You could say this about pretty much every decade in professional wrestling for the last ten, but the 2010s was one of the wildest ten-year spans ever. New Japan Pro-Wrestling had their massive resurgence to become the world’s #2. Triple H gave birth to NXT. All Elite Wrestling happened, and somehow, Impact Wrestling is still alive.
The landscape of WWE in 2020 is very different compared to 2010, but in a lot of ways very similar. There’s still the Dolph Zigglers and the John Morrisons, but we now have Charlotte Flairs & Asukas, even Adam Coles & Keith Lees.
I went through every pay-per-view card of the 2010s and I found some real head-scratcher, forgotten or just straight-up underrated match-ups. Some of them I remember being great, others being so-so, others being, honestly, a bit shit. But as I saw these I was reminded of some bouts that I’d completely forgotten about, and that I feel many of us fans have.
I’m going to chronologically take you through some very fun findings.
John Cena defends the WWE Championship against R-Truth (Capitol Punishment 2011)
This one’s a doozy. R-Truth for the majority of 2011 was an upper-mid card heel and quite a menacing one at that. I was a mere pudgy seventh grader at the time and even then thought “this feels fucking random”, and it was. The match was nothing too special, very much like this whole show. This was also the main event of a house show I went to in June of that year in Sydney.
Truth lost this match but went on to later form the Awesome Truth with the Miz and ended up wrestling the Rock & John Cena at the 2011 Survivor Series in a match that shouldn’t have gone on last. John Cena went on to have the best feud of his career opposite CM Punk.
Cody Rhodes defends the Intercontinental Championship against Booker T (TLC 2011)
This wasn’t the only entry from the 2011 TLC event. I was literally flabbergasted reading this, I definitely didn’t remember it. Booker T made his return to WWE at the ’11 Rumble in an underrated moment in Rumble history. He served as the colour announcer on SmackDown for a while after that.
This is fucking funny.
For the life of me I have no memory of this feud, so how significant could it be?
Triple H vs Kevin Nash in a Sledgehammer Ladder Match (TLC 2011)
There’s a lot about this whole event that is funny to me, unintentionally. Sledgehammer Ladder Match sounds like the first thing you suggest in the booking meeting after doing a line of blow, that’s number one. Number two, this match went 18 minutes 18 seconds. The only match that went longer was the main event, an actual Tables, Ladders & Chairs match where in-ring/out-of-ring G.O.A.T. CM Punk defended the WWE Championship against both the Miz and Alberto Del Rio, which was 18 minutes 22 seconds. I’d make a joke about Kevin Nash wrestling in 2011, but he’s a G in real life so I’m going to lay off. Instead, check out his latest film here.
Triple H did say in a promo on RAW with CM Punk earlier that year, “I got a huge ego”.
Alberto Del Rio defends the WWE Championship against Rob Van Dam (Night of Champions & Battleground 2014)
Remembering this run for Rob Van Dam in the early 2010s is like remembering Will Ferrell in the Office. Except for this stretch, RVD did nothing as good as this.
Both men have since departed WWE. Del Rio for good reason as it turns out he’s a real piece of garbage. Van Dam seems to be living his best life. I wouldn’t race to rewatch either of these match-ups. My main thought regarding Van Dam is what if he didn’t get stripped of the WWE title in ‘06? I don’t think the reign would’ve been a lot more significant than it was, but like, maybe a little more?
CM Punk & Daniel Bryan vs Luke Harper & Erick Rowan (Survivor Series 2014)
This match was fucking dope. All four guys were absolutely dealing, just having a great kick-ass tag match. We discredit WWE often for their handling of tag team wrestling, but this one was a real fun one during a time when tag team wrestling was even less significant than it currently is.. I’d say this is one of the best non-NXT WWE tag matches of the decade. On the subject of fun, what’s more fun than CM Punk teaming with Daniel Bryan?
While it was great to see them team, I always preferred them as opponents. CM Punk and Daniel Bryan should’ve been to the 2010s what John Cena & Randy Orton was in the 2000s. What Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels was in the 1990s. There are multiple factors as to why this didn’t happen. I always envisioned Punk & Bryan in a WrestleMania main event. R E W A T C H this match.
Bray Wyatt vs Daniel Bryan (Royal Rumble 2014)
We saw it here, and we have seen it in the last year. Daniel Bryan has the rare ability to get a good match out of Bray Wyatt. I’m not burying Wyatt, I’ve been a big fan of him for a long time. He’s a perfectly fine wrestler, but he can’t get a great match out of everybody, but as shown here, if he’s in there with a generational talent like Daniel Bryan he can have a killer match.
This bout is definitely a good rewatch. The rest of the show maybe not so much.
The Shield vs the Wyatt Family (Elimination Chamber 2014)
This one might not be as forgotten as some others among this list, but it’s not mentioned as much as it should be. This match is possibly the best on this list. As the two trios stood opposite each other, before the bell even rang, the Minneapolis crowd chanted “This is Awesome”. Granted, I usually can’t stand this chant, if everything is awesome, nothing is awesome. But this moment truly was, and so was the match.
Again, everyone was dealing, they tore the house down. This is my favourite match of 2014. You could make the case that it’s the best match either trio either had in their respective then-current incarnations as well. In hindsight, this absolutely should’ve been on WrestleMania 30, instead it was the Shield vs the New Age Outlaws & Kane, and Bray Wyatt jobbing to John Cena. You tell me which is better.
On a side note, the poster for this event is laughable. You can’t try and tell me that WWE isn’t all about the McMahons.
Chris Jericho vs Bray Wyatt (Battleground 2014)
I look at this match through the lens of “imagine if it happened today”, and it probably would be nowhere near as good as the 2014 version, not that it was necessarily blow-away.. If it was in WWE, Bray would have to wrestle how either the Fiend or Funhouse Bray wrestles. If it was in AEW, maybe we could just see straight-up Windham Rotunda wrestle. But Jericho is getting more & more out of shape either way.
It’s also worth exploring how much both of these wrestlers have changed over the last six years, going from following the buzzards to becoming the Fiend with Bray and Jericho’s constant evolution. As far as gimmicks, this was certainly a much simpler time.
Adrian Neville defends the NXT Championship against Sami Zayn (NXT Takeover: R-Evolution)
Technical masterclass. This was one of, if not Neville’s best match in his WWE run. It was a highly emotional bout with a great ending. Zayn wins the NXT title and celebrates with a ring-full of friends and loved ones, including the late Pat Patterson as the crowd went banana.
I miss this Sami Zayn. So much fire and charisma. This isn’t to say that he’s a bad heel, but everyone knows that outside of the ring Rami Sebei is a great person. Neville since leaving WWE and re-assuming the PAC name has much more sauce than he did here.
Chris Jericho vs Neville (Beast in the East 2015)
This one was really good, although I feel it’s overshadowed by Finn Bálor’s NXT Championship win over Kevin Owens from the same show, and rightfully so. When AEW began I was eager to see the rematch but Chris Jericho’s stock has just been devalued so much for me. It’s sort of jarring to watch Jericho here and see how much better shape he was in compared to now. Neville/PAC on the other hand gets more shredded by the week.
Do yourself a favour and rewatch this one.
Chris Jericho vs AJ Styles (WrestleMania 32)
Let’s look at this situation in hindsight, knowing what we know now. AJ Styles jumped to WWE, debuting at #3 in the Royal Rumble. The one where he came in at #3, of all numbers, and Kevin Dunn kept the camera on Roman too long during AJ’s entrance, just in case you weren’t sure. This made Styles the hottest guy in wrestling at that time. The first man to enter this fold is Chris Jericho, in true Y2J fashion, jumping onto what’s hot.
I hated the idea of AJ Styles losing in his WrestleMania debut, and I still do, even though AJ did get the win back over Jericho in a #1 contenders 4-way the night after. I don’t see why AJ couldn’t have pinned Jericho at Mania then Cesaro or Kevin Owens the night after…
Roman Reigns vs Dean Ambrose vs Seth Rollins (Battleground 2016)
If you were a wrestling fan on the internet, you fantasy booked this match as the main event of WrestleMania 33. There was no other match that made more sense going on last on the biggest show, at this time. From the ashes of the Shield, these three ascended to the top of the card, it felt like nine out of every ten pay-per-view cards had a former Shield member in the main event.
Money in the Bank 2016 saw all three guys hold the WWE title when Roman lost it to Seth, then Dean Ambrose cashed in the briefcase he won hours prior on Seth. Then, all of a sudden, what feels like the biggest possible match happens on a B-level, maybe even C-level pay-per-view.
But of course, the brand split was imminent, and there would be a second world championship introduced, and Roman & Seth were drafted to RAW, while then-champion Ambrose headed to SmackDown. This is a major what-if match, it would’ve been so much better in a stadium.
The Usos holding the guy who just beat their cousin on their shoulders as part of the SmackDown celebration is very funny.
Dean Ambrose defends the WWE Championship against Dolph Ziggler (SummerSlam 2016)
I guess the biggest reason why this match is forgotten is because it wasn’t really that great. This wasn’t long into the late 2016 SmackDown Live! era, one of the more underrated pockets of WWE programming of this decade. For all the negative about this match, it felt fresh. I hate to use this cliche, but this match would’ve been much better on a Takeover show instead of a bloated tentpole main roster show.
I’m a big fan of both guys, I was always of the opinion that Ziggler should’ve left WWE in the mid 2010s and done a couple of G1s and maybe a BOLA to raise his stock. I’m glad Ambrose/Moxley has done this because his value has only risen since his departure from WWE.
Neville vs Tommy End (United Kingdom Championship Tournament 2017)
Before he became known to us as Aleister Black, fresh NXT-signee Tommy End was a surprise for this show and he got a great reaction from the UK crowd. The only thing that hurt this match was the announce team pitching to Charly Caruso for a medical update, but it inadvertently played over the PA in the arena, and this crowd, like the typical modern wrestling audience, just had to lose their shit over a production slip-up. It sort of killed the momentum of the match but if you ignore the crowd the wrestling was great. Neville has appeared in this list way too much.
Authors of Pain defend the NXT Tag Team Championships against DIY and The Revival in a Triangle Tag (NXT Takeover: Orlando)
This one is tons of fun. This to me is the most underrated match of 2017. There was a lot of great creativity here, including the initial allegiance between the two challenging teams, who feuded for the better part of the prior year. This was a great way to get AOP over as a force and the four guys in DIY & the Revival made the champions look like a million bucks.
Another fun part of this was Dawson & Gargano hitting DIY’s finish and Dash & Ciampa hitting the Shatter Machine. I love this match a lot. My main qualm with this match was the booking of eliminating DIY before the Revival, leaving it a heel vs heel third act. It did somewhat harm the momentum of the match, but this one bangs nonetheless.
AJ Styles vs Shane McMahon (WrestleMania 33)
Shane McMahon didn’t get to buy UFC twenty years ago, but at least he got the match of the card at WRESTLEMANIA. This is a great one for both Shane and AJ’s resume, with the latter having the ability to get a match this good out of a 47-year-old non-wrestler.
This one opened the show, and I remember my buddy overslept and missed this match. He asked me if he missed anything good as he joined me for the Kevin Owens vs Chris Jericho match, I didn’t expect him to have missed the match of the night. Going in I thought it was a waste of one of the best workers on the roster, but this match was a real unique display of just how great Styles is. That isn’t to say that AJ could’ve saved the WWE title match on this show had he been involved.
Roman Reigns vs John Cena (No Mercy 2017)
So at WrestleMania X8, we had the Rock vs Hulk Hogan. At WrestleMania XXVIII we had John Cena vs the Rock in a Once in a Lifetime match. At WrestleMania 29 we had a John Cena vs the Rock rematch. The common theme here isn’t hypocrisy, it’s WrestleMania, and the Rock, I guess. John Cena vs Roman Reigns was the next big torch-passing match, one that could surely only take place on a WrestleMania card.
This match, this generational, top guy of the 2000s vs top guy of 2010s match, happened at No Mercy. Not WrestleMania, not even SummerSlam, No Mercy. I think the placement of this match is the main reason why we don’t remember it like the three I mentioned previously. Imagine if they had done the Rock vs Hulk Hogan in the first big singles match at Judgement Day.
Finn Balor vs AJ Styles (TLC 2017)
I remember the weekend of TLC, I woke up reading “ROMAN REIGNS & BRAY WYATT OFF TLC, AJ STYLES TO FACE FINN BALOR, KURT ANGLE TO JOIN THE SHIELD FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY”, and all of a sudden I was way more excited for this show. To Vince McMahon’s credit, he really did the whole “if you can’t deliver what promised, deliver something better” thing here. I would never wish illness upon anybody, nor would I celebrate it, but this really worked out well for the show.
This was a great match, it should always be in the conversation for one of best of the decade, and I feel like it doesn’t get the love it deserves. Rewatch this one. Stay for the Too Sweet. Pay attention to AJ’s reaction to Balor’s stiff Coupe de Grace as well.
The New Day vs The Shield (Survivor Series 2017)
These are the two most important WWE groups of the 2010s, and sure, this is another one that could’ve been saved for WrestleMania, but the Shield individually were high-profile enough to have their own match on the show-of-shows, while the New Day weren’t there yet.
This was another cool one, it belonged on a big-four at the very least. It’s likely we’ll never see this match again so I’m glad we got it in the way that we did, and not just a main event on television. The only negative thing about this match was the hideous half-RAW, half-Shield t-shirts that had to be worn.
AJ Styles defends the WWE Championship against Rusev (Extreme Rules 2018)
Yeah this one’s weird, but I do like it when they do matches like this. We all knew Rusev wouldn’t win but it was good to see him in there wrestling for the title. Many of us thought this would help elevate Rusev, but now he’s doing a shit storyline in All Elite Wrestling so whatever.
Rusev was the hottest thing in WWE with the Rusev Day gimmick, and you know how Vince McMahon feels about wrestlers getting over organically. I felt as if Rusev could’ve gone all the way but that just wasn’t in the plans at this time. Yet another What If?
Seth Rollins vs Shinsuke Nakamura (Survivor Series 2018)
This match is the only one on this list that I was in the building for. It’s a shame that Nakamura had pretty much checked out by this point, but he still cooks for a good match with someone he likes, and he was cooking in this one. This was a super cool match to finally see even though it wasn’t a main event on a bigger show.
This match probably would’ve been twice, maybe even three times as good if it happened on an NXT Takeover in 2016. I’m still grateful I got to see it in the flesh. I also want to send a shout out to the Staples Center security for not spotting me drinking underage in the stands during this PPV.
Becky Lynch defends the SmackDown Women’s Championship against Asuka & Charlotte Flair in a TLC Match (TLC 2018)
This was a really pivotal match on the way to the first ever women’s WrestleMania main event. It was one of those great, exciting WWE main events with heaps of shit going on and a good amount of unpredictability. You’ve got a triangle TLC match with three of the top five or six wrestlers of the division, a hot storyline, an interference angle that makes sense and a great result! Charlotte & Becky fight atop the ladder when Ronda Rousey struts down and pushes them both off, all for Asuka to pick up the pieces and win the belt.
I remember watching this one on my couch in Studio City and it was a real blast, I miss this era of the WWE Women’s Division, Ronda Rousey seemed to add so much without even being in this match, Becky Lynch is sorely missed as well.
Brock Lesnar vs Rey Mysterio (Survivor Series 2019)
This is the most recent of the list, but my whole thing with this is that I believe Rey Mysterio should’ve won this match. It had one of the best sequences in WWE history when Dominik interfered in this match, hitting dual 619s and a Frog Splash each with his dad, for Brock to kick out and eventually win. I don’t think losing would’ve necessarily hurt Lesnar hear. Mysterio winning would’ve made for one of the best WWE title wins of all time, maybe the best since CM Punk won in the same Allstate Arena eight years earlier.
What a decade it was in WWE.