Even though you knew there was no way WWE would pass up on the financial hailstorm that is a Rock-Cena rematch, you, me, and millions of viewers screamed, huffed, and were bowled over by the roller coaster ride that Cena and Punk’s #1 contender’s match on February 25, 2013.
So great was this match, so dramatic were the near-falls, and so amazing were the wrinkles thrown in (CENACANRANA!), that if you want to call it a five star match, I won’t argue that too strenuously.
As long as you don’t argue my belief that Cena vs. Punk is the greatest match in the history of Monday Night Raw.
To my way of thinking, here are the ten greatest matches in the history of Raw.
10. Shawn Michaels vs. Shelton Benjamin, 5/2/05
An opening round match of the forgotten “Gold Rush” tournament pitted Benjamin, the Intercontinental Champion of over 6 months at the time, and the iconic Michaels, who was still producing 4-star matches as often as he blinked. This back-and-forth dual babyface match saw Benjamin prove to be Michaels’ equal in seemingly every way, avoiding the superkick several times before getting decapitated by one off of his own springboard dive.
9. Triple H/X-Pac/Chris Benoit/Dean Malenko/Perry Saturn vs. The Rock/Cactus Jack/Rikishi/Too Cool, 2/7/00
Much like Cena/Punk, this one took place in Dallas, which has been known for its rowdy crowds. The three Radicalz had just aligned with DX, and the result was this raucous melee. You know a match is great when Scotty 2 Hotty hits the Worm, and tens of thousands of fans lose their minds, while the heels freak out on the apron, as if it killed Saturn. Benoit pinned Grand Masta Sexay with a diving headbutt, and then a new-look Kane came out to wreak havoc.
8. Owen Hart/Davey Boy Smith vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin/Shawn Michaels (WWE World Tag Team Championship), 5/26/97
Long before the concept of “tag partners who hate each other contending for gold” became a played-out concept, it produced this classic. Austin and Michaels were united only by their hatred of the Hart Foundation, and were saddled together to get the belts off of Owen and Bulldog. Michaels and Austin surprisingly co-existed, and Austin pinned Bulldog after a Michaels superkick. Afterward, Austin attacked and hammered an injured Bret Hart on the stage.
7. Bret Hart vs. 123 Kid (WWE Championship), 7/1/94
For 25 minutes, champion Hart and underdog Kid waged a friendly war based around two principles: Hart was the ring general that had many counters, and Kid was the 21-year-old daredevil who took control with offense Hart wasn’t used to seeing. At one point, Bret allowed the match to continue after scoring the pin, when Kid’s foot was on the ropes. Kid’s suicidal style almost won him the title, but one big miss led to Hart winning via Sharpshooter.
6. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rob Van Dam (WWE Intercontinental Championship/Ladder Match), 5/27/02
Guerrero’s redemption saga led to his WWE return 2 months prior, and an IC Title reign a month in. Guerrero continued that good faith by facing off with RVD, the man he beat for the title, in a ladder match in Calgary. A drunk fan ran in at one point, but couldn’t mar the stunt show at hand. RVD threw everything at Eddie, including moonsaults and Rolling Thunders on the ladder, and avoided a sky-high Frog Splash, to regain the title.
5. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (World Heavyweight Championship), 12/29/03
This one came along in a time-frame when 1) People thought Triple H was washed up, 2) Raw’s numbers weren’t great, and 3) WWE was in a quality tailspin. To say this was unexpected would be an understatement. After numerous ref bumps and Michaels playing face-in-peril as only he can, Michaels stunned HHH with Sweet Chin Music out of nowhere to seemingly win the title, but as he collapsed on Hunter, his shoulders were down too.
4. Davey Boy Smith vs. Owen Hart (WWE European Championship), 2/26/97
Undoubtedly the greatest WWE match to ever take place in Germany, it may also have been Bulldog’s last truly great singles performance that didn’t involve being embarrassed in front of his family. Davey Boy and his brother-in-law channeled the spirit of their respective classics with Bret. The finals to determine the first European Champion was an incredible cat-and-mouse game, concluding with a victory roll cradle reversed by Bulldog into the winning pin.
3. Stone Cold Steve Austin/Triple H vs. Chris Benoit/Chris Jericho (WWE World Tag Team Championship), 5/21/01
After 2 months or so of uninspired booking following WrestleMania X7, Austin and Helmsley (The Two Man Power Trip) had to defend their gold against the Calgary Kids in an unadvertised classic. This would be the match where Triple H tore his quad on a simple foot plant, but finished the match, including taking a Walls of Jericho on the announce table. Hunter would accidentally brain Austin with his sledgehammer, and new champions were crowned.
2. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels (Non Title Match), 4/23/07
For nearly one hour, on his thirtieth birthday, Cena went move for move, hold for hold with arguably the most reliable in-ring performer there’s ever been, holding up his end in London with Michaels. TV matches don’t often reign in match of the year polls, but this one was a popular choice in 2007, ending as Michaels avoided the AA (then still the FU), and pinned Cena with Sweet Chin Music, a rare clean loss for Cena since becoming WWE’s hero.
It’s a very bold move putting this one above the previous few entries, but why not? Cena and Punk was just as great as Cena/Michaels, if not even greater, in roughly half the time. Those “YOU CAN’T WRESTLE” chants fell silent, as Cena more than held up his end, busting out hurrachanranas and sitout powerbombs. The Dallas fans lived and died on every near fall and expert counter, before Cena finished off Punk with the AA once and for all.