All wrestling fans have a mental list of some of their all-time favorite matches. But what exactly makes a match so special and so memorable? Is it the Superstars who are in the match? Is it the type of match that it is? Are title matches more exciting than non-title matches? All great matches have at least one stand-out moment in them. Perhaps the most iconic match moment of all time was at WrestleMania 3 when Hulk Hogan bodyslammed Andre the Giant.
For me personally, I've always enjoyed matches where the performers displayed tremendous fighting spirit. The term "fighting spirit" could be interpreted in many ways, but to me, fighting spirit is when a competitor continues to wage war against his opponent, even after sustaining incredible punishment. If I may steal a line from the 2006 movie Rocky Balboa, "It ain't about how hard you hit. It's about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward."
I've assembled a list of match moments - just off the top of my head from memory - where the competitors in the ring showed tremendous fighting spirit. There might be other matches that you can think of that won't be on this list. Admittedly, most of these moments will just be from WWE and not any other wrestling promotions. This is just a list of some of my favorite fighting spirit moments in wrestling.
5. Masato Tanaka Has the Heart of a Samurai
ECW One Night Stand Reunion Pay-Per-View, June 12, 2005
In late 2004, WWE produced a DVD documentary called The Rise & Fall of ECW. At that time, it became the highest-selling WWE DVD of all time and is still one of the highest-selling WWE DVDs of all time. Many wrestling fans were still feeling nostalgic and wanted to relive the old days when WWE still had competition in the form of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). Both WCW and ECW went out of business in 2001 and WWE used both brands for the infamous "Invasion" storyline that dominated the majority of 2001. After the Invasion was over, WWE stood tall as the unopposed, dominant force in American professional wrestling. They had also acquired extensive video libraries from WCW and ECW, as well as various trademarks and talent contracts.
Still though, whenever ECW alumni would appear on WWE programming, especially if they were facing off against each other, fans would inevitably start an "ECW!" chant. The Rise & Fall of ECW only brought back fond memories for fans who followed ECW, and also introduced new fans to an "Extreme" product that they hadn't seen when it was still in operation.
In June of 2005, WWE responded to the ECW chants. WWE produced what was labeled as a "one night only" revival of ECW. ECW One Night Stand took place on June 12th, 2005 from the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City.
The card was stacked from top to bottom and many fans were pleased with the entire show. But arguably the best match of the night was a battle between two longtime rivals and former ECW World Heavyweight Champions Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka. Longtime ECW fans were well aware of the legendary rivalry between Awesome and Tanaka. This was a truly nostalgic match for the ECW fans. It was also probably the best match that Awesome and Tanaka ever had against each other.
This match epitomized what ECW was all about. Hard-hitting, smash-mouth, entertaining, and downright violent. There were countless chair shots, mostly to the head. Unfortunately for Masato Tanaka, he endured the majority of these violent attacks. However, Masato Tanaka demonstrated true fighting spirit against his longtime nemesis, the 6'6" and 300-pound brute known as Mike Awesome. No matter how many times Awesome hit Tanaka with a chair, the Japanese warrior continued to rise to his feet and bring the fight to Mike Awesome. Tanaka absolutely refused to taste defeat at the hands of his rival.
Awesome and Tanaka beat the living hell out of each other throughout this match until Awesome finally gave Tanaka an Awesome Bomb over the top rope and through a table outside of the ring. Awesome then followed up with a Splash over the top rope and pinned Tanaka outside of the ring in the broken remains of the wooden table. Both men received a standing ovation from the appreciative ECW fans in the Hammerstein Ballroom.
4. "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan Hulks Up on The Rock
WWE WrestleMania 18, March 17, 2002
At the time, this was labeled as being the biggest match of all time. The legendary and iconic "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan vs. the young lion in the prime of his career, The Rock. Two larger-than-life WWE Superstars. A match that many people thought could never and would never happen. The very definition of a fantasy match-up.
Heading into WrestleMania 18, WWE did all they could to make "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan look like a truly sadistic heel. Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash had all returned to WWE together as the New World Order (nWo) and were running roughshod over WWE, much like they had done during their time in WCW. One night on Monday Night Raw, the nWo brutalized The Rock and even went as far as hitting him in the back of the head with a hammer. The Rock was put in an ambulance and was on his way to the hospital when Hogan stopped the ambulance with a semi-truck. After scaring away the EMTs, Hogan backed the semi-truck up as Hall and Nash looked on, knowing what Hogan was about to do. Hogan then sped the semi up as fast as he could and rammed it right into the ambulance with The Rock inside. Hogan rammed the ambulance multiple times before he and Hall and Nash finally took off in their car.
Even after committing such heinous acts, the live crowd in the SkyDome in Toronto, Ontario, Canada simply refused to boo Hulk Hogan at WrestleMania 18. Many of the 68,000 fans in attendance were firmly behind Hogan and were booing The Rock, even though Hogan was clearly intended to be the heel (bad guy) and Rock was clearly intended to be the babyface (good guy). At one point in the match, The Rock delivered a Rock Bottom on Hogan. It appeared as though this might be the end of the match, but "Hollywood" kicked out and proceeded to Hulk Up on The Rock. Hogan had temporarily transformed from "Hollywood" Hogan back to Hulk Hogan as he found a second wind and pointed his finger at The Rock. The live crowd shouted "YOU!" in unison as Jim Ross simply said on commentary, "Oh my God." Hogan gave The Rock three massive punches to the face, Irish Whipped him into the ropes, and gave him a Big Boot to the face. He then delivered a devastating Running Leg Drop and pinned The Rock for a shocking two-count. Many of the fans in attendance were expecting Hogan to win with the Leg Drop, but The Rock kicked out.
Shortly after Hogan's Leg Drop, The Rock delivered another Rock Bottom, followed by The People's Elbow. He pinned Hogan for a three-count and the epic encounter was finally over.
3. The Light of Shawn Michaels vs. The Darkness of The Undertaker
WWE WrestleMania 25, April 5, 2009
Many fans agree that this was the greatest and most perfectly executed match in the history of WrestleMania. The build-up before the match was so simple, yet so deep. Two WWE legends. Two incredible performers. Two polar opposites. Two completely different lifestyles. Shawn Michaels: The Warrior of God vs. The Undertaker: The Demon of Death Valley.
The entire match was nothing short of spectacular from start to finish. Both Superstars seemed to be evenly matched. Neither man seemed to have a decisive advantage over the other. Signature maneuvers were exchanged: Flying Elbow Drops, Chokeslams, Last Ride Powerbombs, Sweet Chin Music Superkicks, and indeed, Tombstone Piledrivers.
About halfway into the match, The Undertaker delivered a perfect Tombstone Piledriver on Shawn Michaels. It had already been a great match. Both men were physically exhausted. By all rights the match should have been over. The Undertaker pinned Shawn Michaels right in the middle of the ring. The referee counted 1... 2... Shawn Michaels kicked out of the Tombstone Piledriver. Michaels did the unthinkable. He kicked out of a perfect Tombstone with the referee being fully coherent. Jim Ross's reaction on commentary was legendary: "I AM NOT BELIEVING THIS! I JUST HAD AN OUT-OF-BODY EXPERIENCE!"
After the Tombstone Piledriver, Michaels and The Undertaker continued to battle for a while longer until finally Undertaker caught Shawn in midair when Shawn was trying to deliver a Moonsault. The Undertaker gave Shawn Michaels a second Tombstone Piledriver which finally kept "The Heartbreak Kid" down for a three-count.
2. The Undertaker Will Not Die
WWE WrestleMania 27, April 3, 2011
At WrestleMania 26 in 2010, The Undertaker went 18-0 at WrestleMania by defeating "The Heartbreak Kid" Shawn Michaels in a Streak vs. Career Match. The Undertaker put an end to what was quite possibly the greatest career in WWE history. Heading into WrestleMania 27, Shawn Michaels's longtime friend Triple H was looking to exact revenge against The Undertaker for ending Shawn's amazing career. Triple H and The Undertaker squared off in a No Holds Barred Match at WrestleMania 27. It was one of the most brutal, physical, hard-hitting matches in WrestleMania history. Both of these legendary warriors gave it their all, but Triple H did seem to control the majority of the match. Towards the end of the match, he was absolutely pulverizing The Undertaker. He gave him several Pedigrees and even delivered a sickening steel chair shot to Undertaker's head. But the "Dead Man" refused to stay down.
The Undertaker was visibly shaken after the chair shot. It was extremely difficult for him to get up, but when he finally did, he found himself being turned upside down. Triple H gave The Undertaker his own Tombstone Piledriver. He drove Undertaker's head into the mat with nothing but pure malice. It truly appeared as though the match and The Undertaker's Streak were both over. The live crowd was expecting a three-count. Jim Ross's voice on commentary was somber. The referee counted 1... 2... a kick-out from The Undertaker. The Undertaker kicked out of his own Tombstone Piledriver after being absolutely destroyed by Triple H. The match should have been over after the Tombstone. Nobody should have kicked out after taking such severe damage. But The Undertaker's pride would not allow him to accept defeat. In the final moments of the match, Triple H was attempting to hit Undertaker with a sledgehammer, but "The Phenom" caught Triple H in the deadly Hell's Gate submission hold. After what seemed like hours of being locked in the submission, Triple H finally had no choice but to tap out. The Undertaker went to 19-0 at WrestleMania.
1. Mick Foley Is Unbreakable
WWE King of the Ring, June 28, 1998
It's widely considered to be the most legendary and infamous Hell in a Cell Match of all time. It was quite possibly THE defining moment of WWE's Attitude Era. Mick Foley, then known as Mankind, squared off against The Undertaker in the demonic structure known as Hell in a Cell. They didn't even start the match inside the Cell. Mankind and The Undertaker climbed on top of the Cell and started brawling on the roof of the cage. After a short time, The Undertaker ended up throwing Mankind off the roof of the Cell and through a commentators' table down below. It was scary. It was shocking. It felt too real. And yet that wasn't even the halfway point of the match. Mick Foley eventually got up and continued to fight The Undertaker, only to be Chokeslammed through the roof of the Cell into the ring below. Mick Foley took not just one, but TWO career-threatening and life-threatening falls during the course of this match. And yet he continued to get up and fight until The Undertaker finally put him out of misery with a Tombstone Piledriver. Although nobody is truly invincible, Mick Foley proved to be physically and mentally unbreakable on this night.
This was also a pivotal moment in the legendary "Monday Night Wars" between WWE and their longtime rival, World Championship Wrestling. Both companies were engaged in a fight to the death to determine who would reign supreme as the Number 1 promotion in all of professional wrestling/sports-entertainment. WWE had an extremely passionate talent roster, but perhaps no other Superstar was willing to give and to sacrifice as much as Mick Foley.
What did you think of this list? Were some of your favorite fighting spirit moments included? What other match moments can you think of that you would put in your Top 5? Share your thoughts with us! You can give us your thoughts in the comment section below, and you can also share your thoughts with this article's Facebook and Twitter links: