2014 is only seven months old, and there’s already been enough great wrestling in WWE to fill up three calendar years and 15 year-end recaps.
Ordinarily, we at WWE.com wait until the end of the year to unveil our definitive best-of lists, but there’s been too much good stuff already not to pause and acknowledge the work of the Superstars and Divas up to this point. So, WWE.com presents our somewhat hasty but thoroughly argued-over list of the top 10 bouts of 2014 so far.
10.) Bad News Barrett vs. Dolph Ziggler - Intercontinental Championship Match~ Raw June 23, 2014
WE SAID: It’s always great when we have the chance to see a title match on Raw, but there was a certain energy in the air when Dolph Ziggler squared off with Intercontinental Champion Bad News Barrett in late June. Perhaps it was the bout’s mixture of styles, with The Showoff’s collegiate grappling meshing surprisingly well with Barrett’s brawling. Or, maybe there was an intangible element to this showdown — which saw Barrett ultimately retain — that made it feel unique. Regardless, both Ziggler and Barrett brought a “big fight” feel to this clash, making us hope for future encounters between these dynamic Superstars. — JAMES WORTMAN
THEY SAID: “Whenever I’m asked about great opponents, the three names that constantly come to mind are Kofi Kingston, Cesaro and [Bad News] Barrett. They make me better when I’m in the ring with them. But when I watched [this match] back, I noticed something that wasn’t me and wasn’t Barrett. Halfway through that match, the fans went from reacting to being invested to wanting to be a part of it … They know how hard we work. That’s what makes a great match like that a special match.”
9.) Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H (WrestleMania 30)
The most amazing thing about Daniel Bryan’s rise from folkie to folk hero is that he never seemed to be overwhelmed by the support that was willing him forward. Sure, he’d crack an “aw shucks” grin of appreciation anytime the sound of 18,000 people chanting “Yes!” caught him off guard, but he didn’t once allow himself to look like “the B+ player” The Authority so often dismissed him as.
At WrestleMania 30, in front of nearly 80,000 people, following “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock and Hulk Hogan, against Triple H, in the first match on the card, with an opportunity to challenge for the WWE World Heavyweight Title later in the night, Bryan looked like, well, he belonged. Steely in the face of the corporate barbarian who sought to pillage his career like it was some medieval kingdom — not to mention his bride who lurked like a serpent at ringside — our hero fought not just to win, but to prove that he deserved to compete. Not since Mankind has a Superstar had to battle against such apparent incredulity to become a champion. And not since Mankind has a Superstar been so inspiring. — RYAN MURPHY
8.) Randy Orton vs. Christian vs. John Cena vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Sheamus vs. Cesaro - WWE World Heavyweight Championship Elimination Chamber Match (Elimination Chamber 2014)
People forget how awesome this match was. They shouldn’t. On a night that was arguably headlined in spirit by the first clash between The Shield and The Wyatt Family (press pause on that for a minute), a wild bash for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship unfolded inside the twisted steel of “Satan’s Prison” that didn’t cease to surprise the WWE Universe for a single second.
Well, maybe the ultimate screwing of Daniel Bryan — yet again — out of the supreme prize by The Authority was something you could see coming from a mile away. But certainly not the perennial underdog Christian eliminating the Irish juggernaut Sheamus with a frog splash off the Chamber pods; or the ascendant Cesaro swinging Randy Orton like a hammer throw; or The Wyatts’ entrance into the Chamber to feast upon an unsuspecting John Cena. Going into this match the WWE Universe likely had their favorites, but with all six Superstars entering the Chamber before a single elimination was recorded, what sometimes seems like a formality on the final stop to WrestleMania suddenly took on an air of unpredictability. Anything really can happen in WWE, and for one night anything almost did. — ANTHONY BENIGNO
7.) John Cena vs. Cesaro ~RAW February 17, 2014
WE SAID: John Cena’s best match of the year thus far didn’t occur at a major pay-per-view like the Royal Rumble or even WrestleMania. Instead, it was just another Monday Night Raw in Denver’s Pepsi Center where Cena’s star shone brightest. Challenged by up-and-coming Cesaro, Cena told The Swiss Superman that if he wanted to lead a new generation of Superstars that he would have his chance to prove it one-on-one.
The bout saw the Denver denizens chant “This is awesome!” as Cesaro punished Cena with jaw-cracking European uppercuts including one that saw Cena almost counted out. As the Cenation leader battled back and went for an Attitude Adjustment, Cesaro somehow landed on his feet and immediately charged the ropes, rebounding off with a kick flush to the face. When Cesaro came at him again, The Cenation used technique and power to execute an Oklahoma roll and then stand up with Cesaro on his shoulders for the AA and the win. Cena once again demonstrated his uncanny resilience, but Cesaro sent a message to the world that he was WWE World Heavyweight Championship material. — @JOEYSTYLES
THEY SAID: “Cesaro has a bright future in WWE. Championship talent who had a championship match.” — JOHN CENA
6.) Daniel Bryan vs. Bray Wyatt (Royal Rumble 2014)
A hallmark of many well-rounded shows is a fiery opener that brings WWE fans to their feet and whets their appetite for more action. Daniel Bryan and Bray Wyatt’s show-starter from Royal Rumble 2014 met those qualifications and then some. There wasn’t a dull moment to be found during the more than 20 minutes they battled, and one of the most entrancing aspects was the way both men altered tried-and-true weapons in their arsenals, often tailoring them for outside-the-ring specs. (Bryan, for example, hit his corner dropkick while Wyatt was nestled next to the barricade; Wyatt squashed Bryan with a senton on the floor.)
Bryan also displayed an uncharacteristically vicious side against The Eater of Worlds, who’dtormented the popular “Yes!” Man for months. While some individuals might respond to attempted brainwashing by phoning authorities or running in the other direction, Bryan chose to respond by curb-stomping Wyatt before engineering a wild-looking jumping tornado DDT from the ring apron. Ultimately, it was Bryan’s gung-ho attitude that was his undoing: When attempting a dive to the floor, Wyatt reversed the momentum and turned the move into a Sister Abigail, planting Bryan’s bearded countenance into the ringside barricade. Another Sister Abigail inside the ring moments later, and the outcome suddenly became certain. — JOHN CLAPP
5.) The Shield vs. Evolution - No Holds Barred Elimination Match (Payback 2014)
Are you a man of science? Or are you a man of faith? These two opposing viewpoints collided on a hot summer night in Chicago. In the corner of science: Evolution. “Adapt or perish,” they would say. Still, WWE fans collectively agreed to put all of their faith in Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns. And after The Shield conquered the establishment the previous month at Extreme Rules, the future was clearly theirs.
In the return bout at WWE Payback, the odds certainly seemed to be in Evolution’s favor. They scientifically decimated each member of The Shield, but as Evolution stood above their fallen prey at the top of the ramp, here came Seth Rollins. Out of nowhere, the group’s daredevil stunningly soared from atop the entryway, plummeting onto his rivals. That was the turning point The Hounds of Justice needed to believe in themselves again. Then came the eliminations. First Batista, then Orton, and finally, The King of Kings, himself.
We all believed in a clean sweep. All it took? A leap of faith. — ZACH LINDER
4.) Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro (NXT Arrival)
You know a match is going to find its way to a list like this when the crowd is chanting “Match of the Year” before it even starts.
In what was the first live bout ever broadcast on WWE Network, “Cesaro-Zayn IV,” as it came be known, delivered in epic fashion. Boasting a compelling backstory — the feisty, resilient rookie trying to take down an arrogant veteran for the fourth time — and an X-factor in Zayn’s recently repaired knee, the instant classic featured at least eight of the most devastating European uppercuts of Cesaro’s career. The final one, a discus, flipped Zayn end-over-end and allowed The King of Swing to hit the Neutralizer for the win.
Despite the loss, Zayn’s spirited performance earned him the endorsement of not just Cesaro, who embraced Zayn after the final bell, but the COO himself, Triple H. — MICHAEL MURPHY
3.) Randy Orton vs. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan - Triple Threat WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match (WrestleMania 30)
WrestleMania 30 was Daniel Bryan’s night to shine.
Already having survived a grueling 25-minute-plus contest against Triple H in which The Game severely injured the “Yes!” Movement leader’s left shoulder, Bryan was all but doomed as he entered the triple threat main event against WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton and Batista.
As JBL said, “There’s no way lightning strikes twice!”
Lightning, in fact, did strike twice. Although the amount of punishment Bryan endured earlier in the night was topped by a combination Batista-RKO-Bomb through a ringside table, 75,167 fans were chanting “YES!!!” by the end of the match as The Beard made Batista tap out to The “Yes!” Lock, signaling the dawn of a new era in WWE. — TOM LIODICE
2.) Natalya vs. Charlotte - Vacated WWE NXT Womens Championship Match (NXT Takeover)
WE SAID: Move aside, gentlemen, because Natalya and Charlotte’s historic NXT Women’s Championship Match at NXT Takeover could end up making a strong case for Match of the Year honors this December.
With buildup to this highly anticipated showdown centering largely on both Divas’ legendary lineages, there was an almost unfair amount of pressure on both grapplers to live up to their family names. Both Ric Flair (Charlotte’s father) and Bret Hart (Natalya’s uncle) watched from ringside as these battling beauties put on a performance exceeding even the loftiest of expectations.
Although many WWE fans are already familiar with The Queen of Harts’ exceptional in-ring prowess, this submission showcase was a coming out of sorts for Flair’s self-proclaimed “genetically superior” Diva daughter. Charlotte matched the Hart Dungeon alumna hold for hold, displaying an eye-popping athleticism that might have (dare we say) given “Naitch” himself a run for his Rolex. In the end, it was Charlotte’s night as she hit Bow Down to the Queen to become the new NXT Women’s Champion. — SCOTT TAYLOR
THEY SAID: “Every time I talk about that match it really gives me goosebumps. It was a match that was career-defining, and I never thought that wrestling in front of 400 people against a rookie with only two years of experience would be career-changing for me. It felt like a WrestleMania moment for me … it was a masterpiece. I felt like Charlotte and I painted a masterpiece, and not everybody gets a chance to do that in their careers, to make magic with someone.” — NATALYA
“I’ve probably watched it back maybe 30 times. To be able to face someone who has paved their own way in a business where she was a generation kid and had so much pressure on her, and to be able to have that moment with her and connect like we did, it was surreal and amazing. I feel like [Natalya] did so much for me, not only as a performer but as a person that night. She brought out a lot of potential in me that I didn’t know I had, so I’ll be forever thankful to her.” — CHARLOTTE
1.) The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family (Elimination Chamber 2014)
Among the many disappointments that spread from the breakup of The Shield just a few months after this match was that the WWE Universe didn’t get to see The Hounds of Justice go toe-to-toe with Bray Wyatt and his brood for years and years to come. Instead of the first installment of a long, storied rivalry, the WWE Universe got lightning in a bottle, a six-way brawl that ignited “THIS IS AWE-SOME!” chants before a single punch had been thrown.
Appropriately enough, this was perhaps one of the least-civilized six-man tags in WWE history. Dean Ambrose went feral before the match even started and was ultimately dispatched to Parts Unknown by Bray Wyatt, himself. Seth Rollins, who all but negated gravity in the match’s opening moments, was plowed through the announce table and Roman Reigns’ gallant last stand was snuffed out by The Wyatts’ grim variation of The Shield’s own numbers game. Triple H compared this match to “Armageddon” itself, and he wasn’t far off the mark. With broken bodies, broken tables and the WWE Universe left exhausted and exalted, maybe it’s better The Shield broke up after all. Matches like this should be rare. That only makes them all the more awesome. — ANTHONY BENIGNO