wrestling / Columns

Csonka’s Top 10 Matches From The Last Three WrestleMania Weekends

March 27, 2020 | Posted by Larry Csonka
Johnny Gargano WWE NXT_NewOrleans_Gargano_Tomasso WrestleMania

WrestleMania week is the biggest time of the year, not only is it a financial boom for WWE and the host city, but also the plethora of independent events that run along with the big show. Now while the argument can easily be made that WrestleMania week and weekend has become way over bloated with the insane number of events, the other thing that’s a fact is that it’s the biggest concentration of great wrestling each and every year. But not this year due to he Coronavirus. WrestleMania will run without fans, there is no Takeover, and due to the ban on events, the schedule of WrestleMania week events has been axed. It’s something no one could have predicted, not even on another site, but it’s here. So since the 2020 WrestleMania week isn’t happening, I’d like to look back on the last three years and share my top 10 WrestleMania weekend matches. Please enjoy and stay safe…

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10. From (2017) PROGRESS: Orlando – Champion Matt Riddle vs. Trent Seven [****½]: Lots of circling to begin, with both guys looking to be careful before they engage. We get some sportsmanship early with clean breaks and such. Riddle quickly worked rapid fire strikes, and followed with the XPLODER, but Seven then countered the senton and laid in chops. Seven then rubs his balls, licks his hand and looks to attack, but Riddle fought him off and sent him to the floor. They lit each other up with chops on the floor, back in and Seven quickly hits the suicide dive to take control back. The brawl continued on the floor, Seven up top but Riddle cut him off and then hit the avalanche fisherman’s buster! My God. Riddle fired up, Seven is pissed and slaps Riddle. Riddle took him to the corner, hit knee strikes and hits a German, Seven pops back up and they trade Germans. Seven hits a series of chops, and then a snapdragon suplex but Riddle answers with an up kick and then a bridging German for 2. Riddle goes back to the strikes and kicks, Seven avoids the knee strike, hits seventh heaven piledriver and that gets the near fall. Seven teases the piledriver off the ropes, but Riddle slips out and hits the powerbomb and jumping tombstone, but Seven kicks out. They traded strikes center ring, Seven then hits the seven star lariat for a great near fall. Riddle hits a knee strike and piledriver, but SEVEN KICKS OUT AT ONE AND IS ALL LIKE COME AT ME BRO. This was a bad idea, because bro locked in the bromission and picked up the win. Great fucking finish. They made mention that the Atlas title was “big lads kicking the shit out off each other,” and they weren’t lying. Seven is really great, and this match was in Riddle’s wheelhouse, in that 10-15 minute mark, filled with heated back and forth action and some great near falls during the final third of the match. Once again, where this thrives is the active crowd and the fact that it had a different feel than the other matches.

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9. From (2019) NXT Takeover New York: The War Raiders vs. Aleister Black & Ricochet [****½]: Normally I’d say good luck following that, but this card is stacked. This was an excellent tag match that broke from the typical tag formula and was just a scintillating back and forth evenly booked match from bell to bell. The champions continue to kick ass while Black & Ricochet have developed into an elite tag team. This was an amazing way for Black & Ricochet to close their NXT runs; I love tag team wrestling so much.

8. From (2017) EVOLVE 81 – Keith Lee vs. Donovan Dijak [****½]: This is a battle of two big dudes who are also very agile; they worked a fun and athletic opening stretch, Lee countered a monkey flip, landing on his feet. Dijak did not know what to make of this, and Lee told him to bask in his glory; Lee hit the dropkick and sent Dijak to the floor. Lee then hit a corkscrew plancha, they brawled to the apron and Dijak hit the big chokeslam onto the apron to take control back. Dijak took a lot of time to celebrate, but then hit a corkscrew moonsault to wipe out lee on the floor. Back in and Dijak hit a springboard elbow drop for 2. Lee then caught a high cross, rolled through and looked for the powerbomb but Dijak back flipped out of that only to be killed by the POUNCE! Lee went high risk, missing the moonsault and leading to Dijak hitting the destroyer for a near fall. Lee fought off feast your eyes, but then hit a huge high angle spinebuster and then headed to the ropes again; but Dijak kipped up and hit a superkick and then snatched him off the ropes, and hit feast your eyes for the great near fall. Dijak looks for a senton to the floor, but Lee (after a big of a struggle, Dijak is a big boy) catches him and hits the apron bomb! Back in and Lee hits the moonsault but Dijak somehow survives! This is some real shit right here. Dijak flips out of the chokeslam and then Lee does the same, hits the spirit bomb and picks up the win. This was absolutely fucking great, with big hoss daddies doing flippy boy things and also trying to kill each other. I loved this, I need to see more of this and feel that it was a must see match with a tremendous sense of urgency and great pacing; it never slowed in a bad way and felt like a big time match.

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7. From (2019) NXT Takeover New York: Pete Dunne vs. WALTER [****½]: And the near 700-day title run of Dunne ends as the Big Fucking Daddy WALTER takes the crown. This was really excellent, and completely different than anything else on the show so far. Dunne asked for WALTER and he got all of the Big Daddy and more here. This was raw, violent, hard-hitting and felt like a fight. This was the right time, right guy, and right kind of match to finally make the title change. The king is dead, long live the king.

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6. From (2019) WrestleMania 35: Daniel Bryan vs. Kofi Kingston [****½]: This was really excellent, with Bryan being a great heel and technician, torturing Kofi, while Kofi was a great resilient babyface that had the crowd living and dying with him. It was a great and emotional result and culmination of a journey for a guy that’s worked really hard over the years. Sometimes the story telling is just so good and reminds you why you love the wrestling. This really felt special. Wrestling is pretty easy when you create characters fans can invest in, give them clear goals with stakes, and they tell the story.

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5. From (2019) ROH/NJPW G1 Supercard: Kota Ibushi vs. Tetsuya Naito [****¾]: The chemistry between these two remains unreal and they killed it again. Ibushi finally wins gold in an amazing match with a molten crowd. This was exactly the kind of high caliber/phenomenal match that the show needed, and more importantly, it was the major win that Ibushi needed to be seen at that next level. People know that he’s a great wrestler, but he needed that major title win to not only live up to his Gods in Tanahashi & Nakamura, but to finally bee seen at that that main event level. Naito doesn’t need the title and I was thrilled to see they didn’t go 50/50 with the booking here.

4. From (2017) ROH Supercard of Honor: ROH Tag Team Ladder Match: The Young Bucks vs. Matt and Jeff Hardy [****¾]: We get “fuck that owl” chants. The Hardys deleted the superkick titles and tossed them to the floor, which led to the big brawl to begin as Matt bites Nick. They Hardy’s were rolling, but the Bucks cut them of with superkicks. They double teamed Jeff, and then worked over Matt. But the Hardys quickly fought back, hit twists of fate and went after ladders, but the Bucks battles back and wiped them out with dives. The Bucks tried to climb, but the Hardys cut them off and they paired off in the corners. The Hardys then whipped the Bucks into the ladder in the corner, set up another and they climbed, but Mat Jackson stopped that noise but ate a ladder shot from Jeff, and was sent through a table. The Hardys set up a ladder teeter-totter, Nick fought of the Hardys, but Matt hit Matt Jackson with a crucifix bomb. Jeff crotched Nick and sent him to the floor. Superkick by Matt Jackson to Jeff, and Nick flew in and used the teeter-totter to wipe out Jeff. Nick then hit a 450 to the floor to put Jeff through a table.

The Bucks set up ladders, but Matt Hardy returned and fought with Matt Jackson; they traded strikes and the Bucks then pulled Matt off into the corner powerbomb. They laid Matt on a bridging ladder Nick cut off Jeff but Matt Hardy tossed him off the top. The Hardys then suplexed Nick through a ladder, DELIGHTFUL! The Hardys looked to climb, got cut off and Matt Jackson attacked with ladder shots, and planted Jeff on the apron with a springboard DDT. Superkicks to Jeff, he’s laid on a table and Matt Jackson looks to climb, but Matt Hardy cuts him off. Nick and Matt Hardy climb. Matt shoves over the ladder, so he steps onto the second one, and that topples so he steps off the top rope and puts Jeff through that table with the swanton. Sweet baby Christ. The Matts brawl atop the ladder, which topples over and they fall onto the ropes. They all brawl on top of the ladder, it breaks down to Jeff and Matt Jackson but Nick arrives to help and they do a double down but Matt Hardy bites the foot on matt Jackson, who is then sent off the ladder and through a table.

HE DEAD. As Matt Hardy climbs, Nick springboards in onto the ladder, but the Hardys cut him off and double team him. Nick lays in kicks, superkicks and then runs wild, as he has to fight by himself. Jeff goes for whisper in the wind, Matt is back and the Bucks kill Jeff with superkick as he flies in with whisper in the wind. Matt Jackson and Jeff both get tossed over the trop and through tables; Matt then hits the side effect on Nick through tables! WHAT IN THE FUCK IS THIS? They all climb back into the ring, slowly climb and brawl on top of the ladder; superkicks to the Hardys and the Bucks regain their titles. The Hardys short ROH run was fucking great, with a very good match at Manhattan Mayhem with the Bucks, a good TV match with the Briscoes on ROH TV, the awesome street fight with the Bucks and Roppongi Vice, helping to draw this huge crowd in Florida and then, one last time, taking a trip in the way back machine to recapture some of their old magic in this match. This had all of the wild and crazy spots you’d hope for, some great drama and the Hardys pulling off another big time performance, and the Bucks doing everything in their power to help them do so. This was four guys, killing themselves for 25-minutes to steal the show, and the weekend….

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3. From (2018) NXT Takeover: New Orleans – NXT North American Title Ladder Match: EC3 vs. Adam Cole vs. Velveteen Dream vs. Lars Sullivan vs. Killian Dane vs. Ricochet [****¾]: While there is only one winner here, the best part about a ladder match like this is that no one person takes a loss. While your winner obviously gets elevated, and in this case wins a championship, if you properly book and lay out the match, you can make everyone look good and get stars over big time. This diverse lineup, in front of a traditionally hot Takeover crowd, was the perfect place to do that. The match not only gave us the first NXT North American champion, but was also the first step in a new division for the NXT brand. You had monsters (Dain & Lars), a gifted highflier (Ricochet), an up and comer (Dream), a returning star (EC3), and a guy NXT sees a lot in (Cole). I had to review ROH first tonight so that we had live coverage of both shows, and had just watched a pretty awesome ladder match. I loved the ROH ladder match, it was excellent and insane, but the booking of that match (interference bullshit) really held it back. I absolutely loved this match, the monsters did monster things, Ricochet got to do Ricochet things in WWE (which still feels wild), Cole continues to thrive in gimmick matches, Dream got to shine once again as he continues to grow as a performer, and EC3 felt right at home in his WWE return. I thought that they played to the stipulation extremely well, save us some spectacular and memorable spots and delivered one of the best matches of the Mania weekend and 2018 as a whole. Once they realized that they kept cutting each other off, they essentially went murder death kill in order to try and win. We have a new champion, everyone looked great and is now more over after that match and it was simply awesome stuff; mission accomplished. The match was everything I wanted, and way much more. When all is said and done, this may end up as one of the best PPV openers in WWE history.

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2. From (2019) NXT Takeover New York: Johnny Gargano vs. Adam Cole [*****]: While he didn’t get to beat Ciampa, Gargano finally completed his journey and won the title, overcoming the odds, the numbers and again, solidifying his place as Mr. Takeover. This crowd was amazing and added so much to the match, and while I tend not to like the run-ins and ref bumps, they saved it to the end, and most importantly, Gargano overcame it to complete the journey and fulfill his underdog story. I thought that this was an overall incredible match and a great culmination to Gargano’s journey and featured an absolutely tremendous effort from both men. It’s not always about the moves or the story so much, of course it helps, but when you have a crowd that hot and emotionally invested, it’s an absolute triumph.

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1. From (2018) NXT Takeover: New Orleans – Unsanctioned Match: Tommaso Ciampa vs. Johnny Gargano [*****]: I think that it’s absolutely possible to have excellent matches based purely on skill and ring work as long as you can make the crowd hot for the action, but I think to achieve pure greatness, you need to have a great story and emotional hook. So far the best matches (in my opinion) this year are Gargano vs. Almas & Golden Lovers vs. The Bucks. They were both amazing pieces of in ring work, truly excellent; but they both had back-stories and took you on a pure emotional journey during that excellent in ring work. Ciampa & Gargano had that back-story, a friend betraying a friend, ruining his life at every turn and trying to take his career from him in the process. Ciampa was a pure bastard, the heel with no redeeming qualities, while Gargano is not only the hero, he’s the chosen man of the people. Ciampa coming out to no music and simply basking in the heel heat was a tremendous call. Both guys are in great shape, maybe the best of their careers; Ciampa looks like he hasn’t even looked at a carb in 12 months. They had a great stare down and immediately went crazy fists. They didn’t fuck around as Gargano ran wild and was a man possessed. They immediately set the right tone for the match, which is vital when working a stipulation like this for such a heated feud, so many matches like this lack that. I have said it numerous times, but Gargano is such an amazing babyface, and his work to start off was so great, not only looking for revenge, but to also win and get back into NXT. Ciampa’s ruthlessness played perfectly against Gargano, as he was purely looking to hurt Gargano and make his life even more miserable than he’s already made it. The work here was absolutely tremendous, completely filled with hate from both men. They captured the tone perfectly, a credit to both men as they fed off of the crowd, who was awesome here, and completely into the action and story. The sick look from Ciampa as he stole crutches from a fan was amazing, and his attempt to use them was a great call back to his previous attacks on Gargano. It’s those little things that add so much. The crowd willing Gargano to fight and chanting “you deserve it” when Gargano powerbombed Ciampa to the floor was amazing, they not only wanted Gargano to overcome and win, they wanted that bastard Ciampa to pay for his sins. Gargano getting payback with the crutch shots and the reaction to that was further proof. Ciampa calling back to the DIY finish was tremendous, he’s just a pure asshole, and there is nothing likeable about the man from a character standpoint. The spot with the wrist tape, both men holding on as they traded strikes, signifying their link together, was a tremendous visual. The near fall on the super project Ciampa was amazing. The home stretch was just amazing, with great near falls and drama; the crowd was locked in and reacting to every thing like it mattered so mush, it’s amazing that when you tell great stories and let great wrestler do their thing that this happens. And yet after all of this, after all Ciampa had done, and with Ciampa prone to attack, Gargano had the crutch but pulled up, giving his former friend one last chance to repent and make things right. Gargano even sat by him like in the CWC, but Ciampa was a bastard and Gargano used the knee brace and locked in an STF, getting revenge and winning his way back into NXT. This was amazing, it was everything I thought it could and hoped it would be. And was easily worth staying up to 5 AM to watch, and it never felt long to me. I love my fucking job.

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The 411 on Wrestling Podcast returns to the 411 Podcasting Network for episode 101. On the show, 411’s Larry Csonka & Steve Cook look back at WrestleMania X7, the Raw the night after and then Kevin Pantoja joins to discuss ECW Guilty as Charged 2001. The show is approximately 138-mimues long.

* Intro
* WWE WrestleMania X7 Review: 7:30
* WWE Monday Night Raw Review 4.02.01: 53:55
* ECW Guilty as Charged 2001 Review: 1:23:27

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– End Scene.

– Thanks for reading.