5- Cesaro vs Kevin Owens vs Rusev (July 13 Raw)
While John Cena’s US Open matches were a constant source of entertainment, one of the best matches related to his challenge didn’t even include Big Match John(TM). After a pair of amazing Raw episodes where newly singles wrestler Cesaro brought out some of John Cena’s best in-ring work, a trio of wrestlers competed *just* for the right to compete against Cena in the main event. In the process, we were provided a great look at the bright WWE main event scene for the next few years.
What’s great about this triple-threat match is how it’s basically two fantastic matches in one. It starts as a fast-paced triple threat where all three combatants are at full speed (unlike most triple threats where someone’s unexpectedly incapacitated for minutes at a time) and bouncing some innovative offence off of each other. After Kevin Owens bows out of the match during the first commercial break, it becomes a clinic for strongman grappling as Cesaro busts out some of his most impressive throws and Rusev counters with some strong moves of his own. Even though one of the combatants is on the shelf, another is in the doghouse, and the third is off his first IC title loss, I think the future for all three is pretty bright, and we’ll have this epic first encounter to look back on.
BEST SPOT: Cesaro suplexes Rusev and Owens simultaneously.
4- Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar (WrestleMania)
Brock Lesnar is at his best when he can just truck through his opponents. If he can do that, the results are great (John Cena, CM Punk). If he can’t, well you have his output against The Undertaker in 2015; good, but not that memorable. In Roman Reigns, WWE put the most able-bodied wrestler they had against the suplex machine, and the result was the most hard-hitting match of 2015.
The match starts off brutally, with an F5 and plenty of suplexes, and it grows from there. Roman gets some hard kicks and punches in, Lesnar lands 8 of his best suplexes, Lesnar bleeds the perfect amount, and the end trades finishers (two additional F5s and two spears) without it looking like an overbooked Cena-Rock-esque mess. That is, of course, due to Seth Rollins’ Money in the Bank cash-in, which amplified the excitement of the end sequence and created a finish that was both fan-friendly and didn’t besmirch Lesnar’s record over the last two years. It’s a shame that the Curb Stomp wasn’t much longer for the world post-Mania, but this was a great main event for it to end on.
BEST SPOT: Roman knees Brock in the face before getting clotheslined off the apron.
3- Sasha Banks vs Bayley (NXT Brooklyn)
This may not have been the last match to air during NXT Brooklyn, but in every other way, shape, and form, it was the main event for NXT in 2015. After Sami Zayn won the NXT Title at the end of 2014, Bayley’s championship chase was the biggest story for the developmental promotion throughout the year. She came close on many occasions (like the Fatal 4-Way at Takeover: Unstoppable) and stumbled against the likes of Becky Lynch and Emma, but the long and winding road finally ended at NXT’s biggest event to date with a match (and an event) that managed to overshadow WWE’s second-biggest show of the year.
There’s so much to love about this match; the WrestleMania-esque entrances befitting NXT’s biggest-ever show (complete with an Escalade-enhanced arrival for Sasha), the superb back-and-forth brawl featuring some seriously impressive spots, like Sasha doing a suicide dive OVER the referee and working over Bayley’s freshly healed hand via the ring steps and foot stomps. The ending was excellent, as Bayley pulled off an insane reverse hurricanrana from the top rope (which she had been denied earlier in the match), before hitting the Belly-to-Bayley in what was easily the most joyous title win shown on any WWE programming this year. Follow that up with an intensely emotional curtain call featuring the combatants and fellow NXT revolutionaries Becky Lynch and Charlotte, and there’s a reason this was the biggest show-stealer of 2015.
BEST SPOT: Bayley pulls off a Poison Hurricanrana from the top rope.
2- John Cena vs Seth Rollins vs Brock Lesnar (Royal Rumble)
As great as their initial encounter was, the looming prospect of a third Cena-Lesnar match was becoming a bit stale, compounded by factors like Brock Lesnar’s limited contract and John Cena’s inability to cleanly lose more than once to anyone over the last half-decade. Adding Seth Rollins to the equation was a wonderful elixir that produced the best WWE match of the year during the first PPV (or whatever you call them now) of 2015. It’s a testament to all three combatants’ skills that one of the most expected endings of the year occurred (Brock Lesnar progressing to the main event of WrestleMania while Cena escapes without taking a pinfall loss) but the crowd was still excited to see it all happen.
All three participants bounced off each other in such great ways that it’s a shame the trio only tangled once. Seth Rollins has John Cena to perform quick moves and counters on while still looking strong, and can look good against a big man by hitting limited (yet effective) moves on Brock. John Cena has extremely good in-ring chemistry with Seth Rollins, and makes Brock Lesnar’s offense look more brutal than just about every other WWE roster member. Brock Lesnar can show his dominance against big men via Cena while showcasing feats of strength by tossing around the smaller Rollins. Everyone looked fantastic against everyone in this match. Cena’s hit a barrage of AAs on Lesnar and reversed Rollins’ curb stomp into a STF. Rollins debuted the Phoenix Splash on Cena and connected on a top-rope-to-table splash on Lesnar. Lesnar, of course, hit a batch of suplexes on John Cena, but also caught Rollins in midair to land an F5. With the Royal Rumble itself ending up as one of the year’s biggest disappointments, the silver lining is that it was preceded by the best WWE PPV match of the year.
BEST SPOT: Seth Rollins hits a Phoenix Splash on Cena before immediately getting suplexed by Lesnar.
1- Sasha Banks vs Bayley (NXT Takeover: Respect)
It’s tough to choose between the two live televised one-on-one matches between Sasha Banks and Bayley this year. They’re both full of emotion, great storytelling, high-impact moves, intense crowds, and just a smidge of unpredictability. While Bayley’s status as champion wasn’t in much doubt either time the two faced off, the storytelling in each instance made this the best feud of the year. In the case of the first-ever women’s main event on a live televised special, the emotion and intensity on display made for a follow-up that bested a classic and the best match of the year.
In their second match up, things ramped up a bit slower (thanks to the 30 minute time limit), but every fall told a great story. It started with Sasha showing off her heelish nature by getting an eye poke-assisted pinfall, and then Bayley showing her dominance by gaining a fall the same way she won the title. With another act of desperation, Banks scored a countout (while also going full heel by mercilessly taunting Bayley’s biggest fan until the child cried), but Bayley showed her tenacity with a desperation rollup. The last 10 minutes of the match proceed without another point scored as the two traded their hardest hits and most brutal submissions. In the end, Bayley won by showcasing an all new part of her repertoire by scoring a submission fall in the final seconds of the match. After that, the post-match emotion manages to top Brooklyn’s curtain call as NXT celebrates the occasion and says goodbye to Banks with a roster-wide standing ovation and celebratory bouquets given out. If you didn’t cheer and tear up during this bout, you have no wrestling soul. It was the greatest wrestling match WWE produced this year, and the best part is that it’s (hopefully) the sign of things to come for women’s wrestling and WWE main events.
BEST SPOT: Bayley catches Sasha Banks’ out-of-ring plancha and does a Belly-to-Bayley on the arena floor.
What do you think of our rankings? What were your favorite WWE and NXT matches this year? Sound off below! For more wrestling discussion, be sure to listen to Cheap Popcast! Also, subscribe to Laser Time YouTube’s channel, where you can find great wrestling videos including WWE game streams and other awesome original stuff, like this WrestleMania recap!