< Part #1
And we’re back with the best matches on WWE PPV for the year. We’ve already covered a lot of greatness, and I’m really quite in love with the top five of 2011. It’s a shortlist of peak work that compares quite well with other strong years of my experience. So lets get right back to it.
5. Christian vs Alberto Del Rio – World Championship Ladder Match (WWE Extreme Rules)
An incredible ladder match, just a hell of a show this was. Christian is obviously one of the kings of this gimmick, and ADR ended up having four great ladder matches within his first 18 months on TV. Not only were the spots typically insane, but this was also worked extremely intelligently, with the match developing basically as a series of stanzas that built towards and delivered big ladder spots in various situations. The first notable sequence was around the ladder bridge on the announce table, leading to Christian doing a REY BALANCE SPOT onto a ladder and hitting a crossbody. The next part was in the ring, with a cool sequence ending with Alberto being flapjacked onto the ladder. At this point Alberto took back control with an armbreaker using a step ladder, shifting the focus onto Christian selling his arm, always a winner. I also liked the small detail weaved through the match that Alberto knew how to land on his feet if the ladder tipped over.
Christian backdropping Alberto onto a ladder (which was NASTY) signals the rounding of the final corner and the start of the final stretch. The bombs come flying now; an Enziguri and flop onto the ladder, a tribute Spear, and Christian being crucifixed in the ladder which I TOTALLY bought as a finish as a callback to Edge/Jeff. But he escapes leading into JESUS F*CKING HELL, Alberto DYING on the ladder bridge. An awful, disgusting crash. In shades of Jeff Hardy again Christian uses Fighting Spirit and CRAWLS towards the ladder while people are going absolutely wild. He gonna do it! The entire finish ruled. Brodus Clay comes out and gets KILLED IN THE FACE with a ladder. Blood, everywhere. Alberto swoops in with the LADDER ARMBREAKER! He’s gonna steal one, but EDGE! For once that man does something useful and makes the save, Christian TOSSES Alberto onto poor Brodus (and nearly kills poor Al again when his foot catches on the top rope), Edge is there, the crowd goes NUTS, Christian climbs the damn ladder and everyone goes COMPLETELY APESH*T. Christian won the World Title. He won.
I remember saying at the time that this was just an incredibly nice moment. Edge was crying, Christian was crying, I was crying. Everyone knew what this meant to him, and everyone was out of their mind willing him on. When Christian was up there you could see him shouting “I cant believe it!” over and over again, and that really says it all. That explains why this mattered so much. A lot of ladder matches have great action, great spots, but not a lot also have such genuine, heartfelt emotion. This was a real-life story of underdog triumph, and that is what made this incredible.
4. Randy Orton vs Christian – World Championship Match (WWE Over the Limit)
Christian and Orton has been one of the greatest wrestling marriages in recent history. Just an astonishing amount of chemistry resulting in an amazing series of matches, and this one stands above them all as their greatest and most defining piece of work. If their first match on TV was Orton’s coming out party, in this one they kicked the workrate into overdrive.
I mean, the counters. Jesus freaking Christ, the counters! Christian turning a European uppercut into a backslide. Orton throwing his clotheslines and getting Spinebuster’d. Orton turning the second-rope dropkick into a jackknife rollup. Orton blocks the slap-in-the-ropes and drags him into the DDT again but Christian backs out and HITS the slap this time. Argh. The first RKO and Killswitch attempts lead Orton to bust out the BILLY GOAT’S CURSE, of all things. This was a fantastic struggle and Orton is equally impressed and frustrated with Christian’s Fighting Spirit. He even nods in agreement when the crowd chants for the guy. Orton has huge babyface respect for Christian right now.
But back to the counters! In the corner Christian boots the gut, moves to springboard, sees Orton going for the same RKO from the first match, and boots him again so this time he HITS the sunset flip! ARGH. Then Christian goes for the Pendulum Kick but Orton blocks and flips him over right INTO THE DDT! ARGH! Christian blocks another RKO and lines Orton up for the Spear, and his intensity at this moment is just off the charts ridiculous. He yells and grunts and spits and charges right into BAM POWERSLAM! ARGH ARGH ARGH! Now, Orton cannot BELIEVE Christian keeps kicking out and starts to get seriously frustrated. Then all of a sudden, the lightbulb goes off. He knows how he can get it done: The Punt. He backs off but before he can pull the trigger he hesitates, almost as if to say “Can I really throw away all that babyface respect and pure wrestling and be evil just to win?” He decides “Yes, I can actually..” but runs right into BAM SPEAR! ARGHHH! Holy F*CK that was an awesome, awesome nearfall.
So we’re at the end of this epic match, nothing else has worked so they’re once again going for finishers – RKO, Killswitch, RKO – Christian backflips out of Orton’s grasp like every other match but Orton senses him there, reaches behind and BAMRKO! Another incredible counter to finish it off. It needs to be said that Josh and Booker did a great job calling this, and if Booker in particular was allowed to call like this all the time he’d easily be the best announcer on TV. Anyway, I completely lost my mind watching this. A breathtakingly awesome match.
3. World Championship Elimination Chamber Match (WWE Elimination Chamber)
In terms of pure, all-out in-ring action I think SD ’11 could be the best one to date. Out of all the Elimination Chambers in history, I’d only have the 2005 version above it. This match was a brutal brawl, with awesome spots galore, and I loved every second of it.
The first five minutes was Edge and Rey working, always a win. So many cool spots though. Rey countering Wasteland by climbing up the wall and hitting a ‘rana. Kane coming in and killing everyone with UPPERCUTS, including UPPERCUTTNG Rey off the top rope. The moment where five guys had a bunch of nearfalls but no eliminations, everyone was selling death, and WELL, ITS THE BIG SHOW. Wade slinking away from Show, but getting caught and getting the PISS chopped out of him. Here, in the middle of the Chamber, chops were a brutal highlight. That rules.
There are two things I really want to emphasise, the first being Drew freaking McIntyre. This match is Drew Mac’s crowning achievement so far in his career and the best Ass Kicker performance of the year by anyone. From the minute he made his entrance you knew he was pissed off with the world, and he put in one of the best ‘waiting in my pod’ performances ever, banging and growling at everything, and hilariously demanding to be let out early when everyone was laid out. And when he was finally unleashed he delivered big-time, immediately beating the absolute SH*T out of everyone in sight, tossing bitches into pods, and double crossing Wade with a low-blow. I laughed. Drew was a total BEAST in this match and his efforts really put it over the top.
Along with a little man called Rey freaking Mysterio. Rey positively DIED in this match. He got the sh*t beat out of him, taking insane bumps on the grate, being TOSSED into a pod by Drew and then later being DRILLED head-first into another by Kane. He came off the Chamber wall, he came off the top of a pod with a giant SENTON, he was Booted and Uppercut’d to Death. And he kept this up for over 25 minutes and then worked an epic sprint finish with Edge to cap it all off. It’s amazing the level at which Rey continues to consistently perform, even at his age and with his laundry list of injuries. Rey was incredible, Drew was incredible, this match was incredible.
2. Triple H vs Undertaker – No Holds Barred Match (WWE Wrestlemania 27)
This was just something else. It’s hard to find the words. I think the best way to understand this match is as Act IV of a story arc that begins with Shawn/Flair three years ago and continues through the Taker/Shawns to here. The pattern is easily discernible: Shawn retires Flair. Taker retires Shawn. And in turn, HHH is convinced, 100% convinced that he is the man to retire Taker. I think I said this at the time but I’ll repeat it anyway; Triple H went into WM as the only person in the world who didnt know he was losing.
And thats the way he worked this match, tossing all the rules out the window and throwing bombs right from the bell. F*ck headlocks, this is Undertaker’s Streak, Hunter knew he’d have to basically kill this man to win. Taker, for his part, was wrestling for his life and took everything Hunter hit him with. And he hit him with EVERYTHING he could possibly think of: the Cole Mine, Spinebuster through the announce table, Spinebuster in the ring, DDT on the chair, no less than THREE Pedigrees. After the third one HHH is flipping out with frustration, so he responds with the one thing Shawn had said that he (Shawn) had lacked and what was needed to win: remorselessness. Hunter beat the SH*T out of Taker with chairs, just killed him DEAD. Hunter is almost disgusted with himself that he has to become this guy again in order to do this, but do it he shall.
At this point Taker cant stand, in fact he can barely move, and as Hunter yells at him to stay down he pathetically tries to fight back with a goozle. Hunter looks down on him with pity, just as Taker looked down at Shawn last year, just like Shawn looked down at Flair. Hunter was right – the cycle continues, and this is how it ends. So he does the most poetic thing he can think of, hits Taker with his own Tombstone and crosses the arms to seal the deal.
AND HE KICKED. THE. F*CK. OUT.
The Undertaker REFUSES to be put down, and Hunter is driven mad by this zombie who cannot be killed. He turns to the one thing that he has always relied upon – the Sledgehammer – but Taker fires his last, most desperate shot – the gogoplata, holds on for dear life and basically squeezes his own life out in order to get Hunter to finally tap. If he hadnt got the sub, Taker would surely be dead right now. This was his absolute last gasp. He survived, but he just, barely survived, and as we see afterwards, this match has DRAINED Taker, just completely exhausted him beyond repair, and who knows if he’ll ever be the same again, or be able to survive another Mania?
This match killed me. THAT nearfall is probably the best nearfall I’ve ever seen in any match ever. The way Hunter desperately scrambles away from Taker’s lifeless body like he’d just seen a ghost was one of the best selljobs I’ve ever seen in any match ever. And the entire thing is definitely some of the best storytelling I’ve ever seen in any match ever. Really, its one of the best examples I’ve seen of a pro wrestling match as a piece of art. This was a masterpiece.
1. John Cena vs CM Punk – WWE Championship Match (WWE Money in the Bank)
It couldnt be anything else, could it? Just like the last match its hard to find the right words. I feel like I wrote myself hoarse on it at the time, and no amount of words can properly express how I felt, how we all felt, watching this match. This entire thing: the build to it, the undercard, the crowd, the match, the result, it was all everything we’d never dared to dream could happen in WWE, and it came true right before our eyes. No matter where it went, we will always have Money in the Bank. On one night, everything was perfect. No exaggeration. This was a perfect match.
The atmosphere was staggeringly insane. It was, almost literally, One Night Stand only ten times bigger. The depth of feeling in the building literally leaped off the screen, only to be matched by the emotion we all felt watching it. The match itself, somehow, lived up to all of this hype. They had over half an hour to work with, and my word, they went to work alright. Punk was absolutely the man here, and there’s nobody better at this kind of big match than John Cena. Ever. Both men were extraordinarily incredible pro wrestlers here. So many great moments. The early exchanges. “You Can’t Wrestle!” “Me?” No!” “Him?” “Yeah!” Punk’s big knee drop on the apron. Cena injuring his knee on the crossbody. The SUPLEX TO THE FLOOR. Punk’s huge, intense “Chicago!” tope.
And of course, my God, the counters! I always go on and on about counters, I know, but thats just what I love. And they were great. As soon as Punk started countering Cena’s comeback sequence you knew this sh*t was ON, and they went completely nuts from that point on. Too many great spots to name. Punk ending up having to hit his running knee in the middle of the ropes, twice, killing Cena DEAD, before finally nailing the flying clothesline, right into BAMSTF! Insanely great moment. Cena rolling through the crossbody into the FU into the GTS into the STF again. From there to the Anaconda Vice and Cena Strengths Up into BAMFU! Mental. Even the leg drop into the Big Dave Breaks Cena’s Neck Bomb. All of this was awesome, and the tension was unbelievable, with everyone desperate to know where it was leading to.
And then the moment arrived. Punk hits the GTS, but only to the ribs and Cena falls out of the ring. Vince and Ace come out to screw Punk. STF, “ring the f*cking bell!”, and CENA DECKS ACE. So awesome. Then BAMGTS and PUNK WINS. Even the aftermath ruled, with the Alberto tease we all expected but Punk still escapes with the title. It happened. It actually happened.
Once again, no matter what I say here, I can never do it justice. One of the most emotional, intense, beautiful wrestling moments in recent memory. Certainly in my short memory. Simply put, this is what we point to when we say “That is why I love wrestling.” One of the best matches ever.
In the final part of the series…the Top 10 Superstars of 2011 will be online tomorrow.