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10 pay-per-views that caught us by surprise
Not all pay-per-views are created equal. Some events like WrestleMania and SummerSlam are rightly expected to produce lasting memories, while shows with less brand recognition don’t always receive the same consideration — either heading into the event or years after the fact.
Now that every pay-per-view in wrestling history is available anytime, anywhere, thanks to WWE Network, it’s time to let old misperceptions die. Explore these 10 events that are worth investing time in. After all, where else can you see The Undertaker riding a motorcycle through a locker room or Philadelphia Flyers great Dave Schultz officiating a match?
In Your House 13: Final Four
Any event that contains the first four-way championship contest in WWE history, never mind the first pay-per-view match between The Rock and Triple H, must be well-known, right? Well, not exactly. Despite its historic significance, In Your House 13 isn’t always top of mind, and that might be owed to the card’s thrown-together nature. The WWE Championship Four-Corners Elimination Match was a mash-up of two rivalries — The Undertaker vs. Vader and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. Bret Hart — and its championship stakes were only added three days earlier, after Shawn Michaels was forced to vacate the title.
Thrown-together or not, the WWE Championship Match was a rip-roaring success and an all-out brawl. (The UTC Arena, where the show was held, was literally shaking with excitement after Vader’s elimination from the contest, as the footage shows.) Ring purists, meanwhile, might be drawn to the suplexing artistry of World Tag Team Champions Owen Hart & British Bulldog vs. Phil LaFon & Doug Furnas, or the high-flying antics of Al Snow and Marc Mero in the opening match.
Keep an eye out for: Jerry Lawler decrying moonsaults and planchas, the first appearance by eventual Attitude Era fixture Chyna, and Flash Funk getting “Michael Jordan-like air” in a Six-Man Tag against The Nation of Domination.
Over the Limit 2012
It’s unknown whether the Over the Limit event, inactive since 2013 and not on the calendar for 2014, is slated for a return, but if not, the show went out with a bang. No one remembers the main event — John Cena vs. reviled General Manager John Laurinaitis — as a mat classic. It was just a one-sided whooping that had a huge and unexpected twist at the end.
Whatever in-ring competition the main event lacked, however, was more than made up for by the matches that preceded it. World Heavyweight Champion Sheamus defended his title in a frenzied, fast-paced Fatal 4-Way Match against Alberto Del Rio, Chris Jericho and Randy Orton. With the WWE Championship at stake, CM Punk wrestled Daniel Bryan in a match so technically excellent it sparked comparisons to all-time great matchups like Flair vs. Steamboat and Hart vs. Michaels.
Keep an eye out for: Early-vintage Ryback laying waste to overwhelmed competition, and Kofi Kingston & R-Truth reminding everyone of their potency as a tag team against Dolph Ziggler & Jack Swagger.
WCW Slamboree 1994
WCW was a company with an identity crisis in spring 1994. Fortunately, as Slamboree 1994 revealed, that’s not always a bad thing. Here’s a show, subtitled “A Legends’ Reunion,” that was WCW’s equivalent of baseball’s Old-Timers’ Day. It was held in Philadelphia during a pivotal period of Philly-based ECW’s rise to prominence, roughly a month before Hulk Hogan signed his industry-changing WCW contract. All of these weird factors combined to create a unique atmosphere and a helluva card swelling with fisticuffs.
Fighting over the vacant and short-lived WCW International World Heavyweight Championship, Sting and Vader renewed their years-long rivalry in a supremely physical main event, but the undercard packs plenty of punch, too. Dustin Rhodes channeled The American Dream for a gory Bull Rope Match against Bunkhouse Buck. Terry Funk — just one week after headlining an ECW show — slugged it out with Tully Blanchard in a battle of middle-aged men that, had it been coined at the time, would’ve assuredly garnered chants of “You’ve still got it!” The hardcore action hits its true boiling point, however, with Cactus Jack & Kevin Sullivan’s lawless WCW Tag Team Championship “Broad Street Bully” Match against The Nasty Boys.
Keep an eye out for: The classy and nostalgic WCW Hall of Fame introductions for The Assassin, Harley Race and others, Terry Funk celebrating with ECW front-row stalwart Hat Guy, and Larry Zbyszko and TV Champion Lord Steven Regal trading holds in a match unlike anything else on the show.
ECW Anarchy Rulz 1999
Just one month into ECW’s run on network television on TNN, the organization drew its largest crowd ever with Anarchy Rulz in Chicago. The event embodied the extreme brand to the core: The sold-out crowd, which Joey Styles diplomatically described as “colorful Chicago sports fans,” launched into one particularly foul chant after another, the show went off-format only two matches in, and the ECW Championship Match was changed on the fly, transformed into an impromptu Three-Way Dance.
The extreme nature of Anarchy Rulz wasn’t limited to the adult language and free-flowing form. Once Tazz was eliminated from the Three-Way Dance, Masato Tanaka and Mike Awesome embarked on a relentless fight that had all the earmarks of a classic Tanaka-Awesome duel (i.e., big chair strikes and hellish, table-breaking powerbombs). Contrary to popular thought, however, ECW always had more than just chairs, tables and gore alone. That was particularly evident in the opening bout, an incredible showdown between Lance Storm and Jerry Lynn that ended with a three-quarter nelson rollup.
Keep an eye out for: A pre-WWE Lita sighting, Tommy Dreamer shunning pyro displays and “glitzy [stuff],” and back-to-back Asai moonsaults into the crowd during the Tajiri vs. Super Crazy vs. Little Guido Three-Way Dance.
With the Ruthless Aggression Era newly under way, summer 2002 saw a host of Superstars boldly reach for the brass rings, and Vengeance was the site of more than a couple of statement-making performances. None was more impactful, in hindsight, than the winning pay-per-view debut of one prototypically jacked, clean-cut rookie wearing pretty generic ring gear: John Cena. But Vengeance 2002 was much more than the Cenation leader’s coming-out party.
Transplants from WCW — absorbed by WWE the year before — were still taking root. Jamie Noble and Kidman, once cornerstones of WCW’s cruiserweight title, wrestled over the WWE Cruiserweight Championship. Lance Storm and fellow Un-American Christian challenged World Tag Team Champions Edge & Hulk Hogan. Booker T took on Big Show in a No Disqualification Match. There’s also a rookie appearance by Brock Lesnar (vs. RVD), and that’s to say nothing of the WWE Championship Triple Threat Match with The Undertaker, Kurt Angle and The Rock, circa “The Scorpion King.”
Keep an eye out for: Referee Charles Robinson attacking Paul Heyman, The Undertaker busting out an Angle Slam, and Ric Flair giving Hulk Hogan a hard time after The Hulkster suggested he might pull off a Swanton.
WCW Beach Blast 1992
Despite his laudable body of work as the creative force behind Mid-South Wrestling in the ’80s, Bill Watts’ tenure as EVP of WCW in the early 1990s is not, by and large, fondly remembered. In an effort to reassert serious, no-frills competition, Watts made a slew of miscalculations, none more universally despised than his ban of all top-rope moves. Yet, if ever there was an event that justified Watts’ old-school approach to managing WCW, it was Beach Blast 1992.
The main event between WCW Tag Team Champions The Steiner Bros. and the awesomely named Miracle Violence Connection, Terry Gordy & Steve Williams, epitomized the hard-hitting style advocated by Watts. It’s a slobberknocker that would’ve been as at-home in Tokyo’s Nippon Budokan as Shreveport, Louisiana’s Irish McNeil Boys Club. Instead, the brawl played out live on pay-per-view for the world to see. Speaking of brawling, Beach Blast is best remembered for the ahead-of-its-time Falls Count Anywhere Match between WCW Champion Sting and Cactus Jack — a wild, out-of-control slugfest that ended up being a breakout moment for Mick Foley. For all its perceived faults, WCW’s Wattsian era hit it out of the park with Beach Blast.
Keep an eye out for: Ricky Steamboat and Rick Rude going tit-for-tat for 30 minutes, a pre-Goldust Dustin Rhodes and Steve Austin on opposing sides in the semi-main Six-Man Tag, and grizzled Greg Valentine pummeling wet-behind-his-ears Marcus Bagwell in a matchup defined by polarity.
The John Cena-Edge rivalry produced numerous showdowns that looked right out of a Marvel blockbuster, but perhaps their most visually stunning duel happened when they entered the realm of a Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match at Unforgiven. To many, the bout is nothing short of essential viewing. Unforgiven, however, is far from a one-trick pony.
Elastic Intercontinental Champion Johnny Nitro and insane Jeff Hardy kick things off with a match that’s bursting with unconventional offense. If Cena vs. Edge provided the superhero flair, Kane vs. Umaga was that evening’s horror show come to life. That’s to say nothing of the 2-on-3 Hell in a Cell Match with DX vs. Mr. McMahon, Shane McMahon & Big Show — a wild encounter that was equal parts comedic, destructive and cathartic. Adding a historic note was WWE Women’s Champion Lita vs. Trish, which was Trish’s self-imposed retirement match in front of her home crowd at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre.
Keep an eye out for: The WWE Chairman being unwittingly accepted into an “exclusive” club and Randy Orton hitting one of the most unexpected RKOs ever against Carlito.
WCW Spring Stampede 1999
Momentum had swung firmly to the side of WWE by the time the Monday Night War entered April 1999, but that year’s Spring Stampede — what with a well-rounded and diverse mix of matchups — inspired much hope in WCW loyalists. In true WCW fashion, the show fired out of the gates with an exciting cruiserweight match, Blitzkrieg vs. Juventud Guerrera (wait until you see the unworldly way Juvi disposes of Blitzkrieg), and the risks only got higher from there.
Seriously. In only the second match, Hak and Bam Bam Bigelow went balls-to-the-wall in a Hardcore Match that made use of kendo sticks, a ladder and WCW’s Wild West-themed entrance stage. (In defeating Hak, The Beast from the East even seemed to try to top the insanity of Guerrera’s finisher.) Beyond Spring Stampede’s thrilling start, the event boasts marquee matches like Goldberg against the Superstar who broke his undefeated streak, Kevin Nash, and Booker T vs. Scott Steiner. Adding to the sense that it was a new day in WCW, blue-collar favorite Diamond Dallas Page earned his first WCW Championship with a milestone win over Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and Sting. Talk about star power.
Keep an eye (and ear) out for: An unmasked Rey Mysterio battling Kidman for the WCW Cruiserweight Title, a rare WCW appearance by Mikey Whipwreck, and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan’s explanation for why wrestling had just become “hot” in the eyes of the mainstream media (“Because they don’t allow any run-ins in golf!”).
Fully Loaded 2000
What do you get when you combine WWE at its most attitudinal, with an influx of new (or returning) Superstars intent on securing top positions in the hotly competitive WWE pecking order? A spectacularly entertaining pay-per-view named Fully Loaded 2000. If there’s any doubt that The Attitude Era was in full force, it melts away midway through the show when Jerry “The King” Lawler couldn’t help but note all the apologizing that broadcast partner Jim Ross was doing in response to the mature content.
But taken alone, a show chock-full of attitude and lacking athletics feels like empty calories, which Fully Loaded definitely was not. WCW and ECW expats like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Jericho and Tazz were all relatively fresh on the WWE scene, as was Kurt Angle and a reinvigorated Rikishi. All were major players at this event, and several of the WWE newcomers gave established main eventers like The Rock, Triple H and The Undertaker a run for their money. (The Game and Y2J go to war in an absolutely must-see Last Man Standing Match.) Perhaps the Superstar who unexpectedly blew the most minds that night, however, was Rikishi, who polished off rival Val Venis with the most epic, top-of-the-cage splash ever witnessed. (Dude was more than 400 pounds when he leapt into the air that night.)
Keep an eye out for: The Undertaker chasing Kurt Angle through the locker room on a motorcycle, and Lita and Trish stealing the show in the opening Six-Person Tag Team Match.
WWE Payback 2013
We sports-entertainment fans can be a cynical bunch, and when a new event named WWE Payback suddenly appears on the pay-per-view calendar, as it did in 2013, without any kind of franchise history to lean on, it’s only natural that doubts arise. Luckily, the inaugural WWE Payback wasn’t held in front of any ordinary crowd. It was in Chicago, home to as demanding a wrestling fan base as there can be.
Chi-Town proved to be the exact right setting, as the lively audience contributed in a large way to the thrilling World Heavyweight Title Match between Dolph Ziggler and Alberto Del Rio. By targeting the head of The Showoff, who was returning after being sidelined with a concussion, the usually popular Del Rio earned the ire of the live audience. Ziggler, on the other hand, received a reaction befitting a king. It was one of those unpredictably emotional matches that defines not just the careers of Superstars involved, but an entire event.
Keep an eye out for: Everything else, too, from CM Punk’s incredible match against Chris Jericho, to AJ Lee and Kaitlyn’s hotly anticipated showdown, to WWE Champion John Cena and Ryback’s grueling Three Stages of Hell Match.