5 Underrated WWE United States Championship Matches From the New Millennium
Being WWE's secondary midcard belt makes it hard to be taken seriously, but these matches have unfairly been lost to history.
The WWE, while very often entertaining, has never been a true bastion of, say, creativity. Now, a piece of creativity is using what people know, but use it in a different way; artistic recycling, if it were. This is something the WWE uses in spades and with varying rates of success. But when one is trying to recycle ideas from themselves while the other idea is still being used, it can raise some flags.
This is the current scenario with the WWE Intercontinental and WWE United States Championship pictures. Both midcard titles are set to be defended at WrestleMania 34 with involvement from some of the biggest names in the company, which is somewhat notable, but they’re both in quite lazily put together triple threat matches.
So if the WWE can be that lazy, I guess I can too.
A little while ago, I rocked the arena when my music hit and I made my debut on Cultured Vultures with an article on underrated IC title matches. Since the ‘E wants to have the two midcard belts reflect each other, I figured I should show off the US one in the same way I did the IC. Much of what can be said about the IC Title’s run in the modern era can be echoed for the US Title, seeing as how it was only reintroduced in 2003.
No, I’m not counting other US Title reigns and runs from other promotions that used the title. I’m only going by the WWE version they brought back a decade a half ago. There’s a huge distinction between the one once held by Harley Race and the one once held by Orlando Jordan. The separation is necessary, trust me.
Some quick transparency here: it was infinitely harder to find five quality US title matches that weren’t defended under a certain someone’s weekly open challenge reign in 2015. That’s how much attention has been paid to this belt since its inception. Which is a shame. It’s a beautiful belt that deserves some respect. It’s so beautiful, in fact, it’s the only belt that hasn’t been made defunct or redesigned in the fifteen years since its reinstatement.
So here are some pretty enjoyable matches for such a pretty belt.
1. Cesaro vs. Neville – NXT 24/04/13
205 Live has been re-upped for the better since Triple H took over, and that’s fantastic. Even still, I have to pitch something to you, Hunter – no cruiserweights allowed on the main roster until they have a match with Cesaro.
“The Swiss Cyborg”, who at this juncture still had the first name ‘Antonio,’ made somewhat of a name for himself on the indies as Claudio Castagnoli and his matches with high-flyers, luchadors, and cruiserweights. His incredible strength paired with their athleticism put on fantastic bouts and this was on full display against ‘Don’t Call Me Adrian’ Neville.
A wonderfully fast-paced match, Neville genuinely looked like he’d get the US Title on numerous, high-impact falls. Of course, Cesaro countered him at many turns, but the counters themselves were as much an athletic feat as Neville’s assaults. Catching and twisting Neville around with as much ease as he floated through the air, Cesaro wound up hauling Neville off the top rope with the Neutralizer for the finish. Beautiful stuff.
2. Dolph Ziggler vs. Zack Ryder – TLC 2011
This match represented the beauty of a trio of impossible things coming together.
For a time, it seemed impossible for Dolph Ziggler to ever have a bad match. At the same time, it seemed impossible that Zack Ryder would ever receive any kind of push or recognition for the great work he was doing getting himself over via YouTube. The third impossibility was being able to enjoy any match involving an internet darling from 2009-2012, because heel Michael Cole was in full force burying them on commentary.
Ziggler absolutely did not disappoint and stayed the ‘immovable object’ in this scenario, but the other two impossibilities gave way to create something great for a crowd that truly wanted it. Whether you liked Ryder’s Long Island Iced Z’series or persona, it was extremely hard to root against a guy who did everything for himself because creative had nothing for him. When Ryder finally hit the Rough Rider so hard that Ziggler, bless him and his overselling ass, spun on his head upon impact, it was a US Title win that actually meant something.
Until three weeks later. This match is mostly forgotten because of what happened then. But let’s not talk about that, shall we?
3. The Miz vs. Daniel Bryan – Night of Champions 2010
One year prior to Ryder’s big cathartic win, we were treated with another that, in the long run, meant so much more.
Really, at this point, what hasn’t been said about the career of Daniel Bryan? This was a few years before the ‘Yes Movement,’ with a much less hairy Bryan still using a random production theme as his entrance music. It might be why this one is lost in the shuffle, seeing as how it was fairly early in his rebellious WWE run. Following his momentum despite being eliminated from NXT back when it was a dumpster fire attempt at a reality show, Bryan was still constantly at odds with his mentor on that show, The Miz.
It all stemmed from the fact that even stripped down and as bland looking as can be, Daniel Bryan was still an infinitely better and more interesting wrestler than The Miz and everyone knew it. But would the WWE, the sports entertainment juggernaut it was, suck up its pride and give the title to Bryan? Would they finally give in to the man who, next to Rey Mysterio, is as perfect and perpetual a babyface as can be? We knew how management felt about him because heel Michael Cole – there’s that piece of crap again – was week in and week out voicing his displeasure of Bryan’s very existence, and what he was saying was the true feelings of Vince McMahon himself.
The faith of many fans was rewarded in an excellent bout that saw Bryan overcoming Miz’s usual underhandedness and interference from Alex Riley (remember that guy?). In the end, Daniel Bryan forced The Miz to tap out and silenced all his doubters and was forevermore in the favour of management and was never sabotaged by them ever again. He never lost a big match or had titles snatched away from under him from that point forward. And certainly not in eighteen seconds. Never. Never.
4. Orlando Jordan vs. Chris Benoit – Summerslam 2005
Actually, that’s a challenge. I’ll try to use fewer words to describe this than the seconds it took Benoit to make Jordan tap out:
Jordan was a cheap heel champ who did not deserve a title run. People loved Benoit. A German and a Crossface later, all this was remedied.
Holy hell, 26 words exactly. Good on you, Quant.
All that aside, this match isn’t very long, but it is hilariously good for how short it is. I’m certain there are varying degrees of opinion on taking in Benoit matches following the tragedy, but for me, this one is still enjoyable.
As much shade as I’ve thrown towards the ‘E for what they did to Ryder and tried to do to Bryan, sometimes a burial is fine. You just have to know who to do it to by actually listening to the fans and not ignoring them like literally everything else in wrestling. Jordan was getting noticeable groans and X-Pac heat (if he was getting any reaction at all), and was champ far too long for anyone’s liking.
Is that hypocritical? Possibly. But Orlando Jordan =/= Zack Ryder, that’s for certain.
5. John Cena vs. Cesaro – Raw 06/07/15
Swinging to the other side of the spectrum of the previous entry, John Cena and Cesaro put on an absolutely mental modern classic, that took an entire half-hour to decide the outcome.
Big Match John had decided that since becoming US Champion, he would have a big match every single week to defend the title. This gave us a barrage of incredible TV matches. In reality, I could have had this list be made of nothing but matches from his challenges. But I felt this one was the purest representative of just how good the men involved were, and how good this series was for the title’s prestige.
Despite being locked in a feud with the debuting Kevin Owens, Cena defended the gold admirably against Cesaro twice, this match being the second one. Both men really pulled out all the stops, with most of the action early coming from Cesaro meticulously countering every single part of Cena’s infamous ‘Five Moves of Doom’ using his freakish power.
The more that the match went on, the more these two just seemed to slam haymakers on each other to see just what would keep the other down. Countering each other’s finishers multiple times, all hope seemed lost when Cena finally hit Cesaro with the AA, but Cesaro kicked out. At a time when ‘Cena Wins, LOL’ was still in effect, this was HUGE and unheard of for a midcarder to do such a thing. Cesaro fought back bravely, but was finally done in by a Super AA. But the fact that it took that much for Cena to put “The Swiss Cyborg” away was truly something.
This match is probably forgotten because it was amidst not only a bigger feud, but in the middle of the WWE being so stop-start on pushing Cesaro. If there is anything to take away from this list, I guess, it’s that even on this glorious Rusev Day, Cesaro deserves some props.