Welcome back to another edition of me selecting some matches I like, as we look at my Top 10 Favourite Matches of 2005. This was another year where a lot of matches I really like didn’t make the cut due to how I was spoilt for choice, which is always a positive. WWE had a good mix of violent bloody battles to go along with some smoothly executed technical wrestling, whilst both TNA and NOAH provided some high-class action. ROH only shows up twice on the list, but they also had a good year in-ring thanks to the likes of Samoa Joe, CM Punk, Austin Aries and Bryan Danielson.
As always this isn’t supposed to be an objective list of what I thought the best matches of 2005 were but rather what my own personal favourites were, so if a match you like isn’t shown here then you can probably rest assured that I liked it as well but I just personally enjoyed these 10 bouts that little bit more. Please feel free to share your own picks in the comments section if they differ from mine though.
John Bradshaw Layfield Vs John Cena – Minneapolis, Minnesota (22nd May 2005)
Layfield had held Smackdown’s WWE Title for a long-time prior to his big bout with John Cena at WrestleMania 21, with the two having a so-so bout that ended with Cena winning the Title. Though Cena winning was the beginning of his big run on top of the company, his initial Title victory felt kind of flat, especially when Layfield had been Champion for so long and so many had failed to wrest the belt from his waist. However, the two had a chance at the Judgment Day pay per view to have the wild brawl they perhaps should have had at the biggest show in the year when they took part in a brutal I Quit bout.
The rules of an I Quit Match are pretty straight forward; you beat up your opponent until they say “I Quit” into a microphone. They are usually known as some of the most brutal fights that can take place in the wrestling business, with them being about emotion and storytelling as much as they are about rage and violence. When done well, an I Quit match can be one of the best match types in all of wrestling due to how they combine drama and action, but when they are done badly they can become overly melodramatic pap. Thankfully this bout fell into the former category rather than the latter.
This match was notable because it was one of the last pay per view Main Events where John Cena was actually cheered by the crowd. Indeed, by the time SummerSlam rolled round three months later the crowds were actively booing him for the most part. It’s amazing really, as it’s not like WWE or Cena himself did anything especially different with from a character perspective, but just a couple of months after being greeted like a conquering hero here, he was getting booed out of pretty much every building he walked in to. Maybe Layfield played his role so well that he was able to succeed in the villain role when matched up against Cena in ways that Cena’s other rivals couldn’t?
Regardless of the reasons why, Cena was over like nobody’s business in this bout, and that really added to the match. At its heart though, this bout was a good solid brawl with all the classic I Quit trademarks that fans of the genre have become accustomed to, such as Kayfield whomping Cena with the microphone in brutal fashion before demanding that Cena say the two magic words. Comparing the flaccid bout between the two men at WrestleMania 21 to this one was like night and day, as everything was amped up from the violence, to the intensity, to the level of crowd investment. By the end of things both men were bloody messes and had torn apart large chunks of the arena, as well as Layfield’s trademark limousine.
This was a match that played to both men’s strengths, with Cena getting to be gutsy and defiant in refusing to Quit whilst Layfield was able to play the insufferable overbearing bully that was trying to beat the fan favourite into submission. I do watch great matches like this sometimes and it does make me wonder about just why people turned on Cena. One reason that gets brought out is that he was too often booked to look too strong. Indeed, comments of “Cena Wins LOL” and “Super Cena” always come up, but the fact that Cena overcame a gory loss of blood to finally rally and defeat the hated villain is exactly why the crowd cheered him here. Considering the dearth of strong heroes in modern WWE these days, watching Cena take a vicious beating only to rally and stand tall at the end makes this era feel almost like a halcyon age.
Austin Aries Vs CM Punk – Morristown, New Jersey (18th June 2005)
This match was a very poignant battle as it was supposedly CM Punk’s last night in ROH before he was due to leave for WWE. As a result of this, Punk was very popular with the crowd but most of them assumed that he would be losing, especially considering the fact that Aries was putting the ROH World Title on the line. When a wrestler is leaving a promotion it’s very rare of that wrestler to win the company’s main Title on their last night, if only because it would mean that the wrestler in question would not be able to come back to defend the belt and the company would be forced to vacate the Title as a result.
As a result of this, it was very unlikely for Punk to end up victorious here. However, ROH head booker Gabe Sapolsky had a very interesting storyline planned, whereby Punk would indeed win the Title on his “last night”, only to then reveal that his plan was to leave as Champion and present the Title to WWE head honcho Vince McMahon. This made Punk an instant uber villain to the ROH fan base and began an exciting storyline whereby ROH tried to find someone to dethrone Punk before he could leave the promotion with the belt. This would become known as the “Summer of Punk”, and aspects of it were used by WWE in 2011 when Punk did a similar storyline there.
This match got the storyline off to a great start, as Aries was a very good in-ring performer who matched up well with Punk, causing this match to be an entertaining and dramatic battle, especially as a lot of the fans did not see where the result was going due to it being so unlikely that Punk might win. Punk actually controlled things for the most part in the early going, but Aries was able to catch him with a Spicolli Driver onto the apron and that led to Aries taking control of the contest, with Punk selling the beating really well. Punk even went to the lengths of writing “goodbye” onto his wrist tape for this one in order to really sell the idea that this would be his last night in the company.
What made this match so great was the entire package. Punk’s entrance is spine tingling due to how popular he is and how he really gives off the vibe that he’s done following the match. Then the match itself is really well wrestled, with both Punk and Aries both delivering excellent performances. The crowd is also fantastic here, really getting into the match and loudly cheering on Punk. The post-match promo from Punk is the final icing on the cake, as he begins with a respectful leaving speech and then quickly does a 180 into being a deceitful taunting villain. From start to finish this match is engrossing and it led to a series of great shows as the storyline continued to progress before finally coming to a satisfying conclusion with James Gibson winning the ROH Title and Colt Cabana sending Punk on his way in his real final match.
Edge Vs Matt Hardy – Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (18th September 2005)
For those of you who didn’t live through it at the time, the Edge, Lita and Matt Hardy storyline from 2005 was kind of a bummer. Hardy had been sacked by the WWE earlier in the year when he’d (Quite understandably one could argue) gotten very annoyed at his former best friend Edge playing Hide the Horseradish with his long-term girlfriend Lita. However, the WWE fan base rallied behind him and the company finally relented by agreeing to bring Hardy back into the fold, only to then have Edge humiliate and batter him at every turn in their resulting feud. They sure showed us eh?
Unforgiven 2005 was one of the very rare occasions in the feud where Matt actually got to come out on top of things for a change, as he was allowed to bludgeon Edge, hit Lita with his finisher and then squish the “Rated R Superstar” with a leg drop from the top of the cage. As well as having these crowd pleasing spots, the match itself was actually very good overall as well. Hardy was great as a never say die good guy fighting from underneath and Edge was excellent as a vicious villain meting out punishment, so the story of the match was engaging and the fans were thoroughly behind Matt in his quest for revenge.
Matt finally getting some payback on Lita, only to then get immediately speared by Edge, remains one of the all-time great near falls and I think literally everyone in the building bought it as the conclusion, which only made Matt’s dramatic kick out all the more satisfying. This really should have been the end of the feud, but Edge was the wrestler WWE were staking the farm on at the time, so unfortunately another match was required where Matt was once again ordered to go down in defeat so that he would have to leave Raw for Smackdown. At least for one night though Matt was able to get himself a measure of revenge and look like a star in the process. The fan reaction to him during this match showed that WWE definitely could have done more with him during this time frame, rather than having him become a mid-card make weight on Smackdown.
Shawn Michaels Vs Shelton Benjamin – Boston, Massachusetts (2nd May 2005)
Shelton Benjamin makes his third consecutive appearance in one of these features after also showing up in the 2003 and 2004 lists. Benjamin was someone whose wrestling I really enjoyed and appreciated during this period in time (and I personally feel that WWE could do more with him than they actually do even to this day due to how talented he is). Towards the end of 2004 Benjamin had won his first singles Title in WWE by wresting the Intercontinental Title belt from the waist of Chris Jericho in the autumn, before going on to defend the belt in good matches on television whilst also entering a fine performance at WrestleMania 21 in the inaugural Money in the Bank ladder match.
Whilst Benjamin was doing a fine job in the ring, Shawn Michaels was in the midst of a career renaissance and was also tearing it up in the ring more often than not. Though a back injury and just general aging had slowed Michaels down a bit, he was still one of the best wrestlers to watch in the whole world due to his superb grasp of timing and storytelling when in-between the ropes. In some ways, having to think more cerebrally may have actually improved Michaels’ work, as he now had to make what he did count for more due to not having the same speed and punch that he’d had in the 90’s.
Benjamin and Michaels ended up matched against one another in the “Gold Rush” tournament, a tournament on Raw designed to find a challenger for World Champ Batista. Benjamin and Michaels were both fan favourites when this bout came along and probably wouldn’t have normally happened were it not for the tournament bracket, which helped give the match a bit of a special feel. The match also told an interesting story, as it pitted Benjamin’s youth, speed and impetuousness against Michaels’ wit, skill and experience, leading to a fascinating battle that captivated the crowd.
What a lot of people rightly remember this bout for is the jaw-dropping finishing sequence, with Michaels catching Benjamin out of mid-air with his famed Sweet Chin Music kick when it looked like Benjamin was about to rain misery upon him. Prior to that though the match did an excellent job of elevating Benjamin, even in defeat, as Michaels sold for Benjamin a lot in the contest in order to make Benjamin look like a viable opponent. Benjamin did eventually hit a bit of a lull in his WWE singles career, but this part seemed to promise that Benjamin would go on to become one of the premier in-ring talents the company had, whilst also once again highlighting just how good Shawn Michaels still was.
Mike Awesome Vs Masato Tanaka – New York, New York (12th June 2005)
Extreme Championship Wrestling going out of business in 2001 hit me hard, as the company had probably been my favourite of the three main American companies when it went out of business. I could count myself among the niche lunatic fringe audience that would go to wrestling events in the early 00’s and chant “EC-Dub” whenever a wrestler connected to ECW would appear. It was for this reason that I was, pardon the pun, extremely excited when it was revealed that WWE would be holding an ECW event in the summer of 2005. WWE had bought the rights to the ECW name and video library when the company had gone out of business, leading to them producing an excellent DVD on the history of the promotion called “The Rise and Fall of ECW”.
That DVD sold incredibly well, far beyond what WWE expected it to do and the buzz it created led to WWE deciding to roll the dice on an ECW show from the company’s old New York haunt of the Hammerstein Ballroom. WWE even allowed former ECW head honcho Paul Heyman to put the show together, with every WWE contracted wrestler and non-contracted Free Agent with an ECW connection being welcomed to appear. This led to Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka showing up on a WWE pay per view event, even though neither was under contract to WWE and WWE didn’t have any plans to sign either of them to one. This perhaps encouraged the two men to just cut loose in their match, as neither had to worry about angry WWE higher ups giving them what for after the fact.
As I’ve mentioned in the past when it comes to matches with these two, part of me almost feels bad for enjoying them sometimes due to just how hard both men clobber one another. Unprotected chair attacks to the head were the most disagreeable thing on display in this contest, but there were still plenty of other big dangerous moves, such as the huge Awesome leaping from in the ring to the outside on more than one occasion. This sort of match was so far removed from what you could expect to see in WWE from this time, and I’d long since given up the thought of seeing an authentic ECW match like this ever again. This entire ECW show was probably the most hyped I’ve ever been personally hyped for a wrestling show prior to it happening, with it hanging over everything in my mind, including my college exams! This match above all made me feel like, if only for one night at least, ECW was truly back though, and for that reason I will always think of it warmly.
Kenta Kobashi Vs Kensuke Sasaki – Tokyo, Japan (18th July 2005)
Kenta Kobashi’s epic two year run as NOAH’s GHC Heavyweight Champion came to an end in March of 2005, but that didn’t mean Kobashi was finished with stealing the show on big NOAH events. This battle with Sasaki, one of the hottest Free Agents on the scene at the time, took place at NOAH’s second big Tokyo Dome event. NOAH had a number of big bouts on that show, including a meeting between two legends of the squared circle in Toshiaki Kawada and Mitsuharu Misawa. However, as big a match as that show closer was, most people left the cavernous Dome with the names Kobashi and Sasaki on their lips, and probably the word “chop” as well.
That was because Kobashi and Sasaki took part in one of the most brutal chop battles to ever be seen on a major wrestling event, as the two went back and forth in a violent rally with neither being willing to succumb to the other. It says a lot that these two were able to steal the show on such a stacked card, although Kobashi was an all-time great and Sasaki was a very good professional wrestler in his own right, so the two of them going at it in the big Tokyo Dome setting and just beating the absolute cheese and onion out of one another always had the chance to leaving an impression on the audience.
Kobashi and Sasaki had spent the majority of their careers working in different companies to one another, so them coming together for such a big match helped make the event feel special because we were getting a Dream Match by seeing these two wrestlers finally coming together for an epic contest with one another. I remember being genuinely excited when I heard that this match was happening and I wasn’t disappointed when I finally saw it. It was not only a great match but it also felt different from the other big matches on the show, with both men focussing on telling the story of them being two immovable objects that were clattering into one another, with only one of them being able to come out the other side as the victor.
Petey Williams Vs Chris Sabin Vs AJ Styles – Orlando, Florida (16th January 2005)
TNA featured some fantastic wrestling in its trademark “X Division” in 2005, with this match being one of the better efforts in year filled with them, as Williams defended the X Division Title against Sabin and Styles in an Ultimate X match. The rules of the UX match were that diagonal cables were hung across from two scaffolds to form a giant X in the middle of the ring, at which point the Title belt was hung up in the middle and the wrestlers had to shimmy along the cables in order to claim it. In some ways Ultimate X presented an evolution in the concept of the ladder match, with the ladder itself removed and the match built more around extravagant wild high-flying moves rather than ladder based violence.
Williams had defeated both Sabin and Styles in matches prior to this with his dreaded Canadian Destroyer finishing move, a move that saw him do a jumping front flip into a piledriver. This match existed to give both Sabin and Styles a chance to redeem themselves and get a measure of revenge on the cocky Champion. Sabin had competed in the first ever Ultimate X match back in 2003 and had been one of the divisions hottest stars, going through phases of being both a good guy and a bad guy, whilst Styles had been one of the divisions pioneers, helping to get the X Title off the ground before moving into the NWA World Title division in 2003.
Styles returning to the X Division gave it a shot in the arm, and in many ways he was the star of this match more for the punishment that befell him rather than for his offence. One of the craziest and scariest moments in the match saw Styles get dropkicked whilst hanging from the cables, leading to him flipping over and landing on his back. The crowd of course went absolutely nuts for that bump and it was replayed many a time over the years. Styles also did an excellent job selling an arm injury as well, with it actually playing into the finish. Considering that Ultimate X matches were mostly known for wild high risk offence, Styles making his arm injury a big part of the storyline and selling it consistently added an extra layer on top of the breath-taking action, making this match a really enjoyable experience overall.
Samoa Joe Vs Kenta Kobashi – New York, New York (1st October 2005)
Both Joe and Kobashi had been long reigning World Champions between the years 2003-2004, with both of them having a collection of great matches in their resumes. Because of this, when ROH was able to bring Kobashi in for a couple of shows in 2005, it seemed only natural for them book him against Samoa Joe and the match came with a lot of hype. Interestingly Kobashi actually thought that he would be booed by the ROH crowd and had to be convinced that the ROH crowd would not only know who he was but would also be delighted to see him wrestle.
With Kobashi eventually convinced that he didn’t need to play a stereotypical sneaky Japanese villain, Joe and Kobashi were able to put their match together and ended up stealing the show as a result. The fact ROH named the show simply “Kobashi Vs Joe” tells you all you need to know, as it wasn’t just a match but a spectacle. The ROH crowd definitely contributed to the greatness of the bout, as they were load and enthusiastic throughout and it give the contest a tremendous atmosphere. The match itself also delivered everything you would want from these two wrestlers going at it, as it was both hard-hitting and technically crisp, with great dramatic selling from both men.
Joe set the tone early on by slapping Kobashi in the face, something that Kobashi reacted to fantastically by looking both surprised and furious in equal measure. Kobashi threw a chop in response and that led to the fans chanting that the match was awesome after barely anything had happened. This really was one of those matches where both wrestlers had the crowd in the palm of their hands and, rather than rest on their laurels because they had an easy to please audience, they went out of their way to give the crowd what they wanted to see. This was one of those matches where I think you could enjoy it even if you didn’t know who either man was due to the crowd being so excited and invested. It’s actually available on ROH’s YouTube page and I strongly suggesting checking it out if you haven’t seen it before.
Kurt Angle Vs Shawn Michaels – Los Angeles, California (3rd April 2005)
Angle and Michaels had been two of the best in-ring talents of their respective eras, so when Michaels returned to active competition in 2002 following a serious back injury it seemed like only a matter of time that the two would be matched up together. The resulting match did not disappoint, nor did the build-up, which featured both men jumping one another at different points and Angle even having a great match with former Michaels teammate Marty Jannetty on an episode of Smackdown. Angle even indulged in some comedy as well by mocking Michaels’ entrance music song along with Michaels’ former manager Sensational Sherri.
Once WrestleMania 21 rolled around though it was time for the jokes to stop and for things to get drastically more serious, with Angle in particular entering a fantastic intense performance whilst Michaels was excellent at selling Angle’s offence throughout the bout. This is still a match that I go back to watch now and then and it always holds up for me due to the good mix of intensity and superlative wrestling going on. The match also has a satisfying clean ending, which is what it really needed as a finish filled with hi-jinks and shenanigans would only have taken away from the overall quality of the bout. This match was all about two of the very best wrestlers in the world going in there and having a classic bout, and all it needed was for both men to show up and pit their skills against one another, which is what we ended up getting.
Christopher Daniels Vs Samoa Joe Vs AJ Styles – Orlando, Florida (11th September 2005)
This was another bout in TNA’s much vaunted X Division, with Daniels defending the X Title against Joe and Styles in a triple threat bout. The X Division wasn’t about weight limits but no limits, so the comparatively massive Joe could compete for the Title and he fit into the division really well due to having experience of wrestling a lot of the people within it from his ROH days. It also allowed Joe to work as a bullying bigger man, which made him an excellent opponent for the likes of Styles who thrived when in there with an opponent like that. Going into the match Daniels was a clear bad guy, whilst Joe was more of a violent neutral and Styles was a clear good guy. This gave the match a fun and interesting dynamic, and TNA decided to show respect to all three men by having this bout close the Unbreakable pay per view event.
Daniels being the clear villain of the piece led to some funny moments where Joe and Styles both teed off on him, with the crowd loving it. The crowd in general loved the match and that really helped with making the bout entertaining to watch. All three men had excellent chemistry with one another and the match had many smooth counters and exciting big moves, with the pace never letting up and the action being consistently fun from start to finish. I remember excitedly watching this match back at the time after hearing a lot of hype for the quality of the bout and it did not disappoint. TNA wasn’t without its issues in 2005, but it also had consistently good wrestling and usually delivered a classic bout on every big event they held.
I was probably more into TNA than I was WWE around this period, with matches like this being the main reason I got so into the product. I gradually got less into it when Vince Russo returned to start writing the shows in 2006, but prior to that I generally enjoyed the TNA product, especially the X Division. The X Division reminded me somewhat of the wrestling in ROH but TNA had better production values and there were generally more people in their “Impact Zone” arena in Orlando than there were for some of the ROH events, so the matches generally had better atmosphere and just generally looked better due to the superior production.