I have just spotted that it is that time of year that everyone and their dog seems to be making lists of 2015 stuff. For this reason, I thought that I would jump on this bandwagon and make a list of the top 10 most important matches staged by WWE programming, if only to make a point of the fact that far more happened during 2015 than pushing Roman Reigns. Also, remember that this is not a list of the best matches, before I’m crucified for leaving out some of the year’s most acclaimed moments.
1. ROYAL RUMBLE 2015 (25/01/15)
This pay-per-view might have been home to the revered Lesnar vs Rollins vs Cena Triple Threat, but that’s not all there is to say about Royal Rumble 2015. Unfortunately. Nobody really wants to talk about this match, but of course it will go down in history as one of the most important miserable disasters in WWE booking history. Ever since he broke the elimination record at Royal Rumble 2014, fans had suspected that the winner the following year would be Roman Reigns. At the time, nobody seemed very upset about it either. Firstly because he was yet to have big matches on is own as The Shield were still together, and secondly there was the sense of relief at the time of the idea of a new era and someone to topple to unstoppable John Cena.
Then things got worse, and worse. First The Shield’s split exposed Reigns as an inferior solo talent. Then he was out of action due to injury, leading to the placeholder feud between Rollins and Ambrose, which accidentally led to hope of them being the Austin and Rock figures of something new. It’s safe to guess that Ambrose got far more support in this feud than WWE had wanted. To top things off, with the return of Reigns, a lot of events that were clearly lined up for him (such as Ziggler’s great showing at Survivor Series) were brushed aside as though they had never happened. Or rather things resumed as though he really had been in Ziggler and Ambrose’s spots.
This of course meant that he didn’t get the gradual climb that he needed to get there, and his Royal Rumble 2015 victory stuck out like a sore thumb, as it wasn’t a decent fight that had a good showing from many people. It was 29 men losing for the benefit of one man – the least popular A-lister in the company. And that’s before we even get to Bryan’s early elimination, and The Rock’s appearance.
Whereas there was a mild dislike for Reigns before, it had now become an intense hatred that only on few occasions all year, went away.
2. BAYLEY vs SASHA BANKS vs CHARLOTTE vs BECKY LYNCH (NXT TakeOver: Rival, 11/02/15)
Michael Cole can ponder all he wants about who started the Diva Revolution, although fans would rather he didn’t. While there were some great women’s matches spattered around beforehand, as far as I’m concerned, this was where it began. When NXT TakeOver: R-Evolution took place in 2014, it was acclaimed, and the developmental territory’s Adrian Neville vs Sami Zayn snatched the Match of the Year titles from everything by the main roster. Subsequently, TakeOver: Rival had a much bigger audience. While it may have been Owens vs Zayn that drew the crowd, it was the women who stole the show.
As the main roster continued to have three-minute matches with little more than slaps and hair-pulling, all four women, later named the Four Horsewomen of NXT, really shone through each other. Also, with the heel of the Women’s Division being the champion, the singles matches from there on seemed far more important as the other Horsewomen tried to take Sasha Banks down. This of course led to some more incredible women’s matches and set the ball rolling for better or for worse, the main roster turning more attention towards the talented women. In fact, it was good enough that I even almost forgave WWE for Becky’s Irish jig rock chick gimmick at the time. Almost.
3. BROCK LESNAR vs ROMAN REIGNS… vs SETH ROLLINS (Wrestlemania 31, 29/03/15)
After the Royal Rumble 2015, this was a match that wasn’t especially looked forward to. However, Reigns was convincingly squashed, yet Lesnar was driven to be more purple than ever. Beneath the demonic red glow of the light, with every suplex delivered to Reigns, he smirked, and Lesnar was increasingly hacked off.
And then of course, Seth Rollins cashed in his Money in the Bank contract, mid-way into the match, turning the final two minutes into a Triple Threat match. It was an ingenious choice, as in choosing for Rollins to cover Reigns shaped all combatants, as they should be. Lesnar remained the Beast Incarnate, as it took two men to beat him, and he wasn’t even the man pinned. Rollins finally came across as an ingenious heel rather than a whining cheater. As for Reigns, he was subjected to the most violent match of career as of yet, finally deviating from the ‘moves of doom’ approach in matches.
While Rollins presumably got more support that WWE had hoped (what with fans being happy about Rollins win, rather that disappointed that the title was snatched from Reigns), but nonetheless this set the ball rolling for Reigns and Rollins like nothing had before.
4. JOHN CENA vs SAMI ZAYN (Raw, 04/05/15)
The US Championship Open Challenge was a fantastic idea by WWE, and one of the most intriguing bookings all year – functioning as proof that the John Cena that many people were bored by, was a booking choice, and that he was more than capable of great matches, week after week after week. The majority of the matches were brilliant, with special mention going to Neville, Dean Ambrose, and in particular the amazing twenty and thirty-minute clinic matches against Cesaro.
However, the most important of all was the spectacular main roster debut of Sami Zayn, introduced by Bret Hart for a homecoming match in Montreal. It was a definitive match of the months that the Open Challenge ran, and showed the quality of the matches, as in spite of Cena being the victory, the audience was happy to applaud him.
Unfortunately, this is not the only reason for which this match was noteworthy, as Sami Zayn battled for twenty minutes through an injury to his shoulder (of all times, during his entrace, en route to the ring), which put him out of action for six months, which for better or for worse threw a spanner in the works of NXT programming..
5. JOHN CENA vs KEVIN OWENS (Elimination Chamber, 31/05/15)
After weeks of great Open Challenge matches by John Cena and those who wanted to come get some, Kevin Owens was introduced to the main roster whilst being NXT Champion, drawing yet more attention to the developmental territory. In fact enough so that Kevin Owens’ match against Cena wouldn’t take place until the following main roster pay-per-view. It might have been one of, if not the best match that Cena took part in during his US Championship reign, but there was one thing particularly special about this one.
Kevin Owens, on his first ever match in the main roster, having not yet even truly graduated from NXT, actually won. NXT has not since left as big a mark on the main roster. Even though Owens would go on to lose his following two pay-per-view matches against Cena, he is at least now the Intercontinental Champion, and being the brilliant, dangerous and hilariously whiney heel in a feud with babyface Ambrose, this might just have been the spark of great things in the future.
6. FINN BALOR vs KEVIN OWENS (The Beast in the East, 04/07/15)
Arguably, several of the matches that took place at The Beast in the East could be listed here (for example Chris Jericho vs Neville), as the event in itself was very important, and not something that WWE have ever attempted before – accommodating hardcore wrestling fans on the WWE Network (only $9.99 if Cole is to be believed). Not only were the matches great (besides the disappointing match that gave the event its title Brock Lesnar vs Kofi Kingston), but they were approached entirely differently by commentary and the atmosphere as a whole. I was pretty flabbergasted to hear Michael Cole call moves as he did, let alone mention how Finn Balor was referred to as ‘Prince Devitt’ during his run at Japanese promotions. It’s no wonder that online comments pondered over whether Vince McMahon and producer Kevin Dunn had any connection to this event at all.
As for the match, in a similar vein to the overlapping of the past few weeks with Owens and Cena bickering, this was the first time that an NXT title had changed hands outside of an NXT event. Owens was a brilliant heel, as he milked some great reactions from the traditionally quiet Japanese crowd, in the most intimate venue that WWE had broadcast from in a long time.
7. JOHN CENA vs SETH ROLLINS (Summerslam, 23/08/15)
This match was an unusual one, because it was absolutely brilliant, and yet the ending is what will forever be spoken about. It might have been groaned about even more weren’t the Lesnar/Undertaker headlining match ended so poorly as well. It was on this night that I learned not to moan so much about all the distraction roll-ups and being pulled out of the ring by valets on Raw, when things could have been worse. Jon Stewart could have come along and sneakily interrupted Cena’s seemingly inevitable three count by giving the heel a chair when the referee wasn’t looking…
Whatever one has to say about this match though, this was the moment that Seth Rollins became both United States and World Heavyweight Champion, setting into motion more power for him than ever before, being in feuds with both Cena and Sting at once, and going to show why so many fans really wished he were the main face of the company. Who knows? It might have to happen when he returns to roaring applause next year.
8. SASHA BANKS vs BAYLEY (NXT TakeOver: Respect, 07/10/15)
This was a terrific network event and a very bold statement, whether it be to try new things, or just shut the online wrestling fans up for a while. It went out of its way to give focus to all other divisions besides the singles, with three tag team matches in a brilliant tournament for the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic. In fact, the two singles matches besides the headlining event were given special distinction too, as the debut of the brilliant Asuka, and farewell to NXT for Tyler Breeze. However, the main event snatched much more of the attention, and rightfully so. Not long ago, who would have thought that a WWE event would ever be headlined by a women’s Iron Man match?
And what an incredible match it was too, one that I prefer to their massive match in a sold out Madison Square Garden. It told a tale like matches do so rarely, and using just about everything they could on premises to make the event memorable. Banks in particular was a great megabitch as always, as Bayley was thrown into the entrance screen, and taunted Bayley’s young superfan Izzy into crying. Bayley’s desperate clamber to victory was a clinic in how underdogs in matches should work.
Not only was it great, and showed off just what the women were capable of, but it brought closure to the NXT Four Horsewomen angle, with Bayley being the only member left behind. One can only hope that the eventual arrival of Bayley in the main roster will be exploited well and make a big deal of ‘Banks vs Bayley III’, although the chances are slim. Still, NXT haven’t just shrugged off the Women’s Division, as shown at NXT TakeOver: London, where the secondary women’s match, Asuka vs Emma, may well have stolen the show.
9. BROCK LESNAR vs THE UNDERTAKER (Hell in a Cell, 25/10/15)
This match was billed heavily by WWE as ‘The Final Chapter’, and they would have to go through a lot of effort to make fans believe it, especially if The Undertaker was to lose. It needed degrees of brutality as of yet unseen between these two, especially after it felt that all weapon spots had been stolen with chairs and tables by Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns in their Hell in a Cell match earlier that night. Considering just how few times The Undertaker was on premises, to make it feel like the end of a feud meant this really had to feel like a finale.
And in creating a blood spattered mess, and a quite literally torn up ring, these two actually managed it. After all, where better for Taker’s closure with Brock Lesnar than Hell in a Cell? It was booked well, and if the following weeks feuding with Bray Wyatt and family had been booked to better effect, it might have been even more important. It’s just a pity, that that didn’t turn out to be the case
10. ROMAN REIGNS vs SHEAMUS (Raw, 14/12/15)
What a difference a year can make. Whether this can be attributed to the match itself or not, or whether I am just discussing how good a mood that the Philadelphia crowd were in that day, this marked a dream closure in the eyes of the WWE, especially considering the aforementioned hatred for Reigns all year long. On this night he got some massive support after winning the World Heavyweight Championship on Raw. There is no denying that while Reigns matches can be disappointingly repetitive at times, but there is no doubt that he has massively improved over the course of the year. It might have taken a year longer than WWE had expected, but Reigns really is starting to get the support desired – whether you like it or not.
This roaring applause from the same venue that had put him down so hard at the Royal Rumble at the beginning of the year had now been won over. That is of course not to say that all is well and good, as just a couple of weeks beforehand, Reigns won the championship for the first time, to masses of confetti as though it was the most important thing ever, and there was little to no upset when Sheamus cashed in his Money in the Bank contract. Who knows what the following weeks, let alone the rest of 2016 might bring for him and the rest of the roster? What happens when Seth Rollins returns? Also, for all we know, we could be one poorly booked Royal Rumble 2016 away from being back at square one.