Jackson Ball takes a look back at some of the most memorable matches and moments from the past year in WWE…
It’s time to reflect on the year in wrestling, by looking back at some of the biggest matches the WWE has had to offer in 2015. As the title indicates this is Part 2 of the list, so please be sure to check out Part 1 before continuing.
As I said in the previous article, this is a list of the most significant matches in the WWE and NXT in the past 12 months. THIS DOES NOT MEAN THE BEST MATCHES. The matches in this list may not have all been enjoyable to watch but are all important in their own ways, and have had ramifications that have rippled across the company. So without further ado, let’s continue this year’s list…
John Cena vs. Kevin Owens (Elimination Chamber)
The Background: In one of the most explosive debut appearances Raw has seen in a long time, Kevin Owens answered the John Cena’s Open Challenge for the US title. The then-NXT Champion, Owens showed his defiant nature by immediately renouncing his shot at the title, claiming that he simply didn’t value it. Instead, he laid out Cena with a series of blows and a Pop-up Powerbomb, before standing on the United States Championship. It was a confrontation that had the WWE Universe salivating for more, and fortunately they wouldn’t have to wait long for a follow-up.
The Match: In terms of technical supremacy and the quality of the storytelling, it is hard to argue that this wasn’t one of the best matches of the year. For the casual WWE fan who perhaps wasn’t familiar with Owens’ work on NXT (or his years on the independent circuit prior to that), this was the perfect introduction to the character. Owens was menacing throughout, while still being able to show off a lot of his impressive moveset. It wasn’t just Owens doing the heavy lifting though, as Cena put on an awesome display to once again silence the naysayers.
Why it was significant: Owens’ victory was significant for numerous reasons. Firstly, John Cena lost… and lost clean. For anyone that has being paying attention to Cena’s career over the past decade, you’ll know that’s just something that doesn’t happen very often. On top of that, you have the fact that he lost to an NXT guy! Sure, Owens was the NXT Champion, and a main roster call-up looked imminent, but that doesn’t change the fact that Vince McMahon allowed his franchise star (and B-Title holder) to lose clean to someone from the ‘developmental’ brand. This match would go on to spawn two more excellent bouts between Owens & Cena, but neither could truly recapture the magi of their first meeting.
Seth Rollins vs. Dean Ambrose (Money in the Bank)
The Background: After Seth Rollins turned on his Shield teammates, he and Dean Ambrose had a series of entertaining bouts throughout the summer of 2014. Their Hell in a Cell encounter may have brought that particular run to an end, but there was always a sense that these two men were far from finished with each other. Fast-forward to May of this year and the former allies’ paths would cross once again. Post-Wrestlemania, Rollins wasn’t short of challengers for his WWE World Heavyweight Title, having ongoing feuds with both Randy Orton and Roman Reigns. A triple threat match was set up for Payback, but that soon became a Fatal 4-Way when Ambrose was added to the mix. Ambrose would then score a disqualification win over Rollins at Elimination Chamber, earning himself one last title shot; a ladder match at Money in the Bank.
The Match: Ambrose and Rollins were given a good 35-40 minutes to show us what they could do, and they certainly didn’t disappoint us. The gimmick of the ladder only enhanced things, reminding us all of the gritty origins of the Ladder Match, before they became carefully orchestrated spot-fests. Ambrose personified the notion of ‘resilient babyface’, while Rollins showed an impressive level of ruthlessness, determined to win without The Authority’s interference. The finish was exciting too, as both men fell from the ladder with the belt in their hands. In the end though, it Rollins who stood victorious… but only just.
Why it was significant: Up until this point, any main event these two had been involved with was opposite a seasoned WWE veteran (Orton, Cena, Lesnar etc.). This match showed that the company has a certain level of faith in these competitors and, when given the opportunity they can put on an event as good as anybody else on the roster. It was another important step in the validation of Seth Rollins, while it also proved that Dean Ambrose is far more than just an upper mid-carder.
Sasha Banks vs. Bayley (NXT Takeover: Brooklyn)
The Background: Sasha Banks had been dominating the NXT Women’s division since she won the title back in February. ‘The Boss’ was still in possession of the championship when she received her call-up to the main roster, along with fellow NXT Divas Charlotte & Becky Lynch. With three of the ‘Four Horsewomen’ making the jump to Raw, that seemingly left Bayley behind in NXT. Recovering from a hand injury and debuting her new ultra-lovable persona, Bayley quickly shot back up the NXT ranks and found herself No. 1 Contender.
The Match: What is there to say about this match that hasn’t already be said? It is still be referred to as a ‘game-changer’ for women’s wrestling, and is thought not only to be one of the best matches of the year, but one of the best of all time. It’s incredible that two athletes as young and inexperienced as Banks and Bayley were able to out-match and out-perform everyone else on the roster. It speaks volumes that this match was all anyone could talk about for the following weeks, especially considering Summerslam was the following night.
Why it was significant: This match felt like a turning point for women’s wrestling. Until this match, the words ‘Divas’ Revolution’ felt like just that: words. Bayley and Sasha’s performance would go on to earn them the main event at NXT:Respect; the first PPV main-evented by women in WWE history (and the first ever IronWoman Match). Their rematch may well have been just as fantastic as their bout in Brooklyn, but for the originality and the title change, this one makes the list.
Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar (Summerslam)
The Background: The last time these two faced off, it resulted in one of the most shocking Wrestlemania moments in history. At Wrestlemania 30, Brock Lesnar did the unthinkable and ended The Undertaker’s undefeated streak, becoming the first person to ever beat the ‘The Deadman’ at the WWE’s flagship event. After that match, Lensar went on to becoming the dominant force that his today, winning the WWE World Heavyweight title in the process. The Undertaker went back to the schedule we’ve become used to in recent years, in which he only rears his head for Wrestlemania season. That is, until Battleground this year. Finally, after nearly a year and half, The Undertaker sought retribution for his Wrestlemania loss, attacking Lesnar in his title match with Seth Rollins. After hitting to consecutive Tombstone Piledrivers, the stage was set for the mammoth rematch at Summerslam.
The Match: There are very few match-ups that could justifiably go on after a WWE title match (particularly a champion vs. champion one) but his is certainly one of them. The in-ring action was far superior to their Wrestlemania match, although that is hardly a surprise given that Undertaker was only semi-conscious for much of that bout. Both men were at the top of their games; Lesnar looked the uncaged animal that he has for the past couple of years, while Undertaker showed that he is still one of the best in the business. What makes this match all the more memorable is the controversial finish. Unable to put his opponent away, Lesnar desperately applied the dreaded Kimura Lock. The Undertaker tapped out but the ref did not see it, despite Lesnar believing he had won. Amidst the confusion, Taker was able to incapacitate his opponent with an illegal low blow, before hitting a Tombstone for the win.
Why it was significant: For starters, it was The Undertaker’s first match outside of a Wrestlemania in 5 years! Not only that, but the controversial finish left the feud open for a ‘rubber’ match that would take place at Hell in a Cell in October. While the HiaC match was every bit as exciting as the Summerslam outing, it is the latter that makes this list.
Sheamus vs. Roman Reigns (RAW Dec. 14)
The Background: Roman Reigns long and arduous journey to gain the WWE World Heavyweight Title seemed to be over at Survivor Series. With the belt vacated, Reigns had one final tournament match against his long-time buddy Dean Ambrose. Reigns dispatched his friend with a Spear to claim the title. His first reign with the belt was short-lived though, as just 5 minutes later, Sheamus was cashing-in his Money in the Bank briefcase to steal the title from Reigns. The feud would continue to Tables Ladders and Chairs, where Reigns was once again robbed of victory by interference from The League of Nations. After the match, Reigns snapped, completely destroying Triple H at ringside. Reigns’ actions earned him the wrath of Vince McMahon the next night on Raw, who awarded him a title rematch with the caveat that if Reigns lost, he would be fired.
The Match: This was some of the most masterful storytelling the WWE has produced in a long time. All through the show, the creative had one aim: Get Roman Reigns over. That’s nothing new, as that has seemingly been the WWE’s main priority for the past three years. The difference is that for the first time since the Sheild, it actually worked. The match itself continued in this fashion. Sheamus was every bit the snarling, arrogant heel; Reigns the all-conquering badass. Having Mr McMhaon himself involved in the match made it feel even more special.
Why it was significant: Towards the back end of 2015, the WWE’s main-event roster looked to be completely decimated. WWE Champion Seth Rollins was put out for 6-9 months and forced to vacate the title, being added to the growing long-term injury list that already featured the likes of Daniel Bryan, randy Orton and Cesaro. The Undertaker and Brock Lesnar had both used up all their dates their part-time contracts obligate. Even the ever-present John Cena had decided to take some long-overdue time off. So the fact that, in spite of all these roster casualties, Sheamus and Reigns were able to carry out their program at the top of the card to such a surprising effect is a real testament to the competitors. Who would have thought back in January that the same Philadelphia crowd that booed Roman Reigns out of the building at the Royal Rumble, would be giving him a standing ovation 12 months later?
Jackson Ball – Follow me on Twitter and LinkedIn