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Thoughts from the Top Rope 1.02.14: Royal Rumble Contenders
Posted by Daniel Wilcox on 01.02.2014



One of the things I really love about the holiday period is that it makes writing introductory paragraphs incredibly simple. Happy New Year to one and all, I trust you enjoyed the festive period responsibly and have already broken any and all New Year's Resolutions you might have made.

Before we start, a quick word about the closing segment of this past Monday's Raw. Many people are talking about the follow up in terms of booking, whether Bryan is now a heel, what it means for his position in the main event and such. Irrespective of all that, I just wish to point out what an incredible segment it was. The match featuring Bryan and Harper was a great main event, the Rowan match served just to progress the segment and the fans hated that Bryan didn't get his hands on Wyatt, meaning WWE has done a good job of making people want to see that match. What happened post-match was shocking but felt like a natural progression of the story and it was timed to perfection with fans reacting exactly how they would have wanted. I don't think it was a heel turn, more a case of Bryan feeling like he had no other option. But absolutely the most important element of the segment is that it's left me eager to tune in next week and see the next step in this program. And while I hope this leads to something big for Bryan, I'm more than satisified simply because he's involved in a compelling angle heavily featured on Raw.



Daniel Bryan joins the Wyatt Family

Your Opinion: What did you think of this Monday's show-closing angle?

So last week was the first wrestling-related article I had written in nearly three years and it didn't go all too badly. The feedback was generally positive and I was happy with my own work. I would like to thank those who read the piece as well as those who took the time to leave their comments. Speaking of which...

Last Week's Feedback
Selected feedback. Some comments may be edited for spelling and grammar.

So last week was the first wrestling-related article I had written in nearly three years and it didn't go all too badly. The feedback was generally positive and I was happy with my own work. I would like to thank those who read the piece as well as those who took the time to leave their comments. Speaking of which...

From berbalerbs; "I'll admit it, you suckered me with the Cena/Rock thing...was about to scroll past the rest of the column and write some screed about how terrible an idea that was...glad I didn't!"

My Response: I'm not usually one to go out and purposely look to get a reaction out of my readers, not least because using written word to put across sarcasm isn't the easiest thing in the world, but this was an opportunity I could not pass up. Glad you enjoyed the list and thanks for reading!

From KipSmithers: "GREAT to see this back!"

My Response: As soppy as it sounds, it feels great to be remembered after three years even if just by a few people. I very much appreciate any and all feedback.

From ranman: "I absolutely agree that Taker vs Cena should happen. I just don't see the umph behind Lesnar vs. Taker although I think it could tell a good story. Could you imagine the heat for that match? If Cena even gets one of those near falls the place would come unglued. And if Cena won they better have armed security get him out of there. It would be epic. even better would be Taker putting Cena in a casket afterwards. so many possibilities..."

My Response: For me there's no intrigue behind a Lesnar/Taker match, because there is absolutely no reason for Brock to win. However I am sure that if that was the path they wished to take, they'd easily be able to convince casual fans that Lesnar was a threat to the Streak and make a ton of money. But with Cena/Taker, smarks, marks and smartmarks alike know that Cena is a threat.

From Axsmash: "Great read. I want to see Demolition, Jake the Snake, King Kong Bundy, Ultimate Warrior and Scott Hall in that Battle Royale. It's time to pay some respect to the longest WWE tag team reign in history."

My Response: Ultimate Warrior is too big a name, but the others I could see. Personally I think WWE has spent enough time honouring the past stars of the eighties to mid-nineties, I'd like to see more Attitude Era guys and even more recent gimmicks. I'd go with a 20-man Battle Royal featuring; Rikishi, Scotty II Hotty, Grandmaster Sexay, Spike Dudley, Jake "the Snake" Roberts, The Brian Kendrick, The Boogeyman, Kerwin White, Steve Blackman, Hardcore Holly, Chyna, Tajiri, Val Venis, Roddy Piper, the Hurricane, Fit Finlay, Gangrel, DDP, Scott Steiner, King Booker. That's a good mix of star power and silly gimmicks. And it has to come down to Piper and Rikishi with Rikishi getting the win in honour of Jimmy Snuka (according to WWE continuity, all Samoans are related). Then you get the Too Cool and Rikishi dancing nostalgia!

From keith: "Top Ten WM XXX Matches in no particular order:?
HHH vs. Punk - WWE World Heavyweight Championship?
Bryan vs. HBK?
Cena vs. Undertaker?
Lesnar vs. Batista?
The Shield vs. The Wyatts?
Rhodes vs. Goldust?
Sin Cara vs. Rey Mysterio?
Big E Langston vs. Big Show?
4 Way for the Tag Titles - Uso's vs. AirBoom vs. Real Americans vs. a HEEL Tons of Funk?
Nikki Bella vs. AJ Lee vs Brie Bella
"

My Response: Lots of similarities to my own list, so I'll comment on the additions. I like the tag title and Divas matches, both would be good if given plenty of time. Lesnar vs. Batista intrigues me on paper but do I want to see two part-time guys in a big money match when both could be used to put over current talent? Probably not. CM Punk vs. Triple H would be a solid match, but Triple H's last three or four matches have been pretty standard fare if he wrestles any more in the future I want him involved in a typical McMahon style overbooked mess filled with shenanigans, not in the title match at WrestleMania with CM Punk. It's be a great card nonetheless.

From dude: "Am I the only person on the planet that just doesn't want to see Taker v Cena PERIOD, let alone at any WM?
I am?
Well .... huh.
"

My Response: I genuinely haven't heard anyone else say the idea doesn't appeal to them. I think the reason for that is threefold;

1. It's inevitable it's going to make WWE an absolute ton of money, so they have to do it at some point.
2. They've been kept apart almost completely for nearly ten years so there's a lot of people clamouring for it (think Michaels and Taker a few years ago, and how fans reacted following their Royal Rumble 2007 finish).
3. Both guys can still bring it when the lights are on bright; the match would be incredible.

From Fred Nicolas: "My card for WM 30:
Orton vs. Lesnar (WWE Championship Match)?
Cena vs. Taker?
HHH vs. Bryan (Street Fight)?
Batista vs. Punk?
Cody Rhodes vs. Goldust?
The Wyatt Family vs. The Shield?
Rey Mysterio vs. Sin Cara?
The Real Americans vs. The Usos vs. Bigshow/Rey Msyterio (Tag Team Championship Match)?
Battle Royal for IC Title?
Some Divas Match
"

My Response: First of all, credit for thinking slightly outside of the box in terms of picking different matches. That said, Orton/Lesnar doesn't sound like something I'd like to see, and how does the face/heel alignment work? Similarly, what's the thinking behind Batista/Punk? I can't see Batista coming back as heel, and no one wants to boo CM Punk at this stage in his career. The rest of the card I like, although the Battle Royal feels like a lazy choice and something that would end up on the pre-show.

Remember, leave any thoughts/questions/criticisms/words of praise in the comments section below and I'll do my best to reply either directly to your comment or in the following week's column.

Social Media Propaganda


411Mania is not just a website, it's a revolution. Join the revolution, and more importantly, follow it on TWITTER and like it FAECBOOK!

And what about me? I don't TWEET MUCH but I might if I had more followers. I am, however, all over that FACEBOOKIZZLE so be my friend on that and then like all my statuses so all my real life friends think I'm funny.

This Week's Match



The 2001 Royal Rumble match

My match of the week this week is my favourite Royal Rumble match of all time, the 2001 edition. Simply put, this was a hell of an entertaining Rumble from bell to bell, starting with the Hardy brothers colliding, through Drew Carrey's appearance, a hardcore segment, the return of the Big Show, the reunion of the Brothers of Destruction, Kane's dominance and Austin's third Rumble win. Just a hell of a way to spend an hour.

This Week's Feature

We are mere weeks away from the Royal Rumble, one of my favourite wrestling shows of the year and the first official stop on the Road to WrestleMania 30. With the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships now unified, the Royal Rumble match is more important now that it has been in over ten years. There's only one spot up for grabs in the title bout at WrestleMania but there will be 30 hungry WWE Superstars clamouring for that spot. In This Week's Feature, I decipher who the major players are, who's got no chance in hell, and who might just be heading to the main event of WrestleMania 30.

Royal Rumble 2014: The Contenders

WrestleMania 30 should be the biggest WrestleMania of all time. It's a massive milestone. And for the first time in over a decade we only have one major world title heading into the event. Additionally, there are more big money matches, returns and surprises rumoured than I can honestly ever remember. In the last few months, our beloved Internet Wrestling Community has speculated about WrestleMania moments featuring all of the following;

The Rock
Sting
Shawn Michaels
The Undertaker
Brock Lesnar
Hulk Hogan
Triple H
John Cena
Batista
Goldberg
Ultimate Warrior
Stone Cold Steve Austin

Am I missing anyone? There may or may not also be big returns for Rob Van Dam, Chris Jericho and Sheamus among others. And let's not forget we have WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton, perennial underdog Daniel Bryan and "Best in the World" CM Punk to fit into this card somewhere, alongside a rejuvenated tag division, a hungry mid-card, inevitable celebrity involvement and possibly even a musical extravaganza featuring Kid Rock and Diddy. But the fact remains that there can only be one winner of the 2014 Royal Rumble so join me as I take a look at this year's contenders and their respective chances of outlasting 29 other Superstars and booking their ticket to WrestleMania 30.

Batista: He's the man the wrestling world has been talking about for the past couple of weeks, and he's a lot of people's favourite to win the Rumble. For me, Batista's chances hinge on two things; first and foremost, how long is Batista's new deal? Original reports suggested it would likely just be a quick run through to Mania and maybe a couple of pay-per-views after before leaving again to promote his movie in the summer. But last weekend's rumours suggest he'll be around for a couple of years as one last hurrah. If the latter is true then there is every chance he'll pick up the win and have a showdown with Randy Orton in New Orleans. The other factor is WWE's plan for the rest of the card. There are a number of full time guys worthy of a spot in the main event who would be disgruntled at seeing an ageing Animal getting a title shot. But if creative has plans for the likes of Cena, Punk and Bryan already, then Batista has to be one of the favourites going in.



John Cena: John Cena has to be a favourite every time he's in the Royal Rumble match. A 2-time winner, the leader of the Cenation is surely entitled to a rematch for the new unified championship, but he may well have to earn it the hard way. Personally, I see no benefit of running Cena vs. Orton one-on-one for the title at Mania after they just squared off on pay-per-view three months prior in a career-defining match up. Furthermore, there's a lot of money to be made from some of the potential dream matches that Cena could be involved in come April. Last week I talked at length about the benefits of John Cena/Undertaker showdown, and you'd have to say Vince McMahon would be mad if he had at least considered it. There's also been talk about Cena interacting with Hogan at WrestleMania, likely in a tag match of some kind. And bizarrely, Bray Wyatt's name has been attached to Cena lately. Regardless of who his opponent is, John Cena will be one of the company's focuses for the next few months, but I'd be surprised if he was in the title hunt personally. Just never write him off.



Bray Wyatt: If Bray Wyatt is being discussed as a potential WrestleMania opponent for the true face of the WWE, then it's obvious that there are people behind the scenes at WWE headquarters who are high on the guy, so perhaps the leader of the Wyatt Family is in with a shout of pulling off an upset and winning the Royal Rumble himself. He'd have Rowan and Harper in there to back him up, and his recent interactions with the main event guys has proven him to be a viable threat to anyone on the roster. Furthermore, there's been a lot of discussion of Wyatt's dealings with the Devil, is it possible that the bizarre cult leader is in deep with a Higher Power? Perhaps an Authoritative Higher Power that could take him all the way to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship? His standing as a heel makes him a long shot, but Bray has to be a dark horse at least.



Triple H: It wouldn't be an online wrestling opinion piece without the author suggesting that Triple H will inset himself into the title picture now would it? On a serious note, there are those who always expect The Game to force himself into the spotlight, and this would be one way of paying off the Orton/Triple H tension we've seen in recent weeks. Of course the heel/hell dynamic makes this incredibly unlikely, but there's nothing to say the WWE World Heavyweight Championship will still be around the waist of Randy Orton come WrestleMania. Personally, I feel this is a long shot. The Game has his place on any WrestleMania card, but he won't be anywhere near the title picture for the foreseeable, and probably never again. So we can all rest assured that Triple H will likely never break the record of Ric Flair.



Randy Orton: Now this is an intriguing one. Last week on SmackDown Randy Orton cut a promo saying he'd like to enter the Rumble, win the thing and take WrestleMania weekend off! While I feel in all likelihood this was just an off the cuff comment to keep Orton arrogant and in our faces, it sure would be a daring angle. Imagine if Orton actually won the whole thing and decided to take a couple of months off. Obviously there'd have to be some payoff where Orton eventually gets a Mania opponent, possibly determined at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, but this would make for an intriguing few weeks of television. In reality, this is a massive long shot and probably too daring for WWE to actually try it. Apart from anything else, WWE has too many guys who benefit from this massive win to waste on the reigning and defending WWE World Heavyweight Champion.



Brock Lesnar: Speaking of the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view, that's an obstacle that is now seemingly obsolete with only one top championship to fight for. So WWE has three options for its February extravaganza; either use the Elimination Chamber as the champion's final challenge before Mania, have the Royal Rumble winner forced to put his title shot up for grabs, or have the Royal Rumble winner give their title shot up for something else and the number one contender re-determined in the Devil's playground. But why would the Royal Rumble winner give up their title shot? Well what if the Royal Rumble winner wasn't interested in championship glory? What if the Royal Rumble winner was hellbent on destruction, and determined to cement their name in history as the most powerful WWE Superstar of all time? What if the Royal Rumble winner decided the immortal showdown they were interested in was for the most valuable prize in the business? I'm not talking about the title, I'm talking about the Streak. If WWE wants to set up Brock Lesnar vs. The Undertaker, this is certainly one way they could go about it.



CM Punk: CM Punk is a guy who in a relatively short amount of time has accomplished everything there is to accomplish in WWE a multi-time tag champion, former Intercontinental Champion, ECW Champion, Money in the Bank winner on two occasions and a former World and WWE Champion. The only achievement seemingly alluding him is a Royal Rumble triumph, and having finally vanquished his old nemesis Paul Heyman, the Best in the World seems poised to make another run at the title he held for 434 days in 2014. Punk vs. Orton is a relatively fresh match, particularly with the current face/heel dynamic, and Punk is a proven draw. He's also due a WrestleMania main event, and recent rumours suggest he is one of the frontrunners to win the thing. As a massive fan of Punk, I'd love to see him get the win and go on to get his crowning moment at WrestleMania 30. Unfortunately, I can't see it. Punk isn't the megastar they usually go to for WrestleMania, and even if McMahonagement is looking to put over one of the Internet darlings come April 6th, I'd wager there's someone more likely and more in need of the win than Punk. More on that later.



AJ Styles: Nah, just kidding!

Chris Jericho: In recent weeks Jericho has been tweeting the Jericoholics and informing them that he's really, genuinely, super busy with Fozzy and has no intention of returning to the WWE any time soon, so expect Y2J to be back on our screens any day now. For last year's Rumble, I went to a bar to watch a pay-per-view for the first time, and with it being 1am in the UK, the place was packed with a load of intoxicated wrestling fans, and I've never heard anything as loud as our reaction to Jericho's reveal as the number two entry in that match. Making it two years in a row would be fantastic, as you know Jericho wants to be involved in WrestleMania somehow. Unfortunately, Jericho is past the point in his career where he's likely to be challenging for top titles, especially now there's only one. Any time Jericho shows up in this match, expect him to make it to the final few guys, being the savvy veteran that he is, but don't look for Jericho to make 2014 his first Royal Rumble win.



Roman Reigns: Roman Reigns has been rumoured for one of those big pushes for a long time, the strap-a-rocket-to-his-ass push. On WWE TV we've seen Reigns showcased more-so than we ever have before, and we've also seen tension among the Shield for the first time since they debuted on WWE television a little over a year ago. Thus if rumours are to be believed, Reigns has to be one of the favourites to outlast the other 29 guys in the Rumble. There's no better way to push a guy than to give him a long run in the Rumble, and even more-so to have him win the whole thing and send him on his way to WrestleMania. But there's a couple reasons why now is not the right time for Reigns. Most importantly, the Road to WrestleMania is pathed with many stars and that makes it a bad time to try and push a new star into the main event without them getting lost in the shuffle. WWE would be better off keeping the Shield as a unit through WrestleMania and making Reigns their pet project for later in the year. There are, however, potential programs with Undertaker or Triple H that would appeal to me. But it's far too soon to give Reigns a win this big. Look for him to last the majority of the match and make it to the final four.



Sheamus: The landscape of the WWE has changed a lot since Sheamus was last competitive. Out for six months with an injury, the WWE Universe seems to have forgotten about the Great White, but there's nothing WWE loves more than a surprise return from injury and a Royal Rumble win. They've done it with John Cena and Edge in recent years, and it wouldn't at all surprise me to see Sheamus become a 2-time Rumble winner if those in power feel there's money in him chasing the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. But again, it's a case of so many stars to book onto one card, and now there's only one premier title to compete for. WWE has always been high on Sheamus, but I just think there's going to be too many stars above him in the pecking in order. Don't be surprised, however, if he finds himself a high profile feud going into Mania against one of the "part-time" guys.



Rob Van Dam: Don't be surprised if the Whole F'n Show is another guy who makes a return at the Royal Rumble. His brief run through the summer of 2013 was enjoyable, showcase Van Dam in better shape and featured some very good matches with the likes of Chris Jericho and Alberto del Rio. But similarly to Jericho, Van Dam isn't likely to be a WWE Champion in 2014. if the World Heavyweight Championship was still around, you could see Mr. Monday Night getting a brief run with the big gold belt, but a Rumble win and main event at WrestleMania is not on the cards.



Undertaker: Last week the news broke that Undertaker was good to go for WrestleMania 30. For years we've heard rumours of Taker being on his last legs career-wise, too beaten up to even be certain for WrestleMania matches, but last year we saw him appear on the post-Mania European run of shows, and now we have early confirmation of his involvement in the Showcase of the Immortals. All this seems to suggest is that the Deadman is in better shape than we've been lead to believe. And who better to take down the Authority's chosen face of the company than the man many consider to be the very conscience of WWE? Championship vs. Streak isn't something that's been done since WrestleMania 24, and an Orton/Taker match could definitely deliver. But the unlikelihood of Taker working a full or even part-time schedule and quite frankly better options means that the only way Taker is appearing in the Royal Rumble is if it's to set up a feud with another major star ready for a New Orleans showdown.



Daniel Bryan: And finally, we come to the man who is arguably the uncrowned WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan. No one has a better 2013 than this man but it is evident his momentum has been halted at the hands of Randy Orton and the Authority, namely Triple H. Conventional booking has Bryan winning the Rumble and getting his ultimate revenge at WrestleMania when he finally dethrones Orton as champion. But a niggling feeling is telling me that this isn't the route WWE has planned. Personally, it's not a match I'd be interested in seeing again considering these guys have wrestled three times on pay-per-view recently in addition ot a series of matches over the summer and a hell of a match a couple of weeks ago on Raw. Yes, the matches are fantastic but there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. On the other hand, like most of you I am yearning for Bryan to get his shining moment. For the reasons stated above though, I do not believe the company sees money in Bryan continuing to chase Orton although they have no one to blame but themselves. The only way I can see this being a possibility is if WWE feels comfortable that their other marquee matches will draw enough money to compensate for a not-so-fresh title match. If that's the case, look for a match other than the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match to be closing WrestleMania.


Caveat/late editor's note: following Monday's Raw, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Daniel Bryan win the Royal Rumble, last eliminating Bray Wyatt. There's no way this is a legit heel turn for Bryan.

The Verdict: The WWE has used this phrase before but this year's Royal Rumble is genuinely shaping up to be the most star-studded affair in years. In addition to the majority of the names listed, expect the likes of Rey Mysterio, Big Show, Mark Henry, Alberto del Rio, Ryback, Dolph Ziggler and more to be in amongst the fray. The winner will almost certainly be one of the names mentioned above, however, but I genuinely feel there's five or six guys in with a chance of coming out on top. There's very good reasons for Batista, Cena, Punk and Bryan to win this thing, but also very good reasons for each of them not too. Then there's also some interesting stories to be told by using some of the others mentioned above, such as Brock Lesnar. And by the way, are we all certain that The Rock is out of this year's Mania plans?

At this point in time I feel WWE has at least four or five marquee matches set in stone for WrestleMania 30, and that means they know who is winning the Royal Rumble and who will be challenging for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Unfortunately for CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, when it comes to overthrowing authority, in the last ten years John Cena is the tried and tested go-to guy and as such I believe his quest to dethrone Randy Orton will lead him to WrestleMania. This means Punk and Bryan will be coming very close, probably to the final four, but will each have to settle on programs with Triple H and/or Shawn Michaels by the time we reach New Orleans in April. That's nothing to turn your nose up at either, because you know anything involving those guys is going to get a lot of air time on the Road to WrestleMania. I did, however, mention earlier that there is no value in Cena vs. Orton at WrestleMania because we just did that last month.

I believe reports suggested the Animal Batista is likely to be sticking around for a while, because let's face it, neither his MMA or his movie career has taken off as much as he would have liked (Guardians of the Galaxy notwithstanding). Thus my prediction for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match at WrestleMania is Randy Orton defending against Batista and John Cena in a Triple Threat match, regardless of who wins the Royal Rumble. It's a match that has never been done before with a fantastic story to tell. All three guys came into the business at the same time, debuted within the space of couple of months of each other and won their first world titles within the same year. Each can lay claim to being the face of the company over the last decade. Despite their history, Orton and Batista haven't feuded that much, and Cena and Batista have only had the one real program together. It's undoubtedly the three biggest stars of the last decade headlining the biggest WrestleMania of all time and it will make a ton of money. It may not be the most popular option amongst us lot, but it'll make bank and that's what counts.



Don't be surprised to see something similar to this come Royal Rumble time.

This Week's List

Way back when this column was in its first run, I ran a yearly feature counting down the best matches of the forthcoming year. Obviously at the time everyone was doing their best matches of the past twelve months lists, and/or making predictions for the new year, so I ended up almost combining the two by predicting the biggest and best matches of the next calendar year and talking about them as if I'd seen them move for move. And as such I present to you, the Top 10 WWE Matches of 2014!

Top 10 WWE Matches of 2014
Caveat: This list was written prior to Monday's episode of Raw


10. WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Randy Orton vs. John Cena vs. Batista [WrestleMania 30, 04.06.14]: I love Triple Threat matches in WWE and there's no three guys better at working the WWE main event style than these three guys. It was a true clash of the titans that produced tons of memorable moments from the multiple stolen finishers and the announce table spot. They worked the traditional formula for the first half of the match where one guy was taken out while the other two went back-and-forth but the last ten minutes was simply balls-to-to-wall action that had the crowd on the edge of their seats. In the end you would have to say the right man won as the New Orleans crowd was firmly behind the Animal, even though they were more than ready to boo him out the building the following night after his heel turn.

9. The Shield vs. John Cena, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan [Raw, 01.20.14]: One of the features of 2013 was top quality matches featuring the various members of the Shield, particularly when all three are involved in six-man tag action. Well that trend rolled on into 2014 and in fantastic fashion as just days before the Royal Rumble, the Shield took on something of a dream team in John Cena, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan. That's arguably the six best performers in the company tore the house down in a 25-minute Raw main event that featured two extended heat segments and a rampant finish in front of a hot crowd. Although the match didn't have a definitive ending, all six guys looked great heading into the Rumble and the match perfectly summed up how good the Shield has been, and it was great to see their wonderful first year carry on into the new one.

8. WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Batista vs. Daniel Bryan [Payback, 06.01.14]: When Batista left the WWE years ago, he'd not long turned heel and was having the best few months of his career, so it was great to see The Animal go back to that persona shortly after WrestleMania, and he played the perfect foil as Daniel Bryan continued his chase in pursuit of the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, Bryan finally got his big moment when he toppled the Animal at Payback. Bryan is always fantastic in these big man/little man matches and he bumped around like a mad man for Batista's offence. The crowd was hot for his comeback and even more so when he got Batista to submit to the Yes Lock.

7. Brock Lesnar vs. Undertaker [WrestleMania, 04.06.14]: This was a match that people were clamouring to see as soon as these two had their confrontation at a UFC event several years ago, whether that was planned or not. Credit to Undertaker for being as physical as ever with the Beast Incarnate and putting his body on the line as if he were 20 years younger. Personally, this wasn't a match I had much interest in because I simply felt there was no chance of Lesnar being the guy to end Taker's streak, and although that proved to be the case, I would be lying if I said I buy into some of the near falls toward the match's climax. Taker has had one of the best matches of the night, if not the best, at every WrestleMania since 2006 and this was no exception. Two streaks survived on this night; The Undertaker remains undefeated, and his long line of fantastic matches continues.



Lesnar and Undertaker stare down following UFC 121

6. Last Man Standing Match: John Cena vs. Roman Reigns [Survivor Series, 11.23.14]: This was the coming out party we've been waiting a year for. Thankfully WWE opted to keep the Shield as a unit for a while longer because it allowed Reigns to become a more well-rounded performer, and his series of matches with John Cena benefitted from that. Their first encounter at Hell in a Cell was good but the flexibility this match gave them in terms of bringing plunder into play was to the advantage of both men. Reigns looked like an absolute beast and Cena played the face in peril we're used to seeing from him. Traditionally when Cena loses these types of matches, its through some overly gimmicked spot but this was just a case of Cena not being able to take any more punishment as Reigns finished him off with a third devastating Spear, this time through the announce table. Reigns is going to have a massive year in 2015 and that all starts with his WWE World Heavyweight Championship match at the Royal Rumble.

5. 60-Minute Iron Man Match for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship: Daniel Bryan vs. CM Punk [Night of Champions, 09.17.14]: WWE gave us a taste of Bryan vs. Punk during Punk's historic 434 day title reign a couple of years ago but we got to see them really let loose in the Autumn of 2014. With pay-per-views coming thick and fast at this point in the year, WWE left key guys off this card as a way to really make the champions and their challengers stand out, and this was obviously the highlight of the show. They worked a slow and deliberate pace for the first 35 minutes or so, each working over a body part in order to gain a submission fall apiece. For the rest of the match they just went balls to the wall, kicking the hell out of each other. A double count-out following Punk's elbow through the announce table took the score to 2-2, before Bryan scored the decisive fall with a small package with minutes to spare. The ending was fantastic as Bryan kicked out of the Go 2 Sleep before refusing to submit to the Anaconda Vice as time elapsed. A phenomenal match, as we've come to expect from these two.

4. Triangle Ladder Match for the WWE Tag Team Championship: Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins vs. The Usos vs. Rey Mysterio and Rob Van Dam [Tables, Ladders and Chairs, 12.13.14]: We were all sceptical. No one truly believed that the tag team wrestling renaissance in WWE would last as long as it has. The success of recent tag team performers-turned-singles guys like Antonio Cesaro, Roman Reigns and Titus O'Neill means WWE will continue to utilize tag teams as best they can because ultimately they will create many more money-making stars. Just last month we saw the return of tag team Tables, Ladders and Chairs. The new Shield duo of Ambrose and Rollins have worked well together since the departure of Reigns, and the duo of Van Dam and Mysterio ensured the crowd was hugely invest in this contest. But in the end, it was the Usos, Jimmy and Jey, who finally got their big moment winning the tag straps as a reward for nearly two years of great work. The division is still in great shape and I'm excited to see what new teams step forward as we move into 2015.



The original Tables, Ladders and Chairs from Summerslam 2000

3. CM Punk vs. Kurt Angle [Raw, 12.28.14]: "I came back to WWE for one reason and one reason only... to wrestle the best in the world!" Kurt Angle's return to Raw the night after the Survivor Series was one of the best moments of the year, and both his matches with CM Punk are among the year's best. Unfortunately the match at TLC is hurt by the non-ending, but thankfully it lead to this rematch a couple of weeks later on Monday night Raw. The match was pretty much everything you could hope for out of these two. Both guys spent the majority of the match targeting a limb in order to set up their respective submission moves, the Ankle lock and the Anaconda Vice, but in the end Punk went low and caught Angle with a roll up to sneak the win. What started as a friendly rivalry born out of respect is turning into something all the more intense as well roll into 2015 and that was the story they told here. Both guys wanted the win, but Punk was the one willing to go into his old bag of tricks to secure. Look for even better from these two in the new year.

2. Shawn Michaels vs. Daniel Bryan [WrestleMania 30, 04.06.14]: Opinions were always going to be divided when Shawn Michaels came out of retirement; many felt it was a case of tarnishing his legacy whilst others simply wanted to see the Heartbreak Kid steal the show once more at WrestleMania. Fortunately Daniel Bryan is one of those guys who always goes out to steal the show, so there was no chance of tarnishing any legacy here. Michaels and Bryan aren't just two of the best in-ring performers in wrestling history, they're also two fantastic story-tellers. This was a classic case of student vs. teacher, with Bryan always being one step ahead of his elder. Gradually Michaels' frustration grew leading to Michaels' mean streak rising to the surface. Bryan continued to outperform his mentor, evening going so far to emulate some of his signature spots. As the match progressed, Michaels' veteran tactics gave him the advantage and for one moment you thought you were watching Shawn Michaels in 1995, or even 2005. In the end, Bryan prevailed and we got a post-match show of respect in one of this year's greatest WrestleMania moments. Michaels' legacy wasn't tarnished; if anything, it was enhanced. We now know Mr. WrestleMania will only ever grace us in the squared circle if he knows he can still put on a show like no other, just as he always did.

1. WWE World Heavyweight Championship Match: Daniel Bryan vs. John Cena vs. CM Punk [Summerslam, 08.17.14]: John Cena, the face of the WWE for the past decade an outstanding competitor in his own right. CM Punk, the rebel-turned-franchise who has reached the pinnacle of his own career and become an era-defining star. And Daniel Bryan, the greatest independent wrestler of all time, now a reigning and defending WWE Champion in his own right. Three great performers, one match for the ages. Punk and Cena have been phenomenal rivals for three years and stand un-matches as the current decades top stars. Daniel Bryan has spent the last eighteen months attempting to stand upon that same platform and it was in this match that he finally reached that pinnacle. Many people compared this bout to the WrestleMania XX Triple Threat, with Bryan now playing the role of Chris Benoit, and that's an apt comparison. Bryan is the best wrestler in the world, and his hard work was truly rewarded in 2014. I said at the start of the piece that I enjoy WWE's Triple Threat matches, and this must be one of the very best. 30 minutes of non-stop action, incredible drama and wonderful story-telling culminating in a legacy-cementing victory for the new face of the WWE, Daniel Bryan.

Your Opinion: Following the end of this week's Raw, I know that most of these matches involving Daniel Bryan seem incredibly unlikely, even if they weren't already, but I didn't exactly have time to re-write the whole list. But what do you think will be some of the biggest and best matches in the next twelve months?

This Week's Farewell

On next week's Thoughts from the Top Rope we discuss the potential break up of The Shield and take a look at some of my favourite Royal Rumble moments.

Feel free to leave me any feedback you have via email or in the comments section below;

- What did you think of Daniel Bryan joining the Wyatt Family?
- What's your favourite Royal Rumble match?
- Who's your pick to win the 2014 Royal Rumble?
- What matches will be topping next year's year-end list?

I wish you all a happy new year and hope you all have a prosperous twelve months ahead of you. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next week.





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