There was so much good pro wrestling in 2015. Almost too much.
To get it out of the way before the list starts, we’re calling it the 10 best pro wrestling matches of 2015, but it’s more accurately my favorite matches of the year. The ones I think were the best. There’s no shortage of words to explain why the matches that made the cut made it, but know that if you don’t see your favorite match here, it was #12. Or I forgot it, because so much happened. Or I don’t like Billy Gunn as much as you, weirdo.
Also, to keep the list a little more accessible, I stuck to the promotions that you’d be able to see on TV or pay-per-view. As a guy who runs a wrestling portal on an entertainment network, that’s the stuff I watch the most. If your favorite match is missing, though, be sure to drop down into the comments section and let us know what it is. Share the prowres love with everyone.
So, as promised, here are my choices for the 10 best pro wrestling matches of 2015.
10. NXT Women’s Championship Match: Sasha Banks (c) vs. Becky Lynch
NXT TakeOver: Unstoppable
May 20, 2015
To say it was a good year for Sasha Banks would be an understatement. Not only is she currently being turned into a folk hero underdog due to otherwise unexplainable inactivity on the WWE main roster, but her far-too-brief six-month reign as NXT Women’s Champion turned out classics on the reg. This spot could’ve just as easily gone to the February title win at NXT TakeOver: Rival.
From the Best and Worst of Unstoppable:
The disconnect between women’s wrestling in WWE and women’s wrestling on NXT is so absurd, but it’s been that way for a long time now. I’m pretty OK with it, as long as NXT continues to be a thing that exists, and Sasha Banks sticks around in developmental long enough for NXT to officially become its own brand and stop being a thing people get “called up” from.
The story, obviously, is the quest for submissions. Becky breaks arms for a living now and has gotten one-ups on Sasha in the past by snatching her in quick arm bars, so that’s her plan. She almost gets Sasha early, leading to one of those wonderful moments where Sasha is a fragile, vulnerable soul trapped in the body of a Boss. Notice how Sasha always looks worried? It’s because she’s basically fighting Captain Marvel.
She’s also smart, so she does her homework. She knows what Becky’s gonna do, so she works her arm. It’s an insult. It’s an “anything you can do, I can do better.” It also ties into the finish, thank God, with Sasha hitting that rad Alberto Del Rio armbreaker off the top rope and floating over into the Bossface. The submission doesn’t have anything to do with the arm, but the setup to it did, and it’s believable that Becky would be in so much arm pain that she’d be more willing to give up, or that she’d lose an option for escaping.
Just great, great stuff all around. Becky having the crowd chant her entrance theme after the match was a great moment, too. I’m glad we got a hug between the performer and her audience instead of the Show Of Respect they do a little too much.
Bayley ended up getting that spot I wanted for Sasha, but I’m okay with that. Looking back, it’s sad that this match (and to a lesser degree, that fatal four-way at Rival) are the only times Becky Lynch has ever really been asked to be as good as Becky Lynch can be. The crowd is SO READY to sing her entrance theme, all you’ve got to do is say, “okay, we’re gonna let her do her thing now, enjoy.”
If I told you this isn’t the only time Sasha shows up in my top 10, would you be shocked? Spoiler alert: The other ones involve a lot more crying, and I’m fine with that, too.
9. John Cena vs. Kevin Owens
WWE Elimination Chamber
May 31, 2015
Remember that one night where it felt like anything was possible?
Sami Zayn blew out his shoulder trying to make an impact on Raw, so his shithead Canadian rival stepped in and challenged Unbeatable Divisive Wrestling Monster John Cena to a champion vs. champion match on a pay-per-view turned “live special” they decided to do on a whim. It was the most unlikely thing we’d seen in years, quickly topped by the followthrough.
From the Best and Worst of Elimination Chamber:
Hey, remember that time Kevin Steen pinned John Cena clean on a WWE pay-per-view?
I don’t even know how to approach this beyond, “this happened.” WWE’s interest in John Cena as an “event” wrestler who isn’t really a professional wrestler but is more a conversation about the expectations of wins and losses is fascinating. “Kevin Owens beats his ass and pins him clean” is one of those predictions you make when you’re saying what you want to happen, but you never actually consider it. You think there’s gonna be a DQ or a double-countout or something, or maybe Sami Zayn or Samoa Joe or whoever will run out and cause a distraction, or (worst case scenario) Cena beats his ass and pins him clean. It’s not pessimism, really, it’s playing the odds. It’s expecting the expected. “CENA WINS LOL” is a meme, but Cena really does win all the damn time. If he loses, he wins three to make up for it. See Bray Wyatt or Rusev.
Owens is a different conversation. He’s a bunch of them. He’s an awful one about how wrestlers are supposed to look, and what they’re supposed to wear. He’s wrestling a guy in sneakers and jorts, but you’ll still read people ragging on him for wrestling in a Fat Shirt. We do that to people like Rey Mysterio or Tommy Dreamer all the time. It happens. Wrestling fans are judgmental jerks who want things to change, but react in abject horror when what they’re used to goes away. Even if they don’t like what they’re used to. If Cena wins for 10 years and it’s the worst but he selflessly loses once, the story becomes “Cena is great for doing that,” not “thank God Cena lost.” “Thank God Cena lost” will get you called names. People will accuse you of having an agenda. It’s SUPER WEIRD. And again, I say this as someone who totally does it too. I’m right there with you.
Outside of the conversations, this was just a great WWE-style match. You know the one, where there’s fun character stuff at the beginning but eventually it turns into a ton of finishers, finisher reversals and unexpected kickouts. Everybody’s kicking out of the AA now. It’s what WWE does well, and it works. Watching Owens in this environment is great, because he looks, sounds and wrestles like such an anomaly. He doesn’t do anything like he’s “supposed to,” so it feels rougher. Newer. Fresher. It’s not, really. It’s the same stuff that’s been working forever, it’s just the right kind of dude in the right kind of place and the right kind of anti-chemistry. You can take the story wherever you want in your head and have it represent the indies vs. the evil corporation or whatever, but it’s just different. In WWE, at least right now, different is the thing we need most.
God bless him, he just powerbombed John Cena and pinned him.
The match was so good, it made a guy eat dog food. It would be higher on the list if it hadn’t been followed by the inevitable — Cena getting his win back multiple times, each a little more emasculating than the last — which is also a kind of dog food.
That said, Cena’s U.S. Open Challenge gimmick may have always been the same — Cena and whoever have a great match, Cena pops up and wins because John Cena — but it was damn entertaining, and maybe the best and most consistent Cena’s ever been. We miss you, Big Match John. The match with Cesaro is a hard #11 on the (hypothetical) extended list, and only missed the top 10 because thinking about Cesaro right now would put me in a sadness coma.
8. “One Night, One Fight” For The Lucha Underground Championship: Prince Puma (c) vs. Johnny Mundo
June 17, 2015
One of the biggest selling points of Lucha Underground is that it created a pro wrestling universe (on television!) where characters have motivation, stories reach conclusions, and everything happens for a reason. “Aztec Warfare” is a great, early example of this, and the moment where the show truly found its identity. They managed to tie every story on the show into one long match, make everyone look good, and make it all make sense. The later version of that was “One Night, One Fight” (or “All Night Long”), which took the Iron Man match concept, turned it into an entire episode and brought together nearly every story and important character moment from its (arguable) season one protagonists, Prince Puma and Johnny Mundo.
I can’t copy everything I wrote in here because, again, it’s an entire episode, but here’s the gist:
And now, a wrestling masterpiece.
The pissing contest between Johnny Mundo and Prince Puma over who’s the best guy at handshakes (or whatever) in Lucha Underground has been building since the first episode. They’ve been friends, enemies, partners, opponents, the works. They’ve bailed each other out and let each other down. Cueto knows that he’s building a No. 1 contender for the championship match at Ultima Lucha, but he isn’t sure who he wants the champion to be … so he decides Prince Puma and Johnny Mundo should face each other, one-on-one, in his new match concept: One Night, One Fight. It’s basically an iron-man match that takes up an entire episode. The man with the most pinfall or submission decisions by the end of the night — no disqualifications, no count-outs, just straight-up decisions — will be the Lucha Underground Champion at the promotion’s biggest show ever.
I’m not sure I can put this above Grave Consequences because I was live for that, and the emotional vibration of it is still in my hands. I can say, however, that Puma/Mundo is probably the best wrestling match the company’s ever featured, and if you only ever watch one episode of this show, you should probably make it this one. It’s only one match, but it accomplishes all of the story beats a normal episode would hit. It’s remarkable.
If you still haven’t watched season one of Lucha Underground, find a place to do that and catch the hell up.
7. G1 Climax Finals – Hiroshi Tanahashi vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
NJPW G1 Climax Finals
August 16, 2015
The reason I have that disclaimer about this list being called “best matches,” but actually being closer to “favorite” is because in a more objective world, there are probably 25 New Japan matches that deserve to be in the top 10. And hell, I didn’t even think 2015 was that good a year.
If you don’t follow New Japan and haven’t gotten into puro because you missed the f*cking memo in like 1992, Shinsuke Nakamura is the coolest motherf*cker on the planet. He’s one of those performers that defies language barriers and weird regional wrestling expectations. If you watch him wrestle and don’t like him, there is legitimately something wrong with your brain. Tanahashi is sort of the John Cena of New Japan, both in that he’s been the top and most reliable performer in the promotion for the past decade, and that he wins a lot. A lot. A lot. The only reason this isn’t my top NJPW match of the year is because of that, and all my pissant irrelevant feelings about how Wrestle Kingdom should be booked. Like John Cena, I take him for granted because I’m jaded and think I know better. (He’s dope.)
From Heiberg’s Best and Worst of the G1 Climax Finals:
You know things are serious when they bring out Masahiro Chono and The Great Muta for commentary.
The final match of G1 Climax 25 pitted A-Block winner Hiroshi Tanahashi against B-Block winner Shinsuke Nakamura in a rematch of the Wrestle Kingdom 8 main-event. Right off the bat, I have to praise Tanahashi for being a genius here. Nakamura suffered an elbow injury during the tournament, so Tanahashi zeroes in on it at the beginning. Then, later in the match, he starts working Nakamura’s knee so he can’t do the Boma Ye without hurting himself. Brilliant. Stuff like that is such a simple way to move a match forward. We get a 30+ minute ordeal here. The late near-falls look like the world is ending.
I’ve noticed that Tanahashi gets pissed off if he’s not decisively winning a match within 10 minutes, and we definitely see that from him. It’s a great match to determine who will main-event Wrestle Kingdom 10. A great, great match. Both men should be very proud of themselves.
6. WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. Roman Reigns (vs. Seth Rollins)
WWE WrestleMania 31
March 29, 2015
WrestleMania 31 was the best WWE (main roster) show of the year, almost in spite of itself. Do you remember how terrible the build was? Do you remember Roman winning the Royal Rumble and getting a reaction so bad even The Rock appearing couldn’t make people happy? Do you remember the six months of conversation about whether or not Brock Lesnar should be champion if he couldn’t work a full schedule, which kinda made wrestling fandom feel like a non-stop focus group? All of it was a pile, and then WrestleMania happened, and we were left like, “oh, wow, okay, that was great.” It was like watching an entire wrestling promotion do a billion dollar magic trick.
From the Best and Worst of Mania:
There’s something special that happens when two pro wrestlers decide to say f*ck it and hit each other for real.
In the span of like a week, this went from a lame duck WrestleMania main-event to one of the most exciting and unpredictable things they’ve ever done. Roman came ready to play, but 100% Healthy Brock Lesnar cannot be defeated by a single, mortal man. That’s the story of the match. Roman Reigns was just trying not to die.
I wanted to write a little bit about that, now that I’m thinking of it. Roman kicked out of three F-5s and I saw some complaints about it, which I understand. Taker didn’t even do that, and “Undertaker At WrestleMania” is supposed to be the strongest character there is. I liked it, though, because of the story it told. It didn’t seem like Roman was just kicking out of everything because he could. It wasn’t a Cena moment. The story has always been that Roman believes in himself and has that gutsy Samoan blood running through his veins, and he’s been told his entire life he can’t do things, so he MUST. So when he gets the shoulder up on the F-5 it reads like “more guts than brains” and a man whose body just will not allow him to quit. He’s not kicking out and reversing it and being crazy strong. He’s just surviving it, because he’s caught somewhere between stupid and brave.
I really, really loved his rush at the end, too. He hits Brock with a Superman Punch and busts him open. Brock starts staggering around the ring all punch drunk, and they cut to this amazing look on Roman’s face where the fact that Brock is wounded and might lose is so shocking even he can’t believe it. Roman took Brock to that impossible to get to place and they’re at the end, so he throws everything he’s got at him: nonstop spears and Superman Punches. They’re his two strongest moves. It’s not that he “doesn’t know how to wrestle,” it’s that he’s f*cking IN THERE and TRYING TO COME OUT ALIVE. He’s got his chance, and he’s gonna throw everything he’s got.
Of course, Brock is too much for him. And then the shit goes down.
That’s before Seth Rollins even showed up, the Curb Stomp went out in a blaze of glory, and the wrestling fates foretold his doom. If only every WrestleMania could end in hot fire. They’re on a two-Mania streak, so keep it up, 32.
5. Iron Man Match For The NXT Women’s Championship: Bayley (c) vs. Sasha Banks
NXT TakeOver: Respect
October 7, 2015
Also known as “the one for Izzy.”
I wrote so much about this, I had to break it down into numbered points, and it remains one of my favorite matches of the year. The final minute is as good as any wrestling anywhere this year, and the only reason it ranks as low as it does is because it admittedly feels like a fan-service sequel to a more important match. Still, I’m a fan, and I appreciate the service.
The best part is that the moments aren’t just fan service or whatever, they tell the story of the match. Sasha’s finish is a crossface. If her hand is injured, she can’t get a grip and lock in the move like she needs. This allows Bayley to stay in the move longer, and increase the drama at the end of the match without making it look ridiculous that Bayley hasn’t tapped. Even better, Sasha sells on offense … she can’t lock in the grip, so she has to grab her wrist with her good hand for the torque. Bayley’s able to counter by gripping the injured hand and bending it back. When Sasha’s able to hit a backcracker in the final moments of the match, Bayley has a full grip of the injured hand … Sasha can’t hit the move like she wants, and Bayley’s able to roll with it, deal with the pain and lock in an armbar WITH THE HAND for the win. Even better, she stomps Sasha in the back of the head while she does it. It all ties together. It’s a story that makes wrestling real. It makes wrestling matter. The actual wrestling, I mean. The stuff they do is supposed to lead to something, not just exist to fill time before they do the cooler moves.
That sounds like a dorky point of view, but it works. Look at the crowd. Listen to them. Read the feedback from almost anyone who watched it. These matches are AMAZING, and not because they did cool stuff on a show WWE told us was important … they used pro f*cking wrestling to make pro wrestling fans feel the way they desperately, absolutely want to feel about pro wrestling. Cool entrances and funny spots and gear psychology are one thing. Pro wrestling working like it’s supposed to is irre-f*cking-placeable.
One more Sasha appearance to go.
4. Triple Threat Match For The WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Brock Lesnar (c) vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins
WWE Royal Rumble 2015
January 25, 2015
I’ve seen this match top a lot of Best Of lists this year, and with good reason. Looking back, we should’ve expected something special, but I don’t think we were looking at it the right way. We were worried about Brock as champion, Cena hadn’t gotten a U.S. title run yet and reasserted himself as a Workhorse, and Seth Rollins was still “Mr. Money in the Bank,” which is more of a burdensome obligation than a push. The stars aligned, everyone came with their PLEASE FORGIVE THE ROYAL RUMBLE ITSELF boots on and stole the show. The best WWE Proper match of the year. Still.
As apathetic as hour one could be and as frustrating as the Rumble match itself would become, the WWE World Heavyweight Championship triplet threat delivered on every level and in every definition of deliver. That shit brought SNAIL MAIL to your HOUSE.
The best part about it (besides Brock winning, which is by default the best part of anything) is that it was so atypical for a big WWE match. It was almost like a Lucha Underground match. They didn’t have a “feeling out process” or wander around making agonized faces for ten minutes to “tell a story,” they just got in the ring and threw bombs and beat the shit out of each other. It was AMAZING. Brock knows German suplexes are Cena’s weakness, so he opens with them. It’s an effective gameplan. Rollins isn’t as incapacitated by them but he’s easier to throw. He keeps turning when he takes them and landing on his shoulder, and at first you think it’s an awkward throw but then you’re like wait a minute, he’s trying to control how he lands to take less damage.
Cena’s offense is 100% special moves. He’s constantly going for the STF and throw Proto Bombs and trying to tell people They Can’t See Him when he should just be dropping elbows and going for covers. It’s the trademark John Cena arrogance. His gameplan is “be John Cena.” Rollins has the one-two punch of jerky outside interference in a no-DQ environment and CRAZY JUMPING, which he uses to put Lesnar through a table and get caught with an F-5 in equally great moments from different ends of the effectiveness spectrum.
In the end, the story is that Brock is not human. We knew that already, but Healthy Brock Lesnar is the most wonderfully overpowered wrestler ever, and the one guy you can buy taking two briefcase shots to the face and shrugging it off. He never seems like he’s mindlessly no-selling stuff to get in his shit … you buy him as a legitimate, nigh-unstoppable beast. You have to throw him in a volcano to beat him. Brock sells it, too. He looks like he’s going to throw up everywhere as he’s walking to the back.
I loved this, and it’s worth checking out the show for. Just jump to an hour in and stop watching when it’s done. Absolutely aces stuff, and I could watch Seth Rollins wrestle Brock Lesnar all day. I want that match at Fast Lane. One-on-one, no-DQ, Brock Lesnar against Seth Rollins and the entire Authority. All of them. I want Stephanie in a mech suit, getting her arms ripped off. I want Jamie Noble getting thrown in the air so high he accidentally drifts off into outer space.
That didn’t happen at Fastlane. But yo, check out Cena with the pop-up powerbomb!
3. IWGP Intercontinental Championship Match: Shinsuke Nakamura (c) vs. Kota Ibushi
NJPW Wrestle Kingdom 9
January 4, 2015
Nak’s entrance crown would’ve put this in a list of the year’s best by itself.
I can’t think of a better match from Japan this year, and it happened four days into it. The fact that Kota Ibushi is out indefinitely is maybe the worst wrestling news of the year in a year way too full with injuries and bad wrestling news.
From our write-up of Wrestle Kingdom:
This match was OFF THE CHARTS. I should probably start by talking about Kota Ibushi, who was VICIOUS here. Up until now, he’s been a nice, clean-cut high-flyer. But his forced absence from the G1 Climax due to a concussion really got under his skin, and ever since November he’s just been saying “Screw you all, I want that title.” He doesn’t have to be mean in character about it, he’s mean in the ring.
And Nakamura… Nakamura’s still the King of Strong Style, man. He makes everything look so effortless, so cool. The story these two were telling was flawless. We’ve all felt like we were owed something greater. Ibushi takes offense that he’s not king of the jungle just yet, and it brings out the best AND worst in him. And it’s irrelevant at the end of the day, because you don’t bring a Phoenix Splash to a SWAGFIGHT. I loved the mutual respect at the end, and I SUPER-LOVED how much Jim Ross got into it. The same voice that called Vince McMahon a son of a bitch just called Kota Ibushi a star. I reiterate: We f*cking made it.
Shorter version: Watch the last, like, three minutes of these highlights and ask yourself why wrestling can’t always be this brutal and great. The answer? Because these are human beings and oh my God stop hitting him in the face like that.
2. NXT Women’s Championship Match: Sasha Banks (c) vs. Bayley
NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn
August 22, 2015
This one’s gonna be long, but it should be: This is the most important match in NXT history. Yeah, I said it.
NXT isn’t afraid to give us perfect moments.
When I explain being a wrestling fan to people, I often say that about 80% of it is garbage. Wrestling is terrible, almost exclusively. It’s regressive, it’s stupid, it’s insulting, it’s embarrassing. We sit through three hours of Raw every week, watching the same bad idea get sewn and reworn, watching the same people distract the same opponents in the same way as last week. Being a wrestling fan is like being Sisyphus, pushing a rock up a hill only for it to roll back down the other side. Sometimes, though, wrestling is great. When wrestling is great — truly, undeniably great — it’s the perfect human artform. It says what nothing else can say, and makes you feel like nothing else can. It takes the love you’ve put into it and funnels it back to you, finally, at long last. Being a wrestling fan is wading through the garbage to get to those moments, because you know they’re coming. You don’t know when, or for how long, but you know they’re there.
Sami Zayn winning the NXT Championship was a perfect moment. It took him 18 months to get there. We watched him earn Cesaro’s respect in a loss, we watched him take his eyes off the prize and lose Championship matches by being too nice. We watched him struggle with his conscience, and the reality that every successful WWE Champion has been a total asshole. The Rock, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Hulk Hogan … they were all basically heels who justified their actions because they were being cheered, whether it was the right thing to do or not. They’d take shortcuts, cheat, beat up managers, whatever. Ruthless aggression is what they call it sometimes. Zayn didn’t have that. He wanted to be a Good Dude and win the title on his own terms. At the end of his match he held the NXT Championship in his hands and was ready to use it as a weapon, but threw it down. He wasn’t going to sell out. 18 months brought him here and made him the man he is for a reason. He won, and the good guy was actually a good guy, and it mattered.
At TakeOver: Brooklyn, we got the end of the Sasha Banks vs. Bayley story they’ve spent two years telling. Two years ago, they were enhancement talent. They worked hard and came up on two different paths — Sasha looked into the NXT Oculus, sold her soul and became “The Boss” to create a false air of confidence that’d carry her through the tough decisions of becoming NXT Champion; Bayley stayed true to herself, handed out headbands to special needs kids and hugged little girls cosplaying as her in the front row. She got turned on time and again by every woman she considered a friend. Sasha became champ, got called up to Raw and tapped out the Divas Champion in the main event. Bayley stayed down here in oblivion, getting beaten up by Dana Brooke. Bayley vs. Charlotte happened and Bayley lost, and we got footage of her standing at ringside crying because she’d let her friends and family down. The Divas Revolution started, and Bayley broke her hand. The pre-match video package of her being Back to the Future’d out of the Four Horsewomen of NXT photo says it all.
I don’t know if I’ve been as emotionally invested in a match in my adult life.
NXT isn’t afraid to give us perfect moments.
There are three moments that get me. The first is after Sasha has dismantled Bayley’s wrist guard and started wrecking her hand. She gets Bayley in the Banks Statement, and when Bayley goes for the ropes, Sasha starts stomping her hand. That moment of visceral, competitive rage is the single moment you point to as an example of what NXT does differently with female wrestlers, and how women who wrestle can be everything the men can be if they’re talented, and are given the time, story and audience of the men. This is beyond what the men are doing … this is pro wrestling at its best, where the little things feel life and death, and the physicality of drama becomes everything.
The other two moments come one after the other. Bayley hits a reverse hurricanrana from the top rope, and Sasha comes down on the top of her head. It’s a death blow. Bayley stands up, aggressively throws her scrunchie down and adjusts her pony. This isn’t the Bayley we know who is kinda awkward on the microphone and doesn’t know when to pull the trigger in the ring … this is a f*cking CHAMPION. This is a woman who knows she just hit the biggest move of her life and is ready to win. It’s a f*cking plasma cannon of goosebumps. The final moment comes seconds after the pin, when Bayley’s on her knees. Everyone’s looking at Bayley, the new champion, but look at Sasha. Watch her face.
It’s not a cry of sadness, or of happiness, or relief. It’s everything. It’s all the things. It’s the rush of emotion from having wrestled one of the best women’s wrestling matches in WWE history, in front of NXT’s biggest-ever crowd, at its biggest-ever event. It’s finishing a story. It’s the end. It’s the last moment they’ll be them before the curtain call. Everything’s changing. The NXT Women’s Division is becoming the Raw and Smackdown Divas Division, and their job descriptions are changing. They’re not gonna be independent wrestlers trying their best in a Performance Center anymore. They’re gonna be world-traveled millionaires, TV stars, the works. This is the moment when that absolutely happens. This is the reward for years of hard work, for dedication in the face of impossibility, for standing up and making a difference in a sport that has never treated women right, and may never. It’s something. It’s raging against the dying of a light until an entire arena is bright as hell. Also, Jesus, it’s being dropped on your head and getting Belly-to-Bayley’d out of your shoes. It’s everything. All of it.
I loved this match. This is my favorite match of the year. An absolute classic, and the end of an era.
It wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t have to be. It shouldn’t be. It’s got that thing WWE does better than anyone, where you remember the feeling and the moments of the match when it’s done. I can replay the entire match in my head. At the very least, it joins the Sami Zayn/Cesaro 2-out-of-3 falls match at the very tip top of The Best of NXT.
To put it another way, just watch this video and feel everything all over again:
1. Grave Consequences: Mil Muertes vs. Fenix
March 18, 2015
Grave f*cking Consequences. If this is my list, I’m lying if I put anything else at #1. Even Sasha and Bayley.
I’ve got a lot to say about this one, obviously, but here’s the short version: I was in a TV studio warehouse watching a guy who’s supposed to be the personification of death, led by his spooky, rock-wielding, threat-licking ghost valet, having a casket match against a mythological bird with regenerative powers, and despite all that, what they were doing in and around the ring and up on the balcony and in the goddamn chairs in front of me reverted me back to childhood. A weird, messed up childhood. It’s like finding out Santa’s actually real when you’re 35.
Find this. Watch this. I don’t care how you do it. I don’t care if you have to fly to New York and find somebody selling Lucha Underground episode bootlegs in the subway, fly your ass to New York and give him your money.
I could not be more honored to have been live in the crowd for this match, because it’s one of the best matches I’ve ever seen. It’s easily my choice for match of the year so far in 2015, and the best pro wrestling match I’ve seen period since at least Zayn/Neville at NXT R-Evolution. I can’t praise it enough. But, uh, here’s me trying.
Here’s what the match accomplished that no other match in recent memory has: ambiance.
That sounds like a weak-ass compliment, but it isn’t. From the moment those skeleton-faced folks walked an airbrushed casket to the ring, we knew we were in for something special. Mil Muertes starts the match by diving to the outside, and the story is set: one of these men is going to die. And by “die” I mean f*cking die. This isn’t 1990s WCW Cruiserweight storytelling. This is classic lucha libre pathos. Blood and guts, life and death. Justice. Revenge. All the things that make an El Rey Network guy go yeeeesssss.
Mil makes it violently personal early on by ripping Fenix’s mask. Lucha libre’s got a great way of making you feel like a guy’s face is being ripped off when his mask is torn. That’s your physical identifier for the performer, and when the mask gets torn that’s gone. It’s its own little version of death. A character being erased. They fight throughout the ENTIRE BUILDING and take everything apart as they go. Fenix gets powerbombed on the announce table, beaten with giant metal pieces of the ring, smashed in the face with the coffin and almost suplexed off the damn balcony onto the fans and chairs below. Mil is viscerally vicious, biting at Fenix’s wounds and SPITTING OUT CHUNKS OF HIS FACE. This isn’t a wrestling match. This is a super hero and a super villain fighting to the death, where acts of cannibalism are transitional moves. The danger feels real because it IS real. The action seems in your face because if you’re in that building, they’re walking up to you and beating the blood out of each other IN YOUR FACE. That’s me fleeing in terror in the second picture because Mil’s about to throw my chair at Fenix. I stood for the rest of the match because my seat was covered in the man’s blood, and also because holy shit, this match.
There are so many stories happening, and they all matter. The balance of life and death is illustrated in every turn, from the timing of the comebacks to Fenix thriving in the ring and Mil thriving outside of it. The ring is life. THEY BOOKED A WRESTLING MATCH WHERE THE RING IS LIFE. I don’t have a caps lock strong enough to type that. When you leave the ring, you die. There’s a reason the finish happens on the apron, and Mil gets double-stomped into the casket and taken away. It’s an illustration of loss in pro wrestling, and loss in life. It’s all one big glorious f*cking pro graps metaphor and I want to write a 10,000 page tome about this thing.
When it was over, my hands were shaking. I’d been thrilled by a wrestling match, sure, but I was overcome with emotions I didn’t expect. Worry, because I was watching a guy I like being killed in front of me, kinda-sorta for real. Adrenaline, because they were jumping off railings in front of me and bleeding on my seat. Relief when the comebacks landed. Confusion. Admiration. Sorrow when it was over, and gratitude that it’d happened. I couldn’t wait to tell people what I’d just seen. I saw a bird guy fight a dead guy in pinstriped blue pants over a ghost girl and their magical rock until one of them got put in an airbrushed box and it made me forget everything else. It was being little again. Caring and not thinking and just going with it.
It can still happen.
So yeah, watch this match. It’s the first indisputable Lucha Underground classic. I’m going to go watch it again.
My hands are still shaking. I can’t wait to see if season two tops it.
What We Learned:
– Sasha Banks is good at wrestling.
– Lucha libre at its best is probably the best wrestling.
– Shinsuke Nakamura should be made the actual real-life king of something.
– “Will this guy or group of guys be able to beat Brock Lesnar, pfft, probably not” is WWE’s best story.
– When pro wrestling is good, it’s better than anything.