2008 WV Match of the Year Project

2008 WrestleView Match of the Year Project
February 5, 2009
By: Hunter Golden of WrestleView.com, Ben Hagen, Scott Webster and Allister Edwards

2008: A Year in Perspective

Certain years bring certain qualities about them. Some years are banner years, with lots of great angles and matches. Some produce some great angles and some not so great matches. Some just produce good matches, and sadly, some can be duds. Some can be just average. 2008 though, is truly one of the more unique years in the history of the sport.

While nothing caught fire this year like Austin stunning Vince McMahon in 1998 or John Cena’s incredible string of mind blowing main event performances in 2007 did, 2008 in a bizarre, almost unexpected way, became one of the more fun and oddly un-eventfully eventful years in recent memory. As the year plodded along, the theme seemed to more and more, be centered around expecting the unexpected.

A 50+ year old legend found one last classic in his tank that helped ride him to the top of many people’s match of the year lists. A professional boxer and a man who is viewed by many as being another McMahon built plodding giant pulled off perhaps the best celebrity-wrestler confrontation ever. A match from a little known independent federation in Japan with a decidedly different style caught the eyes of many and the women of TNA proved to everyone that girls can go, too. Two rising young stars in the WWE who have struggled outside of the ring and proven over the years to be reliably unreliable, finally blossomed into the two hottest baby face and heel acts anywhere by year’s end.

It was a year that challenged many of our pre-conceived notions not just about who certain people were, but what they could do, in essence bringing us to realize that the quicker we realize we know very little, the quicker we’ll have learned everything we need to know about wrestling.

We do the match of the year project here on Wrestleview for more than to ‘just’ find a match of the year. Everyone’s got their opinions and no two people hardly ever agree. However, its our goal every year to, with the help of our loyal readers, come up with a guide of sorts. A compendium and time capsule of wrestling from that year. In sum, a list that truly encompasses not just the ‘can’t miss stuff’ from the year, but rather the essence of what the year was all about.

We feel that for the second straight year, we’ve accomplished that in spades.

2008 was the year that shouldn’t have ever been. Injuries befell many of the top stars in the sport. John Cena was on the shelf for much of the year, nursing a neck injury. Randy Orton broke his collar bone. Kenta Kobashi came back, but quickly found his way back onto the disabled list. With so many top guns, on the surface, it looked like a long shot that this year would turn out the way it did.

This past year though, wasn’t about the usual suspects, although they do shine in a few very notable situations. It was the people that came out of nowhere and perhaps, in some cases, the people who’ve been right in front of our faces for a long time that we never really appreciated the way we should have. It was the people who finally emerged, The people who finally grew up and blossomed. From Chris Jericho’s remarkable heel turn and eventual world title run to the Big Show finally realizing his true talents to people like Gail Kim and Awesome Kong giving us a reason to care about TNA on a weekly basis, it was the people that stepped up and showed us their true capabilities that truly shone through.

So while this year might not have been the greatest year for angles or matches, its truly unique in and of itself. Hopefully, over time, one that will be looked back upon fondly and appreciated for what it was: totally unexpected.

How This All Comes About and Who These People Are

The Wrestleview match of the year project is a pretty new concept. We started it in 2007 when a conversation on the discussion forums started over what the best matches were for the previous year. While its always fun to argue, debate and push your favorite stuff, we wanted to dig deeper and find out, truly, what the BEST of the BEST truly was. So we started this whole idea.

The process was pretty simple. People nominated matches they thought were particularly noteworthy throughout the year. In order to be added to the ballot, all one had to do was second a match. Sure, some stuff that got on the ballot might not have been high end stuff, but as we learned very quickly this year, first impressions on a match shouldn’t always be lasting ones. However, its pretty easy to get a match on the ballot, so we know there wouldn’t be anything particularly overlooked.

Once the nominating process was finished, the ballot is published on the main site and voting was opened up. Last year, we received over 500 votes. This year, we topped off at 762 ballots, a major improvement over last year. The more ballots, the less room for error, which of course is inevitable in a project where so much subjectivity is involved.

To make this a participatory deal, two members get to be voted on to write the project to represent the wrestleview community. They are nominated and voted upon by their peers. Once we get the results, we write up our reviews and thoughts and end up with this nice, neat little time capsule of a document that serves not only as something to find out what the best matches were, but that really captures the trends and overall spirit of the given year.

No, this thing isn’t perfect. We could be more stingy with nominations for example, but really, with people’s tastes being so dramatically varied, we didn’t think it was a good idea. But the system we have works and we’re always searching for ways to improve it.

This year’s contributers are of course myself, Hunter Golden, the managing editor to Wrestleview. Ben Hagen, a special contributer to the site, is joining us for a second tour of duty.

New this year are our two vote getters, our representatives from the discussion forums. Rest assured, they’re smart folks and bring a decidedly international flavor to the project this year. Scott Webster joins us from the land down under. Scott’s been involved with the Wrestleview community for the better part of two years and is not only extraordinarily talented, but knows his stuff. In the coming weeks and months, you’ll continue to enjoy his column ?Musings of a Mark?, which speaking of time capsules, is a sub division of that whole train of thought in and of itself, as he tends to like to look at snippets of various wrestler’s careers.

Our second electoral victor is also not cut of American cloth. Allister Edwards joins us from England. Allister has been a long time wrestling fan and is quite a bit easier on the eyes than some of us snarkier, more professional types. Allister’s also the only one of us who picked the actual match of the year. Shows you how much we all know!

The four of us all bring different tastes and styles to the table and we hope that will show through in the reviews. We don’t agree on everything and that’s OK. Some of us like some of the matches, some of us hate them, but in the end, our goal was accomplished, and that was to provide people with as holistic a view on the ‘must see’ matches of this year as possible that will allow you to make your OWN decisions on whether or not you liked something, and therefore bettering your experience as a wrestling fan.

So without further adieu, the Best of the Year 2008!

WrestleView’s Top 20 Matches of 2008

1. Ric Flair v. Shawn Michaels, Career Match, Wrestlemania 24 3/30/08, 10,384 Points

2. Randy Orton v. John Cena, WWE Championship, No Way Out, 2/17/08, 6,864 Points

3. Chris Jericho v. Shawn Michaels, World Heavyweight Championship Ladder Match, No Mercy 10/5/08, 6,094 Points

4. Batista v. Shawn Michaels, Stretcher Match, One Night Stand, 6/1/08, 5,698 Points

5. Undertaker v. Edge, World Heavyweight Championship, Wrestlemania 24, 3/30/08, 5,343 Points

6. Big Show v. Floyd Mayweather, Wrestlemania 24, 3/30/08, 5,302

7. Nigel McGuiness v. Bryan Danielson, ROH World Title, ROH 2/3/08, 5,214 Points

8. Gail Kim v. Awesome Kong, TNA Knockouts Title, 1/6/08, 4642 Points

9. Blue Panther v. Villano V, Mask v. Mask, CMLL 9/19/08, 4,554 Points

10. Jeff Hardy v. Umaga, Steel Cage Match, Raw 1/21/08, 4,080 Points

11. Kurt Angle v. Yuji Nagata, New Japan, 1/4/09, 4004 Points

12. Batista v. John Cena, Summerslam , 8/17/08, 3,806 Points

13. Suwama v. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Champions Carnival Final, All Japan 3/9/08, 3,672 Points

14. CM Punk v. William Regal, Raw, 7/28/08, 3,608 Points

15. Jeff Hardy v. Edge v. Triple H, WWE Championship, Armageddon, 12/14/08, 3,278 Points

16. Yuki Ishikawa, Alexander Otsuka, & Munenori Sawa v. Daisuke Ikeda, Katsummi Osawa & Super Tiger II, BATTLarts, 7/26/08, 3,212 Points

17. Jeff Jarrett v. Kurt Angle, Bound For Glory, TNA 10/18/08, 3,124 Points

18. CM Punk v. Rey Mysterio, Armageddon 12/17/08, 3,102 Points

19. Smackdown Elimination Chamber, No Way Out, 2/17/08, 3,058 Points

20. Shawn Michaels v. Chris Jericho, Judgement Day, 5/18/08, 3,036 Points

Initial Thoughts

Hunter: The first thing that sticks out in my face is the absolute DOG FIGHT it was to get on this list. There truly wasn’t anything that really stuck out to me this year, but there were about 30-35 matches one could’ve REALLY made a strong case for being included on the list. The results reflect that.

Obviously, Flair-HBK ran away with this thing and frankly, I’m not surprised at all by that. I can’t remember a match in recent history that received so much actual exposure as the WM 24 encounter did, as it was constantly referenced in nearly every major Shawn Michaels program over the course of the year. Think of a political campaign and how much advertising and money play into the outcomes and I think you really get the ‘secret’ to the success of the match. That being said, the fact that it completely decimated the rest of the field is quite something.

From there on out, this list is just insanely close. There are literally clumps of matches that are within hundreds and sometimes LESS, points apart. A first place vote earned you 20 points. A twentieth place vote earned you one. So on and so on. So when you factor that in, its just mind blowing that out of 750+ votes, the totals ended up being as close as they did. Usually I WOULDN’T do this, but the ‘near misses’ are so close, you just have to see it for yourself:

*The NEXT five*
21. Jimmy Jacobs v. BJ Whitmer, I Quit, IWA Mid-South 3/1/08, 3,014 Points
22. Raw Elimination Chamber, No Way Out, 2/17/08, 2,992 Points
23. Triple H v. Jeff Hardy, WWE Championship, No Mercy, 10/5/08, 2,816 Points
24. KENTA v. Bryan Danielson, GHC Jr. Heavyweight Championship, NOAH 10/19/08, 2,772 Points
25. Randy Orton v. CM Punk, Lumberjack Match, Raw 11/17/08, 2,771 Points

So you know, Jacobs-Whitmer missed the boat by 22 points. Two votes COULD have conceivably changed things up either way. Yikes.

Scott: What’s pleasantly surprising is the amount of success certain matches of an ?unconventional? nature had. Foreign products already suffer from a lack in exposure and an alienating language barrier, so the fact that BATTLarts and CMLL got a look into (these two were my top two choices for the year) is an encouraging sight. Neither would?ve been to everyone’s taste, but both managed to claim a spot on the finalised listing, meaning people actually made the effort to track them down, and above all ENJOYED them. If projects like this help broaden horizons, then regardless of where matches place I consider it a success.

Moreover, the presence of some television offerings is just as encouraging. I know that Ben argued particularly strongly for Regal / Punk, and personally I consider Umaga / Hardy one of the best cage matches in recent memory. To see people refrain from having their votes completely dominated by pay-per-view performances that benefit from increased hype and longer durations, it goes to show that a MOTYC could come from any source. Sometimes the near-faultless matches we crave are right before us, taking up a mere five minutes or so on one of the weekly shows. I congratulate those who felt justified in nominating and voting for these performances.

There was a number of Japanese matches (including the likes of Giant Bernard, Takeshi Morishima, Togi Makabe and Yutaka Yoshie) that I would?ve loved to see creep into the final results, but alas I can?t complain too much. Check out my next ?Musings of a Mark? column for reviews of these delightful performances. Ultimately though, I?m proud of the work everyone put into nominating, voting and squabbling over 2008’s MOTY project. Congratulations WrestleView! And don?t forget to head over to our forums and fight over what should be in 2009’s MOTY project!


1. Ric Flair v. Shawn Michaels, Career Match, Wrestlemania 24 3/30/08, 10,384 Points

Hunter: Wrestling, above all else, is based on emotion and reaction and I’ll be damned if this wasn’t the most genuinely emotional match I’ve ever seen. Shortcomings be damned, the strong points of this match completely and totally overtake the weak points.

First of all, I might as well get out of the way what I don’t like about this. First of all, Michael’s offense looks like crap. Sh!tty strikes (which is the usual for him), a terrible reliance on the usual crappy inverted atomic drop spots, a total whiff on the moon sault (watching this again, it looks more like HBK’s fault than Flair’s) among other things. Now toss this in with the fact that Flair basically at this point, waddles around and sells without actually, uh, selling much, there’s some stuff that just looks horrendously lame and while I’ll totally take the heat for putting this in this review, I’m willing to take it. It needs to be said.

The early going is all Naitch. He avoids all the signature Flair bump spots, which lays a good foundation by making him look strong. The Cross Body for the near fall works, too if for nothing else than it really puts a good punctuation on the whole “Flair is ON tonight” thing they were going with.
From there on out though, despite Flair being at his best, we learn it’s really just not going to be good enough as HBK outlasts him and settles in to a nice offensive groove where Flair looks pretty over-matched. They take a good long while, maybe too long on HBK’s control segment, letting us know that Flair’s on tonight, but it’s probably not going to be good enough. He can’t beat a 100% HBK.
That is until HBK makes a huge miscue and absolutely crashes into the announce table on the outside after getting far too comfortable in the driver’s seat. The bump looks ugly, probably was uglier in Shawn’s head. These were the kinds of mistakes you couldn’t make against Flair even 10 years ago.

To be clear, No one plays the whole “I’m going to make you pay for the mistake” thing like Flair. Watching him move in on The HBK mid section and then work his way to the limb was really like watching Flair circa 1988 tear Lex Luger’s leg to shreds. Or maybe visions of the unfortunately over-enthusiastic Terry Taylor hanging upside down by one leg and Flair stomping on it like it was angel dust, snorting it, strutting on it, then breaking the other one off with a figure four. Or maybe Sting frantically trying to get to the ropes to avoid Flair like he was a drunk and super abusive Father.

Either way, Michaels looks like he’s in for it. Flair’s ‘mistake’ spots were a lot like the good old hot tag where you know the end’s not far away. When you make the mistake, you lose against Flair. Plain and simple. This just dives right into the figure four struggle segments, where Michaels just sells ’em beautifully. Flair’s selling the move and frustration at not being able to hit the homer.

However, Michaels pulls one out of his butt. He clocks Flair with a mind blowingly lucky sweet chin music that clearly won’t be enough, but is easily the most devastating thing in the match. And Michaels, like Flair did so many times in his career, capitalized on the mistake and ended it when it had to.

Finally, HBK realizes that Jesus needed Judas to become immortal and finally did the deed Flair chose him to do. The last scene of Flair, fists raised, accepting his fate with tears in his eyes with his longtime friend telling him that he loves him and apologizing before delivering the career-ending blow is as emotional as you can get in wrestling. We forget that Judas, despite the betrayal, still loved Judas and Judas loved him. Beautiful story. ***1/2

Ben: If ever there was a match that defied fans NOT to like it, I think Ric Flair’s final pro-wrestling match would be that match. Although Flair and Michaels met several times in 2003, none of those matches (when both guys were five years younger!) live up to their Wrestlemania match. In some ways, my enjoyment of this performance, as I wrote several months ago in a column, has a great deal to do with the nerdy reversals to common spots that usually catch Flair: e.g., Flair reverses the whip-to-the-corner-backdrop spot that he often repeats several times in a match; he actually connects with a top rope maneuver without getting press-slammed; etc. Other little details, as I also pointed out, contribute to the ?feel? of this match as well: Flair’s majestic robe, the classic R.F. signature on his vintage blue ring gear, the fact that he rolls through on the delivery of his knee drop (something he hasn?t done in years). All these things are meant to work not only as a homage to the Nature Boy but also as details meant to catch the eye of the fan who has watched even a smidgen of Flair’s greatest performances . . . and to give that fan just a little piece of joy.

The match itself, of course, is much better than I imagine many fans thought it would be. We get some solid wrestling to open the match, great selling throughout the match (which can often be a problem with Shawn Michaels, despite the fact that most people think he’s actually good at it), and the striking sequences reminded me of many classic Flair battles: his feuds with Ricky Steamboat and Harley Race and Vader. In his old age, Flair]s chops seem sharper than ever, even if Shawn Michaels? chops seem to be getting weaker. All in all, this match needed to be a great match in order to close out Flair’s career satisfactorily, but given Flair’s age and the clash of styles that this match certainly emphasizes, this was not going to be an easy thing to do. In the end, it took a great deal of effort by both guys: Flair had to wrestle harder than he had to in a long time; Michaels had to sacrifice his body in order to give Flair an opening; both guys had to figure out ways to work around the fact that it wasn?t 1989 anymore. Also, Michaels was more than generous with his finisher: it took 3 super kicks to put the 16-time champ down for the count. As I wrote in my column, I?m not entirely sure how this could have been better: in addition to the great effort both in thinking through the match and in executing it superbly, both wrestlers brought tears to over a million pairs of eyes. Even more than Shawn Michaels’s final apology, the sight of Flair rising to his feet after the surprise super kick, the emotional vision of Flair’s tearful eyes and quivering lips, beckoning Michaels to give him all he had . . . that might be the greatest moment in the history of wrestling (and I?m not kidding). ***1/2

Scott: What I appreciate is how both performers changed certain aspects of their game, most significantly Flair’s routines. They run against their predictability, switching roles in some cases (Michaels eating the fall off the turnbuckle) and defying expectations in others (Flair actually hitting a top-rope move, the reversal to the Figure Four being reversed). To be honest, I approached this match-up with skepticism as Flair has been limited to a number of formulaic routines. But that’s its beauty because the performance surprises, with Flair even dishing out an impressive standing delayed suplex and a double-armed overhead suplex, hinting at a depth in move set thought to have vanished a decade ago.
And that’s without mentioning the fabulous storytelling. The moonsault spot brings forth one side to the Shawn Michaels dilemma – not wanting to let his friend down by bringing anything but his best. That’s one half of the re conceived ‘Old Yella’ analogy told through this performance – that is, doing the right thing by his friend. The other half – not wanting to end something he loves – is also magnificently presented through HBK’s conflicted expressions. I need not discuss the ending, as anyone involved with professional wrestling at any degree should already recognize how great a piece of storytelling it is. ****

Alister: Was there really any other winner this year? No doubt this was the best match at Wrestlemania, and its undoubtedly my personal pick for MOTY.

I don?t think anything I have seen in the past 10 years, or indeed since I started watching wrestling period, has been quite this emotional. The dramatic ending with the mouthed ?I?m sorry, I love you?, line, which will probably go down in wrestling history, was simply perfect in my eyes. An incredible way to send off for as incredible performer, and really, there was nobody better to lay the final blow than HBK. He has a job to do. He may not want to do it, but he’s been booked into this match, and goes through with it because at the end of the day, he is the younger, better man.

Dramatic ending aside, this match worked for me throughout. I adore the fact that Flair looks absolutely ready to go from the bell. The way he circles Michaels and the willingness he displays to go at it made the opening moments of the match work very well. The chain wrestling looked sharper than anything Flair pulled out since he returned to the company. Sure, Flair botches a bridge up (landing clumsily straight back down onto his back), but you could very easily put this down to his age, and moreover, when you do, it works WITH the story of the match. At this stage in his career, he’s NOT on Michael’s level, and that little slip up just confirms that fact. So it’s not something I will hold against the match too much, because there is simply so much quality here, it makes the moment pretty inconsequential.

The two guys run through the match at a good pace, and throw in some great spots. I especially enjoyed HBKs flip from the ring to the announcers table, which one- upped his dive from WM21 with Angle. These spots were kept short and sweet, and the majority of the performance concentrated on the substantial in ring work between the two. It really was a pleasure to watch Flair this crisp in his final match, and I also absolutely ate up the fact that he nailed a dive from the top rope- something made all the more satisfying by his inability to do pretty much anything from that spot for the past 4 years.

The first Sweet Chin Music; oh boy does HBK nail it. It made me cringe, and the fact that Flair kicks out sweetens the deal. The second, as mentioned in the initial paragraph, is perfection.

So this would be a grand, grand singles match, even if you took away the stipulation, the historical factor, and the hugeness of Wrestlemania 24 (in my eyes, the most epic ?Mania since 17). Matches rarely have that feeling of importance these days, and this achieved it, and then some. Factor in the genuinely emotional post- match applause for Flair, and the moment he embraces his family with tears into his eyes (and sue me, I shed a few myself), I?d tout this as right up there with the matches of the decade. A moving performance from two of the greats. The respect both performers showed for each other, and perhaps more importantly, the occasion, was tremendous. *****

2.Randy Orton v. John Cena, WWE Championship, No Way Out, 2/17/08, 6,864 Points

Hunter: There really isn’t a sort of epic story these two go for in this match. This is their third encounter, and the history is there. Both are at molten hot points in their career, as Orton is the dominant champion while Cena is fresh off a super-hot return win at the Royal Rumble.

The thing that just makes Orton so good is how he just makes everything A.) look like it hurts and B.) be geared towards something. Orton’s brought back a lot of stuff that heels just don’t do anymore that can make a simple hold just rule like a mother. He CRANKS in a sick headlock and when you’ve got a guy like Cena who can sell better than just about anyone, it makes for some great stuff. Also, Orton stomps. Orton stomps better than anyone. Not just the Garvin stomp stuff, but his stomps in general. He wrenches down like he’s putting out a cigarette he just smoked after boffing your mom. Just incredible.
And Orton brings all of those to the dance on this night. The inverted back breaker is mean. The Stomp segment, especially the first one on the ankle is sick. And the crowd at one point even pops for Orton’s headlock, where he cranks Cena’s head all around and literally drags him around. During the Garvin stomp, he BRUSHES CENA’S pectoral muscle off before busting it with a stomp. Even when he’s selling, he’s sensational. He gets rolled up at one point and throws his hands in the air to show despair and distress. He gets caught in the STFU and looks so surprised, like he just got bit in the ball sack by a bear. Orton’s just a wrasslin’ machine in this match. Everything he does is just mean-spirited.

Cena on the other hand is all about winning his belt. He doesn’t really bring the hate like he maybe should, but with Orton being so ruthless, he doesn’t really need to. He’s just focused and moves straight forward. He goes for like 20 zillion covers in the first ten minutes or so, and it really shows a sense of urgency on his part to win the match and more importantly, get the title back. Sure, you can sense the dislike here, but like any true blue boy scout, Cena isn’t letting his emotions get the better of him.

All the intangibles are there in this match. The facial expressions, stooging, hulking up, the crowd, the trickery, the impact…. it’s all there. But what makes this match a notch above others is the simple line between face and heel.

EVERY SINGLE TIME that Orton loses control (don’t bother, I went back and watched all of em) it’s for being cocky, condescending and showing other undersireable traits. He’s a jerk. Cena pays for him being a jerk, the crowd pays for him being a jerk… but so does Randy Orton… And of all the guys to do it against…. you don’t do that against John Cena. With the history, the hate, the desire to be champion again, You simply can’t do that. Cena’s focused and resilient even though he’s not exactly gifted. Orton is cunning, sly but for all his talent, he isn’t resilient and at times isn’t focused.

In society, that’s the line between real life winners and losers. That’s what defines the two in this match. And Orton poetically takes the losers way out, literally, and slaps the official causing the disqualification.

Was this the result we wanted? No. Did the WWE pass up a lot of money in NOT going with these two one on one at Wrestlemania? Tons of it. But for the context of this match, is just draws the distinction and fundamental difference between the two so well that you really couldn’t have done it any better.

Sure, this match has some faults. There isn’t this narrative story told or anything like Batista-Cena did, or HBK-Flair or any of those types of matches. There’s no beginning, middle or end and yes, it hurts the match on some levels. Cena doesn’t bring the hate and Orton isn’t as spiteful either, and yes, that probably hurts it, too, but despite it all, it doesn’t make the match even remotely bad on any level. This is REALLY just superb match from the standpoint that it’s totally classic work that illustrates the fundamental differences between wrestlers in as competent a manner as one could have ever hoped for. Even with the bi-polar crowd. It’s important not to get caught up in their reactions even though they’re genuine and awesome because it’s only getting a sliver of the story. ****

Ben: Although the gap between #1 and #2 turned out to be pretty wide, it pleases me to know that Wrestleviewers thought so highly of this match: a match that I think a great deal of. I guess my great love for this performance between Orton and Cena stems back to the first time I ever saw them wrestle one another: at a house show shortly before their Summerslam main event in 2007. Both of those matches rocked, but I was very disappointed that we didn?t get a second major PPV match before Cena got injured. With Cena back in the picture in early ?08, I certainly would have rather that these two main evented Wrestlemania 24, but I?m still more than happy and proud to say that this bout takes the #1 spot on my ballot. For starters, I like that Cena?after several months away?makes this match about the WWE Championship, not necessarily about a ?blood feud? (that could wait). Uncharacteristically, he goes for several quick covers (about three or four) within the opening minutes, a decision that switches the focus of this match away from hatred and toward rivalry, toward a title that Cena wants back around his waist. He has some cheesy selling at times (the Terry Funk teeter-totter in the ropes sticks out), but for the most part Cena’s facial expressions and overall selling really put over not only Randy Orton’s offense but the intensity of his desire to walk away with the strap.

This isn?t to say that Orton is any slouch, however. I love his concussion-focused offense: it’s methodical, deliberate, and flat-out mean! When he has his opponents down, who doesn?t love the warped version of the Garvin stomp? The way he takes advantage of awkward angles in order to stomp on Cena’s ankles? This sequence transitions nicely into a brief segment in which Cena proves himself fully recovered after Orton hammers away at his injured muscle. But what else is there to love? A great count out spot (great because it demonstrates that Orton?at this point in the match?wants to beat Cena just as much as Cena wants to beat Orton). This showdown leads to a nice RKO-on-the-floor spot with great camera work . . . although I swear that Orton is holding the wrong leg (certainly the leg that he damages when he misses the knee drop, but not the knee effected in a STFU), but this is minor compared to how awesome the end of the match is.

After a grueling back-and-forth match, Cena survives everything Orton has . . . he climbs back in the ring for yet another showdown . . . the referee looks on . . . Orton looks the referee in the eye . . . and slaps him silly. After so many months of buildup, after trying his best to put Orton away, after coming back early, after winning the Royal Rumble, after getting Orton to agree to an early match at No Way Out, after eating an RKO on the floor, one quick gesture brings it all to an end. Just beautiful. You gotta love Orton’s grin. ***3/4

Scott: It may seem as though Randy Orton is phoning it in with the very basic offense, but every punch, kick and choke is measured and calculating. And he consistently portrays this approach, whether it be his cold mannerisms or Cena’s manipulation into the RKO on the outside. In summary, I dig Orton’s character work here.

This match exhibits intelligent use of those ‘oh-so-dreaded’ Cena routine spots, implemented to induce everyone’s worst nightmare – a John Cena championship win. Each time Cena enters finishing mode, Orton barely clings on. We witness Cena powering out of a headlock, subsequently transitioning into his supposed ‘five moves of doom’ sequence, with Orton desperately escaping the final blow. Then Orton is caught in the STFU. He reaches the ropes, and draws his opponent into an RKO on the outside. The sight of John Cena surviving THAT punishing move would have anyone with any anti-Cena sentiments resigned to the reality of another Cena reign. But next comes that immortal slap to the referee …

Any fan who criticizes Cena’s routines should take a long, hard look at this performance. Had Cena not had these spots that signify victory almost every time, this match wouldn’t nearly have been as exciting. Watching Randy endure them all, the sense of dread they exude … It was the best fun I had all year. Not as good as their first encounter at Summerslam 2007, but still pretty darn great.

Allister: Randy Orton is absolute class here. His strikes are so well directed, timed and executed that I have a hard time calling them anything but perfect. His match with John Cena at SummerSlam 2007 had more of a big match feel than this, but if I had to pick a match which defined the guys talents, this would be it, no doubt. Facial expressions, timing, selling, they all play their own part in creating the dynamic Orton has honed in his character. He’s an old school wrestler whom relies on strikes and well placed offense to get the victory, and in this encounter, he overcomes Cena again and again by using these very tactics. This is played out to the extent that when Cena does get the upper hand, it’s down to the overconfidence of the champion. It’s letting that Orton ego get the better of his that allows Cena to gain the advantage. It works so well, and this dynamic between the two characters is something so honed and of such quality that it wouldn?t be too far off to compare this chemistry to Rock and Austin in their prime. Literally every time Cena gets the upper hand here is due to Orton making a mistake. The first time, he’s posing, the second, he spends too long staring intently at the crowd, the third, he’s mocking Cena, and so it continues…

Dueling Orton/Cena chants are our backdrop as the match plays out (as has become somewhat traditional when these two face off). Orton picks apart the limbs of Cena one by one in the slow, methodical style he has adapted. During these strikes, he stares at the crowd and camera with a wide eyed fascination, as if he is gaining extreme satisfaction from his actions. It’s masterful heel work, as is the chin lock which follows, which we see literally sapping the energy out of Cena, as he tries and fails (three times) to lift Orton.

On must not discount Cena’s contribution to the wonderful dynamic this match presents us with. His selling is fantastic, as usual, and this only serves to make his multiple comebacks all the more exciting. After the lengthy Orton control segment, he battles back and delivers his five moves of doom, only for Randy to escape the RKO and dive out of the ring, attempting to leave. In an instant, Cena is out there with him. Both guys brawl, and dive back into the ring at the count of 9, and the stare down between the two at this point ramps up the intensity and crowd involvement even higher. Honestly, these two have this audience in the palm of their hands.

Randy on the outside, screaming at the referee after squirming his way out of an STFU, is a reminder to us all that he will do anything to retain the Championship. The performance as a whole works very well to remind us of that fact, from moments such as this to the way Orton clutches the belt upon entering the arena. Mere seconds after he screams at the referee to count him out, he swoops upwards and NAILS Cena with an RKO. It’s a perfect spot, which plays up to Randy’s instability. He’s almost TOO driven; things are starting to fall apart. So he rolls back in, and demands that the referee count CENA out. When Cena makes the count (after milking it to within an inch if it’s life), it’s the final straw. As he stands there, ready to continue the fight, Orton does the only thing he can do to keep the belt, and slaps the referee, causing the disqualification.

This is just a spectacular match. As I have mentioned multiple times, the character work is out of this world. This, and Orton’s match with Mysterio at No Way Out 2006 are his two best performances in this regard, but this takes the top spot due to the chemistry he has with Cena, both on a character and a performance level. It really is top notch. Not only did it provide an awesome spectacle on the night, it fit perfectly with the story arc; Randy Orton traveling into Wrestlemania 24 as a desperate, heel champion. Everything here was brilliant, and it is very deserving of its place as the #2 match of 2008. Were it not for the hugeness of our #1, this would be my favorite match of the year. ****1/2

3.) Chris Jericho v. Shawn Michaels, World Heavyweight Championship Ladder Match, No Mercy 10/5/08, 6,094 Points

Hunter: While this series was pretty popular amongst the voters on this project, I wasn’t particularly wild about it, not in the sense that the feud itself was bad. Not even close. In terms of angles, build and promo work, nothing touched this this year. However, the matches didn’t quite live up to the hype and while none of them to September we close to bad, I found them somewhat unfulfilling.

The big build was for a blow off at Unforgiven which really didn’t deliver at all. Neither guy are known for taking big bumps nor their brawling and what we got was a really awkward, poorly executed brawl. Obviously, SOMETHING had to happen to properly blow the feud off.

In what wasn’t so much a stroke of luck as much as it was Jericho’s incredible transformation from baby face to heel, that was able to put so much heat on Jericho, that leaving the World title off of him was simply an option. It was too good to pass up. So they put the belt on him at Unforgiven and given the fact that Michaels was the last guy to beat him and that the blow off hadn’t been quite what was promised, this match was a natural fit.

I thought of their four matches, this was easily the best and finally gave the two a train wreck of a finale worthy of the feud. While there was a lot of stuff I considered better, this match was really good. The good thing about ladder matches as opposed to TLC and hell in a cell matches, is that you can set up big spots and use the ladder logically with in the context of what you’re doing. Since the majority of bumps off a ladder are spectacular to begin with, it doesn’t wreck the suspension of disbelief quite like Edge setting up tables for 50 seconds does in a TLC match.

Both guys really bring their workin’ boots here and while this doesn’t give you any sort of whimsical narrative like the other matches did, it provides some truly terrifying stunts that are all centered around the ladder. They keep this creative enough, without resorting to the usual ladder stunts. What few common bumps they do include, they tend to add an extra flair for the dramatic.

As I’ve noted many times, this match works for a guy like Michaels ten fold. His two flaws as a worker are his poor strikes and goofy selling, which isn’t as much him as it’s that back injury screaming through a 40+ year old body that enough is enough. This match addresses both of those issues in that 1.) You don’t do a lot of punching. The strikes often involve the ladder. 2.) Michaels cartoony selling WORKS here, because let’s face it, falling off a ladder f-ing hurts. All this needed was for Jericho, who hates taking huge bumps, to take some big bumps. And he certainly does.

Jericho takes a number of wild spills, the craziest of which was a 15 foot plunge from the top of a tall ladder all the way to the arena floor, one that almost blows his knee out. Jericho is like that rash that won’t go away for Michaels. Like so many times as the feud progressed, merely beating Michaels wasn’t ever enough. He had to humiliate Michaels. There are many points where Jericho gets a huge spot in on Michaels, only to push the issue one too many times and have it cost him his advantage.
Conversely, Michaels never really gives Jericho his due. He underestimates his resilience and when he thinks he’s past Jericho, he comes back looking to torture him more. All in all, it makes for a fun story.

That being said there are some weird spots in this match that drag it down in my book a bit. Michaels slaps on a figure four in a match where a submission isn’t going to get you a win. It’s all done to blatantly set up another big spot, the ladder swinging off the post and whacking him in the face. While they generally do a good job of transitioning spots, its definitely obvious that they’re setting up for the next big spill.

This is a good match. Top 10? No. Top 20? Probably not. But at base, it accomplishes it’s goal, which is giving one of the best feuds in a long time in the WWE, a proper blow off, chalked full of rewarding bumps and bruises to leave the fan feeling satisfied. **1/2

Ben: Since the #3 and #5 matches didn?t even make it on my Top 20 list, I feel I should probably offer some sort of explanation as to why. First, however, I?d like to point out that I really do like this match a lot . . . at least the middle of it. Once the action went out to the floor, both Jericho and Michaels played around with the ladders in unique ways: Jericho attempting to Irish whip Michaels into the decoratively erect ladder; Michaels countering with a quick climb and reverse cross body, etc. Even back in the ring, I think both guys do a good job of incorporating spots typically used to generate near falls in a different context, a context that required that both guys attempt quick counters and advantages. My favorite moment of the match comes after Michaels awkwardly counters Jericho’s bulldog by pushing him into the ladder. While the impact didn?t seem all that bad, HBK’s subsequent attack on Jericho’s leg really paid off in a short-term kind of way, particularly in the innovative ladder spot right after the champion countered the figure four.

However, the match really takes a turn for the worse after going out to the floor. After a pretty good opening (despite some strange ?technical? wrestling in the early going), I found it odd that they?d move right to a table spot, especially a table spot that (1) didn?t look all that devastating and (2) wasn?t treated as if it were all that devastating. In fact, the spot is really not that memorable and does about zero work in terms of creating some dramatic tension about who is going to get back in the ring first. All drama is pretty much given up here as Michaels ascends the top rope for no reason (except to counter a pretty brainless superplex spot) . . . a section of the match that leads to an awkward top rope elbow drop. Selling kinda goes out the window here as Michaels oversells the elbow drop (he didn?t even hit the ladder . . . which Jericho actually had to pull on top of himself) and Jericho makes it back into the ring far too quickly after a nasty fall to the floor. I?ll say that the closing seconds were pretty cool, with both guys pulling back on the unclasped championship, but I can?t say that that image makes up for the pretty dull and spotty ten minutes that preceded it. Again, the first half was actually looking really good, with very little ‘setup time? and innovative spots (what else is this kind of match for?) . . . but once Michaels to put Jericho through the table, it goes downhill. Sorry, Wrestleview . . . not impressed. **

Scott: Some nice points: Jericho (accidentally) shatters a tooth, thus giving evidence to the claim that HBK ‘physically disfigured’ him. Sure, it was unintentional, but if Eddie Guerrero’s botched blade job adds to his match with JBL at Judgment Day 2004, then the same applies here (though not to the same extent). Another great aspect was the finish. Amazingly suspenseful, featuring both men holding desperately onto the unhooked championship belt. They tease and taunt a winner until the infamous Jericho head butt (first seen at The Great American Bash) knocks HBK off the ladder. The fact that Michaels inadvertently helped his opponent win adds to the grand narrative of Jericho being an undeserving champion.

This performance was also original ENOUGH to warrant some praise. But what strikes me is how disconnected it feels from the build. This may seem contradicting to my praise of its originality, but considering the build made explicit note of both performer’s history of the gimmick. It would’ve been nice had they reflected that history a touch more, such as the famous splash from Wrestlemania X or the Walls Of Jericho on the ladder from Royal Rumble 2001. There are small allusions, like Jericho climbing with the opponent trapped under the ladder, but nothing that really linked the match to its hype. Also, this performance almost feels disjointed from the remainder of the series. There is mention of HBK’s eye injury and, of course, the infamous head butt at the end. But where was the HATRED?! I mean, they started off with chain wrestling! As it stands, this is a fun ladder match with some shining moments, though there isn’t much meat on the bones beyond that. ** ?

Allister: I had really mixed feelings on this match. Upon an initial viewing, I enjoyed it quite a bit. It obviously did it for Vince, who proclaimed it the best ladder match he?d ever seen. However, watching it a second time, I didn?t enjoy it as much. It just felt like they threw in a lot of really hard- hitting stuff for the sake of it, and didn?t really build from spot to spot as well as they should have. I did however, prefer this to their street fight (another match which I enjoyed live, but almost instantly cooled on after watching again).

First, the stuff that I like. I like the way they play the ladder gimmick at the start. When HBK feigns a sweet chin music in the opening moments, Jericho immediately makes a dive for the ring- the opposite side from the ladder. Michaels thinks ‘screw it?, and just goes for the ladder, which FORCES Jericho come straight back at him with striking blows. Its an early reminder that there is no running away for either guy- this match must have a decisive finish. I like the targeting of the arm employed by Jericho. He sends his opponent shoulder first into the steel turnbuckle, and knocks him out of the ring with a flip off the corner and a shoulder tackle, rather than a dropkick. This is less dangerous for him, but also far more vicious. And vicious Jericho is entertaining.

The ladder use, however, is paint by numbers. I would have much preferred them to have used it as more of a weapon than as part of various spots. This match was very late in their feud, and a lot of hatred as supposedly built up between the two. Yet they still use the tried and tested spots. The seesaw in-between the ropes, the ladder in the corner (repeatedly). I appreciate that this is how you ?do? ladder matches, but if there was any moment to mix things up a bit, this would be it. I also didn?t like the double plunge through the announcers table. It was another spot that not only added nothing to the match, but didn?t even fit within any logical narrative.

So the use of the ladder I believe drags the performance down, barring a few spots which DO capitalize on the hatred between the two. One sees Michaels simply dropping Jericho onto the ladder knee first, and immediately applying an inverted figure-four leg lock. The other is a very genuine smash to the face of Michaels before he can deliver his super kick. THIS is the kind of utilization of the ladder I wish we?d seen more of. Specific body parts targeted followed by moves designed to inflict pain, and constant reminders that this feud is now beyond the level of near- falls created by finishers. Not wishy-washy dropkicks and half- assed Irish whips.

The finish is well done. I liked Cade’s run in (the sweet chin music is ace), and the hanging from each strap of the title is about as close as you can possibly get in a ladder match. Jericho winning from a head butt is a nice touch. I just came out of the match rather underwhelmed. Ladder matches have never been a favorite of mine. I find that it takes something special to compensate for the stipulation, and the constant process of climbing and falling from the ladder. I thought their match a Judgement Day was their best, and this wasn?t as good. ***1/4

4. Batista v. Shawn Michaels, Stretcher Match, One Night Stand, 6/1/08, 5,698 Points

Hunter: They go out to the floor early on and there isn’t really a ‘down’ moment per sae. They never go crazy with the spots, but the ending is so clean, that I don’t think you could walk away not happy. They get the mass of Batista over super well as Batista chucks HBK around like a baby and HBK struggles to move Batista. Even when he gets Bats on the stretcher, he’s never able to get him too far… dude is just to big…. and it paints the mood of how clearly over matched Michaels is in this sort of environment. Another thing is I love the sense of inevitability before matches are over. Like when you know a match has been decided 30 or so seconds before it’s over. Dude is in the noose and you’re just waiting for the trap door to open…

The last five minutes or so, you wonder if HBK CAN indeed fight back, and there are sort of these fleeting moments where that holds true like the sort of weird attempt at the super kick after the first Batista bomb. The second Batista bomb works because it punctuates JUST how over the match is, and even alludes back to the Flair-HBK match at Mania, which was the whole point of us being here anyways. Batista follows through on his promise and assuredly shoves Michaels across the finish line, satisfied with his meal and the knowledge that this is all over and done with. ***3/4

Ben: I?m so happy to see this high on the list since I don?t recall a great deal of buzz surrounding the stretcher match between Batista and Shawn Michaels. Despite its lack of popularity, for several months I claimed that it was my MOTY. I enjoyed the Backlash match between these two more than the average guy, so I was really looking forward to this return match (particularly because I had a feeling that Batista would decimate HBK). All in all, both guys probably pulled out the best stretcher match in wrestling history (although they don?t have a lot of competition given the dreadful stretcher match between Sabu and Rob Van Dam and the confusingly comedic match between El Gigante and Sid Vicious). The ?best stretcher match in history,? however, has no right being ‘smart? or ?epic? . . . it just needs to be simple: no big set-ups, no down time; just full-speed ahead kick-assery.

As I point out in a column a few months back, both wrestlers take the match out to the floor early on (where one actually WINS the match); they never let the action dull; they never go over the top with crazy spots; and they give the fans such a decisively clean ending that I?m can?t imagine how any wrestling fan could come away unhappy. In addition, I?m just a sucker for ?big-strong-guys vs. bumpy-little-guy? matches, so this is right up my alley (although Michaels? bumping can sometimes ruin how fun these sorts of matches can be). Both guys are careful to draw attention precisely to how unfair this match is: Batista can easily lift Michaels, but Michaels has a lot of trouble lifting Batista. Although HBK manages to get Batista on the stretcher twice in the match (once even after a superkick!), he never makes it very far (not even far enough for a ?near fall?). In addition to big-man-little-man matches, I also love matches that really have a clear-cut winner several minutes before the end (watching a lot of 1990s All Japan Pro Wrestling will do this to a guy). Although both guys tease the crowd with a potential Shawn Michaels come-back, HBK’s hilarious superkick attempt after the first Batista Bomb makes one thing clear: he’s not going to win. Why do I like this so much? Call it an appreciation for another form of drama, I guess. Sometimes the back-and-forth it-ain?t-over-till-it’s-over structure of WWE main events gets a tad wearisome. There’s just sometime so bad-ass about the fact that Batista knows he has Michaels beat, that he taunts him with a reversal of Michaels? expression of love for Ric Flair at Wrestlemania, that he spinebusters him after Jericho encourages HBK to keep fighting, and (finally) that he wins not by the skin of his teeth . . . after with a gesture that is assured, finished, and satisfied, he shoves a damaged Shawn Michaels across the ?finish line.? Excellent stuff. ***3/4.

Scott: One of those performances where at its core there’s actually quite a simple dynamic (heavyweight vs. smaller, capable wrestler) but the deep narrative grants an impression of complexity. Batista obviously dominates, with Michaels’ struggle not only competently troubling the bigger man but ultimately exacerbating the inevitability of Shawn’s downfall. The Animal promised to hurt Shawn Michaels, and HBK properly resembles a man desperately trying to fend off that fate. The story had an interesting show of memory in the form of Batista re-working Shawn’s words to Flair, as well as the ending. It fulfilled Batista’s promise to hurt Shawn, and achieved such with a spot that actually has history (as The Animal used the same move on ‘Taker earlier in the year). An intelligent match with a simplistic dynamic, that didn?t have to resort to insanely stupid spots or over-the-top action to get its point across. *** ?

Allister: Going into this match, Batista wants to hurt HBK. It’s pretty clear that this is the focus of his offense throughout. He tries for the Batista Bomb within the first 20 seconds or so, after swatting Shawn out of the air a couple times when he attempts a flurry of strikes. After dumping him out of the ring, Batista is straight at the stretcher, ripping off the padding and turning it into a weapon.

What we see is exactly the kind of urgency I wish every match like this possessed. It’s etched across Batista’s face during his entrance, and it resonates from the concerned looks Shawn flashes at the camera. This is strictly business, and if you were going to throw a complaint at this match, a slow start would certainly not be it.

Batista has never looked stronger than this; his offense is sold in the typical flippy dippy HBK style. Difference is, here it really, REALLY works to put over Dave’s strength, because there are very few strikes from Batista in this match. He simply drops bomb after bomb on Michael’s until the guy can?t cope anymore.

The use of the stretcher is also a real plus here. Time and time again the commentators wax lyrical about how a wrestler is ?using *insert weapon* as a tag team partner?, but here, it’s used super effectively. I love the shots Batista takes. I mean, the guy is huge, and the match narrative is largely built around his strength, so why shouldn?t he grit his teeth and take a few super stiff shots from the thing? He does, and the match looks all the better for it.

The whole wheeling the stretcher over the line stuff mid- match still looks as goofy as ever, but you can kind of forgive it here because Shawn struggles so much with the big guy. He literally looks like he’s lifting Batista dead weight at times, and it comes across really well, again, making Batista look like a machine. I especially liked the spot in which he grabs the stretcher after being struck with it twice, and holds it fast, only to lift it up, and plunge it down, sending the other end of the stretcher into Shawn’s face in a Seesaw effect. This is the beginning of the end, as the remaining 5 minutes of the match see Batista decimating Shawn very convincingly.

So what’s wrong with this match? Well, the Jericho interference in the closing moments wasn?t necessary. I get that he ebbed a little more fight out of Michaels, and it played a part in the major story arc involving the HBK/Y2J feud, but in the context of this match, I don?t feel it worked very well. There are also a few moments where the timing between the two falters, for example the spot in which Batista catches HBK with a short arm clothesline before he can deliver sweet chin music. However, this is nitpicking.

This is a super, super fun match and easily the best on the One Night Stand 2008 card. It’s probably in the top 5 Batista performances. Absolutely everything was built around putting him over as a monster, and very, very few people do this better than Shawn, especially when he’s bouncing around the ring like a pinball after every single bomb he’s hit with. ****

5. Undertaker/Edge, World Heavyweight Championship, Wrestlemania 24, 3/30, 5,343 Points

Hunter: I hated this series, the feud, the whole nine yards. A big part of the reason for that was due large in part to the fact that I felt like everything that needed to be accomplished was done in the first match. After this, there’s not a whole lot of reason to bother watching the other matches….

There are constant reference points to the major stop gaps in the nearly year-long story line which more or less pace the match. The early going is all Edge being ‘tha opportunist’ which 1.) establishes his role in the match and 2.) references the quality in Edge that started off this silliness to begin with. The camera shot is an obvious shout out to the Survivor Series finish, where Edge interfered in the Hell in a Cell, costing Taker the title against Batista. Then of course, there’s the final spot where Ryder & Hawkins come bounding down to ringside, but unlike at Armageddon, are thwarted in their attempts to interject themselves into the match. Again, the constant reference points and shout out spots to the major pieces of the program do a great job of structuring the match.

Outside of that, this is kind of crappy. The ending is thoroughly ridiculous as Edge gets caught in a Gogoplata that Taker’s been advertising for darn near a month leading up to this match. Edge isn’t a guy whose supposed to be outdoing Undertaker with his smarts, rather than physically, but you don’t really do that any justice when you can’t avoid a move that’s been a big old flashing billboard for four weeks. Isn’t very smart of someone that’s supposed to be smart.

Ultimately though, with the good and bad taken into consideration here, this doesn’t do much for me. There’s no reason to watch more matches here, because Taker’s already taken his revenge for pretty much every evil thing Edge has done to him. The issue feels done and over with. Which for a Wrestlemania main event is great. However heading forward, it did the program that followed no favors. **1/2

Ben: The series of matches between Undertaker and Edge really generates a lot of debate on the Wrestleview forums, but nevertheless I have yet to read one review of this match that adequately describes why it is good. The ?go-to? argument for the matches between these two is the ‘storytelling? argument: i.e. ?The match told an excellent story.? Let’s pursue this claim: if one assumes that there IS a narrative structure to the main event of last year’s Wrestlemania, I think it’s safe to say that this narrative centered on Edge’s counters of Taker’s main offense (the primary theme not only of the match, but the theme that Coach and Cole pointed out again and again). This, I admit readily, is perfectly fine and is actually necessary for Edge to really sustain any offense at all against the Dead Man. In theory, then, I have no problem with the narrative that people purport to be the major reason for the match’s greatness. No problem at all.

But as I wrote in a past column, ?when those counters lead to Taker’s eventual execution without a reversal in small time frames,? the structure of the match breaks down into what fans might call a ‘spotfest? (a word that is often misapplied to matches, but not so here). The last ten minutes or so of the match consists of long spots and poor selling, but just to make it clear that I?m not demanding some impossible adherence to something called workrate, here’s an example of what I mean (again, drawn from my column): ?when Edge reverses two Undertaker chokeslam attempts (earning a near fall after his old DDT finisher in the mean time) before finally eating a chokeslam (good enough for a Taker near fall) all in the span of fifty seconds (I?m not exaggerating here) . . . something is, for the lack of a better word, lost.? And, after several months and several re-watches, I stand by this claim. There’s no storytelling here. There’s literally nothing here but the Undertaker hitting all his signature moves despite Edge’s reversals. This formula can certainly generate exciting spots and near falls, but such formula cannot, as I?ve written elsewhere, ?compare to the necessities of John Cena’s counters, the careful and deliberate oscillation of offense in the Royal Rumble 2007 match [with Umaga], [or to] the power of the culminate moment where Umaga wants . . . to use the turnbuckle as his new thumb.? In the end Edge didn?t need to reverse Taker’s offense because Taker just needed to ?try enough times? to hit his moves. Unlike the Backlash match (their best match last year) in which he surprises Edge with his choke without running through all his finishers, the execution of this match completely undermines the structure that they were trying to build and the story they were trying to tell. **

Scott: The premise had promise. Edge showcases competency by countering the Dead Man’s classic material, only to be undone by a relatively new hold. Not only is it a refreshing direction for Edge, whose constant ‘opportunist’ tendencies has become an over-used, tired angle since 2006, but it also ties in with Undertaker’s theme of adaptation to new challenges, dealing with an opponent who has him scouted with a new move in his arsenal.

But can someone explain to me the demented way in which both performers go about business in the ring? After countering the Chokeslam, Old School and Last Ride, Undertaker attempts these same moves seconds later, only for Edge to escape again. So, Dead Man is a stubborn idiot, but the fact that he successfully applies these moves ONCE MORE later on makes the counters’ ultimate point redundant. They are meant to display Undertaker’s NEED to adapt. Why does he need to implement more holds, if his classic holds work through perseverance? Finally nailing a Tombstone Piledriver when the referee is down doesn’t position adaptation as a requirement. It’s merely bad luck on the Dead Man’s part. Unfortunately, the way these counters construct Edge as competitive is consequently undermined.

I do appreciate the references to past points in the feud, but ultimately I find the performance a disappointment, its narrative squandered by an illogical approach. ** ?

Allister: This is a great wrestling match, and the best Wrestlemania main event since 21. The performance is very reminisce of Rock/Austin at WM17 in terms of the way it plays out. It’s almost completely structured to follow the feud these two shared over the months previous (not years, like in my example), and as they go from spot to spot, you can very easily map the certain specific points of their feud through the segments of the match. It’s very obvious that they are attempting to revisit these points, and in this way, I do believe it’s something that hasn?t been attempted for a while, or at least not on this scale.

It was certainly the second best match of the night. Edge totally sold the importance of the match with his facial expressions, which were absolutely excellent throughout. Initially, they show how huge this match is for him, and how genuinely important it is for him to be here. A look of absolute intensity is etched on his face from the moment he enters the arena. He acknowledges how formidable his opponent is, and despite the streak, Edge somehow makes you believe he has a chance of winning. Some feat, considering the streak, which is totally a double edges sword (on one hand, with good booking it?ll make practically any match he’s involved with edge of the seat stuff, on the other, it becomes increasingly difficult to make us believe there is a legitimate chance of him actually losing.)

So Edge, realizing the decks are stacked, employs fantastic work to try and destroy his power based offense, taking every opportunity to strike the back of ?Taker in the early going. It’s quite the onslaught; Edge looks just as formidable as ?Taker here, the damage he dishes out is sold excellently.

The fabulous character acting from Edge continues throughout the match. His ?ultimate opportunist? stuff comes into play when he delivers a MASSIVE camera shot to ?Taker, and the urgency shown on his face makes the sequence all the more memorable.

I loved the failed run- in from Ryder and Hawkins, making the reversal heavy final ten minutes very close to high drama. The fact that Edge kicks out of all three ?Taker finishers (Chokeslam, Last Ride, Tombstone Piledriver), pretty much cements him as a major player (if he wasn?t before this match), and he even manages to deliver two Spears to his opponent, before being caught in the Gogoplata and forced to tap. A fantastic performance, which was a fitting end to the best Wrestlemania in quite a while. ****

6. Big Show v. Floyd Mayweather, Wrestlemania 24, 3/30/08, 5,302 Points

Hunter: Hard match not to love.

Consider for a second that heading into this match that 1.) The Angle was completely botched which lead to 2.) Mayweather’s true celebrity not really being as impactful until the show itself and 3.) That Show hadn’t worked a meaningful match in nearly 14 months, then the fact that this turned out as good as it did is pretty incredible.

This match to me is totally exemplary of what a Celebrity-Wrestler spectacle match should be. We had some great heeling by Mayweather, some awesome punches, a pimp cup, Mayweather’s cronies being FANTASTIC stooges who’re thrown up as lines of defense, and a great cheating ending that didn’t make Show look bad at all. Just a fantastic spectacle match and really the standard bearer for anything like it heading forward. ***3/4

Ben: Sometimes great matches just don?t need long reviews, and the spectacle between Big Show and Mayweather at last year’s Wrestlemania certainly exemplifies this . . . fact? Truth? Despite the horrible buildup for this match (despite a great beginning at No Way Out), whoever put this match together did a fantastic job . . . and what we get is probably the best Athlete vs. Wrestler match that anyone will ever book. In short, the crowd hates Mayweather, so both guys play this up (the pimp cup, the grins, the huge posse at ringside), so that by the time Show gets on offense and stomps Mayweather hand, that’s all they need to pull the crowd into the match. And this just goes to show how simple a match needs to be to really deliver something great. There aren?t a ton of moves here. In reality, Mayweather doesn?t have to sell much of anything besides some chops. Nevertheless, he puts over his beating, crawling around the ring, clutching his hand like death, holding his ribs, allowing himself to be dragged away by his posse as if he couldn?t continue. Somehow, the loss the Big Show had to eat here didn?t even make him look weak, since the way in which Floyd took the victory only serves to demonstrate how scarily dominant his Big Show really is. From the opening bell to the final punch (brutal!), this was easily one of the best matches of the year (and I?m glad to see it made it this high on the overall list). I?ll close with some words I?ve written elsewhere: ?Great spectacle that . . . is far better than some of the reviews I?ve read: It wasn?t just ?good for what it was.? It was flat out good.?

Scott: At the basis of this spectacle’s appeal is a basic dynamic worked quite well, and a surprisingly good heel performance by Floyd Mayweather. Perhaps it was a natural transition for ‘Money’, who routinely proclaims himself the world’s greatest fighter. He exudes that charisma and arrogance as he runs circles around the much slower opponent. The antics of Mayweather and his crew (all who enthusiastically bump around for our entertainment) are funny, but the smiles vanish once Big Show gains control. When he stamps on Mayweather’s hand, the performance focuses on a typical big man / little man dynamic. Show dominates, Floyd sells. If it weren’t for the delightful actions of Floyd and his stooge crew, this match probably wouldn’t have been as entertaining. Instead we have a simple match exaggerated by some extreme characters, and that ain’t a bad thing. And Big Show came out of defeat looking an absolute monster. Not bad for a match many were expecting to be a bore. *** ?

Allister: I think this pretty much stands as the paramount example of how to build and deliver an effective showcase match. I wasn?t expecting a lot from this going in. After all, it was designed to push the butyrate of Wrestlemania 24 up higher than 23 (it didn?t), and I don?t think even the WWE themselves were ready for how good this actually was. Mayweather was a natural, utilizing his cocky persona to produce a hate able on screen character. Big Show, whom had just returned from an extended absence, was 100 pounds lighter than the last time we saw him, and posed a genuine physical menace. How was this guy supposed to beat him?

Simple, play the match out in a comic- book spectacle style farce. It’s so much fun, I challenge anybody no to enjoy this match, not to take great delight in watching Floyd squirm and squeal as Show squashes him like a bug. When Floyd is on the offense, he’s truly delightful, with a cocky in ring persona which pretty much mirrors his Floyd ?Money? Mayweather boxing persona. It’s him, ramped up to 11, and he’s obviously a fan of wrestling, because he was magnificent. Everything down to the ultra- hammy over selling in the match itself, and the absolutely ridiculous microphone delivery the guy had during the build. EVERYTHING about the programme was designed put plaster a massive grin over the face of wrestling fans, and it worked. And a nod must go to the climax; my god does Floyd DECK Show with the brass knuckles.. You know he specifically asked for that shot in order to pay off the angle.

There’s really not that much more I can say. This was the ‘segment match? at Wrestlemania, and it was infinitely better than Show/Akebono, or the involvement of trump from the previous year. Despite being DWARFED, Mayweather actually manages to make his comebacks semi- convincing and watchable, and in the end, the showdown delivered all it promised, which was a lot of fun. And who could ask for more than that? ***1/2

7. Nigel McGuiness v. Bryan Danielson, ROH World Title, ROH 2/3/08, 5,214 Points

Hunter: The one thing that annoys the crap out of me about ROH is that half of the guys on the roster try to go out and ‘wrestle a **** match’ rather than just go out and stick with a simple story. Two guys that are really good at sticking with the story are Danielson and McGuiness. Frankly, there isn’t a pairing that’s proven to be as reliable as these two are when it comes to putting out really freaking awesome matches every time out.

What I REALLY like though, is that every match up always feels fresh. I never feel like they’re headed back to some sort of mindless re-hash of a previous encounter with some nifty learned psychology spots. It’s always something that feels fun and new between the two.

This match up is notably different for one reason, Dragon this time, is the challenger and McGuiness is the champion, a champion whose been walking out on matches, doing the chicken heel thing for a couple of months. Danielson really sells the lariats well like it’s messing his eye up and what not. The false finish DQ with the locker room emptying to rush Nigel back into the ring was kind of corny, but it worked and is a nice, well executed departure from what these two normally do. This definitely had a Southern feel to it as opposed to the mat based matches and the Strong Style matches they’ve worked in the past. The finish is something else, too.

Just another fantastic match in their series though, and one that really proves just how much range these two have with each other. They finished #6 in last year’s pairing and were even higher the year before, so right now, they’re easily the best pair in wrestling right now in my boot. John Cena and Randy Orton may have something to say about that, but they don’t have the track record, yet. ***3/4

Ben: Every so often, Ring of Honor pulls off a match worthy of the rapid hype it receives from superfans. When this actually happens, it is usually a safe bet that Bryan Danielson is involved. First, the GOOD things: (1) Check out the deliberate and patient counters that these two work through in the opening minutes of the match. Call me crazy, but I?d rather watch Danielson and McGuinness trade and counter out of wristlocks for ten minutes than sit through two minutes of Alex Shelley and Chris Sabin rush through counter-after-counter without even a modicum of struggle or ?realism? (a tricky word, but one I?ll try to apply here). (2) Although USA chants usually ?grind my gears? (so to speak), they work perfectly here as a parody of the USA chants of the 1980s and 1990s?first, to frustrate Nigel (in a ?all these little wankers should get punched in the mouth? sort of way); second, for Nigel to use as fuel when the match gets restarted. (At one point, with Danielson under control, he yells, ?USA!? before blowing kisses into the crowd! Beautiful!) (3) Nigel and Bryan give the crowd every reason to believe that Danielson is going to win. (a) It’s a big-fight show. (b) Nigel’s been champion for a while. (c) They tease a DQ screw job (something that happened in the match that saw Homicide defeat Danielson for the title). (d) Danielson brushes off Nigel’s arm work (one of the matches few BAD things).(e) Nigel pretty much turns the match into a triple threat match: Danielson vs. Nigel vs. The Crowd. (e) Later into things, they even go through a 1-2-3 arm-drop sequence while Danielson has McGuinness in a triangle choke! When do we ever see that sort of thing done with the ?bad guy??

But, of course, Danielson doesn?t win the match. After asking Danielson to stay away from his head for fear of getting another concussion, McGuinness interrupts a barrage of body shots at the thirty-minute mark with a nasty headbutt . . . and another one! My favorite part of the match, however, comes after this, when Nigel uses Danielson’s finisher (the Knockout Elbows) against him, a finisher that Danielson refused to use himself because of his promise. The final elbow comes after a slight pause, and it hits Danielson right in the eye, the eye damaged so many months earlier against Takeshi Morishima. Now THAT is story-telling.

Overall, this is a fine match that coheres pretty well. Nigel actually dominates most of the match (as he should), but both guys really work out a rhythm that keeps the crowd rabidly hating Nigel and rabidly desiring Danielson to pull off a victory. Everything done here pushes the crowd to react this way. ***3/4

Scott: I’m not too familiar with the ROH product, and what I’ve been exposed to hasn’t exactly rocked my world. But there’s no denying the worthiness of this performance. It’s impressive because thematically speaking McGuiness’ betrayal spits on the basic principles that define ROH. Respect, honesty, loyalty (all of which exist under the banner of honor). His opponent is Bryan Danielson, announced as a proud member of the company for six years, and the occasion is the sixth anniversary of ROH’s existence. Therefore the company’s ‘values’ are greatly emphasized through contest and event.

The underlying narrative is the promise by Danielson to NOT attack McGuiness? head, for fear of another concussion. They largely uphold this promise throughout, highlighting the honesty and, most foremost, honor that characterizes ROH. During the final stretch however, Nigel shatters the agreement, relentlessly attacking Danielson with his HEAD, before taking the time to punish an injury his opponent has suffered in the past (the hurt eye during his battle with Morishima) to seal the victory. The turn is sudden, making its impact all the more ‘shocking’ in a way.?

Indy wrestling isn?t my forte, as often it seems that they pack way too much in order to try and produce a ***** performance. So it’s refreshing to see a match keeps its narrative as a focus, rather than a large string of ?epic? near-falls that leave little room for development in subsequent matches. And that doesn?t mean they work an exciting match, because they do. The crowd is almost a third character to boot, their activity adding to the aura of a potential title change at the significant event. Their investment in the match increases the impact of Nigel’s trickery, and that my friends is a good thing. *** ?

Allister: The game of one-upmanship that these two play with each other in the first ten minutes of this match is among the best I saw all year. It helps that both McGuiness and Danielson are extremely familiar with each other at this point. They are both excellent performers on their own merits, but thrust into the ring together, you get some really, really good stuff.

The crowd are into this, in the typical, rabid ROH fashion, complete with USA chants directed at McGuiness which for a change, enhance the atmosphere. These aren?t the chants that a US crowd direct at a foreign heel, these are designed to get under the skin of a guy that they respect as a performer. This kind of changes when he decks the referee in an attempt to get himself disqualified. Being a resident of the UK, I cannot tell you how refreshing it is for a British heel to grab a microphone and use the term ?wankers? in the middle of a heated match. Small, private love for this moment.

Upon being pretty much ordered back into the ring by officials, he’s met with an onslaught of chops from Danielson before the match is officially restarted. When it is, the adrenaline hits McGuiness and he counters with a flurry of his own. Constant one-upmanship continuing into the second half and the intensity of this crowd he growing along with the match. The thing which elevated this match in terms of quality, for me, was the fact that this game was Danielson’s? undoing. Despite becoming a major target as the match continues, he refuses to strike the head of in a way that could cause concussion (a major buzz word during the bout). Although multiple submission maneuvers are aimed at the shoulders and neck, the head is shown a degree of mercy. He simply refuses to strike. McGuiness on the other hand, absolutely exploits the eye injury sustained by Danielson, and uses to secure the victory by submission/TKO. It’s a very interesting dynamic, as the match starts with the ?top this? attitude, and slowly progresses through its long duration into an entirely different beast, with the face showing mercy on something he could easily exploit, and the heel showing no such mercy, and getting the job done as a result.

This was really stellar stuff, and the performances from both guys were top. I tend not to watch a lot of ROH, but when I do catch the odd match, and it’s of this quality, it makes me wish that I invested more time into watching the promotion. A very worthy one on one addition to our top 20. ****

8.) Gail Kim v. Awesome Kong, TNA Knockouts Title, 1/6/08, 4642 Points

Hunter: his is just flat out awesome and I don’t know why I either missed this or how it didn’t end up in my top 20. This is super-fantastic stuff, here. There’s A LOT of similarities between this match and the Cena-Umaga match which won MOTY honors on this site last year. Basically it’s a giant game of cat and mouse where Kong chased Kim, and Kim has to use her size, speed and environment to her advantage to try and survive.

Kong’s not the just best women’s worker in North America right now, she’s probably the best worker in TNA. Better than Jarrett, better than anyone. Her strikes look like a million bucks. The character presentation and facial expressions are scary. She NEVER sells crap she shouldn’t sell but when she does sell, it’s fantastic. She reads the crowd, gives them looks, interacts. Just a grade-A a__ kicker.

There’s some fantastic brawling in this as basically they just have Kim fly and bounce off Kong. It really gets over her sheer mass, her size, the whole nine yards. Her offense has little to no effect and Kong is easily able to gain the advantage. Kong swings her off the barricade, steps on her face, all sorts of awesome big ma…. big woman offense. They brawl through the crowd to the first spot, where Kong, instead of throwing her down stairs, throws Gail UP stairs. Kong’s craziness spot #1 that costs her. Gail soars off the stars with kicks and mounts a decent little comeback. It doesn’t go anywhere or last long before Kong drops her again, but it gets her somewhere. Chink in the armor.

They brawl across the top of the balcony while Kong steps on Gail’s face. She gets into it with a dude in the crowd which allows Gail to clock her with a full bottle of coke. They brawl down the stairs to the floor where Kong throws Kim up against the wall for Kong’s craziness spot #2 that costs her. Kong lines her up and charges her and whiffs and crashes into the wall. No stupid wall breaks like an Abyss match or the match they’d have on the next iMPACT, just straight forward and gets a pop.

They brawl through the crowd and it’s right here when you know they’ve got everyone buying into what they’re doing. Gail is finally in some sort of control and every blow is getting a mini pop. Gail STRUGGLES to throw Kong over the guard rail and Kong maybe falls two feet and the crowd goes BANANNAS for it. Just for Gail being able to MOVE Kong, they went nuts for it.

The fun doesn’t last long for Gail, though, as She tries to move Kong into the ring, but she’s just too big. One big mit to the kisser and Kim’s back on her heels. Again. From there it’s just an awesome cat and mouse game with Gail desperately trying to create space and hit something. She goes for a roll up but Kong just wastes her with a face buster. What happens next should be included in the great Monster moments hall of fame.

Kong finally hits her finisher but Gail some how, some way kicks out. Because they’ve done such a great job to this point, the crowds eats it up. Kong though, doesn’t ask why. She’s pissed the referee can’t count fast enough, so she takes a MAN and powerbombs his through the freaking mat. Enter Kong craziness spot #3 that costs her. Kong, because she’s a monster and therefore does monstrous things, gets a chair, not to hit Gail with, but to CONTINUE KILLING the referee with.

Gail sees it and grabs the chair and she’s got her equalizer. Finally. She crushes Kong with two or three shots to the dome and then hits her frog splash. She panics (and so does the crowd) because there’s no ref! She flails for a ref to come out and he times his run in SO WELL and the kick out gets a great pop. Gail goes to finish the monster but Kong grabs her and choke slams her. Kim kicks out. Kong goes berserk and goes after THIS referee, too. Finally, Kong Craziness Spot #4 which costs her as she goes to awesome bomb the official. Gail’s just with it enough though to clip her legs while she’s got the referee above her head. The referee’s momentum gives Gail the momentum and leverage she needs to get the roll up pin fall. The crowd goes NUTS>>>>

Not enough good to say about this match. Nothing seems like overkill, it’s a totally awesome big woman-little woman/cat and mouse/survival story all rolled into one. It’s not the best women’s match this year. It’s the best women’s match I’ve seen in North America in years. Absolutely fantastic match. ***3/4

Ben: I just love Mike Tenay’s facial reaction after Awesome Kong messes with his papers. So damn funny. 🙂

As I mentioned shortly after this match took place, Kim and Kong deliver pretty great match here, despite the fact that it didn?t make it on my ballot. In many ways, I like this match for exactly the same reason I like the Batista/Michaels match: it’s a ?big wrestler vs. little wrestler? match! The right combination of big wrestler and fiery little wrestler can do wonders at generating heat, and here we get just enough Kong awesomeness mixed with quick offense from the champion and great selling that draws sympathy from the crowd. Despite her dominance, Kong takes a beating nearly as severe as the one that she delivers to the champion: other than Kim’s stiff strikes (mostly forearms), the challenger’s bump into the wall is pretty cringe worthy, and the chair shots to the skull are surprisingly harsh . . . which can often detract from a match . . . here, that’s not the case. Even the referee bumps work! After Kong Awesome Bombs the first referee, I actually yelled out loud (something I don?t typically do); plus, the bump actually factored into the end of the match for a lovely, well-booked pay off. In short, as I?ve indicated elsewhere: Good counters. Good strikes. Good usage of the No DQ rule. Good near falls. Great crowd reaction. Clever ending. Room for later bouts. What more could a wrestling fan want? Sadly, it didn?t make it onto my MOTY ballot, but I wasn?t definitely wrong when I guessed that it wouldn?t make it on anyone’s ballot. Very good match. ***

Scott: It’s ironic that TNA’s best match on this list is a bout between a former WWE employee and a woman billed to weigh 300 or so pounds. Not a flippy move or overly complex gimmick in sight. These two work an entertaining contest that pits Awesome Kong’s dominance against the heart, desperation and luck of Gail Kim. The menacing power of Kong is conveyed through her no-selling (the only time such an act is welcome) of Kim’s flailing strikes, as well as the aura of fear she evokes in the referees and commentators – Tenay’s expression is classic when being confronted. Her presence and ruthless pursuit of the champion magnifies Kim’s desperation, causing her futile comeback attempts to garner our support. Both bump extremely well and there’s a distinct stiffness in the weapon shots and strikes that manages to promote Kim’s desperation, and Kong’s ominous power game. Far from plodding, Kim’s heart and the stipulation keeps proceedings interesting, resulting in a surprisingly entertaining brawl. ***

Allister: Kim and Kong delivered several fantastic women’s matches in the Knockouts division in 2008, and this is my pick as the best.

The premise isn?t difficult. Gail is as fresh faced and plucky as ever going up against the absolute monster that is Awesome Kong, who is one of the absolute best performers TNA have. A genuine top- tier talent, she moves in the ring totally naturally, and when coupled with Kim, another performer of considerable talent, they produce a very watchable dynamic.

The David vs. Goliath stuff we see here is nothing new, but the quality of the performances really shine through. Kong dominates the opening moments, taking it to the outside and controlling the action. The comebacks mounted by Kim in this match, despite her massive disadvantage, are totally believable, and this helps the match a great deal. She looks totally out of her depth, struggling to gain any advantage she can to keep her title. Ebbed on by adrenaline, and a super hot crowd, she puts up a hell of a fight.

I loved the brawling into the crowd, and the feeling of chaos both the girls created. The near falls were SUPER effective; I was convinced this match was over twice. In one instance, Kim delivers two fantastic steel chair shots, followed by a frog splash from the top rope. I was convinced she had retained, and I?ll admit I marked for the kick out.

Kong’s anger and her mistake of grabbing the referee cost her the match, it’s a perfect finish. Kim shouldn?t be able to out- muscle Kong for the victory, and in that respect, the finish protected her very well. It’s a testament to Kim as a performer that she can make her roll ups looks convincing. Even her jumping forearm strikes in the match come across as a real adrenaline fueled flurry, and really added to the urgency. Every second she was in that match was a second in Kong’s favour. Let’s get this over with, and give it all I?ve got. And the fact that she overcomes the odds, and beats Kong, means that the entire match felt like an uphill battle with a purpose.

The Kim/Kong series of 2008 were far and away the best women’s matches of the year. Beth Phoenix and Melina managed to breathe some life into the stagnant WWE women’s division, but not even they could produce anything of this quality. ***3/4

9.) Blue Panther v. Villano V, Mask v. Mask, CMLL 9/19/08, 4,554 Points

Hunter: In a year where there’s been a lot of good stuff, but not really any stand outs, it’s no surprise that a match that’s worked so simply ends up out-doing the rest of the field by a mile, at least in my opinion.

If there was one issue I have with a lot of wrestling promotions these days, it’s that they try too hard sometimes to create big moments instead of letting them happen. Wrestlers go out and try to wrestle a ‘**** match’ instead of sticking to the basics and delivering a good story by just sticking to what they do well. Yes, I know I said it before, but it warrants saying again.

This match certainly doesn’t suffer from that and its best parts can be appreciated through its simplicity. It’s something that a grizzled fan such as myself can enjoy, or even the ritalin chomping 19 year old fan who measures the quality of what they’re watching by the number of moves he sees. It’s got drama, the meat and potatoes wrestling is fun and relevant, there’s a hot crowd and a compelling story.

A lot of times in the past, it’s been my observation that at least a lot of these things tend to take place in multi man matches, which is weird and frankly, I’m NOT a good source on lucha, so I dunno why that is, but to me that seems retarded. This should be a staple of how you do any kind of big blow off match to a headlining feud though. Mask-Mask Matches are the big ones in Mexico, so the atmosphere is pretty insane here..

The first falls are pretty cool. Villano is definitely a crazy bastard and doesn’t mind slicing the back of his head open on purpose. That or he legitimately conked his head on the metal part of the arena seating… either way, he’s a tough bastard and is bleeding through the back of his mask. That’s after eating a couple of post shots and getting chopped and punched all over the place. Dude is made of iron. Mexican Iron. If they even have that.

One thing I really miss about wrestling in general is the lack of revenge spots we get… where a guy does something really douche bag-ish at some point in a match, only later on to eat a similar to same spot as a total ‘screw you’. The two work it well here. They punctuate the end of both falls just to enhance the WILDNESS of the third. Villano’s a dirt bag, so he rips off Blue Panther’s mask. That gets him disqualified. What a idiot you say? No, it’s that he just hates this blue ballsack of a man. He busted the BACK of his head open for christ’s sake! Panther at the end of the second fall, gives him a receipt… wanna freaking embarrass me? I’ll take your mask! Oh and hey, HOW DOES MY A– TASTE?

SO with the crowd completely whipped up, the last fall is done about as perfectly as you could hope for. Panther hits some wild topes, continually sending Villano into the seats. Villano comes back with super plexes galore for some INSANE near falls. The finish is IMO, best of the year without question. Villano goes to the second rope after double checking to make sure Panther’s sort of dead so he can hit his move. He comes off the rope and Panther catches him on the way down and slaps on the always sure death fujiwara armbar from hell and the place is going BONKERS. But Villano rolls him up in a crucifix and gets the three count. The place literally goes freaking berserk

Lots of hate, revenge spots, crazy spots, awesome near falls, a great crowd, good strikes, and a rewarding sense of finality to a great story… just a fantastic match. ****1/4

Ben: I can?t say that I?m a huge lucha fan, but I did enjoy this match a great deal, enough for it to crack my Top 15. Needless to say, however, I?m surprised that it broke the Top Ten all around. I?ll let the other guys who know a bit more about lucha (namely Hunter) say a bit more about this match, but considering that it made it onto my ballot, I should probably venture to say a little something.

The match is not a pretty or flashy. There aren?t any huge bumps (although the topes are pretty crazy!) or very few eye-popping moves. In fact, a lot of the offense seems pretty antiquated. However, what Panther and Villano deliver still works because it’s all in the context of two old masked dudes trying to beat the hell out of one another, two guys so fired up to de-mask one another that both of them (first Villano, then Blue Panther) get disqualified for prematurely de-masking the other one. The third fall kicks things into high gear, however, with Blue Panther’s amazing dives (three in a row!) as well as Villano’s superplex-mania . . . after countering a fourth dive with a couple boots to the face. By the end of the match, as with so many high profile matches, things end not with a dramatic submission or a definitive finisher, but with a counter that probably?on any other day?would have failed. Now that’s story telling: after blood, after confusion, after two de-maskings (three actually!), after a slew of dives and superplexes and a near submission, a simple roll-up counter wins the day and sets off the fireworks.

Again, I?m not a big lucha fan, but I am a fan of some good ol? wrasslin?, and that’s what CMLL delivers here with Villano V against Blue Panther. ***1/4

Scott: Not the most accessible of matches, nevertheless I found it within myself to enjoy this emotional performance. Being far from an expert on this flavor of professional wrestling, I will allow my fellow reviewers to explain the importance of the mask and subsequently the prospect of having to remove it. Safe to say, it’s important.?
Obviously it’s harder for a first-time viewer to invest in these characters to achieve the same admiration that, say, many hold for Flair / Michaels. The style does differentiate from what most readers are used to, and it does bear the potential to alienate. It tends to be spotty (although not ridiculously so) and, without the advantage of an exposed face, selling becomes more of an exercise in body language than expression. But before everyone wrinkles their noses, in my view the numerous topes add to the drama (especially when Villano busts the back of his skull open!), appearing as though both are willing to take great risks to protect their masks. The premature de-masking also highlights the raw emotion that drives these men to protect their masks, with Villano being too impatient and bad to wait until actually winning a fall, and Panther being too fired up to NOT retaliate to his opponent’s actions.
Just like the shoot elimination tag, this won’t be to everyone’s tastes. But there’s no harm in trying, right? All in all I currently hold this in the same regard as the shoot tag, Cena / Orton, Flair / Michaels and Suwama / Tanahashi as the best five matches of the year. ****

Allister: This was a very difficult match for me to review because it’s by no means my forte. Basically, the Lucha style is something I had never even seen before this performance.

The crowd here are excellent. They add so much to the match that all the spots, near falls, exchanges and emotion between the two guys are about a million times more effective than they would have been otherwise. That isn?t to say it’s not a great match however, it certainly is. The entire thing plays out with emotion, violence, and action of a high quality throughout; the events that occur throughout the match give a clear narrative that complements the stipulation perfectly.

There are a few things I really liked, one of them being the performance of Vilano, who is just crazy into the match from the get go. Add the fact that the guy slices the back of his head after an (awesome looking) dive to the outside from Panther, and not only have you ramped up the intensity tenfold, but added an entirely new dimension to the encounter. Post head-slice, Vilano stays in control for a significant amount of time, taking Panther to the outside, suplexing him on the floor, slapping on a submission maneuver after beating him down with some strikes.

After the very well done revenge spot (another mask is torn off, the crowd lapping up every second and nothing short of frenzied), both guys take proceedings forward with a mixture of action in and outside the ring. This is played for drama and comes across very well. The dives to the outside which mirror the initial major spot of the match in particular, are very well done, and the near falls following I found to be extremely engaging. Again, with a crowd like this, stuff just really gets ramped up, and the final 3 minutes here are a perfect example. When the final pin fall is scored, the place pretty much erupts, and I found it quite touching that the crowd were so emotionally respectful of the performance. You will very rarely see this kind of reaction in Dub Dub ?E.

A self- confessed novice when it comes to Lucha, I found a lot of stuff here hard to get used to. The way the two guys built around and performed their spots was something very different to the matches I am used to seeing. The crowd (although very good) are completely different to that of a mainstream WWE crowd, and add a different dynamic to the clash which I am sure is true of most Lucha promotions such as CMLL. The style is new to me and as a result, my enjoyment was hindered slightly. With that said, it was still clearly a very good match, and whilst not selling me on the Lucha style completely, I found it to be a damn good introduction. Emotional and engaging. ***1/2

10. Jeff Hardy v. Umaga, Steel Cage Match, Raw 1/21/08, 4,080 Points

Hunter: This is a really cool, more traditional cage match where the actual violence isn’t the point, it’s designed to keep someone ELSE out, and in this case, that’s Randy Orton .In fact, its just a really cool, really different cage match altogether.

The cage actually is the judge, jury and executioner, which is kind of cool to see wrestlers actually use the apparatus in a way that tells a cool little side story within the greater story. For Jeff Hardy, the issue is one of confinement. He’s a nutty, high flying guy who can’t fly and flop like he usually does. He’s got to learn how to overcome the LIMITATIONS the cage has imposed on him. If that wasn’t bad enough, he gets locked in there with Umaga, whose a maniac. Umaga on his own is bad enough, but with a cage to play with, he just looks all the more vicious and dangerous. However, like any maniac, they shouldn’t get to hold the gun, not just because they’re maniacs, but they’re just as likely to shoot themselves as they are someone else. Think that for Umaga here.

So the match essentially revolves around Hardy losing his offense thanks to the cage, but also gaining an odd ally, in the cage. While the cage taketh away, it also keeps Hardy in the match as Umaga has many frequent crash and burn spots. As the match progresses, it becomes clear that Umaga’s not aware of the destructive power of his surroundings the way he should be, but then again, he is a savage who drinks his favorite beverages out of the tops of skuls. Hardy, while being hamstrung initially, eventually harnesses the power of the cage so to speak, that allows him to vanquish his foe.

To boot, Randy Orton is on the outside going bananas, and his reactions really help the crowd along. Its one heck of a cage match. ***3/4

Ben: For twelve months I didn?t like this match, and I find it difficult to figure out why. It didn?t make my list this year because I just assumed?given my earlier distaste for it?that it wasn?t worth watching again. Since it made it’s way into the Top 10, however, I definitely needed to see it again . . . and, boy, I am definitely willing to admit that I was mistaken. This should have been in my Top 20 . . .

There are so many things going on here besides a good wrestling match. As far as ‘storytelling? goes, it doesn?t get much simpler (or much better in some cases): huge guy vs. little guy (sensing a pattern yet to my taste in wrestling matches yet?). The little guy must avoid the big guy but must still manage to get some offense in. Big guy must absorb some shots but still demonstrate his dominance through little things like powerful kickouts and quick responses to signatures maneuvers. Both guys play these roles perfectly, and after Umaga’s long control segment, Hardy transforms the match into another game of evasion . . . but this time he has some steel chairs to play around with.

This brings me to Orton and the two frames that surround this match: the literal frame of the steel cage and the narrative frame of Hardy’s feud with Orton. The literal frame, in a rather literary way, keeps Orton from fully interfering in the match, but it also serves as a great way for Hardy to engage with both the inside and the outside of the cage simultaneously. The cage allows him to focus solely on Umaga . . . until he tries to leave. But the cage also gives Orton access to Umaga’s ear and gives Orton a way to block Jeff Hardy from leaving, giving him a much more particular way of limiting Hardy’s offense than if the cage weren?t there in the first place. The door-slam spot has become pretty typical in the past ten years or so (ever since Mick Foley took some blue bars to the skull at the 1997 Summerslam event), but Orton really brings it back to life by sprinting around the ring to slam it in Hardy’s face. The end of the match really cements this inside-outside double framing: Hardy, perched atop the cage, can either dive onto Orton, winning the match, or take a risk and finish off Umaga, which would send one hell of a message to the champion. Given Hardy’s personality, he takes the second route . . . and JR goes insane. On top of the cool dive, Orton’s facial expression tells a great story too: one that mixes something like admiration with something like fear with something like disbelief, and Hardy’s excitement at pinning Umaga makes the huge risk worth it.

The only part of the match that I continue to dislike is Umaga’s choice to climb the ropes in order to escape the cage. Given his past history in disregarding rules, it seems a bit odd that he?d even attempt this . . . but not all things are perfect.

In the end, this should have probably been in my Top 5. ***3/4

Scott: Everyone involved here are just great in their prescribed roles. Inside the cage, Hardy’s ragdoll selling of Umaga’s dominance effectively portrays that beloved dynamic of a smaller guy being mauled by a bigger guy, which is something these two never fail to achieve when they?re together. The Samoan Bulldozer is mostly brilliant in his offense, as well as presenting his monstrous persona via quick kick-outs and his resilience to most of Hardy’s material. It’s obvious Jeff Hardy isn?t going to defeat Umaga by normal means, so he must look to escape the cage to survive.

The notion of confinement is emphasized fantastically (which should be a given in any good cage match), firstly via the cage itself, with Hardy being required to escape to really have a chance at winning, but also by Randy Orton’s presence on the outside. He keeps Jeff Hardy inside the cage, initially by slamming the door on his face, but also by warding him off from climbing out. The interaction between Hardy and Orton, the cage and Umaga and how they keep the high-flyer trapped culminates in an impressive spot that signifies one final, urgent attempt to survive. And it works, providing a memorable finish (Orton’s expression of shock is great afterwards) to a great cage match. It’s also an example of how a spot should be built towards, and above all else how it should have MEANING. *** ?

Allister: Umaga was one of the top performers of 2007, and many of his very good matches were with Jeff Hardy. The two performers have a smooth, natural chemistry, which complements the styles they are trying to get over. Umaga, a monster heel, looks best when throwing around opponents like ragdolls. Jeff Hardy on the other hand, looks best mounting comebacks after being dominated. His selling is excellent, akin to a younger, less goofy HBK.

In this match the cage is used as a weapon extremely well. Umaga, from a character standpoint, looks delightfully out of his element, even a tad confused as to exactly what is going on. Jeff is pretty much fighting for his life, and it works really well because it works to amplify exactly what their previous matches have been about. Jeff Hardy is locked in the cage with a monster. He has to rely on his speed and agility to mount any offense he can. Umaga looks extremely fierce when in control. Even when applying something as basic as his nerve hold, his facial expressions mixed with Hardy’s selling makes it extremely watchable. I draw comparisons between said nerve hold when applied by Umaga, and Orton’s chin lock, in that it never looks like a rest hold, it’s applied for a reason, and it’s effective.

I liked the fact that Jeff had a clear chance to win, and made a choice to instead perform the whisper in the wind spot from the top of the cage. It put over the gutsiness of his character. Even when faces with seemingly insurmountable odds, he’s still take the risk, and put his body on the line to please the fans. They love this guy, and Hardy is one of the very best at getting the crowd salivating over, and exploding after a spot. This is no different, and looks fantastic. The last time I saw this leap performed was back in the attitude era, when The Hardy Boyz were a tag team. A decade later, performing the same leap is nothing short of impressive.

Randy Orton plays his part super well here, providing increased intensity from his position outside of the ring, jaw jacking Hardy at every attempt and generally making himself as despicable as possible without actually getting involved in the action. He’s the icing on the cake here.

An early MOTYC on the very first episode of RAW. ***1/2

11. Kurt Angle v. Yuji Nagata, New Japan, 1/4/09, 4,004 Points

Ben: This is an okay match, but in the end I?m a bit disappointed that it made it this high on the overall list. Despite my disappointment, there are still some pretty cool moments in the match, particularly when Nagata slaps or kicks Angle: the crowd is all about the former IWGP Champion knocking our Olympic Psycho around.

Typical Angle problems still abound . . . like eating a backdrop driver (I?ve pointed this out elsewhere) but immediately catching Nagata’s leg for the ankle lock. I don?t like to harp on selling to a degree where it ruins my enjoyment of wrestling matches, but if there is one thing Angle just never manages to figure out, it is how to pace himself (this is a major problem in his recent match with Jarrett) and how to pay attention to when he should just give himself just another half minute to lay on the mat. Also: I?m not a fan of the submission trading . . . I just don?t buy it. I liked it when Benoit and Angle initially did it, but now that it has become a staple of Angle matches, I just can?t get behind it, especially when Nagata has so many other submissions that wouldn?t allow Angle to grab his ankle. In addition, Angle looks a little lost at times, pulling a belly-to-belly suplex out of nowhere (and not in a good way).

I guess this has the benefit of being a unique match, but I was right that it wouldn?t hold up as MOTY. I will say that I still dig Angle’s half-crab variation of his submission he should use it more often . . . **3/4

Scott: Angle and Nagata trade focal points. The Olympian targets the leg (setting up for the Ankle Lock), as Nagata retaliates by punishing the arm. A marvelous, prolonged Figure Four sequence kicks off this limb work war, with the match culminating in a neat finish involving a countered kick (Nagata trademark) into a grapevined Ankle Lock. That I appreciate – limb work paying off in the finish makes me giddy! – but for such an emphasis on punishing limbs, the selling leaves much to be desired. A fault more on Yuji Nagata’s game, the challenger returns to his trademark stiff kicks despite being caught in a LONG Figure Four moments earlier. Unfortunately this does undermine the damage Angle has caused to that area. Oh well.

The referencing of the Benoit / Angle series (particularly their great encounter at Royal Rumble 2003), featuring the Ankle Lock countered into the Crossface and vice versa, is cute. But when it is worked in almost the exact same way, coupled with inferior selling granting less of a sense of their impact, you have to wonder whether that sequence is genuinely a tribute, or a result of lacking originality. By no means a classic, but fun nonetheless. **3/4

Allister: There’s a lot of things I like about this match, and a few things I don?t like. First of all, I thought a lot of the chain wrestling in the initial stages was pretty goofy. The same can be said for his offense throughout the match, which I felt was lacking. Kurt has lost a lot of the form he showed in his early years in the WWE (and even to some extent, the 2004/2005 period). There was just a real cleanness to his movements back then that he doesn?t possess now. He increasingly runs through the motions and although said motions are rather good in terms of structure, the actual quality is diminishing. Here in 2008, there’s only so much Angle I can take. These shortcomings in offense become even more apparent when Angle is on the New Japan stage, as TNA are to a certain degree, accustomed to compensating for it. It’s far from all bad, though. Yuji’s control segments make up for the shortcomings Angle brings to the table. They are intense and full of fire, and come across very well. He is vocal when selling, far more so than Angle, and again, it’s his performance that comes out on top in this regard.

I love how both the guys pace this match through taking short breaks outside the ring to regroup. It doesn?t so much make it an overly tactical affair, but what it does allow the viewer to do is keep a pretty good idea of which guy is in control, which guy is taking the lead. It’s a fun way of working and serves to keep stuff engaging throughout. And of course, I can?t review this match without mentioning the figure- four spot midway through, which was damn finely worked. Yugi keeps struggling out of it, Angle keeps reapplying it, and the intensity on both guys faces is picture perfect. The crowd eat up this segment in particular, and deliver a round of applause when Yugi finally makes it to the ropes.

In the build to the final segments of this match, you have both guys pulling submissions holds on each other that totally make up for the sloppy implementation from the first five minutes. Now both guys have really broken a sweat, and putting everything into these holds, wrenching at each other and really trying to force that tap out…which doesn?t happen. At least not yet. Before it does, Angle must attempt his moonsault. And miss it, obviously. It’s a moonsault that looks nowhere near as good as it once did. Some pretty heavy striking towards later, Angle locks in his ankle lock submission, and takes the victory after a slightly extended sell from Yugi.

So this is a good match. For my money, Yugi looked a lot better than Angle here, and really made the match his own through his facial expressions and high quality control segments. Angle was Angle, which isn?t exactly a bad thing, I guess, just no longer something special. Which is a shame. This is engaging, with a nice crowd and a few really good, memorable moments. As I mentioned before, I especially enjoyed the figure four leg lock, the intense submission attempts towards the end, and the way the two used the outside of the ring to both slow things down and create momentum in tandem. ***1/2

12. Batista v. John Cena, Summerslam , 8/17/08, 3,806 Points

Hunter: The first thing I notice is that of all the major John Cena matches I’ve seen through the years, this is the first one where he looks like he’s totally not ready for what’s going to hit him. Cena’s stuff is almost friendly in nature. The obligatory exchanging of headlocks. The obligatory trading of shoulder blocks and leap frogs and all the early match stupidity we usually get from a match between two compedetive weenies. Cena’s wrestling a ‘fun exhibition’.

But Batista isn’t.

Batista has been in big matches with the Undertaker for the better part of the previous year. He feuded with Umaga, too, so he’s really a guy whose not afraid to let ’em fly. That and he just had a title program with Edge who put him in a bad mood. So he just takes out the metal suit case and presses the big red button. He uncorks a jack hammer. A spear. Bum rushes Cena into the corner so hard, it’s almost kind of unnerving. He whips Cena twice and even when Cena gets an elbow up, he gets totally planted to the mat with a spine buster as he tries to rush out of the corner. And unless anyone was still questioning him, he whips out a figure four which I didn’t think looked that bad.

Cena’s getting blown out. Time to fight.

Cena eventually turns the heat up though and we head to a total bomb-fest. The STFU makes an appearance as do like two FU’s, a couple of Batista bombs, and a wacky rear naked choke for good measure. The spear is chucked in there to boot. Once the two go to the top rope, you’ve got that unsettled feeling that something really awful is going to happen to one of these guys and unfortunately for Cena, it’s him. With the kind of offense they’re throwing out there, this can’t possibly last long.

He leaps off and Batista catches him in mid air and just absolutely blows Cena to pieces with a Batista bomb. Sure, the initial cover doesn’t work, but one more Batista bomb does the trick for sure and that’s that.

The second or third time through, I’m going to drop this a bit. This is a significant step up from Triple H-Cena a few months prior, but it still suffers from a lot of the same issues. Cena’s STFU looks good, but Batista seems content to just sort of lay there. No real sell of it or anything. Cena drags him to the center of the ring to try it again, but the fact that they went for this spot just far too early in the match AND that Batista didn’t seem to want to sell it which is a bit frustrating seeing as he came out of the gates looking like such a gamer in this.

The end sequence is just off the charts, especially the two power bombs at the end. Batista’s counters, while not 100% on the execution front (this guy just ain’t that coordinated), are still pretty nifty and in all honesty, stuff we haven’t seen from him. I love Batista in these types of matches and he seems to be sort of finding a niche of sorts. I loved the spear to kick off the WM 23 match with Taker and I love him busting out figure fours, rear naked chokes and countering anything Cena wants to chuck in his direction. He’s just a ton of fun here. His selling is good MOST of the time, but on a few occasions, like the STFU, he sort of takes a break. Considering the pace these two worked this match, I’ll let that go.

Cena for the most part is pretty great, especially on the sell, but that’s pretty much the norm for him. IMO, he’s the best seller in the business right now. Cena left a bit to be desired on offense here. His comebacks weren’t really all that well placed and it was harder to get into them. Granted it was blatantly obvious that both guys weren’t exactly going to throw the kitchen sink out there this go-round.

So in the end this is a very good match that has some obvious flaws. At the same time, these guys certainly left a lot in the tank for a second go round, which I’m sure we’ll get sooner rather than later. ***1/2

Ben: This is a hell of a match not because it necessarily lives up to what a match between the two biggest names in a wrestling company should be, but because both wrestlers manage to deliver a match that almost has zero flaws. They don?t include a bunch of stuff that doesn?t need to be there; they don?t go through some awkward ?technical? maneuvers in the early going to ?feel one another out.? They just go in guns a-blazin? . . . hell, Batista goes for his finisher less than a minute in! Back-and-forth matches often get a bad rap these days, but I think that’s usually because performers lose track of how much they should sell, how much of a pause they should take before continuing. Many back-and-forth matches have no rhythm, sometimes collapsing into a dance recital of spots and big moves and horrid counters. This match, though, has really great transitions as the momentum switches back-and-forth, back-and-forth. For instance, Cena doesn?t just counter the Batista Bomb in order to lock in the STFU . . . no, he delivers a DDT (?) to Batista’s leg first. Batista doesn?t just pick up Cena after the first powerbomb in order to finish him off . . . no, he boots him clean in the face first. Cena doesn?t just fight back from the Figure Four . . . no, he finds himself close to the ropes and uses his strength to FU Batista over the top (while standing on one foot!), giving him plenty of time to recover. And so on.

Tack on the fact that both guys did a great job selling (Cena’s face after Batista makes it to the ropes and his face after Batista kicks out of the FU really show why he’s so good at what he does) and that there were very few awkward moments (Batista’s rear naked choke seemed a bit odd, but Cena’s escape was perfect) and you have a definite MOTYC. It isn?t close to a MOTD(decade)C or anything, but I certainly wouldn?t mind seeing it on the MOTD ballot . . . or seeing these two go at it when there’s more on the line! ***1/2

Allister: So I?ll freely admit, I was one of those guys that was bummed about this match happening at SummerSlam. I was convinced that if saved until WM25, this would have been the biggest thing since sliced bread, and in some ways, I am still convinced. It wasn?t built with half the fanfare it deserved. It should have been given months of slow burn treatment, and would have worked far better as a feud based out of hatred, rather than respect. I do think this hurt the match a lot. When one is faced with a ?dream match? like this which has been built so poorly, you can?t help but think what could have been, and naturally, that is going to hurt the final product.

What we got was really good in terms of the wrestling (the character work suffered due to the build.) The two guys worked with good chemistry, and produced something which basically boiled down to a game of ?top this?. I like that they capitalized on the very genuine strength of Cena (he was booked as Batista’s equal in this regard), because it made it appear even more of an even contest. This strength also came into play several times throughout the match, in which we see Cena dropping his opponent with power moves. Both guys were booked as pretty much unstoppable in the run up to this encounter, and the result is them both looking like a million dollars which is exactly what was needed, considering these two are the companies top baby faces.

The action hurtles along at a quick pace, and they really put over the fact that this is a huge match through their moves…a point that is overdone. The facial expressions between the two are okay, but I thought they could have been done slightly better. It’s not so much a fault on behalf of Batista, but Cena has an annoying habit of trying to hammer in the fact that a match is ABSOLUTELY HUGE through his expressions in the initial half of a match, and it starts to grate in this match. It is particularly unnecessary here because the company had spent the past month hammering the point home for themselves.

The final sequence of spots that saw Cena come away with a serious injury are very well performed. There was some debate on the forums at the time regarding the chemistry between the two, but I thought the interaction came off very well. The fact that this could have gone either way made it all the more exciting, and when Batista scored the final 3 count I was pleasantly surprised. ***3/4

13.) Suwama v. Hiroshi Tanahashi, Champions’ Carnival Final, All Japan 3/9/08, 3,672 Points

Hunter: So scenario time. Imagine John Cena popped up at an ROH show and was like ‘Hey Bryan Danielson. Let’s fight. Not here, but like in a parking lot. You bring your friends, I’ll bring mine. No titles, none of that crap, just one on one’. That’s exactly the feeling here. It’s an intimate small venue with a MOLTEN hot crowd and the two top dogs from two companies that 15 years ago were ARCH rivals. As a guy who really loved both promotions in their hay day, it’s just amazing to see how different the atmosphere is in Japan these days where guys regularly step across promotional boundaries to do their thing.

Tanahashi is absolutely playing the heel here and Suwama the face, but the crowd eats both of them up… it’s just got that total Rock-Hogan feel to it, but like it’s on a street somewhere… Just so cool. And both guys bring the goods here. There’s some mind blowing head drops, some hilarious taunting from Tanahashi, which is a guy that just looks so much more comfortable in his role as a top guy, some awesome hope spots for Suwama and an absolutely AWESOME ending. I’m actually not even going to spoil this, just because it’s that fun of a match.

Usually, you find yourself saying ‘oh well, this match isn’t going to ring everyone’s bell’… and that’s usually especially true of Japanese matches… but this one has some incredible cross-over appeal to it. You’ve got a strong face-heel dynamic going on here and an unusually MOLTEN Japanese crowd, and it FEELS very familiar stylistically, like it could be taking place somewhere in Philadelphia or Chicago… But it’s also got the head dropping nuttiness that Japanese main events usually tend to have. It’s got some crazy submissions, great strikes…. it’s just a little of everything. I think ANYONE could watch this, not know who these dudes are and enjoy the pi$$ out of it. Right now, this is my top dog.

The execution isn’t always on target. Sometimes it’s even a bit sloppy. But this is the kind of stuff you wanna see from a Puro heavyweight Match mixed in with a very North American atmosphere that just clicks. Total big-match slug fest that totally gobbles up 35 minutes quicker than you can blink. ***3/4

Ben: I have to admit that I have no idea who Suwama is, but I am pretty familiar with Tanahashi (who had a few awesome matches last year). This match, as far as I can tell, pits Tanahashi (who has quickly become one of the toughest wrestlers in Japan to keep down) against an AJPW favorite who is not quite in Tanahashi’s league (at least from the get go). The space between the levels of talent here make up the story of the early portion of the match as Tanahashi has a pretty easy time wiping the floor with Suwama; despite a pretty obvious size difference, he absorbs quite a bit of offense, turning the tables with ease. What’s so cool about this match, I would argue, is that even if you don?t quite know who either of these guys are, you can enjoy watching Suwama rise to the challenge as he figures out how to survive Tanahashi’s nasty leg whips, how to absorb several signature maneuvers, and how to continue to fight through High Fly Flows (frog splashes) and a Texas Clover Leaf.

There are certainly some awkward moments in the match, but I think Suwama’s performance and Tanahashi’s transformation from a cocky ace to a desperate and struggling equal overplays those awkward moments. Even Tanahashi’s struggle to hold Suwama in a Texas Clover Leaf late in the match (probably due to the weight of Suwama’s legs) WORKED within the confines of a match that saw Tanahashi grow lesser over the course of half an hour, while Suwama grew stronger and stronger. Great match. ***1/2

Scott: This is awesome for three reasons. 1) Suwama and Tanahashi seriously appear as though they’ve materialized from an episode of Dragon Ball Z. Their hair-styles rock this world! 2) Tanahashi’s heel posturing is brilliantly funny. 3) The match itself is great.

As a first-time encounter between two top performers from opposing promotions, their approach to the performance is perfect. Both having a running motive to one-up the other (almost in mirror reflection of each other). Consequently, Tanahashi comes across as strong in defeat, having kept even with Suwama for all but three seconds. The lack of much give between the two contributes to an epic aura for the match, an aspect amplified by the unusually molten Japanese crowd. Some of the submissions looked mean, with some great portrayal of leverage, torque and whatever else goes into twisting a neck or ankle by Suwama. It’s great seeing these two try to KO each other with a variety of punishing suplexes, and even the strikes are executed well.

If I could nit-pick, I do have slight issues with the selling. Suwama fails to show the damage done to his leg early on (a minor fault). And I think each performer didn’t sell long enough after each impactful suplex. Those moves looked more punishing than these two let on. But these are minor, minor flaws in what was an entertaining, epic showdown. ****

14.) CM Punk v. William Regal, Raw, 7/28/08, 3,608 Points

Ben: Now I don?t necessarily want to take full credit for this match making the list . . . but I did write a pretty heart-felt column about my problems with ?wrestling reviews? and the way most of them tend to miss the preciousness of certain matches. In that column, I called for a new method of match reviewing and sought to shake things up a bit by claiming this match to be my MOTY. That sentiment has changed a bit, but as you can see by the place it got on my Top 20 . . . not by much.

Needless to say, I love this match, despite the fact that it’s only five minutes long. In fact, its length is primarily WHY I love the match as much as I do. It’s just a perfect performance with so many little factors squeezed (but not forced) into a small span of time: from CM Punk’s facial expression when he discovers who his opponent will be to the fact that everything in this sprint is also a struggle. Typically, sprints suffer from too much boom-boom-boom offense with very little concern for what the moves should really be doing to both wrestlers. Here, Regal and Punk struggle to do everything, from completing a succession of strikes (one of the best segments) to Regal struggling to hold down the champion’s shoulders for a near fall. Regal gives Punk absolutely zero breathing room here, consistently countering his offense, continually throwing hard strikes when Punk manages to slip in a roll-up or counter, and doing all this within five minutes. My only criticism is that there should have been a little bit of time between the half-nelson suplex and the Go-2-Sleep, some time for both guys to lay on the mat and recover, and some time to put into a near fall (the move was nasty enough to go for an easily believable 3 count). Nevertheless, the ?out-of-nowhere? aura that WWE seems to want to build around Punk’s finisher really came through and counteracted Regal’s veracity. This is simply a beautiful match with some great guest commentary by JBL that helped to put over both guys. ***3/4

Scott: Y?know, this five-minute nugget of wrestling brilliance reminds me of the BATTLarts elimination tag. It’s stiff, and it’s messy. Trust me, that’s a compliment. In a product where most moves are countered or hit in a perfect, graceful manner, I think it’s fantastic to have a match where EVERYTHING is a struggle. That includes strikes, counters and even pin attempts. The result are actions that have increased weight in impact, each move that hits does something. The strikes halt momentum, and the fact that Punk begins bleeding from them only promotes their effectiveness even more.
Emerging victorious, despite having only grappled for five minutes Punk looks like he has been through hell. A marvelous re-introduction of Regal (who is as good as anyone when it comes to rough wrestling and adding minute details to the performance), and probably is as impressive a strong loss (in such a short span of time) as I have seen in a long while. There’s a reason why these two have been feuding recently. ***1/2

Allister: This is a really high quality TV match, and in some ways, it’s a shame that the focus is on putting over JBL, who lends commentary to proceedings. In fact, the first time the commentators acknowledge what is going on on screen is around 2:00 into the match following Punk’s head be sandwiched between a boot and the corner of the ring.

They hit hard and fast and don?t let up for the 5:00 duration. The two have a great flow together; their movements are fluid and stiff, shown by Punk getting busted early on. Blood can work very well to increase the intensity of a performance, and this is a prime example, turning what could have been a throwaway TV match into something a little more special.

Regal, who always excels through the little things, is in his element with the crimson. He takes every advantage it provides him, and does so with glee, rubbing fists, elbows and knees over the cut, delivering a stomp here and a stomp there. He’s basically just being Regal, which always rules, because he makes the entire match one giant struggle for Punk. And when he finally hoists Regal up for the Go 2 Sleep, it’s that much sweeter. ***1/4

15.) Jeff Hardy v. Edge v. Triple H, WWE Championship, Armageddon, 12/14/08, 3,278 Points

Hunter: Its sort of funny that on the boards, there had been a lot of talk about how tired people were of seeing WWE triple threats, large in part due to the boring-ness of them, and wouldn’t you know, within the span of a month, we get two pretty darn fun, not AS formulaic Triple threats (the other being Jericho-Batista-Orton on Raw).

And this is what it is. We get lots of little tease spots throughout the match where Jeff teases all the near misses and builds up the final spot where he finally connects with the big swanton and wins his long saught after first WWE Championship This was a year of cool title changes and one where a lot of guys really HAD to go over in some way, shape or form due large in part to their doing their job so well, that the WWE had no choice but to divert their plans a bit. And this one is perhaps the most rewarding of all of those. After so many near misses in his careers, so many times when the train fell off the proverbial tracks, so many times where fans were faked out, this one has a genuine feeling of ‘special-ness’ maybe even more so than the Jericho and Punk title wins.

The shortcomings in this match are pretty much any point where its just Triple H and Edge, who really are just time killing. One thing I just hate about Edge’s matches this past year in general, is that its just all about the angle at the end. They put over the eventual angle at the end so much, that the matches he has might as well not even take place. The exchanges between these two were as effortless and uninspired as they were at the Bash, where they basically wasted 20 minutes of pay per view time so Edge could spear Vickie which everyone knew was coming, in order to kick the Taker angle into over drive. These two are just here to kill time without building up much drama, so Jeff can get a token title run for a month before they go back to boring the crap out of us. But I digress. **1/2

Fun match, not world beater stuff, but a fun triple threat match that heavily employs the Benoit story in from the WM XX event.

Scott: It doesn’t divert itself far from the typical formula for triple threats, including a mandatory (albeit cool) table spot building towards a comeback tale a la Benoit / HBK / HHH at ‘Mania XX. This is all about Jeff Hardy, and how close he has come to winning the big one only to fail tantalizingly close. The Swanton Bomb becomes representative of that reality, with Jeff utilizing it several times but always missing. It’s the centerpiece of the match, and once he finally nails it, it results in him winning his first WWE Championship.

However, Jeff is the only performer here who seems to be on-form, as Edge and Triple H appear to enter time-filling mode in anticipation of Hardy returning to the fray. I prefer other triple threats in the past decade (including Benoit / HBK / HHH that possessed a similar narrative), as this is a match with a good tale that suffers from predictable sequences, inconsistent selling and an over-used structure.** ?

Allister: This pretty neat triple threat reminded me a lot of the Rock/Taker/Angle from Vengeance 2002 in terms of its pace. It starts off guns blazing, as we see Jeff getting the upper hand pretty quick, using his speed to deliver a flurry of strikes to both guys, whipping them into both corners and in a pretty neat spot, hitting his classic Hardy Boys dropkick in the corner straight off Triple H’s back.

The match follows the narrative that we saw in so many 2008 main events: Jeff Hardy, SO close. The difference here is that it delivers in the end, and he picks up the win. It’s a great moment, and one of the more emotional title victories of recent memory. Throughout this match, he is the key player. From the initial segment that I mentioned above, to the fact that he very clearly puts in the best performance out of the three. Both Edge and Triple H seem somewhat withdrawn from the match. This is especially apparent in the Hardy- free sections, where they brawl and deliver standard stuff to each other. At points, it almost seems as if they are killing time and just hanging out, waiting for the next Hardy onslaught of offense to hit them. Another drawback is the overuse of finishers, which is pretty standard fare in triple- threat matches. It’s not too annoying in this instance (as the entire narrative is his ALMOST winning the title so many damn times, they?d be fools to give it to him easily in the match where he actually wins), but one would think they could adapt the standard content of this particular style of match. Freshen things up a bit. It’s a shame, because these two issues harm an otherwise action packed, cutely executed performance.

The victory comes across as really special, and the celebration from Jeff is genuine; they certainly made him wait for this victory. I liked the WAY he won as well, timing a swanton bomb perfectly, the force of which sending Triple H rolling out of the ring and to the floor, allowing Jeff to capitalize on his pedigree. Whilst some people would see this as a weak victory, I enjoyed it because of its close ties with the story. Jeff was in the right place, at the right time. He did exactly what he did multiple times before, only this time luck was on his side, and he got the job done. Extremely satisfying. And a special mention must go to Koslov and Matt Hardy, whom provided some very fun, effective stuff from their run in. It’s refreshing to see a main event match which is actually improved by the run in. So overall, it was a good match, hindered by a feeling a ‘same old?, despite the Hardy victory, and both HHH and Edge being a little underwhelming. ***1/4

16.) Yuki Ishikawa, Alexander Otsuka, & Munenori Sawa v. Daisuke Ikeda, Katsummi Osawa & Super Tiger II, BATTLarts, 7/26/08, 3,212 Points

Hunter: I’ll be the first to admit I’m not exactly an encyclopedia when it comes to shoot-style wrestling, but I know enough to know just how incredible this match is. One of my biggest criticisms of shoot style is that often people can get lost in the overly intricate mat sequences and for the most part, it doesn’t always make for the best arena show. Then again, UFC disagrees with me, but that’s more kick your butt, real life type stuff.

Tag wrestling in shoot style however, really seems to get my jollies going, because there’s constant interaction, tons of drama and most importantly, STRUGGLE. One of the things that I appreciate about guys like John Cena as a wrestler is how he makes little things like lifting ring steps or working out of a headlock look so challenging. It adds to the suspension of disbelief and builds drama in just about everything he does. There’s just so much of that in this match, which large in part is thanks to the style in fairness, but still, it just rules.

Usada is pretty great in the opening moments and the saves off the submissions are all pretty great. Business picks up when Ikeda and Sawa go at it and Sawa’s total ‘not going to put up with this crap’ attitude that quickly aids in the total breakdown of the match, with six guys just murdering each other. The saves are done so well and dramatically here, you can’t help but get caught up in it all. The faces of the guys who’re about to eat the kicks, strikes and other silliness and how this just breaks down into a surreal bar fight, full of loud strikes and moments of weird desperation. The homey, snug setting amplifies the just gruesome strikes. Man, I haven’t seen anything that comes close to this in shoot style and I’m beyond stoked Wrestleviewers gave this a chance and voted for it. It’s completely surreal. ****1/4

Ben: What would happen if six wrestlers made it look difficult to land a strike, difficult to throw a suplex, difficult to counter a submission, and difficult to APPLY a submission? BattlArts! I have to admit that I?m not a huge fan of shoot-style or pro-wrestling styles that attempt to incorporate a ‘shoot? feeling into their matches, but something about this six-man tag made me excited. Perhaps the fact that this ‘shoot? feeling manifests itself in interesting ways in a tag team formula: wrestlers always made the save, never stay on the apron, and because of how quick wrestlers were to save one another, that made each elimination special, unique, and satisfying.

But I?m not going to pretend. Other than Super Tiger II, I have no idea who any of these guys are, and I wouldn?t be able to pick them out of a line-up to save my life. What this means, of course, is that BattleARTS probably had TONS of tag matches (or at least a handful) that might have been just as good as this one . . . I just haven?t seen them. Nevertheless, I think the Wrestleviewers who got a taste, liked what they tasted: i.e., a brand of pro-wrestling that felt just as dramatic at times as big stadium-matches, that delivered nasty looking strikes, and that managed to make a German suplex mean something again! Seriously, it might take some training and patience to appreciate, but how cool is it that these guys had to work holds and counter holds for twenty minutes before one guy could pull off a string of suplexes that actually KO?ed a guy? How cool is it that we didn?t see typical ?You hit me and I?ll hit you? sequences until the last two guys remained, ready to let it all hang out despite their fatigue? This is the sort of pro-wrestling match where you DON?T need to know who the guys are (though it helps, I imagine) in order to understand what’s going on and why certain moves are important. This is flat-out an amazing match that I put at #6 on my ballot and that I?d probably peg at around ***3/4 without feeling too guilty.

Scott: I thought this was amazing. Don’t go thinking I’m a sick freak though, because the deliberately stiff strikes are NOT what I found impressive. It’s how the effect of this stiffness transcends to other aspects of the performance. For one, the performers are much more cautious. Their tentative approach adds significant weight to the strikes, allowing each to adopt more impact than the normal strike in another non-shoot promotion would. Furthermore the sense of pain these strikes evoke rub off on the submission holds, creating an unusually convincing portrayal of pain (i.e. selling). In other words, the real strikes make the holds FEEL real too.

The darkened arena and poor, handheld quality camera actually exacerbate this aura of realism. Each performer’s pained cries, not to mention the sharp, cringe-worthy sound of fist-on-face (!), echoes round the small room. This amplifies its effect, in my opinion. Moreover the messy grappling, witnessing the combatants struggle for several moments before finally locking in a hold, promotes this sense of performed realism. After all, in a legitimate grapple you’ll rarely latch on a clean, graceful counter after counter. I don’t want to fall into the argument that professional wrestling needs to be more realistic, because it doesn’t, but numerous aspects of this performance (most generated from the high levels of stiffness) contribute to an impressive display of ‘wrestling’ that I can’t help but enjoy. ****

17.) Jeff Jarrett v. Kurt Angle, Bound For Glory, TNA 10/18/08, 3,124 Points

Ben: Both Jarrett/Angle matches (the one from this year as well as this match from Bound For Glory) start off pretty well. Here, Angle’s grin and cockiness set the stage for what should have been a great match that played up the fact that Jarrett had not been wrestling for quite a while. There are moments in the match that take advantage of this fact (like Angle’s explosive lariat that murders Jarrett after his strut), but the second half of the match really just devolves into typical my-move-your-move stuff, i.e. the kind of formula that Batista and Cena do well in their match but that comes off way too Taker-Edge for my liking. Angle’s craziness helps at times (the stiff strikes really draw attention to the fact that Jarrett might not be ready to come back; his chair shots?though perhaps careless?are really strong), but overall the match just doesn?t deliver anything beyond a typical mainstream heavyweight contest with a bunch of nearfalls that don?t, in the end, mean a whole lot of anything. This isn?t a bad match by any means, and certainly no DUD, but it certainly (like the triple threat involving Edge, Triple H, and Jeff Hardy) has no place in the Top 20, in my opinion. **1/2

Scott: This was a rather personal feud, yet there was a lack of intensity and hatred between the two. And they failed to present the DOUBT behind Jarrett’s capacity to even compete with Angle. Whilst Angle has had the benefit of being an active wrestler (not to mention being a renowned amateur wrestler), Jarrett hasn’t performed in the ring for two years. He should be out-of-touch, or at least unable to match Kurt Angle’s stamina. More importantly Angle should DOMINATE as he is fresher, and quite easily the superior grappler. Does anyone honestly buy into Jarrett surviving an Ankle Lock / Angle Slam combination, having coasted on the sidelines for two years?

Instead we receive a plain, back-and-forth match lacking in focus. Both men run through their move set, interchanging control segments at a regular pace, without actually providing purpose for these spots. At one point Angle consistently begins to wear down his opponent, with the commentators questioning Jarrett’s stamina levels. Alas, this is forgotten sooner rather than later. I feel as though both were aiming for an epic showdown (this is a dream match after all), and although it’s refreshing to witness a largely simple performance booked by a gimmick heavy promotion, the final product fails to connect at all with the build that accompanied it. For all intents and purposes, it’s the wrong match altogether. **1/2

18.) CM Punk v. Rey Mysterio, Armageddon, 3,102 Points

Hunter: I thought Chavo sort of had a ‘slump buster’ of a match with Evan Bourne back in October with a juniors match that looked like it was straight out of 1997. Well, this is slump-buster for Rey. Just a really fantastic late 90s junior style match. Easily Punk’s best match since he’s been in the WWE.

Chavo and Rey’s matches are often worked with a pretty basic formula. Chavo sits in the middle of the ring and tries to either A.) Catch Rey and blow him to pieces or B.) Ground him and not let him up. All Rey does is what Rey does, which is just ping pong around like a nut. That basic formula has produced a lot of high-end stuff from these two over the years. In this match, Punk and Rey stick to the old ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ formula of the Chavo-Rey matches.

Punk basically plays a bigger, meaner, probably more dangerous Chavo. He blows Rey up with a great tilt a whirl back breaker and outclasses Rey on the mat. Rey’s big offense is essentially his high flying stuff which helps transition the match into the Pinata phase the Chavo matches frequently roll into, which is Punk basically trying to knock the flying Rey Rey out of the air with strikes. And c’mon..The Go 2 Sleep at the end was just brutal.

This match makes me miss real juniors wrestling, not the bastardized Indy garbage ‘wrestling is a video game’ crap we get in TNA. ***1/2

Ben: I?m very happy to see that this match made it onto this list (it barely made it onto mine), since it really is a hell of a match. CM Punk is a pretty solid performer (he always has been), but I was looking forward to seeing what he could do against Rey Mysterio?probably one of the greatest pro-wrestlers in history. In short, they didn?t disappoint.

I guess what I was looking for from this match was something that set it apart, something that made it different than a typical spot-fest that had zero concern with selling. What I got was a CM Punk who showed that he was just as good at dominating a match as he is at playing the underdog (as he was during his World Title run) and a Rey Mysterio who got a lot more offense than he typically gets against larger opponents: a beautiful mix. What I love most about the match, I must admit, are little tiny moments: e.g. the moment when CM Punk dives onto Rey Mysterio (something we almost NEVER see) and the moment when Rey Mysterio gives Punk a receipt for the earlier Fujiwara Armbar with one of his own. My delight in this match, then, is mostly nerdy and geeky, giggling over little reversals and counters that may look cool but that have another layer beneath them (for instance, Punk’s use of Alex Shelley’s Border City Stretch or Punk’s early counter of the 619 with two arm drags, a staple of lucha libre). Tack on the fact that the match ends with exciting near falls (even when you know who wins!), a great reversal from an electric chair to a fireman’s carry position, and the nastiest Go-2-Sleep in history . . . a flat-out lovely match. There’s not much narrative substance to the thing or depth in other categories (selling, drama, epicness, etc.), but it was about as good as an exhibition match between two ?good guys? can get. It definitely should have been higher on my own list. ***1/2

Allister: I thought Regal was fantastic outside the ring here. His facial expressions reacting to the events in the ring were gold, and lent a lot to the match.

This was a good face/face encounter, which was a lot more hard hitting than I was expecting, especially concerning the arm work, which I will touch on later.

I liked the fact that Punk didn?t work too hard to ground Rey straight away (a route taken regularly when he wrestles bigger guys), and instead was able to match him in terms of quick fire offense. It made the initial portions of the match exciting to watch. When Punk does attempt to keep him on the ground at around the 5:00 mark, it is short lived, and doesn?t make the match drag. The pace the two started with made it a welcome addition. In the second half of the match both guys paced their spots very well, and ensured that they share the crowd support equally. The neck submissions they apply to each other are WRENCHED in, especially when Punk is the recipient. Although Rey is always very good at garnering sympathy when caught in any type of hold, here, he wrenches the arm and shoulder of Punk multiple times, and turns the tables somewhat. I really felt for Punk here, his effective selling and facial expressions made the entire sequence a lot more intense than your average submission spot. The way he jerked back on the arm of Punk made me cringe, I would like to see him make this a staple of his offense in the future.

There is a sequence towards the end in which Punk ducks a 619 and lifts Rey for the Go 2 Sleep, only to be send via head scissors straight back into the position for a 619 on the opposite side of the ring. The crowd eat it up, popping for both guys? signature moves. It is sequences such as these which show the chemistry the two guys have, fluidly rebounding from each other, with just the right amount of flailing limbs. It looks controlled, but intentionally messy, which is a very welcome addition. I hate it when quick fire offense such as Rey’s is executed and sold as cut and dry. It runs the risk of looking almost robotic in delivery. This was not the case here.

And of course, it would be impossible not to mention the knee to Rey’s nose which closes the match. It was immediately bloodied after the Go 2 Sleep, and although unfortunate, it served to punctuate what was already a memorable, rather stiffly worked match. ***1/2

19.) Smackdown Elimination Chamber, No Way Out, 2/17/08, 3,058 Points

Hunter: Another cool match where the apparatus of the match actually comes into freaking play. I’m so glad this finished above the Raw chamber, just because I thought this one was way cooler and didn’t have to involve needless HBK chain wrestling spots in the beginning.

Kind of like the cage match earlier on this list, the Chamber itself actually plays a role in almost all of the eliminations, which is pretty cool. The plays out in the eliminations. V eats a slam to the steel grates. Finlay gets choke slammed off the grates. MVP gets flung off the pod. Batista gets countered in a way that wouldn’t have happened had the chamber not been there. Taker more or less avoids getting beat by the chamber and as a result, makes the chamber all the more ominous, as it claims the lives of all the other entrants.

While there isn’t as much activity around the chamber in this, it comes into play in a more valuable way and IMO, makes the chamber entirely relevant. IN the first three or four chamber matches, that’s not the case and on this night, it plays a huge role in both matches. It’s more of an asset/obstacle in the Raw match and more of a Decisive factor in the Smackdown match.

This is really good stuff though and it’s different strokes for different folks, but traditionalists will likely gravitate to this style of match over the Raw one. ***1/4

Scott: This Chamber felt fresher than its RAW counterpart. Both begin with a pairing that has history, with Undertaker and Batista starting this one. However Jericho and Michaels have already began a Chamber as its first entrants (Summerslam 2003), and they almost exactly duplicate everything they did in that one. Furthermore with JBL copying Kevin Nash’s post-elimination tantrum (also from Summerslam 2003), Jericho eating the pod glass (Survivor Series 2002 and Summerslam 2003) AND Triple H ultimately winning (Summerslam 2003 and New Year’s Revolution 2005) RAW’s Chamber largely felt like something I watched a few years ago.
On the other hand, Smackdown’s was different. All but one had never been in a Chamber before (Batista being the exception). Two were super heavyweights that have their weaknesses disguised in multi-man matches, as their time actually performing is limited. Another two were largely fillers, but they manage to provide something to the performance, such as Hornswoggle’s assistance for Finlay or MVP’s concealed weapon. That’s not to mention the spot he performs with ‘Taker. And of course, the performance has a strong spine in the form of the continuing rivalry between Undertaker and Batista, who present quite an impressive finish that arguably maintains the evenness between the two, despite The Animal suffering defeat.
It may not be to everyone’s tastes, but the variation in styles and personas between the performers, compounded with the fact that most are debuting in the Chamber makes this a more satisfying offering than its stale companion. ***

Allister: This was my preferred chamber out of the two we saw at this PPV. I loved the way Batista and Undertaker interacted throughout. They were the first two guys, and the last two guys. The story was built around their survival, and attempting to keep one step ahead of each other. I liked how they managed to avoid the huge bombs they attempted to throw one another, as it kept them looking totally equal up until the final pin fall, where ?Taker scores the victory completely out of the blue. Flipping over the top rope, straight into the tombstone was a perfect way to end the match. It protected the finisher (not that it really needed protecting in the first place), and put over the toughness of Batista; he had to be dropped onto his head, TOTALLY out of the blue, after 20+ minutes in the chamber, to be put down. By the end of the performance, both guys look totally drained, and it adds to the matches? atmosphere.

This match is an example of quality outweighing predictability. I don?t think anybody was in the dark over who would be the last two standing in this thing. Batista and ?Taker were in the middle of a major feud at this point, and having anybody else barring those two guys in the final two would have been pretty silly. HOWEVER, the fact that absolutely everyone looks fantastic in this match totally compensates for it. MVP isn?t here for long, but looks very good. I particularly like the way he sells for the big guys (his fall from the top of one of the pods looks really good). Finlay is as good as ever. He has a tendency in these multi- man matches to fall into the background slightly and direct traffic. He looks very good whilst doing it, but generally goes under appreciated to the casual fan. In this, Batista and ?Taker are left to this, and as a result, our fighting Irishmen is left to produce some very good looking offense, whilst not having to be relied upon as the fallback guy to go. It’s a nice place to be, and makes the match more watchable as a result. Khali and Big Daddy V play their parts well, and actually look more than acceptable in this thing due to the level of threat they pose inside the structure being magnified. I?m a sucker for BIG guys in these things because it promotes teamwork from the other guys that are dueling to put them down, which creates an interesting dynamic.

I enjoyed this match because it was a different kind of Chamber match than we had seen. Far less spotty than its RAW counterpart, it really relied on the performances of the 6 participants, and they gelled very well for the reasons above. There wasn?t any doubt to who would be the final two, but the six guys made this a very watchable outing, which was probably the second best match of the No Way Out 2008 card after Cena/Orton. ****

20.) Shawn Michaels v. Chris Jericho, Judgement Day, 5/18/08, 3,036 Points

Ben: Looking back at this match after a series of matches that couldn?t live up to the great mic work during their feud, I still just can?t get behind this match. In terms of Michaels? PPV performances for 2008, this match led to his third straight PPV win against a different opponents (vs. Flair at Mania, vs. Batista at Backlash, and now here at Judgment Day) . . . something you just don?t see that much anymore. And while this is a good match, these two can definitely do so much better (I?d say the Great American Bash was their best last year). As I wrote in a column earlier this year, I like that Michaels does his best in the early going to outmaneuver Jericho, throwing a hard slap that would piss anyone off (and one that helps push Jericho toward his heel turn). I would have liked to see a bit more of this stuff from Michaels, though’stuff that would continue to tease Jericho, telling him, ?You?re not nearly as good as me!? (This would have added just that much more to Jericho’s heel turn and might have even contributed to some video footage for a Jericho promo.) We do, in fact, get a pretty solid match, but a lot of the segments just didn?t come across as necessary . . . a bit too artificial. I?m thinking here of Michaels? work on Jericho’s arm really isn?t a focus in this match but rather acts a place holder for a part of the match that just never seems to come. In addition, I?m not all that thrilled with the ?rib injury? they tried to incorporate, but it got them through to an interesting finishing sequence that felt satisfying at the moment, but not all that satisfying anymore considering how disappointing this their subsequent matches turned out to be. **3/4

Scott: Mixed emotions regard this performance. On one hand they work a fun, competitive match with such lovely stuff as concentrated limb work and neat interactions. To begin with they even reflect their great match at ‘Mania XIX via an array of near falls in quick succession (with some added twists). Things escalate, providing some truly enjoyable sequences. Anything involving Sweet Chin Music is a pleasure top behold.
However, I wish there was more depth in reference to the CURRENT storyline. Michaels does dabble in some minute mind games, but overall they seem too focused on delivering a fluid and technically good match to really relate it to the build. Wouldn’t Jericho be a touch more peeved at being swindled by HBK several times over the past weeks? Beyond a small attempt in the beginning to attack HBK’s knee, there’s no real insight into whether the man still believes Shawn is hurt or not, nor is he seemingly upset by the lies.
All up I am pleased with what we got, and when removed from the context of its build it may even gain value. When it’s at its best, it borders on fantastic. Ultimately though it doesn’t truly fit with the grand narrative at hand, a problem I also had with their Ladder Match above. ***

Allister: ALL the promo stuff and storyline building between these two guys was stellar in 2008. Jericho looked better than ever before turning heel; largely because his character was so interesting. Essentially, the guy told nothing but the complete truth about HBK, stating that he faked the injury, and the fans will cheer him no matter what. He was correct on both counts, but still got over as a heel, due to the love for Michaels (and of course, his own, exemplary character work).

Their matches, on the whole, did not live up to the lofty heights of the work put into the feud, but this was the best of the bunch. Fans had been clamoring for a rematch between these two since their the classic bout at WM19, and in some ways, it delivered, and met the high expectations.

The ?is he or isn?t he injured? stuff really created an interesting dynamic in the match, in that Jericho doesn?t seem to be sure whether to work the leg or not. Certainly he makes a point of targeting it in the early going, and kind of lays off as the match progresses.

HBKs offense is good, his strikes aren?t quite as shabby as they usually are, and I?m always a sucker for an inverted figure four. The little ?I?ve got your number? smirks he flashes in Jericho’s direction completely play up to the strange face/heel booking dynamic. HBK is basically a heel in this match, as well as the feud, and it makes everything that little bit different. JR and King on the outside make the most of this, delivering in their commentary (?…it’s cocky if you ask me.? ?Or confident, depending on your perspective?.)

As the match progresses, we see Jericho getting progressively move wound up by the pesky Michaels, who seems intent on capitalizing on the faux- injury he sustained, and the annoyance it caused to Jericho. But as Jericho gets more angry, his offense gets more urgent and hard- hitting. He utilizes an abdominal stretch particularly well, striking the ribs, and showing real tenacity. His Irish whips to the turnbuckle also have increased torque on them, and are sold well. Even during the clich? heavy closing ten minutes, which feature many reversals of the pairs key maneuvers, Chris looks damn good catching Michaels with the CodeBreaker before he has the chance to deliver a super kick.

Its these closing moments that bring the match down a tad, however. I loved the first three quarters, which featured great wrestling, interesting limb work and a fresh twist on the personality of HBK. The ending, I felt was a case of same old, with a cross face thrown into the middle to chop things up a bit. I also thought the reversal of the WOJ into a successful pin attempt was a lackluster way to end the match. Good, but it could have been a classic if they?d changed the ending segment. ***3/4

Thank You’s and Other Masturbatory Self Love

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