We’re currently living in the WWE Network Era.
That’s what I call it, anyway. It’s hard to nail down where you are in history when you’re, you know, living it. But even if it had an official name, it would be easy to be oblivious to the WWE Network Era (February 2014-Present).
It’s not easy to remember a lot of it. Think about that. Over the last six-plus years, I guarantee you’ve seen countless classic matches. Unfortunately, you don’t remember any of them.
The current era of WWE is a lot like the Ant-Man movies. You know you saw them. And you know you liked them. But if you had to, could you actually tell me what happened?
Memorable moments have been in short supply in the WWE Network Era. But there’s been no shortage of classic matches. Here are five matches from the WWE Network Era you’ve already forgotten.
John Cena Vs. Bray Wyatt, Last Man Standing Match – Payback 2014
The Firefly Funhouse Match at WrestleMania 36 recently reminded us what a missed opportunity WrestleMania XXX was for Bray Wyatt.
Up until the debut of the Fiend, it was Wyatt’s defining moment in the WWE Network Era. A chance to make him a star, carelessly squandered in favor of “Cena Wins LOL” (Trademark WWE).
This was actually the rubber match of the feud, as Bray defeated Cena a month earlier at Extreme Rules. In an era of forgettable classics, is there anything more ignominious than getting a win back at freakin’ Extreme Rules?
But the Last Man Standing match at Payback from June of 2014 is a testament to brutal (albeit family-friendly and bloodless) action.
Cena picked up the win en route to getting murdered by Brock Lesnar at SummerSlam 2014. But Bray picked up a Pyrrhic victory, finally getting Cena to teeter ever so slightly toward his dark side.
Both men had better matches during the WWE Network Era. But this one deserves to be remembered more than it is.
AJ Styles (C) Vs. Dean Ambrose, TLC Match For The WWE Championship – TLC 2016
Ah, the WWE Championship reign of Dean Ambrose. It was terrible.
Well, maybe not terrible. There have definitely been worse title reigns during the WWE Network Era. But for as big a star as he was and as much momentum as he had, Ambrose’s title reign was carelessly bumbled.
And it didn’t help that Steve Austin buried him to his face on live television.
But his match with AJ Styles at TLC 2016 was an incredible contest. It was two of the best in the modern wrestling industry going one-on-one. Mere months after Styles beat Ambrose for the title at Backlash. And just weeks after defending against Ambrose and Cena at No Mercy.
The build to their TLC 2016 match wasn’t helped by a weird subplot involving James Ellsworth (speaking of unmemorable). But this match was incredible, even with Ellsworth involving himself. It kind of spelled the end of Ambrose as a viable main event player in WWE.
But things turned out okay for Ambrose, as he’d capture gold elsewhere. And in the meantime, he took part in one of the forgotten classics of the WWE Network Era.
Finn Balor Vs. Bray Wyatt Vs. Seth Rollins Vs. Samoa Joe Vs. Roman Reigns, Number One Contender’s Match – Extreme Rules 2017
So there’s a number of reasons no one remembers this match from the WWE Network Era.
For one thing, it’s a fatal five-way involving, well, these five. Throw a dart at a 2017 calendar, and you’ll hit a multi-man match involving some combination of Balor, Wyatt, Rollins, Joe, and Reigns.
We’ll get to the other big reason this match was forgotten later.
For what it was, this was an incredible main event. Balor, Rollins, and Joe performed as the indie and Ring Of Honor graduates they were. And Wyatt, though he’d been largely forgotten by WWE creative by this point, acquitted himself really well. But don’t ever let anybody tell you Roman Reigns can’t work a good match.
This was action-packed, but it wasn’t a complete and total car wreck. At the risk of channeling Bruce Prichard, it told a good story.
Unfortunately, the finish – which was the absolute right one – didn’t go anywhere. Samoa Joe knocked Balor out with the Coquina Clutch. Why is that unfortunate?
Well, Samoa Joe doesn’t have a Big Five main event, let alone a Universal Championship reign, in the WWE Network Era, does he?
That’s why it’s been forgotten. An awesome, hot finish that went absolutely nowhere. In other words, business as usual in the WWE Network Era.
Finn Balor Vs. AJ Styles – TLC 2017
Admit it. You forgot that AJ Styles and Finn Balor even had a match during the WWE Network Era, didn’t you?
Understandable, since they didn’t have a story that anybody cared about. But they absolutely tore the house down at TLC in December 2017.
And they did it without tables, ladders, or chairs. It was an absolute masterpiece of a match, as you’d expect from guys as talented as Styles and Balor. Which, in and of itself, is the problem with the WWE Network Era.
So much content, so many shows. No time to build any of them, no time to make anyone care.
It should’ve been a career-defining win for Finn Balor, defeating the former TNA and WWE World Champion. Especially after the heartbreak of having to rescind the Big Red Belt in 2016 after becoming the first-ever Universal Champion.
Instead, it’s another forgotten gem, lost in the shuffle of the WWE Network Era.
The Miz (C) Vs. Seth Rollins – Backlash 2018
It was 2018. Brock Lesnar, as he’s often been in the WWE Network Era, was nowhere to be found.
This was around the time the Internet got together and decided we were legit tired of Lesnar holding a top title and never being on TV. WWE must’ve been the least bit tired of it, too, as they positioned the Intercontinental Championship as the top title on Raw for much of 2018.
Which made Seth Rollins the defacto top babyface of 2018. And after a hot 2017 spent taunting Daniel Bryan, The Miz was finally getting his due as a legit top heel.
When Miz put his Intercontinental Championship on the line against Rollins in 2018, well, nobody noticed. Because it’s WWE in the WWE Network Era, and people don’t really notice anything.
Which is a shame, because Rollins and Miz electrified the crowd and stole the show at Backlash 2018. And that sucked for everybody else on the card, because they were only the second match.
It was a big step in keeping the IC title front-and-center through much of 2018. As for Rollins, he parlayed his success as a babyface into the most successful Universal Championship reign of all time, and he became the most beloved babyface of the WWE Network Era.
Just kidding, this happened.
The WWE Network Era has had the matches that the Internet prayed for in the 90s.
It’s been an era that showcases exceptional workrate and amazing in-ring action. But it’s been largely forgettable.
But the amazing WWE Network Era matches listed above have seemingly been lost in the sands of time.
All images courtesy of WWE.