Even the biggest World Wrestling Entertainment fan out there would have to admit that he was lying if he were to say that 2015 was a banner year for the organization. There was, in fact, plenty upsetting and even goofy about the year that was had by the WWE. Multiple storylines that were not all that great in the first place came and went without much fanfare. The company then closed the year by putting the WWE World Heavyweight Championship on Roman Reigns somewhat out of nowhere, almost as if those calling the shots decided to rush that decision after realizing that Reigns had been made to lose way too often.
As disappointing as portions of the year were for WWE viewers, 2015 also gave fans plenty of memorable matches worthy of being watched again and again via the WWE Network. The best overall shows that were presented underneath the WWE were produced by the NXT brand, and thus it should not be all that big of a surprise that the top match of the year came from a NXT Takeover show. Those of you who predicted back at the start of 2015 that the WWE Match of the Year would feature two female performers should consider buying a lottery ticket the next time an opportunity rises.
20. Asuka vs. Emma: NXT Takeover: London
One could not possibly have a list of the top WWE matches for 2015 without listing an encounter that featured the best overall worker signed by the company. Asuka has not yet been part of the WWE for a year, and yet she has already shown that she should be a major star if she is booked properly when called up to the main roster. The NXT Takeover: London match involving Asuka and Emma was not a one-sided encounter, as both women were impressive and both contributed to the story of the match. Asuka continued her unbeaten streak on that night, and it should only be a matter of time before she shows up on Raw.
19. Finn Balor vs. Samoa Joe: NXT Takeover: London
It would be easy, because of the two wrestlers involved, to over-think the matter and say that Finn Balor and Samoa Joe had a routine match in London. That was not at all the case. The story told here was that Joe, who had choked Balor out multiple times leading up to the match, was an unstoppable monster, one who could not put Balor away when the championship was on the line. Balor, the scrappy babyface, found just enough to emerge as the better wrestler and the victor, but all indications as of that night seemed to indicate that these two will meet again down the road. Perhaps that encounter will take place when Balor and Joe are on the WWE roster.
18. Blake & Murphy vs. Vaudevillians: NXT Takeover: Brooklyn
Will Blake & Murphy and/or the Vaudevillians ever amount to much of anything when/if they are called up to the main roster? We can’t answer that right now, but what we can say is that those two teams put on quite the show at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn. Alexa Bliss, the obnoxious manager for Blake & Murphy, met her match in the beloved Blue Pants, and the Vaudevillians found an opening and won the NXT Tag Team Championships in front of a Brooklyn crowd that roared for the babyface duo. Both teams have since fallen down the NXT card, and neither may again hold WWE gold.
17. Intercontinental Championship Match: WrestleMania 31
An Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match featuring seven different wrestlers is going to be a train wreck, and such a wreck is exactly what fans got early on at WrestleMania 31. It was, at the very least, an entertaining wreck during which every athlete was involved in some sort of spill or dangerous moment. With the WWE choosing to have “Money in the Bank” rights won at a separate show, the company had to come up with a different way to get multiple wrestlers into a match. There are worse ideas, and the WWE would do well to consider using this match stipulation at future editions of WrestleMania.
16. Seth Rollins vs. John Cena: July 27 Raw
The WWE is nothing if not repetitive, so it would be understood if you as a fan never want to see Seth Rollins and John Cena have another match. Rollins and Cena did have a couple of memorable showdowns in 2015, though, including one that occurred on an edition of Raw. This encounter will mostly be remembered for Rollins legitimately breaking Cena’s nose after Rollins’ knee made contact with the face of the leader of the “CeNation.” Cena showed his toughness and his dedication to his craft in completing the match, and his victory set up a future bout featuring these two great athletes.
15. Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch: NXT Takeover: Unstoppable
In a year that was filled with memorable WWE women’s matches, it would be easy to forget about the classic that Sasha Banks and Becky Lynch put on at NXT Takeover: Unstoppable. It did not take long into the encounter to see that fans were not going to be presented any old “Divas match,” as Banks and Lynch engaged in a battle of submission moves. Banks eventually prevailed thanks to her “Bank Statement” submission hold, and she solidified herself as the finest women’s worker in NXT up to that moment. The time has come for Banks, Lynch and others to be given opportunities to put on similar matches while working on the main roster.
14. Roman Reigns vs. Daniel Bryan: Fastlane
Once again the WWE attempted to push a different superstar as the top babyface instead of Daniel Bryan, and once again the company was forced to put Bryan back in the main event picture. Unlike in the past, though, Bryan was not inserted into the WrestleMania championship match this time around. Roman Reigns was put over Bryan, and the former “American Dragon” is now sidelined because of issues that have arisen from concussions. It has been speculated that Bryan will never again be allowed to wrestle inside of a WWE ring. Here is hoping that is not the case.
13. John Cena vs. Sami Zayn: May 4 Raw
The John Cena United States Championship “Open Challenge” was routinely the best part of missable and boring Raw shows. That challenge got no better than when Sami Zayn answered the call in front of a home Montreal audience. Fate was against Zayn on this evening, though, as the NXT Superstar suffered a freak shoulder injury as he pumped up the crowd before entering the ring. Zayn and Cena nevertheless put on one of the best Raw matches of 2015, one that showed the amount of talent had by both of those great wrestlers. Let’s hope we get to see them battle it out again when both are healthy.
12. Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton: WrestleMania 31
Hours before he successfully interrupted the WrestleMania 31 main event and won the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Seth Rollins had to first deal with Randy Orton. Rollins and Orton have two different wrestling styles, and those styles made for one of the best WrestleMania undercard matches in recent memory. The highlight of the match and maybe of the entire night occurred when Rollins went for his “Curb Stomp” finisher. Orton rose upward, Rollins flew high into the air, and Orton connected with the “RKO” (yes, out of nowhere) for the pinfall victory. Watching these two work together in the future could be a lot of fun.
11. Bayley vs. Sasha Banks: NXT Takeover: Respect
Bayley and Sasha Banks were never going to replicate the magic that they produced at the NXT Takeover: Brooklyn show. They fortunately did not have to because of the fact that the rematch was a 30-minute Iron Man encounter. The storytelling for this match was as close to perfect as you’ll see, with Banks playing the dastardly heel who even managed to make a young Bayley fan weep. Bayley survived a vicious beating before once again overcoming the odds and notching the win, this time to retain her NXT Women’s Championship. Bayley and Banks could headline any WWE show of the year.
10. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins: SummerSlam
WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins and United States Champion John Cena put their belts on the line in a winner take all encounter at SummerSlam. The two put on a solid and entertaining encounter, even if it was somewhat slow at times, but some of the luster was lost when Jon Stewart of The Daily Show entered the ring and hit Cena with a steel chair. This interference allowed Rollins to win both belts, and it was yet another instance of the man who was supposed to be the top heel in the company being made to look week. Rollins deserved better during his title reign.
9. Kevin Owens vs. Sami Zayn: NXT Takeover: Rival
Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn resumed a rivalry that had begun in Ring of Honor, and the first of their two NXT matches to date took place at Takeover: Rival. The story was simple enough: Former best friends had turned foes because of Owens’ hunger to become a champion, and Owens was a monster heel who thoroughly destroyed the undersized Zayn. Zayn showed a ton of heart and fight in the match, but he was no match for the overpowering Owens on that night. Owens won the match via knockout after several powerbombs, and that was the start of his push that resulted with Owens being called up to the main roster.
8. New Day vs. Usos vs. Lucha Dragons
By the time that the Tables, Ladders and Chairs show came around, fans had not been given many reasons to take the time to tune in live. This can be contributed to a build for the show that could politely be referred to as “meh.” The teams of the New Day, The Usos and the Lucha Dragons put on a match that was worth the price of admission alone, a TLC encounter that brought back memories to the days of old when the Dudley Boyz, Team Xtreme and Edge & Christian would battle it out over the belts. Kalisto hitting the “Salida del Sol” from the top of a ladder through another ladder is a moment that will be replayed for years to come.
7. Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker: Hell in a Cell
The one problem with attempting to rate this match is that Brock Lesnar and Undertaker already had a great Hell in a Cell encounter years ago when Undertaker was playing his “Biker ‘Taker” character. This was still a brutal match, even if it did take place in the PG WWE Universe in which blood is supposed to be an absolute no-no. Give Lesnar and Undertaker credit for doing well to put what were rather forgettable WrestleMania and SummerSlam matches out of memories with this showdown. These two monsters of the ring should now never again meet for a match.
6. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks vs. Bayley vs. Becky Lynch: NXT Takeover: Rival
Before the WWE tried to force a supposed “Divas Revolution” down the throats of fans on shows such as Raw, an actual revolution was taking place in NXT. The best four-way match of the WWE year, this encounter likely would have been the best NXT contest of 2015 if not for a different showdown featuring two of the four women who competed for the NXT Women’s Championship in this affair. Sasha Banks proved herself to be “The Boss” on this night, and there was no doubt left that these women were no longer content with being just filler content on WWE programs.
5. Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns: WrestleMania 31
Anybody who doubts that the WWE knows how to present a compelling story need only go back and watch this match to show how wrong he is about that assumption. The company knew that Brock Lesnar and not Roman Reigns would be the babyface in the eyes of the WrestleMania crowd, and so the match was centered around Lesnar dismantling Reigns throughout the encounter. Lesnar took Reigns to “Suplex City” time and time again before Reigns valiantly fought back. It didn’t matter in the end, though, as Seth Rollins cashed in his “Money in the Bank” contract to steal the WWE World Heavyweight Championship.
4. Kevin Owens vs. John Cena: Money in the Bank
Keven Owens and John Cena put on a wrestling clinic at the Elimination Chamber show, so much so that one could not have been blamed for assuming that the rematch that took place at Money in the Bank would not have matched the original encounter. Whichever of the two contests that you prefer, one would have to say that Owens and Cena got the job done both times that they stepped inside of the ring. Unlike in the previous match (spoiler alert), it was Cena and not the NXT Champion who had his hand raised on this particular night. Owens was still protected, though, and he has remained a mainstay of the WWE roster.
3. Brock Lesnar vs. John Cena vs. Seth Rollins: Royal Rumble
It can be difficult to tell an intriguing story in a three-way match, if only because there has to be one guy not involved in the action from time to time. Brock Lesnar, John Cena and Seth Rollins got just about everything right during their encounter that took place at the Royal Rumble show. Fans showered the wrestlers with “This is awesome!” chants even before Lesnar hit Rollins with his “F-5” finishing move for the pin, one that was yet another victory earned by the top draw in the company. 2016 should begin with Lesnar chasing the championship, although it does seem as if the WWE may have other plans for the former Ultimate Fighting Championship superstar.
2. Kevin Owens vs. John Cena: Elimination Chamber
There is, indeed, something negative about wrestlers kicking out of finishers way too often during matches. Still, you are looking for reasons to complain if you were not thoroughly entertained by the match put on by Kevin Owens and John Cena at Elimination Chamber. Owens, having his first match as a member of the main WWE roster, was made to look like a future world champion, as he picked up the clean pin over Cena following a battle worthy of a five-star rating. This is the WWE we are talking about, so naturally Owens has never again looked quite as strong since his days in NXT. Sigh.
1. Sasha Banks vs. Bayley: NXT Takeover: Brooklyn
The NXT Takeover: Brooklyn show was a fantastic event from start to finish, and it was highlighted by the Sasha Banks versus Bayley match that was for the NXT Women’s Championship. Those two women left nothing behind the curtain on that night, sacrificing their bodies and telling a compelling story that held one’s attention from start to finish. The tale of Bayley pursuing the title had a happy ending on that night, as the ultimate babyface earned the cover and the championship. What was already a tremendous moment was made that much better by the Four Horsewomen standing in unison as the Barclays Center crowd showed their appreciation for what they had just witnessed.