler, as he was always one step ahead of his young brother. But Owen was
able to pull off a key reversal that allowed him to pull off a major upset.
Owen treated his fluky win as though it had been a dominant performance, which
helped him develop into an even more exaggerated, overemotional heel. After
Bret Hart finally conquered his long-lasting quest to become WWF Champion, Owen
came out with a look on his face that said, “Did you forget something? You
didn’t beat me.” What was supposed to be a beautiful moment for Bret ended up
as a bittersweet moment, because Bret knew that even though he finally won the
title, his loss to Owen earlier in the night cast a shadow over what should
have been the biggest night of his career. Like I said, there is a case for
this match as the greatest of all time thanks to phenomenal booking with superb
work rate to match.
1. I Quit Match, WrestleMania 13: Bret Hart vs. Stone
Cold Steve Austin —
This was not a wrestling match. This was a battle. These two
were both incredibly gifted wrestlers that just seemed to click with each
other. As a result, they put on some compelling bouts. On an otherwise
uninspiring WrestleMania card, both of these ring magicians defined the
suspension of disbelief. This match had nuclear heat, as it gave off the notion
that both men truly wanted to massacre each other. They turned a completely
bored crowd into one that was on the edge of its seat. And really, that’s just
a figure of speech because nobody was sitting down. Everyone in the arena was
standing. It had everything you could want in brawl: psychology, storytelling,
emotion, selling, realistic facial expressions, an incredible atmosphere and
Above all, both men pulled off exactly what Vince McMahon
wanted them to do: Bret Hart turn into a narcissist that only was concerned
about winning, which made the fans feel as if he completely turned on him. And while Stone Cold wasn’t your conventional babyface, this
brawl revealed his inner face-like qualities. He had heart and perseverance,
and he showed that he was never going to quit. The finish exemplified just
that, as refused to tap out to the Sharpshooter to the point where he passed
out from the pain. Contrary to modern wrestling, signature moves had a great
deal of significance back then. Hart would never lock in his finishing
submission maneuver just to inject drama into a match. When Hart put an
opponent in the Sharpshooter, winning was usually a foregone conclusion. Long
story short, it was a surreal moment when Austin lasted as long as he did in
the Sharpshooter. This match was historic, important and just flat-out