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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
By Maverick
Jul 6, 2014 - 1:14:49 PM

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The Mid Year MOTY Round Up

Seven and a bit months into 2014, we seem to have more match of the year contenders than we know what to do with. It’s certainly a nice problem to have. I thought that 2013 would be very difficult to follow in terms of in-ring action, with my fellow Brit and former main pager ‘Plan asserting that the in ring product was as mature as it had ever been. but 2014 seemed to have multiple contenders for best of the annum before we’d even got anywhere near Wrestlemania, and we’ve had plenty since then too.

With that in mind, it looks like it’ll be difficult to go all the way to December before discussing this issue. There’s no doubt that there are more of these classics to come, and yet we don’t want to forget the bouts that took place in the first part of the year either. Therefore, I propose to take a look at the contests that caught the eye between January and June in discrete categories in order to put some names in the hat for those discussions likely to take place as the twelfth month ticks away. Plus, if you’ve read my work in the CF or on ATTITUDE, you’ll know that breaking down matches is kind of my thing…

Featured PPV Singles MOTY: Daniel Bryan vs. Triple H at Wrestlemania XXX

The first award is for the best feature singles bout (I am avoiding the terms “main event” and “headline” as they can be misinterpreted) to take place on PPV. For my money, there has been no finer one on one contest this year than the Wrestlemania curtain jerker between Daniel Bryan and Triple H. The video package that kicked this match off, soundtracked by Imagine Dragons’ ‘Monster’, made it a classic before the bell was even close to being rung. The use of the indy footage, the reflection on Bryan’s NXT partnership with The Miz in NXT and his growing success through the years despite those early jibes about a “lack of charisma”, the six month storyline from Summerslam to last night…it was just beautifully put together, to the extent that the Bryan/Trips montage instantly became my second favourite of all time after Rock/Austin II at Wrestlemania X7. Triple H’s entrance to ring was announced by Steph in what looked like an outfit from ‘Cabaret’, with The Game reaching back into his Conan The Barbarian dressing up box to appear upon a throne in gold armour and red cloak surrounded by slave wenches (who turned out to be Alexa Bliss, Sasha Banks and Charlotte Flair from NXT). If that’s not an apt metaphor I’ve never seen one! In all seriousness, despite an air of high camp, it worked well in setting up Helmsley’s egotism as a character, while the green lighting and water spitting apron spot is something everyone can get onboard with when it comes to heel Trips. We then got our first sight of 70,000 fans YES chanting in unison, proving what a good decision it was to put this match on as the curtain jerker. An already hyped crowd began to seriously mark out.

In psychological terms, Bryan’s taped shoulder was a visual reminder of Triple H’s brutal attack on him three weeks ago, and knowing what we do about the ring game of the Cerebral Assassin, an obvious weak point to be exploited by the C.O.O. The offering of the handshake was a classic touch on Helmsley’s part, and I loved the homage to Bryan’s last two ‘Mania matches with the long two count off the quick roll up. The early exchanges showed D-Bry’s speed and technical acumen, with The Game taking a breather in a nod to his long experience in the squared circle. There was something almost Steamboat/Savage about the headlock takeovers and chain wrestling which followed, and Steph’s cheerleading at ringside was yet another reminder of how on-point she has been in character terms over the past few months. It didn’t take long of course for Trips to go after the injured arm, but the Beard’s high flying abilities evened things out again, with a tornado DDT off the apron and a kind of Swanton bomb off the top turnbuckle to the outside, as Stephanie yelled at him for being “B+”. After crotching the Leader of the Yes Movement on the top rope, the flavour of the match’s storytelling went to the Attitude Era, with The Game starting to work in the way he did in his 2000 prime, targeting the arm on the announce desk and applying submissions, with small flurries of Bryan offense cut off smartly by Helmsley (I particularly enjoyed the Luke Harper-esque leaping forearm to cut off the suicide dive). Wrestlemanias past were then referenced, with Trips going for both the Crossface Chickenwing so central to Backlund and Hart at Wrestlemania XI and for the Crippler Crossface used by Benoit on The Game himself. I loved the storytelling of Triple H wanting to tap out the submission specialist.

Of course, Daniel Bryan was booked as a pocket rocket, not easy to keep down for long, and his high octane style always threatened to burst out of the control Triple H was trying to establish, as with the running forearm smash and German suplex combination that showcased the smaller man’s incredible timing. The Game showed moments later, however, that he can also throw a mean suplex, with Bryan landing on the bad arm. The back and forth became breathtaking as the match sped along- a blocked superplex into a powerbomb off the top, two corner drop kicks with the third cut off by a huge clothesline- meaning that both men took time to sell their injuries, until Bryan’s missed headbutt led inevitably to yet another crossface from The Cerebral Assassin, which was rolled through in a spot immediately familiar to anyone who’s ever seen Wrestlemania XX, but Goat Face managed to reverse into the Yes Lock in an absolutely thrilling moment which the veteran sold superbly.

The pace picked up yet again moments later with a twin suicide dives, both of which the Attitude Era star bumped like 1996 Shawn Michaels for! The running knee countered with a spinebuster and followed with The Pedigree gave the crowd their first opportunity to come completely unglued, and these two masters of their craft went on to give them several more, with a small package almost getting Bryan a sneaky three count followed by some breathtaking reversals of The Pedigree and a bridging suplex until the final separation created the opportunity to hit the knee for the win. What a brutal, brilliant battle, destined to age very well. Bryan beat The Game 100% clean in the Wrestlemania curtain jerker in a match where his offense was sold as deadly throughout its lengthy duration.The post-match beat down only added to the intrigue of the winner’s story heading into the rest of the evening, and in terms of a match with true emotional resonance, you won’t find many that match this one.


Honourable Mentions:Plenty of other contenders here. The main one is Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan at Royal Rumble 2014 for its hot pace, stiff offense and impressive storytelling. The ending, for me, was a bit anti-climactic. Loved the Sister Abigail on the outside, but the slow roll back into the ring for another took so long that the heat dissipated. I maintain that John Cena vs. Bray Wyatt at Wrestlemania XXX was by far the best match of the four that those two had. It did seem that the story they told on the night differed from the one in the Road To Wrestlemania build, but it was beautifully told in psychological terms and I felt like it was the first night that Wyatt truly fulfilled his potential as a wrestler (he obviously had the character stuff down from the start). Finally, Daniel Bryan vs. Kane at Extreme Rules was a fantastic Attitude Era tribute that surpassed almost everybody’s expectations given the grumblings about Kane as number one contender. Who wouldn’t love a forklift being used in a wrestling match? Sadly, the flaming table spot was kiboshed by WWE’s safety first procedures.

Featured PPV Multi-Man MOTY: Evolution vs. The Shield at Extreme Rules

Everybody knows by now how much of a raving mark I am for The Shield, and I have also gone on record many times saying what fantastic ring generals Triple H and Randy Orton are. Batista, meanwhile, is somebody I have defended in the IWC for years as being far better than he was ever given credit for. The presentation of the prospective six man in the build up to Extreme Rules was pitch perfect, and the contest delivered in spades, just as every six man tag The Shield had done previously. It was as inevitable as the tides that the Hounds of Justice would put on a match of the year contender every time they stepped through those ropes, but particularly with opponents of the calibre they had at Extreme Rules. The big match feel was there from the moment the first strains of Motorhead echoed around the arena, and the opening brawl that resulted in the Hounds standing their ground in the middle of the ring showcased the theme of youthful chaos against wily experience to perfection. The match proper was booked brilliantly, with each member of The Shield getting a fantastic showcase to show their unique gifts. Rollins owned the early stages with his high energy offense and bumping; my favourite moment of the whole match came when he escaped his face-in-peril status by hitting a magnificently Owen Hart step up enziguri on Triple H and tagging in Dean Ambrose, who exploded on all three members of Evolution with lunatic fury, culminating in his picture perfect figure four on Orton. Later, as the contest descended into chaos, the Attitude Era was channelled wonderfully, with Ambrose’s insane running announce table charge being another highlight reel moment.

The brawl around the arena between The Game, The Viper, The Lunatic Fringe and The Architect, meanwhile, was as hot as anything you’d have found between ‘97 and ‘01, and its culmination, Seth Rollins’ insane cross body from one tier of the stand down to the next, was just something else. Back in the ring, Batista showed just how generous he has been since his return in allowing himself to be comprehensively dominated by Roman Reigns, who once again got himself a marquee scalp with that spear. The ending, which involved Reigns picking up his fallen comrades and carrying them back to the dressing room, was brilliant for showing the sense of brotherhood between them; indeed, it was a throwback to their debut at TLC in December 2012, when Rollins took a similarly bonkers spot! What a match, made even more interesting in context with the betrayal of The Architect and the subsequent feud between he and a rabidly over Ambrose. Even in the fertile climate for match of the year candidates I mentioned at the start of this piece, Evolution vs. The Shield stood out. Certainly, it’s been my favourite match of the year, even if “best” might be a different thing. Or maybe it’s best as well as favourite?


Honourable Mentions:The other multi-man extravaganza between these two three man units, Evolution vs. The Shield in an Elimination Match at Payback was booked in a very interesting way, with no eliminations at all until the very end, when The Shield showed kayfabe resilience to come back and win three to zero. Meanwhile, the Elimination Chamber match featuring Cesaro, Christian, Randy Orton, Daniel Bryan, John Cena and Sheamus was also booked to have its eliminations take place towards the end and was the best chamber match since Edge and Mysterio tore the structure down in 2011. The Wyatt Family vs. The Shield from Elimination Chamber was a wild meeting of the top two factions in the company and featured some tremendous individual performances from Luke Harper and Seth Rollins. Finally, Sunday’s Money In The Bank Ladder Match featuring Dolph Ziggler, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Kofi Kingston, Rob Van Dam and Jack Swagger was the best example of its genre for many a year, mostly due to the insanely over antics of the two former Shield members. Some of those spots will live in the memory for a long time.

Midcard PPV Singles MOTY: Sheamus vs. Cesaro at Payback

While there wasn’t much of a story behind it- pretty much the two men trading wins on television for several weeks- there are times when booking two of your best upper midcarders in a match on PPV just works, and this was every bit the smashmouth technical brawl you’d imagined it would be when it was put together. The two men got a nice chunk of time to work with and “maximised minutes” in just the way talents at this level are supposed to.

I particularly enjoyed Sheamus’ bumping in this one, as the Irishman went out of his way to sell the offense of the Swiss Superman. I’ve even read some people saying that he is probably in danger of hurting himself with the kind of bumps he’s been taking of late. Cesaro brought all of his suplexes, European uppercuts and ludicrous acts of power lifting to the party, and the chemistry of both men was clear throughout, with Heyman of course adding an extra dimension at ringside.

The finish of this match was something that caused a little controversy, as some in the IWC did not enjoy the small package finish; personally, I loved it. Any reference to the late great Macho Man Randy Savage and his classic with Ricky Steamboat is going to go down well with me. It was a neat way to allow the Celtic Warrior to keep the US Title he had only just won from Dean Ambrose while simultaneously protecting the push of the King of Swing, who would likely have only been encumbered by a midcard strap at that point. At the end of the day, when we get matches like that on PPV, we’re a happy group of fans, and Cesaro seems destined to have many more minor classics like that in the months to come.


Honourable Mentions:At Elimination Chamber, Jack Swagger vs Big. E for the Intercontinental Title was a very fine hot opener that should have led to “bigger” things for the former Langston. Wade Barrett vs. Rob Van Dam for the Intercontinental Title at Payback used its allotted time very well and achieved its intention; to get the Englishman over even more than he was already. Rusev vs. Big E at Money In The Bank was a good big man match which used its minutes intelligently and did well for high spots.

Midcard PPV Multi-Man MOTY: The Usos vs. Luke Harper and Erick Rowan from Money In The Bank

Well, what can you say? We talk about a renaissance in tag wrestling a lot on this website, and the truth is that you can see the entire last two years in that light. Although some have been trepidatious about the break up of teams such as The Real Americans, The Shield, The Prime Time Players and so on, the care and attention that WWE pays to the division has not lessened since it was brought back to life by Kane and Daniel Bryan in 2012. The Usos and The Wyatt Family had been crossing swords for some time when they met last Sunday at Money In The Bank, so I was quietly tempted to imagine that this might not end up being as good as it looked on paper. Boy was I ever wrong! Speaking to Mazza about this one earlier, he referred to it as The Rockers vs. The Twin Towers for 2014, and that’s as astute an assessment as anyone could muster. The high flying Usos against the powerful Rowan and Harper, but with the added dimension of Luke Harper’s insane athleticism. The spot when he essentially out Seth Rollins-ed Seth Rollins was a joy to behold. There’s just no way a man of Harper’s size should be able to do that.

The Usos have perfected the art of wrestling underdog matches which don’t come across as overly clichéd, and this was their best match since the Wrestlemania pre-show. I’m glad that the WWE top brass decided to keep the straps on Jey and Jimmy, as this feud can run and run, and who knows, perhaps we’ll see matches that surpass even this one? Certainly, Sunday night was a case in point in giving a tag match some decent minutes and seeing just how much magic can be made with that gift of time. Definitely going to be one of those bouts I go back and re-watch a bunch of times.


Honourable Mentions:As mentioned in the previous paragraph the Fatal Fourway Elimination Match for the WWE Tag Team Titles from the Wrestlemania XXX Pre-Show, featuring Los Matadores, Rybaxel, The Real Americans and The Usos was a terrific way to get that special evening started. All the teams involved brought their ‘A’ game, particularly Cesaro and Swagger. Also on that evening was The Andre The Giant Memorial Battle Royal, which surpassed expectations and should now be considered for a yearly slot on the Granddaddy card. Finally, Rybaxel vs. The Brotherhood from Payback was a perfectly respectable midcard tag match with the story of the Rhodes losing streak adding poignancy to its climax.

TV Singles MOTY: John Cena vs. Cesaro, Raw, 02/17/14

I’d had an inkling for a while that the Franchise Player and the Swiss Destroyer would have excellent chemistry and I was delighted to see the hunch proved correct in the build to Elimination Chamber. From the opening bell, Cesaro was all over Cena, not giving him a moment’s peace, going for roll ups, backing him into the corner, showing him in kayfabe terms that he was not one of these wrestlers Cena could just out power; in fact, Cesaro proved the stronger and used his great technical proficiency too, by using a distinctly old school arm ringer that somewhat reminded me of Jake Roberts in his pomp. Cena’s response was to go for some chain wrestling of his own, but unlike a lot of matches involving the company’s top star, there was no sense of contrivance about it; he was fighting throwback fire with fire, before gaining separation and hitting some more typically “Cena” offense.

However, if any casual observer were thinking that the senior athlete had an advantage in the explosiveness game, Cesaro took the next ten minutes to dispel any such assumptions. Put simply, his strength is like nothing human, and the moves he puts together with that power are crisp, eye catching and crucially, look like they hurt. The brutally hard Irish whip to the buckle was designed in kayfabe to soften up the back, which Cesaro then assaulted mercilessly. The fall away slam into a bridging cover had me jumping out of my seat, but the deadlift gutwrench and deadlift superplex from the apron over the ropes to the canvas were both genuine “make inarticulate sounds at the TV” moves. Given a showcase environment, Cesaro grabbed the chance to show what he could do. That bodes extremely well for his future, as I believe such “clutch players” are highly valued by top brass, particularly when they work a heel gimmick well, as the Swiss did under Colter’s tutelage, and now, in the present, under Heyman’s. When you look at the King of Swing’s ring style, you see elements of Regal, Angle, Benoit and even DiBiase, and that is exalted company to be in, particularly when top guys like Orton and Cena are selling and bumping for him.

With their audience hyped to such an extent, the finish could not afford to be lacklustre, and the performers in this one came up with a beauty, involving a counter out of the AA and a big boot to the face from Cesaro, who then ran into a clothesline even JBL could be proud of to set up a roll through deadlift AA for the three count. This was a fast paced, competitive, back and forth affair between two powerhouses and its presentation was every bit as convincing and legitimate looking as you’d hope such a feature encounter between a top star and an up and comer would be. Destined to be spoken about alongside the great TV matches of all time in the years to come.


Honourable Mentions:No shortage of contenders here! The year has been filled with thrilling television bouts from week to week. Here are some personal favourites. Dean Ambrose vs. Sheamus in a US Title rematch from Smackdown 05/09/14 had great psychology and innovative offense from both men. Dolph Ziggler vs. Seth Rollins from Main Event 06/10/14 just about trumped their match on Smackdown the week before and was everything you hoped would come from the meeting of two such flawless hybrid technician-bumpers. Dolph Ziggler vs. Wade Barrett from Raw 06/23/14 meanwhile had everybody raving the next day, but their quarter final in the Intercontinental Title Number One Contender’s Tournament on Raw 04/14/14 was almost as good. Fingers crossed Barrett recovers swiftly so they can do something at Summerslam or Night of Champions. Daniel Bryan vs. Christian from Raw 02/17/14 may have been forgotten by some, but all you have to do is look at the two names in the ring with each other that night to conclude it was a corker, and that it was, with a pre-match heel turn from Captain Charisma helping things along.

TV Multi Man MOTY: The Shield vs. The Wyatt Family, Main Event, 04/09/14

When this battle took place, The Shield had already taken the Wyatts on twice, losing both times due to their own internal dissension. With that rift healed and with a new super babyface momentum behind them after their contemptuous dismissal of Kane and The New Age Outlaws at Wrestlemania XXX, the Hounds looked to finally get a win over the Family. The psychological tale of oneupmanship was encapsulated from the off by Dean Ambrose slapping the sheep mask off Erick Rowan’s face, and from there, the battle was well and truly on, with all six men busting out new offense and new tricks to enchant the Main Event audience. Seth Rollins locking an MMA style choke submission on Rowan was just one unique surprise in store for us, but it’s Dean Ambrose as a face in peril that proves the biggest revelation from the boys in black. Some (not me, that’s for sure) had questioned Ambrose’s ring game as The Shield powered their way to the top of the card, but the face turn proved to be the best thing that could have happened to Dean in proving his doubters wrong, as he turned out to be a brilliantly sympathetic turn as the Wyatts set out to dismantle him. Watching The Lunatic Fringe go toe to toe with Rowan or explode into a DDT counter on Bray to finally make his way for the tag was truly fantastic wrestling television. We shouldn’t forget Luke Harper’s contribution either, with the former indy star at one point propelling his considerable frame over the top rope to the outside in an insane suicide dive.

The finish showcased everything that was great about the Hounds of Justice and is great about The Shield, with the match breaking down in a mass brawl, before a knee off the top from Rollins to Rowan helped set Ambrose up to hit Dirty Deeds for the win. It’s literally impossible for these two teams to have a bad match together, but that one had a totally different feel about it from the previous two, which made it very impressive to me. The bonus interview segment with Renee Young afterwards sent it even further over the top.


Honourable Mentions:The month of February had more TV match contenders than any other, and Sheamus and Christian vs. The Real Americans from the 02/10/14 Raw was right up there with the very best, hard hitting and crisply worked. The Battle Royal For The U.S Title from the 05/05/14 Raw had a fantastic story, with an outnumbered and outgunned Ambrose lasting all the way to the end only to be eliminated by Sheamus at the last. Finally, The Wyatt Family vs. The Shield II, from Raw 03/02/14, the week after Elimination Chamber, was a great battle in its own right, with a super bit of storytelling involving Rollins dropping to the apron in protest at the dysfunction in the group.


Well dear readers, there you have it, my thoughts on the match of the year in six categories. I hope you enjoyed reading my reasoning behind my choices, but I’m aware that the rating of matches is highly subjective, so if you have your own ideas about who should have won in those categories, feel free to comment below or shoot me a tweet:

But until then, this is Maverick, requesting flyby!