When you look past WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, SummerSlam, Survivor Series, and even King of the Ring, what have been the best PPV events in WWE history? I pored through the last two decades of the promotion, and came up with this list of secondary-PPV excellence. All are recommended viewing on WWE Network.
25. Backlash 2009 (April 26, 2009 – Providence, RI)
After a largely-unfulfilling WrestleMania outside of Undertaker and Shawn Michaels’ timeless epic, WWE rebounded with a better show, surrounded by Chris Jericho’s battle with an ageless Ricky Steamboat, a tremendous Last Man Standing match with John Cena and Edge for the World Heavyweight belt, and Christian felling Jack Swagger to become ECW Champion. Tack Taker/Shawn onto this, make it four hours, and boom: a great WrestleMania.
One of the few PPVs from 1999 that actually holds up years later, No Mercy took place two weeks after Vince Russo jumped to WCW. Perhaps his exodus was the good omen this show needed? Everyone remembers the Hardy Boyz, Edge, and Christian making literal and figurative leaps in their ladder match/coming-out party, but Triple H and Stone Cold held their own in a violent brawl of a main event for the WWE Championship.
23. Unforgiven 2006 (September 17, 2006 – Toronto, ON)
Blowing off a number of feuds in one satisfying event generally makes for a really good show, and three pressing issues were finished here: Trish Stratus retired after winning the Women’s Title from Lita to end their on-again/off-again rivalry, DX won a bloody Hell in a Cell match over The McMahons and The Big Show, and John Cena began a year-long WWE Title reign, toppling Edge in an excellent TLC match. Rare in this day, the conclusions felt definite.
22. In Your House: Beware of Dog (May 26-28, 1996 – Florence/Charleston, SC)
Stretched across two nights because of a powerful storm that knocked out satellite transmission during the PPV (Part II took place before Tuesday’s taping of Superstars), the composite event yields some forgotten classics, including Marc Mero and a still-green Hunter Hearst Helmsley, and Steve Austin and Savio Vega’s brutal Caribbean Strap Match, where Austin began his ascent. It was quite rare for an In Your House to have two great matches.
21. Elimination Chamber 2014 (February 23, 2014 – Minneapolis, MN)
With the notion that Daniel Bryan probably wasn’t winning the WWE Championship here, more focus was on the WWE Network launching twelve hours later than the event itself. The final traditional “pay-per-view” boasts the anticipated Wyatt Family-Shield dream battle (before it was done in by free TV rematches) and a great Chamber match itself, which teased fans with a possible Bryan win before Randy Orton retained in the end.
20. Judgment Day 2005 (May 22, 2005 – Minneapolis, MN)
Twin Cities with another gem. SmackDown in 2005-06 produced a handful of quality PPVs when apparently Vinnie Mac focused solely on Raw (i.e. less micromanagement on the blue brand). The result: John Cena and JBL’s barbaric I Quit match for the WWE Title (surpassing their Mania match four times over), Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio’s throwback to simpler times, and a rare Paul London Cruiserweight title showcase, against Chavo Guerrero.
19. TLC 2012 (December 16, 2012 – Brooklyn, NY)
The brand-new Barclays Center was christened with one of WWE’s more inspired efforts in recent years. The first match everyone thinks of is the in-ring debut of The Shield, as they stole the show with a Match-of-the-Year nominee with Kane, Daniel Bryan, and Ryback under modified TLC rules. Forgotten in its shadow: Dolph Ziggler scoring his only high-profile win, and a damn good one, over John Cena, via a ladder match where AJ Lee would turn heel.
18. Money in the Bank 2013 (July 14, 2013 – Philadelphia, PA)
The ladder matches are pretty much never a bust, and were divided into two concepts for 2013: an “all-stars” match with former World Champions that was won by Randy Orton, and a “rising stars” one in the opener, taken by Damien Sandow. Both matches were great, even if the cash-ins made many fans miserable. Mark Henry’s startling heel turn on John Cena was paid off here with a quality World Title match, though the feud was abruptly cut short.
17. Fully Loaded 2000 (July 23, 2000 – Dallas, TX)
These days, the match results would lead to the armchair bookers to cry over the juiced-in main eventers going over on the new class, but there was more optimism in the Attitude Era. Triple H and Chris Jericho’s Last Man Standing match is hellacious, and Chris Benoit’s World Title battle with The Rock is a close second place. The best visual of the night goes to Rikishi, who pancaked Val Venis with a Superfly Splash off of a steel cage. Yes, really.
16. Backlash 2007 (April 29, 2007 – Atlanta, GA)
Take away the ridiculous handicap match where Vince McMahon became ECW Champion, and it’s top-to-bottom great. Both World Title matches (Undertaker and Batista’s Last Man Standing match, and John Cena retaining in a four way) are both WrestleMania quality. On the undercard, Chris Benoit’s US Title match with MVP, Hardy Boyz’ formula-tag with Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch, and Melina and Mickie James’ Women’s Title match all held their own.
15. No Mercy 2002 (October 20, 2002 – Little Rock, AR)
With creative in freefall thanks to necrophilia, a stunt gay wedding, and a lack of Steve Austin and The Rock, WWE was in a bad place, though the SmackDown half of No Mercy thrived, while Raw withered. Two matches fought for the right to steal the show: a tag team tournament final between Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit, and Edge and Rey Mysterio, was perfection, while Undertaker and Brock Lesnar’s Hell in a Cell match artfully pinned the gruesome meter.
14. Payback 2013 (June 16, 2013 – Chicago, IL)
Something about the city of Chicago that brings out the best in WWE; they’ve had a PPV every year there since 2006, save for 2008 (though TNA had Bound For Glory there that year). CM Punk returned after a sabbatical to win match of the night honors against Chris Jericho, while The Shield’s Tag Team title defense against Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton got an honorable mention. The worst match of the show, Dean Ambrose vs. Kane, was actually pretty good.
13. One Night Stand 2005 (June 12, 2005 – New York, NY)
The spirit of ECW soared with the ultimate in reunion shows, hitting on every era in the company’s truncated history. One Night Stand was an all-star spectacle which thrived, in spite of the matches being relatively shortened. Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka waged their usual war, Chris Jericho and Lance Storm didn’t miss a beat in commemorating their first ever match, and the ECW brigade turning back WWE’s ‘invasion’ was a feel-good moment.
12. No Way Out 2000 (February 27, 2000 – Hartford, CT)
Ended on a major downer with what was thought to be Mick Foley’s retirement, but at least he went out in ultraviolent style via a Hell in a Cell match for Triple H’s WWE Title. The WCW defections enhanced the undercard, with Chris Jericho and Kurt Angle’s Intercontinental Title match, and a Radicalz six-man against Rikishi and Too Cool. That’s not even mentioning the usual quality tag team match pitting Edge and Christian against The Hardy Boyz.
11. No Mercy 2008 (October 5, 2008 – Portland, OR)
Not as well-regarded as many of the events on this list, but maybe that’s just because the IWC consensus had grown more cynical by this time? The main event, Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels in a World Title ladder match to conclude their hate-filled war, is, as such, a ‘lost’ five star match. The World Title match between Triple H and Jeff Hardy is an awesome face-vs-face match-up, and Big Show and Undertaker have their best match together.
10. One Night Stand 2006 (June 11, 2006 – New York, NY)
Gets the slight nod over its predecessor by having a better story element, and some appropriately lengthier matches. The WWE/ECW equivalent of nWo Souled Out, there are two very good World Title matches: Rob Van Dam vs. John Cena, and Rey Mysterio vs. Sabu (which the internet would have gushed buckets for in 1995). The show-stealer: a six-person bloodbath with Edge, Mick Foley, and Lita against Tommy Dreamer, Terry Funk, and Beulah.
9. Extreme Rules 2012 (April 29, 2012 – Chicago, IL)
Hopefully in the past two years, the IWC has forgiven the ending to John Cena and Brock Lesnar’s “is this really the PG era?” car wreck, which displayed a level of intensity and pacing rarely seen in today’s WWE. Daniel Bryan and Sheamus finally got their proper match after the 18-second punch-in-the-sack that WrestleMania was, and it was a great two out of three falls match. Plus, CM Punk got to kick Chris Jericho’s ass in front of his family. Good times.
8. Vengeance 2003 (July 27, 2003 – Denver, CO)
Next to WrestleMania XIX, it’s the only other PPV from a dismal 2003 worth going out of your way to see. Three great matches dot the card: Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrero for the US Title, The World’s Greatest Tag Team vs. Rey Mysterio/Billy Kidman for the Tag Team straps, and Brock Lesnar, Kurt Angle, and Big Show’s triple threat for the WWE Title. Also notable for John Cena’s true breakthrough match in defeat to locker room measuring stick, The Undertaker.
7. Backlash 2000 (April 30, 2000 – Washington, DC)
One of the earliest examples of the PPV following WrestleMania being way better than WrestleMania itself, Backlash was almost an apology for their grandest event being more bland than grand. Putting the Radicalz in four different matches only stretched the greatness evenly, with Dean Malenko/Scotty 2 Hotty and Chris Benoit/Chris Jericho as standouts. Steve Austin’s return to help Rock win the WWE Title was one of those great markout moments.
6. Backlash 2004 (April 18, 2004 – Edmonton, AB)
Much harder to watch with Nancy and Daniel Benoit at ringside (along with now-aspiring wrestler David Benoit), Chris Benoit wins his WrestleMania rematch over Shawn Michaels and Triple H, nearly matching the quality in the process. The real story of the show was Randy Orton’s gutsy performance against Mick Foley in a hardcore war. The undercard produced some solid matches, namely Chris Jericho’s handicap win over Christian and Trish Stratus.
5. Vengeance 2005 (June 26, 2005 – Las Vegas, NV)
After Judgment Day and One Night Stand (which followed a great WrestleMania 21 and decent Backlash), Vengeance was the apex of an underrated 2005. The event began modestly enough, complete with awful Victoria/Christy Hemme ‘match’, but the last three matches bail it out big: Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle II, John Cena defending the WWE Title against Chris Jericho and Christian, and Batista and Triple H’s brutal Hell in a Cell World Title bout.
4. Judgment Day 2000 (May 21, 2000 – Louisville, KY)
With WWE’s spotless roster in the year 2000, and a desire to keep trouncing WCW every whichway, shows like this came to be. Count the classics: The Rock vs. Triple H in a WWE Championship Iron Man match. Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho’s submission match for the Intercontinental Title. Eddie Guerrero vs. Radical-mates Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn for the European Title. Can’t leave out Kurt Angle, Edge, and Christian as ‘The Jug Band’.
3. No Way Out 2001 (February 25, 2001 – Las Vegas, NV)
What can you say about a show that would have been the best PPV of the year in most other years, but is only nipped by the awesomeness of WrestleMania X7? Triple H and Steve Austin’s Three Stages of Hell match is an all-timer, as is Kurt Angle’s World Title loss to The Rock. Chris Jericho’s Intercontinental Title defense against Chris Benoit, X-Pac, and Eddie Guerrero understandably brightens the undercard. Even Stephanie and Trish had a great match!
At the height of The Hart Foundation’s mutual beef with Steve Austin and The United States, WWE put together it’s best two-hours of wrestling imaginable. The Harts’ ten-man tag with Austin’s American contingent nearly blows the roof off of the Saddledome, and there’s no lull in action. As for the rest of the card, you have Mankind vs. Triple H, Taka Michinoku vs. The Great Sasuke, and The Undertaker’s WWE Title defense vs. Vader, each of them a winner.
1. Money in the Bank 2011 (July 17, 2011 – Chicago, IL)
Barely ekes it out over Stampede, as Money in the Bank was three mostly great hours instead of two. CM Punk winning the WWE Title in one for the ages over John Cena, in front of his neighbors and friends, is an indelible memory. Christian and Randy Orton continued their engrossing World Title feud with a heated rematch. Both ladder matches are tremendous, namely the SmackDown one that Daniel Bryan took the briefcase in.