Scott’s Top Ten Matches Of 2003

Scott’s Top Ten Matches for 2003

– Well, I guess I brought it on myself when I did a top 10 list last year, because I’ve been getting tons of requests for my list of best matches for 2003. The thing is, 2003 kind of sucked as far as match quality goes, so it’s a pretty limited field in a lot of ways. But hey, it’s an easy gig and I aim to please, so here you go

#10. From Wrestlemania XIX:

(Note: I had quite a few matches clocking in a **** this year, actually, but the best of them was Jericho v. Michaels, which signaled a career revival for HBK, even if the wrong guy went over here. I’m happy to be proven wrong about his career longevity after coming out of retirement)

– Shawn Michaels v. Chris Jericho. Shawn works a headlock to start and gets nowhere. They do a bit of that and Shawn showboats, and they go back to the headlock again. They do a stalemate sequence and back to the headlock, and Shawn gets two off it. Jericho overpowers him and they criss-cross and slug it out. Shawn tosses him and follows with a baseball slide after a highspot tease, and back in we go. Back in, Jericho rolls through a bodypress for two. He hammers away on the mat and starts with the CANADIAN VIOLENCE and choking in the corner. Shawn counters a bulldog by sending him into the corner, and gets a figure-four for no discernible reason (has he even kicked him in the leg yet?), which Jericho reverses. Jericho stays on the leg with a kneecrusher, but Jericho reverses him into the post and tosses him. Shawn pulls himself back in and headscissors Jericho out, and then follows with a pescado. Jericho puts him in the Walls on the floor, however. Back in, Jericho dropkicks him off the apron and gets a backdrop suplex. The psychology is pretty cut and dried here. Delayed suplex gets two. Jericho works on the neck and gets a pretty nasty backbreaker, and the Arrogant Cover~! gets two. We hit the chinlock and Jericho goes to the eyes to keep Shawn down. A backdrop is reversed to a DDT by Shawn, however. Shawn slugs away, but walks into a forearm from Jericho. He kips up and mocks Shawn, but so does Shawn. Another one and Shawn atomic drops Jericho to set up a backdrop. To the top, and the moonsault press gets two. They do a pinfall reversal sequence and Jericho tries the Walls, but Shawn reverses out of it. They fight for a german suplex, but Jericho turns it into a northern lights suplex for two. Shawn bridges out and they fight for a backslide, but Jericho gets a lariat. Bulldog and Lionsault get two. Jericho starts chopping, but puts his head down and gets caught by Shawn. A rana is blocked with the Walls, however. Shawn makes the ropes. Another try is reversed to a cradle for two. Double-arm backbreaker from Jericho and he goes up with a flying reverse elbow and cues up the band. Fozzy? Well, anyway, a superkick (and a nice one, too) gets two for Jericho. Shawn comes out of the corner with a messed up crossbody and hammers away, then catapults Jericho into the post for two after teasing his own Walls of Jericho. Jericho hits him in the back again as Shawn suddenly remembers to sell it again, and they head up for a superplex that Shawn counters to put both guys down. Shawn gets two. Shawn goes back up, but Jericho crotches him and follows him up. Shawn sends him back down and gets the flying elbow for two. Sweet Chin Music is ducked by Jericho and we get another Walls, and that should have been the finish. However, Shawn eventually makes the ropes, prompting a tantrum from Jericho. Shawn superkicks him again for two. Jericho sends Shawn into the corner, but Shawn escapes a suplex and gets the pin off a rollup at 22:34. The finish was a letdown and it’s totally counterproductive to put Shawn over ANYONE at this point, but Shawn adjusted his style and put forth a much more solid, non-garbagy effort than he did with HHH. The spotty “Now I’m hurt, now I’m not” selling of the back injury hurt it a lot, though. ****

#9. From Smackdown, September 18:

(Note: Here we move into the ****1/4 range, and I had this one as the “worst” of the ****1/4 matches because it had the potential to be SOOOOO much better and just wasn’t, for whatever reason. Still, the effort and work were there, and I can respect two guys killing each other for 60 minutes. Wade Keller was nuts to give this *****, however)

– Smackdown World title, Iron Man match: Kurt Angle v. Brock Lesnar. Brock attacks to start and stomps away in the corner, and spikes him in the other corner. Hiptoss out of the corner and Brock keeps stomping, cutting off a comeback. He charges and hits elbow and Angle tries to knock him down with clotheslines, but no go, so he clips him and gets an overhead suplex, and Brock takes a powder. Back in, he stalls and tries a cheapshot, but Angle armdrags him right out of the ring again. Brock takes out his anger on the stairs and stalls, annoying the crowd. Brock finally gets back in, and Angle goes for the leg, so Brock ducks out again. Back in, Brock sneaks in with a cheapshot and chokes away. Angle gets another overhead suplex and dumps Brock again, however. Angle follows and brawls with him, which proves to be a mistake, as Brock kicks his ass and rams his back into the post. Brock grabs a chair and wallops Angle for the first fall, and then destroys him to put Angle up 1-0. There’s a 15 second rest period, and Brock goes back to the attack. The deal with the chair is less intelligent here than in Rock-HHH, because now you have to lay off for 15 seconds before continuing the assault. Regardless, Angle is dead weight and an F5 evens the score at 1-1. Brock keeps attacking and gets an anklelock, and Angle taps to his own move to make it 2-1 for Brock. And we take a break. Back at the 44:00 mark, and during the break Brock hit an Angle Slam and got a two-count. Back to live, and Brock is pounding Angle in the corner, but misses a charge. Angle fights back with the rolling germans, but Brock leverages him out of the ring. They brawl out there and Brock gets an F5 on the floor. That’s good enough for a countout to make it 3-1 Brock with 40:00 left. And we take another break. We’re back, and Brock elbows Angle out of the ring and drops an elbow for two. Angle comes back with an Angle Slam out of nowhere for the pin to make it 3-2 at 34:00 or so. Angle slugs him down and gets a vertical suplex for two. Angle keeps stomping him, but Brock hammers back, only to get suckered into a german suplex. Another Angle Slam is countered, but so is the F5, and Angle gets the anklelock in the middle of the ring, but the ref is bumped by Lesnar. Angle gets nothing, and Brock goes low on him. He grabs the title, lays out Angle, and tosses the ref into place for the pin at 30:00 to make it 4-2. And we take another break. Back with 25:00 to go, and they brawl outside, as Brock gets whipped into the stairs. Angle follows with a double axehandle to the floor, and back in he gets two. Back up, and he gets a missile dropkick for two. Holy crap, he hasn’t done that since 2000 in a match against Bob Holly. Or was it Benoit? Probably Benoit. Anglesault, but it misses by quite a lot. He tries a rollup but only gets two, and Brock levels him with a clothesline. Overhead suplex gets two. Angle comes back with another anklelock, but Brock reverses and dumps him. Brock sends him into the steps and gets two. Brock decides to grabs the stairs again, but Angle dropkicks them in his face. Back in, Angle gets a quick two, and works the count. Angle stomps away in the corner and shoulderblocks him down for two, as we take our last break. We return with Brock superplexing Angle during the break, for the 5-2 lead with 18:00 or so left. Back to live, 14:00 left, and Brock bounces Angle’s head off the table, but Angle bounces his head off the post and F5’s Brock’s knee into the post. Back in, Brock’s in pain, so Angle gets a half-crab on the knee. Brock won’t tap, so Angle switches to an anklelock. He should use a kneebar or a heel hook, ideally. Brock fights him off and catches him with another F5 while Angle wasn’t paying attention, but the knee is too hurt and he only gets two. Brock goes up, slowly, like Tito Santana in that match where he lost the tag titles to the Samoans in the late 70s, and Angle pops up with the superplex for the pin with 10:00 left to make it 5-3. Angle slugs away in the corner on an exhausted Lesnar, and gets a snap suplex, pulls the straps up, and then pulls them back down again to fire himself up. Angle Slam is escaped and Brock reverses to a DDT for two. Angle keeps fighting, but Brock gets a release german, just trying to hold off Angle. Another release german spends more time. Good strategy. A third one burns valuable time for Angle. That’s really smart, because it’s a high-impact move that takes time to recover from and also hurts you long-term. Another suplex is reversed to one from Angle, but Angle is still burned out from the previous suplexes. He gets another one, but is too slow to capitalize properly. Brock reverses, but Angle reverses to the anklelock and Brock has nowhere to go. If ever there was a time to just hang on and bear the pain, it’s now. They do the thing with making the ropes and pulling him back, and Brock taps with 4:00 left. Well, he’s a pussy, I guess. So it’s 5-4 for Brock with time running out. Back to the anklelock, but Brock breaks it with a leverage move. Angle takes him down with an STF with 2:40 left, and that’s not smart – that’s more of a long-term weardown move setting up something later. All it does is waste 30 seconds, bringing it to 2:00 left with no damage done, and Brock smartly runs. Angle tries an anklelock outside, but that’s a waste of time. Back in, 1:30 left, and Lesnar smartly runs away again. You can’t argue with that. Back in, Angle gets the rolling germans, but there’s only 1:00 left and Angle is the one at the disadvantage, so that’s not smart. Again, those are long-term impact moves to slow a guy down, not get a quick fall. 30 seconds left and Brock goes low to slow down Angle, but Angle grabs the heel hook, and Brock hangs on until time expires and regains the title 5 falls to 4. Angle has no one to blame but himself – Brock wrestled a smarter match and won it clean as a sheet. He even spotted Angle a fall! The match itself, though, wasn’t that great, sorry. The commercial breaks were just too annoying, and hopefully a DVD version will come out and give me a better judge of the match, but really we only saw about 45 minutes of the match. While Brock was smart near the end, the psychology was just all over the place for most of the match, with Brock injuring his knee and then Angle doing an anklelock on the other leg. The last 30 minutes were tremendous, Match of the Year quality stuff, but the first 30, with much of it spent by Brock outside the ring, were not, and it drags down the overall rating a lot. Look at matches like Flair v. Steamboat from Clash VI, or even Rock-HHH from 2000, and they maintain the pace for the whole match. It was really, really good, but it wasn’t even the best Angle match this year – that’s still Angle v. Benoit. I liked it a lot, it was a fantastic TV match, but this isn’t the kind of match that lends itself well to TV, and it’s not a Match of the Year candidate. ****1/4 I give them all the props in the world for going out and doing a 60-minute Broadway with injuries and short-attention span fans, though.

#8. From Vengeance 2003:

(Note: This is a forgotten classic from 2003, as TWGTT really came into their own as tag champions and the Filthy Animals meshed so well as a team that Kidman’s heel turn was jettisoned completely because the matches were so great with him as a face. Sadly, injuries would derail the push of Haas & Benjamin and the Rey & Kidman team would be shot down for no reason I could ever discern, but this match stands as a testament to what could have been.)

– Smackdown tag titles: Charlie Haas & Shelton Benjamin v. Rey Mysterio & Billy Kidman. Benjamin rides Rey down to start, but he slugs back and boots him off the ropes. Flying headscissors (after a botched try) and Kidman comes in with a dropkick to the head for two. Kidman with a spinning version of the headscissors, but Benjamin takes him down and Haas comes in with a quick rollup for two. Haas goes to the headlock and overpowers Kidman, but Kidman gets a cross body for two. Haas chokes him out, but misses a charge and Rey tags in with a guillotine for two. Rey’s Rube Goldberg Bulldog is blocked with a slam by Haas, and he sends Rey into the corner WITH AUTHORITY. Another trip to the corner sets up a sideslam for two. Benjamin comes in with a faceplant for two. He takes Rey down with a chinlock and gets the hooks in, but misses a charge. Rey reverses a powerbomb to a rana, but Benjamin rolls through and Rey counters with a dropkick to the face and makes the lukewarm tag to Kidman. High backdrop for Haas and a Rydien bomb for two. The champs catch him with the leapfrog choke, but Rey trips up Benjamin to break it up and sets up for the 619. Benjamin returns the trip to break that up, so Rey hits him with the plancha and Kidman dumps Haas and follows with the Shooting Star Press to the floor. Crazy. Back in, Kidman gets two. Haas dumps him, but Kidman slugs back until getting tossed into the post by Benjamin. Back in, Haas gets two as Kidman is YOUR face in peril. Double-team backbreaker gets two. Benjamin goes a bridged bow-and-arrow, which Tazz calls a Redhook Ringer, and then goes into the standard bow-and-arrow. Good stuff. Kidman crawls for the tag, but Benjamin cuts him off and Haas stomps on the back. Haas then puts him in the corner and surfboards the arm around the top rope in a great move. Kidman leverages him out of the ring and crawls for the tag, but Benjamin distracts the ref and he doesn’t see the tag. Back to the heel corner goes Kidman, and they hit him with a double-suplex for two. Benjamin snaps off a powerbomb, so I guess sometimes you CAN powerbomb him. That gets two. Another try is reversed, so YOU CAN’T POWERBOMB KIDMAN um, twice. Hot tag Rey, who springboards in and misses Benjamin by a foot. Oh well. Enzuigiri and he baits Haas into charging and landing on the floor. He gets two on Benjamin and a DDT for two. Haas tags back in and gets cheapshotted by Kidman, allowing the 619. West Coast Pop (well not really, but that was the idea) gets nothing because the ref is distracted. Benjamin kicks Rey in the head and Haas gets two. Rey hits him with a jawbreaker and Kidman puts him on top, setting up the alley-oop rana for a close two-count. The crowd actually chants “bullshit” at that one, which is always a good sign. Benjamin spinkicks Kidman out of the ring, and Rey tries a rana on Haas, but Benjamin springs in with a Doomsday Device for the pin to retain at 14:52. TWGTT looked totally comfortable and worked the formula, and the result was a terrific tag team match. ****1/4

#7. From NWA-TNA, September 3:

(Note: I find it interesting that TNA weighed in so heavily in this list. This is the shortest match of the list, but the craziest and one of the most innovative. Sadly, Teddy Hart flushed his career down the toilet with his behavior, but Juvy basically went out and decided to earn himself a job with this one. He didn’t get one.)

– Super X Semifinal: Teddy Hart v. Juventud Guerrera. Juvy overpowers him and they criss-cross until Juvy gets a DDT of a tilt-a-whirl attempt. Ted takes him down with a Herb Kunze armbar, into a Russian legsweep. That is FUCKING SWEET. I don’t know why someone didn’t think of that before. He takes him down again with the armbar in a cool sequence, but Juvy chops back. Hart misses a blind charge and Juvy gets a headscissors. Ted bails and they brawl outside, where Hart gets an iffy rana off the apron and then moonsaults off the railing, slamming his knees into Juvy’s gut as a result of not enough room to move. Can’t really blame him there, although I’m biased anyway. Juvy blocks another Asai moonsault attempt and just viciously yanks him into the apron, so I guess they’re even now. He follows with a bodyblock off the apron. Juvy chops him down. Man, he hits hard for a girl. Hart goes up and gets crotched, and Juvy brings him in with a rana for two. Juvy gets the Niagara Driver for two. Hart reverses the pinfall attempt for two. I LOVE THAT. Everyone in wrestling should do that from now on. Hart drops him with a reverse tombstone (for lack of a better name) and he goes up with a SKY TWISTER PRESS for two. Holy flurking snit! This kid is nuts and needs to have a sit-down with Matt Hardy about bump cards. Juvy bails and Hart hits him with another Asai, but he blows out his knee. Back in, Juvy blocks a sunset flip with a spinebuster, and a seated dropkick for two. Juicy Elbow misses, but Juice Bottom gets two. Spinning powerbomb gets two, and Hart again reverses for two. Teddy blocks the Drunk Driver and goes up with the most vicious tornado DDT I’ve ever seen, for two. Back up, SSP hits, but the knee is hurt too much. Yes! Psychology in a spotfest! Juvy gets the Drunk Driver, but Teddy cuts him off on the top rope, only to fall victim to a top rope version of the Driver for the pin at 9:58. I’m pretty sure Hart just earned himself a job SOMEWHERE based on this. Total star-making performance from him, as he’s got the polish and moves to be a star NOW, and the usual great match from Juvy. ****1/4

#6. From NWA-TNA, August 13:

(Note: This is one that I thought was gonna elevate both guys, but TNA treated it as just another match and forgot about it the next week, in favor of the Jeff Jarrett Show. Their loss.)

– NWA World title: AJ Styles v. Low-Ki. Seriously, having Russo standing behind Styles during the introduction looks ridiculous. Lockup fight to start leads into the corner, where Low-Ki breaks clean. Ki takes him down and they trade wristlocks, but Ki kicks at him from his back. That’s hard to describe, but it was f*cking cool. Ki takes him down by the arm, but AJ reverses to his own armbar. They work the mat, and it’s a stalemate. Ki gets a STIFF elbow and his usual insane chops, but AJ dropkicks him and gets a neckbreaker for two. AJ tries to toss him, but Ki 619s him and pounds away. Again, that was f*cking cool. Power elbow gets two. Seriously, they need to bring in Keiji Muto for a one-shot because this crowd would probably go nuts for him and it’d give Low-Ki a huge rub. AJ dumps him to the apron, but Ki hooks the Bite of the Dragon and dropkicks the knee. Stiff kicks, but AJ trips him, so Ki counters with a Koppo Kick. They reverse of a Styles Clash, but Styles kicks the head and sends him out. Low-Ki trips him up on the apron, but AJ springboards into a moonsault and lands with an inverted DDT onto the ramp. Holy SHIT this is a crazy match. Back in, that gets two. Low-Ki with a crucifix for two, but AJ kicks him down for two. AJ slugs away, and a butterfly suplex gets two. Ki reverses a suplex and they fight to the apron, where AJ necksnaps him for two. AJ takes him down with a rear chinlock, and Low-Ki fights out of that. Russo cheapshots him for two. AJ slugs away in the corner, but Low-Ki uses the ref to clip AJ and gets a springboard kick. Have I mentioned that this match is all kinds of crazy? Lariat as Low-Ki fights back, and a running forearm and Northern Lights suplex gets two. Kawada kicks get two. Ki Krusher is countered by AJ with a DDT. WOW. Low-Ki misses a handspring, and AJ lariat gets two. AJ spazzes out with kicks and I’m waiting for Low-Ki to return fire to really make my night, but instead he catches him in an Octopus. AJ suplexes out with a german, and an inverted powerbomb gets two. Low-Ki misses a kick, but counters the springboard DDT. Handspring kick puts AJ on the floor and Low-Ki is about to follow with what was probably going to be the insane highspot to end them all, but the ref gets in his way and AJ gets a cheap baseball bat shot for the pin at 14:54. Crappy finish aside, this was MUST SEE TV, and you NEED to get the replay this weekend and check it out. Shit you’ll never see in the WWE for 15 minutes. ****1/4

#5. From NWA-TNA, August 20:

(Note: I put this one above Low-Ki v. Styles because it was both exciting and innovated a new style of match, and had a long-lasting effect on the promotion.)

– Ultimate X match: Chris Sabin v. Michael Shane v. Frankie Kazarian. Okay, so this is the high-concept gimmick match du jour, as it’s structured like a ladder match, but with wires crossed over the ring hanging from trusses, and in the shape of an X. The winner has to navigate the wires hand-over-hand and unhook the belt. Everyone brawls outside to start and they head back in as Sabin gets a big enzuigiri on Kazarian. Sabin grabs the wire, but Shane brings him down and gets a neckbreaker. Shane climb, but Kazarian pulls him down and gets his own neckbreaker. Kazarian climb, but Sabin cuts him off. Shane sneaks over and tries a crazy rana while Sabin is on Kazarian’s shoulders, but it sounds better in theory than in practice. Live and learn. Kazarian climbs, but Sabin stops him. They toss Sabin and both challengers make the climb, but meet in the middle and get dropkicked by a flying Sabin. Sabin finds a chair and beats on them (apparently the only stipulation is “no ladders”) but Shane slugs back. Sabin sends him into the chair and out, but Kazarian kicks it into Sabin’s face. Shane does a bladejob (as seems to be the norm for the promotion these days) and Sabin uses that damn spinning uranage that every babyface has been pulling out as of late. Is this thing the new spinebuster for midcarders or something? However, he does it onto the chair, which had been set up in the ring. That’s kinda sick. Sabin goes after Shane and kills him outside, and then makes the climb. I like the dynamic of taking your time on the wire so as not to die, unlike the ladder matches where guys are climbing at ¼ speed for dramatic reasons only. Sabin gets to the middle, but Shane chairs him down again. But the belt drops from the pressure on the wire, so they stop the match and rehang it, giving everyone a chance to brawl. Luckily the crowd is very forgiving and seems to understand that it’s a work in progress. Sabin sends Shane into the railing, and back in he holds him in a fireman’s carry while Kazarian sunset-flips him for two. Then while Sabin is STILL holding Shane in the fireman’s carry, Sabin dropkicks him on the mat. That’s a cool spot. Sabin tries a whiplash slam on Kazarian, but Shane dropkicks him them over. Kazarian climbs, but Shane follows and kicks him off. Sabin follows him, and Shane then tries to defy the laws of physics and bring him down off the wire with a rana. I’m at a loss as to how you’d get the torque needed to execute the move from that position, but it’s a moot point anyway because Sabin just DROPS him with a flat-back powerbomb from the wire to the mat. That’s f*cking CRAZY. Sabin climbs again, but now Kazarian gets a hesitant spear from the second rope to the middle of the ring in order to bring him down. And AGAIN the belt is dislodged, but the crowd is so into these guys that it doesn’t matter. So back up it goes, and Kazarian and Shane climb the corner truss and fight while Sabin sneaks along the wire. Kazarian meets him in the middle, but they both fall off. Shane is dead on the floor. Kazarian goes up again and climbs for it, and Sabin meets him in the middle again, but Kazarian kicks him off. However, it’s the old “enemies too concerned with destroying each other” bit, as Michael Shane comes FLYING in, grabs the title, and becomes the X champion at 13:46 of a truly unique match. This has serious potential, but they need to hang the belt from the ceiling like in a ladder match. Still, “unf*ckingbelievable” sums things up nicely and this will justify your purchase of the replay right off the bat. ****1/4

#4. From NWA-TNA, September 3:

(Welcome to ****1/2 territory, which is some pretty lofty company. This one just f*cking rocked. Nuff said)

– Super X Finals: Chris Sabin v. Juventud Guerrera. Juvy has apparently trained with the HHH diet for this show, as he was introduced at 170 pounds to start the show, and 202 pounds here. They slap each other to start and ges into a stalemate. Juvy slugs away and spinkicks him into a tilt-a-whirl and armbar. Sabin knees out of it, but Juvy chops him. Sabin powerbombs him and gets an enzuigiri for two. Sabin pounds away in the corner, but runs into a boot and Juvy chops him into a spinkick. Sabin bails and Juvy follows with a pescado. Back in, slingshot elbow gets two. Juvy gets a hammerlock submission, but Sabin counters a bulldog with a release german suplex for two. Sabin neckties him and goes up, but gets a brought down with a slam and dropkicked for two. Sabin goes to the eyes and into a surfboard, but Juvy escapes. Electric chair gets two for Juvy. They switch off on a suplex and Juvy counters a german suplex attempt, then a powerbomb attempt, then reverses a sunset flip and they go into a pinfall-reversal sequence that blows away anything seen on RAW in the past year alone. That was so cool, because it showed Juvy adapting like a Terminator or something. They even collapse from the effort. Nice touch. Slugfest is won by Sabin, with a knee, and they reverse off another suplex until Sabin gets a rollup for two. Juvy bulldogs him and both are out. That’s some awesome chain-wrestling, which is hard to convey in text form. Basically, there was no need for transitions between the moves – each one flowed from the last one without the need to reposition. Juvy heads up with a missile dropkick, but Sabin comes back with a body vice into a DDT for two. Juvy hits him with a TIGER DRIVER 91 (and the camera angle was the front-on brutal one, too, showing no air between the head and the mat). It gets two, but Sabin gets his foot on the ropes rather than kicking out. Good, because that’s a deadly move. Sabin snaps off a desperation DDT for two and goes up, but gets dropkicked on the way down for two. Juvy goes up, but Sabin crotches him (would that even work on him?) and a superplex gets two. They trade near-falls off rollups to really establish parity, and Juvy gets the Drunk Driver and 450 for two. Sabin comes back with the Back to the Future for the pin at 14:42. Finish was a bit out of nowhere, but the rest was MOTY territory all the way. Kudos to everyone involved in the tournament. ****1/2

#3. From NWA-TNA, June 25:

(Note: I thought this was gonna break AMW wide open and get them a job with the WWE, but they chose to stay with TNA instead for whatever reason. Normally I admire loyalty, but in this case they should have sent the tape to Pat Patterson and camped out in the Brisco Brothers Bodyshop until they got a contract. Still, this was TNA’s first ever cage match, and everyone involved took the time to make sure it was done RIGHT.)

– NWA World tag title cage: Elix Skipper & Christopher Daniels v. America’s Most Wanted. In another big step towards preserving my sanity, Storm & Harris now have their nicknames on their tights, so I can tell them apart even with TNA’s hit-or-miss camerawork. Big brawl to start, as you’d expect, and Triple X get a double-team suplex on Harris. AMW comes back with a double-team bulldog and throws Skipper into Daniels. Harris clotheslines Daniels and slugs away. Strong pro-heel crowd tonight. XXX sends Harris into the cage a couple of times as it settles down into a standard NWA tag-match-in-a-cage and Tenay stresses that it’s pinfall or submission, not a climbing contest. Skipper gets two, and we’ve got blood already. Daniels hammers on the cut as the crowd chants “more blood”. Hey, give the fans what they want, I say. Good bladejob from Harris, too. Skipper pounds on him, but Harris fights back, only to get flattened by a Lionsault where Skipper walks up the ropes and rebounds off the cage. Wicked cool. Daniels gets two. Harris with a lariat, but Daniels puts him down with a high kick for two. Skipper pounds him down again for two. Back to the cage to widen the cut, but Harris clotheslines him again. Hot tag Storm, although I sense it’s merely the middle hot tag. Flying forearm for Daniels and an inverted suplex into the cage for Skipper. Neckbreaker on Daniels. Powerslam gets two. Daniels goes low to block the superkick (that’s the counter I was hoping someone would try on Shawn Michaels for years – I mean, it’s RIGHT THERE) and Storm eats cage of his own, but his bladejob is not nearly as manly as Harris’s’s’s’s’s is. All those s’s and apostrophes always mess me up. Rockerplex from XXX gets two. Storm & Skipper collide, tags abound. Harris tosses Skipper into the cage, and he javelins Daniels into it as well, drawing triple juice. Let’s go for four! Full nelson slam gets two. Daniels blocks a sideslam with the Angel’s Wings for two. Can I just stop and make a stand against guys doing variations of the sideslam right here and now? Knock it off! It’s a SIDESLAM, get over it. No matter how many tilts and whirls you throw into it, you’re using Kevin Nash’s transition move. Storm comes in and they head up, and slug it out along the top rope. Both try for some head v. cage action on the other, but they meet the POLE in the middle and go crashing down after a sick sounding “bong” on the cage. Skipper & Harris slug it out and Skipper suplexes him, and sends him into the cage again. Neck throw gets two. Skipper climbs and Harris follows, and powerbombs him off the top! Fuck that was awesome. It gets two. Daniels with a Test Drive on Storm, which gets two. Harris hits Daniels with a corner clothesline and they go up, and Daniels trying walking along the top rope but gets SPEARED off by Harris. That’s crazy. Harris gets two. Skipper with the Play of the Day on Storm, but he goes up again because obviously he’s one sick motherf*cker. And indeed, he heads up to the top of the cage and gets a bodypress, from the top of the CAGE, for two. Unbelievable. And this isn’t like Hardyz blowing spots, these are all super-crisp moves. He goes up AGAIN, but Harris smartly knocks him out of the cage to leave Daniels alone 2-on-1. Ah, irony can be so ironic. Superkick by Storm, and the Death Sentence gets two. And since it’s the theme for the night, Harris goes all the way to the top of the cage, knocks Skipper off and out again, and hits the Death Sentence from the top of the cage to finish and win the tag titles at 17:49. And that, my friends, is a crazy, violent, bloody, insane Match of the Year Candidate if there ever was one. ****1/2

#2. From RAW, December 29:

(Note: I took some heat for supposedly overrating the match, but there have been very few matches in recent years to make me watch with wide-eyed enthusiasm and shout with delight at the near-falls while forgetting that I’m supposed to hate the product. This match did that, and I loved it, so if I’m being too positive about it, GOOD.)

– RAW World title: HHH v. Shawn Michaels. HHH grabs a headlock to start and they trade hammerlocks, and Shawn goes to the headlock himself. He hangs on and overpowers HHH, but walks into an elbow. Shawn dumps him and cleans house on Flair after skinning the cat. Back in, Shawn works on the arm with an armbar. HHH retreats to the ropes, so Shawn kicks them to crotch him and goes back to the armbar. HHH comes back with a cheapshot and works him over in the corner. Shawn comes back as they brawl outside, and he throws some chops against the railing. Back in, Shawn gets a sleeper, and escapes a suplex attempt, getting a rollup for two. They do the backslide-bridge thing and Shawn gets two. Shawn charges, however, and takes the Holy Shit Bump over the post and to the floor, just like old times. And we take a break. We return as HHH necksnaps him and chokes away in the corner. Backbreaker gets two. He slugs away on the mat and drops an elbow on the back, and slugs him down for two. They slug it out until HHH knees him in the gut and tosses him. Shawn eats the stairs, but comes back with a sunset flip for two. HHH takes him down with a clothesline for two. Abdominal stretch to work on the back some more, with help from Flair. Shawn hiptosses out and comes back with chops, but HHH hits him with the high knee for two. He hurts the knee on the move, so Shawn takes him down for a figure-four. Flair breaks it up by poking him in the eye, however. Well, there goes his stance on the rules. HHH sends him out, but Shawn heads up to the top, only to walk into KICK WHAM but he reverses the Pedigree. Both guys are count and the crowd is insanely into the count. They slug it out and Shawn falls on his crotch with a headbutt, and they’re both out again. HHH is up first and hammers away in the corner, but Shawn comes back with chops and the atomic drop. Another chop, another atomic drop, more chops. Flying forearm and kip-up and Shawn goes up with the flying elbow. The superkick tease is interrupted by Flair, so Shawn decks him, but the ref is bumped. HHH blocks the superkick and DDTs him, and both guys are out. Flair gives HHH the belt, and he nails Shawn for two. KICK WHAM PEDIGREE, but Shawn reverses and the ref is bumped AGAIN. Eric Bischoff runs out to tend to Hebner personally while HHH undoes the turnbuckle, but HHH gets sent into it. He’s out and Shawn is covering, but there’s no ref. Bischoff counts two himself. Okay then. HHH starts bleeding and Shawn hammers away in the corner, but HHH brings him down, and Shawn slugs him down again for two. HHH comes back with a facecrusher for two. He goes up and jumps onto Shawn’s foot, and Shawn chops away in the corner and gets a superkick out of nowhere for the pin and the title at 29:13. If Shawn can do this every night without dying, put the title on him, sez I. Crazy good match in every aspect with insane crowd heat and selling from Shawn, dragged down a bit by the senseless ref bumps. ****3/4

#1. From Royal Rumble 2003:

(What more needs to be said about this one? Clearly the best match of the year, and one of the rare cases where a match in January was so good and so overwhelmingly better than everything else that it survived in the minds of viewers until the voting in November. THAT is a Match of a Year, truly.)

– Smackdown World title: Kurt Angle v. Chris Benoit. Well, they’ve got their work cut out for them following that crap. Benoit takes him down and tries a Sharpshooter, but Angle bails. Back in, Benoit mule kicks him and escapes a sleeper with an armdrag, then legdrags him into another Sharpshooter attempt, but Angle makes the ropes before he can finish. Angle sends him into the post and pounds on him, and gets a suplex for two. They exchange chops, which is rather dumb of Angle, and Benoit takes over. Boomerang clothesline and knee to the gut get two. More chops and he knees Angle down, but gets suplexed onto the top rope to stop the rally. He necksnaps Angle and drags him onto the apron, where they slug it out, and Benoit DDTs him onto the apron. Coolness. Back in, Benoit gets two. He goes up, but misses the headbutt, and then counters an Angle Slam into a Sharpshooter. He really needs to start using that as a finish. Angle makes the ropes. Backdrop suplex gets two. He walks into an overhead suplex from Angle (done with snap and force, unlike Steiner’s sloppy throws), however, and bails. Angle stomps him on the floor and they head back in, which Angle short-arms him for two. Angle hits the chinlock and they turn it into a mat sequence as Benoit armdrags out of it, but Angle snaps off another overhead suplex. Nasty backdrop suplex gets two, and Angle goes back to the chinlock. Using the bodyscissors is a nice touch. Benoit fights out again, and they collide with clotheslines for the double KO. Crowd is into it, which is always a good sign. Benoit fights back with clotheslines and gets a backdrop to set up the rolling germans, but Angle reverses to his own, which Benoit then reverses to one more of his own. Benoit gives him the SNOT ROCKET OF DEATH and goes up, but Angle hits him with the Pop Up Superplex for two. See, blowing snot on your opponent is never a good idea. Lou Thesz did the same thing in 1938 and nearly lost the title as a result. Benoit counters the Angle Slam with the crossface, but Angle pulls himself to the ropes. Benoit hauls him off and gives him an anklelock, but that allows Angle to reverse to his own. Benoit counters again back to the crossface, but Angle rolls him over for two. Benoit snaps him right back into the crossface. Angle rolls through, but Benoit doesn’t release, and that proves to be a mistake as Angle hits him with the Angle Slam out of that. It gets two. That’s an awesome sequence with no booking trickery needed to pop the crowd. Angle grabs another anklelock, and Benoit has nowhere to go. He powers out instead and tries another german, but Angle reverses, which Benoit then counters with a rollup for two. Another german for Benoit, but Angle reverses to his own, but Benoit reverses and Angle takes that sick upside-down bump onto his face off it. This is just breathtaking stuff. Benoit goes up again and hits the flying headbutt from ¾ of the way across the ring as the crowd is actually chanting for Benoit now. That gets two. Crossface again, but Kurt rolls out and tries a powerbomb. He drops Benoit on the turnbuckle, into the Angle Slam, and that gets two. I was calling that as the finish while watching live. Benoit takes him down again with the crossface, and Angle is stuck, but he rolls through again into the anklelock. Benoit fights it off, but Angle won’t let go of the hold. Benoit rolls off again, but Angle stays on it. Another reversal, but Angle rolls with him and holds on. One last counter for Benoit, but Angle turns it into a heel hook to finish at 19:47. But I bet that according to HHH, neither of these guys know how to work. This is your first match of the year contender, but with the setup of the awards it’ll be forgotten by November. ****3/4 I’m deducting ¼* for the chinlocks in the middle, for those who will inevitably ask. The crowd then shows huge class and gives Benoit a standing ovation after the match for the effort. See, now they’ve got a dilemma – they’ve built up Benoit as a big babyface now, but they have nowhere to go with him because Brock-Angle is carved in stone for Wrestlemania. My solution? Move him to RAW and put him over HHH for the World title, thus keeping the momentum going and giving HHH a fresh babyface to feud with.

So there you have it! I may have forgotten something making this list, but if so it probably doesn’t warrant inclusion anyway.

See you again next year for the best of 2004, I guess.