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27th Dec 2018

JOE’s five must watch WWE matches of 2018

Wil Jones

2018 has been an odd year for the WWE

Man-for-man and woman-for-woman, they had arguably the most talented roster of any calendar year in WWE history. Yet their highest profile match all year was probably the reunited D-Generation X lumbering around against Kane and The Undertaker  (combined age of participants: 206) at the whim of a Saudi Prince whose regime the FBI verified had ordered the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

WWE currently has six weekly TV shows, along with multiple monthly pay-per-views, networks specials and tournaments. That is a lot of airtime to fill each week, and as you might expect, it often gets spread veeeeeerry thin.  Still, if you are putting out that much content, the law of averages state that you are still going to get a solid amount of bangers in there. And bangers, there definitely were.

If you pick selectively, there has been plenty of incredible moments and matches from The ‘E in the last twelve months. Here are five matches, picked from across the company’s various brands and divisions, that highlight the best of WWE this year.

Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair (Last Woman Standing), Evolution, October 28th

For years, WWE have tried to find or make the next Stone Cold Steve Austin. But in 2018, it turned out they could have been under their noses all along, just in the shape of a veteran from Limerick.

The image of Becky Lynch, face covered in blood after being busted open by Nia Jax on the November 12th edition of Monday Night Raw is probably the most iconic WWE moment of the year. But it was her Last Woman Standing match against Charlotte Flair, on the company’s first ever all-female pay-per-view, that truly cemented her as the most exciting performer in all of wrestling this year.

The idea of WWE letting two women have a match as visceral as this would have been historic in its own right, but Becky and Charlotte’s rivalry had passed the point of any tokenism or ‘first time ever’ billing.

Like all great wrestling feuds, it was simple and universal – the scrappy upstart who had to fight for everything she’d got, going up against the chosen one, a member of a dynasty with a perceived god given right to be there. The blonde all-American versus some gobby Irish shitebag.

Any two idiots can hit each other with chairs and ladders, but these two women, you genuinely believed they hated each other. And at the end, The Man stood tall.

Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey vs. Triple H and Stephanie McMahon, Wrestlemania 34, April 8th

Yes, 48-year-old Triple H, 49-year-old Kurt Angle, a green as hell MMA fighter and Stephanie freaking McMahon put on a Wrestlemania barnburner that put all indie and Japanese faves to shame.

Wrestling purists might sneer at an outside star being put over girls who’ve grinded away at it for years, and MMA fans may mock Rousey for running away to play fake fighting after her UFC loses. But the truth is, the woman is a superstar, and put her in front of a live crowd and something magic happens.

Her debut was a very special moment, one filled with genuine suspense and uncertainty. Were we about to witness a trainwreck of epic proportions?

Instead, Ronda plowed through Trips and Steph like a runaway train and had the hottests of hot crowds in the palm of her hand. Sports entertainment can be many things, but when it comes to the ‘entertainment’ side of things you’re rarely going to get better than this

Brock Lesnar vs. Daniel Bryan, Survivor Series, November 8th

Brock Lesnar is an enigma. To borrow from one of the bands of 2018, Idles, he’s a walking thyroid: he is not a man, he’s a gland, he’s one big neck with sausage hands. Legitimately terrifying and a genuine pop culture icon, Lesnar’s true wrestling magic lies in the unpredictability of his matches.

You genuinely don’t know what is going to happen. Even if they are largely awful, they are still an event. Whether its his shock 90 second lost to Goldberg, him busting open Randy Orton’s head for no real reason, or actually turning up for a thunderous four-way match at SummerSlam last year, there is genuinely no one who has a spot like Lesnar.

The genius of the Suvivor Series main event – Raw champ Lesnar against SmackDown title holder Daniel Bryan – was that it played into all this.

For the first ten minutes, it was the worst kind of Lesnar match: him spamming German suplexes and nerfing the crap out of the crowd’s favourite wrestler. People booed, they started to walk out.

And then Bryan gets one single strike to connect and the crowd goes wild. He hits a low blow and you think he might actually do it. The next seven or so minutes of wrestling could have only come from a Brock Lesnar match and had even the most cynical fan on the edge of their seat. It was exhilarating.

The truth is, we all got played like a fiddle – but being played never felt so good.

Moustache Mountain (Trent Seven & Tyler Bate) vs. The Undisputed Era (Kyle O’Reilly & Roderick Strong), United Kingdom Championship Tournament Night 2, June 19th

The much heralded NXT UK experiment has been a bit lukewarm so far. It’s great to see talent that UK fans have watched for years get the payday they deserve. But so far, shuffling them onto a WWE Network exclusive show with only an hour runtime means it has yet to set the world alight.

But one highlight came with Tyler Bate and Trent Seven – aka Mustache Mountain – feuding with Kyle O’Reily and Roderick Strong of the Undisputed Era.

It was a perfect pairing of veteran US indie guys taking on the best practitioners of the UK style. A bunch of jocks from the background of an American Pie movie trying to bully a pair of father and son old-timey strongmen.

Any of their encounters over the year could have made this match. But we’ve going for MM’s triumph on home soil, where they managed to win the titles at the Royal Albert Hall –  simply because the wave of emotion when they scored the pinfall was one of the the most joyous moments of 2018 in all of WWE.

Andrade “Cien” Almas (with Zelina Vega) vs. Johnny Gargano, NXT TakeOver: Philadelphia, January 27th

Look, there are so many NXT matches that could have made this list. The ladder match at New Orleans, former best friends Johnny Gargano and Tomaso Ciampa’s brutal wars, and practically the entire WarGames II card. But as pure wrestling spectacles go, Gargano’s thirty-plus minute attempt to take the NXT title from Andre Cien Almas probably pips it.

Coming at the start of the year, with surprisingly little hype, the two men simply wrestled their arses off, catching people off guard with a match that both superbly forwarded both character’s individual narratives – Almas’ ascent thanks to the tutelage of Zelina Vega; and Garagano’s constant falling short, and subsequent descent into madness.

They delivered an incredible self-contained epic. Proof, as if we still needed it, that NXT truly is the real deal.