On Raw this past Monday, Michael Cole made sure to let all of us know that WWE SummerSlam 2018 was the most-watched SummerSlam of all time. True? It's possible, but pretty hard to verify, especially less than 24 hours after the dust settled on the event. Certainly, with Ronda Rousey in a high-profile match, along with the mystery and uncertainty surrounding the Universal title match, the intrigue enticed many to check it out.
In these days of the WWE Network, judging the success of a pay-per-view is trickier, especially when so many are apt to exploit the free month deal. But just for the hell of it, let's check out the 10 most purchased WWE pay-per-views of all time, with verifiable numbers. You may notice that each event has a common unifying theme.
10. WrestleMania XXV - 960,000 Buys
The silver WrestleMania (but not the silver *anniversary* of WrestleMania - that would come the following year) bestowed upon us the gem that was Undertaker vs. Shawn Michaels, widely considered one of the greatest matches in WWE history. The show isn't memorable for a whole lot else good besides that match (though Money in the Bank, Hardy vs. Hardy, and the World Heavyweight triple threat were all highly enjoyable), but it drew enough eyes to be the tenth-most-bought pay-per-view in WWE history.
With 960,000 pay-per-view buys, 'Mania 25 fell short of the magic one million mark, but that's hardly anything to be upset about. At the time, the 25th 'Mania was the seventh-most purchased WWE pay-per-view ever, and the list of such events numbered well beyond 200 by that time. So cheers.
9. WrestleMania 22 - 975,000 Buys
Once the lights were turned out on the Attitude Era in the spring of 2001, there would be a considerable decline in pay-per-view buys for all events, WrestleMania included, but only to a certain extent. Events like 'Manias 18 and 19 dipped massively from shows like 15 and 17, but once WrestleMania entered the twenties, things began to turn around a bit. While other events continued a slide, WrestleMania benefited by being the one show a year that some people would order.
WrestleMania 22, with its mix of post-Attitude insanity and reverence toward throwback WWE, raked with 975,000 buys, the highest total for any WWE pay-per-view that didn't reach a million. Fans were treated to Shawn Michaels murdering Vince McMahon, Rey Mysterio's improbable World title win, and Mickie James doing that thing... yeah!
8. WrestleMania XX - 1,007,000 Buys
Where it all begins again, said WWE. After 'Manias 18 and 19 indicated a nose-dive in the viability of the flagship event, WWE renewed WrestleMania'slustrer with a five-hour spectacular from Madison Square Garden, squeezing in as much history and prestige as possible with every living star imaginable, sans Hogan, Savage, Bruno, and Bret. There was something both quaintly-traditional and beautifully-modern about the 20th grand spectacle.
Consumers agreed, as the event accounted for 1,007,000 buys, only the second WWE pay-per-view to break one million buys to that point. On a night that ranged from brilliant (Benoit and Guerrero's landmark wins, Rock and Sock vs. Evolution, return of the Hall of Fame) to brutal (Goldberg vs. Lesnar), WWE provided a true "greatest hits" in the only venue worthy of delivering such a feast.
7. WrestleMania X-Seven - 1,040,000 Buys
Here's an event that rates number one on most people's lists, but has to settle for being merely part of the top 10 on this one. Actually, that's a bit of a misnomer - 'Mania 17 was, for a few years, the most purchased WWE PPV to that point, and was the first to break the one million buy barrier. Appropriate that the perceived greatest WWE PPV of all time was the one to do it.
In all, 1,040,000 was the final tally, as Austin's stunning heel turn, Undertaker's ninth 'Mania win, Linda McMahon's kick to the grapefruits, and a whole lotta hardcore stunts gave us the sights and sounds of Attitude's accepted swan song. Just four years earlier, WWE was lucky to do 230,000 buys for WrestleMania 13.
6. WrestleMania 29 - 1,048,000 Buys
Minor spoiler: when WWE decided to run "Twice in a Lifetime", there was a little hope that the number would do comparable to the enormous sum brought in by its "Once" predecessor. The final WrestleMania prior to the launch of WWE Network was still a PPV-only offering, and anyone wanting to see John Cena vs. The Rock for the WWE Championship could only do so from your own home (legally, anyway) via ordering it.
The last WWE pay-per-view to hit the one million mark came in with 1,048,000 buys, with Rock/Cena II as the focal point. While Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H and CM Punk vs. The Undertaker were intriguing on their own merits, let's not pretend that anything but Rock/Cena (and the WrestleMania brand itself) was the metric-driver.
5. WrestleMania XXIV - 1,058,000 Buys
As was the case with the prior example, this was a WrestleMania where a gimmick that had worked one year earlier was being put to the test once more, in the hopes of doing a comparable number. In this case, major celebrity involvement in a match was the lure, as boxing PPV king Floyd Mayweather Jr was matched up with Big Show in a rather oddball pairing.
In all, 'Mania 24 claimed 1,058,000 buys, which at the time would make it the third-most bought WWE pay-per-view in history. Mayweather/Show was considered passable by many, while the real praise went to Ric Flair's sendoff, Undertaker vs. Edge, and yet another thrilling Money in the Bank ladder match. Oh, and Cena got pinned, to the delight of quite a few.
4. WrestleMania XXVII - 1,059,000 Buys
It was a true thrill when The Rock popped up on the Valentine's Day 2011 edition of Monday Night Raw, hyping a special hosting gig at the forthcoming Atlanta 'Mania. It would mark the first time that The Rock stepped inside a WrestleMania ring in seven years, and the popularity of the World Champion-turned-box office savior spurred a frenzy among fans of different genres.
By about a thousand folks, 27 nipped 24 with 1,059,000 buys, and Rock didn't even have a match. In fact, WrestleMania 27 was heavily panned, outside of an excellent Undertaker/Triple H epic that captivated the viewing world. It also stands to be noted that the fourth-most-bought WWE pay-per-view ever had a 15 minute Jerry Lawler/Michael Cole bout, proving that life isn't perfect.
3. WrestleMania 21 - 1,085,000 Buys
After reviving the Hall of Fame concept one year earlier, WWE crystallized the concept of deftly blending old with new, juxtaposing a Hall class with Hulk Hogan and his 1980s villain counterparts, with the rise of John Cena and Batista to the World title slots. The "WrestleMania Goes Hollywood" campaign helped add extra pizzazz to a promising event.
Fans bought in, setting a new then-record for WWE with 1,085,000 buys for WrestleMania 21. Just two years earlier, the allure of 'Mania slipped such that 19 did only 560,000 buys, the sort of number that would make a WWE stockholder hit the bottle hard. After 20 helped bring the numbers back up, 21 took things a step further, establishing a new high mark for the company.
2. WrestleMania 23 - 1,200,000 Buys
Apparently, the idea of future President Donald Trump possibly having his head shaved was far too tempting for some people to pass up on. "The Battle of the Billionaires" took on a life of its own, offered up alongside two intriguing babyface-vs-babyface World title matches in John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels and Batista vs. The Undertaker, and WrestleMania 23 proved to be an overwhelming success.
WrestleMania 21 had only two years to enjoy being top dog, as 23 obliterated its total with a whopping 1,200,000 buys, beating the previous record by more than 100,000 purchases. This is why the ensuing Manias have been so quick to use celebrities and part-timers (Mayweather, Mickey Rourke, a returning Bret Hart) for the big rub. But none could top 23's total - with one exception.
1. WrestleMania XXVIII - 1,217,000 Buys
While getting Rock to simply appear at WrestleMania in a hosting capacity was alluring enough, actually having him take part in the main event was something else entirely. With a year's worth of hype at its back, The Rock would be taking on John Cena in what was easily one of the most hyped wrestling matches of all time. The proof is in the tally.
In all, 'Mania 28 did a staggering 1,217,000 buys, making it the all-time WWE pay-per-view champion, which will likely (because of WWE Network) go unchallenged until the end of time. This, of course, means that Daniel Bryan's involvement in the most-bought wrestling pay-per-view ever was to get hit with one move and lose his World Heavyweight title in just 18 seconds. As noted before, life isn't perfect.