Wrestling in the 2000s was a new era in wrestling where the World Wrestling Federation bought their competition WCW and ECW, changed their name to “World Wrestling Entertainment,” and the Attitude era ended so soon. This was a really up and down time in wrestling where new faces can never be as good as the old stars of Attitude (mainly blame Cena, Orton, Batista) and many of those wrestling fans stopped watching wrestling all together because of bad storytelling, predictable outcomes seen in so many matches, and backstage politics destroying the inevitable throughout the decade. Hell if the resurrection of ECW even made old ECW fans turn away from wrestling it should tell you how much wrestling has fallen having nothing but WWE and no real competition. But on the plus side, we did had old faces of yesteryear giving their best matches in this decade with Shawn Michaels having the best comeback of any wrestler, Undertaker back as the deadman, and Kurt Angle having the best matches of the decade. Mainly those three individuals saved this decade of wrestling from being so awful. While WCW and ECW has faced their demise, new wrestling companies rose to be number 2 wrestling organizations in America like Total Nonstop Action Wrestling and Ring of Honor offering new faces and show the world a brand new style of indie wrestling. Stuff like TNA’s X-Division and ROH’s code made us appreciate in-ring work more than storytelling, which is missing in wrestling today. I have a lot of mixed feeling about this decade of wrestling, but I must say that 2002-2003, or the Ruthless Aggression era, was the best era since Attitude and quite possibly the last good wrestling era.
Number 10. – Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Triple H – 3 Stages of Hell – No Way Out 2001
For a debuting stipulation match (3 matches into 1) was the perfect way to culminate a long time fierce rivalry. Stone Cold was born for kick ass matches like this one and he hasn’t had a match this good since Wrestlemania 13 with Bret Hart. Part of No Way Out 2001 being way better than Wrestlemania 17 is match quality like this one. This match type is suitable for a feud like this one considering that HHH is always interfering Austin’s matches and given him attempted murder. One month prior to the denouement of Stone Cold as the world most knew him, Austin was set to conclude his war with the man who masterminded a vehicular attempt on his life in 1999. Austin paid him back a year later by dropping Helmsley, inside a car, from an elevated crane, which should have been a fatal landing. The Attitude Era was a barbaric time. This match was the birth of Three Stages of Hell, a two out of three falls match with normal rules applying for fall one, no DQ in the second, and the third inside a cage. The intensity level matched two men who attempted murder on each other, and Helmsley narrowly won after 40 minutes of brutality. Part of what makes this match so damn memorable is the finish of the match. After Triple H and Austin simultaneously hit each other with a sledgehammer and 4×4 barbwire, Austin fell first and then HHH landed on Austin and won the freaking match. It was the biggest surprise because we all thought that the 2001 Royal Rumble winner was going to win this match, that was simply unpredictable.
Number 9. – Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels – Wrestlemania 21
This match’s story was really well-told and the build up was insane! Angle is facing his least favorite wrestler. He was angered at the fact that Shawn eliminated him at the Royal Rumble 2005 match and made it personal by revealing his secret hatred. The build up got really personal when he claims that on the day that Kurt Angle won his Olympic Gold Metal in 1996, everybody was talking about Shawn beating Bret in Wrestlemania 12 instead of his victory. Shawn Michaels versus Kurt Angle was nothing more than a fantasy match-up for a number of years. It started out with a pure mat-wrestling, which was a surprise because HBK never done this before, but he kept up Angle’s pace perfectly! Then the two start to show their grudges against each other by making this match more physical and violent. A slow build to fiery end as the two technicians give fans everything, and that’s what storytelling really means in the wrestling world. I still remember Kurt tried so desperately to German Suplex Shawn to the announcer’s table, but after HBK knock back Kurt to lie on the table, Shawn applied a moonsault from the apron to the table. That was one of the most insane moments of the entire match. From submission holds to high-flying action to an breathtaking ending that saw both men receive standing ovations. Angle hits the Angle Slam off the top rope, HBK hits Sweet Chin Music, then after kicking out at two, nothing could put either man down. That is until, Angle applied his final the ankle lock, that really damaged HBK’s leg. After a fierce fight, Michaels taps. This is Shawn Michael’s fourth best Wrestlemania match and it is hands down Kurt Angle’s best Wrestelmania match ever! This was a Dream Match that had been discussed for years amongst hardcore wrestling fans. Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels were at their best and the fans began demanding to see this great match. The build, the anticipation, and the payoff couldn’t have been better.
Number 8. – Kurt Angle & Chris Benoit vs. Rey Mysterio & Edge – No Mercy 2002
Each of these four men are legends in their own right, but easily this tag team match is not only their best match of the decade, but quite possibly the best tag team match of all time! Not once was there a cheap interference or tactic seen in nearly every tag team match; it was all athleticism, high flying, and pure teamwork that reached wrestling perfection. Around the time the Smackdown brand separated from the Raw brand, dividing WWE into two, Smackdown needed their tag team champions calling it the WWE Tag Team Championship (Raw had World Tag Team Championship). Part of this match’s importance is that it is the first WWE Tag Team Championship match. Before these teams were qualified to wrestle for the debuting belts, they had to beat other wrestlers in the tournament on Smackdown; making this match the semi-final. It’s sad to see that this belt didn’t have much credibility long term because the direction that this Tag Team division was going was somewhere where the 80’s Tag Team division used to be at. Now, tag team wrestling is just a throw away mid-card attraction that audiences doesn’t approach for main event material. This one however is main event material for a tag team match. For two tag teams that have different styles of wrestling, but tons of chemistry was hands down the most exciting thing that has ever happened. Not once did this match slowed momentum, it was just the tag team match that not only I wanted to see, but sadly would probably never see again. Both teams were so masterful in this match that they don’t even need fancy team names to make them stand out. Left and right, you’re watching something North American audiences never seen before and we couldn’t just settle down with all the excitement going on. Hell, if you made the submission rest-holds exciting, you know you’ve done a damn good job in putting the audience in the edge of their seats. It had great storytelling and in-ring work working hand-to-hand. I miss Smackdown from 2002-2003 because it was the best time in wrestling since the Attitude era. And what else made this match even more memorable is that the winners of the debuting belts were the heel team of Angle and Benoit; even proving my point that Kurt Angle is my wrestler of the 2000s decade. All four of these men had more memorable matches after this tag team and they all became bigger stars years later, but I still say Angle/Benoit vs Edge/Mysterio was their best matches in all of their resumes. No Mercy 2002 was a memorable PPV (With the Hell in the Cell between Undertaker-Lesnar, horrible Kane-HHH, and more) but this Tag Team match stole the whole show and proved to everyone that Tag Team is still relevant in modern wrestling!
Number 7. – Triple H vs HBK vs. RVD vs. Jericho vs. Kane vs. Booker T
– Elimination Chamber – Survivor Series 2002
Turns out that sometimes, you just can’t beat an original. The first, and greatest ever, Elimination Chamber match saw Shawn Michaels cap a remarkable in-ring comeback by capturing his first World Heavyweight Championship. As well as the feel-good ending, the match was packed full of action from start to finish. Triple H and Rob Van Dam began the proceedings, and ‘The Whole F’N Show’ was the first man eliminated after injuring himself performing a breathtaking 5-Star Frog Splash to Triple H from the top of one of the chamber pods, making RVD easy pickings for Booker T. Everything that has been seen in this Elimination Chamber has been repeated in future Elimination Chambers which is why this one sticks out the most. Crashing through the windows, jumping off from the top of the Chamber, running into the chains, and more, the first one was a true innovator. The five-time WCW Champion was the next to go before it took Sweet Chin Music, a Pedigree and a Lionsault to put Kane down for the count. The final two came down to old friends turned bitter enemies Triple H and Shawn Michaels, which added extra emotion to the finishing sequence. The most personal feud of 2002 had every fan on their feet willing ‘The Showstopper’ on to an unlikely victory in only his second match out of retirement. After almost 10 thrilling minutes, HBK hit Sweet Chin Music for the decisive victory. The greatest Elimination Chamber of all time also benefits from being the first, as the audience were experiencing something completely new. However, that doesn’t change the fact that the match was full of action, near-falls and drama, topped off perfectly when prodigal son Shawn Michaels returned to become world champion for the first time in over four years.
Triple H may have been out of his element compared to the sadistic Cactus Jack, but it never takes the “Cerebral Assassin” long to adapt. Triple H, while bloodied, managed to stay in control as the match entered it’s final moments. He back -dropped Foley on the very tacks he poured in the ring then delivered the Pedigree, but to his shock Cactus Jack was not finished. He kicked out at two! Jack got up and charged “The Game” again, but got kicked in the gut and ate another Pedigree right in the same pile of tax for the finish. It was certainly their best match together and was some of the best brutal matches since Bret vs. Austin from the early days of Attitude.
Number 6. – AJ Styles vs. Petey Williams vs. Chris Sabin
– Ultimate X – Final Resolution’ 05
Often touted as the greatest Ultimate X match for the X Division Championship (that sounds oddly specific, but you’ll understand later) is clearly deserved! The fact that it is still worthy of a placing is testament to the incredible ability of all three men involved, but it could have been so much better had they managed to nail that final spot. After tearing one another apart with lightning-fast, high-flying offense, Williams, Styles and Sabin found themselves closer and closer to pulling down the X Division belt from its elaborate perch. Considering it’s a match where there is no ladders to ascend to remove the belt from the X, it was expected to have a lot of falls and bumps, but AJ Styles certainly got the worst bumps out of the three. Chants of “TNA” and “Holy Sh*t” begin. I love everything in this match; even the interference of Petey Williams’s manage Scott D’Moore that got him kicked out of the ring. The finish called for Williams and Sabin to both climb up and simultaneously grab an end of the title, only for Styles to leap from a turnbuckle and snag it from their grasp. It was an ambitious close to the match, maybe overly so, and proved slightly too difficult to pull off. AJ did indeed make the jump, but the belt was allowed to fall to the canvas. Styles covered by hurriedly pouncing on top of the belt to win the match for a creative victory. This match is what TNA was supposed to be about and why the X Division use to be the best part of the whole company.
Number 5. – Triple H vs. Cactus Jack – Royal Rumble 2000
Going all the way back to the beginning of the 2000s, the writers and bookers remembers how great Cactus Jack and Triple H’s match on Raw was so they had to reach perfection. At the time when they had their rematch, Triple H married Stephanie McMahon and owned the WWF in the McMahon-Helmsley Era putting all wrestlers like The Rock and Mankind down. Triple H was unstoppable until Mick Foley brought back Hunter’s worst nightmare back to haunt him. Once more, Cactus Jack’s return got fans to see this rematch at Royal Rumble 2000. It was certainly better than all of their matches together where the brutal fight between HHH & Jack were more balanced and violent. This time around, it was just one-on-one (no Chyna involved) and they had to do everything to keep each other down. It would take a lot more for Cactus to go down that easily where they’ve We got one of the classic matches of the last decade, with a level of brutality rarely seen in a WWF ring. It cemented Hunter as a real star, and gave Foley one hell of a final great match to go out on (at the time). Foley brought out the barbed wire baseball bat, mallets, steel chairs, and more.
Number 4. – Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H – Street Fight – Summerslam 2002
What we have here is the greatest comeback match of all time. Since his retirement after Wrestlemania 14, we began to miss him wrestle in the ring after being commissioner and special guest referee in many matches. We all thought his time was short lived and having him coming back wouldn’t be as good as his glory days, but we were proven wrong. Despite the fact that the story behind this match is a bit over the top, the physicality and storytelling throughout the match was incredibly well told. Since he returned from a back injury, he sold it incredibly well acting as a plot point to steal the audience’s sympathy. As Triple H brutally beats HBK down, it really looks that painful and fooled all of us that he shouldn’t come back. But after he got back on his feet, Shawn proved us wrong and still got it, probably more so. Considering that this is a street fight, it was unbelievable that he was able to use weapons such as a ladder and a table to his advantage. With a combination of his realistic selling and bold athleticism, Michaels proved to be as peerless in 2002 as he was when he first ended his career. The success of the match eventually led to a full-time Michaels return, and helped make up the body of this listing. Standing alone, it was an inspirational performance in an era of car-wreck matches and plastic story-telling.
Number 3. – Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar – Iron Man Match
Smackdown Sep. 18, 2003
From 2000 – 2003 Smackdown was the best weekly wrestling program of all time! The focus of finishing the Attitude Era to the Ruthless Aggression Era was one of the best things that WWE has ever done. I can easily say that the best episode of any wrestling show has got to be Smackdown episode 213, Sep. 18, 2003. Every match on that card was better than any thing that Raw or any other WWE PPV has ever provided, you should watch it on the WWE Network. But we all remembered that night for the best Iron Man match ever, even better than Shawn Michaels & Bret Hart at Wrestlemania XII.
The story going into it was that the babyface Angle had won back the WWE Title at Vengeance in July and at SummerSlam he beat Lesnar clean to retain his title. Lesnar had turned heel while aligning himself with WWE Chairman Vince McMahon. All of that led to one final Lesnar/Angle match, this time as a one hour Ironman Match that would take place on Smackdown. The match was outstanding. That’s what I love about it. I think when you’re out there for an hour you have to make sure you pace yourself well and book the match in a way that keeps the crowd interested the entire time. I know a lot of fans think Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart at WrestleMania 12 is the best Ironman match ever, but I don’t necessarily. I think it could have been booked in a better. This one was booked in a more intelligent manner. What I also loved was that they incorporated all of the things that made their other matches special. All of the matches built up to this one. It would be awesome if WWE could release a DVD with all of their matches on it and to hear them talk about how they did this one because the insight would be amazing. That would incredible, but as long as Angle is out of WWE it’s not going to happen.
Lesnar jumped out to an early lead as the aggressive heel. That’s the smart way because babyfaces are better when they’re fighting from underneath (or in this case with the disadvantage). I loved the spot early on when Lesnar intentionally disqualified himself and then he hit the F5 soon after to tie it up 1-1. With Angle weakened, Lesnar went up 3-1 soon after with one of the falls happening after making Angle tap out to his own Ankle Lock. Smart booking! I love that. It’s perfect heel behavior. Lesnar led 5-2 for much of the match. The question was about whether Angle could come back.The final three minutes were intense with Angle down 5-4 and trying everything he could to come back. Angle eventually applied the Ankle Lock again with about 15 seconds left. Lesnar was close to tapping out, but he withstood the pain and held on left the match with the WWE Title. If this match was held at a major show like WrestleMania most fans would rate it as one of the best matches ever. I don’t think the venue or the show should hurt the quality of the match. It stands on its own as the best of Lesnar’s career.
Number 2. – Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker – Wrestlemania 25
This is without question, the best Wrestlemania match ever! We’re talking about Undertaker who started to get really good when he started taking on Championship matches with Edge and Batista and trying to beat the streak became more important than any wrestling championship. And we’re also talking about Shawn Michaels who had a fantastic comeback making some of the most memorable Wrestlemania moments and matches since his return like facing guys like Jericho, HHH & Benoit, Kurt Angle, Vince McMahon, and retiring Ric Flair. These two couldn’t face off at a better time. These two came from the Hogan-era, the new generation, attitude era, the brand extension, and the PG-era and were still standing strong to show why these legends are as good as it is told. And what we got here is of the greatest and most magical experiences a wrestling fan ever had in their lives. And from their contrasting Heaven and Hell entrances to the climactic ending, everything about HBK/Taker was just magic. As I watched the match progress, my excitement, suspense and disbelief grew as I witnessed two legends wage war in that very ring. It was wonderful to see both of them do their signature moves that was never done better. On one spring night on April 5th, 2009 in the Reliant Astrodome, Michaels and Undertaker created something special: a match that perhaps no one could ever come close to. It was a match that truly defined what modern wrestlers should strive for and it’s a real privilege to see the best that professional wrestling had to offer! These are the two that were the masters of in-ring storytelling, in-ring work, and controlling the audience and because of this match delivered on a very special wrestling match. The feud continued in 3 more Wrestlemanias with the rematch of having Shawn Michaels retired after his second defeat in Wrestlemania 26, Triple H brawling Undertaker in a street fight in Wrestlemania 27, to “An End of An Era” facing off in Hell in a Cell at Wrestlemania 28 against Triple H with Shawn Michaels as the special guest referee. Each of those matches were the best match of those shows, but where it all started remains the best! The Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels match at Wrestlemania 25 still remains the not only the best wrestling match of all time, but it’s one of life’s true delights!
Number 1. – AJ Styles vs. Christopher Daniels vs. Samoa Joe – TNA Unbreakable
There’s something that these other three individual did that given me a memorable wrestling experience in the 2000s than any other wrestlers in the industry. TNA Wrestling did a lot of garbage seen from WCW and just shoves Jeff Jarret down our throats, but at least the X-Division made us comeback and enjoy every single moment of it. And quite frankly, AJ Styles, Daniels, and Joe are the best wrestlers that has ever been in the X-Division. What’s interesting about the night of TNA Unbreakable is that this was the PPV before TNA’s “Wrestlemania” called Bound for Glory, Unbreakable still remains it’s own single PPV, and this PPV was miles better than what was supposed to be TNA’s “wrestlemania.” The whole card was so good and to end the nigh perfectly was to have each of these men fight for the X-Division title. There was that one point in time where the X-Division was more important than any title in TNA Wrestling and this match shows why. Here we got three men with the best credibility to end the TNA Unbreakable PPV. AJ Styles was being pushed as their number 1 guy already the triple crown winner, held all the belts in TNA. Christopher Daniels (X-Division champ at the time) broke the record of being the longest reigning X-Division Champion. And Samoa Joe was undefeated, wiping all of his opponents to reach his moment in the X-Division. Having all that background going to this match made it a must see match and it gave all of us more than we all expected. Just when you though that Shawn Michaels-HHH-Benoit match at Wrestlemania XX was the best Triple Threat match of all time, TNA completely one up that! Nothing was stopping either men from loosing this match and it kept giving the viewers more and more moves we both never seen before and seen before but done better than ever! I was in complete awe when I first saw this match and I said to myself, “This is the best match I’ve ever seen in my life…” The storytelling, the strategy, the surprises, the cleanness, the high flying, the athleticism, and the choreograph, it was simply the best experience that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching in this whole wrestling medium. We all thought that Samoa Joe was going to win this match, but the biggest surprise was AJ Style pinned Christopher Daniels and stole everyone’s hearts as the audience roared and cheered. It was a huge surprise to see AJ once again close the show when we all thought Joe was going to do the job. If it’s not Kurt Angle, then AJ Style would have been my pick of the best wrestler of the 2000’s decade. I’ve seen this match and Unbreakable PPV again and again and the appeal of this match/show never worn out. It still remains one of my personal favorite match ever. It’s a match that everyone, wrestling fans or not, deserves to see and understand why no matter how bad wrestling gets sometimes, there’s still a reason why we still watch this form of entertainment and storytelling.