From the “PG Era” to the “Summer of Punk” to the “Yes! Movement” to the “Women’s Revolution” to “KofiMania,” WWE has transformed over the past 10 years. Now with independent wrestling being more popular than ever, in addition to AEW on Wednesday nights with NXT, WWE ends the 2010s in a much different landscape than when they started. And that should be a good thing for everybody involved.
For this 10 best post, we’re not talking about any of those other promotions. This is about WWE and we’re counting down the 10 best WWE matches of the decade. What makes a great match differs among everyone, so what I believe is a great match may not be what someone else prefers, but my criteria for this list is a match that not only delivers in and out of the ring but creates a lasting and memorable impact on fans and the industry as a whole.
*And before anyone points this out, NXT wasn’t included on this list. This is main division WWE, otherwise most of the list would be NXT matches.
10) Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks for the WWE Women’s Championship – WrestleMania 32
This was the night that kicked off the “Women’s Evolution.” The Divas Championship was no more and we got three of the best competing for the new Women’s Championship.
Put in between a Brock Lesnar-Dean Ambrose Street Fight and an Undertaker-Shane McMahon Hell in a Cell match, they weren’t exactly in a position to put out a great match but these women did it and really epitomized the Women’s Evolution. Fans believed in women’s wrestling and while WWE gave them a chance, they didn’t exactly make it easy for them. But after some perseverance from these three women and so many others, they earned their spot and eventually were put in the WrestleMania main event three years later.
This match kicked off one of the best things WWE has done in recent years and if these women have a say in it, they will thrive in this next decade as well.
9) AJ Styles vs. “The Demon” Finn Bálor – TLC 2017
WWE has a reputation for overproducing everything. From planning out every single moment in a match to writing out scripts word for word, the product can be sterile at times and it shows.
So when things happen that are beyond WWE’s control and they have to quickly devise a new plan and don’t have time to overthink it, they usually put out some of their best work. That happened when most of the roster was stuck in Saudi Arabia a couple months ago and that happened here as Bray Wyatt and Roman Reigns suffered illnesses that kept them from competing.
Instead of Wyatt, we got AJ Styles facing “The Demon” in a dream match. It wasn’t what WWE planned and I’m sure they probably wanted more buildup (or even any buildup) for a match like this but these two guys showed a mainstream pro wrestling audience what they had been doing for years in Japan.
8) Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn – Battleground 2016
To prep for this piece, I went back to watch all these matches. While Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn brought the house down, I was more depressed than anything after watching this. Because I know that it wasn’t too long after this that neither of these people are where they deserve to be.
It’s three years later and Zayn barely wrestles anymore. And when he does, he loses so the fans stopped caring at this point. I get results don’t mean that much in WWE but Zayn has wrestled 57 times in 2019 and is 4-53. He’s one of the most talented performers in pro wrestling in the ring and on the mic and he’s treated like a jobber. I don’t get it, but it’s not Zayn’s fault he isn’t being utilized more.
As for Owens, he’s fared better, but I still feel he deserves more. Similar to Zayn, Owens is one of the best in the ring and on the mic and when you got someone who can do both and get over with the fans both as a heel and a face, you have got a versatile star to build a program around. He had that thing with Shane McMahon that seemed to drag on way too long and then that storyline with Braun Strowman where even though Owens was the heel, Strowman was borderline bullying him and turning his life into a living hell for no good reason.
Now as a face and coming off of an injury, Owens has spent 2019 being the voice of the fan pointing out stupid things WWE is doing. It’s great (and he was telling the truth), but it seemed like WWE was never going to give that its full backing, and things kinda stalled. He’s now with Samoa Joe taking on Seth Rollins and AOP.
That aside, watch this match, it’s great and worth your time. But you will get a sense of wondering what could’ve been with these two in the years after this match.
7) Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker – WrestleMania XXX
Many people thought that the streak would never end. Many people thought that if the streak was to be broken, The Undertaker would retire. It turned out, neither of those things happened and six years later, The Undertaker has wrestled once or twice per year.
While the match could have been better and the legacy of the streak being snapped has been a bit overshadowed over the years, it’s still a historical moment in pro wrestling history. I guarantee you that anyone who saw that match remembered exactly where they were and they did not see that finish coming.
In the years that followed, I’m not sure if its legacy has been helped or hurt. On one hand, it didn’t seem like Brock Lesnar needed to have the distinction of breaking the streak and it would’ve been great if someone else got that honor and became a made star. On the other hand, hearing stories about how The Undertaker was concussed and couldn’t remember where he was, I’m not one to make people keep going while having a head injury, but it’s a wonder the match ever happened. Ultimately, whatever the view from that night, it was a match no one will ever forget.
6) Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair vs. Ronda Rousey for the Raw and SmackDown Women’s Championships – WrestleMania 35
This match deserved a better finish than the one we got (if that even was the plan), but before that this match was a classic and was still a very seminal moment in pro wrestling history.
This was the pinnacle of the Women’s Evolution so far. Sure, WrestleMania is likely the lone annual event where casual and non-wrestling fans tune in. So by that logic, Ronda Rousey was probably a big reason why this was the main event. But only looking at Rousey would be totally disrespecting Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair who were, and arguably still are, the two biggest stars in WWE.
No matter how you cut it, these women deserved to headline WrestleMania through their own merits and what they did in the ring. Sadly, the crowd may have appeared to not be as interested but take it from someone who was in attendance, the importance of what was happening wasn’t lost on anyone in the crowd. It was just the end of a seven and a half hour marathon and people were trying to figure out how to get home.
5) Shawn Michaels vs. The Undertaker (Streak vs. Career) – WrestleMania XXVI
When I started watching pro wrestling in the 90s, I was convinced that when Shawn Michaels lost at WrestleMania XIV, that was it for him. While he missed a few years, Michaels came back in 2002 and his career was reborn.
It was around this time that The Undertaker was cutting back on full time competition but he was putting in some classic matches. In a “streak vs. career” main event, these two legends put on a performance that was a nice conclusion to Shawn Michaels’ career. I prefer to ignore that tag match in Saudi Arabia. Unless HBK has another match that’s not embarrassing, WrestleMania XXVI was it.
As for The Undertaker, 2010 was his final year of semi-full time competition. Next year, The Undertaker only competed at WrestleMania. Since then, he’s only done WrestleMania, Saudi Arabia, and random PPV events like last year’s Extreme Rules.
4) The Undertaker vs. Triple H (Hell in a Cell with Shawn Michaels as special referee) WrestleMania XXVIII
This match didn’t have as high of stakes as the Streak vs. Career match but this match did an incredible job of storytelling. The hellacious confines of the cell with two people who had a rivalry for over a decade, and Shawn Michaels being caught in the middle.
Special referee matches can sometimes be a mess but having Michaels as a part of this was perfect. Michaels was a man stuck in the middle between two people he revered. He was friends with Triple H but also respected The Undertaker for ending his career a couple years earlier. And throughout the match, Michaels weighed everything, shifted loyalties at times, and showed how important a special referee could be. While these two competitors are still wrestling part time, this truly was the “End of an Era.”
3) Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H – WrestleMania XXX
The night where the “Yes! Movement” hit a fever pitch. It wasn’t exactly Stone Cold vs. Vince, but Bryan vs. Triple H captured the hearts of the fans. People loved the everyman Bryan, and while we criticize WWE at times for not listening to their fans (and at times they don’t), they listened here.
This storyline wasn’t perfect. The whole “B+ player” thing was terrible writing and is one of the stupidest things someone has said to insult someone on WWE TV (and that’s an accomplishment). But that didn’t derail the larger story. In the match that opened WrestleMania XXX, Daniel Bryan and Triple H put in a main event level performance. And because he won, Daniel Bryan needed to compete in the actual main event.
WrestleMania XXX is what made Daniel Bryan a legend. Much of that was due to the fans, and without them, Bryan isn’t in this position. But when it came to prove himself, Bryan got it done. And while some people won’t want to hear this, Triple H deserves a lot of credit for helping create that legend in this match.
2) Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston for the WWE Championship – WrestleMania 35
In some ways, the “KofiMania” storyline had similarities to Daniel Bryan’s “Yes! Movement” six years before, so it’s fitting Bryan paid it forward for Kofi.
I must admit I didn’t really think much of The New Day until the last year or two. I originally thought that the concept was too childish and that they were more concerned with throwing pancakes at fans than anything else. The changes they made to get to the point where they were competing for the WWE Championship was slight and while they kept the pancake throwing, kid-friendly characters, The New Day also developed an edge to them that was the catalyst to really be special.
The New Day was believable in being able to kick ass, have fun, and be an inspiration to all. So when KofiMania hit a fever pitch in the lead-up to WrestleMania 35, I was all in. And I say this as someone who absolutely loved Daniel Bryan’s eco-friendly intellectual heel gimmick.
Like I said before, I was at WrestleMania 35 and you could really see the entire stadium get behind The New Day and Kingston. On top of this being a great match by two terrific competitors, Kofi Kingston’s win was not only a cornerstone of progress for diversity in WWE (as the first African-born WWE champion). And Kingston displaying a “never give up” attitude as he experienced setbacks and uncertain times over his 11 year journey in WWE to be WWE champion is really a lesson everyone should take to heart.
1) CM Punk vs John Cena for the WWE Championship – Money in the Bank 2011
This might be the closest thing to perfection WWE has ever done. I missed all of Punk’s run in WWE and that’s a wrestling regret of mine. But looking back, I can appreciate how unique he was and how he brought something different to WWE. And if I had known that, I probably would’ve come back to watching wrestling a few years earlier than I did.
When you can create something that everyone, from kids to adults to smarks to dirtsheet writers, don’t know what’s real and what’s not and not knowing what’s going to happen next, you got something special. And not only did John Cena and CM Punk have that going in, they backed it up with one of the greatest matches ever with a Punk backed Chicago crowd that was on it for every second. Can’t do it any better than this.