Vinnie Mac's stiffest competition was around for a very long time, meaning the pay per views I've examined while putting this essential collection together range from the ill-fated Starrcade 1987, all the way up to the bitter end at the 2001 show Greed.
It must be said: for as much as we enjoy whipping the deceased Clydesdale that is WCW for all of their foibles, this list was very hard to assemble. And that's not because some utter garbage made the cut, either, it's because some very good shows ended up getting omitted since I only have 20 spots with which to work - but such is life.
For WCW fans, this will be a nice trip down memory lane. For those who've never indulged in the catalogue of WWE's greatest nemesis, this will be a learning experience. WCW, for all of its flaws, is sorely missed today.
20. World War 3 1995
If you've never seen World War 3 before, picture this overly-ambitious concept: three rings would be set up in something akin to a V-pattern, and 60 men would compete in a Battle Royal across those three rings. WCW ran four events with this gimmick, and the best by far was the original incarnation. This particular version was for the vacated WCW Championship, which Macho Man Randy Savage would win under dubious circumstances.
The battle royal itself was kind of a mess, but the undercard is what gave this show its special flavour. Sting and Ric Flair's hate-filled battle was a tremendous semi-main, while the other singles title bouts (DDP vs. Johnny B Badd for the TV title, Kensuke Sasaki vs. Chris Benoit for the US) piled on the goodness. There was even a match pitting Bull Nakano and Akira Hokuto against Mayumi Ozaki and Cutie Suzuki that thrilled long before Stephanie McMahon invented women's wrestling.
19. Great American Bash 1990
Mostly, the 1990 GAB is remembered for what it should be remembered for: the satisfying ending, in which Sting defeats Ric Flair to capture the then-NWA World Heavyweight title, more than two years after his star-making performance against "The Nature Boy" on the inaugural Clash of the Champions. Seems 1990 was The Year of the Face-Painted World Champion...
The best match of the night was an incredible bout for the US Tag Team titles pitting The Midnight Express and The Southern Boys, in what would essentially be the last hurrah for the Bobby Eaton/Stan Lane version of the team. Speaking of bow-outs, "Mean" Mark Callous lost a mostly-good United States title match against champion Lex Luger, shortly before Callous crossed over, well, into the dark side.
18. Starrcade 1995
WCW's oldest event name would sometimes be put to use with gimmicked events, like 1989's "Night of the Iron Men", or 1991's Battlebowl tournament. For 1995, a best-of-seven series was instituted between WCW and New Japan Pro Wrestling, putting on display some unique in-ring performances that surprised many fans that were more geared toward mainstream American-style rasslin'.
Among the best matches of the night were Chris Benoit vs. Jushin Liger, Alex Wright vs. Koji Kanemoto, and Eddie Guerrero vs. Shinjiro Ohtani, the latter of which made one of Guerrero's DVD releases. The best-of-seven was followed by a two-match angle around the World title that saw Ric Flair regain his belt from Randy Savage. On the whole, it's kind of an oddly-structured show, but the purists out there that want fine in-ring performances would love what's here.
17. Great American Bash 1996
Even with shows that are chock full of enjoyable wrestling, sometimes it's an angle that gets remembered most. In this case, the 1996 GAB was close to three hours of quality in-ring action, but all everybody seems to remember is Scott Hall and Kevin Nash assaulting Eric Bischoff, with Nash Powerbombing Bischoff off the entrance ramp through a table. The not-yet-named nWo was proving to be bigger than anything else in the biz.
The other memorable action was just as lawless - a wild Falls Count Anywhere match in which Chris Benoit and Kevin Sullivan beat the bejesus out of one another, including an unforgettable sequence in the male bathroom (Commentator Dusty Rhodes: "THERE'S A LADY IN THE MEN'S ROOM!"). Rey Misterio Jr's unsuccessful Cruiserweight title bid against Dean Malenko was the match that showed a nationwide audience (not just ECW fans) what the dynamic high flyer was capable of.
16. WrestleWar 1991
The year 1991 was not a banner year for WCW. The controversial exit of Ric Flair in July had immediate damage, and that year's Great American Bash suffered as a result of the ugly split. Halloween Havoc and Starrcade were both lacklustre shows, and horrid characters (Oz, Big Josh, The Patriots, Arachnaman) dotted the deteriorating landscape. Really, all WCW had going for it that year were Rick Rude's debut, Ricky Steamboat's return, and a pair of quality major events, this being one of them.
The War Games main event is tremendous as the gimmick ever has been, and if you can get past Brian Pillman nearly dying a death on a finish, then it's worth multiple looks. It's a night of top-notch brawling, as matches like Vader vs. Stan Hansen, US Champion Lex Luger vs. Dan Spivey, and a no-DQ bout pitting Tom Zenk against Terry Taylor put WrestleWar in high company. If only the rest of the year could've been on this level.
15. Halloween Havoc 1989
This would be the very first Halloween Havoc ever, as well as the first wrestling pay per view to ever take place in Philadelphia. If ever WWE was going to mine something from WCW's sunken wreckage, I wish it'd be the Havoc gimmick, since Halloween never goes out of style. Just leave the Chamber of Horrors and The Yeti in that waterlogged galleon if you could.
But 1989 featured no such drek, as the main event was a fantastic "Thundercage" cage match that pitted Ric Flair and Sting against Terry Funk and The Great Muta, with Bruno Sammartino as guest referee. The electrified cage gimmick wasn't all that special, but the warring within compensated greatly. Matching the intensity was a frenetic Lex Luger-Brian Pillman US title match that barely stops to catch its breath. The Philly crowds adds a lot to a show that is more steak than sizzle.
14. Beach Blast 1992
Despite having access to the Gulf Coast, Mobile, AL isn't exactly the first city one thinks off when you imagine sandy beaches and tantalizing blue waters. Choice in location aside, the 1992 Beach Blast delivered for all tastes, including those inclined toward cheesecake via the Missy Hyatt-Madusa bikini contest (if you can ignore Johnny B Badd's over-the-top hamminess as he presides over it, that is).
You have what Mick Foley once thought was his best match ever, a Falls Count Anywhere melee with WCW Champion Sting. You have Rick Rude and Ricky Steamboat duking it out in a 30-minute Iron Man Challenge. You have The Steiner Brothers and The Miracle Violence Connection knocking the piss out of each other. You have a Light Heavyweight title bout pitting Brian Pillman against a seemingly-unlikely foe in Scotty Flamingo (the future Raven). The diverse range of styles and stars is variety I can get behind.
13. Halloween Havoc 1993
If for no other reason, you need to see the opening mini-movie, in which trick-or-treaters visit Tony Schiavone's house. There has never been a Broken Universe skit that approaches the level of surreal that was Schiavone acting subtly ghoulish while dressed in all black. What followed was evening more frightening (an opening six-man with Booker T and five guys that were definitely not Booker T), but the rest of the show is quite excellent.
Some matches you expected greatness out of (Vader and Cactus Jack's Texas Death match that blew off their feud), while some were surprisingly great (a Tag Team title bout pitting The Nasty Boys against 2 Cold Scorpio and Marcus Bagwell). There were throwback charms like Ricky Steamboat vs. Paul Orndorff and Rick Rude vs. Ric Flair to round out a vastly-underrated card. Did I mention I miss Halloween Havoc?
12. Spring Stampede 1999
The quality of WCW had begun to dip mightily throughout 1998 and into early 1999 (which is like saying that the air quality in a sewage-strewn town began to dwindle a tad). Spring Stampede 1999 was an oasis in the barren wasteland that was the promotion at the time, as maximum efforts and surprisingly-great performances made this the best pay per view of the year - for either of the Big Two.
Whether it's Juventud Guerrera and Blitzkrieg's jaw-dropping stunt show, Bam Bam Bigelow and Hak (The Sandman) smashing each other with plunder, or Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko's well-worked tag team match with Raven and Saturn, the show plays to the strengths of its roster, instead of letting complacency reign. The Kevin Nash/Goldberg match was brief, but it's definitely one of the better Nash showings of his WCW run.
11. Halloween Havoc 1997
This particular Havoc achieved in the sense of having a greater impact in wrestling culture. Sure, the Hulk Hogan/Roddy Piper cage match was garbage, but it was the crux of a classic Jim Cornette tangent on Raw. While "Age in the Cage" was only good for cheap laughs and unintentional comedy, other parts of the card succeeded in the positive column.
It must be said that perhaps no major American company has had a junior-heavyweight battle on the level of Eddy Guerrero and Rey Misterio Jr's title-vs-mask match, a flawless masterpiece if there ever was one. Contrasting that was the "Las Vegas Death Match" between Diamond Dallas Page and Randy Savage, in what is most likely Savage's last great match ever. Throw in some nifty international flavour earlier on (Yuji Nagata vs. Ultimo Dragon, Chris Jericho vs. Gedo), and you see why this show gets mentioned even 20 years later.
10. Superbrawl III
Sometimes even the dumbest build-ups to a match get paid off beautifully, as was the case with the Sting/Vader White Castle of Fear strap match. WCW loved their mini-movies in the early nineties, and filmed an elaborate short in which Sting visited Vader in his doomy palace. The match was the precise opposite of that Ed Wood special, as Sting and Vader were just incapable of having bad matches together.
As was noted with the Beach Blast of the previous year, some of the better WCW shows of the time frame offered variety. For this one, you're given southern style tag wrestling (The Rock 'n Roll Express vs. The Heavenly Bodies for the SMW Tag Team belts), anarchic fighting (Cactus Jack and Paul Orndorff's falls count anywhere match), and top-class acrobatics and wrestling (2 Cold Scorpio vs. Chris Benoit).
9. WCW/NJPW SuperShow I
In the early nineties, WCW and New Japan Pro Wrestling would have numerous collaborations, which were, for the most part, akin to non-canon events in the WCW story world. This event was an exception, as the Ric Flair/Tatsumi Fujinami match for the NWA World Heavyweight belt ended with controversy that would be settled at the first Superbrawl pay per view two months later.
While that match was an excellent battle between two time-forged veterans, it was surpassed by The Steiner Brothers' IWGP Tag Team title win over Hiroshi Hase and Kensuki Sasake that is just all hard-hitting action. Scott Steiner may be a bit of a comedy meme today, but to see him in his prime was to be awed. Nothing else came close to that match, which isn't to say that Sting/Great Muta and Jushin Liger/Akira Nogami weren't good - they were very. It's just that Tag Team title match wrecked the curve on a show that rings great overall.
8. Bash At The Beach 1996
It's a bit ironic that Hulk Hogan's greatest promo ever came as a heel. The muscular superhero that children idolized, that monsters could not slay, sneered at the fans in Daytona Beach and gave them the lay of the land. The conviction and bits of truth in his verbal fire capped off a historic night, in which Hogan revealed himself as The Outsiders' "Third Man", and the New World Order as we knew it was born.
Bookending the show's loftiness was a Rey Misterio Jr/Psychosis match that might just be the best match the two have ever had together, and that says something. There admittedly wasn't too much else from the show worth noting (save for Ric Flair winning the US title and Disco Inferno having a damn great match with Dean Malenko), but for sheer history, this night must rate highly.
7. WrestleWar 1992
If you ever wondered why fans clamour so much for the return of the War Games that they all know and love, look no further than the blood-soaked, strategy-filled, unrelenting battle that was The Dangerous Alliance vs. Sting's Squadron. Seeing so much blood on an early-nineties pay per view without Ric Flair being involved was the good kind of shock, as the hatred between sides had built for more than six months. Best War Games match ever? Even the ones from the eighties may have to take their hat off.
The undercard is mostly filler, but when you get to the final three bouts (War Games plus Brian Pillman/Tom Zenk and Steiners/Tatsumi Fujinami and Takayuki Iizuka), you're in for a helluva run to the finish. Can three awesome matches bail out six mediocre-to-bad matches? This show emphatically proves that they can.
6. Chi-Town Rumble
Wrestling's most famed trilogy began in the Windy City, even though they'd faced off many, many times previously. Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat's rivalry for the NWA World Heavyweight title kicked off with a bang, a consensus five-star match that saw the beloved, hard-working Dragon snare the gold away from his long-standing rival.
Steamboat/Flair gets all the plaudits, but it wasn't the only excellent bout of the night (though it's head and shoulders above the remainder of the fray). Lex Luger and Barry Windham put together a top-notch US Title match centered on Windham's injured hand, while the Road Warriors' scuffle with Kevin Sullivan and Steve Williams over the tag belts was hard-hitting and brisk. Some matches on the show were way too long (Sting and Butch Reed for 20 minutes? Michael Hayes and Russian Assassin for 16?), but that's what skipping ahead is far.
5. Slamboree 1994
Between this and Halloween Havoc 1989, WCW had two great Philadelphia PPVs, and ECW had one (Barely Legal) before WWE had even one that was abundantly awesome (Money in the Bank 2013). When you book Terry Funk and Tully Blanchard in a special legends match before the heel-centric Philly crowd, you're clearly after their hearts (and it was a great match, to boot).
In the pre-Hogan WCW, the controlled outlaw flavour was still evident, as Cactus Jack and Kevin Sullivan's riotous fight with Tag Team Champions The Nasty Boys set a high bar for even ECW to equal. Sting and Vader close out the night, delivering, what else, a quintessential Sting/Vader match over the long-forgotten WCW International Title. A lack of bad matches and a lot of heated, realistic battles was WCW in its most superb form.
4. When Worlds Collide
Eric Bischoff helped secure American availability for this AAA event, and WCW's production staff handled the broadcast duties. It's technically a WCW/AAA joint production, although no wrestlers on the card, aside from 2 Cold Scorpio and Chris Benoit (who were by now in ECW), had any recent association with WCW. For its influence, however, it merits a spot on the list.
WWE has gone on to call the show, "The best PPV you have never seen", although two excellent bouts made it to their DVDs: the incredible mask-vs-hair tag team match pitting Eddie Guerrero and Art Barr (weeks before Barr's death) against Octagon and El Hijo del Santo, and a Six-Man Tag that pitted Rey Misterio Jr and Psychosis on opposing teams. The event marked the first time most fans had seen this style of wrestling, shaking up their spoon-fed Hulkamania diets. With Konnan and Perro Aguayo on top in a steel cage match, the event drew 13,000 fans to Los Angeles and sparked a revolution.
3. Superbrawl II
If Bret and Owen Hart's WrestleMania X curtain-jerker is the best opening match in pay per view history, then Brian Pillman and Jushin Liger's Lightheavyweight title match is a close second. If you reverse the two, I wouldn't argue. Pillman and Liger raised the bar so high that nothing else that night in Milwaukee could clear it - though other matches did jump pretty high on their own.
All three matches involving the Dangerous Alliance (Rick Rude vs. Ricky Steamboat, Arn Anderson and Bobby Eaton vs. The Steiners, and Steve Austin and Larry Zbyszko vs. Barry Windham and Dustin Rhodes) anchored the second half of the show nicely, just before a decent-enough main event in which Sting finally regains the WCW Championship by defeating an outgoing Lex Luger. The depth of the WCW roster in early 1992 was something to behold, making for the company's best pay per view in ages.
2. Spring Stampede 1994
Along with Slamboree five weeks later, there may never have been a better one-two combo of WCW pay per views ever. This one gets the drop on its May counterpart, as Chicago was treated to a rematch five years in the making between WCW World Champion Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat that, for a pair of 40-year-olds, comes damn close to their 1989 standard.
By contrast, but in the same neighbourhood of quality, The Nasty Boys' violent win over Cactus Jack and Maxx Payne is comparable to the same match a month later (subbing Kevin Sullivan for Payne). Vader and The Boss (Big Boss Man) beat the snot out of each other the way they were born to, while Dustin Rhodes and Bunkhouse Buck surprised with their, go figure, Bunkhouse Match. It was as if someone in charge had said, "Whoever's in the best match gets $10 million," and everyone went into a frenzy.
1. Great American Bash 1989
And it comes to this, the cream of the crop. The 1989 Bash may have had 50,000 less fans than WrestleMania X-Seven, but to those packed into the Baltimore Arena, they got to see a show on par with WWE's finest event ever. What cruised along as a decent-enough show hit overdrive for the final four bouts.
First, Sting and Great Muta's TV title match achieved a lot in just nine minutes. That was topped by Lex Luger and Ricky Steamboat's US title bout. War Games followed, mixing in some odd combos (Road Warriors, Steve Williams, and the Midnights vs. The Freebirds and Samoan Swat Team), but still met the high standards for the match. All three of those bouts (fantastic as they were) were topped by Ric Flair and Terry Funk's World title match, two veteran bulls fighting it out in a fashion that was in line with Flair's impressive 1989 body of work. If you've never seen this show before, do so, and you'll see that WWE and New Japan don't have the market cornered on perfect events.