Pro Wrestling

Bayley vs. Sasha Banks and a history of WWE ironman matches

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On Wednesday, Oct. 7, NXT Women’s Champion Bayley will defend her championship against Sasha Banks in the main event of NXT Takeover in a 30 minute ironman match.

Not only will this be the first match of its kind among two women in WWE, but it’ll be the second time in history that a women’s match headlines a major WWE show.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the winner of an ironman match is determined by whoever scores the most falls within a given time limit. It’s the ultimate test of endurance.

Most ironman matches have a noticeable lack of heat compared to other types of matches since the fans are conditioned to not react to anything until the closing moments. It takes two extremely talented workers to keep the fans’ attention in this kind of environment.

In honor of this week’s momentous occasion I have decided to take a trip down memory lane to rank the best ironman matches in WWE history.

7. Chris Benoit vs. Triple H, Monday Night Raw, 7/26/04

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The story of this match was similar to the entire story of Chris Benoit’s championship run  in that it was more of a backdrop to advance Triple H’s major storylines at the time (which just so happened to be against Nick Dinsmore aka Eugene). Like most ironman matches this one didn’t really pick up up until near the end. It was a good match, but far from the best that WWE had to offer that year.

6. John Cena vs. Randy Orton, Bragging Rights, 10/25/09

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This match occurred during a stretch where John Cena and Randy Orton faced each other on four consecutive PPVs.

It was also the first and only WWE ironman match to be contested under an anything goes stipulation. Although this gave them leeway for more creativity than we’re used to seeing in these kind of matches it still ranks as one of the weaker entries in their longstanding rivalry. Their I Quit match from the previous month’s Breaking Point PPV was significantly better.

5. Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle, Monday Night Raw, 10/3/05

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This was the rubber match of their 2005 series that saw them produce two legitimate match of the year contenders at WrestleMania 21 and Vengeance. It occurred on a special three hour edition of Raw commemorating the show’s return to the USA Network.

Despite not  being as good a match as their previous encounters it was still a phenomenal showing from two of the all-time greats. Although it concluded in a draw there was nothing to complain about as it was a strong match to cap off a tremendously executed program.

4. Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle, Backlash, 4/29/01

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I had completely forgotten about this match until conducting research for this story. This was a unique twist on the traditional ironman rules where the winner would be determined by whoever scored the most submissions within a 30 minute period. Here you had two of the best technical wrestlers in the world going at it for a half hour in an ironman match with submission rules. Yes this match was as amazing as it sounds.

3. Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart, WrestleMania 12, 3/31/96

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This match is forever immortalized for Shawn Michaels realizing his boyhood dream of becoming WWE Champion in the main event of the biggest show of the year.

Although technically excellent, this match lacked a certain spark that kept it from being considered an all-time classic. The audience was pretty dead with a large portion of them having already left the arena by the time it ended.

While the scene of Michaels’ championship celebration is one of the more memorable moments in WrestleMania history, the match itself is not as good as most remember.

2. Triple H vs. Rock, Judgment Day, 5/21/00

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The Rock-Triple H feud dominated WWE programming for much of 2000. Whether it was in singles competition, tags, triple threats or fatal-four ways, just about every episode of Raw and SmackDown that year, and several PPVs, featured some combination of these two against each other.

Many consider their Judgment Day ironman match to be among their finest outings. Not only did they keep a hot pace from start to finish, but there was all kinds of storyline twists and turns. You had Shawn Michaels as the guest referee and the entire McMahon-Helmsley regime at ringside trying to stack the deck against Rock. The action climaxed with the surprise return of the Undertaker whose actions inadvertently cost Rock the match.

Even more incredible is that they provided a backdrop of solid wrestling acumen to complement all the craziness surrounding them. Anyone who was a fan of WWE in 2000 knows how amazing that year was and matches like this were a big reason why.

  1. Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle, SmackDown, 9/18/03

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Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle were embroiled in one of the most intense rivalries of 2003 and the hype surrounding their ironman match was intense. You had two former NCAA champions who were regarded by many insiders to be two of the best in the business at that time. Just the thought of them wrestling for an hour was enough to make a wrestling purist salivate.

The early story of the match involved Lesnar dominating Angle to gain the advantage. Lesnar was up 4-2 by the midway point before Angle mounted a ferocious comeback. He had Lesnar trapped in the ankle lock submission just as the time limit expired. Lesnar won 5-4 to capture his third WWE Championship.

Lesnar played his role to perfection as the monster heel who tried his best to create an unfair advantage from the outset which eventually ended up working to his advantage.

Not only is this one of the best matches in SmackDown history, but it’s the best ironman match ever held in WWE.

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