Mick's Top 10 Favourite WWE PPVs
It’s time for another instalment of The Arena blog, where we look at the best in real and fake fighting. And I’ll be honest, there’s been a big focus lately on the fake stuff, not so much on the real stuff. It’s not that I haven’t been watching UFC. I still make sure I watch every show, often live on a Sunday arvo here in Australia. But the excitement has faded from UFC recently, mainly due to the amount of cancellations. It seems like every time I get excited for a fight, or fight card, something happens. Usually injuries, sometimes USADA, but the bottom line is, we rarely get what’s originally advertised come fight night in the UFC. But, Conor McGregor is scheduled to fight in about a week, so that gives me plenty to write about, coming in the next few days.
But today, we’re sticking with the best in pro wrestling. Specifically, the best PPV shows to come from WWE- at least in my opinion. That’s why I was careful to title this blog post “Mick’s Favourite PPVs”. You may disagree with the order of shows I’ve picked, or disagree with their inclusion in a top 10 list at all. That’s totally fine. The beautiful thing about pro wrestling is that it tends to offer a little something for everyone, and something that might be to my tastes, might not be to yours, and vice versa.
Let’s. Do. THIS!
10) Backlash 2007. Score: 8.5/10
This marked the first time where the 3 separate brands in WWE- Raw, Smackdown and ECW- reunited for the "B PPVs" in WWE- the ones besides the Big 4 of Summerslam, Survivor Series, Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania.
This show went for quality over quantity, with only 6 matches on the PPV. Strong opener with the Hardys facing Cade & Murdoch- who I could best describe as the predeccesors to The Revival. One of the most underrated women's matches of this era with Mickie James vs. Melina. The ECW Championship was on the line when Lashley defended in a Handicap match against Umaga, Vince and Shane McMahon. MVP challenged Chris Benoit for the US Title in one of the best matches of his career. In the co-main event, the World Heavyweight Championship was on the line in a titanic clash between Batista and Undertaker in a Last Man Standing match. And finally, John Cena defended his WWE Championship against Shawn Michaels, Edge and Randy Orton in my favourite Fatal 4 Way match ever. Just incredible stuff across the board. Only 6 matches, but the show was packed with awesomeness!
9) Unforgiven 2006. Score: 9/10
Part of the reason for this being a favourite- it's the first WWE PPV I ever ordered when I got Austar put on, but in rewatching it this past week, it's a very strong show on its own merits. It's a Raw exclusive PPV, but coming off the heels of Summerslam, it's loaded with high-stakes matches. Main evented by a gripping TLC match (that's Tables, Ladders and Chairs, not Tender Love and Care) for the WWE Championship between Edge and John Cena. Edge was on fire at this stage with his Rated R Superstar gimmick, and this PPV took place in his hometown of Toronto, creating a very unique dynamic. Elsewhere on the card, another hometown hero was celebrated, as Toronto's resident bombshell, Trish Stratus, had her retirement match, challenging for the Women's Championship against her long-time rival, Lita. Earned major points by going through with the storybook ending and showing that wrestlers don’t always need to end their careers on their backs (no jokes please). There was also a handicap Hell In A Cell match between DX and Big Show, Vince and Shane McMahon. It was far more brutal than I remember it being... or maybe the current PG era has just gotten to me. Jeff Hardy made his return to WWE PPV after a 3 year absence, facing Johnny Nitro for the Intercontinental Championship. And lastly for the notable highlights, Randy Orton vs. Carlito (one of Orton's first big "RKOs outta nowhere"). Ridiculously loaded show for a single brand PPV!
8) Survivor Series 2002. Score: 9/10
This event was the debut of the Elimination Chamber, where some sadistic fuck said, "you know the Hell In A Cell? Not brutal enough. Needs more steel. And glass pods." (really plexiglass, but who's counting) The man pictured here, Rob Van Dam, did some innovative shit, and veterans Triple H, Chris Jericho, Kane, Shawn Michaels and Booker T really did justice to this first time ever match. Shawn Michaels capping off a successful return to the ring with a world title victory, after spending over four years away, was just the icing on the cake. Taking place at Madison Square Garden, the World's Most Famous Arena was treated to an unbelievable display of power, as a rookie Brock Lesnar collided with the Big Show. Also, Trish Stratus and Victoria went to war in a Hardcore match, Los Guerreros took on Angle/Benoit and Edge/Mysterio for the tag titles, and Jeff Hardy Swantoned off a balcony. Good shit. No, GREAT shit.
7) Money In The Bank 2011. Score: 9/10
Yeah, a lot of my scores ended up the same for these shows as I’ve reviewed them over the past couple of months in Facebook posts. Really what separates them for me is just how engaged I was in the product at the time. MITB 2011 is a superb show that probably deserves higher than #7, but I wasn’t really into WWE much in 2011. I had stepped away from watching wrestling on a regular basis when WWE started heavily sanitising itself going in the PG “family-friendly” direction. But in the middle of 2011, a legitimately disgruntled CM Punk was allowed to cut a promo that changed the course of his career, and brought a much-needed edge back to WWE.
The PPV main event (pictured) of CM Punk vs. John Cenawas the first 5 star match in WWE for several years, the apex of a feud which catapulted CM Punk into bonafide superstar status by blurring the lines between fiction and reality. Of course, the infamous Pipebomb promo got the ball rolling for Punk, but this match put the stamp on Punk as a main eventer, presented not just as Cena's equal, but someone who could be better, and was on this night. A 5 star match makes the show worth watching alone, but the undercard was just as eye-catching, with the Smackdown MITB match signalling the beginning of Daniel Bryan's rise. Not to be outdone, the Raw guys put in a stellar shift, highlighted by some absolutely insane high risk moves by Evan Bourne. Also, Big Show clashed with Mark Henry in a surprisingly short, but effective big man bout. Randy Orton and Christian clashed for the World Heavyweight Championship in a high octane battle. And Kelly Kelly vs. Brie Bella, which wasn't a wrestling masterpiece, but was entertaining for... other reasons.
6) Vengeance 2005. Score: 9/10
Ah, 2005. The brand extension was working well. Raw and Smackdown were very separate entities, and the whole concept hadn’t yet been bastardised (give it time). Vengeance 2005 was another Raw exclusive PPV, but kinda not really, because it took place in the middle of the 2005 WWE Draft. So on a single-brand PPV, we had both the WWE and World Heavyweight Championships on the line. Also, a rematch from the Wrestlemania 21 classic between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels. It featured Batista on his last Raw PPV before being drafted to Smackdown, facing Triple H in Hell In A Cell; it also featured John Cena in his first Raw PPV, defending his WWE Championship against Chris Jericho and Christian in a triple threat. Also featuring a fast-paced opener for the IC Title between Carlito (remember him?) and Shelton Benjamin, the embryonic stages of Edge's Rated R Superstar gimmick with Lita by his side, and the surprise return of The Godfather! Only 6 matches on the PPV main card, but it was quality over quantity. If I had to show a non-wrestling fan one single event to try and convert them, this would be right near the top of the list. Batista vs. HHH and Angle vs. HBK would not have looked out of place as Wrestlemania main events... oh wait, they were. But their matches at Vengeance may well have been better than the already excellent efforts from Wrestlemania 21 three months earlier.
Also notably, Vengeance 2005 occurred a couple of weeks after a highly successful PPV, ECW One Night Stand (not the last time you’ll read that event name in this blog…foreshadowing!). Seeing the success and critical reception of that “extreme” event, WWE pushed the boundaries in the main event Hell In A Cell match between Batista and Triple H. Screwdrivers, barbed wire steel chairs and chains were all used. In fact, the chain was used as a noose at one stage- something there is zero chance of seeing in today’s WWE. Both men bled buckets in a dramatic battle that saw Big Dave retain his World Heavyweight Championship, beating Triple H for the 3rd straight PPV that year before heading to Smackdown and being a featured star there for the next 3 years or so. All in all, Vengeance 2005 was extremely entertaining, and on the more violent end of the spectrum for a WWE-produced show. Wouldn’t watch this one with little kids or those that have a weak stomach. But otherwise, would highly recommend!
5) Summerslam 2013. Score: 9/10
By 2013, I was well back into my WWE fandom. From 2009-2012, I barely watched, opting instead to become a UFC fan, devoting more time and energy to that. It wasn’t because WWE is “fake” and UFC is “real”. I’ve always accepted WWE as entertainment, just like any other TV show or movie I would watch. My issue was that WWE was becoming way too squeaky clean. They were clearly going for that younger kid market again. So, I dropped out, still keeping an eye on bigger shows like The Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. Because hey, I had an internet connection, it was easy to do that rather than letting wrestling consume my life like it did back in the day (and kind of does again nowadays) Then, on the Raw After Wrestlemania 28 in 2012, Brock Lesnar returned to WWE! Heavily leaning into his history as a UFC star, Brock was a changed man from the hulking super athlete that took his ball and went home in 2004. He was violent, he was badass, he gave no fucks. What does all of this have to do with Summerslam 2013? Well, it was the site of possibly Brock Lesnar’s best match in WWE since that 2012 return- even to this day!
The two main events of the 2013 summer spectacular- Cena vs. Bryan and Punk vs. Lesnar- are in the forefront of the conversation for best Summerslam matches ever. Particularly if you're not a fan of Cena or Lesnar, the work they put in these matches may make you change or soften your stance on them. Lesnar put on a high powered, brutal war with Punk, having a much longer match than the Suplex City squashes he's known and maligned for today. He moved quickly, sweated profusely, and bumped like a madman. If I had to guess, I’d say Lesnar’s friendship with Paul Heyman played a large role in Brock putting in this effort- CM Punk is also a Heyman Guy. And John Cena showed an ability to engage in a technical wrestling battle with Daniel Bryan... or perhaps he was the proverbial broom for Bryan to work his wizardry with. But in all seriousness, he put in a superb effort, even with a messed up elbow (bursa sac the size of a tennis ball). Did far more than the dreaded Five Moves of Doom, and Bryan looked like a million bucks being put over by WWE’s franchise player.
The undercard was very good too. Most notably, Alberto Del Rio defended the World Heavyweight Championship against Christian. I'm not a Del Rio fan at all, but it was possibly the most exciting match of ADR's career. Bray Wyatt made his WWE debut in a "Ring of Fire" match (that's an Inferno Match for anyone who watched in the Attitude Era). Hell of a spectacle (pun intended). Even Natalya vs. Brie Bella was good. Not one match on the card sucked… I mean, Wyatt vs. Kane wasn't great. But flames shot up in the air every time someone bumped, so yay fire!
4) Wrestlemania XIX. Score: 9/10
The 2003 installment of Mania showcased maybe the most loaded roster WWE has ever had. Hulk Hogan was around representing the 80s wrestling boom, all the major stars of the Attitude Era were still here, mid 90s wrestling icon Shawn Michaels was well and truly back after his back injury that was thought to end his career, and this event was near the beginning of the Ruthless Aggression era, with Brock Lesnar receiving a big push over the previous 12 months, with John Cena, Randy Orton and Batista soon to follow.
So as I said, loaded roster. So what did WWE do with them on the Show of Shows? Well, The Rock and Stone Cold clashed in their 3rd Mania match, in what was Austin's last ever match. Hulk Hogan battled Vince McMahon in a hellacious streetfight. Popular ex-WCW star Booker T challenged Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship. Shawn Michaels faced Chris Jericho in a true pure wrestling classic. And the whole event was headlined by the two best amateur wrestlers to cross into pro wrestling- Kurt Angle vs. Brock Lesnar for the WWE title. Angle and Lesnar put on an absolute clinic, even after Brock nearly killed himself with one of the scariest botches in wrestling history.
Oh, and the undercard had wrestlers like Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero, Big Show and the Undertaker. No big deal. WWE wasn't perfect in 2003, but this event was pretty damn close!
3) Wrestlemania X-7. Score: 9.5/10
Knocked a slight half point of this one, just for the Jericho/Regal and Eddie/Test matches not being that great. Jericho and Regal have both had a lot better performances, and Eddie was just stuck with Test, poor guy. Thankfully, Jericho, Regal and Eddie would all go on to have better performances at future Wrestlemanias. But, honestly, I’m just being a little petty and searching for reasons to rate this slightly below my two favourite events. It was objectively, a damn near perfect show, universally considered the best Mania of all time… but I have a couple of shows I like just that bit more. It is a victim of my personal circumstances… I didn’t get to watch WWE weekly until mid 2002, my viewing was restricted to what VHSes I could borrow from the video store (yeah, I’m old). So I never saw the build to this Wrestlemania, and I probably saw the event a good six months after it actually happened. But it was great, no doubt.
Like I said, it is critically acclaimed as one of, if not the greatest Wrestlemania of all time. To review the event, I watched it recently for the first time in several years and it holds up to that acclaim. The TLC match between the Hardyz, Dudleyz and Edge & Christian. The Streetfight between Vince and Shane McMahon. The technical battle of Kurt Angle vs. Chris Benoit. The personal grudge match of Triple H vs. The Undertaker. The WWF Title Match, Stone Cold vs. The Rock. All matches that could be main events on any PPV. Then you've got an undercard featuring the likes of Chris Jericho, Eddie Guerrero, William Regal, Tazz, Kane and Big Show. It was tremendous. Perfect wrestling show with several classic matches that hold up over 17 years later, when the bar is set so high for match quality. It had it all. Technical wrestling, hardcore wrestling, big spots, soap opera like drama, passion, intensity…even some comedy sprinkled in there. Who doesn’t love the Iron Sheik? And you get a splash of sexuality… with Kamala- no, I’m kidding. But we do get Trish Stratus in all her curvy awesomeness. Trish is the GOAT. Of getting me through puberty. Oh, and she’s one of the best women’s wrestlers in WWE history. Bring on WWE Evolution, end of October!
2) ECW One Night Stand 2005. Score: 9.75/10
Seems almost unfair to include this one. But it was funded and produced by WWE, and got some promotion on Raw, so screw it, it’s a WWE PPV. And it’s my blog, I’ll do what I want. ECW One Night Stand was a reunion show for the infamous adult-orientated wrestling promotion, Extreme Championship Wrestling, which closed its doors in early 2001. WWE bought the rights to the company at the time, and given the fan interest in a DVD release of "The Rise and Fall of ECW", WWE financed this special event. However, they left all the booking and show production to ECW founder Paul Heyman and Tommy Dreamer. The cast of wrestlers included ECW alumni that became WWE talent, and others who had worked the indies in that 4.5 year span. The result was an emotional, passionate show completely unique in presentation to anything WWE was doing at the time. Frequent swearing, some may say excessive violence, and a variety of wrestling styles, from Canadian technical wrestling, lucha libre, Japanese strong style, and the hardcore weapons use that made ECW wildly popular. Damn near a perfect show, the only thing holding it back was a truly classic match, and the highly anticipated Benoit vs. Guerrero match was a pretty average contest by their standards. The Mike Awesome vs. Masato Tanaka match makes me cringe a little thinking about what we know today in terms of concussions, but they were willing to put themselves through hell to entertain the crowd. Some of the craziest chair shots and table bumps I’ve ever seen!
Joey Styles was moved to tears at the beginning of the show, boosted by the loyal fans chanting his name. You know what, I didn’t see ECW as it happened. I first saw them in early 2003, when I found a couple of ECW DVDs for $5 at Go-Lo. Despite not having that connection to ECW, with that kind of emotion from Joey and other ECW alumni on the show, I couldn’t help sharing that emotion with them. With memorable moment after memorable moment, ECW One Night Stand still gives me goosebumps. Definitely in my top 3 one night stands I've ever had.
1) Summerslam 2002. Score: 10/10.
While I didn’t have pay TV as a 12 year old in 2002, I had a few mates willing to tape Raw and Smackdown for me for a little while. So, this might be the first PPV I ever saw the build to as it happened (well, with a couple of days delay). Then I convinced my uncle to order Summerslam 2002 on PPV. So, good times all around. But my own circumstances aside, this is still one of the greatest WWE PPVs of all time, and my personal favourite.
The two main events of Rock vs. Brock and Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels in HBK's return match after 4 years away... absolute classics. Brock showed freaky athleticism, and Rock, despite a growing profile in Hollywood, was uber committed to making this 25 year old monster look like the biggest thing in WWE. In the non-sanctioned fight (essentially a no DQ match) between Triple H and HBK… HHH was at his sadistic bastard best, trying to break the surgically repaired back of Michaels, while Michaels showed all the heart and showmanship in the world to prove he still had a performance worthy of the moniker the “Showstopper”.
Then you look down the card to see one of the best opening matches ever in Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio. Rey Mysterio had debuted on Smackdown about a month earlier, and as someone who never saw him in WCW, I was absolutely in awe. Rey lost to former WWE Champion, Angle, but still did a ton of spectacular things in defeat. The GOAT Chris Jericho takes Ric Flair to his best non-gimmick match since returning to WWE almost a year prior. Eddie Guerrero and Edge show why they are in the WWE Hall of Fame. Just a perfect wrestling show. If I had to show a non-fan one event to convert them into liking wrestling, it would probably be this one.
If you stuck it out this long, congrats and thank you for reading! I like fast paced action and a good gimmick match with blood, weapons and stunts, but it’s really the drama, the emotion, the showmanship that gets me invested into these big shows. I know wrestling isn’t real. When a show, a performer, a match can make me forget about that briefly, and get me wanting one guy to win, or one guy to get his ass kicked, that’s pro wrestling well done. Then you add all the bells and whistles typical of a big pro wrestling show, and you have this amazing melting pot of entertainment. Part sport, part theatre, part action movie, part rock show, part stand up comedy, part NYE fireworks… that’s why I love pro wrestling. Hopefully, you check out one or two of the ten events I’ve written about today and find something you love, too.
Until next time, take care,