It was the audacity and vision of Vincent Kennedy McMahon that turned regional promotion World Wrestling Federation into the World Wrestling Entertainment global juggernaut it is today.
Part of the plan was the creation of pay-per-view events to showcase McMahon's roster and talents. What started out in the 80s with a few annual offerings has become a monthly tradition of Sunday evenings at major arenas and even stadiums.
This Sunday will be the inaugural PPV of the year, the 2015 Royal Rumble from the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
I have attended and covered various PPVs over the years. Here are my top 10 annual events, both current and previous, with my favorite signature moments from each:
Once the WWE started monthly PPVs in the mid-90s to stay ahead of rival WCW, most of them were titled, “In Your House,” with some moniker.
The first Backlash was one of these, which took place in 1999 after Wrestlemania. The show developed a significance as the first PPV after Wrestlemania.
Despite being a year-round entity, the calendar “ends” on Wrestlemania and “begins” the following night. This makes Backlash the first PPV of the new year, and a spotlight to continue the rivalries and provide thrilling chapters after the annual showcase.
When the WWE split its brand, RAW hosted Backlash three times, while Smackdown’s first PPV after Mania was Judgement Day. Backlash had a pretty good run, going through 2009.
Payback replaced this event in 2013. The new PPV is now second on the calendar but retains the significance of its predecessor.
Signature Moment: One of the great rivalries of the Attitude Era culminated when Steve Austin went hog-wild with chair shots and helped The Rock take the WWE title back against Triple H and the power-hungry McMahons in 2000.
9. One-Night Stand/Extreme Rules
The buyout of ECW meant the hardcore match of the past would need a new home.
After the Hardcore Title went dormant following the Attitude Era, WWE decided the best way to honor the legacy would be an annual pay-per-view.
One-Night Stand first took place in 2005 and spent three years at the Hammerstein Ballroom in NYC, a venue significant to ECW’s history.
The event moved in 2008 and became Extreme Rules in 2009, taking the follow-up spot after Wrestlemania the following year. Matches weren’t really “hardcore” but had unique stipulations, like Last Man Standing.
While some battles took our breath away, sometimes, the muscles flexed were between the ears, like when John Cena retained the WWE Championship in 2010 against Batista when he duct-taped The Animal’s legs together.
Signature Moment: Jeff Hardy did some crazy stuff in a 2009 Falls Count Anywhere Match against Umaga, winning the match with a Swanton Bomb off the top of an 18-wheeler.
8. No Way Out/Elimination Chamber
No Way Out debuted as an In Your House PPV in 1998. The event returned in 2000 as the PPV between the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania. February’s PPV became well-known for the Elimination Chamber, a match credited to Triple H.
The six-man elimination match became the way to decide who held the belts entering Wrestlemania and became the main event of No Way Out in 2008. The event was renamed in 2010 and has remained until this year.
I have no idea why it’s being replaced, other than this year, they didn’t want to lug around a 16x36 dome weighing 10 tons for a champ who shows up for limited dates.
Signature Moment: 2009 was a wild year, especially for Edge. He lost the WWE title in the first EC match of the night, only to steal Kofi Kingston’s spot, eliminate reigning World Heavyweight Champion John Cena, and then win that EC match.
7. Tables, Ladders And Chairs
Debuting in 2009, this event ended the PPV calendar year. Many of the matches at this event had some stipulation involving one of the three objects in the title.
Last year, Stairs were added for a match between super-heavyweights Erick Rowan and The Big Show. The show is highlighted with the TLC match, which asked wrestlers to tempt death in pursuit of titles and glory.
Signature Moment: There were many wild moments in the six iterations of the event, but few compared to the insane beating administered by Dean Ambrose and Bray Wyatt to each other last month.
Ambrose dropped multiple elbows from ladders to put Wyatt through tables, but lost the match when he tried to smash his opponent with a monitor from under the ring that literally backfired on him.
Wyatt won with a pinfall, the only time that’s ever happened in a TLC match.
6. Money In The Bank
Take six to eight Superstars, put a contract for a title match redeemable any time above the ring and make it the object of a ladder match. Pretty clever idea, eh?
After a great run at Wrestlemania, the WWE decided to make this a staple of summer PPVs. Debuting in July 2010, the show featured title matches, bitter rivalries and the star-making Money in the Bank contest.
Competitors risk it all and do the impossible to climb the ladder and take the briefcase, all but guaranteeing the spot for future World Champion.
Favorite Moment: CM Punk put the wrestling world on notice before his title shot in 2011, delivering the famous “Pipe Bomb” diatribe, where he decried the injustices of the WWE and threatened to take the title to other promotions if he won.
He went to Chicagoland before throngs of his followers and took on champion John Cena. The two had a marvelous match that Punk won, beginning his 434-day title reign as WWE champion, the longest run in more 20 years.
However, that night, we weren’t sure if we’d ever see him defend the title in WWE.
Certain events happen every summer and they become synonymous with the passing of time. Music fans have Lollapalooza, horse racing fans have The Travers Stakes and wrestling fans have Summerslam.
The event happens every August and often signals the beginning of the end of the season, which is kind of sad. However, it has been home to some incredible matches and moments over the years.
The PPV debuted in 1988 at Madison Square Garden and is part of WWE’s Big 4 events. Summerslam has been anchored at the Staples Center in Los Angeles since 2009 and was supposed to come back to the NYC area this past summer.
The recent closure of the Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford threw those plans into limbo.
Signature Moment: The question fans always ask is, “Why isn’t Summerslam an outdoor event like Wrestlemania?” They did it once at Wembley Stadium in London and it looked AMAZING.
In 1992, the main event was the Intercontinental Title match, which pitted real-life brothers-in-law Bret Hart as champ against The British Bulldog. The two put on a wrestling clinic for more than 80,000 people in the London evening air.
With Bret’s sister and Bulldog’s wife at ringside, Davey Boy Smith took the belt before his countrymen.
4. King Of The Ring
This is the one event that old wrestling fans would most like to see return.
WWE made this annual tournament a great event to give a rising star a huge push. While the King of The Ring tournament started in 1985, the PPV event debuted in 1993 and became the fifth member of the Big 4.
Wrestlers might compete two or three times throughout the evening to earn that crown. Sometimes, the tournament began on weekly television and culminated at the PPV.
Unfortunately, the PPV ended in 2002 and the tournament lived on TV. The last time the tournament took place was 2010. It’s a great idea and would draw again, if revived.
Signature Moment: After winning the event in 1996, Steve Austin ascended to his throne and delivered the taglines that would define his career and revolutionize the WWE.
3. Survivor Series
This PPV has been a Thanksgiving week tradition since 1987. It’s the second-longest running event, behind Wrestlemania, and is best known for the titular tag-team elimination match.
Individual rivalries meld into four-on-four or even five-on-five matches, where the winners are those who avoid elimination.
There have been title matches and other events during the time, including the famous WWE title tournament in 1998 that crowned The Rock and saw his infamous Corporate turn.
Signature Moment: We knew it was coming, and we got a teaser from John Cena.
When it happened, we still lost our minds. Last November, the first appearance of WCW stalwart and wrestling legend Sting, at a WWE event, took place at Survivor Series. Suffice to say, it was unforgettable.
In 1985, Vince McMahon gambled his father’s empire and personal fortune on a Sunday afternoon event at Madison Square Garden.
The star-studded affair would broadcast to closed-circuit venues like movie theaters and arenas for fans to see. Other regional promoters were hosting events like Starrcade.
Following two successful specials on MTV, McMahon hired stars like Liberace, Muhammad Ali and put action star Mr. T in the ring with WWE champion Hulk Hogan to team up against Paul Orndorff and Rowdy Roddy Piper.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the famous event, now held the Sunday of the NCAA Men’s Final Four weekend, oftentimes at massive stadiums. This March, it will be at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
For wrestling fans, attending the event is like a sacred pilgrimage and the spawn of lifetime memories.
I made the trip in 2010 to Glendale, Arizona and can attest to the unique atmosphere and incredible communal experience. If you like the energy and togetherness of live events, put this on your bucket list.
Signature Moment: It’s so hard to pick one. So many great matches and eye-popping events have transpired.
My personal favorite moment came at Wrestlemania XII in 1996, when I happened to catch the end of the Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels Ironman match on scrambled cable.
No falls were recorded in 60 minutes, so overtime would decide who was WWE champion.
1. Royal Rumble
This is my favorite event of the year. It sets up the Road to Wrestlemania, which is like WWE’s answer to the playoffs.
As college basketball fans look forward to Selection Sunday for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, wrestling fans look forward to the Rumble.
Titles are at stake in regular matches, but everyone pays to see the Royal Rumble match, where two competitors start, a new one enters at set intervals, elimination comes over the top rope with both feet touching the floor, and pretty much anything goes.
The Rumble match debuted on PPV in 1989, but started two years prior. Since 1993, the winner gets a title match at Wrestlemania, so winning it can propel careers and cement legacies.
This Sunday, the Wells Fargo Center will fill with fans who will count down and go nuts for over an hour in this unique match.
Signature Moment: In 2008, the Rumble took place at MSG. We had tickets for RAW the next night, so I went to my friend Linn’s house to watch the PPV.
As the match went on, we played our favorite game, “Guess the Next Entrant.” Being lazy or dumb, I kept guessing Kane. Eventually, I got it right, but I lost the game.
We never would’ve guessed John Cena would appear at entrant #30, the last slot of the night. He had surgery after a nasty injury in October and was expected to miss half a year or more. Turns out those were gross overestimates.
Cena has many fans (like me) and many detractors (like Linn). That night, when his music hit, we all went nuts. We all loved it.