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Thursday, January 15, 2015

2014 TOP TEN WEEK - Day 4: WWE Network


One of my favorite parts of 2014 is having the WWE Network to fulfill my pro wrestling cravings.  I’ve been a big wrestling fan since I was a wee little lad, but I’ve had a lot of stops-and-starts in my viewing over the years.  After coming back to watch the WWE a few years ago, I was always bummed that I missed the pay-per-views, but thanks to the ultra-affordable WWE Network (just $9.99/month), I was able to watch all of the companies pay-per-views this year.  In hopes that more of you wrestling fans will pick up the Network for 2015 if you don’t have it already, here are my Top 10 PPV matches of the year that you need to catch up on!



Honorable Mentions

HM1. El Torito vs Hornswoggle
Wee-LC Match
Extreme Rules
Let’s be honest here, this match was a complete joke from beginning to end.  From the mini-announce team to the miniature implements of destruction, this was built for comedy.  The punchline, however, was the fact that both Torito and Hornswoggle are well-trained and capable wrestlers in their own right.  While they are more known for their silly antics, they put in an action-packed and well-executed match that was, truthfully, one of the best matches on a reasonably strong card.  Fans of lucha-libre (like myself) know that you should never estimate the “minis” (as they are referred to in Mexico), but this match really seemed to take the crowd by surprise.  Sadly, however, after this match 3MB would be mostly fired, Torito would go back to being a mascot, and Hornswoggle would essentially disappear.

HM2: Dolph Ziggler vs Luke Harper
Intercontinental Championship 
Ladder Match
Tables, Ladders, and Chairs (and Stairs)
Since the first major WWE Ladder Match (way back in the early 90s) between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, the concept has been both a high and low point for the company.  We have seen some incredibly innovative ladder matches over the years (starting with the Edge/Christian vs The Hardys masterpiece), but we’ve also seen the gimmick match become overplayed.  I’ll be honest that although I knew this would be a great match, I didn’t think that the gimmick would do that much to propel the quality.  I was wrong.  Ziggler and Harper fond plenty of unique ways to implement the ladder into the match as they put their bodies through an extremely vicious match that left both men full of bumps, bruises, scrapes, and cuts.  It might just be the most violent match the WWE has seen since the PG era began a few years ago and all of the brutality that these men faced off as it will stand the test of time not only as one of the best ladder matches we’ve seen in years and one of the best single matches either man will have endured.

HM3. The Ascension vs Hideo Itami and Finn Balor
NXT R-Evolution
For big time wrestling nerds, the arrival of KENTA and Prince Devitt to WWE was a HUGE deal.  During their first month under their new names as Hideo Itami and Finn Balor, they had a few solid matches and a decent feud with the former NXT Tag Team Champions and soon to be main roster stars The Ascension, but it wasn’t the mind-blowing debut that many expected.  I was impressed with both men, but I wasn’t fully amazed until NXT’s fourth major event Takeover: R-Evolution when the duo had their payoff match against the Ascension.  It was a great match with strong storytelling that showed just how athletically gifted Itami and Balor are.  What really impressed me was their ability to control the crowd, whom they had massively behind them the entire match.  It was a solid tag match, but what really hooked me was Finn Balor’s simply incredible entrance.  It was the type of thing you’d normally see at Wrestlemania, with cool choreography to the music, awesome use of the lights, and mind-blowing “war paint” that made Balor look like a monster from the depths of hell.  I literally watched it four times before I finally watched the match.  It was worth my $9.99 for December alone!

10. Brock Lesnar vs John Cena ©
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Summer Slam
I’ve been very vocal of my displeasure with how John Cena is often booked as an unstoppable Superman that, even when he loses, somehow manages to make most of his opponents look incredible weak.  It drives me crazy.  When this match was announced, I was pretty certain that Cena would lose, especially since this was Lesnar’s first match after defeating the Undertaker at Wrestlemania.  I did not, however, expect Cena to be utterly destroyed.  Lesnar tossed Cena around the ring like a ragdoll, hitting 16 overhead German suplexes and giving up very little offense from the champion.  It was one of the biggest massacres I’ve ever seen as a main event to a pay-per-view and because of that, it was also one of the most memorable “can’t miss” matches of the year.  All of the matches on this list told a great story in the ring and this one was no different, only instead of being an epic yarn between two opposing forces, it was a tale of brutality and slaughter that made Lesnar look like a vengeful god in the ring.  It was uncomfortable in the best possible way.  It was unexpected and because of that, it was unforgettable.

9. The Shield vs Evolution
Extreme Rules/Payback
I’m cheating by putting both of the Shield vs Evolution battles from this summer on one place in the match, but I really feel like they were two-parts of the same match.  Even though the Shield spent well over a year as a major force in the WWE, they were never “main eventers,” instead acting mostly as goons before a strong face turn early this year.  After an awesome match against the Wyatt Family (next on the list) and a surprisingly short match at Wrestlemania, the trio was fast-tracked to the main event against three of the biggest stars in WWE history—Triple H, Randy Orton, and Batista.  In their first bout at Extreme Rules, the match was held midway through the card and, quite honestly, ruined the rest of the show.  It was so good and featured so many incredible highspots, including Seth Rollins diving off a balcony in the audience, that the other matches simply couldn’t compare.  And they weren’t bad matches either—Cena and Wyatt in a cage and Daniel Bryan’s first title defense after owning Wrestlemania—they were great matches in their own right but were overshadowed by the six man massacre.  It was a great match, but the ante was upped just a month later in the main event at Payback where the Shield decimated Evolution in three straight falls in an elimination match.  The matches themselves were simply fantastic, fast paced affairs that put the spotlight firmly on all three members of the Shield and allowed each individual to shine.  When the team broke up the night after Payback on Raw, all three men rocketed up the ranks and stand firmly as the future of the WWE, having literally put down the previous generation in two incredible matches at two straight pay-per-views.

8. The Wyatt Family vs The Shield
Elimination Chamber
The Shield told an incredible story in their feud with Evolution and the matches were great, but the bar was set in a wild six man match at Elimination Chamber in February.  While the night after Wrestlemania is the traditional “start of a new season” for WWE, I believe that you can pinpoint the turning point for the company as Elimination Chamber with this match as the crux.  All six men in the match were getting great reactions from the crowd and are fantastic wrestlers in their own right with good futures as mid-card stars, but by the end of this match, all six men laid claim to their place in the future of the company.  They went from stars to superstars.  With a white hot crowd behind them, even though both teams were supposed to be heels, they left as fan favorites because they put all that they had in the match.  The pace was breakneck with spot after spot after spot as each wrestler tried to up the ante for the others.  It’s no surprise that after this match, the Wyatt Family and the Shield became a main focus on WWE TV for the entire year, leading to be things for all six men.

7. Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose
Hell in a Cell Match
Hell in a Cell
Speaking of big things, it doesn’t get any bigger than headlining a pay-per-view inside the infamous Hell in a Cell structure.  Rollins and Ambrose were embroiled in a highly personal feud that started the night after their #9 ranked match at Payback against Evolution when Rollins turned his back on his Shield teammates.  For months after the Rollins turn, these two were at one another’s throats, but never seemed to get in the ring with one another.  By the time they reached Hell in a Cell, the tension was overflowing.  As is the norm with Ambrose, everything in this match was unexpected, and as is the norm with Rollins, everything in the match was over-the-top.  It started with Ambrose on top of the cage, was nearly stopped when both men crashed from tremendous heights through the announce tables, and then went into the cage for a symphony of brutality.  While some people absolutely hate the finish, which saw the return of Bray Wyatt, everything before that was pure gold as Rollins and Ambrose put their bodies on the line in yet another match where these two men were grasping for the proverbial brass ring.  This was the icing on the cake for the huge year that both men had—a year in which I’d consider them to be co-Superstars of the Year for the WWE main roster. 

6. Cesaro vs Sami Zayn
NXT Arrival
When the WWE Network first launched, I was really excited to check out the “farm league” of NXT.  I had heard great things about some of the wrestlers and I was really curious to see what the future of the WWE would put together.  I had high hopes, but because these aren’t the “big guys” of the main roster, I tried to keep my expectations low.  With their first big event, NXT Arrival airing right after the debut of the network, I knew that the “lower tier” would have to put on a great show in order to keep interest high on the network.  The show kicked off with Sami Zayn—a wrestler I had never heard of (not realizing that he was El Generico, a wrestler I really dug in Ring of Honor)—against Cesaro—a wrestler I thought could never relive his glory days as an indie darling before joining the WWE.  As the first big match in the Network era of NXT, these two put on a 22-minute high-impact classic.  Their clashing styles—Cesaro’s fierce brawling and Zayn’s high flying antics—melded perfectly.  It was the perfect introduction to the NXT product, which I now know is based not upon soap opera storylines but rather on best-of-best cutthroat in ring competition.  Sami Zayn instantly became my new favorite wrestler and Cesaro proved that he still has so much untapped potential.

5. Sasha Banks vs Charlotte ©
NXT Women’s Championship
NXT R-Evolution
Speaking of ways in which NXT is simply better than the main roster, you cannot talk about the developmental roster without mentioning their incredible women’s wrestling talents.  While there are talented women on the main roster, on Raw or Smackdown or even the pay-per-views, women’s (or Divas as they are called) matches are often used for bathroom breaks.  Quite frankly, your average Bella Twins match or Rosa Mendes match even against great talents like AJ Lee or Paige are simply subpar and you might as well use them as the bathroom.  Even when the talents are given more than 2-3 minutes to wrestle, the work is lackluster and there is a complete lack of storytelling.  But on NXT, every women’s match is treated with the same reverence and given as much time as their male counterparts.  The women take this opportunity and run with it, leading to some incredible matches that blow away everything on the main roster.  Case in point—Sasha Banks versus Charlotte at the recent Takeover III: R-Evolution event.  Clocking in just under 15-minutes, this match was an instant classic, not just as a women’s man, but as a match of any gender.  Sasha Banks proved to be a brilliant storyteller, as everything she did in the ring, both the moves and the way she conducted herself between the moves, added to the story.  Charlotte showcased her technical genius and flair for creativity (pun intended) with some incredible offense.  With a flurry of false finished a big highspots, this match had more in line with Savage/Steamboat than Lita/Stratus (considered the high point of women’s wrestling in America) let alone the usual droll we see on the main roster.  This match made a strong case for being Match of the Night on a card that included my pick for Match of the Year (more on that in a minute), which shows you just how amazing it really was.  If you’ve ever thought that you can’t stand watching women wrestle or even if you’ve just never been impressed by women wrestling, you need to drop everything and watch Banks and Charlotte battle it out.  You won’t regret it.

4. Daniel Bryan vs Wrestlemania
Daniel Bryan vs Triple H
Daniel Bryan vs Batista vs Randy Orton ©
WWE World Heavyweight Championship
Wrestlemania XXX
This year kicked off with the fans of the WWE Universe absolutely demanding that Daniel Bryan become the biggest start in the company…and the company responding by launching the returning Batista into the spotlight.  At the close of the Royal Rumble, it genuinely seemed that Daniel Bryan would be stuck in the mid-card and the fans were not happy.  Thankfully, the creative minds in the WWE responded by crafting the incredible Daniel Bryan vs the Authority storyline that led to an amazing double performance by Bryan at Wrestlemania.  After Triple H made perhaps his coolest ring entrance yet (which says something given his always impressive Wrestlemania entrances), the “Yes Movement” met Triple H in a brutal match to kick off the show for the right to battle in the main event against champion Randy Orton and the Royal Rumble winner Batista.  Even though it was clear that Bryan would win, his match with Hunter told a terrific and brutal story in the ring.  When Bryan won, the crowd was on fire, but there was still a sense in the air that he would not beat Orton and Batista in the main event.  It made for a great main event to close the show.  All four men in these matches brought their a-game and, thankfully, did the job to put Bryan over.  When Bryan won the championship, it was perhaps the most heartfelt Wrestlemania moment that I’ve ever seen as everyone in the New Orleans Superdome went absolutely insane for the bearded battler.  This year’s event might have been the best ever and a huge part of that was the incredible story of Daniel Bryan.  Sadly, Bryan’s amazing moment would be short-lived as just a week after Wrestlemania his father passed away and four weeks later he would have potentially career ending surgery on his neck and shoulders.  Even if this is the end of Bryan’s career or if he never meets these heights again, his incredible performance at Wrestlemania will persevere.

3. Team Cena vs Team Authority 
Survivor Series Match
Survivor Series
Speaking of great stories, 2014 was centered on the rise and fall of The Authority.  From their battles against Daniel Bryan early in the year to the return and dissolution of Evolution to the end game against John Cena and friends at Survivor Series, the majority of WWE television focused on Triple H and Stephanie McMahon this year.  Their reign would come crashing down in an exciting match at Survivor Series in November.  With nine of the best talents in the company (and a brief “cameo” by Mark Henry), this match was technically solid, but the major selling point here was the spectacle of the match.  Perhaps more than any other match on the list, watching this made me feel like I did as a little kid watching wrestling in the 90s.  This match was twist after twist after twist, starting with Mark Henry losing within seconds at the start of the match to Big Show turning on his team to captain John Cena being eliminated and leaving Ziggler on his own against the majority of the other team to the true shocker…the arrival of WCW’s franchise player Sting!  By the end of this match, which saw the end of the Authority’s reign, I was completely marking out in a way that I simply haven’t’ since my childhood.  Plus the internet darling Dolph Ziggler put together a HUGE performance that launched him to the top of the WWE—something that fans have been clamoring for all year.  This wasn’t the best wrestled match on this list, but it certainly was one of the most exciting as tensions built from the get-go, reaching its crescendo in one of the most memorable finishes of the entire year.

2. Charlotte vs Natalya
NXT Women’s Championship
NXT Takeover 
To show how tight this countdown is, I flipped back and forth between this match and Charlotte’s battle with Sasha Banks being my #2 match of the year.  This match edged out the other matches in the top 5 by being, quite honestly, the most technically competent match in all of WWE this year.  This methodically paced match was a veritable clinic of professional wrestling, with two women doing their best to prove exactly why the feminine side of the sport needs to be taken seriously.  This battle of submissions told an incredible story in the ring as Charlotte and Natalya proved they are truly the heirs to their respective families legacies (Charlotte being the daughter of Rick Flair and Natalya being a member of the famous Hart family).  In just shy of 17 minutes these women put on a truly epic match-up that after it was over, I immediately rewound and watched again.  Don’t let their 2-minute disaster match on Raw a few weeks ago cloud your vision of their abilities, this is a match you absolutely must watch.

1. Sami Zayn vs Adrian Neville ©
NXT Championship
NXT R-Evolution
There are really two main criteria on which I based all of my choices for this list.  The first is the technical aspect of the match.  Were the moves executed cleanly and did they follow a logical progression?  Did the wrestlers sell each other’s offense to tell a story in the ring?  How did the moves build towards a conclusion?  The second is the entertainment value.  Was there a good story in place before the match? Did the in-ring product reward the viewer as part of that story?  Did the match capture my attention?  Some matches on this list were pure technical wonders (like Charlotte vs Natalya) while others were purely entertaining (the Survivor Series main event), but no other match combined both in the same was Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville’s match at NXT’s R-Evolution event in December.  Everything about this match clicked.  From a technical aspect, this match featured the most amazing offense and chain wrestling you’ll see anywhere this year.  From an entertainment aspect, this match kept me on the edge of my seat for the entirety.  This match was a culmination of Sami Zayn’s struggle to “win the big one” that began all the way back at NXT Arrival and within the microcosm of this match, Zayn struggled with his confidence, his morals, and his ability to live up to the expectations of his fans.  It was simply amazing to watch Zayn go through so much without having to say a word—he did it all with his actions in the ring.  Plus you have Neville simply pulling out all of the stops with his face-paced larger than life maneuvers in the ring.  With false finish after false finish this match was an emotional rollercoaster that simply exploded the moment that Zayn finally won the title.  As difficult as it was to narrow down the 121 “pay-per-view” matches on the WWE Network this year down to just ten and a few honorable mentions, there was no doubt in my mind that this match was the best.  This will go down in history as not only the best match of 2014 but, quite honestly, one  of the best matches I’ve ever seen.

What were your favorites?

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