Wrestle Respawn: Mike’s Top 25 Favourite Matches – 5 to 1

A while back I took a look at my favourite video games of all-time and I enjoyed the process, so I decided to give it a bash with wrestling matches as well. Of course I’ve watched a lot more wrestling matches in my life than I have played video games, so this list was slightly harder to dwindle down to 25.

There’s always a chance that as time and my own personal tastes change that this list might look a little bit different, but as of early 2020 these are my personal 25 favourite wrestling matches. Please note that the reasons for these matches finding their way onto the list aren’t solely down to actual match quality, with some of them making it more for sentimental reasons than anything else.

Number 5
NXT Takeover Brooklyn – 22nd August 2015
Bayley Vs Sasha Banks

I’m still kind of amazed that NXT is even a thing, as it seems to exist in it’s own unique universe separate from WWE, and thus it’s able to get away with the sort of traditional pro wrestling storytelling that the main roster WWE product doesn’t. The story in particular here was that Bayley was the odd one out of the Four NXT “Horsewomen”, in that she had been left on NXT whilst the other three of Charlotte Flair, Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch had been recruited to the main roster. Thus she felt she had something to prove here as she still hadn’t managed to win the “big one” during her time in NXT.

The resulting match is fantastic, as Bayley has to overcome her self-doubt to finally defeat the much more confident and brazen Banks. Both women push themselves to the limit here and the crowd is with them every step of the way, as the match builds to a crescendo of near falls and big moves. Considering that about a year or so prior to this women’s wrestling in the WWE wasn’t treated with anywhere close to the same level of importance, this match was seemingly the full stop on the first chapter of WWE’s much vaunted “Women’s Evolution”.

Number 4
All Japan Pro Wrestling – 12th June 1998
Kenta Kobashi Vs Toshiaki Kawada

This is some classic hard hitting All Japan action, as both men quite literally cause sweat to fly due to how hard they are kicking, chopping and slapping one another. I like many things about Kenta Kobashi, but what I like the most is his incredible ability to sell a beating. Everything from his body language to his perfect facial expressions get across all kinds of emotions, be it pain, anger or defiance. Heck, sometimes he can convey all three at the same time! Therefore it always made perfect sense to match him up with Toshiaki Kawada, in some ways a man who was his total opposite.

Kawada’s gruff and almost sadistic approach to the grapple game offset Kobashi’s toughness and bravery perfectly, which often led to matches where Kawada would do everything he could to be as disagreeable as possible whilst Kobashi bravely fought from underneath in order to get a foothold in the bout. When he finally does mount his comeback here he finally gives Kawada the shellacking that he had always promised to deliver over the years but just hadn’t been able to do. The closing segment of Kobashi just wearing Kawada down before finally putting him down following multiple lariats is pretty much the All Japan “Kings Road” style in a nutshell.

What I always remember about this match is just how invested in it I was. I had pretty much already taken Kobashi on as my favourite Japanese wrestler, and as a result I’d developed a dislike for Kawada, mainly because he spent most of the 90’s inflicting pain on my favourite wrestler. As a result I was firmly behind Kobashi in his quest to win here and was delighted when he finally did. Even my dad, someone who is by no means a wrestling fan, ended up gripped by the contest due to the incredible punishment both men were dealing out to one another. This match is an all-time classic in my eyes and I love it.

Number 3
ROH Supercard of Honour – 31st March 2006
Bryan Danielson Vs Roderick Strong

Danielson was really on a role during this period as the cocky heel Champion of ROH, doing almost the old NWA touring Champion deal by working long competitive matches with all the top stars, often skirting to or actually reaching the 60 minute time limit in the process. This would be my personal favourite match of his run with the belt, as Danielson and Strong wrestle one another for nearly an hour in a gruelling bout that combined the 70’s and 80’s World Champ psychology with modern moves and techniques to create a fantastic hybrid.

Strong isn’t renowned for being the most charismatic figure outside of the ring, although he plays an insufferable jock bully really well when the need calls for it, but inside the ring he’s been one of the better workers of his generation. Indeed, you could make the argument that pound for pound he’s the best wrestler when it comes to mechanics than anyone else in the WWE right now. When you consider some of the people on the WWE roster, that’s one heck of a statement, but matches like this highlight why I think it is true.

Danielson has enough charisma for both men in this one, playing his heel role incredibly well, thus making it all the more satisfying when Strong is able to dish out some punishment to him. There’s also some great moments in the match that you wouldn’t normally see, such as Strong accidentally chopping the ring post leading to Danielson trying to submit him with a basic wrist lock. I also love how close they take it to the time limit draw before swerving you with a finish as well. Watching it for the first time I felt for sure they were going to do the draw, so the finish on something like 58 minutes completely caught me unawares and really made the match all the better. This one is probably quite hard to track down now, but if you see this show for sale somewhere then I strongly suggest picking it up.

Number 2
WWF Backlash – 30th April 2000
Guest Referee: Shane McMahon
The Rock w/ Stone Cold Steve Austin Vs Triple H w/ Vince McMahon

Like the previous match, this one has a very fond place in my heart, although it is for different reasons. This one is in there because I was very much behind The Rock at the time and really had gotten sick to the back teeth of Triple H’s dominance at the top of the card, so Rock’s victory was like a release valve for the whole fan base as Triple H was finally defeated. He’d of course win it back again a month later, but for a while The Rock was the Champion and because he hadn’t had the belt for nearly a year at that point, seeing him wear the gold really freshened things up. What made it all the more memorable for me was that it was the first ever live WWF Pay Per View where I stayed up to watch the majority of it, owing to it being on terrestrial television station Channel 4 and not on satellite channel Sky Sports. Channel 4 actually used to show anime late night as well, so I was treated to Fist of the North Star and then Backlash, which made it one of the more exciting Sunday nights I’d experienced in a while!

The match itself is just fantastic example of storytelling, as The Rock battles not just Triple H but the entire McMahon Family, with the odds stacked against him like never before. When things look their bleakest, Rock finds solace in the unlikely form of Stone Cold Steve Austin, who returns from neck surgery to blast The McMahon-Helmsley Faction with chairs, allowing Rock finally bring an end to Triple H’s reign. What’s also great is that it’s not just Rock who gets revenge either, as Linda McMahon gets to shove Stephanie down as payback for receiving a slap from her daughter on a prior show and Earl Hebner gets to settle an outstanding score with Triple H by counting the winning pin fall.

The explosion from the crowd when Hebners hand hits the mat for three is one of the loudest I can ever recall, as you can tell that they were desperate to finally see Triple H dethroned and were delighted to be there live when it happened. Going in to the show I certainly thought that Triple H would leave with the belt, just because it was Backlash and I couldn’t see them changing it on a B Show when Triple H had already retained it at WrestleMania, but thankfully I was wrong. This would be one of the rare examples of where the money was actually in the chase in the WWF, as denying the fans their satisfaction at Mania actually led to a great buy rate for Backlash. It helped that Rock had actually been Champion before and was already established as a top guy, so they could get away with screwing him like that, which was a lesson they didn’t seem to learn for the future.

I still remember going on a family excursion to Wales following this show on about 3 hours sleep (Thankfully there was no school the next day) and being both exhausted from lack of rest but also kind of energised due to being so jazzed about how great the show was and how cool it had been to see Rock win the Title like that. Sometimes it’s just nice to see the hero win and the villain vanquished, and I love the fact we got to see it here. It would have been so easy for the WWF to think that they could screw Rock yet again and stretch his Title win out to King of the Ring or something, but they decided to reward the fans who cared enough to order/watch a B Level pay per view by giving them a Title change, and I think you’d struggle to find someone who would say they were wrong to change the belt here (Although I’m sure there’s some of them out there)

Number 1
WWF WrestleMania 13 – 23rd March 1997
Submissions Match
Guest Referee: Ken Shamrock
Bret Hart Vs Stone Cold Steve Austin

This is not only my favourite match from any WrestleMania but also be my overall favourite match of all time, as Hart and Austin have one of the best fights in wrestling history and change the path of the business forever in the process. I say fight because that’s what this is. This isn’t about crisp counters or pretty looking transitions, this match is about two diametrically opposed characters doing everything they can to destroy one another, with the goal being to quite literally beat the other into submission.

This match is raw, gritty, and unapologetically violent, as Hart and Austin demolish each other with weaponry and fight all over the ringside area in a quest to inflict as much pain on their rival as they can. One moment that always sticks out for me is where Austin is choking Hart with a cable on the apron. When things look bleakest for Bret, he manages to reach over and grab the ring bell (Which had found its way onto the apron during a previous part of the fight) and blast Austin with it just in time to save himself from certain defeat. It’s almost like a fight scene from a Hollywood movie, something you’d expect the Sean Connery version of James Bond to do in a pinch when one of the villain’s heavies has him at deaths door.

This is a match full of gruesome and memorable imagery, such as Austin writhing in agony whilst locked in Hart’s Sharpshooter hold, blood dripping down his face. It’s probably one of the most iconic moments in wrestling and signalled Austin’s official babyface turn, as he gallantly chose to pass out rather than submit to his hated rivals move. This could very well be the most important match and moment in Austin’s whole career, and also ranks pretty highly for Hart as well, as the subsequent feud between Austin and The New Hart Foundation kick started the WWF’s resurgence in 1997 and led to them eventually winning the Monday Night War.

This match is genuinely special for me, perhaps even more so because I didn’t see it until I was old enough to have a job and purchase it myself because my parents out right refused to buy the WrestleMania 13 VHS for me back when I was younger because it had an 18 certificate. Thus when I finally bought the WWE Tagged Classics set that it was on it felt like I’d achieved something in a strange sort of way. It’s why I generally have no sympathy for parents who complain about violent video games and the like. Stopping your kids from consuming entertainment they shouldn’t is part of being a parent. It’s not the responsibility of the content makers to ensure their content doesn’t get into unsuitable hands; it’s yours to actually be a parent and make sure you know what your kids are watching. I wanted to see Bret Vs Austin like nobody’s business as a kid, but my parents held firm and said no, and amazingly I took it in stride and didn’t tear the house apart either. Stop passing the buck parents and actually parent properly!

Thanks to all of you for joining me on this journey. I hope you had fun reading this and please feel free to share your own favourites in the comments section.

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