It has been a fascinating decade to be a wrestling fan, with several unprecedented occurrences creating some unexpected surprises over the past ten years. On The Doc Says podcast, I will be looking at each year’s dominant themes and defining superstars and how they impacted WWE’s future. Each of those podcasts will be paired with a Top 10 match list column that uses my Greatest Matches and Rivalries of the WrestleMania Era formula to rank them; said formula involves equally weighting on a 5-star scale the purer elements of the in-ring performance (selling, psychology, and execution), historical context, financial impact (event prestige, attendance), storytelling (including plot twists and false finish effectiveness), the quality of the climax, pre-match build, and crowd investment, along with bonus points for various intangibles (innovation, excellent commentary, special entrances, etc.) to logically define the term “greatness.”
#10 – Daniel Bryan vs. Dolph Ziggler at Bragging Rights
Pure: 4 / Historic: 3 / Financial: 2 / Storytelling: 4 / Climax: 3.5 / Build: 3 / Crowd: 3.5 / Intangibles: +1
Total Score: 24.0
One of the dominant themes of 2010, as heavily discussed on The Doc Says episode linked above, was the departure of so many main-event talents, which informed a lighter volume of excellent headlining matches that year. The mid-card regularly stole the show accordingly, with Ziggler and Bryan’s IC vs. US Champion exhibition in October a case-in-point. While my scale is built for comparing great matches that take place with the lights on brightest and other-worldly show-stealers, hence the fairly mundane score for this otherwise mid-card gem, cheers to Bryan and Ziggler for so very well showcasing the merits of their respective skill-sets, which translated to many an outstanding performance that flew under the radar in the first half of this decade. Critically, what more could you ask for in a curtain jerking match than what Ziggler and Bryan produced?
#9 – Kane vs. Edge vs. Rey Mysterio vs. Alberto Del Rio in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs Match for the World Title at TLC
Pure: 4.5 / Historic: 3 / Financial: 2.75 / Storytelling: 4 / Climax: 3 / Build: 3.5 / Crowd: 3 / Intangibles: +2
Total Score: 25.75
My memory of this match had faded quite a bit until piecing together the last stages of this 2010 retrospective. It was not originally supposed to go down as it did, seemingly destined as it was to be split into a pair of rather bland singles matches (Rey-ADR and Kane-Edge), but the TLC stip was added to a sum that already included the merger into a 4-Way and the result was a great match rendered perhaps not historically significant by itself but definitely relevant given that it was the start of what proved to be a great final run for Edge’s career that featured a foursome of really strong PPV bouts. The innovative intangibles of the gimmick boosted its profile here, and WWE seemingly could book one of these multi-man Ladder Matches in its sleep, but this TLC has a certain charm to it that has been maintained across this decade.
#8 – Chris Jericho vs. Evan Bourne at Fatal 4-Way
Pure: 4 / Historic: 3 / Financial: 2 / Storytelling: 4 / Climax: 4 / Build: 3 / Crowd: 3.5 / Intangibles: +3
Total Score: 26.5
After a stellar pair of years in 2008 and 2009 that saw Jericho on career form, the artist by then formerly known as Y2J came back to earth in 2010, but highlighting his still rock solid contributions to WWE in the first year of the decade was a gem of a match against Evan Bourne that exhibited Jericho’s value no matter his place on the card. One of the intangible qualities of the overall presentation was Y2J’s pre-match promo, which sufficiently antagonized the fans and set the stage for the shocking result to follow becoming more emotionally engaging. Bourne showed up a few years too early to maximize his potential in WWE (he might have thrived in the second half of the decade with more talent and longer Raws giving him more of a spotlight); while he was around, though, he had a few show-stealers like this one.
#7 – Daniel Bryan vs. John Morrison vs. The Miz in a Submissions Count Anywhere Match for the US Title at Hell in a Cell
Pure: 4.5 / Historic: 3 / Financial: 1.5 / Storytelling: 4.5 / Climax: 4 / Build: 3.5 / Crowd: 3 / Intangibles: +3
Total Score: 27.0
Widely unique in WWE lore, incredibly well executed, loads of fun to re-watch, and one of the pinnacle mid-card achievements of this century aesthetically, the triple threat Submissions Count Anywhere match is a marvelous performance from three (at the time) young and motivated stars trying their damndest to step up and take some of the open spots at the top of the WWE hierarchy. I thought it was a huge feather in Morrison’s cap and, insomuch as it was Bryan’s wheelhouse match-type and part of the continued ascent up the proverbial ladder for Miz, JoMo stole their thunder, without a hint of hesitation using the environment afforded by the “Submissions” part of the stipulation to show off his underrated mat game and the environment afforded by the “Count Anywhere” part of the stipulation to do his evolutionary RVD bit via Parkour.
#6 – CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio in a Hair Match at Extreme Rules
Pure: 3.75 / Historic: 3 / Financial: 2.25 / Storytelling: 4 / Climax: 3.5 / Build: 4 / Crowd: 4 / Intangibles: +3
Total Score: 27.5
Straight Edge Society CM Punk never had the peak that it should have, but to view Punk vs. Mysterio as the crescendo to one of the best main-event characters to never make it out of the mid-card is nothing to scoff at. Punk and Mysterio had several really good matches in 2010, and I would argue that none of them were great, always inching toward a higher-tier only to fall just short of huge expectations. That said, pick one from their three consecutive PPV battles and you will find yourself thoroughly entertained. This one from Extreme Rules scored highest using my rubric, and I generally try to avoid rematches on lists like these unless we are venturing into “greatness” conversations. It was a little sloppy at times, but never jarringly so, and the hot crowd and the entertaining presence of Gallows and Serena helped offset some of the execution-based issues en route to a very entertaining romp that told an engaging story across its run-time.
#5 – The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan for the United States Title at Night of Champions
Pure: 4 / Historic: 3.5 / Financial: 2.25 / Storytelling: 4.5 / Climax: 4 / Build: 4.5 / Crowd: 4 / Intangibles: +1
Total Score: 27.75
This is among my favorite mid-card matches of the decade and, if you notice a slight downturn in the overall quality of the wrestling (perhaps on account of Miz still very much in the mode of finding his groove) compared to the more frenetically paced class of mid-card peers from later in the decade, then simultaneously pay attention to the finished product, which of course included one of the more engaging and emotionally resonant mid-card feuds of the past ten years long before the saga was revisited in 2016 and 2018, respectively; by the time Bryan tapped out Miz to win the US Championship, the audience had wanted to see it for the better part of the year dating back to the debut of their unusual dynamic on the original NXT. The Miz previewed the kind of wrestler he would consistently become during this match, while Bryan showcased how well he had managed to adapt to the WWE style in no time at all, his flurries of rapid-fire offense complimenting very well his renowned mat game.
Tie #4 – Kane vs. Big Show vs. Kofi Kingston vs. Drew McIntyre vs. Matt Hardy vs. Christian vs. Cody Rhodes in the Smackdown Money in the Bank Ladder Match at MITB
Pure: 4.5 / Historic: 3.5 / Financial: 2.5 / Storytelling: 4.5 / Climax: 3.5 / Build: 3.5 / Crowd: 3.5 / Intangibles: +3
Total Score: 28.5
The Money in the Bank sub-genre of the Ladder Match has produced some of the most memorable iterations of the gimmick proper this decade, with the Smackdown version that kicked off the inaugural MITB PPV standing out as one of the two best of the decade. It was also one of the longest, which allowed a match that has often felt rushed throughout its history to breathe a bit and for its story to subsequently get fleshed out more across its lengthier run-time. What set it apart was actually Big Show. The match was designed around the novelty of seeing a giant weighing in at nearly 500lbs have to climb a ladder, so while the usual innovation was on display with the stunts involved, the central story centered on Show being unable to climb a standard ladder due to his weight and needing a massive, heavily-reinforced ladder to have a shot at victory; the use of the reinforced ladder by the rest of the field gave the overall performance an added intangible quality, and the end result was one of the most unique Ladder Matches in history.
Tie #4 – Batista vs. John Cena for the WWE Title at WrestleMania XXVI
Pure: 4 / Historic: 4.5 / Financial: 5 / Storytelling: 3.5 / Climax: 3.5 / Build: 4 / Crowd: 3 / Intangibles: +1
Total Score: 28.5
Best viewed as the culmination of a five year journey that saw each combatant run roughly parallel paths to superstardom, Batista vs. Cena was a generational battle of Top 20 superstars in the WrestleMania Era. It was a more enthusiastic crowd away from perhaps earning a reputation in the upper-crust of Mania lore, but even as it was, I find it challenging not to recognize the many things that it did bring to the table and not to celebrate it as a well-rounded effort that did exactly what it needed to do and nothing more. Mania 26 was designed to give HBK vs. Taker every possible opportunity to be remembered as the night’s apex, with nothing really allowed the chance to steal the show out from under it. Within that context, Batista vs. Cena was about as good as one could have hoped it to be; the historic nature of their clash and the momentum from The Animal’s career-form leading up to the Show of Shows provided an environment for them to maximize their minutes, and I believe that they did.
#2 – Sheamus vs. John Morrison in a #1 Contendership Ladder Match at TLC
Pure: 4.5 / Historic: 3 / Financial: 2.25 / Storytelling: 4.5 / Climax: 5 / Build: 3.5 / Crowd: 3 / Intangibles: +3
Total Score: 28.75
There are a few matches in any given period that fall into that “one of the best that nobody talks about anymore” category, and this match checks that box on multiple accounts. It is without question a tremendous performance that was as psychologically sound and intelligently executed as it was brutal and innovative, making it one of the forgotten gems of the entire decade, and that description simultaneously qualifies it for the discussion of the Top 5 Ladder Matches of the decade, sitting right behind Christian vs. Del Rio and Ambrose vs. Rollins among the story-driven versions of the genre over the past ten years. The climax, in this case incorporating the biggest spot of the match and the extremely creative finish (one of the best Ladder Match closers ever really), was absolutely fantastic. “Criminally underrated,” one could say about the match itself and its combatants, particularly Sheamus, who has had perhaps the decade’s most underrated WWE career.
#1 – Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels in a Streak vs. Career Match at WrestleMania XXVI
Pure: 4.5 / Historic: 5 / Financial: 5 / Storytelling: 5 / Climax: 4 / Build: 4.5 / Crowd: 4 / Intangibles: +2
Total Score: 34.0
Undoubtedly the pinnacle performance of 2010, HBK vs. Taker II stands head and shoulders above its peers in terms of greatness, defined as the sum total of all component parts of the equation when discussing in-ring achievement. 2010 was a year full of sleeper hits, offering no true challenger to the titanic final match in the Heartbreak Kid’s career. Though perhaps not as rewatchable as many of their other WrestleMania classics, if you can reinvest in the stakes, then you can appreciate the urgency that informed the story told. Many are higher on its all-time status than I – personally, I posit that it was an awesome complimentary piece to their over-arching rivalry, which I hold in utmost regard, rather than a monolithic standalone triumph – but I can certainly understand why the more to-the-point stylistic choice at Mania 26 has been favored in the years since by numerous diehard fans, not just when compared to their more famous match from the year prior but to other bouts in their respective “of all-time” libraries.