It has been a good year for WWE Network events. Good, but not great.
While there have been no truly bad Network specials, few have really stood out and if it weren’t for NXT, this list might be a little less flattering.
Here, I will rank every WWE Network special so far in 2015 from worst to first, citing the best match, how many of their matches would fall within the best 30 matches of the year* so far and why the event excelled or failed.
Obviously, this is a hard task with NXT Network specials being two hours long compared to events like SummerSlam and WrestleMania which were double in length.
*Video made after SummerSlam and doesn’t include Night of Champions or NXT Takeover: Respect.
14th: Fast Lane
WWE decided to move the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view out of its traditional slot and instead opted for a more generic pay-per-view in Fast Lane. Their reasoning for this was sound, it’s hard to throw six men together for a title match on the road to Wrestlemania every year, especially when your champion only works five events per year.
Fast Lane was an average pay-per-view from start to finish. The card included a SmackDown worthy six man tag team match between The Authority, Dolph Ziggler, Erick Rowan and Ryback and the first of four matches between John Cena and Rusev, but the best match was the main-event between Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan. It would be the first of many good pay-per-view matches for Reigns in a match to decide who would main-event WrestleMania. Bryan and Reigns did an excellent job on a pay-per-view that really didn’t much working for it. They did well to play up the size difference while Bryan did a good job of utilizing his speed. Overall, they told a great story in the ring.
The problem was the lack of star-power and good or interesting matches. Yes, Sting and Triple H went face to face, but that wasn’t anything special and outside of the main-event, none of the matches were memorable. It felt like a pay-per-view that existed for the sole purpose of setting up Wrestlemania and a pay-per-view for the sake of another pay-per-view is a waste of everyone’s $9.99. The entire card was the calibre of an average Monday night Raw.
Matches in the Top 30: 1
Roman Reigns vs Daniel Bryan (20th)
13th: Extreme Rules
Extreme Rules is usually a decent pay-per-view. It’s usually filled with WrestleMania rematches or riding momentum from the Raw after WrestleMania. This year, it didn’t really do either very well. The card featured a highly unique match between Luke Harper and Dean Ambrose that actually spanned the majority of the event, a good match between Ziggler and Sheamus, minus the ‘Kiss Me Arse’ stipulation, the birth of the New Day Era and a shockingly good Last Man Standing Match between the Big Show and Roman Reigns that stole the show. The main-event saw Randy Orton take on Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship inside a Steel Cage.
Roman Reigns vs Big Show was the best match at Extreme Rules… it almost hurts to type it. Reigns, despite the claims of many, knows how to put on an entertaining match and these two knew that nobody cared about this match. What they did from there was beat the hell out of each other for 20, highly entertaining minutes. Kudos to both men for proving lots of people, myself included, wrong.
Extreme Rules’ biggest issue was that it just didn’t match the pay-per-view’s that came after it quality wise. While it had a reasonably entertaining card, it was nothing special with zero matches breaching the top 30. The main-event between Seth Rollins and Randy Orton featured the usually-match-destroying Steel Cage stipulation that gave the bout no chance from the start. Any match that can end with someone walking through a door takes any tension out of a match unless it’s done perfectly and this was not. The ‘SKO’ finish was interesting, however.
Matches in the Top 30: 1
Roman Reigns vs Big Show (30th)
Battleground suffered the same problems as Fast Lane, it only existed to make SummerSlam better and it showed from minute one. Starting the event with Randy Orton and Sheamus was the first mistake, a match nobody really cared about and from there the event didn’t really excel anywhere outside of a good Divas triple threat match, Roman Reigns vs Bray Wyatt and the third match between Kevin Owens and John Cena.
The aforementioned United States Championship match was the best match on the card. Owens and Cena had traded victories and the rubber match, for the U.S title, was just as good as their first match at Elimination Chamber. However, like the pay-per-view itself, the match didn’t quite live up to their previous encounter at Money in the Bank.
The main-event between Seth Rollins and Brock Lesnar was just under nine minutes long. The pre-show match between R-Truth and King Barrett was actually longer. The only match on the card that was shorter was the Tag Team Championship match which was only eight seconds shorter and that was an issue in itself. Yes, The Undertaker returning cut the match short, but Brock destroyed Seth from minute one, making him look far worse than his Shield counterpart who survived all of 15 minutes with the Beast. Seth should have gotten more offense in and the match should have been at least five minutes longer. It was a poorly booked finish to an average event.
Matches in the Top 30: 2
John Cena vs Kevin Owens (18th)
Bray Wyatt vs Roman Reigns (26th)
11th: Royal Rumble
An event with all the hype and expectation in the world, one of the best crowds possible and the best match of the year so far can be 11th? How does that work? Thank the Rumble match itself for that. Focusing on the rest of the card first, up until the WWE title match, the card was entirely made up of filler tag team matches that were all poor and only existed to eat up time. This pay-per-view would be in last place if one match didn’t drag it into 11th.
The match of the year so far was a triple threat match between Brock Lesnar, John Cena and Seth Rollins for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. Everything about it was awesome, from Seth Rollins breaking Lesnar through a table, to Rollins’ pulling out the phoenix splash, to Lesnar rising like the previously mentioned bird and retaining his title. All three competitors had a legitimate chance of leaving as the champion and this added so much to the bout. The psychology of Seth being Mr Money in the Bank and having two chances to win was impeccable and with Sasha Banks and Bayley falling just short, it’s hard to see anything surpassing this match now. If only the Rumble Match held up its end of the bargain.
The Royal Rumble Match itself. We all knew there was a high probability of Roman Reigns walking out the winner and that is not why this match was such a disappointment. It was disappointing because it was just a genuinely bad Royal Rumble match, probably the worst of the 21st century. Having Daniel Bryan, the obvious crowd favourite eliminated so early is one thing, but then not bringing out another crowd favourite until Ambrose in the mid-twenties was just stupid. The crowd would have stopped booing the second another one of their favourites entered the match, instead they sent out more competitors, including Reigns, meaning the crowd was always going to turn on him and everyone else. It was just a poorly booked match that had so much potential to be something different and new. Let’s not even get started on the ending. Instead of a hellacious battle between two former Shield members, or having Dolph Ziggler fall one spot away from glory, or having Daniel Bryan just not able to go all the way or any other ending you can think of, they go with Kane and Big Show clearing the field. Just. Awful!
Matches in the Top 30: 1
Brock Lesnar vs John Cena vs Seth Rollins (1st)
10th: Night of Champions
The most recent WWE main roster pay-per-view wasn’t bad by any means, it just had nothing that really stood out. It had two great moments with Kevin Owens and Charlotte winning their first main roster titles, but the dual main-event was always going to be hard to pull off, especially with a man in his late 50’s as the star attraction. Most of the anticipation surrounded the mystery partner for Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose and the Chris Jericho reveal was great and logical given his history with the Wyatt’s.
The best match was never going to be anything other than John Cena versus Seth Rollins. The two have outstanding chemistry and they managed to put together a United States Championship match that exceeded their SummerSlam bout. Cena winning clean was the right move to put the United States Championship back into focus.
The card was actually quite good from start to finish and there weren’t really any major problems with the event. Ziggler and Rusev exceeded expectations and The Dudleys feud with the New Day was always going to continue beyond this pay-per-view, so it needed a screwy finish. The only real issue was the fact that Sting was never going to leave the event with the title which killed some of the anticipation for the main-event and it’s something that’s happened too many times this year.
Matches in the Top 30: 2
Seth Rollins vs John Cena (9th)
The Wyatt Family vs Roman Reigns, Dean Ambrose & Chris Jericho (22nd)
Payback sneaks ahead of Night of Champions just on match quality. Payback had five quality matches that carried the event. Ziggler and Sheamus had the best of their bouts, Cena and Rusev did a decent job in their I Quit Match, Bray Wyatt vs Ryback was entertaining and the two out of three falls Tag Team Title match was excellent.
The main-event fatal four way for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship was the best match on the card. It was awesome to see the three Shield boys back together and the one moment where they relived the glory days was perfect. It was also great to see Reigns and Ambrose go at each other for the first time. I can’t wait for them to have a proper match.
The Divas tag team match between The Bella Twins and Naomi and Tamina was awful and highlighted the desperate need for a change in the Divas division. We’d also seen enough of Neville vs Barrett to not really care about the result and the I Quit Match was a little bit long at 27 minutes, so the pay-per-view was marred by some poor booking.
Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose vs Roman Reigns vs Randy Orton (19th)
The New Day vs Tyson Kidd & Cesaro (23rd)
8th: Elimination Chamber
The Elimination Chamber pay-per-view came up out of nowhere just two weeks after Payback. For that reason, many expected it to just be a rehash of Payback with the two chamber matches added. However, we were treated to some outstanding matches. In fact, the two standout matches of the night were not the chamber matches, but the main-event match between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins, and the champion vs champion match between Kevin Owens and John Cena.
Choosing between the above two matches is tough, but Owens defeating Cena clean is hard to go past. It was an outstanding match, bringing the best out of Cena and the best of Owens that we’d seen to that stage in his WWE career. The ending was unexpected and that is always a massive plus. Ambrose and Rollins also deserve a mention for an excellent match that gave us a small tease at what it would feel like to have the lunatic fringe as champion.
With only two weeks to build the pay-per-view, a lot of the feuds were slapped together last minute and this hurt the build to the event. The main problem, however, were the chamber matches themselves. Neither were good and at an event called Elimination Chamber, they probably should be.
Matches in the Top 30: 2
John Cena vs Kevin Owens (10th)
Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose (12th)
7th: NXT Takeover: Unstoppable
The second of the NXT pay-per-views had a different feel to all the NXT events before it. After the massive successes of NXT Rival, R-Evolution and Fatal 4 Way, it was now just expected that NXT would put on amazing shows, but this pay-per-view featured two relatively new superstars in the main-event spotlight in Kevin Owens and Becky Lynch and so there was a general nervousness about whether it would deliver. While Owens vs Zayn was laid out as Owens destroying Zayn, so therefore couldn’t be quite the classic it could have been, it still delivered what it needed to be. The mid-card didn’t really stand out, however.
It was the first title defence for Sasha Banks, who, in what originally felt like a filler-feud, put on a match of the year candidate with Becky Lynch. Coming out of NXT Rival, most people assumed we would either be getting one final match between Sasha and Charlotte or we’d finally see Bayley’s ascension to the top of NXT. Instead, they went with Becky and at first, it seemed like this was just to get a win under Sasha’s belt and fill time before the big NXT Takeover Brooklyn event. However, from the moment the two former allies started feuding, it felt different. Becky’s story is a genuinely heart-warming one and her chemistry with Banks made for a truly outstanding feud. Coupled with a change in look, this was the breakout moment for Becky Lynch. She showed the world what she is capable of and nothing highlights that more than the fact that the entire crowd wanted Sasha Banks to win at the start of the match, but by the end of it, they were mostly cheering for Becky, she turned them all around. They also gave the Lass Kicker a standing ovation post-match for her efforts. She would not be on Raw right now if it weren’t for this match, guaranteed.
An injury to Hideo Itami hampered the number one contenders match and the rest of the card wasn’t quite as good as the undercard of other Takeover’s. Rhyno vs Corbin wasn’t great and while there was nothing wrong with the Tag Team Championship Match, they just didn’t quite feel as big as they have at other NXT events. Sami Zayn having to wrestle with a clearly injured shoulder just made matters worse.
Matches in the Top 30: 1
Sasha Banks vs Becky Lynch (6th)
6th: Money in the Bank
Money in the Bank was strange in the way it was laid out. It only featured six matches on the main card and two of them were five minutes long. However, this gave the clear three best matches of the night plenty of time and they all delivered for the most part. The Money in the Bank Ladder match, while not as good as 2014’s match, was entertaining with an ending nobody expected. Cena and Owens delivered their best match and the main-event ladder match between Ambrose and Rollins, while overly long, was great.
The match of the night was the rematch between Kevin Owens and John Cena. It could even be argued that it was the best male singles match of 2015 so far. They one-upped their previous match and with Cena bringing out moves we’ve never seen him do before, they put on a genuine classic showing that Kevin Owens is as good as anyone in the world right now.
The fact that so much time was devoted to the big three matches on the card hurt the rest of the bouts. While Nikki Bella and Paige got 10 minutes, the match still felt rushed, the Tag Team Title match was only five minutes long and the Intercontinental Championship match was even shorter than that.
Matches in the Top 30: 3
Kevin Owens vs John Cena (4th)
Seth Rollins vs Dean Ambrose (14th)
Money in the Bank Ladder Match (28th)
5th: NXT Takeover: Rival
The first NXT special of the year did not let anyone down. Coming off arguably the best match ever in NXT history between Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville, the main-event feud between Zayn and Kevin Owens had a big fight feel and the soon-to-be-dubbed Four Horsewomen of NXT stole the show and launched the revolution of women’s wrestling to the next level. The number one contenders match between Adrian Neville and Finn Balor also lived up to the hype.
The match of the night was the previously mentioned number one contenders match between Finn Balor and Adrian Neville. It was just an intelligent match between two competitors who would be close to the best wrestlers in the world right now. The last five minutes of this match are something to behold with the two trading high speed offence. Balor’s counter to the Red Arrow is amazing.
The NXT Women’s Championship match was also outstanding. The four women had a point to prove and they delivered in spades. Outside of Kevin Owens, the breakout star of 2015 is Sasha Banks. Everything she touches turns to gold and this was no exception. It was the perfect coronation for the Boss of NXT and would begin a year that will go down as the year women’s wrestling arrived.
So far, I’ve been ranking matches in the top 30, but I bet you’re wondering what the WORST pay-per-view match of 2015 so far is. Well Bull Dempsey and Baron Corbin took to each other in a No Disqualification match that featured next to no weaponry. It was just a terrible match between the two super-heavyweights that made no sense and was just a letdown. The Tag Team Championship match between The Lucha Dragons and Blake and Murphy was incredibly fast paced, but the match was marred by botches aplenty.
Matches in the Top 30: 2
Finn Balor vs Adrian Neville (5th)
Charlotte vs Sasha Banks vs Bayley vs Becky Lynch (8th)
4th: NXT Takeover: Respect
The most recent pay-per-view tore the Full Sail house down. Every match on the card was quality and the show lived up to its title and not only paid brilliant tribute to the late American Dream, but the first ever WWE female main-event was also absolutely superb. Coupled by breakout performances by the likes of Chad Gable, Jason Jordan and Asuka, this event was truly special. Finn Balor and Samoa Joe performed twice in two good matches as well.
The main-event between Bayley and Sasha Banks for the NXT Women’s Championship was always going to be the best match, it was just a matter of whether it was able to live up to the enormous hype – and it did. Like any good sequel, many will argue that the original was better, but this rematch did everything a good rematch should. It upped the stakes, upped the stipulation and outside of Sami Zayn’s final match with Neville at last year’s NXT Takeover: R Evolution, no match has felt bigger than this one. It was the culmination of everything the NXT women have been building to in 2015 and with the Ironman Match going down to the final three seconds, it ticked every box.
Time was the biggest issue for this event. Not the time that the matches got, but the time it had to build up its card. Most NXT events get two or so months to shape up, but Respect had just over five weeks. The Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic took up 50% of the card, which was fine, but an extra week to allow the finalists to talk about how much winning would mean to them or to confront their opponents would’ve made it that much better. The same goes for Apollo Crews and Tyler Breeze who were thrown together without any real reason to be and it showed with the crowd not really having much reason to be invested in the match.
Matches in the Top 30: 2
Bayley vs Sasha Banks (2nd)
No pay-per-view has more matches in the top 30 than SummerSlam. It was a great event that could be the best SummerSlam of the ‘PG Era’. Of course, SummerSlam was a four hour event compared to NXT specials which are two hours which give it a distinct advantage, but they certainly capitalized on that advantage. Stephen Amell put on the best performance ever by a celebrity in a WWE match, The New Day were fantastic, Reigns, Ambrose and The Wyatt’s delivered, Owens and Cesaro did their thing and the main-event mostly lived up to expectations.
The match of the night was the title for title match between Seth Rollins and John Cena. I’ve already touched on the chemistry the two of them have and this was no exception. The match was on track to be a match of the year candidate before the strange interference from Jon Stewart. It still stole the show, however. Rollins’ use of a frog-splash and a super-plex into a float over suplex just shows how versatile this man is.
The biggest problem with SummerSlam was the order of the card. SummerSlam was a great pay-per-view that could have been an outstanding pay-per-view if the simple task of ordering the matches was done better. Sheamus and Randy Orton kicked off the show when in reality it was the match that people cared least about. Cesaro and Owens or the Tag Team Championship match should have opened the show. The Divas match was too far into the show considering the time it was given and the crowd was always going to be quieter after the WWE World Heavyweight Championship match that was before it. It’s the little things that make a card special.
Matches in the top 30: 5
Seth Rollins vs John Cena (11th)
Kevin Owens vs Cesaro (13th)
Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns vs The Wyatt Family (24th)
Tag Team Championship Fatal 4 Way (27th)
Brock Lesnar vs The Undertaker (29th)
2nd: NXT Takeover: Brooklyn
This event was near on perfect. The six bouts were structured perfectly which meant the event was awesome from start to finish. Breeze versus Thunder Liger was good enough, the Tag Team Championship Match far exceeded expectations, Apollo Crews showcase was a nice breather, Joe and Corbin was what a heavyweight battle should look like and the main-event ladder match was stellar. Let’s not forget the crowd though, they made this legitimately special.
I clearly left one match out in the analysis above and that was because it deserved its own spotlight. In what is the best rivalry of them all so far in 2015, Bayley and Sasha Banks didn’t just steal the show, they were the show. In arguably the match of the year, the two women showed just how much that NXT Women’s Championship means to them and the Four Horsewomen posing at the end of the match will go down as one of, if not, the best moment of 2015.
Being picky, I expected more from Tyler Breeze and Thunder Liger and felt the match fell short of expectations. On top of that, Breeze should never have lost the match. He needed a big victory and this was the perfect opportunity. It was clear weeks before the event that the NXT Women’s Championship match should have main-evented, but considering how they’ve used that as a platform to build up the rematch, I can live with the ‘co-main-event’ line that was used. Let’s be real, there’s only one main-event and it’s the match that closes the show.
Matches in the top 30: 3
Sasha Banks vs Bayley (3rd)
Finn Balor vs Kevin Owens (15th)
Blake and Murphy vs The Vaudevillains (21st)
As it should be, WrestleMania sits far and away as the best show of 2015. People had low expectations going in due to sloppy booking and a half-baked build up, but the matches were always going to pull through at the end of the day. It was a four hour spectacle that was brilliant from start to finish and truly felt like a WrestleMania. The Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match was exciting, Randy Orton versus Seth Rollins was always going to be great, Sting, Triple H and their associates had the crowd going nuts, The Rock and Ronda Rousey segment was gold and the main-event was brilliant… then Seth Rollins came out again and blew the roof off the joint!
Considering neither wrestler laid a hand on each other in what can only be described as woeful booking, the main-event was truly outstanding. It wasn’t a wrestling masterpiece, nor was it the culmination of an amazing storyline, but it was a damn good fight. Roman and Brock through absolutely everything they had at each other and the blood was a perfect way to capture how desperate both men were to win. The best part was that you could make legitimate cases for either man to walk away with the title. Everyone expected it to be the crowning of Reigns, but Brock had just re-signed with the company, so he was an equal chance of retaining. Most WrestleMania’s usually have pretty predictable title changes, so this was a treat to watch. Seth Rollins’ briefcase cash in was truly a mark out moment and cemented this as one of 2015’s best matches.
LIGHT! WrestleMania started way too early which meant that all but the main-event was finished by the time the sun set. The show could have started in the daylight, but it had to be dark for at least half of the bouts, including The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt match. Both men have entrances that require darkness and considering that was actually a theme of their feud, it was very much a wasted opportunity. It also killed any attempted fireworks. They can’t make that mistake again, the show just has to start later next time.
Matches in the top 30: 3
Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns vs Seth Rollins (7th)
Seth Rollins vs Randy Orton (16th)
Intercontinental Championship Ladder Match (25th)