In a decade that started huge, slumped pathetically and began an upswing as the final ball dropped; that saw John Cena, Randy Orton and Edge come into their own, Shawn Michaels and the Undertaker continue to wow at their increasing ages, and Triple H somehow still on top of the mountain, sometimes wearing beaver pelt while he stood there; that saw WCW and ECW disappear, ECW re-appear, TNA and ROH emerge, and IWA-MS, um, bleed for a buck and a quarter per wrestler… here are the big winners (and a couple of losers) from the sometimes-maligned, sometimes-acclaimed ’00s.
Shawn Michaels: No one ever — not Flair, Hart or Steamboat — could have wrestled as many good-to-great matches during the first 14 years of his career, taken four and a half years off for a completely torn-up back, and then returned to wrestle seven more years of great-to-excellent matches. Possibly the best in-ring storyteller ever; you understand — and feel — exactly what he feels because of his excellent facials. And he’s a human pinball to boot.
Runners-up: Kurt Angle (Probably the fastest learner ever. Many great WWE matches, some good TNA matches considering what he had to work with — including a broken-down body.) Undertaker (Somehow still improving every year. Always having great matches. And smart enough to take time off when he needs to.)
Honorable mentions: Edge, Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit
BEST TAG TEAM
Hardy Boyz: Matt and Jeff stormed into the new decade on the strength of their ladder match against Edge & Christian and capitalized with a legendary series of matches against E&C and the Dudley Boys, often all at the same time! The brothers perfected the art of combining the ultra-popular highspot-fest with good Rock-N-Roll Express-style hot-tag milking, and they did it all over again when Jeff came back from TNA, usually putting on the most entertaining match on the show.
Runners-up: Briscoe Bros. (Other than breaks due to injuries or silly split-up angles, consistently awesome for seven years. But damned reckless!) Austin Aries & Roderick Strong (Short stint produced excellent matches, including the best match I’ve ever seen live vs. CIMA & Naruki Doi.)
The Rock: There was no more natural and (sorry) electrifying of a talker as The Rock. In fact, he should probably be considered along with rapmasters like Dusty Rhodes and Superstar Graham, brilliant blowhards like Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper, and masterful story-tellers like Ric Flair and Jerry Lawler when it comes to being able to talk nonstop for three minutes and pull people into the arena. It’s too bad we only got to hear him talk for one half of the decade.
Runners-up: Edge (Was a hilarious goof early on, then played the smarmy dick to a tee, and was completely natural and entertaining at both.) Steve Austin (His best days were from 1997-1999, but even his not-best days were better than 99.9 percent of the other wrestlers.)
Honorable mention: Chris Jericho: Ran the emotional gamut and always nailed it.
Shawn Michaels vs. Undertaker, WrestleMania 25: Fuck it, I admit it, I cried at the end of this match. I ordered WM25 on pay-per-view at my house in Iowa City, where everyone is too dainty to watch wrestling, and I ordered it alone since most of my friends stopped watching wrestling four or five years ago. I actually fell asleep during the Hardy vs. Hardy match and woke up right after the end of the Taker-Michaels match. Thank god I didn’t ruin the ending for myself; I stayed up late to watch the replay, and when Michaels kicked out of the Tombstone, I literally leaped out of my bed and almost howled out loud at 12:45 a.m. When the match was over, I welled up, because I knew that as long as I continue watching wrestling, I’d never see another match that good.
Runners-up: Shawn Michaels vs. Triple H, Summerslam 2002 (They got me. Michaels’ first performance in four and a half years was brilliant, and Hunter was the perfect dick heel.) Dragon Gate Six-Man Tag, Supercard of Honor (Incredible athleticism and timing, and the perfect shifts in gears for a match of that length and structure.)
Honorable mention: Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho, WrestleMania XIX
WWE: No company will ever surpass WWE as the torch-bearer of what professional wrestling is. Non-fans will always say, “Do you watch that WWE stuff?” when referring to pro wrestling in general. And they’re right to do so. WWE offers a tremendous live television production 52 weeks (and 13-14 times) a year, its taped stuff is equally as good, and its nontelevised shows are fun because of the excellent athletes and performers WWE hires. And the script-writing is good more than 50 percent of the time.
Runners-up: ECW (One year of ECW was better than seven years of TNA.) ROH (If only they had the drive to go national earlier on.)
Rock-Steve Austin sing-off/Rock Concert: The two biggest stars of the last decade and a half wrestled one last time at WrestleMania XIX, and with no title on the line, all they had to fuel themselves on was history. But a rich history it was, and we all just knew it was chock-full of respect. For instance, when these two epic showmen got together to sing “Margaritaville” live on Raw before Survivor Series 2001, both with huge smiles on their faces, it put a huge smile on my face as well. As did when the Rock, who appeared to be having the time of his life (“No no no no, wait, wait!”) tore the house down in Sacramento before Austin booted a second hole in his Willie Nelson-“signed” acoustic guitar. Classic stuff.
Runners-up: Chris Jericho punching Shawn Michaels’ wife (I haven’t gasped like that in a long time. Kudos to Rebecca for taking that shot for the angle’s sake.) CZW-ROH feud (They got me, too: It wasn’t that they were interrupting “my precious ROH shows,” it’s that I just couldn’t stand Chris Hero and Necro Butcher!)
WrestleMania X-Seven: This was the zeitgeist, the culmination of five hot years of professional wrestling, the first time WWF/E had attempted a WrestleMania in a stadium since 1992 (and they filled the damn thing up), and the first huge show after the WWF swallowed up WCW and ECW. WM17 was more than just the WWF’s Super Bowl, its Academy Awards, whatever. This was the ultimate victory celebration. And with Austin vs. Rock, Vince vs. Shane, Undertaker vs. Hunter, a fun hardcore match, and even the Gimmick Battle Royal (with the legendary Bobby Heenan on commentary), WM17 was the best PPV from top to bottom, this decade or any other.
Runners-up: WrestleMania XIX (Let me count the ways: Austin vs. Rock, Brock vs. Angle, Michaels vs. Jericho, Hogan vs. Vince, and a great crowd in Seattle.) Royal Rumble 2001 (Great Rumble won by a returning Steve Austin, great Benoit-Jericho ladder match, Dudleys vs. E&C and Angle vs. Hunter good as well.)
BEST TV SHOW
WWE Monday Night Raw: Simply the best wrestling show ever produced. The lights, the entrances, the (costly) pyro… the angles, the superstars, and most of the time the writing… the big arenas, the live crowds, the advantage of airing the night after PPVs… and the attention WWE puts into it all combine to make it the top show. The fact that it’s live gives it the advantage over Smackdown, which usually featured better wrestling. But Raw is where the news happens, and it’s where the stars go to shine.
Runners-up: WWE Smackdown (The “other” Raw, often offering better writing and in-ring action all decade. But it’s still more of a proving ground.) TNA on Fox Sports Net (This was a must-watch show for a year. Now I feel I mustn’t watch the show on Spike.)
BEST OFF-SCREEN HAPPENING
Joey Styles punching out JBL: I’ve never been so proud in my whole life. I could get married and have kids — a whole litter, even — and I might never be as happy as the day I heard that everyone’s favorite geek, Joey Styles, punched out wrestling’s ultimate bully, JBL. Oh my!
Runners-up: Anything involving Vince Russo getting fired (After leaving the WWF in Oct. 1999, he stunk up every joint he walked into. Knowing he was gone provided many sighs of relief.) Edge hooking up with Lita/WWE setting Jeff Hardy’s house on fire (Stupid Hardys.) (Side note: I know WWE didn’t set Jeff’s damn house on fire.)
Brock Lesnar breaking Bob Holly’s neck: Karma.
Runners-up: Kurt Angle breaking Bob Holly’s arm (See above.) Triple H’s first quad tear (Took Bigfoot out of the picture and left room for much needed, welcomed and capitalized-upon elevation of others.)
Bob Holly: Fuck this guy. He couldn’t draw a dime with a stencil. He has no redeeming qualities, as a pro wrestler or a human being. His most memorable match ever involved his neck being broken, which is quite appropriate. And for anyone who argues that his promos weren’t bad, well, all rednecks seem to be able to weave a tale or talk a blue streak, but that doesn’t mean everyone who’s ever been on “COPS” would qualify as a good wrestler. Just a total jackass who didn’t deserve 15 years of employment.
Runners-up: Cheex (Typical early TNA shit. Whoever green-lighted this should have been fired immediately.) Abyss (Typical current TNA shit. Go fall off something tall, cut yourself and get set on fire, you backyard hack.)
Honorable mention: Domino…tion
The Zombie: MUUHHHHHHHHHHHHH!
Runners-up: Great Khali/Runjin Singh (Khali was better off with Shaun Daivari. Asking him to get over with no English skills and Singh as his mouthpiece is like asking a fish to climb a tree.) Melina (She makes kids in high school plays look like F. Murray Abraham, for crying out loud. Worst babyface ever, too. Only good for screaming, and even then…)