The year of 2014 in the WWE has felt like two steps forward and one step backwards. The company made progress as a business and as a creative piece of entertainment, but not without a few problems along the way.
It was really a year of foundation-building. The WWE has just now began once again laying the ground work for the leaders of the next generation. The generation that will fill the next decade's history books of sports entertainment.
The next decade that will likely see Vince McMahon retire from most, if not all, formal positions within the WWE. A decade that we will almost surely say goodbye to the man who has defined an era, John Cena. An era that will see the rise of a new franchise player.
For 2014 though, we were treated to more hours of WWE in-ring action available through more mediums than ever before thanks to the launch of the WWE Network. Now fans who find the investment worth the money can go back and watch some of their favorite matches in crystal clear HD and not have to worry about scrounging around YouTube for a pixilated video copied from an illegal stream
It was a great year to be a member of the WWE Universe, but what matches stand as the best performances of 2014? What matches made us proud to be fans? Lets countdown the ten greatest matches of WWE's 2014!
Tyson Kidd vs. Dolph Ziggler vs. Cesaro (WWE Smackdown!, Nov. 2014)
This match is quite easily the most interesting and noteworthy match WWE Smackdown! has seen all year.
Ziggler was defending his WWE Intercontinental Championship against not one but two opponents as part of The Authorities plan to wear down members of John Cena's Survivor Series team before the event.
Three men who have, at one point or another, been grossly underutilized despite being in the words of Stone Cold Steve Austin "mechanics" in the ring. What a perfect combination for a match to decide the Intercontinental Championship.
This featured many inventive three man spots and never fell into the formulaic Triple Threat match quirks we have all grown accustomed to seeing. This elimination style match featured some really fast paced sequences that are to be expected when seeing any one of these guys in action.
Cesaro was eliminated first, and Ziggler managed to pin Tyson Kidd after a well paced Zig Zag,despite having the deck stacked against him for a majority of the match. It sold the idea that Ziggler was a survivor and could overcome massive amounts of adversity as he was heading into a do-or-die Survivor Series match.
Unfortunately, Luke Harper would snatch the title from Ziggler the following Monday on Raw thanks to some assistance from The Authority.
- Natalya vs. Charlotte (NXT Takeover): It has been a long time since we have been able to even make a sound argument that a Diva's match should even be considered one of the best of the year, but finally we can. Leave it to Natalya and the daughter of a 2-Time WWE Hall of Famer, Ric Flair, to make it happen. It took the more wrestling-focused NXT development program to give the time to these woman to really perform and display what the WWE's Diva's division could really be.
- Team Authority vs. Team Cena (WWE Survivor Series): As entertaining of a Survivor Series match I can ever recall watching. It told a story, the outcome had severe outcomes, the action was fast paced when it needed to be, and eliminations came at all the right times. The ending was a huge moment as well. Not sure if we covered that or not. Who is Sting, anyway?
- Dolph Ziggler vs. Luke Harper (WWE TLC): The only saving grace on one of the WWE's most underwhelming events of the year. Ziggler capitalized on his momentum in a big way during this Ladder match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship. One-on-one Ladder matches are rare commodities nowadays. This served as a reminder of how good they can be when the right pairings are in the ring.
10. John Cena vs. Cesaro (WWE Raw, February 2014)
While once "The Champ" that got boo'ed out of arena's with chants of "You Can't Wrestle," John Cena has become one of the great storytellers in WWE history. His charisma, feel for the crowd, and what they respond to is second to none. The man understands the business of showmanship and entertainment.
However, in a year in which Daniel Bryan and The Shield were on many WWE fans radar, Cena had probably one of his weakest years in his decade atop the WWE. Even despite becoming a 15-time WWE Heavyweight Champion.
His feud with Bray Wyatt started out interesting, but didn't connect with fans the way we had hoped. His feud with Brock Lesnar and the rest of The Authority for the remainder of the year was only hit-and-miss.
This match though was hands-down the best thing John Cena was a part of all year long, and also a little reminder of how well Cesaro does when he has "the machine" behind him.
These two physical powerhouses spent much of their match trying to use their strength to defeat the other. The counters and dips that were in this match made for a really back and forth encounter.
Cesaro, who had just defeated Randy Orton on Smackdown, looked like he was capable of pulling off an upset and defeating the 14-time WWE Champion. In the end John Cena got the victory after nearly losing several times over.
The physicality in this match was so worth seeing Cesaro go all out to try and best the veteran, but after both men reached their limits it was Cena who came out with a victory. Definitely one of Raw's best matches of the year.
9. Sami Zayn vs. Cesaro (NXT ArRival)
Only a few weeks after taking John Cena to his limits, Cesaro returned to NXT to face the man he spent much of 2013 feuding with.
Was this as good as their barn-burning 2 out of 3 Falls match from the year prior? No, but it was the perfect way to kick off NTX's arrival on the WWE Network, and also served as the first event ever lived streamed on the Network.
Like matches prior, Cesaro commanded the pace of much of this match as Zayn tried to prove to him and himself that he was just as good as the Swiss professional wrestler.
The two former ROH talents knew their story and worked it into this match perfectly. Zayn would begin to build momentum and fight out of Cesaro's clutches only to be stopped dead in his tracks by Cesaro just as the crowd began to get excited.
The timing used here was impeccable.
Zayn's character has been made to be someone who never gives up no matter how much punishment he has to endure. Cesaro, at one point, seemed almost annoyed that Zayn refused to stay done. Almost as if Zayn was more of a nuisance than an opponent to the "Swiss Superman." Then, the NXT Superstar kicked out of Cesaro's Very European Uppercut, not at a two count, but after only a one count.
The look on Cesaro's face told the audience he had greatly underestimated his opponent this time. He would defeated Zayn once again, but ultimately gained the respect of his opponent. The two rivals finally embraced in the ring after ushering in NXT as the show to watch in 2014.
Sami Zayn had truly arrived on this night, and his 2014 would only become more interesting from here...
8. Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins (WWE Raw, August 2014)
I think Rollins and Ambrose wrestled in more match variants than any other two WWE superstars this year.
The desolation of The Shield was without question one of the best stories of 2014. More specifically the rivalry between Dean Ambrose, the man who was once the mouthpiece and ring leader of The Shield, and Seth Rollins.
The two former teammates had several notable matches in 2014, but none of their matches on WWE's major events really matches up to their Falls Count Anywhere match from a "Viewer's Choice" edition of Monday Night Raw.
Unlike their Lumberjack match at SummerSlam and their Hell in a Cell match, this match really showcased their chemistry and was paced so much smoother than their other encounters.
One spot in particular, in which Seth Rollins power bombed his former ally on a stack of chairs. The timing and crowd reaction was perfect. Everything in this match happened when it was supposed to and everything felt natural. It was a match that felt worthy of their story.
Ambrose very nearly secured the victory over Rollins with a Dirty Deeds, but his alliance with The Authority meant the Director of Operations, Kane, was present at ringside to save Rollins from an early defeat.
The interference meant little to the "Lunatic Fringe" as he used his unorthodox offense to take on both Rollins and Kane. The former WWE United States Champion managed to hold off the 2-on-1 assault for but a few moments before Kane found an opening and Chock Slammed Ambrose on the announcer's table. The Kane revealed a bed of cinder blocks.
Rollins then followed suit delivering one of the most brutal moments of 2014. A Curb Stomp to Amrbose's head. The match was stopped by the referee while chants of "You Sold Out" drowned out the announcers.
Rollins, who many had worried would be the member of The Shield to get lost in the shuffle after their split, had never looked more impressive.
7. Batista vs. Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton (WWE WrestleMania XXX)
Remember how we felt about 2014's WrestleMania's main event right after Batista won the 2014 Royal Rumble? Silly fans vowed to boycott WrestleMania all together at the prospect of watching Batista and Randy Orton close the 30th ever "Showcase of the Immortals." Well, here it is, sitting pretty at number seven on our list of the best matches of 2014.
I think WWE more than delivered on what fans thought was going to be another let down of a closing doubt from WrestleMania. I think it is always wise to under promise and over-deliver when it comes to trying to meet people's expectations, and the booking here worked out perfectly in this respect.
The match started off somewhat tame, with Orton and Batista quickly eliminating the warn down Daniel Bryan from the equation. The fatigued leader of the "Yes Movement" was obviously still reeling from his match with Triple H which had taken place earlier in the event.
To be fair, Orton and Batista were almost an afterthought, so much so that the commentary team even mentioned it at one point. Daniel Bryan was clearly the vocal point of this match, and there was no denying his victory.
The twists and turns in this match made it even more satisfying to see the Washington native finally get his big moment. Specifically, the amazing (even if it was clearly premeditated) spot were Batista delivers a power-bomb into Randy Orton's RKO on Daniel Bryan through the Spanish announce table. Glorious.
The Authority pulled out all the bells and whistles. Crooked referees, Triple H interfering, and Batista and Orton briefly working in tandem despite being opponents. None of it could deny Bryan his moment in the sun.
Bryan locked in the Yes Lock on Batista to secured the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. It would go on to be probably be one of the year's most inspiring WWE moments.
Not bad for a "B+ Player."
6. Daniel Bryan vs. Randy Orton (WWE Raw, February 2014)
Something about WrestleMania season just motivates the WWE and their performers to pull out all the stops even for a weekly edition of Monday Night Raw.
In my opinion, there are not enough people making noise about this match as there should be. It was by far the best free television match of the year, and it far exceeded almost all of the matches these two had on Pay-Per-View the previous year.
By the early months of 2014, Bryan's following of fans had reached and all time high. The WWE still refused to give the fans what they wanted, and that only made their "Yes" chants louder as the boy from Aberdeen Washington made his way to the ring to face the WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Randy Orton.
While, generally speaking, I think Orton is a world class storyteller and professional wrestler I do believe his work in the ring can be quite unexciting when paired with the wrong opponent. "The Viper" sometimes relies on the babyface to get the fans excited and invested into the story of the match.
The only thing anyone can throw against this match is the dusty finish and somewhat measured pace of the action, but those should be expected in a main event match during WrestleMania season. It also continued the trend of The Authority stacking the deck against Bryan and the WWE continuing to bait fans as they headed down the road to WrestleMania.
The match showed Orton slowly dissect his challenger as he prepared for the Elimination Chamber Pay-Per-View, but Bryan still pulled a victory out from underneath "The Face of the WWE."
Bryan and Orton have been perfect foils for one another since their story began at SummerSlam in 2013, but their in ring storytelling has not always lived up to their story.
This match did. The only match these two had that I think far exceeds it, is another match from Raw. Their amazing No Hold Barred match from the Summer of 2013.
Hopefully, these two will be able to top both of those matches somewhere down the line.
5. Sami Zayn vs. Adrian Neville (NXT R Evolution)
I'm pretty sure someone from Reddit sent Triple H an old ROH show script to cheat off of. That and the fruit basket.
In all seriousness, R Evolution was one of the most entertaining shows of the year and it really helped WWE realize how big of a draw NXT is for their WWE Network.
2014 has seen Zayn rise from being another one of the crown jewels of America's independent scene to one of NXT's biggest new names. His year started off a little rocky as we discussed earlier. Zayn, after multiple attempts, could not defeat Cesaro in late 2013, and at NXT ArRival, Zayn still couldn't put down the "Swiss Superman." The same, seemed true of Adrian Neville later on in the year.
But at the final NXT event of the year, Sami Zayn put up his WWE career for one more opportunity at the NXT Champion. Neville, who had been champion for a majority of the year, had defended his title against any and all men who challenged him. Including Zayn.
After coming up short, Zayn got one final opportunity at R Evolution in a match that has somehow surpassed every contest we have seen on NXT to date.
It was the final test for Zayn's desire and will to overcome his obstacles. He was facing every form of adversity in this match, including his own conscience as he was tempted to cheat to gain the victory. He didn't, but it nearly cost him his chance at the title as Neville gave Zayn the biggest beating we have seen to date.
The palpable electricity in the air was apparent by the raucous audience who so terribly wanted to see Zayn win the title, and seemed almost distraught when it appeared Neville would slip out of another match with his NXT Championship.
Zayn finally got the better of the champion, and won his first ever title in the WWE. The celebration was akin to that of Daniel Bryan's celebration at WrestleMania (only on a much smaller scale.)
I can't wait to see what Sami Zayn does next.
4. Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan (WWE Royal Rumble)
If you don't understand how good Bray Wyatt has the potential to be you have to see this match. This is probably the best he has ever been in the ring and as a character since moving up to the main roster.
After seemingly being unable to overcome Triple H's authority, Daniel Bryan succumbed to The Wyatt Family who had been planting seeds of doubt and attacking the troubled WWE superstar.
Bryan though, managed to be the first man to play some mind tricks of his own against Bray Wyatt. The cult leader invited Daniel Bryan into his family. Bryan though, only used the position to his advantage and when the time was right, turned on the man he had seemed to be taking orders from.
The Yes Movement was far from over, and Daniel Bryan did not give in to Wyatt's will attacking his "leader" while they were both trapped inside a Steel Cage.
Wyatt was so good in this match, preaching his nonsensical gospel intermediately as he wore Bryan down. Bray maintained that he "tried to warn him" and shouted "why didn't you help him!" to the on looking fans. Little things like this make Wyatt such a unique performer.
These two in the ring was so entertaining as both were so hot at this point. Wyatt still had so much mystique around him and his character and Bryan was white hot as a babyface. Their styles meshed really well as both wrestle a very brute style. The wasn't an arm-drag in sight.
Wyatt stopped Bryan's momentum dead in it's tracks when he ate not one, but two Sister Abigals.
While both would go on to be a huge focus of WrestleMania XXX, after that both men ran into injury and didn't have much impact on 2014.
With any luck, both men can get back what they had in the first half of 2014.
3. Evolution vs. The Shield (WWE Extreme Rules)
After defeating every three-man combination the WWE could dream up, The Shield finally ran into Triple H's new version of Evolution. Featuring a returning Batista and the former WWE Heavyweight Champion, Randy Orton, the three future WWE Hall of Famers were seemingly the first group that could best the three mercenaries of justice at their own game .
This match was chaos, but it didn't start out that way.
After some very personal attacks on Raw, Evolution dictated the pace of the early going of this contest by isolating Seth Rollins, and then Dean Ambrose, in their corner. It looked like The Shield wouldn't even be able to get out of the blocks as the team with a combined 31 World Championships took turns berating The Shield.
Triple H and his former protegees spent much of this match trying to cage the chaos that Rollins, Reigns, and Ambrose became famous for bringing to their opponents.
It took a fresh Roman Reigns to finally open up the competition and this is when all Hell broke loose. Bodies went flying around the ring and everyone broke out their big maneuvers.
The real surprise was that the younger stable bested the veterans despite their break-up being rumored for months and months. It was a clear message. The new generation is here, and the WWE is going all in.
The group would go on to feud with and frustrate The Authority until finally Seth Rollins pulled the trigger and turned on his long-time comrades for the chance to become the next "Face of the WWE" under the guise of Triple H.
2. Triple H vs. Daniel Bryan (WWE WrestleMania XXX)
Leave it to Daniel Bryan to deliver two of the years best matches, in the same night.
The Authority and Daniel Bryan told one of the most compelling and entertaining stories of 2013/2014, bar none.
The fans wanted Bryan to overcome The Authority and Triple H so badly, but the company wisely slowed Bryan's push and let the feud burn slowly as they moved closer to WrestleMania's 30th anniversary.
By making fans wait for Bryan's payoff the creative direction of the WWE was questioned by many fans and even several WWE Hall of Famers, like Mick Foley.
The story of the "Yes! Movement" versus The Authority began all the way back at SummerSlam 2013 when Triple H realigned himself with Randy Orton. What followed was a tumultuous ride in which the WWE Universe made Bryan one of the most popular superstars since CM Punk's ascension in 2011.
Bryan was the perfect opponent for Triple H and it made all the sense in the world for this contest to take place at WrestleMania. It also helped that the victor of this contest would be the one to face both Batista and Randy Orton in the main event of the event.
This match very much reminded me of contests Triple H had with Chris Benoit almost a decade earlier. An amazingly gifted mat wrestler versus a larger technical powerhouse. Triple H did a fantastic job of playing the man who wanted to protect his vision of what the WWE should be and it worked so well because Bryan embodied what the fans wanted.
Daniel Bryan finally overcome Triple H after a viscous kick to the side of "The Game's" head and advanced to the main event of WrestleMania. It took Bryan well over 9 months to finally get his revenge over his boss.
The COO of WWE was not done though, before Bryan could even celebrate his first victory of the night Triple H and his wife, Stephanie McMahon, assaulted Bryan attempting to ensure he would not leave the "Showcase of the Immortals" with the WWE Championship.
As we know, it wasn't enough to stop Daniel Bryan and the Yes Movement, as he won the title later that night.
1. The Wyatt Family vs. The Shield (WWE Elimination Chamber)
Never, could I have imagined a Six-Man Tag Team match to take the top honors of being the WWE's best match of the year.
This match was the match everyone wanted, but one that many of us thought would never actually take place. It was a sought after contest that fans were thinking about before The Wyatt Family even became an official part of the WWE roster. Bray and his two followers were still terrorizing fans and fellow superstars alike on NXT while Rollins, Reigns, and Ambrose ran roughshod over the WWE. Even then fans drew the comparisons to the two trios.
Three young men seeking justice and a cult leader with two loyal disciples. It was a battle to see who really was the most dominate up-and-coming stable in the WWE. Six men, who could all be a huge part of the next decade of WWE history battling in the ring for the first time. Three-on-three. A true war.
At the time, Wyatt used the tensions building around The Shield too his psychological advantage while The Shield maintained that Bray's act was all an illusion.
Both teams had spent a ton of time perfecting the art of a Six-Man Tag Team match and this might be the best one ever. The action was hard-hitting and fast paced. The larger Wyatts, used their size and strength while The Shield ran like the well-oiled machine they had become after over a year of decimating the entire roster.
The two teams seemed fairly evenly matched until The Wyatt Family was able to dispatch of both Ambrose and Rollins. Like the last stand at the Alamo, Roman Reigns stood alone to face all three members as the match came to it's close.
The muscle of The Shield didn't go down easy and very nearly scored an upset over the three men, but it was Sister Abigail from Bray Wyatt that finally put down the Samoan.
Fans of both teams spent a majority of the contest cheering for not just one, but both teams as they finally got to see the two factions go at it on a big stage.
Both stables would go on to have several more very compelling matches before both of them disbanded in the middle of the year.
The stables did their job in getting all of these men established as characters and showcasing their talent. Now, let us see which of these six men will dominate 2015, by themselves.