Tonight is the 22nd annual Royal Rumble PPV event, which I will be skipping due to budgeting concerns, not a lack of interest. I love the Royal Rumble as it's always a fun match and the PPV itself is always used to set up the main event(s) for the following Wrestlemania, which is THE best show of the year(most years, anyway). With the Rumble tonight, it got me thinking about the live events I've been to. I have NOT attended a Royal Rumble event yet in my years as a wrestling fan, and it's priority #1 as next year it will be taking place at the Staples Center, right here, in Los Angeles, CA(thumbs up, smile, cheap pop).
The train of thought drifted to matches I've seen live, and which I would consider to be the best that I've witnessed with my own two eyes and two ears. So I present my Top 5, and a little bit about each.
1. The Rock vs. Hulk Hogan - Wrestlemania X8, March 17th, 2002, Toronto
-- This match was between arguably the two most popular main stream wrestling stars of all time, and the crowd went absolutely nuts for the entire match, myself and Wakal included. The Rock came in as the 'Face' with Hulk as the 'Heel', but the crowd was 90-10 in favor of the Hulkster. This was Hulk Hogan's first Wrestlemania appearance since Wrestlemania IX before he jumped to WCW, and the crowd wanted nothing more than to see the big boot, leg drop, and pose down. Storyline wise, The Rock HAD to win as it was a 'passing of the torch' moment for the biz and even though the crowd wanted to see Hogan win, we all respectfully went crazy when The Rock eventually scored the 1-2-3. The Rock was incredible in this match playing off of the crowd which had turned against him. He reverted to 'heel' Rock mode, which only made the crowd intensify. I remember with vivid detail the moment Hogan stepped out onto the ramp, and the energy in the crowd just exploded and didn't let up. One for the ages, I say.
2. John Cena vs. Triple H - Wrestlemania 22, April 2, 2006, Chicago
-- My top 2 matches have a similar theme, they feature the most popular face wrestler in the WWE at the time, facing a heel at the biggest show of the year, and the crowd was decidedly in favor of the heel in each match. John Cena was despised by the vast majority of the Chicago crowd, myself, Wakal, and Lisa included. While the match itself was by no means a technical masterpiece, it featured a heel HHH completely working the crowd as a face Cena was beaten back for almost the entire match. The 'Cena Sucks' vs.'Let's go Cena' chants were off the charts, and the crowd stayed hot through the whole match, there was never a lull. When the finish came, and Cena won, there was no respectful eruption by the entire crowd like there was for The Rock when he beat Hogan. In this instance, there was booing and stunned silence mixed the with cheers of the kids who compromise the majority of the John Cena fan base. It was awesome to be a part of as it marked one of the first times in history the babyface won the main event match at Wrestlemania and the crowd didn't go absolutely bonkers. That's quite a shift in the relationship between the wrestling business and its fan base. We also heard a little kid, a Cena fan, scream out "The Game got played!" as most of the fans around him in our section were dejected by the HHH loss. Kudos to that kid. We deserved the trash talk.
3. Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle, Wrestlemania 21, April 3, 2005, Los Angeles
-- A match that most people would call a classic and was hands down the professional wrestling 'Match of the Year' in 2005. I remember the Los Angeles crowd not knowing what to make of the match in the early goings, these are two of the best professional wrestlers of all time, and one of the best amateur wrestlers of all time in Kurt Angle, so a lot of the back and forth mat wrestling was a little lost on the crowd. By the end of the match however, the crowd was hot as the matched built and built towards the finish. It was an even split between Angle and Michaels fans as the chants kicked in. I was for Angle, Lisa was for Michaels and in their first match up, Angle got the better of Michaels in one of the most intense finishes to a match that I've ever seen. This match is a technical wrestling masterpiece and is recommended for anyone who may wonder 'what can make one wrestling match better than another?'
4. The Rock vs. Kurt Angle, No Mercy, October 22nd, 2000, Albany
-- This match featured The Rock as he was ascending into the upper stratosphere of popularity defending his WWF Championship against Kurt Angle, who had quickly risen the ranks as one of the best heel workers in the company. No-one expected Angle to win this match and walk away with the belt, but that's what happened. At this point, I was rooting against The Rock(wow, am I really THAT much of a jerk?) as I preferred him to be a heel character, his face run was getting tired. In addition, I had been enjoying Kurt Angle with his 'all American' heel act since day 1, and it was a lot of fun to root against The Rock in a decidedly pro-Rock crowd. Much to my pleasant surprise, Angle took home the gold in what has to be the most surprising finish to a match that I have seen live, and the crowd as a whole was shocked. I remember walking out of the arena with a huge grin after that one. This is one of the few PPV events I've been to that I do not own on DVD. This was just before WWE started putting their none Wrestlemania events onto DVD. Punks.
5. John Cena vs. Chris Jericho, in a Cage, House Show, December 28th, 2008, NY
-- Some will scoff at this choice, but this match was awesome. I am shocked that my Top 5 list features two John Cena matches, but I can't hide from the truth. The MSG crowd helped this match go from good to great as it was once again the type of crowd that wasn't totally behind Cena, and as the false finishes piled up toward the end, the fans were going crazy for every move. The turning point of the match from a fan perspective was when Jericho kicked out of Cena's finisher, the FU. Everyone had assumed the match was over after that move, and as soon as Jericho kicked out, the crowd reached a new level of buzz and interest as they went move for move and Jericho ALMOST escaped the cage to win, only to get an FU off the top rope for his trouble and the 1-2-3. I didn't even mind the Cena win, as it was a given going into the match that he'd retain his title. That's the beauty of a good wrestling match. We all know it's pre-determined and I've heard all that hooey before. When you know who's going to win, but the guys in the match are good enough to make you hang on every move, it's an art form.
Some honorable mentions go to: The 'Money in the Bank' ladder matches from WM21 and 22. Rey Mysterio vs. Eddie Guerrero from WM21, Undertaker vs. Ric Flair from WM18, Mick Foley vs. Edge from WM22, HHH vs. RVD from Unforgiven 2002, John Cena & Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker & Batista from No Way Out 2007, Chris Jericho vs. Ric Flair from Unforgiven 2002.
Feel free to click on any of the Top 5 match listings to jump over to YouTube and see clips from each match.