2015 will go down in history as one of the best years in recent memory for professional wrestling. Despite a lot of criticism and controversy during the year over booking, pushes, and match combinations, the year was, on the whole, fantastic for actual in-ring athleticism. We were treated to a plethora of truly out-of-this-world matches throughout the year, but only a select handful managed to make this list as the twenty best matches of the entire year.
These were the matches that took our breath away as the wrestlers involved demonstrated incredible athleticism. These were the bouts that made us rise to our feet, in shock of what we were witnessing. These were the contests that made us cheer loudly with one unbelievable near-fall after another. It’s because of matches like these that fans of professional wrestling are proud to call themselves as such.
The matches on this list are ranked based on a combination of factors: the build-up and history that led to the match itself, the technical skills of the wrestlers involved, crowd noise, any surprises, number of close calls and near-falls, and most importantly, storytelling during the matches. These elements, when combined, lead to the perfect match. Though there were many matches that were deserving contenders for match of the year, there is only one that earned that distinction.
Which one will it be? Find out in the pages ahead…
20. Bray Wyatt Vs. Roman Reigns – Hell In A Cell 2015
The feud between Wyatt and Reigns finally came to an end in both men’s first HIAC match ever. In a somewhat surprising turn of events, both men performed incredibly well in this HIAC match. They both added several layers of additional violence and destruction to really amplify the ‘personal bitterness’ feel of the match, making the contest far more enjoyable.
Reigns did an excellent job of showing his own strength and determination, while Wyatt proved once more that the ‘big guy = slow & uncoordinated’ trope of pro wrestling didn’t apply to him. He moved around with considerable grace and agility, making each one of his moves look far more impactful. In the end, both men looked much better after this match, and are both poised to take 2016 by storm.
19. Kevin Owens Vs. Finn Balor – NXT Championship, The Beast In The East
When WWE went to Japan for a Network special, there was concern that the event wouldn’t be much of a success, especially since they were effectively in NJPW territory. Thankfully, the NXT Championship match between Kevin Owens and Finn Balor managed to save the event.
The match was highlighted by Owens stomping on the flowers given to him by the Japanese (a classic heel move in a country that’s driven on respect), Finn Balor using some devastating offense on Owens throughout the contest, and Owens being an obnoxious heel that did whatever he could to retain his championship. Considering just how far both men would go in 2015, it makes sense to look at this match as the starting point for where everything began for both of them. It set the bar high for both Owens and Balor, and they’d both have great matches after this one.
18. A. J. Styles Vs. Kota Ibushi – NJPW Invasion Attack 2015
Going into this match, Kota Ibushi was one of NJPW’s most popular acts. Despite losing at Wrestle Kingdom earlier in the year, he had solidified his reputation as both an outstanding high-flyer and a gutsy, never-say-die wrestler with true fighting spirit. Those attributes, coupled with his 2015 New Japan Cup win, made him an ideal opponent for IWGP Heavyweight Champion A.J. Styles.
This was an exciting contest filled with excellent technical wrestling and reversals. Ibushi proved that he really does belong in the heavyweight division and managed to hold his own perfectly against Styles, who acted and behaved like a deserving champion with his superior skill and experience.
This was the second Ibushi match to garner such considerable praise from the wrestling press, and it proved that even the smaller wrestlers really can put on fantastic contests.
17. Daniel Bryan Vs. Roman Reigns – Fast Lane 2015
This match came together as a way to placate the growing division in the WWE Universe between those who believed Reigns deserved his spot in the WrestleMania main event, and those who rejected Reigns in favor of Daniel Bryan. It was Reigns’ first true test to see if he could put on a good match as a singles wrestler, and he passed with flying colors.
It was a prime example of size & strength versus speed & technique. Bryan used his superior grappling skills to psyche out Reigns many times, while Reigns used his power to out-muscle Bryan during key points in the match. That dichotomy led to several believable near-falls, and a fantastic match overall. Reigns did prove in this match that he would wrestle well under the right circumstances; the only real challenge that lay ahead was what to do with his sub-par microphone skills.
16. Brock Lesnar Vs. Roman Reigns Vs. Seth Rollins – WWE World Heavyweight Championship At WrestleMania 31
This historic match was brutality incarnate. Stiff strikes, cracked ribs, and blood were all witnessed in this contest, as the previously unstoppable Roman Reigns finally encountered someone that wasn’t intimidated by him and didn’t go down as easily as his previous opponents. Lesnar and Reigns beat the hell out of each other with a myriad of different strikes and throws, which eventually led to the now-famous ‘Suplex City, B***h’ ad-lib by Lesnar.
Of course, this great match would’ve gone down in history by itself if it ended cleanly, but it really became historic when Seth Rollins cashed in his MITB briefcase and stole the WWEWHC. At that moment, the arena became unglued, and Seth Rollins had one of the defining moments of his career take place. Truly, this was an epic match that should be on everyone’s must-watch list for 2015 wrestling matches.
15. Brock Lesnar Vs. The Undertaker – SummerSlam 2015
From the opening bell, this was a huge match (especially since Lesnar rushed Undertaker before he was even done removing his coat, something that never happens). It soon evolved into a hellacious brawl, with Undertaker’s striking-focused wrestling style meshing together perfectly with Lesnar’s MMA-and-suplex-oriented approach. With countless signature and finishing moves executed and kicked out of, this fight was one for the record books, even if it had a controversial ending.
Just as well, this match will also go down in history for that one brief moment when the Undertaker mocked Lesnar’s laugh and made one of the funniest faces he has ever made. That one screenshot more than made up for the screwy finish that took away from an otherwise fantastic match.
14. Bayley Vs. Sasha Banks – Ironman Match For The NXT Women’s Championship
Bayley and Sasha Banks made history by becoming not only the first women to main-event an NXT special, but also the first women to take part in a 30-minute Ironman match. To capitalize on that, Bayley and Sasha managed to keep fans glued to their seats for the entirety of this historic match.
Everything they did during this contest was outstanding. Banks’ heel attitude and mocking Bayley’s #1 fan, Bayley’s constant underdog presentation and out-of-nowhere wrestling style, all outside brawls, all of it came together seamlessly into an outstanding match.
In the end, Bayley managed to win by a very close call. But it was the post-match celebration and tributes by the entire NXT roster that really sold how important this match was. Banks and Bayley both embody the future of women’s wrestling in WWE, and this match showcased some of their best efforts.
13. Finn Balor Vs. Kevin Owens – Ladder Match For The NXT Championship
This match pitted two beloved superstars against one another in a fantastic clash. On one hand, you had Kevin Owens, one of the best brawlers and natural heels active today, wanting to re-gain his coveted NXT Championship. On the other hand, you had Finn Balor, a masterful high-flyer with an entrance and alter-ego that’s oddly reminiscent of the Undertaker. When you put these two elements together, you got a fantastic match.
It wasn’t a technical match; it was a brutal brawl that was made much better by Owens’ viciousness and arrogance. He truly convinced everyone watching just how good he is as a heel, and that’s why he gets the reactions he gets. Balor, meanwhile, showed the guts and psychology needed to be a champion by always having an answer for Owens’ offense. All in all, a fantastic match that really made both men look fantastic.
12. A. J. Styles Vs. Kazuchika Okada – IWGP Heavyweight Championship
After months of struggling and enduring a terrible losing streak, ‘Rainmaker’ Kazuchika Okada managed to finally regain the IWGP Heavyweight Championship from A.J. Styles in one of the most outstanding matches of the entire year.
Even though the match was just over 26 minutes long, the final 60 seconds were absolutely stunning, with so many shocking reversals and high spots that really took fans’ breaths away. Numerous unbelievable escapes took place in that short time period that it completely made up for the overemphasis of the Bullet Club’s interference during the first ten minutes of the match.
This was a match between two veteran wrestlers who not only knew how to mesh well with each other, but how to do so without it looking overly-choreographed. There was a level of intelligence added into this match, which really made it much more exciting to watch.
11. John Cena Vs. Kevin Owens – Elimination Chamber Network Special
This was the first major encounter between Cena and Owens, and it had a tremendous ‘big match feel’ about it. With the crowd firmly in Owens’ corner for the majority of the match, Owens’ star-power in WWE shot through the moon during this bout. He managed to make a huge name for himself on the main roster, especially since there were many who hadn’t seen him in NXT.
Owens showed exactly what fifteen years of experience does to a wrestler: he brawled with Cena perfectly, he had a mastery of ring psychology that allowed him to escape Cena’s signature moves, and he had the grace to pull off several impressive aerial maneuvers, including an amazing Moonsault, despite his less-than-chiseled physique. His win over Cena was monumental, as it served to demonstrate the company’s faith in the man, and just how good of a wrestler he really is.
10. John Cena Vs. Sami Zayn – U.S. Championship Open Challenge
Arguably the best of Cena’s U.S. Title defense matches, Cena faced off against Sami Zayn in Zayn’s home town, which garnered a thunderous ovation. As one of the biggest underdogs in WWE, Zayn made up for his lack of strength and smaller stature by being faster, cleverer and more technically-skilled than the champion. Zayn’s positivity and fighting spirit were highly infectious; even as he was being evaluated by a WWE doctor over a legitimate shoulder injury, he turned that into a positive, as the audience cheered for him even louder.
Zayn and Cena put on an outstanding match that very well might be the best match on RAW this year. Not only did Zayn look outstanding in this match, but he made Cena look even better as a wrestler. That’s why he’s such a great talent that really deserves the praise he gets for his skills.
9. Brock Lesnar Vs. The Undertaker – Hell in A Cell 2015
Billed as the final confrontation between Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker, this was an appropriate way for their storied feud to end. It was brutal, bloody, exciting and breathtaking. Every single strike elicited a reaction, every Suplex was met with cheers, and the sight of blood really brought the audience to its feet. This match felt like two gladiators fighting as if their lives were on the line; one big move after another, constant momentum shifts, the crowd favouring both wrestlers equally, it truly felt like an historic spectacle.
In the end, it took Lesnar hitting the Undertaker with an F-5 onto the exposed wood beneath the canvas to put this legendary rivalry to rest. Both men managed to further demonstrate their reputations as tough men capable of absorbing considerable damage, and did an excellent job in beating the hell out of each other.
8. John Cena Vs. Cesaro – U.S. Championship Open Challenge
If there was ever a reason to believe that Cesaro was deserving of a main-event push, it was this match. He went toe-to-toe with the biggest name in WWE, and looked fantastic while doing so. If Cena hit hard, Cesaro hit harder. If Cena used his strength, Cesaro out-powered him (no small feat). If Cena executed a big move out of nowhere, Cesaro would do the same but with an even bigger move. He stood as Cena’s equal throughout the match, and seeing Cesaro win was an actually believable possibility.
After the match, Cena praised Cesaro for his skills to the live audience in attendance. You know you’re an excellent wrestler if the biggest superstar in the company speaks highly of you. Given Cesaro’s abilities and ideal combination of strength, skill, and charisma, Cena’s comments shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.
7. Sasha Banks Vs. Bayley – NXT Women’s Championship
Hands down the best women’s wrestling match of the entire year, Bayley and Sasha Bank stole the show at NXT TakeOver: Brooklyn. In fact, they almost stole the show for that entire three-day period, which was marked by multiple high-quality matches.
Banks and Bayley showed just why so many people love NXT. Their match had the ideal mix of athleticism and storytelling. Both of their characters and motivations were on full display during the match. They demonstrated all kinds of wrestling, including two impressive aerial spots: Sasha’s over-the-rope-and-referee-outside-dive, and Bayley’s avalanche poisoned Frankensteiner.
It was simply a breathtaking match that few people would’ve expected to be so good. This match proved one thing: NXT is the place to be for the best women’s wrestling in WWE.
6. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Kazuchika Okada – IWGP Heavyweight Championship
The latest entry in a storied rivalry between two outstanding athletes, Tanahashi and Okada fought each other for the IWGP Heavyweight Championship once again in the Wrestle Kingdom main event. In what shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, they actually managed to captivate the audience, even after going on after an outstanding penultimate match for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship.
Tanahashi and Okada did this by hitting each other as hard as possible, executing multiple signature and finishing moves that led to countless near-falls, and stealing each other’s moves to really sell the depth of this extensive rivalry. In the end, no matter how much Okada tried to beat the legendary Tanahashi (and believe me, he did try hard), the Ace of the Universe managed to win by a very narrow margin. It was the perfect way to cap off arguably the best PPV of the entire year.
5. Seth Rollins Vs. John Cena – Champion Vs. Champion Match At SummerSlam 2015
From the very beginning, you could feel that this was going to be an awesome match. Rollins finally faced Cena in singles competition, and the stakes were high for both men as their respective prizes were up for grabs. Of course, Cena and Rollins didn’t fail to deliver, as they wrestled in a brutal contest that showed exactly why both of them were given such high praise.
Even though most people thought that Cena would win and become World Champion again (because, well, because he’s Cena), Rollins proved to everyone watching that he’s just as skilled a wrestler, if not more so, than Cena in this match. Even with the controversial finish, Rollins outperformed Cena in many respects, showing more guts and skill than in arguably any other match to date. He was a very deserving champion, and this match proved it.
4. John Cena Vs. Kevin Owens – Money In The Bank 2015
This match took place under perfect circumstances. Cena’s regular U.S. Championship Open Challenges were highlighting his skill as a wrestler, while Kevin Owens was white hot as an act, especially after defeating Cena at Money In The Bank a few weeks prior. Needless to say they brought their A-game once again, only this time they managed to out-do themselves in this rematch.
The match was highlighted by reversal after reversal, big move after big move, one close 3-count after another. It was a breathtaking wrestling classic that could’ve gone either way, making the match’s drama far more palpable. Neither man deserves more credit than the other for putting on such a masterful performance; they both deserve equal respect and praise for making this outstanding match come together so well.
3. Shinsuke Nakamura Vs. Kota Ibushi – IWGP Intercontinental Championship – Wrestle Kingdom IX
If there was ever a reason to believe that Shinsuke Nakamura is the best wrestler in the world today, this is it.
This match was off the charts in terms of quality, suspense, storytelling, and emotion. Nakamura walked down to the ring dressed as an actual king, and acted as the perfect ‘im-better-than-you’ bully to a defiant Kota Ibushi. Ibushi, meanwhile, mustered considerable strength and determination to drive Nakamura back, and brought the most devastating moves in his arsenal.
He even executed some stiff closed-fist punches (which is shunned in Japanese wrestling), and even used Nakamura’s Boma Ye finisher, but to no avail. Nakamura kept getting up, showing just how much fighting spirit he had within him.
This was the first great match of 2015, and set the bar extremely high for the rest of the year.
2. Brock Lesnar Vs. John Cena Vs. Seth Rollins – WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match At Royal Rumble 2015
If it weren’t for this match, the 2015 Royal Rumble PPV would’ve been a catastrophic failure. Thankfully, the trio of Lesnar, Cena and Rollins delivered in an outstanding performance that kept the audience on their feet. Thanks to the no-disqualification rule in this Triple Threat match, we were treated to some impressive moments that wouldn’t have otherwise taken place.
Most notably, when Lesnar suplexed both Joey Mercury and Jamie Noble at the same time, and when Seth Rollins dove onto Lesnar while he was on the Spanish announcer’s table. Moreover, Lesnar looked more like a Beast in this match than in any of his recent matches, as he took an incredible amount of punishment and wouldn’t stay down. These things, coupled with so many exciting near-falls and a rarely-seen Phoenix Splash saved the 2015 Royal Rumble PPV from being a disaster.
1. Hiroshi Tanahashi Vs. Shinsuke Nakamura – G1 Climax 2015 Tournament Final
This is 2015’s Match of the Year.
There was something magical in this match that simply wasn’t replicated anywhere else during the year. Tanahashi and Nakamura, two NJPW mainstays that’ve been rivals for over a decade, met once again to grown a winner in the final match of the 2015 G1 Climax tournament. These two outstanding athletes tore into each other without mercy, and showed the entire world exactly why both of them are held in such high regard by their fans.
They kept the moves simple and avoided using too many, which actually made the match better. They focused on simpler storytelling and psychology, which made every submission and near-fall much more believable. The audience erupted every time a big move took place, and was extremely raucous for the final ten minutes (for very good reason).
Words don’t do it justice; you must see this match for yourself: