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The 15 best pay-per-views ever
Just eight months after WWE changed sports-entertainment with the first WrestleMania, the company revolutionized the industry again on Nov. 17, 1985, with The Wrestling Classic. WWE’s first-ever live pay-per-view event, the show featured a 16-Superstar tournament, which was won by The Junkyard Dog. In the decades since that landmark night, WWE, WCW and ECW have beamed hundreds of epic events into homes around the world — all of which are aailable on-demand on WWE Network!
But which mega events stand out from the rest? Ahead of WWE Network’s game-changing launch, check out this ranking of the 15 greatest shows to ever air on pay-per-view. And regardless if your favorite event is on this list, find comfort in the knowledge that your favorite WWE, WCW or ECW pay-per-view — no matter which one it is — can be found on WWE Network!
#15 Survivor Series 1995
If ever there was proof WWE could’ve beaten WCW to the punch in launching a cruiserweight division in the U.S., it was Survivor Series 1995’s thrilling opener of The BodyDonnas (Chris “Skip” Candido, 1-2-3 Kid, Tom Prichard & admittedly non-cruiserweight Rad Radford) vs. The Underdogs (Marty Jannetty, Hakushi, Barry Horowitz & Bob Holly).
Further up the card, Alundra Blaze and Bertha Faye captained squads in a match that cemented Aja Kong as the scariest woman alive. In classic Survivor Series fashion, another 4-on-4 lineup was defined by polarity: The Undertaker’s blue-collar Dark Side dominated King Mabel’s stuck-up Royals. Elsewhere, WWE President Gorilla Monsoon concocted a fun Wildcard Match experiment in which Superstars like Shawn Michaels, Yokozuna and Razor Ramon competed on teams that were chosen at random.
But if one match stole the show, it was the No-Disqualification WWE Championship main event between Bret Hart and Diesel, a donnybrook that not only resulted in “Hit Man’s” third title reign, but also established the Spanish announce table as a danger zone in WWE.
#14 Heat Wave 1998
There was much about the original Land of the Extreme that never fully translated to pay-per-view, yet Heat Wave 1998 stands out as a stellar representation of ECW’s diversely hardcore leanings. The card rocketed out of the gate with a balls-to-the-wall showdown between Jerry Lynn and Justin Credible, which saw Lynn execute a hurricanrana from the top turnbuckle through a table on the floor, and the pace didn’t let up from there.
Former teammates Lance Storm and Chris Candido vacillated between technical proficiency and brawling, and Rob Van Dam & Sabu took on Japanese counterparts Jinsei “Shinzaki & Hayabusa — a dream encounter for tape traders. Two of ECW’s most famous rivalries — Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Tazz and Masato Tanaka vs. Mike Awesome — also wrote new chapters.
The headlining Six-Man Street Fight, featuring Tommy Dreamer, Sandman and The Dudley Boyz, was a satisfyingly chaotic finale, and a show-long narrative about The Dudleys’ day-of attack of New Jack (an original participant in the match) contributed to the prevailing sense that the show could careen off the rail at any moment — an oddly charming characteristic that was ECW to the core.
#13 Backlash 2009
While WrestleMania XXV brought the pomp and pageantry that WWE is known for, the pay-per-view that followed it, Backlash 2009, brought an unbelievable amount of action. After watching Christian capture the ECW Championship from Jack Swagger, the WWE Universe was treated to an absolute gem.
In his first singles match since 1994, WWE Hall of Famer Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat wrestled Chris Jericho. Jeff Hardy got retribution against his brother Matt in a vicious “I Quit” Match, while Randy Orton recaptured the WWE Title in a massive Six-Man Tag Team Match, joining The Legacy in victory over the star-studded trio of Triple H, Batista & Shane McMahon.
In the show’s main event, Edge was able to vanquish the demons that haunted him over his WrestleMania loss to John Cena. The Rated-R Superstar defied all odds by emerging from a Last Man Standing Match with the World Heavyweight Title, though the celebration was overshadowed by medics tending to Cena, who was thrown through a spotlight by Big Show.
#12 Bash at the Beach 1996
This WCW summer spectacular will forever be remembered as the most important pay-per-view in the Atlanta company’s controversial history. Bash at the Beach 1996 had everything a wrestling fan could have wanted. The card kicked off with a highflying battle between Rey Mysterio and Psicosis. It was followed up with a series of wild brawls, like the Carson City Silver Dollar Match between John Tenta and Big Bubba and the Double Dog Collar Match between The Nasty Boys and Public Enemy.
But what fans will remember most about the event happened in its closing minutes. No one expected Hulk Hogan, wrestling’s ultimate hero, to join forces with rebels Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. The three put a vicious beating on Sting, Lex Luger and Randy Savage, heralding the arrival of The New World Order. The shocking end of Bash at the Beach made sure that this event would never be forgotten.
#11 Extreme Rules 2012
The name Extreme Rules elicits an unshakeable expectation of dangerous, high-risk combat, and the main event of the 2012 edition — John Cena vs. Brock Lesnar — did not fall short. The Anomaly celebrated his long-anticipated return to the ring with a savage fight that was both enthralling and grisly. Lesnar lacerated Cena in the opening minute, nearly prompting WWE officials to stop the match, but the Cenation leader persevered and ultimately toppled The Beast Incarnate.
While it was a non-title contest that headlined, both of Extreme Rules’ World Championship Matches were breathtaking. Before his hometown of Chicago — a famously vocal and discriminating fan base — WWE Champion CM Punk dispatched Chris Jericho in a physical Street Fight. Daniel Bryan, meanwhile, fell just short in a hard-nosed 2-out-of-3 Falls Match against World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus. With a raucous atmosphere and in-ring action to match, Extreme Rules 2012 was exactly what the Chicago crowd thirsted for: tough, unrelenting brawls punctuated by miraculously gutsy performances.
#10 In Your House: Canadian Stampede
There’s nothing like home-field advantage, especially when you’re part of the Hart family. Though the fans watching at home on pay-per-view may have been a little more partial to “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and his team of The Road Warriors, Goldust & Ken Shamrock, Calgary was firmly in the corner of The Hart Foundation for the evening’s main event.
The explosive 10-Man Tag Team Match was just part of this jam-packed In Your House. Calgary was treated to a showcase of the light heavyweight style, before WWE introduced a championship at that weight class. Few had any idea who Taka Michinoku or The Great Sasuke were beforehand, but the Japanese standouts had the crowd on its feet by the end of their bout.
Triple H and Cactus Jack brawled throughout the night, unable to be separated by officials. Vader and The Undertaker unleashed hell on each other. And, of course, there was the main event, which blew the roof off of Calgary’s Saddledome. The pay-per-view may have only showcased four matches, but each of them was an instant classic.
#9 No Way Out 2001
Mere weeks before they’d unexpectedly join forces as The Two-Man Power Trip, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Triple H embarked on an unforgiving test of attrition known as a Three Stages of Hell Match at No Way Out. For nearly 40 minutes, The Game and The Texas Rattlesnake battered each other in three separate contests: a standard singles match, a Street Fight and a Steel Cage Match. Even though Triple H walked out the victor, the true winners were the WWE Universe, who bore witness to one of the most physically draining contests ever.
And that wasn’t even the main event.
That honor belonged to WWE Champion Kurt Angle vs. The Rock, an equally electrifying bout that resulted in The Great One capturing his sixth WWE Title. The undercard, meanwhile, was stacked, even by pay-per-view standards: a Fatal 4-Way Intercontinental Match featuring Eddie Guerrero and Chris Jericho was a technical masterpiece, while the Hardcore Title Match and Triple Threat Tag Team Tables Match struck an entirely different type of chord.
#8 One Night Stand 2005
While wrestling events can take fans on a rollercoaster ride of emotions, very few can move grown men to tears. That was certainly the case, though, when the hardcore warriors of ECW got back together for One Night Stand 2005.
Extreme Championship Wrestling returned to pay-per-view four-and-a-half years after the company went under, taking over New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom and treating the world to one last show of the three-ring circus that was ECW.
From technical showcases to weapon-filled brawls, everything that made ECW the revolutionary product it was had representation at One Night Stand. The dream of every ECW fan came true at the end, too, when longtime detractor Eric Bischoff was demolished by the ECW Originals.
Though many saw it as the perfect goodbye to the promotion, One Night Stand 2005 was such a rousing success that WWE brought ECW back on a full-time basis one year later.
#7 SummerSlam 2013
Clichéd though it may be, the 26th annual SummerSlam was replete with matches that could have been the main event in any arena in the world. It just so happens they all took place on the same night, under the same STAPLES Center roof. The WWE Universe witnessed a collision between ex-besties Cody Rhodes and Damien Sandow, a rarely seen Ring of Fire Match with two genuine monsters, Bray Wyatt and Kane, and a superb World Heavyweight Title Match between consummate wrestlers Alberto Del Rio and Christian.
Yet, those stellar matches all took a backseat to the dual main events. CM Punk and Brock Lesnar’s No Disqualification “Best vs. The Beast” match broke new ground in brutality. Weapons came into play, as did bruising power maneuvers and deft submission attempts. From there, SummerSlam’s epic feel held steady with Daniel Bryan’s WWE Title win over John Cena, a watershed moment for WWE’s “Yes!” Man that was accompanied by chants of “This is awesome!”
#6 Great American Bash 1989
For NWA loyalists, Great American Bash 1989: Glory Days delivered on all fronts, presenting a delicate balance of old and new. The alliance’s emphasis on upholding tradition was evident in the World Title matchup between WWE Hall of Famers Ric Flair, the champion, and Terry Funk, a former champion. (The match was “Nature Boy’s” first opportunity to get his hands on Funk, who’d piledriven him through a table months earlier.) Yet, there were also glimmers of what was to come, such as TV Champion Sting vs. The Great Muta, a mysterious and awe-inspiring newcomer who’d not yet been pinned.
Elsewhere, Ricky Steamboat — fresh off a World Title reign — pushed brash U.S. Champion Lex Luger to the limit, The Steiner Bros. mauled Kevin Sullivan & Mike Rotunda in a Tornado Match that was short in duration but long on mayhem, and the legendary War Games Match returned. The Great American Bash was long considered a tent-pole event for the NWA/WCW, and the 1989 edition proved just how deserving that reputation was.
Are you looking for a fun but thankless assignment? Try the unenviable task of selecting only 15 pay-per-views and labeling them as the 15 best ever. As might be expected, a true consensus on such a topic can never be reached. Sentimental favorites fall through the cracks, and debates comparing the value of match quality with the merit of historical significance can turn heated, fast.
With that in mind, check out these events that nearly broke through into WWE.com’s ranking of the top 15 pay-per-views of all time.
Whether it was Bret Hart’s ascension into singles competition, Virgil’s heartwarming win over The Million Dollar Man or the ultra-cool combination of Texas Tornado, Ricky Steamboat and Davey Boy Smith, the fourth SummerSlam remains one of WWE’s most fondly remembered summertime parties.
It only makes sense that the 10th annual Showcase of the Immortals would be a knock-out-great event, with arguably pay-per-view’s all-time best opener (Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart) and a bar-raising Ladder Match between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon.
WCW Great American Bash 1996
Rey Mysterio’s WCW debut against Dean Malenko opened the eyes of North American wrestling audiences, Sting fought William Regal in an unsung classic and The Outsiders instilled the fear of the soon-to-be New World Order in WCW loyalists.
ECW Barely Legal
ECW’s first pay-per-view was also one of its best, a true little-engine-that-could tale highlighted by Terry Funk’s middle-age zaniness, Tazz and Sabu’s long-awaited showdown and a breathtaking and innovative Michinoku Pro six-man thrown in for good measure.
After years of fractured talent pools spread over three organizations, the wrestling universe became a lot smaller on July 22, 2001 — the date of WWE Invasion, which pitted the top stars of the recently defunct WCW and ECW against WWE’s best.
As if Shawn Michaels’ return to in-ring action after a four-year absence wasn’t enough, SummerSlam 2002’s incredible lineup was topped with a once-in-a-lifetime Undisputed WWE Title Match between rookie Brock Lesnar and The Rock.
#5 WrestleMania III
The inaugural WrestleMania thrust WWE into the mainstream spotlight and the second installment was the event’s first foray into the world of pay-per-view, but it wasn’t until 1987 that The Showcase of the Immortals truly hit its stride and transformed into a larger-than-life happening. A record-shattering 93,173 WWE fans filled the Pontiac Silverdome to watch a hefty card of 12 matches, complemented by appearances by music icons Alice Cooper and Aretha Franklin.
WrestleMania III boasted variety, such as the Mixed Tag Match pitting King Kong Bundy and veteran little person grappler Little Beaver on opposing sides, and a six-man bout featuring corrupt WWE ref-turned-Superstar Danny Davis. Yet, the two bouts everybody remembers most are the Intercontinental and WWE Title Matches, respectively. The former was a wrestling purist’s fantasy, with Ricky Steamboat unseating scary-intense workhorse Randy Savage. The latter — Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant — is one of the most historic showdowns in WWE mythology and the scene of The Immortal One’s classic body slam on The Eighth Wonder of the World.
#4 Spring Stampede 1994
Before Hulk Hogan arrived on the scene in June 1994, WCW was on quite the hot streak. Though the company didn’t have the foothold that WWE did popularity-wise, their in-ring product was undeniably excellent. There was no better example of that high-quality wrestling than Spring Stampede 1994.
Cactus Jack & Maxx Payne came up short against The Nasty Boys in a chaotic Chicago Street Fight that saw pool cues, tables, chairs and shovels come into play. The Great Muta made a rare appearance, challenging Steve Austin for the United States Title. Sting captured the WCW International World Title in a great match against Rick Rude.
A hatred-fueled Bunkhouse Match between Dustin Rhodes and Bunkhouse Buck brought the Rosemont Horizon to its feet. And in the main event, Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat rekindled their legendary rivalry, fighting to a No-Contest in a WCW Title Match that could easily stand in comparison to their legendary trio of bouts from 1989.
#3 Royal Rumble 2000
The Royal Rumble is always one of the most anticipated events on the WWE calendar. The official start of “The Road to WrestleMania,” WWE fans are on the edge of their seats, anxious to see which Superstar will earn a guaranteed World Title shot at WrestleMania.
The 2000 edition of the January staple had fans buzzing from the opening bell, when Tazz made his WWE debut, submitting Kurt Angle in the hallowed halls of Madison Square Garden. While The Rock’s only Royal Rumble Match win came on this night, it wasn’t the over-the-top-rope classic that stood out that night.
The Hardy Boyz and The Dudley Boyz collided in the first-ever Tag Team Tables Match, which featured Jeff Hardy diving from a balcony through D-Von Dudley (and several tables). And for fans who may have needed a palate cleanser after Mae Young’s wardrobe malfunction, Triple H and Cactus Jack waged war in a vicious WWE Championship Street Fight, a match that is still talked about to this day.
#2 Money in the Bank 2011
The second annual Money in the Bank pay-per-view may have been the most talked about in WWE history. Leading into the event, CM Punk vowed to leave his hometown of Chicago — and WWE — with the WWE Title in hand. The Straight Edge Superstar’s WWE contract was expiring, leaving fans to wonder what would happen if Punk did, indeed, win.
The tension in the Allstate Arena was palpable, with Windy City natives eager to see their hometown hero challenge John Cena. In the lead up to that epic showdown, sixteen Superstars clashed in two Money in the Bank Ladder Matches, with Daniel Bryan and Alberto Del Rio emerging from the wreckage with the coveted contracts in hand.
The crowd erupted when Punk hit the ring for the main event, while showering Cena in boos. Not knowing what to expect, the Chicago faithful, and millions around the world, were in disbelief as Punk defeated Cena, grabbed the title, blew Mr. McMahon a kiss and ran off into the Chicago night with his prize.
#1 WrestleMania X-Seven
WrestleMania X-Seven not only boasted the grandeur expected of The Showcase of the Immortals, but it was also exemplary of the three-ring-circus style lineup that had something for everyone. If death-defying tactics were your thing, look no further than the Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match with The Dudleys, The Hardys and Edge & Christian. More a fan of lighthearted fare? The Gimmick Battle Royal, equal parts sweet nostalgia and mindless fun, had you covered.
A nomadic Hardcore Championship Match, in which Raven hopped aboard a golf cart, satisfied brawling fanatics, while the Intercontinental Title, staying true to its roots, was up for grabs in a bout between mat wrestling wizards Chris Jericho and William Regal. The Triple H-Undertaker rivalry made its first appearance on The Grandest Stage of Them All, and Shane McMahon celebrated a cathartic win over his father.
To further cement WrestleMania X-Seven as must-see material, the main event was the controversial WWE Title Match between The Rock and “Stone Cold” in which The Texas Rattlesnake unthinkably struck a deal with Mr. McMahon. ‘Nuff said.