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.
Please feel free to share your own personal favourite bouts in the comments section as I work my way each week to the #1 slot.
NWA Starrcade 1985 – 28th November 1985
I Quit Cage Match
Magnum Terry Allen Vs Tully Blanchard
This is not only probably the best “I Quit” match ever, but it could honestly be in for the running when it comes to the greatest match of all-time list. This match is brutal, tense, barbaric and unapologetically violent, as both Tully and Magnum leave nothing on the cutting room floor when it comes to getting across the pure hatred between them. At times it feels like the climatic fight scene in an espionage thriller, when the protagonist and antagonist finally settle their issue in a gruelling clash.
The yelps and yells of both men as they clobber one another with the microphone whilst demanding the other quit make it hard not to feel uncomfortable. I struggle to think of many other matches where the two competitors do such a convincing job of making you truly believe that they absolutely hate one another. It’s almost mesmerising at times. The finish to the match is suitably violent as well, with Tully’s makeshift spike ending up in Mangum’s hands, in one of the most gruesome examples of the heel being hoisted by his own petard.
The ending image of Mangum throwing the spike away and walking out of the cage with his belt in disgust, whilst Tully lies sobbing on the mat, is incredibly powerful, and will last with me forever. This match really is just perfect. It gets the balance between violence and storytelling just right, with the finish giving the feud the payoff it deserved. I just love how Tully is the one who brings the weapon in, but ends up on the receiving end of it. Wrestling at its heart is the ultimate morality play, and this match encompasses that sentiment beautifully.
New Japan Pro Wrestling G1 Climax Final 2001 – 12th August 2001
Yuji Nagata Vs Keiji Mutoh
Keiji Mutoh’s 2000 had been pretty awful, as injuries and a lousy run in the dying days of WCW had combined to make him feel like yesterday’s news. However, Mutoh wasn’t ready to fade away and completely changed not just his in-ring style but also his look too, by going for a far more ground based approach and shaving off what was left of his hair to go with a Stone Cold Steve Austin like bald head. Mutoh would go on to have an incredible 2001, winning “Wrestler of the Year” and having some truly incredible bouts along the way. This match would be my personal pick of the bunch.
I can understand why this might not be for everyone, as the early stages are all about patient mat wrestling, as both man tries to get the better of the other in a cagey tactical battle. This is all about building a match gradually, which became Mutoh’s calling card during his renaissance because his body wouldn’t allow him to work a more explosive and quick paced bout. He now needed to get the most out of his every movement, and his matches would often become about weakening his opponents legs so that he could get them down long enough to allow him to deliver his Shining Wizard knee strike to the face.
I’m conscious that I haven’t spoken about Nagata at all yet, which would be wrong on my part because he is integral to making this work. He sells Mutoh’s stuff perfectly and his execution on offence is spot on as well. The match is very much built around the idea that, good though Mutoh still is, it is Nagata who is the future and he counters a lot of Mutoh’s trademark moves, with Mutoh’s vicious assault on Nagata’s legs the only way he is eventually able to really get cooking on offence.
I have a compilation DVD somewhere that collected all of Mutoh’s big matches from 2001, and this was always a match I would return to. Both men are drenched in sweat due to the oppressive summer heat, but they still keep pushing themselves and by the end of the bout the crowd is utterly engrossed. Ultimately this is a great example of building a match and getting the most out of absolutely everything you do to craft an engaging narrative. I not only recommend tracking this down but would also encourage you to find some more 2001 Mutoh, because if you like this there’s a great chance you’ll like the rest of his output from that year.
WCW Starrcade 1992 – 28th December 1992
Sting Vs Big Van Vader
Has there ever been a bad match between these two? The closest would be their match at Slamboree 1994, and that’s mainly because Sting spends the majority of the match sulking over the reactions of the cynical Philly crowd rather than the match itself being actively bad. This is another great match in the storied rivalry between the two, with the added bonus that Sting is actually allowed to win this one as well.
Yes, Sting often spent the majority of his time looking up at the lights when he battled Vader, but this at least helped make Vader a convincing monster. Sting actually employs a tad more strategy to this match than he normally would, with his goal being to systematically wear Vader down, rather than charging full bore at him like he had in previous contests. This gives the match an engrossing chess match feel in the early stages, as Sting tries to find a way to break Vader down.
Eventually though the match delivers what we love from Sting/Vader matches, that being Vader giving Sting an absolute shellacking before Sting introduces the act of delivering insane power moves onto his much larger foe. Sting even hits a big DDT from the top rope at one point, as he tries everything he can to finally keep Vader down for the count. If you want to know why so many people felt Sting deserved a spot in the Hall of Fame, then matches like this would be a good place to start.
WWF Royal Rumble 1991 – 19th January 1991
Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty Vs Kato and Tanaka
You could argue that either this or WrestleMania VII was the peak for The Rockers as a team, as they had credibility with the fans and were having plenty of great matches on the big events. This one usually comes up when discussing great opening matches, and for good reason. Both teams start the show off hot here by going 100 miles an hour right out of the gate, as The Rockers clear the ring and hit stereo dives onto their faux Japanese enemies.
Once things settle down, the two teams go on to have an excellent tag team battle, with a prolonged babyface shine for The Rockers until the devious Mr. Fuji intervenes so that his team can get the heat on Michaels. It’s an excellent story of Good Vs Evil, as the Orients bump around like crash dummies to try and get The Rockers over, before heeling it up in the heat to great effect.
The execution is on point, the story is there and the crowd are into everything, going completely nuts when The Rockers snatch a win out of nowhere thanks to Jannetty countering an Orient double team into a sunset flip. You didn’t always see such high flying and high impact matches like this on WWF pay per views from this era, but both of these teams had amazing chemistry and weren’t afraid to get aerial if it added to the match. Definitely seek this out if you’ve never seen it, it’s a tag team wrestling showcase to be treasured.
WWF Summer Slam 1990 – 27th August 1990
Bret Hart and Jim Neid Hart Vs Demolition Smash and Demolition Crush
I’m a huge fan of both The Hart Foundation and Demolition, and this match gives me everything I would want in a battle between the two. The WWF’s tag team division during this time period was almost an embarrassment of riches, with teams like The Harts, Demolition, The Road Warriors, The Rockers, The Rougeau Brothers and others often meaning you were guaranteed at least one great tag match per major event. Considering how much of an afterthought tag wrestling is often treated on the main roster modern WWE, it’s refreshing to go back and watch shows from this era to see when the division was treated with more respect.
This match is all about The Harts trying to overcome the bigger size of their opponents, as well as some cheating from them to boot, in order to prevail and win their first Tag Team Title for three years. The match is quick paced and the crowd are hugely behind The Harts, going nuts whenever they get a chance to defeat their bigger heel opponents. Ultimately Demolition’s cheating is foiled by The Road Warriors, thus setting up a dream feud that sadly didn’t deliver. The pop from the crowd when Bret and Jim finally pick up the win is incredible and it just warms my heart (No pun intended) to see the team get one more day in the sun after a couple of years of not doing much.
Thanks for joining me on this journey. Hopefully I’ll see you all next week when I cover matches 15 to 11!