In honor of RAW 25, here are the 25 greatest matches in the history of WWE’s flagship show.
25. Trish Stratus vs. Lita, December 6, 2004
Often mistaken as the first women’s main event on Raw (Lita vs. Stephanie preceded it by four years), this highly anticipated championship bout pitted arch rivals hellbent on stealing the show. Within a couple minutes, that show almost stopped as Lita nearly broke her neck on a suicide dive. Miraculously, she carried on as Stratus went after the bullseye, even using her faceguard as a weapon. Ultimately, Lita threw caution to the wind and hit a moonsault to capture the title in front of her hometown North Cackalacky crowd.
24. Ric Flair vs. Mr. Perfect, January 25, 1993
WWE wasn’t big enough for the egos of Mr. Perfect and the Nature Boy, so after the best buddies broke up, it was only a matter of time before somebody had to go. This was such a high stakes battle that even funnyman Rob Bartlett knew to keep quiet and let the professionals (Heenan and McMahon) handle the action. In the first marquee matchup in Raw history, Flair and Perfect went old-school, drawing blood in a rare sight. Despite the Dirtiest Player in the Game using every trick in the book, Perfect capitalized on one mistake to secure the victory. The Brain’s profanity-laced tirade at Flair’s loss and forced departure is the cherry on top.
23. Owen Hart vs. 123 Kid, August 15, 1994
One month after Kid’s classic match with Bret, Owen wanted to prove that anything his brother could do, he could do better. While he failed in that regard, the King of Harts still had a terrific bout with the underdog, maintaining a breakneck pace while delivering mindblowing moves like a suplex off the apron and onto the arena floor. Owen targeted Kid’s low back, working his way toward a Sharpshooter, but Kid battled back and focused on Owen’s knee. Unfortunately, the Anvil interfered, saving his brother-in-law from further damage.
22. Quebecers vs. 123 Kid & Marty Jannetty, January 10, 1994
On Raw’s one year anniversary, the Richmond, Virginia crowd was red hot as the makeshift pair of Kid and Jannetty challenged the WWE Tag Team Champions. Criminally underrated, Jacques and Pierre unleashed a flurry of innovative double-team maneuvers that Kid sold expertly well. Now the Quebecers were already scheduled to defend their titles against the Hart Brothers at the Royal Rumble, so nobody expected the titles to change hands. Of course, anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation!
21. Randy Orton vs. Daniel Bryan, June 24, 2013
Obsessed with shedding his image as Team Hell No’s “weak link,” Daniel Bryan adapted to the hardcore style, battling Randy Orton in a fan-voted street fight. With their match stopped due to injury the week before, Bryan was hellbent on taking advantage of no rules, propelling his body like a missile all over the arena. The Viper was willing to oblige, smacking Bryan with a steel chair and beating him with a kendo stick like a furry piñata. In an innovative finish, Bryan used the kendo stick in the No Lock, leaving Orton with no option but submission.
20. Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks, November 28, 2016
In the heart of Flair Country, Charlotte defended the Raw Women’s Championship against her arch rival in a Falls Count Anywhere match. It wasn’t the first women’s main event on Raw, but it was certainly the best. Sasha and Charlotte went hardcore, bashing each other with a kendo stick and brawling into the crowd. In one of the sickest finishes ever, Charlotte was forced to submit after being trapped in the Bank Statement between the handrail.
19. Triple H vs. Chris Jericho, April 17, 2000
After insulting Stephanie McMahon with his laundry list of slut-shaming remarks, Jericho was challenged by Triple H, avenging his wife’s good name. Y2J took advantage of the opportunity, convincing Triple H to put the WWE Championship on the line, and then revealing he hired the APA’s services for the evening. The decent back-and-forth battle was elevated by the molten hot Penn State crowd, hanging on Jericho’s every move. After the referee was knocked out, Earl Hebner ran in to take over, prompting a furious Triple H to shove the senior official on his ass. The controversial finishing sequence elicited one of the biggest pops ever.
18. The Shield vs. Rhodes Brothers, October 14, 2013
Back when The Shield was The Authority’s mercenaries, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns defended the Tag Team Titles against Cody and Goldust. Tensions were high after the brothers won their jobs back, and now had the opportunity to win the gold; however, it was No Disqualification, allowing Ambrose to interfere. Easily Cody’s greatest match to this point, he and his big brother went balls out against the power and speed combo of Rollins and Reigns. Near fall after near fall had the crowd gasping until Reigns speared Goldust through the barricade. The numbers game was then evened when the Big Show emerged out of the crowd to dismantle all three Shield members.
17. Ric Flair vs. Edge, January 16, 2006
We never thought we’d see the day of Ric Flair in a TLC, but by God, the Nature Boy gave it one helluva shot in Raleigh, North Carolina. It was a gory mess in Flair Country as Edge busted open Naitch, then leapt off a ladder in the ring, splashing Flair through a table on the outside. Charlotte pleaded with her dad to get up, only for the resilient 16-time world champion to be superplexed off the ladder inside the ring. This brawl isn’t for the weak at heart.
16. Hakushi vs. Bret Hart, July 24, 1995
A hidden gem in 1995, Bret Hart’s feud with Hakushi culminated in this back-and-forth barnburner. In his autobiography, Hart wrote that he had hoped this match would make the Japanese sensation relevant again, and by God, this was a valiant effort. Hakushi took control and curbed The Hitman’s momentum, cutting off every comeback with mesmerizing maneuvers like a Space Flying Tiger Drop. However, the Human Kamikaze took one risk too many, leaving Hart to capitalize with a Sharpshooter.
15. Ric Flair vs. Triple H, May 19, 2003
Despite being thick as thieves during this era, Triple H decided to grant his mentor a title shot, thinking that Flair would lay down for The Game. Throughout the night, Flair contemplated what he should do as Shawn Michaels massaged his ego, telling him not to throw his legacy away. By match time, the Nature Boy was stylin and profiling in the heart of Flair Country, as Greenville, South Carolina rallied behind the 16-time world champion. Flair took the fight to Triple H, chopping the shit out of him and attacking his bruised ribs. Whenever the champion took control, Flair would poke an eye or go low, living up to his moniker as the Dirtiest Player in the Game. It’s tough to find a more emotional match in the history of Raw.
14. Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit, June 11, 2001
Two of all the time greats ended their 2001 feud (it would become a rivalry by 2003) inside a steel cage. Stone Cold joined the announce team for this one, getting a closer view of Benoit before their triple threat at King of the Ring. Angle and Benoit tore into each other with a variety of suplexes, strikes and more suplexes, before two death-defying moves from the top of the cage: Angle crashed and burned on a moonsault, and Benoit connected with a 15-foot flying headbutt.
13. Jeff Hardy vs. Undertaker, July 1, 2002
The Passion of Jeff Hardy commenced as Undertaker skewered the daredevil with a ladder, aiming to inflict punishment rather than retain his WWE Championship. However, the Rainbow Haired Warrior fought back, dishing out as much abuse as he received, giving the fans a few moments to believe he’d pull off the upset. Although the Deadman was victorious in his first ladder match, it was Hardy who came out stronger than ever, proving to not only Undertaker, but also the world that he was main event talent.
12. Shawn Michaels vs. Marty Jannetty, May 17, 1993
After Jannetty surprised New York City by emerging from the crowd to challenge his ex-partner for the Intercontinental Championship, the fans were on high alert that anything could happen, especially a rare title change. Exacting revenge from The Barbershop incident in 1991 and a failed attempt to win the title at the Royal Rumble, Jannetty battered Michaels from pillar to post, knocking him out of the ring. As the Heartbreak Kid gained the upper hand, Mr. Perfect came out for a closer view, distracting the cocky champion. It was a fast-paced, thrilling bout that not only played off storylines involving the three characters, but also illustrated the amazing chemistry between the Rockers as both partners as well as opponents.
11. Cesaro vs. John Cena, February 17, 2014
It’s a shame that Vince McMahon didn’t catapult Cesaro to the main event scene after this impressive performance, as the Swiss Superman took Super Cena to his limit. In a rare occurrence, Cesaro actually overpowered Cena, cutting off every comeback with a flurry of hard-hitting maneuvers. They had a rematch a year later for the U.S. Title that fans rave about, but most of the spots in that bout were first seen here.
10. Eddie Guerrero vs. Rob Van Dam, May 27, 2002
In one of the greatest ladder matches ever, Guerrero defended the Intercontinental Championship against former champ and fellow high-flyer RVD. These two veterans let it all hang out, performing death-defying stunts while incorporating time-tested psychology such as targeting the leg. After all, if he can’t stand, he can’t climb! Latino Heat proved that he belonged back in WWE after his forced sabbatical to get clean and sober, and Mr. Monday Night cemented his status as the highlight of Raw.
9. Owen Hart & British Bulldog vs. Stone Cold & Shawn Michaels, May 26, 1997
Unlikely partners and future WrestleMania opponents, Austin and Michaels teamed up to face a common enemy: The Hart Foundation. In HBK’s first match in four months, he showed why he’s the Showstopper, flying around the ring with no sign of ring rust. After Bulldog and Owen pulled out every dirty tactic to isolate Michaels and gain the advantage on Austin, distracting the ref proved to be their downfall, as the illegal man hit Sweet Chin Music on Bulldog, allowing Austin to make the pin.
8. Too Cool, The Rock & Cactus Jack vs. Triple H, X-Pac & Radicalz, February 7, 2000
As The Rock and Cactus Jack dashed into the lion’s den of D-X and the freshly-turned Radicalz, Scotty, Grandmaster and Rikishi came out to even the score. Dallas went wild as Too Cool mowed through Benoit, Malenko and Saturn, giving everybody a chance to shine. Jack tagged in and immediately went after Triple H, ignoring the rules in his quest for carnage. Eventually all ten men went bonzo gonzo as Benoit picked up the win…only for the lights to go out. A spotlight emerged as Paul Bearer walked down the ramp with his Big Red Machine, who cleaned house in epic fashion.
7. John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels, April 23, 2007
A rematch from the WrestleMania 23 main event, Pro Wrestling Illustrated named this Match of the Year. In front of a traditionally raucous crowd in London, Cena and Michaels went almost 60 minutes in this non-title bout. This was the first time Cena fans had evidence that their boy could actually wrestle; of course, it helped that his dancing partner was Heartbreak Kid. They started slow, letting the crowd carry the fever pitch, and by the half hour point, Michaels turned up the heat, pulling out all the stops in his mission to prove he could beat the new lion.
6. CM Punk vs. John Cena, February 25, 2013
In their final match against each other, rivals CM Punk and John Cena tore the house down as they competed to face The Rock for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 29. The Straight Edge Superstar had Cena’s number for most of the match, countering every trademark move and submission. Of course, Super Cena wouldn’t stay down, bringing the best out of Punk as well. They kicked out of each other’s finishers, exchanged hold for hold and even busted out new moves (like Punk’s piledriver and Cena’s hurricanrana).
5. 123 Kid vs. Bret Hart, July 11, 1994
Before the bell rang, JR and Randy Savage said if the match lives up to 1% of its potential, it’s going to be one hell of a ride. I’d argue that it exceeded its potential, as 123 Kid took the WWE Champion to his limit in an incredible rollercoaster. On the surface, it’s two fan favorites competing for the gold, but the story lies much deeper as this was Kid’s chance of a lifetime to show he belonged in the ring with the best in the world. Early on, he proves he’s worthy as he outwrestles the Excellence of Execution, even sending Hart outside the ring with a spinning kick. However, the champion turned the tide, controlling the tempo and forcing the underdog to fight from underneath.
4. Stone Cold & Triple H vs. Chris Benoit & Chris Jericho, May 21, 2001
The demise of the Two Man Power Trip came at the hands of two Canadian warriors and terribly bad luck. In the early half of this old-school tag bout, Austin and HHH isolated Benoit, using every evil tactic to maintain the advantage and distract the referee. Once the Crippler made the hot tag to Jericho, the San Jose crowd came unglued. As Y2J locked Austin in the Walls, Triple H broke up the hold, tearing his quad in the process. With Herculean fortitude, HHH continued the match, even getting locked in the Walls on the announce table. Ultimately, those who lived by the sledgehammer, die by the sledgehammer, and new Tag Team Champions were crowned.
3. TLC IV, October 7, 2002
Mayhem. No other way to describe it. Four makeshift teams (Bubba & Spike Dudley, Jeff Hardy & RVD, Christian & Chris Jericho, Kane sans Hurricane) risked their lives with breathtaking falls and bone-crushing attacks in this human demolition derby. The unbelievable spots are too many to mention – this match is required viewing for every fan.
2. Owen Hart vs. British Bulldog, March 3, 1997
WWE Tag Team Champions and brothers-in-law collided in Berlin, Germany as Owen and Bulldog faced off in the finals of the European Championship tournament. Tensions had been high for weeks as Owen eliminated Bulldog in the Rumble, and both men fired Clarence Mason as their legal rep. This is a technical wrestling masterpiece as the partners exchange counter for counter, knowing each other’s next move. After both men held the ropes open for the other to re-enter the ring, Owen eventually ditched the sportsmanship and feigned a knee injury, luring Bulldog into a sneak attack. With the Germans fully behind Davey Boy, he hit his powerslam finish, but Owen kicked out. As Bulldog argued with the ref, Owen went for a victory roll ala WrestleMania X, but Davey Boy countered ala SummerSlam 92 for the victory.
1. Shelton Benjamin vs. Shawn Michaels, May 2, 2005
When people claim Michaels is the greatest in-ring performer, they point to his unmatched storytelling, his innate ability to make the most of his and his opponent’s talents. Exhibit A: this first-round (and first meeting) match in the Gold Rush tournament to name a number-one contender to the World Heavyweight Championship. Both men were faces with zero history together, but within a few seconds, fans were captivated by Benjamin outwrestling the veteran, who was visibly pissed off. That frustration boiled over into Michaels throwing the first strike, and from there the fight was on, culminating in the most exciting finish in Raw history.