Back again to Retro Wrestling Alley, as we look at my Top 10 Favourite Matches of 2007. There were a number of excellent matches that didn’t make the list for 2007, which should highlight how strong a year it was from an in-ring perspective. The year was obviously overshadowed by the Chris Benoit tragedy, and that made other aspects of the business such as match quality seem almost trivial as a result. However, there was still some great wrestling that took place in the year and I’ll list 10 of my personal favourites below. As always, this is not supposed to be an objective list of the “best” matches but rather a subjective one made up of the matches I personally liked the best. Feel free to share your own selections in the comments section.
Roderick Strong Vs Erick Stevens – New York, New York (30th December 2007)
Roderick Strong had turned evil in 2007 and had feuded with former ally Austin Aries as a result, leading to both men to recruit new team members in order to help them out. Strong had formed the No Remorse Corps with Rocky Romero and Davey Richards, whilst Aries had formed The Resilience with Matt Cross and Erick Stevens. Strong and Stevens ended up going into their own feud as a result of the NRC and Resilience conflict, leading to them fighting both in ROH and ROH’s feeder league Full Impact Pro in Florida. Strong eventually claimed the FIP Title and started defending it on ROH shows, which opened the door for this contest.
ROH at the time didn’t normally have count outs, which meant that wrestlers could usually fight outside the ring without the fear of the referees count bringing their battle to an early conclusion. Strong insisted that FIP Title matches comes with a 20 count outside the ring however, and thus that rule was implemented in this contest with Stevens. Strong and Stevens were both heavy hitters who liked to try and demolish their opponents with vicious strikes and high impact big moves, so they made natural foils for one another and their matches together were often brutal wars as a result, with Strong normally coming out the victor.
Going into this match for the first time I had no idea as to who the winner was going to be and the two wrestlers kept me on the edge of my seat throughout, including a moment where Stevens took a big powerbomb out on the floor and only just managed to make it back into the ring in order to stop the referees count. I honestly thought the bout was going to end at that moment, and because I was cheering Stevens on I was thrilled when he only just made it back in. When a wrestling match can make you punch the air whilst you’re on your own in your living room because someone managed to make it back into the ring in time then you know the wrestlers involved are crafting an engrossing story.
And ultimately that is why I still love this match so much. Strong and Stevens were not only having an exciting hard hitting battle, but they were also telling a story that made use of the rules being different from standard ROH matches, whilst also calling back to other points in their feud. This would not be the last battle the two would have, as they would continue to clobber one another with near reckless abandon in a series of rematches, but this contest probably remains my personal favourite of their fights with one another and it’s still one of my favourite ROH bouts from 2007.
John Cena Vs Randy Orton – East Rutherford, New Jersey (26th August 2007)
Cena and Orton had so many matches together that it almost became a running joke amongst WWE fans. Certainly by the time 2014 rolled around and the two wrestled one another at the Royal Rumble the match and feud was beyond played out. However, back in 2007 Cena Vs Orton was still a fresh match and the first big singles pay per view encounter between the two wrestlers certainly delivered. What I enjoy so much about this one was how the two contestants structured the bout. Orton dominated almost all of this match, with Cena occasionally trying to fight back but always having his attempts snuffed out.
It might sound like a long one-sided match would be dull or boring, but that wasn’t the case in this bout due to how good both wrestlers were at playing their respective roles. Orton was excellent as a measured and diabolical villain who was there to physically dissect his opponent, whilst Cena was equally excellent as the gutsy Champion fighting from underneath and looking for that one opening that would allow them back into the contest. The match all built up to the maniacal Orton trying to kick Cena’s head off his shoulders with his devastating Punt Kick of DOOM, with the resulting aftermath of that attempt leading into a fantastic finishing sequence that paid off all of the build-up that had preceded it.
I can see how some might think this match was a little bit too deliberate at points, but I personally found it to be an engrossing story driven match where both competitors did everything they could to craft an interesting narrative. The crowd in East Rutherford were really into the match and that really added to things by giving the bout a great atmosphere to go along with the good wrestling that was taking place. Orton really was fantastic here and he would cultivate the mannerisms and character traits from this battle into his eventual “Viper” persona in the following years.
Umaga Vs Jeff Hardy – San Jose, California (22nd July 2007)
Jeff Hardy had returned to WWE in 2006 following stints on the independent scene as well as runs in the TNA promotion. His first major feud was against John Nitro/Morrison/Hennigan/Insert-New-Name-Here, which led to the two men having some entertaining matches. Following that rivalry, Hardy found himself opposing the monstrous and scary Umaga, a Samoan beast who ploughed through all that opposed him. Seeing as Hardy was notably smaller than Umaga, the matches between the two followed the tried and tested path of David Vs Goliath, with Hardy in the former role, a role he played very well.
Umaga and Hardy had quite a few big matches in 2007, with Umaga usually coming out the victor but Hardy always giving it his best effort. Even though Hardy found it difficult to score victories on Umaga, even in defeat he usually came out of the matches looking the better for just having the guts to get in there with the unstoppable bulldozer in the first place. This match was no exception, as Hardy had Umaga on the ropes more than once and the crowd was entranced by the action before them, especially when it looked like Hardy might actually contrive a way to win.
Hardy’s ability to take an incredible beating was matched by Umaga’s ability to believably dish one out, making this match an engrossing battle not just from an action perspective but also from a storytelling one as way as the two men did their best to tell a story as old as time. Umaga did an excellent job of selling for Hardy’s offence enough to make Hardy look like a genuine threat whilst still portraying himself as a brutal monster who the crowd needed to be afraid of. It was a difficult balance but one Umaga was regularly good at getting right, whilst Hardy had many years under his belt as an underdog fan favourite by this stage in his career so he knew exactly what to do in order to make this match work, and boy did it!
Batista Vs The Undertaker – Pontiac, Michigan (1st April 2007)
Batista and Undertaker had felt slighted going into WrestleMania 23 as they were relegated to the middle of the card at the expense of other matches, even though their bout was to be for Smackdown’s World Title belt. Feeling they had a point to prove, the two men went out to the ring and had a WrestleMania classic that was more than deserving of being the show closing contest. WWE choosing to put the bout where they did somewhat made sense as Smackdown was clearly the secondary brand when compared to Raw and Batista had been somewhat gun-shy since returning from a long injury layoff in the summer of 2006.
However, Batista entered a stirring performance at WrestleMania that made a mockery of some of his previous outings since coming back from injury, whilst Undertaker had got himself into excellent shape ahead of what he expected to be a long run back in the Main Event scene after taking a bit of back seat at points during 2006. Seeing two big men clobbering one another and doing moves such as driving one another through the ringside commentary tables made this match a real spectacle and it managed to overshadow a series of big matches at that year’s WrestleMania event. I enjoyed it at the time and I’ve found that I’ve grown to enjoy it even more over the years.
Jay Briscoe and Mark Briscoe Vs Kevin Steen and El Generico – Chicago, Illinois (15th September 2007)
The Briscoe’s were known at the time for having some of the best tag team matches in all of wrestling, with their exciting in-ring style matched by their wild abrasive characters. Two chicken farmers from Delaware, The Briscoe’s liked to fight and would mix it up with all manner of opponents, having great matches along the way. Steen and Generico (Sometimes known as “Generico” by fans online) were one of The Briscoe’s bigger rivals during this period, fighting them in all kinds of contests, with this battle at ROH’s “Man Up” pay per view event being contested under ladder match rules where the tag belts were hung above the ring and the victorious team would have to assail a ladder in order to claim them.
What followed was a wild match, filled with big bumps and violent action. There were a number of unprotected shots to the head at certain points, which I could have personally done without, but aside from that this was an incredible outing that rightly blew most people’s minds when it first aired. I’d been aware of both Steen and Generico prior to this, but this was the match that really put them over the line as being two of my favourite guys to watch on the independent scene, with Steen bringing the character work to go along with his wild in-ring style whilst Generico was one of the better in-ring wrestlers of the era.
This remains an insane thrill ride to this day, with some of the bigger spots and moves, such as Steen doing a piledriver onto a ladder bridge, being unforgettable moments in the annals of ROH history. Matches like this are probably why Tony Khan was so willing to shell out for the ROH video library when he was given the chance.
Shawn Michaels Vs John Cena – London, England (23rd April 2007)
Michaels and Cena had met one another at WrestleMania 23, with Cena picking up the win in an excellent match after spending portions of the match on the defensive. Both wrestlers were supposed to be good guys, although the fans mostly preferred Michaels and that usually led to the matches between the two men having good atmospheres. This bout on Monday Night Raw was a highly anticipated singles rematch between the two and it didn’t disappoint.
What was interesting about this match was how it almost inverted the bout the two had at WrestleMania. At that event, Michaels had dominated for large periods, especially in the early going, with Cena seemingly not having an answer for large parts of it. In the rematch however, it is Cena who gets the better of the early exchanges, which visibly frustrates Michaels and told a nice story of the younger Cena learning from the previous encounter, meaning that the more experienced Michaels had to go back to the drawing board in order to find a way to defeat him.
Michaels did eventually manage to work his way into the bout, flinging sting knife edge chops at Cena as the crowd cheered along. The crowd in general were excellent in this match, as they clearly realised they were seeing something special after a certain point and responded in kind. Special mention should go to Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler for their commentating in this one as well, as they did an excellent job getting across the tactical struggle going on as well as elevating the drama of the contest when the two wrestlers upped the ante with bigger moves and attacks.
In the end both men wrestled for close to an hour when all was said and done in this one, which was far longer than you would usually get on a WWE telecast outside of something like an Iron Man match, which aren’t that common. Cena has struggled over the years with a perception from some quarters that he isn’t a very good wrestler, but he carried his end well here, and if you ever need to wrestle for an hour then there a few better men than Shawn Michaels to shepherd you through it. This match really ebbed and flowed following the early exchanges that Cena had control of, and it was an engrossing battle that felt like two people actually trying to out wrestle and out fight the other.
This match got a lot of hype at the time just because the match went for nearly an hour and no one really saw that coming, and it certainly still feels like it holds up in my opinion. Both men entered strong performances, the commentary was on point and the live crowd enjoyed the action. As far as Main Events of Raw go, this one would have to be in the top echelon thanks to the quality of the wrestling and how impressive it was that two wrestlers were able to fight for as long as they did here.
Kurt Angle Vs Sting – Atlanta, Georgia (14th October 2007)
Angle had jumped to the TNA promotion in 2006 after WWE had let him go due to fears for his health. Angle regularly credited TNA with saving his life, as he felt reinvigorated by the change in scenery and some new opponents to work with. One of those opponents was Sting, a legend of the business who had first come to national attention in 1988 following an epic battle with Ric Flair in WCW. Sting was past his physical peak by the time 2007 rolled around, but he was still in decent shape for his age and he seemed really motivated by the task of wrestling someone as good as Angle in a big pay per view Main Event, leading to a great contest as a result.
The storyline coming into this one was that Angle attacked Sting’s son, just to make sure that Sting was all good and angry for this contest so that Angle could face Sting at his best. As a result of this, Sting took it to Angle early on, including some fighting outside the ring until Angle was able to take over back inside the ring with a selection of holds. The match benefitted from an invested crowd who were in to Sting and some good pacing, as both wrestlers built the match well. When the match started heading into the closing stretch it peaked at the right time, with some nicely executed near falls and some really good wrestling from Angle especially, although Sting looked good as well.
I am a big fan of Sting and I thought he delivered the goods on many an occasion in his TNA days, with this bout being one of those occasions. Things did get a bit silly with the likes of Karen Angle and Kevin Nash getting involved, but the crowd did respond to the outside interference in the desired way and it didn’t end up taking away from the match. Of course, with two guys as good as Angle and Sting the extra bells and whistles weren’t really that required, but they did add an extra layer of drama to proceedings and in the end I thought it was all executed well. Sting got a great reaction fighting off the two bad guys of Angle and Nash as well, so ultimately the storytelling worked.
Takeshi Morishima Vs Bryan Danielson – Chicago, Illinois (15th September 2007)
Morishima had entered ROH like a wrecking ball and quickly defeated company legends such as Samoa Joe and Homicide on route to winning the ROH Title. It was a meteoric rise and Morishima more than held up his end of the bargain, defending the Title in great matches with a variety of different opponents from both ROH and also places such as DragonGate. Bryan Danielson had been the long reigning ROH Champion and had held the belt for over a year before losing the Title to Homicide in December of 2006. Danielson took some time off following that loss in order to rest up from a number of injuries, whilst Morishima took the Title from Homicide not too soon afterwards.
By the time September 2007 rolled around it was time for Danielson to get a crack at winning the ROH World Title back, but he entered the match at less than 100% due to an eye injury. Danielson ended up pushing Morishima to the end of his wits in a fantastic contest, leading to Morishima targeting the eye injury in an effort to regain control of the contest. It was a fantastic twist in the tale, as it showed that Morishima was almost getting desperate in his quest to regain the belt and it also gave the fans a clear reason to cheer for the previously villainous Danielson, as he’d shown great bravery and put the Champ in such a position that such lengths needed to be resorted to.
The quality of the wrestling itself was to a very high standard, and combined with the quality of storytelling it made for a really entertaining and dramatic contest. Danielson was fantastic as he gradually shifted into more of a traditional good guy role, whilst Morishima did a strong job as the powerful Champion who had to try something bordering on being underhanded in an attempt to hang on to the Title he held so dear. When wrestling can combine the two elements of action and storytelling in such a manner it almost always leads to a great contest, and this bout was no exception to that rule.
John Cena Vs Umaga – San Antonio, Texas (28th January 2007)
WWE had done an excellent job promoting Umaga prior to this contest with Cena, as he had demolished practically everyone in his path, including monsters such as Kane and WWE legends like Ric Flair. Cena had managed to pin Umaga on a previous event, but it had been presented as a last gasp pin fall, almost a fluke, and Umaga hadn’t really lost any considerable steam over it. A rematch was booked, with the stipulation of Last Man Standing added to the bout. The rules of a Last Man Standing match were brutally simple, you simply had to knock your opponent down so that they couldn’t answer the referee’s count of ten. The bout was to have no disqualifications or rules besides that, meaning that Cena would be at the mercy of his monstrous opponent and thus had a significant hill to climb.
What followed was a fantastic fight, as Cena threw everything he could at Umaga in an effort to keep him down, with Umaga continuously dragging himself back to his feet like some kind of horror movie monster. Cena would tend to get booed a lot by the fans during this period, even though he was supposed to be a good guy, but WWE had done an excellent job building up Umaga and his dastardly manager Armando Estrada as villains, which meant the crowd reacted more in line with how WWE would have wanted them to. Umaga punished Cena throughout the bout, but Cena showed his trademark guys and refused to stay down, whilst also doing everything he could in reply in an effort to come out the victor.
Ekmo Fatu really came into his own when he was given the Umaga gimmick, with it being night and day from the previous character he had played, Jamal from the tag team 3 Minute Warning. Despite a strong push at the start, that run had ended pretty limply with Fatu getting let go by WWE, but in his second run as The Samoan Bulldozer, Fatu quickly became one of the best big man workers in the whole company. I’ve never been as anti-Cena as others seem to be either, especially when it comes to the quality of his matches.
I’ve seen Cena have so many great matches now that any claims that he can’t wrestle have become beyond redundant to me. Yeah, he’s not what you’d call a traditionally great wrestler, but he’s found a way to make it work for him and that’s all that really matters. You simply don’t have as many great matches as Cena has had without being good at wrestling. This match is very much one of his better ones in my opinion!
Jun Akiyama and Mitsuharu Misawa Vs Kenta Kobashi and Yoshihiro Takayama – Tokyo, Japan (2nd December 2007)
This match represented a return to the ring for Kobashi, as he’d been forced to spend a significant time out of the ring following a cancer scare. The NOAH crowd had missed Kobashi, as he had probably been the biggest draw the company had in the 00’s, so they packed Budokan Hall in order to see Kobashi take to the ring again, with the resulting match delivering everything they would have wanted to see. As a big Kobashi fan myself, I was jazzed to hear that Kobashi was returning to the ring and the resulting match did not leave me disappointed. Akiyama and Misawa had both been former tag team partners and rivals of Kobashi, so it made good sense for them to be opposing him here, with former foe Takayama entering the fray as Kobashi’s tag partner for the night.
The reaction for Kobashi’s entrance here was something to behold, as the crowd chanted his name and he received a fantastic response in front of his home arena. It’s a tradition in Japanese Wrestling to throw coloured streamers into the ring during introductions sometimes, and the canvas got utterly covered in them when Kobashi was announced, with an absolute deluge of paper tumbling into the ring from the ringside fans. Akiyama demanded that he get to start the match with Kobashi, which the crowd loved, especially when Kobashi opened things up with one of his trademark knife edge chops. Seeing Kobashi take on both Akiyama and Misawa was great here, as he’d had so many battles with them before and the crowd was into everything he did with them.
Takayama also had history with Akiyama and Misawa, with Misawa previously ending Takayama’s GHC Heavyweight Title run (the top belt in NOAH) so the crowd enjoying watching him get in there as well, especially when he and Kobashi would team up for some tandem offence as it wasn’t something you got to see that often due to Kobashi and Takayama usually being in opposite corners across the ring from one another. The crowd ate all of the action up and the wrestling was the good solid grappling and striking you would expect from these four wrestlers, with the crowd reactions only adding to the contest.
One moment that will live in my memory was when Kobashi had Akiyama trapped in the corner and started unloading with a barrage of chops. Akiyama’s chest gradually reddened as the chops kept coming, but he had an almost zen look on his face. I swear he looked like he was almost enjoying getting chopped to smithereens because he missed Kobashi and was just happy to have him back, even if it meant he had to stand in the corner and have chest turned to kedgeree. Kobashi was in a lot for his team in this one, partly because that’s what the fans wanted to see but also because I think Kobashi wanted to test himself to see if he could still go, and he proved that he certainly still could in a tag setting like this.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a huge fan of Kobashi and I’d have him on my Mount Rushmore of favourite wrestlers, so it could be that your own personal mileage with this one may vary in comparison to my own. That being said, I think the combination of crowd reactions and the hard work from all four wrestlers made this match a genuine spectacle that most wrestling fans could appreciate if they knew a bit of the backstory coming in. Sadly Akiyama is the only one of the three still wrestling these days, as Kobashi and Takayama have both been forcibly retired due to injuries and Misawa passed away in 2009. This match is a fitting tribute to them though, as it really was oodles of fun and I just wish I could have been there to witness it in person.