Hopefully, finish aside, the match lives up to the lofty expectations that fans have held for the two. Last Man Standing matches have been a wee bit overdone, but with the right opponents, a hot-enough feud, and some nifty spots, they have the potential to steal the show. Since their 1999 inception (as a derivative of the pinfall rules of Texas Death matches), Last Man Standing matches have been an ideal blow-off for long-running WWE feuds, even if they haven't always ended the feud. Let's take a look back over the past 19 years, and see what Styles and Nakamura will be competing with.
10. The Rock Vs. Mankind (St. Valentines Day Massacre)
The original WWE Last Man Standing bout couldn't quite match Foley's Texas Death match with Vader from more than five years earlier, but it's still a wonderful primer into what the match needs to be great. Foley and Rock's feud had been simmering since November, and they had to plausibly equal the intensity of their brutal I Quit match three weeks earlier, so this test of limits came in handy.
There was psychology (Rock working Foley's leg to make standing somewhat challenging), a little sports entertainment (Rock singing "SmackDown Hotel" mid-match), and the sort of hefty weapons-based violence that was the norm up and down the card in the Attitude Era. The match went to a double knockout of its own, and they were both able to face off in a Ladder Match the next night (ahhh, Crash TV), but otherwise, the match did everything it needed to do, without horrifying Foley's wife and kids (I think).
9. Chris Jericho Vs. Shawn Michaels (Raw, 10 November 2008)
You have to love any match in which one guy hits the other with a swinging camera crane, especially when it's a perfectly-designed fiend like Jericho taking one to the chops. The most thrilling rivalry of 2008 finally came to a definitive conclusion in Manchester, England, and segued into Michaels' forthcoming rivalry with JBL.
While the match wasn't quite on the level of some of the earlier scrums in their intense blood feud (the No Mercy Ladder Match and Unforgiven unsanctioned match, especially), it was still more than satisfying for a Raw main event, with plenty of residual fury left in the story's tank. As noted, it set up Michaels' next feud with JBL, so he helped provide the screwy finish.
8. Roman Reigns Vs. The Big Show (Extreme Rules 2015)
The composition of this match would probably surprise a lot of pessimists that aren't apt to give credit where it's due. About eight or nine months into the "Make Roman the Guy" experiment, the uber-push wasn't taking, but matches like this did everything they were supposed to do - even if the more vocal fans weren't willing to budge over the long haul.
Reigns was a giant-killer, fighting his way through Big Show's most punishing assaults before finally figuring out how to keep the monster down. As a story, the action built to a satisfying finish, after 20 minutes of enjoyable brawling and creative set-ups for spots. One of Reigns' best singles matches, and actually, one of Show's, too.
7. Dean Ambrose Vs. Kevin Owens (Royal Rumble 2016)
It's a little odd to see a Last Man Standing match open a pay per view, but in today's WWE, what are gimmick matches except blinking neon signs that advertise something a bit less saturated? Not that card placement hindered Ambrose and Owens any, since they delivered the best match of a very good Rumble.
By the time Owens tumbled through a stack of tables to close out the match, he and Ambrose had pieced together an excellent brawl. It couldn't quite touch upon the blood-soaked wars that dotted their respective pasts, but blood wasn't wholly necessary. When the fans were hanging off of every ensuing set-up, cheering babyface Ambrose on, you've got everything you need.
6. Triple H Vs. Randy Orton (No Mercy 2007)
One of my favourite random facts is that the WWE Championship changed hands three times in 2007, with each of the changes occurring on the same night. The third and final swap saw Orton regain the belt he was handed, then lost, as Triple H was worn down from two prior matches with Orton and Umaga.
Helmsley bled buckets for a Last Man Standing match that felt worthy of the stipulation, as two men fought through acquired aches and pains, and the ones gained during the ongoing match, just to be able to lay claim to the top prize in the sport. It feels strange, but on a night where the belt changed hands three times (one of which was a handover), the third change was in a match that made the belt feel truly important.
5. John Cena Vs. Edge (Backlash 2009)
One of the handicaps of Last Man Standing matches (or any gimmick match that nominally promises carnage) in the PG era is that the action may not match the stipulation. Bloodless cage and Cell matches have helped dilute the idea of such lofty stips having an alpha/omega designation.
In the case of Cena vs. Edge at Backlash, the high amount of Attitude Era-like chaos made up for the lack of split skin, resorting to elaborate spots to put it a few cuts above standard fare. Cena going into the spotlight on the finish (courtesy of Big Show interference) made for a nice punctuation to what was a long and enjoyable match, perhaps the best that Cena and Edge have ever had against each other.
4. The Undertaker Vs. Batista (Backlash 2007)
I personally loved the Undertaker/Batista feud of 2007, because it was as elementary as it was compelling: one big alpha male has the belt, the other big alpha male wants the belt, so they beat the tar out of each other in a bid to claim ownership of said belt. It required no other modifier.
Their Last Man Standing match at Backlash 2007 rollicked along well enough until the dreaded double-knockout finish - though to be fair, at least that ending gave us property damage instead of stereo nut-smushers. Before that finish, Undertaker and Batista exchanged brawling and power moves at their optimum levels, with a bare minimum of lethargy that sometimes hinders the match type. It's comparable to their sleeper of a WrestleMania showdown, just minus a finish.
3. Triple H Vs. Chris Jericho (Fully Loaded 2000)
Really, the better feud was Jericho and Stephanie, with Y2J throwing every unkind word and phrase he could think of her way, and her getting all indignant. Jericho vs. Triple H was great at times, and their collective magic may have never been better than this night in Dallas.
It was a match that hauled Jericho out of the Cruiserweight/flashy wrestler caste and showed that he could hang in WWE style gimmick matches. Having Triple H barely survive the brawl, winning on somewhat of a fluke, did a lot to demonstrate Jericho's value on a tier with Helmsley, Rock, Undertaker, and others, forging the main event-level connection that he'd been missing to that point. Eighteen years later, Jericho's having five-star matches in New Japan while Helmsley lays out WrestleMania show-stealers. Who'd have guessed?
2. Triple H Vs. Ric Flair (Survivor Series 2005)
What's the best one-on-one Ric Flair match, post-age 50? For sentimental reasons, I'm sure many would be inclined to go with his "retirement" bout against Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XXIV, but I'm more partial to this hate-filled bloodbath against his former Evolution-mate. This may actually be Flair's best one-on-one match in WWE, and this is coming from somebody that cherishes his matches with Bret Hart and Mr Perfect.
Flair bleeds, sells, and valiantly fights back while using every underhanded trick in his arsenal, doing all he can to stand down the tyrannical Triple H, but it just ain't enough. His heroic attempt to stand after each ensuing Pedigree is snuffed out with a sledgehammer shot. Shame there's such heavy restrictions on questionable gestures, because Triple H "putting a bullet" into the motionless Flair with a finger-gun was deliciously evil.
1. John Cena Vs. Umaga (Royal Rumble 2007)
He doesn't "overcome the odds" if he wins every goddamn match. Cena's an underdog the same way that Roman Reigns is an underdog. But yet sometimes, that formula works - it depends on circumstance. After building Umaga into an infallible monster, and giving Cena the narrowest of fluke wins over him at New Year's Revolution, they raised the bar come Rumble Sunday.
The match resembles an absolute whirlwind, especially once the top rope comes down, adding some nice visual destruction to an already chaotic fight. Cena's resolute march to victory, using the monitor for striking and the rope for choking, demonstrates the depths he needed to go to slay a superbeast. There's nothing cute or ironic about the match - it's Cena employing the mantra of kill-or-be-killed, taking Umaga to levels that he'd never been pushed to before. And it worked - all of it.