Jackson Ball takes a look back at some of the most memorable matches and moments from the past year in WWE…
2015 has been a year of ups and downs for World Wrestling Entertainment. It’s been a year in which we’ve seen WWE Network subscriptions reach new highs, while television ratings have plummeted to their lowest point in over 20 years. NXT has gone from strength-to-strength, while injuries have recently savaged the main roster. All three former Shield members have become respectable stars, while Cesaro just can’t catch a break.
In these articles, I will look back at 10 of the most important WWE matches of 2015; moments that have helped redefine the modern pro-wrestling landscape, and will live long in the memory. They may not all be the most exciting and enjoyable matches, but they are all significant in their own way…
Brock Lesnar vs. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena (Royal Rumble)
The Background: As per usual, WWE wanted to start the year off with a bang at their annual Royal Rumble pay-per-view. A month earlier at Tables, Ladders and Chairs, John Cena defeated Seth Rollins in a No.1 Contenders Match, earning himself a title shot against Lesnar. In the weeks leading up to the Royal Rumble, however, The Authority announced that Rollins would be added to the main event also, as a reward for his help in returning them to power. This would be Brock Lesnar’s first match since Night of Champions, over 4 months before.
The Match: As we’ve come to expect of the ‘Beast Incarnate’, Lesnar looked an absolute monster in the early segments of the match, hitting repeated German suplexes on both of his opponents and kicking out of an AA at a one-count. Realising they needed to take Lesnar out of the equation, Rollins and Cena temporarily teamed up for what was the spot of the match. Cena knocked the champion on to the announce table with the steel steps, before Rollins performed a diving elbow off the top rope, smashing Lesnar through the table below. Cena and Rollins would continue to trade near falls in the ring, before the champion was able to return to his feet. With Cena knocked outside the ring, Rollins looked to hit Lesnar with a Curb Stomp (oh how I miss that move!), but was caught in mid-air and suddenly on the receiving end of an F5. Lesnar picked up the pinfall for the victory.
Why it was significant: Two words: Instant classic. While the Royal Rumble match itself left many fans unsatisfied, the triple threat that preceded it had them all thrilled. Such was the nature of this match – the action, the storytelling – all three men came away looking great. Lesnar was able to remind fans what a dominant force he was, Cena was able to silence some of his critics and Rollins showed why he belonged in the main event picture. The WWE may not have seen fit to award this match the Slammy Award, but for many fans this remains the best match of 2015.
Triple H vs. Sting (Wrestlemania 31)
The Background: Arguably one of the most shocking moments from 2014 was Sting’s appearance at Survivor Series. The WCW Icon is one of the few American wrestling legends never to make the jump to WWE, so his long-awaited debut sent shockwaves through the industry. Over the months that followed that first appearance, Sting continued his feud with Triple H and the rest of The Authority, trading verbal blows before finally coming face-to-face at Fastlane. The stage was set for an epic battle at Wrestlemania, where Sting would make his WWE debut against the company’s COO in a No Disqualification Match.
The Match: The early stages of the match were slow paced and relied heavily on strike attacks and resting holds. This is probably down to both competitors advanced ages, with Sting in particular looking to have slowed and adapted his style. As the match picked up space and Sting began to gain the advantage, the surprise entrance of D-Generation X earned a huge pop from the crowd. Triple H’s stable members managed to swing the match back in his favour, only for a second surprise entrance to send the crowd into a frenzy: this time by the NWO. Hogan, Hall and Nash made their way to the ring, where they immediately battled DX, seemingly levelling the playing field for Sting. ‘The Vigilante’ looked to capitalise on the chaos, but was met by Sweet Chin Music from Shawn Michaels. As the dust cleared, Triple H nailed his rival with a sledgehammer for the win.
Why it was significant: Sting’s WWE debut was always going to be a significant moment. However, the twist and turns of this match made it all the more memorable. The DX and NWO run-ins provided some great Monday Night Wars nostalgia, while any HBK appearance is a welcome sight. Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, was the fact Triple H picked up the win. Going into the event, it seemed all but certain that Sting would gain a victory and his ‘Wrestlemania moment’ in the process, but on the night it was not to be.
Rusev vs. John Cena (Wrestlemania 31)
The Background: Supported by Lana, Rusev had been on an incredible run since debuting on the main roster in early 2014. The ‘Bulgarian Brute’ was made to look strong and ruthless at every possible opportunity, leading to his capture of the United States Title in November of that year. Despite carrying the championship, both Rusev and Lana continually badmouthed the United States, which gained the attention of John Cena in early 2015. The two met in a title match at Fastlane in February where, following an illegal low-blow, Rusev was able to knock Cena out cold with the Accolade. The dubious finish gave Cena sufficient cause to demand a rematch for Wrestlemania.
The Match: The bout was attention-grabbing even before the opening bell, as Rusev rode to the ring straddling a military tank. The Bulgarian was able to take control of the match early on and continued to dominate throughout with a series of powerful attacks. However, in true Cena-style, the challenger was able to mount a comeback. The finale came as a miscommunication between Rusev and Lana created enough of a distraction for Cena to capitalise and pick up the victory.
Why it was significant: While the match itself may have been a fairly standard outing, what makes it so significant is that it represents a turning point in both men’s careers. John Cena has been the WWE’s lead star for the better part of a decade, leading to a large portion of fans growing tired of his seemingly superhuman antics. This feud saw him finally take a step down from the main event, while elevating the US title in the process. His capture of the championship also led to the US Title Open Challenge every week on Raw, which has provide some of the most exciting WWE television this year. On the flip side of this, Rusev’s career hit a massive speedbump after losing the title to Cena. A series of underwhelming feuds and silly, love-triangle storylines have left the character a shadow of his former self. Now a glorified-henchman for Sheamus, it is going to take some serious work for him to regain his credibility.
Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns (Wrestlemaina 31)
The Background: On the same night that Brock Lesnar defended his title against Cena and Rollins, Roman Reigns was crowned the winner of the 2015 Royal Rumble match. The WWE Universe were not overjoyed to say the least, and voiced their unhappiness openly. Their prostest were partially quelled at Fastlane, where fan-favourite Daniel Bryan did a heroic job of putting Reigns ‘over’.
The Match: If anyone had doubts that these two men could put on a worthy Wrestlemania main event, those doubts were soon put to rest. Lesnar and Reigns put on a storytelling clinic, managing to protect Lesnar’s monster persona, while making it actually seem feasible that Reigns could cause an upset. Of course, the most memorable moment came at the match’s climax, when Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank Briefcase to win the WWE World Heavyweight Title.
Why it was significant: Aside from being the main event of Wrestlemania, the WWE’s Super Bowl, this match had some serious ramifications going forward. For starters, we saw the WWE World Heavyweight championship change hands, and to someone that had never held it before. That is something that simply doesn’t happen very often in modern WWE. A Seth Rollins cash-in may have been a little expected at the time, but what fans couldn’t have predicted was the championship reign that would follow it. Despite questionable booking (to say the least), Rollins brought a level of consistency to the title, becoming the company’s top heel in the process.
John Cena vs. Sami Zayn (Raw May 4)
The Background: After his championship victory at Wrestlemania, John Cena set about elevating the status of United States Title, by way of his weekly open challenge. Cena’s challengers were a surprise every week, but perhaps the biggest shock came on this May edition of Monday Night Raw. First, it appeared as if the open challenge was being answered by WWE Hall of Famer, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart, bringing the Montreal crowd to their feet. Hart would go on to introduce the real challenger, Montreal’s own Sami Zayn.
The Match: The match was an explosive one. As we now know, Zayn majorly injured his shoulder on his way to the ring (an injury that would keep him out of action until very recently). Despite this though, Zayn put on the same high-impact offense that he has become known for over the years, no doubt fuelled by the reception of his hometown-crowd. Credit where it is due, Cena put Zayn over in a big way, allowing him plenty of time to shine in the spotlight. Zayn may have lost the match but he certainly came away looking like a star.
Why it was significant: For many people, this match was the absolute pinnacle of Cena’s ‘Open Challenge’ run (although, there’s also a strong argument for Kevin Owen’s Raw debut). The crowd was electric and the inclusion of the legendary ‘Hitman’ was a nice addition. This match also symbolises the impact NXT has ad on the wrestling industry, and how it is showing a level of adaption from WWE as a company. 10 years ago (maybe even 5!), who could have predicted that an indie-wrestling darling like El Generico (Zayn) would be sharing centre-stage with the WWE’s posterboy John Cena? As it happens, Cena would go on to face several more former indie heroes this year, but more on that in Part 2…
Jackson Ball – Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn