With the debut of the WWE Network, pro wrestling fans have an unprecedented opportunity to revisit every pay-per-view event in WWF, WWE, WCW, ECW (and more!) history. It’s easy to become paralyzed by such an insane amount of choice suddenly dropped in your lap…so which shows and matches are Den of Geek‘s team of professional wrestling experts most looking forward to checking out? We have 22 answers to that question for you, from the best of the best to the shows that are so legendarily bad that they can’t be missed!
Starrcade ’83: A Flair for the Gold
Gavin: I was only two years old when this show happened. In my early wrestling watching days years later, I’d only catch the occasional piece of WCW programming while never setting my schedule to it. I didn’t truly follow WCW until the late-90’s and while there was some fun stuff in there, it was really the beginning of the end. I’ve been brought up on so much WWF/WWE that their PPVs aren’t as much on my radar as they should be. I’d rather go through all of WCW, but especially the early days. See the young workings of Ric Flair, Harley Race, Roddy Piper, Ricky Steamboat, and others. As long as my will holds, I want to burrow through the WCW library more than anything else, even when it gets unwatchable. Especially when it gets unwatchable.
The Wrestling Classic (1985)
Gavin: I’ve watched the OSW review of this PPV and I’m intrigued. We know of the “big four” PPVs of WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, Survivor Series, and SummerSlam (hell, I own all the early ones on DVD already), but the Wrestling Classic is like the disowned, deformed son that WWE keeps in the cellar, like a character in a Richard Matheson short story. It’s the first time the WWF Championship was defended on PPV with Hogan going up against his longtime rival Roddy Piper. The main draw of the show is a one-night tournament where the booking is completely nonsensical. To be fair, it’s rather realistic, but it also booked by someone who doesn’t understand the concept of in-ring drama. The finals is more like something out of a wrestling simulator than a fictional story told via grappling. That said, at least the Wrestling Classic is still less of a failure than WWF’s Tuesday in Texas experiment in 1991. That right there is to WWE PPVs as the Holiday Special is to Star Wars.
WrestleMania 2 (1986)
David: WrestleMania 2 is the red-headed stepchild of WrestleManias. Not only was it the only WrestleMania not held on a Sunday (it was held on Monday) it was held in three different cities with three different main events for a total of twelve matches. The main events were Mr. T vs Roddy Piper (a follow-up to the original WrestleMania‘s main event), British Bulldogs vs The Dream Team, and Hulk Hogan vs King Kong Bundy. WrestleManias tend to use celebrities, but WrestleMania 2 might have the most; along with Joe Fraizer and Lou Duva being involved in Mr. T’s boxing match, there’s a battle royal filled with NFL players, and Ozzy Osbourne was in the British Bulldogs’ corner. Ray Charles sings the National Anthem though, which sounds rather pleasant. Wikipedia lists another twenty celebrities I didn’t mention yet, including Dick Butkus (guest referee!), Joan Rivers (announcer!), G. Gordon Liddy (boxing judge!), and Elvira (commentary!). WrestleMania 2 was a huge deviation from the format of WrestleMania; its failure is responsible for the format of WrestleMania III and all future WrestleManias. The PPV is a fascinating footnote; it’s worth checking out to see what could have been (and maybe be thankful that it didn’t catch on).
WrestleMania 3 (1987)
Marc: Who doesn’t want to relive Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant? Never before has a contest had a bigger match feel. Watch the opening moments: the crowd is buzzing with nerves as no one could imagine either guy losing. To that point, Andre was undefeated (storyline wise) in the WWF and no one could ever imagine Hogan losing. Also, heel Andre was a new and fresh concept, so fans were just riveted by this one, and the results never disappoint. Also, it’s worth going back and watching this PPV to see the hottest crowd, like, ever, as Roddy Piper hits the ring in what was supposed to be his retirement match as he took on his arch rival Adrian Adonis The card also features what is still considered by many to be the purest wrestling match in ‘mania history between “Macho Man” Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat, a match that every young wrestler should watch to master timing and psychology. The rest of the card kicks ass too, and who doesn’t want to see King Kong Bundy elbow drop a midget?
Bunkhouse Stampede (1988)
David: This was the last of four Bunkhouse Stampede events ran by Jim Crockett Promotions and the only one to air as a PPV (and take place in a steel cage). The main event involved wrestlers dressing in “bunkhouse gear” (think cowboy boots and jeans) and were encouraged to bring weapons. Fans complained about the booking based on previous Stampedes, but because this is the only Bunkhouse Stampede on the Network for the foreseeable future, let’s have fun watching Dusty Rhodes dressed up as a cowboy performing Bionic Elbows on Barbarian. The card also featured Hawk vs Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship which sounds fun.
The Great American Bash (1989)
David: The main talking point around this show is the first ever WarGames match (featuring a bunch of fun tag teams: Road Warriors, Midnight Express, Fabulous Freebirds and Samoan Swat Team which included Rikishi) on a PPV, but it’s not the only exciting match on this card. Terry Funk challenges Flair for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, Sting defends the World Television Championship against The Great Muta, a Texas Tornado match between the Steiner Brothers and Varsity Club (which included Mike Rotunda, father of Bray Wyatt and Bo Dallas) and a two-ring King of the Hill Battle Royale featuring Scott Hall, Ron Simmons, Mike Rotunda, the Steiner Brothers, Brian Pillman and a bunch more. Personally, I’m excited to see a tag team match that features Dynamic Dudes, but that’s mostly because I want to see John Laurinaitis as a skater dude.
The Great American Bash (1991)
Gavin: I enjoy a good slice of schadenfreude as much as the next guy and the recent Royal Rumble makes me want to finally take a look at the show known for its angriest crowd. Jim Herd had gotten real tired of Ric Flair being the #1 guy and got rid of him. The PPV was hastily changed with a main event of Lex Luger vs. Barry Windham for the vacated title. Now, you know how those fans in Pittsburgh were so pissed about Daniel Bryan not being treated like a star? They may have been loud and vocal in their anger, but that was only during the last ten minutes of the show as well as one other match. Imagine an entire show where the crowd hate, hate, HATES everything going on and deafens everyone with chants of, “WE WANT FLAIR!” Now that’s some wrestling history I can sink my teeth into. Also, the Wikipedia entry makes mention of El Gigante having a “gaggle of midgets.” Oh, hells yes.
Jesse: Bret and Dave Boy Smith have an incredible match in Wembley Stadium, and The Ultimate Warrior takes on “The Macho Man” Randy Savage. Honestly, those are the only two matches I am interested in watching on this show, but I might watch Nailz vs. Virgil for a good laugh.
ECW Barely Legal ’97 (1997)
Jesse: Not only was this ECW’s first pay-per-view, it was at what many consider the peak of its popularity and creativity. It’s a solid pay-pay-view all around. We finally got the Taz vs. Sabu match that was built up for a year, and Terry Funk proved he could be the man even in a company like that. Plus, I am in the crowd holding up signs on the hard camera side, so I look forward to reliving that.
WWF In Your House #16: Canadian Stampede (1997)
Vinny: A pay-per-view that took place in Bizarro world. Between the Legion of Doom and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, you should have any crowd cheering. Throw in Goldust and then rising star Ken Shamrock, and it seems like even more of a sure thing, right? Wrong. The hottest heels in the U.S., The Hart Foundation, went home to Calgary, Alberta, Canada and were greeted as the biggest faces in the world. The crowd reaction alone is something to behold. Though only 4 matches in length, Canadian Stampede was perhaps the best pay-per-view of 1997 and showed how precise wrestling psychology and smart matchmaking can bring the crowd to their feet.
ECW Living Dangerously 1998
Gavin: Much like with WCW, I want to get through all of the ECW library. That’s going to be a lot easier, since there are only 21 PPVs before Heyman went bankrupt. With all those hours to sit through, the one thing I can’t wait to get to is Living Dangerously just for that Taz vs. Bam Bam Bigelow match. Time will tell for me how much of the original ECW was rose colored glasses and how much of it was pure amazing, but I know for certain that Bam Bam escaping the Tazmission by slamming through the mat and presumably several layers of the Earth’s crust is something that will never not be awesome.
WCW Starrcade 1998
Jesse: The show must have been the introduction to The Opposites. The match endings were booked so awful that it’s a joke. Just for an example, and sorry to spoil it, but if you want to see Billy Kidman defeat Rey Mysterio, Jr. and Juventud Guerrera in one match, and then beat Eddie Guerrero in another match later that night, then this show is for you. Unbelievable. And, booker at the time, Kevin Nash goes against Goldberg for the WCW World Heavyweight Title. Wonder how that one turns out. And I am seriously looking forward to seeing this again in all of its absurdity.
David: This PPV is atrocious. Most of the matches end with me wanting to flip tables over how awful and dumb everything it. However, it had to be included on this list because it includes the Kennel from Hell match, which is one of the worst gimmick matches the WWF/E has ever put on. The premise is that it’s a steel cage match (cool!) with another cell around it (even better!), and in between are a bunch of attack dogs (awesome!!!). The attack dogs apparently didn’t get the script, because instead of being menacing, they ignored the wrestlers and decided to relieve themselves and then try to mate. It still wasn’t the worst match of the night though because X-Pac, the New Age Outlaws, and Jeff Jarrett all wrestled and won.
ECW Guilty As Charged 2001
Vinny: Though this is the last original ECW pay-per-view, that actually isn’t my reason to revisit it. Presented many times on the now defunct WWE Classics on Demand, the show features an impressive array of talent, some of whom would go on to greater wrestling achievement and some who would soon slip into history. In my mind, one match stands above the rest. The show featured a 3-Way Tag Team Dance between The Unholy Alliance of Tajiri & Whipwreck, Kid Kash & Super Crazy, and the F.B.I. comprised of Little Guido & Tony Mamaluke. This is my favorite F.B.I. match and with Guido being my hometown hero (Go Nanuet Knights!), I intend to revisit it as soon as possible.
WrestleMania 17 (2001)
Jesse: Rock vs. Austin was hot, and I loved the ending to that match. The card also had TLC II with Edge & Christian vs. The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz, which is always a spectacle. Kurt Angle fought that guy that did those awful things. And The Iron Sheik actually wins a match on PPV, and who doesn’t love that?!? Please note: I dislike Jericho beating Regal in the opening bout.
Marc: Considered by many to be greatest ‘mania of all time, Wrestlemania XVII, top to bottom, is what a PPV card should be. With every title on the line, the card features the best of the late Attitude Era. From an awesome hardcore match that is fought in the entire arena between Big Show, Kane, and Raven, to an Intercontinental Title Match opener between William Regal and Chris Jericho, even the undercard rocks. Add to that a technical classic between Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle in addition to a match that changed tag wrestling forever: TLC II, a brutal, high flying match between The Dudleys, the Hardys, and Edge and Christian, an emotionally fraught, perfectly booked match between Vince and Shane McMahon that has one of the best twist endings even and the granddaddy of them all; Rock versus Steve Austin.
This WrestleMania epitomizes everything a super-show should be, and will be watched by yours truly on the WWE Network more than once. Plus, the card features a Gimmick Battle Royal for all those who need their Bastion Booger fix.
WCW Sin 2001WCW Superbrawl Revenge 2001WCW Greed 2001
Vinny: Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I have grouped these three final WCW pay-per-views together because they are the end of a story. In 1996, no one would have believed the future of WCW 2001. What is shown in these pay-per-views is that even with a solid roster and millions of dollars at your disposal, it is the stories told that wrestling lives or dies by. After years of attacking and raiding Vince McMahon’s WWF, the fuel just ran out in WCW. These rarely seen matches, featuring some of the biggest stars in wrestling history, show where hubris can bring you. In the words of Omar Little, “You come at the king, you best not miss.”
Marc: I am biased to this one, because I was there at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York. I will never forget the opener as Rey Mysterio, newly arrived in the WWE and uninjured took on Kurt Angle. It was a match where both guys had the adrenaline up to eleven and didn’t stop moving for a second. The underrated and shamefully almost forgotten Un-Americans, Christian and Lance Storm, defended their tag titles against Booker T and Goldust (and any PPV featuring Bookdust is worth seeking out, suckah). This one is a rare opportunity to see two of the greatest of that era go one-on-one as Eddie Guerrero and Edge fought in a note perfect match. In addition, Chris Jericho met Ric Flair, it was like watching Flair wrestle himself twenty years ago, and seeing the Rock go up against Brock Lesnar for the WWE title is something I can never forget.
ECW One Night Stand 2006
Marc: For one night, the WWE brought back the spirit of the original ECW by letting many of the ECW originals cut loose on a PPV. One Night Stand saw Rob Van Dam defeat John Cena (he was being booed then, too) to win the WWE title which Van Dam rechristened the ECW title before ECW returned (and summarily died) on the Syfy Channel. The card was fueled by guys busting their ass to capture that old ECW spirit. Rey Mysterio took on a motivated Sabu in a match that is part ballet, part train wreck as both guys barely survived. An underrated tag match brought the house down as The F.B.I. (Little Guido Maritato and Tony Mamaluke, with Big Guido) defeated Yoshihiro Tajiri and Super Crazy. It was the end of an era and a harbinger of a new one as that week the WWE controlled ECW debuted, and while the show did breakout Sheamus and Jack Swagger, the old ECW spirit was never rekindled. But for one night on PPV, in 2006 it was, and I can’t wait to relive it on the WWE Network. E-C-DUB! E-C-DUB! E-C-DUB!
December to Dismember (2006)
Gavin: Let’s face it. What good is having the entire catalog of WWE/WCW/ECW PPVs at your fingertips if you aren’t going to take a break from all the Steamboat matches and sit down to watch some of the worst crap history has to offer? I’m talking about the second Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior match. Scott Steiner vs. Triple H. Brothers of Destruction vs. Kronik. Hell, just about anything in WCW from 2000-on. If you really want to revel in failure, you have to look at December to Dismember, the show that caused Paul Heyman to get so fed up that he left the company for six years. Taking place a mere two weeks after the previous WWE PPV, this show had only two matches that were advertised. Only one of those was advertised on television! The main event’s Elimination Chamber match is like looking at a page in Highlights magazine that asks you, “How many things can you see wrong with this picture?” Here’s a hint to start you off: Sabu was replaced with Hardcore Holly! Most of the PPV other than that is nothing but throwaway matches that you’d see on a Superstars undercard. This is a show you have to imagine as being set up to fail because otherwise, the writers really were that dense.