WWE’s Top 10 Matches Of The Year For 2014

You asked for it, and here it is: our choices for the WWE’s top 10 matches of the year for 2014.

2014 was a rough year for pro wrestling creatively, but it’s important to look back and remember how much great wrestling WWE gave us. Sure, most of it was surrounded by infuriating nonsense, but the good stuff makes rummaging through the bad worth it, and I’d recommend you going back and checking these out. Especially #10. Watch that one five or six times in a row.

Let us know your choices in our comments section below. Love pro wrestling.

10. WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena – SummerSlam

A sentimental favorite at #10. From the Best and Worst of SummerSlam 2014:

I love this match more than I love my family. I can’t even describe it.

I have never seen a match so directly pulled from my brain. Seriously, think about it … if you’re reading predictions for a John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar match written by me, what’s it gonna say? It’s gonna say that Lesnar should just show up, destroy him for 15 minutes, laugh at his attempts at offense and just end his life to become the new champion. That’s what I type when I’m being hatefully optimistic. It’s not something I’d ever expect to exist. Hell, when we did Pick ‘Ems at the place I watched the show I picked Cena, because you HAVE to pick Cena.

I’ve read a lot of complaints about the match online today, and man, if you need an illustration of the self-defeating environment WWE’s created with their last decade-plus of booking, look no further than the damn Internet. People are complaining that the match was a squash. They wanted “a match.” Guys, this was a match. This was a match. What’s the alternative? The status quo? Do you really want a 50/50 match in a situation like this? If every main-event WWE match is a 50/50 Rock/Cena thing where they trade moves and then reverse a few finishes and somebody wins, that is the status quo. Cena defeating Lesnar is the status quo. It’s more of the same. It’s treading in the same stale water that makes 80% of the Raws you watch terrible. Guys win a match, guys get their win back, everybody exchanges heat until nothing matters and nobody’s over. If you want a big Cena match, guess what? There are literally dozens and dozens of WWE PPVs that end with 20 minutes of Cena trading moves and winning. There is an endless supply. It’s the predictable, commonplace, boring nonsense you’ve been complaining about for every one of those pay-per-views.

I’ve also read a lot about how the match was just “one move,” because of all the German suplexes. If you’re saying this, you need to watch wrestling more critically. The hope spots here were BRILLIANT. Cena charged in to start the match, and Lesnar quickly established that that “Brock Lesnar at 100%” thing was the truth. It effectively retconned the Extreme Rules match and its horrible booking decision of immediately putting Cena over a returning super monster make sense by not just SAYING, but DOING. Cena gets shaken from the early F-5 and while he’s strong enough to kick out, he can never recover. Lesnar just keeps dumping him on his head over and over, trying to get the ref to call the match. That’s the story. “Can Cena overcome the odds?” The answer is YES, OBVIOUSLY, but every time Cena pops up for one of his signature match-enders, Lesnar shuts it down. The entire time I was playfully telling people HE’S GONNA HIT ONE ATTITUDE ADJUSTMENT AND WIN, WATCH. I had to say it in a fun way because it was super true and scared me to death. Cena pops up, hits one Attitude Adjustment and gets … two. So then it’s like, “he’s gonna get the STF out of nowhere and tap Lesnar out.” Lesnar complains too much to the referee, Cena gets the STF out of nowhere and Lesnar stays in it for way, way too long. It’s the best STF of Cena’s career. The only one that isn’t weapon assisted that has ever looked like a submission hold. Lesnar rolls out of it, punches him a bunch and F-5s him to win. It’s MAGIC.

Most of all, it’s a decisive ending. No bullshit. No interference and maybes and what happeneds. It’s the logical progression of a 100% Brock Lesnar who beat the Undertaker at WrestleMania getting the only other kind of win that matches “beating the Undertaker at WrestleMania” … making the most unstoppable, unrealistic champion in WWE history into a helpless, glassy-eyed pile of blood and piss and vomit and taking his championship belt necklace.

Brock can stay at home for another six months, I don’t care. He gave me this.

9. Intercontinental Championship Match: Tyson Kidd vs. Cesaro vs. Dolph Ziggler – Smackdown

From Nate Birch’s Best and Worst of Smackdown 11/14:

Speaking of reasons to like Dolph Ziggler, holy moly, we interrupt your regularly scheduled boring Smackdown for 20-minutes of unremitting wrestling awesomeness. Ziggler, Cesaro and Tyson Kidd in an elimination match for the IC title was fantastic. A serious WWE match of the year candidate, and one of the best triple threats I’ve seen in a long ass time.

There was no “one guy takes a nap outside while the other two guys have a regular singles match” lazy business here – all three guys were almost constantly in the ring, and yet things never felt crowded or awkward. The level of timing on display here was astounding. Oh, and I’ve been getting on Cesaro a bit recently for not working up to his ability, but man, the dude was unleashed tonight. Cesaro had two little bouncy guys to work with here and he took full advantage of it, suplexing, uppercutting, and yes, even swinging the shit out of them.

There were too many creative, badass moments in this match to mention. Tyson Blockbustering Cesaro onto Ziggler’s knees. Tyson headscissoring Ziggler into the stairs. This whole sequence…

Cesaro got eliminated around two-thirds of the way through, and somehow the match just got better. I was with ever nearfall, and legitimately thought Tyson Kidd was going to win the Intercontinental Championship. Imagine typing that sentence even just a month ago. This was the kind of balls out, “what the hell, let’s just have a great match” stuff Smackdown used to be known for. Go out of your way to catch it.

Be more like this, Smackdown.

8. The Shield vs. Evolution – Payback

From the Best and Worst of WWE Payback 2014:

At WrestleMania, The Shield beat Kane and the New Age Outlaws in the most decisive WrestleMania match this side of S.D. Jones. At Extreme Rules, The Shield got all the spotlight moments and Roman Reigns pinned Batista with a spear. At Payback, The Shield got all the spotlight moments and each member eliminated their Evolution counterpart with something strong. A 3-0 sweep in an elimination tag in the main event. Holy shit, right? If they had a match at Money in the Bank, what’s the result? The Evolution guys begging The Shield to piss in their faces?

As wrestling fans, we love to go back to times when we felt one thing and apply them to how we should be feeling now. I do that as much as (and probably more than) anyone. We see what Triple H is doing for guys like The Shield and Bryan now, and we go back 10 years to justify those horrible days when H would call you boy, pedigree you and wait 5 minutes to pin you. Days when he’d beat up Brian Kendrick and Paul London for absolutely no reason because he needed an exclamation point at the end of the “Triple H is tough” sentence. Even a few years ago when Punk blew up and his first mission was an immediate pinfall lose to Triple H.

With the changes coming over WWE, it may be time to finally stop seeing how things connect to the past, and start worrying about where they’re going. We’ve gone from cheering the veterans and being wary of the new guys to cheering the new guys and being wary of the veterans, but the core WWE audience is still the opposite. There’s a nexus point between how things used to be and how things are GONNA be, and I don’t think anyone fully understands it yet. But we can see Triple H giving it everything he’s got to be the “Wounded King” and eating piles and piles of shit for the bulletproof stars of today, and Orton and Big Dave following his lead. That’s something. That’s something we need to see and not take for granted.

The Extreme Rules match was just as good. Consider this a spot for every other Shield 6-man tag that happened in 2014.

7. United States Championship Match: Cesaro vs. Sheamus – Night Of Champions

From the Best and Worst of Night Of Champions 2014:

I watched a lot of good pro graps this weekend. This was the best thing I watched. It might not’ve been the best WWE match of the year, but it’s in the top ten.

You know, I sorta have to nitpick these shows when I write them up (unless you want to read the 11 Reasons Why WWE Is The Worldwide Leader In Sports Entertainment five times a week), so I often get real wordy about why story matters, and about crowd reactions and character motivations and the intangibles of pro wrestling. Those things are all incredibly important, but if I’m being honest, I don’t give a shit about any of them if two big f*cking dudes are dialed up to 11 and beating the ever-loving shit out of each other.

That’s what this was. Take away the stiffness and it was an expertly-wrestled match. Cesaro’s easy to love, but he’s a heel because he’s so good at controlling the flow of a match. He knows what to do, when to do it, and how to put it all together without screwing up. He’s a base. Sheamus is the best when he’s not really doing a lot. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but it isn’t — he excels at taking a glorious beating and believably fighting up to his feet from it. That’s what’s so cool about him, and why his ringwork justifies his terrible character. He’s compelling as hell when you’re beating on him until his hair’s matted and his skin looks like uncooked chicken.

Add back in the stiffness and oh man, it’s special. If beating Sheamus up is what makes him turn it up and get good, Cesaro’s the king of it. That guy can kill you with basically anything in his arsenal. He can grab your ankles and spin you around in a circle and make it look like he’s killing you, so when he’s in your face European uppercutting you and booting you in the ears, that mess is legit. If Cesaro worked with more than three or four people who could absorb a shit-kicking like this and give it back, he’d be the most popular and successful wrestler in the world. He’s already pretty close.

Even the finish worked, which I feel weird saying about a Brogue Kick From Outta Nowhere. That’s his knockout blow. It’s almost bulletproof. If he hits you with it, it’s over. He got hot in the corner thinking he could take Cesaro’s offense and stay on his feet, but at some point during being BRUTALLY PUNCHED IN THE FACE he realized he was gonna fall if he didn’t put this dude away. He saw an opportunity, went for it, got lucky and fell into a pin. Cesaro “won” the fight in a way, but Sheamus won the match. That’s so awesome.

Everything after the Irish Curse backbreakers was unreal, but the best part is when Cesaro goes for a Neutralizer. Sheamus counters with a backdrop, but Cesaro is SWISS NINJA JESUS and lands on his feet. He hits the ropes, they build up some momentum and Sheamus goes for the Brogue Kick. Without missing a step, Cesaro ducks it, catches him mid-kick and Alpamare Waterslides him for a nearfall. My heart’s going BOOM BOOM BOOM.

6. Fatal 4 Way for the NXT Championship: Adrian Neville vs. Sami Zayn vs. Tyler Breeze vs. Tyson Kidd – NXT TakeOver: Fatal 4 Way

From the Best and Worst of NXT Takeover: Fatal 4-Way:

One word to describe this match: BONKERS. No, no other word. Just “bonkers.”

Unlike Bayley vs. Charlotte, I didn’t care who won. Any of these guys could be great going forward. If Tyson Kidd wins, he reaches MAXIMUM SMUGNESS as a 10-year vet lording a developmental title reign over a bunch of rookies to prove to people he’s as good as his wife. If Breeze wins, he checks himself out in the reflection of the belt and settles in to a run that proves he’s secretly one of the best workers in the company. If Zayn wins? That new batch of talent can show up and wrestle some of the best matches you’ve ever seen. Zayn vs. Devitt? Zayn vs. Hideo Itami? Zayn vs. Kevin Steen? Steen is never, ever as good as when he’s in the ring with him. If Neville retains he’s conquered all os his early challengers and can move on to the next phase of his title reign.

By the end of the match, though? I cared as much as I cared about Bayley. That’s how good this match was.

Tyler Breeze was HOT FIRE in this match. The sequence where he Beauty Shots Zayn out of nowhere, hits a superkick on Kidd and dropkicks Adrian Neville out of the air was an incredible nearfall. Kidd showed the value of being a veteran by gluing everything together, making sure everyone was in the right place at the right time. Sami Zayn once again proved that his greatest talent is in making you forget you’re thinking about wrestling so you can FEEL it. If you weren’t excited when he knocked Neville into the crowd with a dive, took out Breeze with the tornado DDT through the corner ropes and started beating his chest like a gorilla, you might not be alive.

As for Neville … God, I didn’t think I could ever feel as much emotion toward the guy as I did when he pulled the referee out of the ring instead of breaking up the pin. I wanted to dive through the ropes and knock him into the crowd MYSELF. What’s great about it is that he was basically pulling heel moves, but the crowd would react to them differently based on the context. Why’s it bad that he pulled out the referee instead of breaking up the pin on Zayn, but fine when he dives into the ring and stops Breeze from tapping instead of breaking up Kidd’s Sharpshooter? I don’t know, BUT IT IS. IT’S SO BAD.

NXT’s important show introduced new characters, gave new motivations to old ones, showed the world that sex and gender have never limited the scope or impact of amazing pro wrestling storytelling and did it all with two hours of really good wrestling matches. It’s my favorite thing in the world and I can’t wait until Takeover 3: The Takeovering.

Spoiler alert, they topped it.

5. Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt – Royal Rumble

From the Best and Worst of Royal Rumble 2014:

I’ve written a lot over the past few weeks about how crucial this match was for Bray Wyatt as a performer. The Raw audience largely isn’t familiar with Bray’s epic run on NXT, so they’ve mostly just seen him as this weird fat guy who rocks in a rocking chair and never wrestles, and when he does he just has these bad-to-worse matches against Kane and R-Truth. Bray can go, and if he’s going to stick around and be “new Undertaker” he kind of has to prove that he’s a legitimate (and legitimately entertaining) physical threat.

Personally, I think he nailed it.

It’s not surprising to say that the one-on-one showdown between Wyatt and Daniel Bryan was great, but it was. It was really great. There was so much going on here, from Wyatt working the head to exacerbate Bryan’s concussion to the simple, brutal impact Wyatt has when he starts running and hits you with things. His greatest strength in the ring, I think, is his ability to throw his body weight fully into whatever he does, so when he throws a crossbody he really THROWS it and murders you. Bryan can do that flipping sell on anybody’s clothesline, but when Bray hits it he’s f*cking earning it.

On the other side, Bryan’s greatest strength is his timing. Nobody gets timing like Daniel Bryan right now. He knows what to do and when to do it, and the fact that I’m still grinning and yelling YEAH when he throws those running corner dropkicks eight months later is a testament to that. He’s also a soldier when it comes to throwing himself into his opponent’s offense, which is the perfect compliment for Bray. He’s not just getting a Sister Abigail done to him, he’s EATING IT. Just totally eating it. If you didn’t react to Bryan diving straight into a Sister Abigail into the guardrail on the outside, brother, I don’t know what to tell you. That’s a counter that makes perfect sense. Dive feet first next time, Bryan.

Other highlights include:

– That KILLER diving tornado DDT from the apron to the floor
– Harper and Rowan getting thrown out, ensuring that the pinfall would be clean, which is important if you want people to believe Wyatt can hang with Cena without cultist sheepmen doing his clubbering for him
– Wyatt escaping the Yes Lock via biting

Great stuff all around. Not sure if you’ve noticed, but this Bryan kid might have something special!

Bonus points for Bryan not showing up in the Rumble and making everybody super mad for three months.

4. Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro – NXT Arrival

From the Best and Worst of NXT Arrival:

This match is why you should have the WWE Network, and why you should’ve been watching it live. It’s also one of four reasons why NXT is the best wrestling promotion in North America. Cesaro vs. Zayn parts 1-3 are the other three.

Part of what made this match so exceptional (besides the fact that Cesaro and Sami Zayn have been two of the best pro wrestlers in the world for YEARS) is how it adheres to its own history, and tells the story it set out to tell starting with minute one of match one.

Cesaro doesn’t give a shit about Sami Zayn. Zayn upset him in their first encounter and Cesaro was ENRAGED, but he got his rematch and trounced Zayn, asserting his dominance. That led to a debate on which man was better, with Zayn challenging Cesaro to put it all on the line in a 2-out-of-3 falls match. That match played off the first two. The first fall was a quick victory out of nowhere, like Cesaro/Zayn I. The second fall was Cesaro taking control and being dominant, like Cesaro/Zayn II. The third fall ended when Cesaro stopped a tornado DDT mid-tornado, carried Zayn around by his hips Dirty Dancing-style and launched him into the air for a life-ending European uppercut.

It was the best match in WWE last year. Cesaro knew he was the better man, but Zayn couldn’t let it go. It stuck to his ribs. He was so close. If he’d gotten all the way around on the DDT, Cesaro would’ve been done. But like I said, Cesaro doesn’t give a shit about him. Cesaro barely pays attention to him, checks his phone during interviews and only hangs out in the ring long enough to cheapshot Zayn in his already-injured leg.

What Zayn wants is respect. He knows he can beat the “ultimate competitor” whether people take him seriously about it or not. He has stated openly that beating Cesaro and proving this to himself is the only way he can move on to the next stage of his career. If he doesn’t beat Cesaro, he’s stuck “down here” (Cesaro’s words) forever.

The match, like the 2-out-of-3 falls match before it, plays off its previous incarnations. There is so much beauty in the way Zayn and Cesaro lace together the stories … Zayn goes for the diving tornado DDT through the ropes on the outside, but Cesaro knows it exists now and counters by taking his head off with an uppercut. He knows when Zayn’s big dives are coming and can catch him, because he is an Impossible Man, and throw him down. Zayn desperately tries to avoid the giant swing, and knows how to counter it. It’s guys who know each other because of the WRESTLING, not because they’ve been employees of the same wrestling promotion forever. It’s muscle memory. The fear of getting caught, and the excitement of breaking through. Call and response. Cause and effect. Wrestling made real.

At the end of an incredible number four, Zayn is out. Out on his feet. Cesaro hits him with brutal European uppercut after brutal European uppercut and tells him to stay down. Zayn doesn’t. He can’t. This is his life, flashing before his eyes. If he doesn’t do this, he’s stuck forever. So he gets to his feet and fights back, because god dammit he has to. Cesaro shoves him into the air and uppercuts him to death, the same move that won him the 2-out-of-3 falls match … and in the greatest moment of wrestling passion you can write, Zayn kicks out. At one.

There’s such a difference between a two count and a one count. A two count is routine. One, two, kick out. One, two, kick out. It’s how pins work. You kick out at two if you aren’t done. Kicking out at one is a MESSAGE. It says NO in capital letters. A middle finger. A promise that the other man is going to have to kill you if they’re going to put you down.

Cesaro gets the message, and, as he does, kills him. A rolling European uppercut and a jumping Neutralizer later and Cesaro is the winner. The series stands at 3-1. Cesaro is the better man. The superior athlete. Zayn is stuck here forever. Cesaro does his taunts, flexes, and walks up the ramp. The end.

But then … it’s not.

Cesaro walks back to the ring and up to Zayn, who is on the verge of tears and draped across the bottom rope. He mouths “you won,” and a bunch of other things we don’t see. He’s accepting it. It happened. And then Cesaro pulls him up and embraces him, and we realize that the story went somewhere we weren’t expecting.

Zayn repeatedly said he HAD to beat Cesaro. He HAD to win, or he wouldn’t be able to move on. What he was saying wasn’t “I have to win the wrestling match,” though, it was, “I need this man’s respect.” He’s the best wrestler I’ve ever seen, and I need to know that he can see something in me. He fought with his entire heart, and in doing so earned the thing he so desperately needed in winning by losing: honor, and respect, and love.

In a week that had The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family in it I can’t say this was the best match of the year. I can’t even say for sure if it was the best match of the week. But I know for sure that I’ll never forget it.

That was a good week.

3. Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H – WrestleMania 30
WWE Championship Match: Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton vs. Batista – WrestleMania 30

They told one story on one night (and it was one of the best nights to be a wrestling fan any of us can remember), so we’re counting them as one.

From the Best and Worst of WrestleMania 30:

So Triple H is everybody’s motherf*cker right now, right?

One of the most confusing aspects of the WrestleMania 30 build has been the rise of Triple H as the Best Guy On The Show. Capital letters. He’s always SAID he’s the best guy on the show and he’s always had some pretty hardcore manufactured popularity, but suddenly he was the perfect heel … a guy who’d risen to some absurd position of power in real life through hard work and proper marryin’ and molded that into a “yourself turned up to 11″-type character. The best parts of Vince McMahon, Vince Russo and every other authority figure we hated for some arbitrary real-life reason. On top of that, he was right. He IS responsible for the WWE and its future. He runs NXT. He makes Daniel Bryan’s t-shirts. By hand, I’m assuming. And here’s this whiny guy who won’t stop trying to defy him or knee him in the face.

Want to be even MORE confused? In semi-retirement, after several years of showcase “no DQ” matches where he just melodramatically lies around making Shawn Michaels faces and trying to “tell stories,” Triple H put on his boots and worked his ass off. This might’ve been the best one-on-one, non-bullshit Triple H match I’ve ever seen. EVER. I was trying to think of a one-on-one match from him that I liked as much, and all I could think of were the Mick Foley Royal Rumble match and the three stages of hell against Austin. Both of those were full of blood and schtick and gimmicks. This was just a WRESTLING match, and it was THE BEST one.

It wasn’t Bryan carrying him, either. H was busting out TIGER SUPLEXES and chaining submissions and dude, where have you been my entire life? It almost felt like a passion project for Triple H to wrestle a Daniel Bryan match and show that he’s just as good … either that or it was a colossal middle finger to Punk. “Hey Punk, check out this five star match or whatever I’m having at WrestleMania 30 against the best wrestler in the world. Yeah I’m putting him over strong and everything. Clean victory. And then he beats my ass in the main. It’s great. Everyone loves it. Enjoy your comics and zombie shows and your not working out.”

It was succinct, too. They did what they needed to do and didn’t overkill it with tons and tons of kickouts. I was worried about that when Bryan kicked out of the pedigree. I thought they were gonna lie around selling invulnerability all night, and then NOPE, perfect match. Thank you so, so much for this.

And now, the payoff.

Sometimes even when you’re a guy who writes about wrestling 80 times a week for a living you lose perspective and forget what you’re supposed to say. I apologize if this doesn’t come out right.

Daniel Bryan is my favorite wrestler. I lose him ever now and again and like other people more, but since he was a spindly kid in Memphis and throughout his amazing Ring of Honor title run and NXT obstacle coursings, he’s always been my favorite. He gets it, and in my eyes he’s been the best wrestler in the world since he was Cattle Mutilating Low Ki in tighty-whities.

I don’t think any wrestler has gotten the VIP treatment Daniel Bryan got at WrestleMania 30. He didn’t just get into a title match and win the title. No. He opened the show with the best match on it, against the boss of the company who is the revisionist history King Of The Attitude Era. It was an absolutely stellar wrestling match. He got injured after it, and entered the main event injured against two of the freshest, biggest, most get-whatever-we-want stars of the modern era. Randy Orton and Batista are the guys who saunter in and look how they look and get everything handed to them. He beat them both. Not only that, he made the visiting Marvel movie guest star who everyone expected to be champion for his press tour tap out in the middle of the ring. After once again trouncing the boss of the company with that boss’s signature weapon, surviving a combo finisher through a table and getting up off a stretcher mid-match. He didn’t just win the championship … he won BOTH championships, Hogan’s and Flair’s, in his second match against all the biggest stars at WWE’s biggest show ever.

He’s okay now. Nothing they do to him can hurt him. We made it. We won.

I put some confetti in my pocket to take home. I will never forget this, even if the crowd environment made it so hard to rise back up and let myself go. By the end I was freaking out for nearfalls and Yessing along with everyone else. I’ve been to a few Raws since Bryan’s gotten big and I haven’t felt totally okay doing the yes chants with everybody. It felt like a thing we were supposed to do, and not like a thing we wanted to do.

Last night it was a thing we wanted to do.

I guess I was wrong about the “nothing can hurt him” thing, but it was still an incredible moment.

2. NXT Championship Match: Sami Zayn vs. Adrian Neville – NXT TakeOver: R Evolution

From the Best and Worst of NXT TakeOver: R Evolution:

18 months of build. Half an hour of brilliance.

Sami Zayn’s been on a “road to redemption.” Since his debut, he’s been a do-gooding fan favorite who can pull a four-star wrestling match out of his ass, but can never seem to win the “big one.” He wanted Cesaro’s respect and ultimately got it, but in a loss at NXT Arrival. At NXT Takeover, he lost a #1 contender match to Tyler Breeze. At Fatal 4-Way, he couldn’t close the deal. The entire time he’s held his chin up, confident that being a nice guy who politely greets backstage announcers and doesn’t take shortcuts was the best way to be.

After Fatal 4-Way, champion Adrian Neville tells Zayn that without the ability to check his ethics at the door and take that extra step, he’d never be NXT Champion. It’s a proven fact of WWE life. The multiple time champions are the worst, most opportunistic people in the world. Ric Flair. Triple H. Randy Orton. John Cena doesn’t see a problem with anything he’s ever done, including waiting for Rey Mysterio to win a title tournament and challenging him later in the same night. They’re all jerks, because being a jerk is what works. It’s what people cheer. Nobody does the right thing. It’s “just wrestling.” Ask anybody.

Zayn got a one-on-one title shot against Neville on the weekly show. Neville blew out his knee. These guys have been friends for years and competed alongside and against one another all around the world, so Zayn stops to check on him. Neville rolls him up for three. It was never about faking injuries or cheating; Neville is simply willing to be a jerk to get what he wants. Zayn fires up, puts his career on the line and slaps Neville in the face. Now it’s time for HIM to be the jerk. He wants that belt, or he wants nothing at all.

The match happens. The match is a goddamn masterpiece. It goes back and forth for 30 minutes. They kill each other. Sami hits a Helluva Kick in the corner and accidentally elbows the referee in the head. The referee is made of fragile baby glass and collapses, garnering a “this ref sucks” chant from the crowd, but that’s what referees do. They suck. The ref is down, the NXT Championship is in the ring and Neville is prone. This is Sami’s moment. This is his chance to check his ethics at the door. To take that extra step. To be champion. All he has to do is bash Neville in the face with the belt, toss it, revive the referee and count the three. He gets “redeemed,” becomes champion and justifies his presence in WWE.

That’s the thing, though. Sami doesn’t always get what he wants. He gets what he needs.

He gets right to the brink of giving in. After a moment of hesitation, he says “f*ck that” and decides to do the right thing. Neville takes the shortcut. He rolls Sami up from behind and the ref counts one, two … and Sami kicks out. They pop up, and Neville runs into an Exploder in the corner. Zayn preps for the Helluva Kick and runs a hand over his face. He’s removing doubt. He blasts Neville in the face, covers and wins the NXT Championship. He wins it the right way. He walked into the match expecting to be the jerk he never wanted to be, and accidentally found out that the man he’s always been is the only man that matters.

It’s perfect. It’s the reason I complain about heel and face dynamics all the time … because when you do it right and you don’t cop out, it’s worth it. It’s worth it. Zayn’s a person a kid watching the show could look up to. Zayn’s a person an ADULT watching the show could look up to, and should choose to live vicariously through. He’s the good guy, because he’s the GOOD guy. In a WWE world where he could’ve sold out his heart and been celebrated just the same, he made the decision to rise above it and be something better. You had an entire crowd of normally rabid wrestling fans chanting “NO!” at a chance for their favorite to seal the deal and win the title. Why? Because you told them a story, and it was good enough that they paid attention.

I love this. I love it with my whole heart. If it’s not the best WWE match of the year, it’s one of them. Everyone involved in making this happen should be proud of it for as long as wrestling’s a thing.

It’s still fresh in our brains, but it’s the match that mattered the most emotionally this year.

1. The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family – Elimination Chamber

From the Best and Worst of Elimination Chamber 2014:

this was alright

JUST KIDDING THIS WAS AMAZING. Capital letters. I wanted to just type in capital letters for an entire page.

I’ve been singing the praises of The Shield/Wyatt Family feud for like a month now, and it’s got to be the most obvious thing I’ve ever homered for. It’s a six-man tag (my fourth favorite thing) based on a tense, don’t-touch-each-other-before-the-big-match feud (my third favorite thing) between two heel factions (my second favorite thing) with NXT roots (my favorite thing). If they’d involved a battle royal and finger work during an armbar it would’ve been pretty much everything I love about wrestling.

Usually I’ll go to a live show in my area on pay-per-view days and catch up with the WWE show when I get home, but nope, I sat my ass directly in front of the television for Shield/Wyatts. This was my Christmas. LARRY THE AXE WAS BRINGING THIS TO ME FOR CHRISTMAS, YOU GUYS. I’m jaded as hell and always ready to think the worst, but I never for a second allowed myself to think this would be anything less than amazing. Amazing in the actual definition of amazing. A thing that would cause amazement.

This is my favorite match of the year, going on a February-to-February match rating scale. I can’t even tell you how much I liked this because my columns are so full of hyperbole you can’t believe a word I say. There’s no standard of reference. I don’t have star ratings or any kind of scale. But I’ll tell you that during the match I left my seat to get one closer to the screen, and I watched the last five minutes or so with my hands in fists in front of my mouth, my eyes bugged out like I’m in some kind of wonderful Cinema Paradiso of wrestling.

We spend a lot of time talking about Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose in these columns and usually only touch on Seth when he bumps to the point of insanity or talks through his nose too much, but this was Seth’s match. In a world where The Shield is a super over babyface team, Seth is the star. He’s the Ricky Morton. Watching him fire up and pull of physical insanity was INCREDIBLE, and if you don’t remember I would like to point you in the direction of him BACKFLIPPING OUT OF A TOP ROPE GERMAN SUPLEX AND LANDING ON HIS FEET before clotheslining a giant man out of the ring and diving out onto him. I would also like to direct you toward him being yanked up from the ground, managing to land on his feet and throw an enzuigiri. That ridiculous fall through the Spanish announce table. Seth Rollins is secretly in touch with some next-level babyface shit, and when the Shield breaks up (which, again, should never happen) he is gonna be THE KING OF THIS.

I think that’s the true, unspoken value of The Shield … we spend a lot of time talking about where they should go and who is the leader and who’s gonna be the big star when it’s all done, but the truth is that this team has turned three iffy developmental guys into absolute f*cking diamonds and I love it more than I thought I could love a wrestling thing.

(Well, I was close.)

But okay yeah let’s talk about Handsome Prince for a second.

The running theme since Survivor Series has been “Roman Reigns is the coolest person in the entire world.” Survivor Series saw Roman eliminate four guys with spears and win the match for his team. The guys didn’t have spears, he speared them and pinned them all. You know what I was trying to say. WWE doesn’t suddenly let dudes carry spears in the ring. We made a brief detour at TLC to allow a 200-pound misanthrope to beat the three most dangerous guys in the company, but we picked back up in January with Roman eliminating 12 motherf*ckers in the Royal Rumble. That show ended with the WWE Universe clearly stating “we like Roman Reigns more than we like Batista,” which I take to mean “we want the future, not the past.” That is PROGRESS for the WWE Universe.

In February, we get the Wyatt Family elaborating on CM Punk’s blueprint on how to beat the Shield (pull them apart and take them out one at a time so they can’t work together) and Roman Reigns almost fighting off all three of them by himself. He didn’t do it, but he died a warrior’s death, physically breaking out of Sister Abigail and SCREAMING IN BRAY WYATT’S FACE, then spearing Luke Harper. That left him open for Bray, but goddamn did he still look like a wrestling Truckasaurus.

I loved every second of this match, from the pre-match “This Is Awesome” chant from a knowing audience to Dean Ambrose suddenly going missing in the crowd during the end-of-match melee. Great moment after great moment, all handled delicately, executed perfectly, leaving me wanting more. WWE is dumber than pile of brick shit if they don’t pull a rematch at WrestleMania. Give me a 50-minute elimination tag and tell Honey Boo Boo or whoever you brought in to film a pop culture wank with Santino to go screw.