By Graham "GSM" Matthews
First and foremost, Happy Independence Day, folks! In the eight years I have been a wrestling fan, wrestling has often been associated with this holiday for me. Then again, it's hard for it not to be when there's a wrestling show on almost every day of the week nowadays, so every year there's a pretty good chance a wrestling show will be held on the Fourth of July.
Tonight will be no different as we are only hours away (as I write this) from a special holiday edition of Monday Night Raw, which is bound to feature campy cookouts and other Independence Day-themed trash. Regardless, I'll enjoy it because that's just the type of fan I am. The holiday has hosted many memorable matches for me over the years, so this list will look at my five favorite matchups to take place on the most patriotic day of the year since 2008.
5. The Miz vs. Alex Riley (Raw, 2011)
When Fourth of July emanated on a Monday in 2011, meaning Raw would air that night, I had a number of reasons to not watch live. For one thing, the show had been taped immediately after CM Punk's famous "pipebomb" promo on June 27th because the roster was set to tour Austrailia and wouldn't be around for Independence Day. Also at that time, I was on vacation on Jersey Shore, so I had an excuse to not watch that evening.
Nevertheless, I raced back on the boardwalk to the hotel room, only to find my brother and his friend watching South Park. I was furious, but he eventually handed me the remote and I turned on Raw. Sure, I had missed the first 30 minutes of the show, but I knew if I didn't watch it then, it would be another few days before I could when I returned home. At any rate, I watched the episode, and while nothing of note truly happened, I did enjoy the Capitol Punishment rematch between The Miz and Alex Riley.
Riley was determined to prove his initial victory over The Awesome One wasn't a fluke, and with one quick roll-up, he was successful in doing just that. Miz lashed out on his former protege afterward and eventually earned his win back a few weeks later before sending him back into irrelevancy.
4. Matt Hardy vs. Chavo Guerrero vs. Mr. Kennedy vs. Shelton Benjamin - United States Championship Fatal 4-Way Match (SmackDown, 2008)
I left on a trip to Australia only days before the Fourth of the July in 2008, so I spent the holiday down under. This was when I didn't own a laptop and had limited access to the internet, so I couldn't catch up on all the wrestling I missed until I was back in the United States... three weeks later. Despite being late to the party, I thoroughly enjoyed this Fatal 4-Way for the United States Championship, which was billed as a Fatal Fourth of July match. Brilliant!
Earlier in the week, Matt Hardy retained the title against Chavo Guerrero at Night of Champions, but the Mexican Warrior somehow earned another shot at the strap days later on SmackDown (likely due to his aunt Vickie Guerrero being the general manager of the blue brand back then). He wasn't the only one, however, as SmackDown's newest stars Mr. Kennedy and Shelton Benjamin, who were sent packing to Friday nights in the annual WWE Draft, were included as well.
All four men were hungry to come out on top with the star-spangled prize in their possession, and remember, Hardy didn't need to be pinned in order to lose the title. There were rapid-fire pinfall attempts and exciting action abound, but amidst the chaos, Hardy emerged victorious with his title intact.
3. Neville vs. Chris Jericho (The Beast in the East, 2015)
The Beast in the East, a WWE Network live special that emanated from Tokyo, was such a fantastic idea. Raw and SmackDown had hailed from the land of the rising sun before, but never live. And when better than on the Fourth of July? Okay, so WWE holding a live event in Japan on Independence Day was ironic, but because it aired so early in the morning, people could wake up and watch it when they wanted. That was the case for me as I had just gotten back from vacation on Friday night, woke up around ten the next morning, and immediately logged into my WWE Network account to catch up on what I missed.
Before returning at the onset of 2016, Chris Jericho was not at all a full-time performer for WWE in 2015. He did a string of house shows throughout the year and made a one-off appearance at Night of Champions, but that was about it with the exception of his encounter with Neville at The Beast in the East. The former Lionheart cut his teeth in Japan when he first broke into the business, so it was fitting for him to be a part of a major milestone for WWE and the Network.
Needless to say, he had an excellent opponent in Neville as well, who he had never faced off with prior to that point. They had no problem finding instant in-ring chemistry together as their styles gelled perfectly and they produced a phenomenal matchup. A Codebreaker out of nowhere wasn't enough to put the NXT upstart away, but a blocked Red Arrow reversed into a vicious Liontamer was to secure Y2J the win.
2. Austin Aries vs. Chris Sabin vs. Manik - X-Division Championship Triple Threat Match (TNA Impact Wrestling, 2013)
For whatever reason, I did not watch TNA Impact Wrestling live on the Fourth of July in 2013. Most people wouldn't, I know, but I'm not an ordinary viewer. I believe it was because I was busy spending time with the family or watching the fireworks or something along those lines. Either way, watching it back was one of the first things I did the next day, and I was very glad I did.
A majority of the episode featured throwaway segments and Bound for Glory Series matches (remember those?), but it was the main event that had me intrigued. This was a confusing angle, but I'll do my best to recap it. The week before, Suicide won the X-Division Championship in a Triple Threat match also involving defending champion Chris Sabin and former champion Kenny King. But it was soon revealed that Austin Aries, not TJ Perkins, had been under the mask during the match, so he was crowned the new champion.
This led to a loaded Triple Threat match between Aries, Sabin and Suicide (who was renamed as Manik) next week on the holiday edition of Impact Wrestling, and although it started out slow, they picked up the pace once Manik was taken out of the equation by the Aces and Eights.
The stakes were at an all-time high because the winner would cash in the championship in two week's time for an opportunity at the TNA World Heavyweight Championship at Destination X (a la Option C), so Sabin and Aries pulled everything out of their respective arsenals to put the other away. It was an extremely exciting affair that concluded with Sabin hitting the Hail Sabin off the top rope in an impressive fashion for his record-tying sixth X-Division title.
1. Kevin Owens vs. Finn Balor - NXT Championship Match (The Beast in the East, 2015)
As noted, The Beast in the East was one of my favorite wrestling events of 2015. In addition to an entertaining opener between Neville and Chris Jericho, Brock Lesnar made a special appearance against Kofi Kingston and John Cena and Dolph Ziggled teamed up in tag action. But the real main event was Kevin Owens vs. Finn Balor for the NXT Championship. This wasn't their premier outing in WWE as Owens beat Balor to retain his title earlier on in the year on a March episode of NXT, but he had yet to conquer his alter-ego, The Demon.
In the weeks leading up to the live special, a four-part series aired on Balor, looking at his road to success in wrestling and how much it meant to him to contend for the NXT title in his home of Japan. For some, that telegraphed the finish to the match, but it didn't matter in the slightest. There was just something about the atmosphere that gave the bout a big fight feel, and both combatants being presented with flowers before the bell rang (a Japanese tradition) was a nice touch (though Owens did toss his to ringside which was hilarious).
There were several points where I honestly thought Owens had the match won, especially after he kicked out of Balor's patented Coup de Grace. Feeding off the energy of his faithful fans in the audience, Balor prevailed with another Coup de Grace for his first NXT Championship. And thus, the reign of The Demon was underway.
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