Ten Of The Best: WrestleMania Rematches

  • By Paul Benson
  • 13 Apr, 2017

Often Overlooked. Often Fantastic.

We are not the biggest fans of endless list columns here at HOW. Say What? Culture is about more than just endless list articles churned out endlessly. That said, there are obviously some fantastic and thought provoking examples of these type of columns. We intend this to be the first in a semi-regular edition of Ten Of The Best where we will run through what we think are topical and interesting lists. We won't do them more than a couple of times a month so hopefully won't have to scrape the bottom of the barrel to find an interesting angle. With that in mind, please do get in touch with us if you have a suggestion for any future articles. If we get a good one we will definitely consider it. With that in mind, read on for the first of our Ten Of The Best columns......

The Ultimate Thrill Ride is over and the hangover is kicking in. With such a focus on WrestleMania, it's very easy for everything that follows to sit in its shadow. We are hyped up to such a degree for the tentpole event that it's hard to shake that thick head and enjoy what immediately follows. The Raw After Mania (TM, seemingly) helps. Always a great way to give focus to the weekly programme again but what WWE really wants us to start looking towards is the next PPV. 

Whether that is Backlash, Payback, Extreme Rules or even In Your House, it's very important that WWE can grab our attention straight away and a great way to do that has traditionally been giving us another chance to see some of the biggest 'Mania matches on the slightly smaller stage. Wisely in fact, the whole theme of these post-WM Pay Per Views has been the fact that we will see the previous marquee matches again.

It has been a formula that has been successful at times and not at others. Sometimes it has felt a bit 'after the Lord Mayor's Show' with the magic previously present having been diluted by the diminishing returns of the sequel. Think of how many classic films have been followed by a mediocre and less successful follow up. The Hobbit springs to mind. Other times though we get Terminator 2 - A worthy companion piece to the original match that enhances the overall story and sometimes even eclipses the original.

With us getting not one but two rematch themed PPVs in the next few weeks in Backlash and Payback, we are right in the midst of sequel season in WWE. With that in mind, we thought it would be a great idea to run down the 10 best WrestleMania rematches in history. Often these matches are overlooked or forgotten next to their more famous WrestleMania companions. It's time to shine a light on these and maybe get some of you to go back and enjoy some hidden gems. All matches listed are available on WWE Network.

When compiling this list we stuck to the following criteria:

- Matches presented on Pay Per View only. Anything on Raw, Smackdown etc we haven't included.
- The matches must be on the very next PPV after WrestleMania. This might be Backlash the next month, it may be SummerSlam months down the line, as long as it is the next PPV. The only exception to this is in the period during the original Brand Extension where WWE had brand specific PPVs. For this period we have included both the next Raw PPV and the next Smackdown PPV.
- Matches must include the exact same combatants in the same configurations. Adding a body to make it a triple threat doesn't count, nor does adding two single matches together in a tag team match. Changing stipulations or adding a special referee is fine however.

By our count there are 34 matches that fit this criteria starting with The Ultimate Warrior vs. 'Ravishing' Rick Rude at Summerslam 1989 through to Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton at Extreme Rules 2015. Neither made our list. Read on to find out what did:
#10 - Edge vs. Chris Jericho (Steel Cage Match) - Extreme Rules, April 25th 2010.

These two originally faced off at WrestleMania 26 as Edge came back from long term injury to win the Royal Rumble and challenge World Heavyweight Champion Chris Jericho at the big show. Jericho came out on top in that match but his celebrations were not to last long. The following Smackdown saw the newly minted Mr Money In The Bank, Jack Swagger steal the title from Jericho following an attack from his Canadian rival. A drawn Number One Contenders match led to these guys being booked in a cage at Extreme Rules.

What followed was a damn fine match between two experienced pros. Jericho was in the midst of his acclaimed heel run and his viciousness came to the fore here, albeit in a fairly PG fashion. The intensity was great to see in this match with some brutal spots and moves focusing on injured body parts, primarily Edge's ankle. The highlight of the match was a quick fire top-rope Codebreaker from Jericho that drew gasps from the crowd. Another highlight was the cleverness of Jericho's character. Unlike most in cage matches, Jericho clearly understood that the easiest way to win was bolting for the door (An absurd way to win a match by the way) and he attempted this time after time. Thankfully for Edge, he was able to thwart Y2J each time and eventually pinned him after a spear in the centre of the ring.
#9 - WWE Championship Match: CM Punk (c) vs. Chris Jericho (Chicago Street Fight) - Extreme Rules - April 29th 2012

Neither the first time we see Jericho on this list, nor the last time we will see mention of the exceptional Extreme Rules 2012.

This match came during Punk's record setting WWE Championship run and saw them come back together after Punk had successfully defended his strap at WrestleMania 26. These two master storytellers crafted an intensely personal story based on Punk's Straight Edge devotion and Jericho trying to tempt him off that path to follow in the footsteps of his (allegedly) alcoholic father.

That this match was in Chicago ensured both a phenomenal reception for the champion and a fevered atmosphere. It really added to this match that was such a great reflection of the edgy narrative these two had engaged in. A dousing in beer and attempted humiliation of his sister at ringside saw Punk reach levels of rage not yet seen in him before this point and aided in ratcheting up the tension and the heat in this encounter. Both guys took full advantage of the street fight stipulation by bringing kendo sticks, fire extinguishers and chairs into play in a clever and structured way. This was no garbage brawl and it was never going to be with two master craftsmen involved.

The finish saw the heel Jericho get his just desserts with a Go To Sleep set up by him being catapulted in to a turnbuckle he himself exposed a few minutes earlier.

A superb match in a great feud. Would you expect anything less from these two?
#8 - 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin vs. Bret 'Hitman' Hart - In Your House: Revenge Of The 'Taker, April 20th 1997

How do you follow arguably the greatest WrestleMania match of all time? Well obviously you don't but if you could bank on two men doing it, these two would be your guys.

This was a fascinating match in the sense that it was the first PPV since their fabled double turn at WrestleMania 13. Austin was just starting to embrace the cheers of the crowd and Hart had now fully given in to his crybaby, hard done by heel character. He had also just been tearfully and gloriously reunited with his brother Owen and The British Bulldog to form the embryonic version of the Hart Foundation faction that would be fully formed when Brian Pillman would join the next night on Raw and Jim 'The Anvil' Neidhart seven days later.

The match itself was full of passion and hatred as one would expect from these two at this time. Rarely has there been a feud that felt so real based on the emotions and motivations of the two men involved. Obviously this pervaded this match and just like the month prior, these two superbly mixed technical wrestling with a donnybrook of a brawl. It's hard to think of many striking this balance so successfully since. The match started off with these two tearing strips off each other inside and outside the ring. As the match wore on the focus slowly shifted to Hart working on Austin's knee, slowly injuring it to ensure Austin could not properly execute his offense with him collapsing on a piledriver attempt being particularly noteworthy. The finish came when Owen and Davey jumped in to cause the DQ shortly after Austin reversed the Sharpshooter in to his own version of the move. Sometimes a DQ ending can deflate a great match but not here. It made perfect sense. The only shame was that this was the last time these two would face off one on one on the PPV stage. What a match!
#7 WWE Championship Match: John Cena (c) vs John 'Bradshaw' Layfield (I Quit Match)
- Judgement Day May 22nd 2005

WrestleMania 21 the previous month witnessed Cena winning his first of 16 (to date) world championships in WWE at the expense of JBL. The match was OK but did not set the world alight. As a result, expectations were low to middling for this encounter. Cena initially took the fight to JBL in this I Quit match and it became evident early on that this would be a new type of use for this stipulation. These two would be trying to beat a submission out of the other. And beat each other they did, all over ringside and up and over JBL's limo and the truck on which Cena made his entrance.

The main body of the match was the epitome of a main event garbage brawl. Not bad by any stretch but certainly not all time great. What elevated this match on to the list was the creative finish. A great example of character work came when JBL picked up the mic himself and quit not while locked in a submission but while Cena hoisted an exhaust pipe ready to hit him. That he quit rather than take the blow, while quite capable of continuing, played to the inherent cowardice of the character. A trait that was uniquely mixed with such bravado and power to create a truly loathsome bully heel. This finish showcased that perfectly.

Of course after the finish, Cena lamped JBL with the exhaust pipe anyway. Gotta send those fans home happy!
#6 - World Heavyweight Championship Match - The Undertaker (c) vs. Batista (Last Man Standing Match) - Backlash, April 29th 2007

This encounter was a rematch of one of the most criminally underrated matches in WrestleMania history. Their encounter at WM23 in Detroit was overshadowed by John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels in the main event. For many though, these two put on the match of that particular night.

This match is easily on par with the original, if not better. At WrestleMania, most expected 'Taker to win and extend his streak which put an asterisk against the drama. Not here. It was anyone's game and these two bulls tore in to one another from the bell. Batista was as good as anyone at this point at working as a big man main eventer and of course Undertaker was his equal. The chemistry between these two was immense and the pair of them had the crowd where they wanted them at every single point of the match.

The finish came with a spear off the stage by Batista resulting in some fancy special effect fireworks and a partial collapse of the stage. A bit cheesy perhaps but a fitting end to this match that truly felt like Godzilla facing off with King Kong amidst destruction all around them. A draw was the finish that kept both guys strong and was arguably more satisfying than either of them gaining a victory over the other.

If you don't remember this match, go and watch it now. An outstanding encounter on a superb PPV. This article will be here when you get back.
#5 - Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H (Steel Cage Match), Extreme Rules, 19th May 2013

Back with us?

This was the third and final match of the trilogy between these two. SummerSlam saw Lesnar defeat HHH handily and 'break his arm' in the process. It was hugely well received and Lesnar's first big win since returning to the WWE. Their rematch at WrestleMania 29 saw HHH get his win back to level the series and bring us to this deciding encounter which marked a year since Lesnar's big return.

The story told here was old school booking 101. The cage was Lesnar's domain and within it, he ruled. However, there was an achilles heel. Early in the match, Brock 'injured' his left knee on the cage which allowed him to look vulnerable and led HHH to get strong offence in without Brock looking weak. It was clever. In handicapping the beast they allowed for a more even match and put the outcome very much in doubt.

As with many matches on this list, it is a stipulation match which means for the most part, the traditional wrestling takes a back seat. These guys adhered to that formula with a methodical power match that become a familiar staple of Lesnar's second WWE run. The finish was screwy but satisfying. The fans still react to the sledgehammer and when HHH unleashed it, the crowd went up a notch. They loved it even more when HHH grabbed Paul Heyman (A man whom the phrase 'love to hate' was surely invented for) and hit him with a Pedigree. Of course this allowed Lesnar to turn the tables on his opponent by using the sledgehammer and following that up with an F5 for the victory.

We can look back on this match really as the beginning of the dominant Brock Lesnar that was so successful in 2014 and beyond. His next outing was at SummerSlam with CM Punk and that ultimately led to him ending The Streak the following year.
#4 - World Heavyweight Championship Match - Sheamus (c) vs. Daniel Bryan (2 out of 3 falls match)
- Extreme Rules, April 29th 2012

With hindsight, that 18 second loss to Sheamus the month prior to this worked out OK for Bryan didn't it? That said, it is hard to explain unless you were there just how angry that loss made the fans. Not just because in their eyes it signalled a lack of respect for Bryan but also because they felt cheated out of what should have been a great match. Whilst you can debate the validity of the former complaint, the latter was right on the money. For the second year in a row the fans had been cheated out of a WrestleMania match that they expected to be an epic battle. The clash of styles between these two really got fans excited for the prospect of a superb match and to be denied this two years in a row was frustrating. It must have been been equally frustrating for the two men involved too. Knowing what they were capable of, they were not being allowed to show their skill as performers on the grandest stage. When this match was booked, you can be certain that a big part of what fuelled this spectacular showing was an absolute determination to give the fans what they were salivating for and also sticking it right to the top brass who sidelined them.

If their mission was to show their ability then mission accomplished and then some. Everything anybody expected from this meshing of skill sets came to life. Bryan was still very much in his heel pomp during this match and that came in to play when he deliberately lost the first fall via DQ when he unleashed a flurry of kicks on Sheamus' arm and refusing the referee's count to inflict more damage. Smart strategy that laid the groundwork for the rest of the match because now the bigger Sheamus was having to battle with just one effective arm. That played directly in to the result of the second fall when Bryan applied the Yes Lock almost immediately that led to Sheamus passing out in the hold and thus taking even more damage. Bryan's cunning effectively turned this in to a one fall match with a hideously injured babyface trying to overcome grave odds. Delicious heel booking. After five or so minutes of back and forth action, Sheamus nailed Bryan with a surprise Brogue Kick and took the win, defending his championship in the process.

This was an amazing match and it had to be. Both guys had a point to prove. Make no mistake, this match was probably the most important of Bryan's WWE career at this point. He was certainly not pegged for the success that was soon to come his way but this showing opened so many eyes. It would be flippant to say this is the match that got the fans on his side because they had been cheering him for some time. This was however the match that solidified Bryan as a talent in the eyes of management and set the table for the glorious path ahead of him.
#3 - WWF Championship Match - 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin vs. The Rock (No Holds Barred Match) - Backlash: In Your House, April 25th 1999

Hands up, when you think of Austin vs. Rock on PPV, how many instantly recall this match? Very few of us I'm sure. That's because their famed trilogy of WrestleMania matches eclipses all. However, this was comfortably better than their WrestleMania 15 match the month prior and you could even argue that it was second only to their WrestleMania 17 encounter in terms of quality.

Coming at the tail end of The Rock's 1998-99 main event heel run, this match featured Shane McMahon as special guest referee in order to stack the deck in The Corporation's favour.

A caveat to this report is that this match could be described as Peak Attitude Era. By that I mean that very little of the action could be described as catch-as-catch-can, most of it took place outside the ring and the match itself was weaved in to a soap opera storyline that involved Vince McMahon going soft due to the worry over The Undertaker's stalking of his daughter Stephanie and his son Shane taking the opportunity to boot him out of The Corporation and take control himself. That's as much as I am going to recap of that....

As stated above, this match is the epitome of main event, Attiude Era matches which meant multiple finishers, throwing each other into the set, run ins, belt shots, table bumps, middle fingers, announcer's headsets being worn, ringside cameras being wielded and an absolutely rabid crowd. The belt came when Vince McMahon came to the ring and reluctantly evened the odds for Austin, allowing him to retain his title.

The placement of this match will probably raise a few eyebrows as this style is resolutely not to everyone's tastes. if however, like this writer you were 17 when this match took place, you would have eaten every last scrap of it up and if it is your bag, you will thoroughly believe it deserves it's placement.
#2 - WWE Championship Match - John Cena (c) vs. Batista (Last Man Standing Match)
- Extreme Rules, April 25th 2010

In the run up to this feud we bore witness to one of the most wonderful modern heel characters in WWE. Douchebag Batista was simply a glorious heat machine in his Miami Beach style garish clothing, big shades and pompous gym rat attitude. This was the guy who would steal your girlfriend and make you thank him for the privilege. It truly was a fantastic run. Cena and Batista had tussled at WrestleMania 26 in one of the better matches on the card and this rematch was fought under Last Man Standing Rules. Put simply, it was a war.

Cena steps up in big matches. Of that there can be no dispute. Batista however wasn't thought to be on his level as a big match worker but here he more than held his own (Which to be fair, he did on more occasions than one would remember looking back at his body of work.). These two beat each other half to death and you really felt the hatred as they battled all over the arena, unleashing tables, chairs and parts of the set in an effort to keep each other down. Batista was the unstoppable monster and Cena was the hero who just would not die. Amidst the brutality we also got one of the funniest ad-libs in WWE history. When a fan audibly shouted 'I hate you Batista', Big Dave shot back, quick as a flash with 'I hate you too!' Simple but hilarious and 100% made by his delivery. Did I mention how much I loved heel Batista?

The finish came with a piece of ingenuity from Cena when he used duct tape to keep the big guy down for the 10 count. At this point inventive finishes had not been seen much in Last Man Standing matches and so this made Cena look resourceful, made Batista look super strong and also gave the cry baby element of his character a genuine reason to fuel his walk out and tantrum not long after.

A superb match. Bettered in our opinion by only one WrestleMania rematch in history....
#1 - World Heavyweight Championship Match - Chris Benoit (c) vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels - Backlash, April 18th 2004

Let's address the elephant in the room first. Many people won't accept or want to recall the finer moments of Chris Benoit's career given what transpired at the end of his life. If you feel that way then I completely understand and I invite you to read no further, consider this a nine match list and think of the prior match as the best of the lot. For anybody else who, given the passage of time can separate Benoit the man from Benoit the wrestler, I wish to present far and away the finest WrestleMania rematch of all time.

The rematch follows arguably the greatest title match in WrestleMania history and inarguably the greatest triple threat match in WWE history. Tough steps to walk in. Benoit, at the time, was the favourite of the so called smarter fan. A man who many loved for his skills inside the ring. They (well, we actually), longed for his success. His clean victory in his main event opportunity brought elation and celebration to a fanbase that could never have dreamed of him reaching that high.

That they went back to the well with the same match for Backlash was brave indeed. The easy match would have been a singles encounter with either of the two former and future DX cohorts. Credit to WWE. They knew they couldn't top what came before so instead they decided to do it completely differently.

Whilst Benoit was far from fluky in winning the first match, this encounter presented a far different version of the man in this match. Gone was the underdog and in his place was the dominant, confident champion that could stand his ground with the two legends. His adoring hometown crowd in Edmonton, Alberta furthered the aura of Benoit as a conquering hero as he took the fight to his opponents. The match went back and forth continually and the finishing sequence didn't really kick in until Michaels missed a dive on to his two foes and crashed through the announce table (That had cunningly already been prepared for impact by Edge in a previous match). From there the sledgehammer came in to play and we also had a ref bump leading in to the slightly heel leaning Shawn Michaels locking in the Sharpshooter on Benoit. The crowd lost their collective minds when Earl Hebner dashed to the ring. They were rightly fearful that Benoit's moment in the sun was going to be a short one with another Screwjob of a Canadian in his home country about to take place. Instead, we got the very best of the many callbacks to Montreal with Benoit breaking the hold to the euphoria of the crowd before soon winning with a cathartic Sharpshooter of his own. Not only was this Benoit solidifying his title reign and place on the card, this was also WWE subtly apologising to it's Canadian audience for their actions towards Bret Hart almost seven years earlier.

As I said at the start of this section, I can completely understand anyone that wants to scrub this match from existence. But for my mind it is the greatest WrestleMania rematch of all time. Not only a fantastic match in its own right. but also a match that can stand confidently next to the stellar match that preceded it.

So that's it people. The first edition of Ten Of The Best is at an end. What did you think? Like it? Disagreed with us? Did we miss any matches? Please comment and let us know your thoughts.

Paul (@BensonLives)
By Paul Benson 05 Jan, 2018

It’s that time of year again for our now traditional end of year awards. We know that every website, blog, podcast etc produces a list like this so hopefully annual awards fatigue isn’t setting in just yet.

One important point to note is that these awards cover WWE/NXT only, Whilst we try to catch wrestling from all over the place, we can only consistently watch WWE so it feels unfair to try to judge outside of these. The awards themselves are decided by the core Hooked On team and based on our opinion only. We hope that you guys will have differing opinions on most of these because after all, variety is the spice of wrestling life!

We also concentrate on the positive awards only. Not for us these ‘worst of’ awards. There has been PLENTY of bad this year (cough cough JINDER MAHAL: WWE CHAMPION cough cough) but we choose not to dwell on it. Let’s remember and discuss the good parts.

With that in mind, here we go...

Male Wrestler Of The Year - AJ Styles

Nobody is going to give us any points for originality on this one are they? For the second year in a row we are giving this award to The Phenomenal One. The only differences this year is that unlike in 2016, it isn’t even close.

For various reasons, it has not been easy to stand out on WWE’s roster in WWE year. The machine itself is less reliable on individuals than ever before and unless your name is Roman Reigns, it is very difficult to have the focus on you that you need to shine. However, Styles is the exception to this and has somehow got even better in his second year with the company. 2017 started with a bang for Styles as he posted a bonafide match of the year contender with John Cena at the Royal Rumble. More on that later. He transitioned that in to a feud with Shane McMahon leading to a WrestleMania showdown in the opening match. Whilst many observers scoffed at this pairing, there’s no doubting that a pairing with the younger McMahon man is seen as a badge of honour and a show of faith. Sure, it may have stopped Styles having the chance to steal the biggest show of the year but it spoke volumes for his position with the company and for that, his fans should have rejoiced. A good match at Mania led to a much clamoured for face turn and a feud with Kevin Owens that seemed like a match made in heaven. It’s impossible to deny that this feud failed to live up to expectations but we were still treated to a few damn good matches.

Then came Manchester. At the SmackDown Live taping in October, Styles became the first man to win the WWE Championship outside of North America by mercifully ending the reign of Jinder Mahal. A warmer ovation it is hard to remember outside of WrestleMania in recent years as fans were delighted to see AJ take the strap again.

The year ended with a pair of PPV matches against Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series (Excellent) and a rematch against Jinder Mahal (Much better than we could have hoped for).

Nobody has had consistently better mathes than AJ Styles this year. His in ring skill is beyond compare in WWE and in real rarified air across the globe. His amazing ability and newfound charisma with the microphone puts Styles on a pedestal far above his peers. In probably the easiest choice in this article, AJ Styles in the Hooked On Wrestling Male WWE Wrestler of the Year.

Honourable Mentions: Roman Reigns, Braun Strowman, Kevin Owens, John Cena

Female Wrestler Of The Year - Alexa Bliss

It’s been a strong year for women in WWE with some strong candidates for this award across WWE and NXT. Whilst many would have pegged Asuka for this award, we feel she did most of her best NXT work in 2016. Instead we are giving this award to a woman who understands and embodies her character like very few in wrestling do. Whilst she will never be known as the greatest female worker on the planet, few wrestlers of either sex can lay claim to bringing such energy to every story, match and segment she is in. Well, except Bayley This Is Your Life…

Bliss commands your attention whenever she is on screen not just with her storytelling in the ring, not just her verbal jabs (and she really is a wizard on the mic) but with the merest of looks. Bliss can convey with one raised eyebrow what it takes many wrestlers a whole promo to emote. Has anyone in WWE ever had such a command of body language? It’s hard to think of anyone….

Alexa Bliss is our female wrestler of the year.

Honourable Mentions: Charlotte Flair, Asuka, Kairi Sane

Tag Team Of The Year - The Usos

Sneakily, WWE has seen something of a tag team renaissance in 2017. Both Raw and SmackDown are blessed with a number of fantastic tag teams. It says something for the depth of the divisions when you can break up American Alpha and the division doesn’t miss a step.

There are a number of teams that could lay claim to this award but for us, one tag team stands head and shoulders above the rest. One tag team stands out in a sea of excellence to the point where they could be count themselves in the conversation amongst the greatest of all time. That team is Jimmy and Jey, The Usos.

Following a strong run as babyfaces, The Usos were starting to get seriously stale before a turn that moved them from fun loving island boys to a pair of nasty, arrogant hoods saw them move their already strong act to a completely new level. 2017 started with a strong series of matches with American Alpha. After a few quiet months, the run up to Money In The Bank saw the start of arguably the best WWE tag team feud in 15 years. The series of matches between Jimmy and Jey and The New Day were sublime. Matches at MITB, SummerSlam, Hell In A Cell and SmackDown started excellently and got better, somehow. This feudd came to an end with an Usos face turn and match with Raw Tag Team Champions Sheamus and Cesaro at Survivor Series which was also an incredible spectacle. Their opponents that night, by the way, can count themselves desperately unlucky not to win this award. They would have walked away with it in most years of the last decade.

Let’s see what 2018 has in store for the Usos (A move to Raw? Team up with cousin Roman Reigns? Feud with The Authors Of Pain?). Whatever it is, it is likely to be spectacular.

Honourable Mentions: The Bar, The New Day

Most Improved Wrestler Of The Year - Braun Strowman

It’s not rocket science is it? In fact, it used to be Booking 101. You take a guy, you hide his weaknesses and you showcase his positives. Sounds fairly straightforward doesn’t it? But how many times do we see this actually happen in modern wrestling? It’s rare. Really rare.

So it’s extremely gratifying to see the tactic work so well when WWE employ it. This time last year it was clear Strowman had something. He was being prepared for a top run and was rumoured as a potential Royal Rumble dark horse. However at that time it was clear he was still learning how to fulfil the role the company had earmarked for him. If he didn’t have the ability to portray the nasty giant then the push (That would have been shoved down our throats regardless) would have failed hard. Fortunately for all concerned, Braun Strowman is clearly a guy who understands his craft and is eager to work hard and improve. Clearly he’s never going to be a ‘worker’s worker’ and that doesn’t matter because he really doesn’t have to be. There is more than one way to put on an entertaining match and Strowman is well on his way to mastering his particular niche. This year has seen a plethora of entertaining brawls with Roman Reigns and a trio of Raw main events against The Big Show that were each far, far better than we expected them to be. It’s testament to Strowman’s work ethic and respect he garners that Show was willing to work so hard to give him the rub. Strowman was also clearly the MVP of a titanic SummerSlam main event and has an aura and a presence about him that is unmatched by the vast majority of big men in wrestling. And that’s the key point. Big men and giants have come and gone in WWE and only a few have been able to truly stand out as offering the full package. It’s not about just looking big and mean. It’s about using your natural skills and physical charisma to truly become a giant amongst men, if you readers will pardon the cliche. Strowman is well on track to be in the conversation with the very best giants in the sport. Andre, Big Show, Undertaker, Kane, Vader and a select few others set the standard. Will we be mentioning Strowman in the same breath in years to come? If his 2017 rate of improvement carries on then we most certainly will.

Honourable Mentions: The Usos, Alexa Bliss, Neville, Authors Of Pain, Velveteen Dream

Match Of The Year - AJ Styles Vs. John Cena @ WWE Royal Rumble

By far the closest award to decide in this entire article. To the point where we wrote two different paragraphs with two different winners. In the end we went for John Cena vs AJ Styles in the WWE Championship match at the Royal Rumble by a hair’s breadth over Pete Dunne vs Tyler Bate from NXT TakeOver: Chicago. Both of these matches were superb examples of their craft that absoluetly sucked you in to the moment. Both showcased a simple one on one match between a beloved face and a hated but respected heel. Both had coveted championships at stake and felt like the outcome truly mattered.

I guess the only reason we gave Cena/Styles the edge was because it was on a much bigger stage with tens of thousands of people screaming the place down in San Antonio. It is obviously harder to tell a story in a giant stadium than in front of a relatively smaller crowd so let’s give the nod to the veterans but we will say this….I wouldn’t argue with ANYONE that claimed Dunne/Bate was better. On a different day I might well agree. In closing I’ll say this….Although they didn’t get the nod this year, I’ll be gobsmacked if neither of these guys win this honour in years to come. Both men have massive futures.

Honourable Mentions: Pete Dunne vs. Tyler Bate @ NXT TakeOver: Chicago, Braun Strowman vs. Roman Reigns vs. Samoa Joe vs. Brock Lesnar @ SummerSlam, The New Day vs. The Usos @ Hell In A Cell

WWE Event Of The Year - SummerSlam

Let’s be honest. 2017 was not a vintage year for Pay Per Views. There is no one stand out show that you can point at as the clear event of the year. Much like WWE as a whole, it was a year of highs and lows with both often being showcased on one card.

With that said, we are going to give the nod to SummerSlam simply by virtue of it playing host to a strong number of good to very good matches. The highlight was the Universal title match between Brock Lesnar, Braun Strowman, Roman Reigns and Samoa Joe which was a low end match of the year contender. Two tag team matches also served as strong highlights with Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose against Sheamus and Cesaro shining on the main card whilst The New Day vs. The Usos took its place as hands down the greatest match ever to take place on a PPV pre-show (Utterly criminal positioning by the way). Solid efforts between Alexa Bliss and Sasha Banks and Aj Styles and Kevin Owens rounding out a very good card that still won’t be remembered that strongly in years to come. Imagine how good it could have been if Randy Orton vs. Rusev were given a real match and Shinsuke Nakamura given a real opponent!

Honourable Mentions: WrestleMania 33, Royal Rumble, Survivor Series

Most Memorable Moment - The Festival Of Friendship

From the moment that Kevin Owens and Chris Jericho began teaming, it was obvious that we would see a feud between the two sooner or later. After all, this is wrestling. It was also fairly clear that upon that feud commencing, Jericho would be the one to play the sympathetic babyface. Thirdly, it wasn’t terribly hard to predict that Jericho’s acceptance of Goldberg’s Universal Title challenge would the catalyst for that turn. What was not as obvious was the timing of this break up. Most would have assumed that it would take place after the aforementioned Goldberg vs Kevin Owens match. Therefore, come the February 13th Raw, not too many people were expecting the eventual outcome we got for the pre-announced Festival Of Friendship.

This segment took a lot of cues from the highest rated Raw segment of all time, Mankind’s This Is Your Life tribute to The Rock in the late 1990s. We had cameos from terrible magicians and of all people, Gillberg. We saw paintings and gifts galore bestowed by Jericho on his best friend Owens. It was cheesy, it was over the top and it was quite hilarious. All the time you could see Owens stewing. Little did we know what the impact gift would be. When Jericho opened his brand new list he was delighted. For a moment. The crushed look of disappointment on his face when he realised his name was on the list turned quickly to fear when he realised it wasn’t a new List Of Jericho at all. It was a List of KO. This was followed by a brutal and cold beating from KO to his now former best friend. What made this segment so incredibly special was the masterful way it was played by both men, especially Jericho. This relationship was given months to build and so when it finally came to an end, we the audience had invested big time in to it which made the pay off that much more special. Credit especially to Jericho who’s over the top ridiculousness for the majority of the skit, contrasted wonderfully with the understated sorrow that marked the closing moments. It was truly a masterclass and one of the very best Raw segments of all time. It would be hard to beat this as a segment in any year.

Honourable Mentions: The Hardy Boyz Return, Break up of #DIY, AJ Styles winning the WWE Championship in Manchester

Non-Wrestler Of The Year - Zelina Vega

Truth be told, it was difficult to see anyone that stood out on the main roster this year. Usually it’s very easy to slot Paul Heyman in here but there is a distinct feeling that we’ve seen his schtick one too many times nowadays. Has he really been as prominent, noticeable or interesting in recent years? If we were going with a member of the announcing team then Corey Graves and Nigel McGuinness would be the only two who remotely had a shot.

In the end, our choice was fairly simple. It isn’t often that a manager or valet can add as immensely to their charge’s act that they make a fundamental difference to their position on the roster and perception or response from the fans. Heyman did with Lesnar and more recently, the addition of Maryse was the catalyst for the total rehabilitation and resurrection of The Miz as a credible upper-midcard player.

It’s with that in mind that we are giving this award to Zelina Vega. The addition of her presence has fundamentally changed everything about Andre Cien Almas’ overall package to the point he has gone from mid-card afterthought to NXT Champion in a matter of months. Unlike Jinder Mahal on the main roster, that promotion has been as deserved as it was surprising. Vega’s positioning is as a business associate rather than romantic figure and that is what is key to making the pairing work. She is invested in making sure Almas succeeds and you immediately know her motivations for doing so. Her presence at ringside carries enough gravitas to give him an instant dose of extra credibility. Make no mistake, this pairing is a main roster act in the making and it won’t be too many months before we see just that.

Honourable Mentions: Corey Graves, Nigel McGuiness

The ‘Simon Malin’ Debut Of The Year Award - Samoa Joe

For years we clamoured for Joe to be part of WWE and we thought it would never come. When he finally arrived on NXT in 2015 we rejoiced. To a point. Because we all knew he was there to coach the younger guys and put them over on their way to the main roster. Right? Before long, Joe was the most over guy in NXT and not long after that, the brand’s champion. OK, clearly this guy was sticking around but still, NXT would be his ceiling. We all knew that for a fact, didn’t we? As much as we hoped otherwise, we were all pretty sure that Joe had reached his ceiling. It wasn’t until early 2017 that we felt change in the air and it became a possibility that Joe would be moved up to the main roster. Our thoughts then turned to how he would be introduced. Would he be a face or heel? What brand would he be on? Would he be aligned with anyone? What transpired, in hindsight, shouldn’t have shocked us at all. Joe debuted just prior to WrestleMania as an associate of HHH by attacking the former ally of the NXT head honcho, Seth Rollins. Not a bad spot to be put in eh? It was an exciting, unexpected debut that gave Joe a massive vote of confidence and air of menace from day one and he has parlayed that into a great first year on the roster. He has been featured in FOUR PPV main events (Who would ever have expected that?) including his biggest WWE win to date when he won a Fatal Five Way match for the right to face Brock Lesnar at Great Balls Of Fire. That the subsequent feud between them elicited such a great response can be traced back to WWE giving Joe the proverbial ball immediately and the veteran wrestler (now superstar?) carrying it in his iron grip, just as we all knew he would.

Honourable Mentions: The Hardy Boyz, Adam Cole, Asuka

The ‘Jimi Murphy’ Underrated Talent Of The Year Award - Rusev

Let’s end on one that is going to split opinion shall we? Before we even decide the winner we have got to decide on the definition of underrated. Do we mean someone that doesn’t get the love they deserve from the fans? Do we mean someone who’s skill in letting other stars shine goes unnoticed? Do we mean someone who despite an obvious ability to shine in a bigger spotlight is held back by booking and creative? We are going to go with the latter simply because it’s a little bit more mischievous.

And using that criteria, our award goes hands down to (probably) Bulgaria’s favourite son, Rusev. When he arrived in WWE he was clearly positioned extremely well. With a long undefeated streak, a feared finisher and a manager who was as hated as she was desired, the Bulgarian Brute was positioned as player on Raw from the word go. In fact, it wasn’t long before he snared the US Title and was booked with WWE’s biggest star, John Cena, on their biggest stage, WrestleMania. Surely he was a made man? Well, not quite. The match with Cena ended up as a pinnacle rather than a jumping off point for his career. A ham-fisted romantic storyline with Summer Rae and Dolph Ziggler was a mess and ended with the pointless split with Lana, to the detriment of his act. And really, that’s all they wrote on Rusev’s career to date. He’s been nothing of note since. A recent resurgence, partnership with Aiden English and the whole Rusev Day schtick is getting over like gangbusters to the point of Rusev being a defacto face for the first time in WWE. Maybe 2018 will be the year when Rusev is pushed in line with his real value as a performer. Here’s hoping.

So that’s it for our awards. Agree? Disagree? Let us know in the comments below.

By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Are you excited for SummerSlam? We sure are. We hope you are planning on joining us at one of our ELEVEN SummerSlam parties around the country on Sunday. It really is the best way to watch outside of being in the Barclays Centre. If you want to join us, head to Ringside World and search 'Hooked On' to see if we are in a city near you. 

Over the last week we have been posting individual match previews for the thirteen matches on the main card and kick off shows. In short, we are expecting one hell of a show. If it comes close to living up to it's potential then it will be the best show of the year quite comfortably.

Do you agree with our picks? Strongly disagree? Either way, why not enter our SummerSlam Prediction Competition. If you can prove yourself to be the wisest wrestling fan in the competition, you can win not only bragging rights over your mates but also VIP tickets to our Royal Rumble parties in January. If you want to play, just click here .

So without further delay, read on to see what we expect to see from each of the individual matches on the card.

All match graphics courtesy of WWE.com .

By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Seriously, talk about last minute! They didn't even book this on the last Raw. They waited until three days before the PPV to even tease that these guys were going to be on the card. Obviously it smacks at them mopping up the major players they hadn't booked in to a match to make sure they were featured. I would say WrestleMania seems a long time ago for Matt & Jeff but at least they're not still wrestling an owl.....

This match has face win written all over it. Why else would it be put together? Miztourage can of course take the fall, protecting the Intercontinental Champion in the process and it gives the fans a chance to pop for The Hardy's antics both old and new, and gives Jordan a chance to further his arc of blue chipper turned entitled Daddy's boy. 

This should be a fun ten minutes but not too many people are going to remember it once the PPV itself starts.

Predicted Winners: The Hardy Boyz & Jason Jordan

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Anyone else find it a bit odd that WWE gave us this long brewing match on Raw? Did they just want a different set up? Something fresher than Neville defending again? Maybe they just wanted the fun scene of Titus celebrating in front of a hot Boston crowd. Whatever it was, Neville is going to be a man possessed to get that belt back and you know what? He's probably going to get it.

His whole character is based on being the best. Being The King Of The Cruiserweights. To be that he has to actually have the belt. It's a very old school champion set up in that regard isn't it? Like Ric Flair or HHH of old. He is defined by the belt and him having it makes both him and the championship itself stronger.

For that reason, we expect Neville to walk out of Brooklyn as the two time cruiserweight champ. Long live The King!
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Bold prediction....This might well end up being the greatest match ever on the history of pre-PPV shows.

That sounds like damning with faint praise but really it isn't. There have been some fabulous pre-show matches in the recent past and most of them have featured guys in this match. The pick of the bunch for me is likely The Usos Vs. Seth Rollins & Roman Reigns in 2013. I genuinely think this is going to top it.

By any measure, it's a crime that these guys have been 'relegated' to the pre-show. These are unquestionably the two best teams on SmackDown and two of the best that have come along in a long time. The Usos have reignited their careers as heels and The New Day keep on doing their thing. By all rights it should have got stale by now but somehow, it hasn't. They keep reinventing themselves just enough to stay fresh and entertaining.

This match will feature four men (Five if you count the spare New Day member) who will be desperate to prove themselves. Desperate to steal the show. Desperate to show that it was a mistake and an insult to bump them from the PPV itself. And you know what? I would bet big on them doing this match. We go in to the match, the third in the trilogy, with a very well built, old school tag team feud. Match one, the heels retained by shenanigans. Match two, the faces took the belt thanks to a career performance from their perceived weak link (Woods). Match three is the cap on the trilogy and these guys will want to put a rather nice bow on this feud.

My money goes on The New Day retaining. For one thing, it's the logical step in the story. Also, the bigger picture seemingly needs face champs. The next challengers feel like they are going to be heels. That could well be the team that have been attacking Breezango. Who could that be? Up in the air. Could be Harper & Rowan, The Bollywood Boyz or even a new team from NXT such as The Authors Of Pain Or Sanity. Whoever it is, expect them to be pushed into the challengers role quite quickly after running through the Fashion Police.

In conclusion, this is my dark horse match of the evening. Do not be surprised if this is the match of the weekend. Who needs PPV anyway?

Predicted Winners: The New Day

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
I'm trying really hard to resist any BIG plays on words for this match....

This is the last match to preview on the main card and for many, it's going to be the most likely to be a dud, quality wise on extremely strong overall show. For fans of bell to bell action, it isn't looking good. Big Show knows his role as a giant and it's tried and true after over 20 years in the business. Cass on the other hand is still trying to put all the physical tools to good use to become a convincing big man. At the moment he feels a long way off where he needs to be. If we are being cruel, he really lacks the mean, rough look and his physique, whilst tall, is still quite gangly. More basketballer than gigantic grappler. This feud is clearly designed for him to work with a master of the craft and hopefully some of Show's experience will be passed on to the younger man. Let's hope that mission is accomplished at least.

For that reason, Cass should and will win this match. There are some wildcards in play of course. Enzo being in the cage could be a factor or it could be just another way to haze the unpopular loudmouth. Also, the interjection by The Club this past week on Raw may also come in to play at some point. But overall, this seems like a sub-ten minute Big Cass banker. 

Predicted Winner: Big Cass

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
We are going to put as much effort in to this match as WWE have booking it. So, it's going to be a pretty good match and Orton will win with the RKO. Done and dusted.


Seriously though, how frustrating to see this guy being constantly wasted. He's such a force in the ring with an incredible personality out of it. With a bit of care and investment of time he could EASILY have been part of the Raw main event with the other working brutes and he would not have seemed remotely out of place. When he came back in late June he could easily have been positioned as a face and got some great support. It was such an easy story. The one time enemy of the US has realised just how much opportunity living in the country has given him and how he now wants to right his previous wrongs and defend it against Jinder Mahal etc. It's so easy. It would be like the Nikolai Volkoff turn all those years ago only with a guy that could actually work a lick. Instead he is spinning his wheels in a tired anti-American heel role. Hell, he's not even the only one doing that gimmick on his show. Jinder Mahal and Kevin Owens (To an extent) are doing the same blooming thing higher up the card. There's two opponents for him straight away. Honestly, I'm getting frustrated even writing this!

Anyway, Orton is going to win by RKO, as above. Let's just hope that I am wrong and this is all a holding pattern for a big Rusev push. He arguably deserves it more than anyone in the company.

Predicted Winner: Randy Orton

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
First of all, how refreshing is it to get title matches for both women's titles on a main PPV that are both (wo)mano a (wo)mano?  It so often feels like multi-person matches are thrown together to get more superstars on the card at the expense of proper story. Well, not this time.

That said, this story hasn't been too compelling so far. That's not a huge problem as it's a fairly fresh match with a belt involved so they don't need to ladle on the soap opera but if I were to nitpick, I would quite like a bit more sizzle with this particular steak.

Naomi as champion is an interesting one. She clearly has cracked it in terms of presentation. The 'Feel The Glow' stuff is truly unique. Sure, the purists will spit out their cookies at the neon flashing title but what the heck, it's not always about us old fogies. I'm sure the generation before us would have been equally upset with entrance music at one stage. No, they've done a great job giving her a real brand but no she needs to step up to the plate in terms of the substance behind the neon. Don't get me wrong, I think she's doing fine, no complaints. But when you look at the strides Alexa Bliss has made in a similar time frame, she's lagging behind a touch. Will she get there? Actually, yes, I think she will. She's got good basics, a huge work ethic and goodwill from the fans. She's on the right path. And working with veterans like Natalya will absolutely help her down that path.

Expect this match to be a nice showcase for Naomi with the champ coming out on top. The obvious wrinkle is Carmella and her Money In The Bank briefcase. We had our fingers burned talking about SummerSlam cash ins earlier this week so we won't be so bold as to predict she cashes it in with any certainty but it does feels like the right stage for it to happen.

Predicted Winner: Naomi

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 18 Aug, 2017
Clearly WWE aren't too fussed about subtlety when it comes to Bray bringing out The Demon are they? To their credit, it has been exactly a year since we've seen Finn in the paint and they've got merch to shift so who can blame them?

So far with these previews I've been largely positive and deservedly so. Unfortunately, that ends here for now and the reason is not the man from Bray, it's the man called Bray.

Most fans have long since tired with Wyatt's act. It just doesn't accomplish anything. He comes out, spouts his gobbledy gook, laughs, loses and then carries on like nothing happened. Is that even a gimmick? It's certainly not a character. Frankly, the closest comparison in terms of past superstars to Wyatt's act is The Boogeyman. Both 'monsters', both ridiculous and both use props and elaborate entrances. Neither of them were useful and neither of them engage in useful feuds that entertain or elevate other performers and themselves. The only difference is that Wyatt is a better worker. Not great but much better than The Boogeyman. I'm now of the belief that Bray Wyatt, the character, needs to go. For good. Not only is he not entertaining but he's actively dragging down other characters and performers on the show. Think back over the last few years. How many guys have come in to a feud with Wyatt with decent momentum only to have that completely sucked out of them afterwards. A few months trading wins with Wyatt in average at best matches and they come out the other side far less over than when they went in. Think about it. Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Randy Orton, John Cena, Chris Jericho, Luke Harper, The New Day...You could probably name more. All have feuded with Wyatt (Or the Wyatt Family as a whole). How many of them have come out in a better position? None. How many have come out damaged in some way? All of them in my opinion. And unfortunately, Finn Balor is the next in line to hit the Wyatt wall. And this really is the last thing he needs. After coming to Raw last summer and immediately winning the new Universal Championship, his injury hiatus meant he returned this spring having to prove himself all over again. So far he simply has not done that and Wyatt is not helping one bit. Here's hoping whatever he does next (A heel turn, please!) can put him back on track.

The match itself will be standard Wyatt fare. Nothing exciting. It will be a straightforward win for Balor. Let's be honest, this match is all about the entrances and Balor's faceprint.

I promise I will be a bit more positive with my next review!

Predicted Winner: Finn Balor

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
By Paul Benson 17 Aug, 2017
Has there ever been a feud in wrestling between two such beloved performers that has turned out so....meh? If there is, I can't think of one. On paper, this is a dream feud between two of the very best wrestlers in the world. What's not to love? Well, most of it in execution. In terms of excitement and entertainment it hasn't really got off the launching pad. It would be easy to blame WWE booking for this (And it has been dry in terms of entertainment value) but you would still expect these guys to turn it on when they get in the ring but they just haven't. Every match has been decent but these two should be capable together of significantly better than just decent. Why has it been such a let down? Hard to say. It's not like either has been left mired without a push for a length of time as both are coming off world title reigns and sit towards the top of the card. Maybe it's just a case of two guys just not clicking. If that's the case, that's at least a good reason to be optimistic about this match. Both men are clearly hard working perfectionists and if the matches have been less than stellar, we can rest assured that they will want to do something about it. And what better place to do that than the second biggest show of the year with a McMahon as special guest referee?

Am I expecting something great despite past mediocrity? Actually, I am. I just can't believe that given plenty of time on a big stage with a hot crowd that these two won't leave us with something quite special. Keep the faith, people!

In terms of the outcome, I'm expecting a Styles win. One would suspect that KO will attempt to pull the wool over Shane's eyes only for it to backfire and lead to Money Mac favouring Styles either inadvertently or purposefully and raising Styles hand. Expect the fallout to be the end of the feud and the start of real hostilities between Owens and the Smackdown commissioner. 

Predicted Winner: AJ Styles

Image Courtesy of WWE.com
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