Editors' Choice: 10 hidden gems on WWE Network
With more than 2,000 hours of content — including original programming and every WWE, WCW and ECW pay-per-view ever — the WWE Network video-on-demand library can feel, dare we say, a bit overwhelming at times.
We feel your pain. We, too, have found ourselves scheduling (and rescheduling) dinner parties to accommodate group viewings of SummerSlam 2002. For the first time, we’re asking questions like, “How many Diesel matches can be crammed into a single day?”
But so much of what WWE Network has to offer falls just beneath the surface. Beyond the obvious go-to choices like WrestleMania, Royal Rumble and “Legends’ House,” there resides a huge catalog of classic Raw and SmackDown replays, as well as an extensive “Vault” section dedicated to trailblazing series from bygone wrestling territories and organizations. Expand your horizons and check out these 10 shows featuring universes of unique characters and conflicts, then share your suggestions for must-see WWE Network rare gems in the comments section below.
Raw: Episode 409 – March 26, 2001
Looking for a hidden gem on WWE Network? There’s no better place to start than with the all-time classic Raw from March 26, 2001, that preceded the Hope Diamond of WWE shows, WrestleMania X-Seven.
This iconic edition of WWE’s record-breaking tentpole program — which emanated from Cleveland’s Gund Arena — wasn’t only tremendous because it was the final stop before what is regarded by many as the greatest top-to-bottom Show of Shows, but also because it included the historic moment when the Monday Night War finally came to a shocking end.
Kicked off with an irate Kurt Angle on the mic and closed with a blockbuster tag team main event between “Stone Cold” Steve Austin & The Rock and The Brothers of Destruction, this Raw also featured everything from a Lumberjack Match to a collision between The Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian, to Chris Jericho donning a Doink the Clown disguise and ambushing William Regal.
Of course, much of the dramatic thrust of the night followed Mr. McMahon’s landscape-altering plans to purchase WCW — the episode was simulcast alongside the final episode of WCW Monday Nitro. Just when it looked like The Chairman had closed the staggering deal, he was interrupted by his own son, Shane McMahon, on the WCW simulcast, who made the jaw-dropping announcement that he instead had purchased WCW!
Setting the stage for the towering grandeur of WrestleMania X-Seven while still including plenty of action and bombshells in its own right, this Raw is some of the greatest sports-entertainment content of all time, and it’s just waiting for you on WWE Network! — JAKE GRATE
Clash of the Champions XVIII - Jan. 21, 1992
The best wrestling shows have a little bit of everything. That’s what keeps me coming back to relive WCW Clash of the Champions XVIII, whether on my grainy VHS tape of the original broadcast or the high-quality stream on WWE Network.
This is an event that opened up with The Steiner Brothers tossing the truly monstrous team of Vader & Mr. Hughes around the ring as if they were cruiserweights, which has blown my mind for 22 years running. It followed up with a dash of over-the-top characters like Johnny B. Badd, The Taylor Made Man and P.N. News in hard-hitting action, if that’s your bag.
The January 1992 edition of Clash of the Champions provided spectacle, in the form of the shocking announcement of Jesse “The Body” Ventura’s return to wrestling and the live debut of The Fabulous Freebirds’ new single.
The show took a turn for the serious as Cactus Jack and Van Hammer brawled throughout Topeka, Kansas, in a vicious Falls Count Anywhere Match, battling out to the rodeo arena next door among wild horses and bulls. The show reached its apex with a pair of battles in the ongoing war between WCW’s heroes and Paul Heyman’s Dangerous Alliance. To me, there’s nothing better than tag team wrestling, which this show provided in spades. Dustin Rhodes, Barry Windham & Ron Simmons bested Bobby Eaton, Arn Anderson & Larry Zbyszko. and the duo of Sting & Ricky Steamboat defeated “Ravishing” Rick Rude & “Stunning” Steve Austin, leaving me (and plenty of other wrestling fans, I’m sure) completely spent from a rollercoaster ride of action and emotion.
Have you watched it yet? Why not? — BOBBY MELOK
SmackDown: Episode 36 - April 27, 2000
In the early goings of 2000, the WWE Universe was experiencing some serious “Stone Cold” Steve Austin withdrawal. After a lingering neck injury forced The Texas Rattlesnake to miss several months of in-ring action at the peak of The Attitude Era, many of the most devout “Austin 3:16” followers wondered when they’d ever get to see their finger-gesturing, mudhole-stomping anti-hero again. Fortunately, Austin made a brief return to WWE television on SmackDown just 72 hours before Backlash 2000, when he was scheduled to stand in the corner of longtime rival The Rock to even the odds during The Great One’s WWE Championship clash with Triple H.
Before Austin served as The Rock’s equalizer against The Game’s cornerman — none other than the sinister Mr. McMahon — “Stone Cold” spent SmackDown playing mind games with The Chairman and Triple H’s D-Generation X cohorts. From sending ominous messages to the McMahon-Helmsley regime on their beepers (remember those?!) to placing a live rattlesnake in the faction’s dressing room, Austin made his presence known in a major way.
However, it was what the iconic rebel did at the conclusion of the show that truly makes this episode a “must-see” on WWE Network. Commandeering a crane with “Austin Deconstruction” painted on the side, “Stone Cold” dropped a massive cinderblock onto the DX Express and destroyed the bus in a fiery explosion. Oh, hell yeah. — JAMES WORTMAN
Old School: Philadelphia Spectrum - Aug. 27, 1988
Early on in improv comedy classes, you’ll often learn about the “rule of threes,” meaning, a joke should be told no more and no fewer than three times. Once you’ve completed the joke three times, end the scene. It’s called heightening, and that’s exactly what happened on a hot summer night at the Philadelphia Spectrum.
During the neon-drenched days of the early 1990s, WWE programs seemed to feature a never-ending parade of flamboyant characters in a countless number of dizzying bouts. Blink and you’d miss one. But just a few years earlier, the ecosystem of WWE was very different. Gone were the clowns, plumbers and garbage men. Gone was the synthesized theme music. And gone was a dozen matchups squeezed into one 60-minute slamfest. On this episode of Old School, Philadelphians packed their hometown Spectrum to watch a grand total of three contests. And each one was something special.
The evening began with a bout pitting Canadian do-gooders The Hart Foundation against their dastardly Quebecois counterparts, The Fabulous Rougeaus. This was tag team wrestling at its finest, with the technically savvy “Hit Man” and bruising “Anvil” attempting to outsmart the scheming of the villainous Francophiles. In the second contest, the star power was elevated with the reigning WWE Champion, “Macho Man” Randy Savage facing off against “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase in a fast-paced rematch from WrestleMania IV. And in the main event, two masters of their craft, Jake “The Snake” Roberts and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, continued their very personal rivalry in an intense show closer.
No filler, no chatter, no bells or whistles. Just eight guys punishing each other on the PRISM Network. (And now on WWE Network.) That’s heightening at its very best. — ZACH LINDER
Raw: Episode 430 - August 20, 2001
If you’re searching for a diamond in the rough within WWE Network’s massive library, look no further than the August 20, 2001, edition of Raw is War. This explosive Attitude Era episode contained enough action to make Chuck Norris blush, while delivering arguably one of the most electric endings in Raw’s 21-year history.
There was no shortage of action-packed matches, including The Rock defending his newly won WCW Title against Canadian mat magician Lance Storm, and a Six-Diva Tag Team Match featuring legendary Divas such as Lita, Stacy Kiebler and Torrie Wilson. With the fallout still being felt from a sizzling SummerSlam event the night before, there also was a huge 12-Man Tag Team Match pitting WWE Superstars such as Big Show & The APA against Alliance adversaries led by Tommy Dreamer & The Dudley Boyz.
Ultimately, it’s the over-the-top in-ring segments that make this needle in WWE Network’s haystack required viewing. Watching The Most Electrifying Man in All of Entertainment —who more than lived up to that moniker on this night — interact with a “mini” Booker T is the stuff of sports-entertainment legend.
With the focus on “Austin Appreciation Night,” WCW and ECW Superstars reined unashamed praise upon “Stone Cold” Steve Austin all evening long. The buildup led to an epic conclusion as Kurt Angle drove a milk truck right up to The Alliance-occupied ring, spoiling the WWE Champion’s celebration with a bittersweet milk shower that all fans must witness for themselves. — SCOTT TAYLOR
World Class Championship Wrestling: Episode 62 – Feb. 22, 1983
My favorite dynamic of the pioneering, but long-defunct Dallas-based World Class Championship Wrestling was never the territory’s rough-and-tumble, hands-throwing ring style but, rather, the colorful cast of characters that shaped its roster through the years.
In February 1983, the World Class universe included a diverse mix of god-fearing fan favorites, incorrigible reprobates and barroom-bred ruffians, and Episode 62 distilled several of those outsized personalities via video profiles that encapsulated much of what made WCCW — and the territory days more generally — so endearing. Thankfully, there to guide us through the menagerie of mean-mugging foreigners and charismatic white hats was WCCW’s unflappable linchpin, host Bill Mercer.
Watch as Mercer interviewed Gen. Skandor Akbar about his nefarious stable of monsters, Devastation Inc. Akbar presented a video showing the rehab of injured henchman The Great Kabuki, who’s observed brandishing a sword while practicing samurai poses in a tranquil Japanese garden. Then there was footage of Devastation Inc.’s newest hire, the 6-foot-9, 385-pound Ugandan Giant, Kamala, marching through jungle brush. Later in the program, Mercer continued his journalistic duties by sitting Jacuzzi-side as “Gorgeous” Jimmy Garvin explained why he refused to wrestle on film (“I'm not going to allow anyone ... to possibly see a flaw in my wrestling”).
This isn’t to suggest Episode 62 is short on action. Popular newcomer Iceman King Parsons fought Magic Dragon, and Toru Yatsu took on Al Madril and his “rat-a-tat-tat attack.” (Keep an eye out as Akbar and King Kong Bundy confront Yatsu and manager Arman Hussein, advancing a steadily intensifying war between Devastation Inc. and Hussein’s faction.)
Of course, an episode of World Class wouldn’t be complete without a Von Erich, preferably against a Freebird, and Episode 62 satisfies that requirement swimmingly, with a heated main event between David Von Erich and “Freebird” Buddy Roberts. — JOHN CLAPP
Clash of the Champions IX: New York Knockout - Nov. 15, 1989
Some may not consider Clash of the Champions IX a hidden gem, and if you don’t, I totally get it. But to someone that had just only seen the famous “I Quit” Match featuring Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk that headlined this event, I was surprised to realize just how good it truly was, from top to bottom.
On this historic card, you get a thrilling and fast-paced United States Championship Match between Lex Luger (who was in the middle of a history-making 523-day reign) and Flyin’ Brian Pillman.
I was also surprised to find out that this was the show where Scott Steiner actually coined the phrase “Frankensteiner.” During Jim Cornette’s “Louisville Slugger” segment, Rick & Scott said they came up with the term while watching the movie “Frankenstein” at home. Who knew?
Speaking of the tennis racket-wielding cornerman: With one swing, Cornette put an end to the popularity of The Dynamic Dudes as he turned his back on the rising duo in favor of The Midnight Express.
Oh, did I mention the Ric Flair vs. Terry Funk “I Quit” Match? Of course I did, but in all seriousness, you can’t watch this show and not view this monumental encounter. This all-out brawl featuring two WWE Hall of Famers was a phenomenal blow-off to a bitter and personal rivalry — plus, watching one of these legends say “I quit” is something that has to be seen to be believed. — TOM LIODICE
SmackDown: Episode 1 - Aug. 28, 1999
The premiere edition of SmackDown ushered in the arrival of WWE’s second biggest weekly episodic show to television. But SmackDown’s inaugural edition had a few more reasons why no fan should miss it on WWE Network. For starters, it featured the in-ring WWE debut of one of sports-entertainment’s biggest stars: Chris Jericho.
Y2J showed glimpses of what the WWE Universe would be enjoying for years to come when he took on Road Dogg. Sending a message to the locker room that he wasn’t to be taken lightly, Jericho got himself intentionally disqualified by putting Road Dogg through a table.
Three championships were on the line this night, resulting in the crowning of a new Hardcore Champion in Big Boss Man. The World Tag Team Titles were also contested in a match where The Undertaker had fellow champion Big Show in practically a Handicap Match against The Acolytes and former champs Kane & X-Pac.
The shining moment came in the main event, where WWE Champion Triple H defended his newly won title against The Rock. It was a pay-per-view caliber match featuring back-and-forth action, outside fighting and interference.
The ending is one of the most controversial in WWE history, as special guest referee Shawn Michaels performed one of the biggest double-crosses in his career. The acting WWE Commissioner drilled Rock with Sweet Chin Music just as The Great One was about to secure victory. It sealed The Game’s first of many successful career WWE Title defenses. — MICHAEL MURPHY
ECW Hardcore TV: Episode 106 - May 1, 1995
Episode 106 of ECW Hardcore TV from May 1995 contains controversy, carnage and a classic. First up was the controversy: highlights of The Sandman’s hot-button ECW World Championship win over “The Franchise” Shane Douglas and the role that Woman played in the title changing hands again.
Moving on to the carnage, Beulah McGillicutty’s interference in the latest bloody chapter of the Tommy Dreamer-Raven saga resulted in an infamously iconic moment in ECW history that demonstrated exactly why Extreme Championship Wrestling was the playbook for WWE’s Attitude Era.
Finally, the classic: In the main event, two of the greatest competitors ever to lace up wrestling boots, Eddie Guerrero and Dean Malenko, put on a mat classic that every aspiring and current WWE Superstar needs to watch and study.
The good old-fashioned, passionate play-by-play announcing wasn’t too shabby, either. — @JOEYSTYLES
Raw: Episode 70 - July 11, 1994
Step, if you will, into the way-back machine for this 45-minute gem of a Raw from 1994 that is both adorably quaint (check out Matt Hardy’s posing routine and the mullets on, well, everyone) and as taught, tight and efficient a piece of television as WWE has ever produced. The show is surprisingly jam-packed given its length — Paul Bearer, Razor Ramon, I.R.S., Ted DiBiase and an evil Jerry “The King” Lawler all make appearances — but it’s really a show constructed entirely around The 1-2-3 Kid’s unlikely challenge to Bret Hart’s WWE Championship.
The match, unsurprisingly, still holds up. Hart brings out the best in the ascendant, work-in-progress Kid and the challenger takes “Hit Man” to the brink of defeat as Owen Hart and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart lurk in the wings to menace The Excellence of Execution.
What really steals the show, however, is the late, great “Macho Man” Randy Savage, who likens himself to the Forrest Gump of WWE, but is really more of its Christopher Walken. His bizarre cadences — “Talk about crashin’ a par-teeeee!!!” Savage yawps when Owen and Anvil make their presence known — and show-long tangents about hiring a detective to investigate the case of the two Undertakers take on a life of their own, and Jim Ross, making his WWE return after an absence, is more than happy to play along with the ride. It’s a real par-teeeeefor all involved. — ANTHONY BENIGNO