November 9, 2009
Matt Peddycord, Scott Criscuolo, & Justin Rozzero

The 100 Greatest WWE Matches of the Decade: 2001

No need to delay – let’s keep this thing rolling.

WWF Intercontinental Champion Chris Benoit vs. Chris Jericho – Ladder Match (Royal Rumble 2001)

Matt: Once again, the ladder match gets reinvented. These two rethought what Shawn and Razor did with ladders in 1-on-1 matches and then centered their already established offensive moves around the ladder. It’s quite amazing how well this worked with so many different moves from both men. Ladder matches have been done to death during this decade, but I don’t think there’s been one quite as good since (as far as singles matches go) that didn’t rely solely on insane falls and super dangerous high spots like this one. From my view, we’re talking ****¾ territory.

Justin: The rivalry from 2000 was the hook in this slugfest and these two great athletes went out there and tore the house down. The whole match was just super stiff as these two beat on each other with their fists and the ladder. The chair shot on the Benoit tope was just nasty and adds to the legend of this match. Another sick spot was the top rope leg sweep using the ladder. The Walls on top the ladder was also impressive and was the big spot of the match. After a weak last few months of 2000, Jericho was quickly elevated back into the upper midcard with this bout. These two really stepped it up, showed off their chemistry and came up with some innovative new spots in this match, and that mixed in with the sheer brutality helped make it an instant classic.

Scott: No surprise about this match. The more stipulations you add, the better this matchup gets. It’s tough to argue whenever these two get together that you’re going to have at least a 3.5 match and that’s if both are totally off. I always like the dynamic when Benoit was the heel, and Jericho was the face. Benoit took the violence meter to the next level in this match, but when Jericho put the Walls on him on top of the ladder, that’s when you knew this became a classic.

Steve Austin vs. Triple H – 3 Stages of Hell (No Way Out 2001)

Matt: You talk about a way to finally end a feud. This was the first of its kind in the WWF where each fall is a different type of match. The first fall was a standard match, the second fall was a street fight, and the final fall was a cage match. How in the world could you possibly take this feud any higher? Somebody had to go when this was over. Everything worked well in this match and they pulled off the different gimmick matches effortlessly. Much like WrestleMania x8 where the main events were backwards, this should have closed the PPV instead of the world title match. But hindsight is 20/20 and all that. An easy ***** affair in my opinion with both guys busting their butts for 40 exciting minutes in one of the greatest rivalries of all-time.

Justin: The buildup here had been well detailed and this was a highly anticipated showdown. Triple H had put Austin on the shelf for the year. Austin got some revenge a year later when he nearly killed the Game with a forklift. Since then, both men had cost the other World title matches, so things were at a boiling point heading into what was expected to be a brutal battle. The crowd was amped right from the entrances and there was a definite buzz in the arena for this one. This was the match that officially signaled to everyone that the real Stone Cold was now back in the house and he was ready to go balls to the wall. The first fall is a nice dichotomy to what would come, as the two men trade holds and work body parts to try and wear the other down for the more vicious falls still to come. After the first two falls, JR pointed out that Hunter had won Austin’s type of match and vice versa. At that point, the match was a classic, but there was still more to come as the cage lowered. Both men were ravaged and bloodied and just tried to outlast the other inside the steel. Triple H would barely eek out the win, and it was somewhat of an upset at the time, as Austin was heading to the main event of WrestleMania. The match was wonderfully done and was loaded with drama and excitement. This was just a masterpiece between two of the best. The match showed that Triple H was still one of the top dogs in the WWF and proved that Steve Austin was back in a big way.

Scott: Words cannot describe how much I love this match. It honestly goes down VERY close to Savage/Steamboat as my favorite match of all time. Two guys who know everything about how to produce a main event match with every ingredient possible. One of the few matches that felt like a title match without a title. Both men brought 100% of the hate and the violence to the match, and it anchored what was one of the greatest PPV’s in WWE history. I recommend this match to anyone and everyone.

WWF World Tag Team Champions The Dudley Boyz vs. Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz – TLC II (WrestleMania X-Seven)

Matt: Apparently these six just love hurting themselves and one another. Spike Dudley, Rhyno, and Lita all make appearances in this one. Being the most instrumental in the match, Rhyno assists his buddies Edge and Christian to help them regain tag team gold for their seventh reign in one year. The highlight of the match has to be Edge bringing Jeff down as he’s hanging off the belts with the spear. It’s a moment few hardcore fans will forget. While you’d think after a match like this, E&C would get a lengthy reign, but nope. Nearly three weeks later, they get stomped out by the Brothers of Destruction and never really recover as a team. PLEASE BRING THEM BACK, WWE! Another ***** match for 2001.

Justin: The three top teams over the past 12 months square off again on the biggest stage of the wrestling world. Rhyno, Spike and Lita would all eventually hit the ring and play a role in the bout, and I liked that as it added some chaos and excitement to an already great match. After a brutal war, Rhyno would hit the ring and prop Edge on his shoulders and carry him up to the belts, allowing E&C to retain their precious tag titles. The match was an all out war and in a way appropriately capped the glory run that these teams experienced over the last 16 months. They would continue to see success, but this sort of brings an end to their intense rivalry that has warred on from show to show. One year ago, these six men put this type of battle on the map and here they perfected it with another crazy classic.

Scott: Yet another chapter to the war between these three teams. One of many matches at one of the greatest WrestleManias of all time, this one was different because it didn’t have to carry the show as much as their first match the previous year. More great violence, more high-flying maneuvers. Edge & Christian cement their legacy with another big win over their rivals in another violent encounter in front of 68,000 fans.

WWF World Champion The Rock vs. Steve Austin – No-DQ Match (WrestleMania X-Seven)

Matt: I know it’s a commentator’s cliché, but now THIS is a main event anywhere in the world. In a sold-out Astrodome, the two biggest names of the day arguably at the peak of their popularity fight tooth and nail for thirty minutes. They trade Stunners, they trade Rock Bottoms, and then the impossible happens when Vince McMahon heads out to ringside. What is he going to do? He breaks up the pin on Austin after the Peoples Elbow! Now they start beating the Rock down with chairshots, but he refuses to quit! Austin opens up a can of chairshots all over Rock until finally the man is completely out and finished for the 1-2-3. Quite the dramatic finish and while the crowd thought Vince had turned good, there’s no way you could cheer for the guy who just killed the Rock with a barrage of chairshots. That’s not a hero. However, they cheer Austin anyway. Just an unbelievable moment in wrestling history ends the PPV as Austin and Vince share a beer together. It’s about ****¼ for me.

Justin: Who better to battle at the end of the biggest show of the modern era than Stone Cold and the Rock? The whole story heading in here is Austin’s obsession and desperation to become champion. Ever since he was taken out in 1999, Austin has been away from his belt and he was starting to crack. I liked how Austin is visibly frustrated throughout the match. I actually think they could have made his heel turn a bit more effective and subtle. The two men would bust out the bloody Sharpshooter spot from WrestleMania XIII and the crowd just goes nuts for it, but Austin was able to survive. I dug Austin’s desperation here as he, and the announcers, added a lot of importance to the championship by putting over how Austin needed it to live. I never cared for the finish here with Vince standing in the ring over Austin as he just beat on Rock with a chair. It helped advance Austin’s paranoid personality, but just took away from an epic match and moment. I really think they should have had Vince “accidentally” help Austin win the belt at WrestleMania, but still had Austin walk out a face with the top belt. His pop would have been stronger and it would have been a better moment to close out the show. Then, they could still do a cage match the next night on Raw, and that is where you have Austin and Vince officially join forces and complete the heel turn. I think that would have been more subtle and effective and not compromised what had been an all time classic. With a stronger ending, this was a perfect match for the time frame, but that ending bugs me enough to knock it down a peg. It is still a fantastic brawl with tremendous heat and commentary, thus putting it at the top of the list of greatest WrestleMania main events.

Scott: I really liked their title match two years earlier at WrestleMania XV. This one was amped up even more due to two things: the No DQ stipulation, and the fact that both men were big over faces going in. Obviously being in the heart of Texas, Austin was way more over which made the eventual heel turn maybe half work. The match itself is incredible and was a fitting capper to one of the greatest WrestleManias of all time.

WWF World Tag Team Champions Steve Austin & Triple H vs. Chris Benoit & Chris Jericho (Raw is War 5/21/01)

Matt: I remember this match like it was yesterday. This was good TV as Ric Flair might call it. Benoit and Jericho were my favorites at the time and to see them hang in there with the perennial main events as though they were equals was absolutely incredible. Like Scott said, everybody remembers this for Triple H’s first quad tear (and still finished the match!), but I remember it well for the satisfaction of seeing Benoit and Jericho finally putting one over not only on just the 2-Man Power Trip, but for every wrestler who said Benoit and Jericho weren’t good enough for the main event. And now that every combination from the main eventers in the Attitude Era had been burned out, this paved the way for some new future main eventers for the WWF. Easily a ****½ match in my book.

Justin: At the time, this fantastic tag match seemed to be a passing of the torch of sorts. Benoit & Jericho were the internet darlings that had been held down since the dawn of time. They were finally getting their chance to step up and run with the big boys, and that was to start with a decisive title win over the two top dogs in the company. The match was thrilling throughout and Triple H’s gruesome quad tear and subsequent gut wrenching Walls of Jericho only add to its legend. Jericho & Benoit take the titles from the Power Trip and it finally felt like the dawning of a new era. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t last very long.

Scott: One of Raw’s gems from 2001. Of course this match will be remember for the ripping of Triple H’s quad that kept him out for the rest of the year. Otherwise this match is pretty awesome. The San Jose crowd was off the charts for this one, which is rare considering California wrestling crowds are usually pretty weak. Great match, even if my favorite guy was lost for 8 months.

WWF World Tag Team Champions Chris Benoit & Chris Jericho vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. Edge & Christian vs. The Hardy Boyz – TLC III (Smackdown 5/24/01)

Matt: During this summer, Benoit and Jericho were my heroes. Seeing them run things on the babyface side was incredible. This was their punishment for taking the tag gold from Vince’s boys and they would pay a heavy price. For those who care about that sort of thing, this was the first TLC match and one of the few ladder matches ever on free TV at this point. And just like TLC matches promise, this was another wild and crazy affair with Benoit leaving the match injured half-way into it. When it looked like their tag title reign would be cut extremely short, Benoit toughed it out and returned to the match to pick up the storied victory for him and Jericho. One of three excellent MOTYC TV matches in ten days. At least ****½.

Justin: This is a tough one for me. On one hand, it was another thrilling, violent and reckless affair. On the other hand, it was proof that WWF was starting to panic a bit and was running their workhorses into the ground because of it. The same week in which they won the tag titles, Jericho & Benoit were forced to go right back out and battle in a crazy trainwreck for a taped TV show. While I am all for providing big time matches on TV, this one just smacked of excess. Many of the guys that went all out in these types of matches would end up with some hardcore injuries, and it was during this stretch that they were run out there at a crazy pace. With all that said, this is a hell of a match as they all smacked each other senseless and put on a dramatic bout for the SD fans. Jericho & Benoit would keep their belts, but Benoit would pay dearly in the weeks to come.

Scott: From 2001-03, its possible Smackdown was the better show than Raw. This was a main reason for it. It was very rare for Raw to have great matches like this. They had their share, but it always seemed like Smackdown put together the better matches, even if Raw had the star power. This match is not watched as much as the other TLC’s because those others are on PPV, but get the WWE Ladder Match DVD and you can really enjoy it.

WWF World Champion Steve Austin vs. Chris Benoit (Smackdown 5/31/01)

Matt: The match of TEN THOUSAND GERMAN SUPLEXES! That’s a little exaggerated, but still Austin took a lot of them in this match. Benoit gets his big chance to wow his hometown fans and boy does he. Just when it looks like Benoit has the edge with the Crippler Crossface, Vince comes out and takes a bunch of chairshots from Benoit. That’s all the distraction Austin needs as he schoolboys him up with a handful of tights for the victory. Kind of a lame finish to an otherwise awesome match. Something like ****½ here.

Justin: The mega push of Chris Benoit continued here as he and Austin tore each other apart in front of Benoit’s hometown fans. They would just wreck each other with German suplexes as the battle wore on. The crowd was off the hook here and it looked like Benoit was going to steal the title, but Austin would be the one to steal the victory after interference from Mr. McMahon. Benoit was proving he could hang with the top of the card stars, but a major injury would derail him at his peak.

Scott: Most definitely one of Smackdown’s forgotten matches and again because of what happened to Chris Benoit you will never see this match again unless you taped that Smackdown episode. I remember watching this match at home while recovering from Strep Throat, and it made me smile, even it if it hurt to do it. Austin was going all out as the heel champion and this was Benoit’s first legit shot as a babyface in WWE. They worked great together and minus the screwy ending, it would be almost perfect.

WWF World Champion Steve Austin vs. Kurt Angle (SummerSlam 2001)

Matt: With Benoit gone to get his neck fused, Jericho slipped back into the upper mid-card, and the Rock just now returning after the filming of the Scorpion King, Kurt Angle arises as the top babyface to defend the WWF against the WCW/ECW Alliance. I reviewed this match for the Kurt Angle mixtape and I had forgotten just how hard fought this match was. Lots of German suplexes and drama over the anklelock. Another bad DQ ending, but it worked out for Angle so he could have a title win in his hometown of Pittsburgh the next month at Unforgiven. As I said in the review, just an unbelievably awesome match on a string of ****½ matches.

Justin: After months of tension and jealousy, Austin and Angle finally squared off for the World title and for brand pride. Angle would get his share of suplexes in as he punishes Austin with seven straight Germans. After a super stiff Austin superplex, Angle would even kick out of multiple stunners, which was impressive and pushed the crowd over the edge. Austin would get desperate and bloody Angle with a nasty beating on the floor as he just hammered him with fists and bashing his head into the ring post repeatedly. Austin would also kill him with a suplex on the floor, but Angle was booked like a warrior here and he would hit a nasty belly to belly on the floor as well. After each man kicked out of the others finisher one more time, Austin’s desperation was too much and he smacked the ref. That drew Nick Patrick out and he calls for the BS DQ on Austin to save his title. The flurry at the end was pretty good even though the finish was a bit weak. In retrospect, it works out fine as furthering Austin’s paranoid character and building to a rematch the next month. This was a great bloody war between two men in their prime busting their asses to put on a great match. The crowd was rocking the whole way through and Angle was made out to be a beast. Before this show, it was yet to be seen if Angle could be a top level face, but his match proved he had what it took to connect with the fans.

Scott: This match was fun because of the chaos factor of the California crowd and the fact that it was the first time in his career that Kurt Angle was a legit babyface. I honestly wasn’t crazy about all the ref bumps, which kind of takes the grade down a little for me, but The emotion for this match is off the charts as you can see Angle, with dried blood on his face, completely beside himself that he should be WWF Champ, and the Alliance screwed him. A much needed rematch is coming. This was an awesome job by both men who played their roles perfectly and put together the match of the night.

World Heavyweight Champion The Rock vs. Chris Jericho (No Mercy 2001)

Matt: If I’m not mistaken, this is the only time during the thick of the InVasion angle where two WWF wrestlers really feuded with one another. Not to mention this was a big match for Jericho that seemed to catapult him as the first guy to become the “undisputed” champion. For some reason during the match, they had people believing Jericho had joined the Alliance with Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley coming out and sliding a chair in the ring, but that never went anywhere. All the same, excellent back and forth match with loads of drama. Like I said, a huge match for Jericho at least for the time being until Rock won the belt right back a few weeks later on Raw leading up to Survivor Series. Around ****-****¼ for me.

Justin: After years of being held down in both promotions despite being consistently over, Chris Jericho finally wins the big win and takes home his first World title. The story is clear from the start: can Jericho win the big match. Both men were pretty over here, but Rock out pops him in the entrances. However, as the match wore on, the crowd actually started turning towards Jericho and turning against the Rock. The coolest part of the match was the tons of flash bulbs going off as the two men first stared each other down and that actually continued throughout the bout. The atmosphere gave the contest a big match feel as did the commentary. The hottest near fall of the match would come when Jericho hit a Rock Bottom and Lionsault in succession. It was a great tease, because it was one of those moments where you assume he isn’t winning if he didn’t win there. Rock would fire back with a Rock Bottom on the announce table and, as the crowd started backing Jericho, Rock started acting a bit more heelish, which shows just what a pro he was. Jericho would come close again as he hit an awesome reversal by avoiding the People’s Elbow and turning Rock into the Walls of Jericho. That should have been the ending right there and Jericho would have been put over even stronger, but instead the actual finish ends up being a bit weaker. Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley would end up running in and inadvertently costing Rock the match when she tossed a chair in the ring. Rock took her out, but Jericho dropped him on the chair for the upset win. The crux of the continuation of the feud was Rock putting some doubt in Jericho’s mind about if he could have won cleanly or if he needed a chair to get it done. This was a great match and these two would actually put on even better ones in the coming months, including a couple of weeks later on Raw.

Scott: This was the match of the night as both men bring their all, particularly Jericho. once again proves doubters wrong and goes all out in a really great match with someone who everyone thought was a better wrestler than him. Maybe technically he is better than Rock, but unlike other main eventers throughout history he and Steve Austin did a great job of meshing with their opponent’s style to make the match better.

The Rock, Chris Jericho, Undertaker, Kane, and the Big Show vs. Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, and Shane McMahon – 5-on-5 Elimination Match (Survivor Series 2001)

Matt: Kind of a personal favorite for me. I’ve only been to one live WWE PPV and this was it. In a sort of “SCREW YOU” to Greensboro and the history behind that town, Vince decided that this was where he wanted to hammer the final nail in the coffin of WCW. You know what, good for him. The crowd was electric, all the stars were here, and it was just incredible to sit back and watch all this take place right in front of you. Also in a rare moment, I got to see Rock/Austin trade some stuff which didn’t happen except for on the BIG shows. Cool match and definitely an important match for wrestling history – even though WCW was technically declared dead eight months earlier. With all that star power, it couldn’t possibly have been bad. I’d say it was around ****.

Justin: After six months of battling, the Invasion all came down to one match filled with the top five guys from each side. Well, nine and Shane McMahon but Shane definitely busts his ass to fit in here. To add to the angle, Heyman does get a good, and accurate, rant in on Vince about his predatory ways when he comes to other promotions. Rock and Austin started it off right out of the gate and the crowd was digging it. RVD was booked strong throughout once again but Jericho eliminated him in a continuation of the huge push he was currently receiving. As Austin and Rock battled at the end, the big shocker occurred when Jericho snapped and let a personal vendetta blind him as he slid in the ring and pasted Rock with a chair. The crowd went absolutely berserk but Rock was able to stay alive. We then got another swerve when Kurt Angle returned, took out Austin and gave Rock and Team WWF the win. The Alliance would be no more and Vince came out to celebrate his win. Rock was now clearly positioned as the top gun in the company and he had a ready-made feud with Jericho. The way I understood it was that Angle was sent undercover by Vince to help screw up the Alliance. So, with that said, I thought it was fairly logical and not just a series of haphazard turns. The whole thing becomes a bit clearer the next night when Angle is repositioned as Vince’s top guy for helping save the WWF. It would be a key part of Angle’s heel turn as well as the crowd still boos him and he takes umbrage since he was the self proclaimed savior of the WWF. With all that said, I really enjoyed the match as the stakes were high and everyone delivered. The crowd was rocking and all ten guys busted it to deliver a fun match.

Scott: This match is laid out like most matches that are 45 minutes long: The first 10 minutes are exciting, the middle 30 minutes are quite slow, and the last 5 minutes are off the charts. As exciting as this match was, due to all the logic holes in the storyline, it takes away some of the juice of the match. Really the end with Austin/Rock carries the match in general.

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