The 1990s were quite Dickens-esque for the then-WWF, truly the best of times (Attitude Era, SummerSlam at Wembley, Repo Man) and the worst of times (1995, steroid scandals, people failing to appreciate the subtle whimsy of Repo Man). The entries on the following list represent quite an interesting spectrum, as it's sometimes hard to reconcile that Hogan vs. Warrior, evil Iraqi Sgt. Slaughter, and Savage and Liz's wedding took place in the same decade as Austin pulling a gun on Vince, DX invading WCW, and Montreal. Yet, each of those occurrences was during the last 10 years of the 20th century.
To put it more concisely, a lot happened in nineties WWF, and certainly, a lot changed.
This is my personal list of the 20 best WWF pay-per-views for the 1990s. Even if you disagree with order and/or omissions, if you were a fan during that time, you're probably going to get very wistful reading it.
20. Royal Rumble 1990
There are shows with much more impressive undercards than the one boasted here, which tops off with a solid Ronnie Garvin/Greg Valentine submission match for those that enjoy bloodless sadism. The Rumble match itself was by far the best match of the night, with its pinnacle being the Hulk Hogan/Ultimate Warrior showdown, the first instance of the two demigods occupying the same space.
But what made the 1990 Royal Rumble so special was the crowd. The fans in Orlando went nuts for *everything*, cheering every babyface vigorously and booing every heel like they were Satan incarnate. The pre-show announcement concerning the prohibition of recording devices was probably met with a bigger pop than most current WWE performers will see all year. Sadly, the "cat's out of the bag" for too many fans these days, because what I'd give for most pay per view crowds to emulate those present for the '90 Rumble. They were tremendous, and they enhanced the show not with self-indulgent chants, but rather pure energy.
19. SummerSlam 1993
This was the first WWF pay per view in which neither Hulk Hogan nor Macho Man Randy Savage wrestled - Hogan had finished up weeks earlier, while Savage was "riding the pine", a position that he greatly loathed. The night's four top-billed matches featured three trusted company veterans (Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, The Undertaker) and five men not even on the active roster one year earlier (Yokozuna, Lex Luger, Jerry Lawler, Mr Perfect, Giant Gonzalez). To put it mildly, 1993 was a transitional year for an ailing WWF.
Yet SummerSlam 1993 mostly succeeded, even with the crappy countout finish at the end of the night (imagine confetti and balloons falling on Styles and Nakamura while each lay holding their balls). Hart and Lawler's hate-filled fight, complete with the Hart-Doink appetizer, was just a classic story of virtuous hero-vs-chickens**t heel done to perfection. Sleeper matches included The Steiners and Heavenly Bodies' Tag Team title bout, and a very underrated six-man pitting Tatanka and The Smoking Gunns against Bam Bam Bigelow and The Headshrinkers.
18. WrestleMania VI
In a sense, I kinda miss the old WrestleManias that had 14 matches and maybe six or seven of them went between three and six minutes. The roster wasn't as overexposed as it is now, so you could get away with having Jim Duggan vs. Dino Bravo and The Barbarian vs. Tito Santana on the biggest show of the year. It beats burning the crowd out with breakneck action over three or four hours, leaving them too tired to invest in Styles vs. Nakamura.
'Mania 6 wasn't great in the WrestleMania X-Seven or WrestleMania XIX sort of way (four matches in the four-or-five star range), but it was great in a simpler, quainter sense. The main event of Hulk Hogan vs. Ultimate Warrior was suitably dramatic and exciting, but admittedly nothing else on the show came close to it. But a hot and lively Toronto crowd (SkyDome may be the best 'Mania venue ever), and some fun moments throughout the night (Dibiase/Roberts, Rockers/Express, Andre's last hurrah) make a show worth the repeat views.
17. Royal Rumble 1991
If you're of the "this match needs 15 wacky highspots or I won't give it more than ***1/2" ilk, and you've never seen the opening match pitting the Rockers against the Orient Express, do so immediately. Tag team wrestling enthusiasts and highspot freaks will come together like chocolate and peanut butter watching what might be WWE's greatest pay per view tag team match ever that doesn't involve ladders.
The show gets a bad rap because of the decision to put the Iraq-aligned Sgt. Slaughter over The Ultimate Warrior for the WWF Title, and the exploitation of the war leaves an understandably sour taste. Reportedly, Slaughter had to stay in the arena until the early morning hours because of possible attempts on his safety. If you can stomach WWF's ham-fisted swipe at patriotic tropes, it's a fun show otherwise, with a startlingly-great Big Boss Man/Barbarian match, Virgil's face turn (that crowd pop...), and a Rumble match loaded with colourful star power.
16. WrestleMania VII
The follow-up to Slaughter's controversial championship win was his defence against Hulk Hogan, at an event subtitled "Stars and Stripes Forever". The feud couldn't sell out the massive Los Angeles Coliseum, but an excited crowd inside the LA Sports Arena would be treated to what was at the time the second-best WrestleMania ever, thanks to a rollicking first half.
A pair of frenetic tag team matches (Rockers vs. Haku and Barbarian, Hart Foundation vs. The Nasty Boys) helped set the table for The Ultimate Warrior's best match ever, in which he "ended" Macho Man Randy Savage's career in a match that was both physically and emotionally taxing. Its aftermath, in which Savage and Miss Elizabeth tearfully reunite, was 'feels' at their most genuine. The second half of the show doesn't equal the awesome first, which makes one think that this show may have been WrestleMania 34's father. But altogether, it's a winner.
15. No Mercy 1999
The Attitude Era is much like cheese, in the sense that it was decadently yummy in the moment, but it certainly hasn't aged well over the course of 20 years. Through general maturation and the changing of taste, the insanity you loved when you were 13 or 14 is a bit more cringeworthy at 33 or 34 (Justin is 35 haha lol, as you were, RT). There weren't many pay per views from the iniquitous 1999 calendar that hold up today, but No Mercy is definitely one. Coincidentally, Vince Russo left for WCW two weeks earlier.
The night is most remembered for the game-changing Tag Team Ladder Match that pitted Edge and Christian against The Hardy Boyz. The four became instant players after an athletically-spotty showcase with very little in the way of obvious contrivance and blown moves. The ladder bonanza overshadowed an excellent Triple H/Steve Austin WWF title bout that would've been match of the night on most other shows. On the strength of these two bouts, No Mercy's easily getting a good grade from me!
14. Survivor Series 1995
Speaking of shows that stood out in less-than-auspicious times, it's been well-documented just how shaky and decrepit the WWF was in 1995. While they were still capable of producing pay per views that artistically overachieved (SummerSlam, Royal Rumble, a few In Your Houses), none were of Survivor Series 1995's overall quality. Even as some of the cartoonish hues still coloured the blase New Generation product, there was change in the air.
Bret Hart and Diesel's World title main event was a sign of the Attitude Era brawls to come. The Wild Card match was the perfect mish-mash of "shades of grey" booking, pitting enemies as partners and friends as opposition. The Underdogs-Bodydonnas opener showed what junior-heavyweights could do with an open forum, and the women's match was a quality showing for female grapplers (even if WWE needed another two decades to fully realize their potential). Through a 1995 fan's eyes, the Survivor Series felt downright futuristic.
13. King of the Ring 1996
This show is mostly remembered as the landmark night in which a stoically-brash Steve Austin dropped a million-dollar phrase during his kingly coronation, roaring at an injured Jake Roberts, "Austin 3:16 says I just whopped your ass!" That bit of verbal dynamite blew apart enough land to create one hell of a revenue stream for Austin and his employer alike.
If Austin hadn't delivered that coarse verbiage, the 1996 King of the Ring would still be remembered as a show with three superb matches: Austin's semi-final win over Marc Mero (in which Austin's mouth was busted on a move gone wrong), Mankind's shocking victory over The Undertaker, and Shawn Michaels' WWF Title retention over Davey Boy Smith. Austin's speech is proof of why moments (especially improvised ones) can often overshadow even quality matches, and it helped turn a pretty decent show into a pretty good one.
12. SummerSlam 1991
This one has a special place in my heart, since it was the first time my brother and I got to watch WWF on actual pay per view. Camped out in the living room, we enjoyed a show that was one instance of babyface revenge against another, be it Virgil taking Ted Dibiase's Million Dollar Belt, The Big Boss Man putting The Mountie in prison, or Hulk Hogan vanquishing the Triangle of Terror for good.
The best match from a technical standpoint was Bret Hart's IC Title victory over Mr Perfect, but the show wasn't about that all-important "workrate". Part of the reason it's so well-remembered (by fans other than I) is the feel-good moments, like the ones mentioned, plus the Legion of Doom's Tag Team title win over the Nasty Boys, which allowed them the rare trifecta of winning WWF, NWA/WCW, and AWA tag gold. It was an audience show, one worth checking your scrutinizing side for.
11. WrestleMania VIII
Remember what I said about WrestleMania VII feeling like a predecessor of WrestleMania 34 in that the second half didn't equal the fun of the first? WrestleMania VIII resembles that remark, though it was a bit more like WrestleMania 32, except with a better first half. The second half of 'Mania 8 was a true dog, sans for Ultimate Warrior's shocking return. But the first half is more than enough to prop it up.
The two singles titles bouts more than delivered, be it the Roddy Piper-Bret Hart knockdown/drag-out brawl among blood-brothers for the IC title, or the deeply personal Ric Flair/Randy Savage WWF Title bout that brought out the best in each man's over-the-top personalities. The Shawn Michaels/El Matador opener was good for third best match of the afternoon, though it settled for distant third behind two truly iconic 'Mania battles.
10. King of the Ring 1993
Four months after this show, Vince McMahon and Pat Patterson sat down with Bret Hart, working hard to get him to agree to a new contract. You'd have been as desperate to keep "The Hitman" after his three-match performance at the King of the Ring. Bret's carried many opponents in his career, and this may be the finest example of him carrying an entire show.
In succession, Hart defeated Razor Ramon (good match), Mr Perfect (maybe the company's best match of 1993), and Bam Bam Bigelow (excellent) to take home the crown and sceptre. All of this after wrestling Bob Backlund at Madison Square Garden the night before in a 32-minute match, in which Hart injured his ankle. Meanwhile, the fourth-best match on the pay per view was either Lex Luger and Tatanka's quarter-final, or Shawn Michaels and Crush's IC title match, both of which were fine. But for Hart's performances (not to take away from his three talented opponents), he helped will this show to greatness.
9. King of the Ring 1998
Certainly one of the most infamous matches in WWE history comes to mind when one thinks of the 1998 King of the Ring. The sight of Mick Foley helplessly falling to his near-doom on two occasions doesn't leave the mind's eye so easily, as his Hell in a Cell match with The Undertaker broke into rare ground for wrestling matches. The melee was one visual shock after another, and attempts by others to duplicate its horrifying visuals fall way short.
On the whole, the show provided a number of matches that were either memorable or quite good, from the Steve Austin/Kane First-Blood main event, to The Rock and Ken Shamrock's tournament final, to Owen Hart and X-Pac's Nation/DX-centric clash. For the first time in what seemed like ages, the WWF boasted stars that could go, and quality workers that found their creative voices, and the overall product could only improve.
8. SummerSlam 1998
When you combine Madison Square Garden, a red-hot product, and a double main event in which both halves deliver in the ring, then your show is bound to receive nothing but high praise. The summer-long "Highway to Hell" led to the Steve Austin/Undertaker WWF Championship match that was partially compromised by an Austin head injury mid-match (Austin and SummerSlams are a bad mix, it seems). Still, the match was quite excellent, even if it couldn't quite touch the match before it.
Match of the night easily went to The Rock and Triple H's IC Title ladder match, the bout that truly signalled the arrival of both men as tomorrow's main eventers (Rock especially). The rest of the show was a lot of feel-good wins for babyfaces, like Ken Shamrock tapping Owen Hart in the Lion's Den, and X-Pac cutting Jeff Jarrett's hair following a win. This was SummerSlam 1991 with a decidedly-Attitude flavour, in the same building to boot.
7. Survivor Series 1996
Give me a Survivor Series with four or five elimination matches, most of them in the ** or *** range, and I'll champion that show over any WrestleKingdom - I'm an old WWF hipster that way. Yet I love the 1996 Survivor Series more for its three singles matches: Sid winning the WWF Championship from Shawn Michaels (in which the Garden crowd soundly rejects HBK), Bret Hart's grand return against Steve Austin, and Undertaker's virtual feud-ender against Mankind. Those three matches alone made it WWF's best pay per view of 1996.
Only one of the four elimination matches (which counts the pre-show bout) was of high quality, that being the opener in which Doug Furnas and Philip Lafon dazzled like the mid-eighties British Bulldogs. Rocky Maivia's debut is historic in hindsight, but was fairly elementary on the evening. There's rarely a bad pay per view from MSG, and Survivor Series 1996 did little to buck that trend.
6. Royal Rumble 1992
Sometimes the '92 Rumble gets reduced to a one-match show, which isn't fair to say. But if it *were* true, who's going to argue with more than a third of the show being taken up by the greatest Rumble match of all time, a genuine five-star match buoyed by Ric Flair's fight for history, and Bobby Heenan's hour-long panic attack. It's hard to say who lost more sweat between the two of them.
While it is true that the 1992 Royal Rumble is almost unanimously remembered for its titular match and its nearly-indisputable status as the best match of its type, it didn't stand alone. The New Foundation-Orient Express opener was quite excellent, and Rowdy Roddy Piper's IC Title win over the Mountie was a truly awesome moment. Call it a one-match show if you'd like, but it's far more balanced than may meet the eye.
5. WrestleMania XIV
The Woodstock of the Attitude Era. It may not have been a WrestleMania from the early to mid-2000s with a handful of widely-acknowledged classics, but it was something closer to a throwback 'Mania, in which the stars of the early all shone in showcase matches that the crowd happily ate up. It was Attitude's WrestleMania III, minus the stadium crowd and a match on par with Savage and Steamboat.
From Austin's coronation at the expense of Michaels' fall, to Undertaker and Kane's anticipated showdown, to Sable kicking ass, to the New Age Outlaws and Hardcore Legends beating the bile out of each other, it was a true audience show that didn't raise insane expectations in terms of match quality. 'Mania 14 succeeded on the strength of the personalities therein, and was a big step forward for the stars that had found their footing over the previous year.
4. One Night Only
Worry not, fans across the pond. I wasn't going to forget this diamond in the rough, this event with reduced availability that might even be among WWE's 20 best pay per views ever, never mind the decade. Even with a maddening, gut-wrenching finale that would leave most feeling sick to their stomach, One Night Only was a show of mostly WrestleMania quality (a good WrestleMania that is, not like 9 or 32).
Yes, Shawn Michaels beating Davey Boy Smith in front of Smith's dying sister was rather callous, even if the match itself was highly dramatic. And admittedly, the heat a wrestler would get in today's more-sensitive times would be off the charts. Elsewhere, Bret Hart had what was his last Match of the Year-quality WWF bout against Undertaker, while the undercard was filled out by great matches in Vader vs. Owen Hart, and Dude Love vs. Triple H. It's worth your time; just try not to let the finish gnaw at your soul.
3. SummerSlam 1992
This would be the UK pay per view with the happy ending. As far as aesthetics go, even Americans like myself have to be awed by the sight of 80,000 strong filling the old Wembley Stadium. There's just something undeniably cool about the early-nineties neon-coloured WWF being presented in front of a massive stadium crowd, and SummerSlam 1992 is a show that's easy to get all nostalgic for.
The Bret Hart-Davey Boy Smith IC title match is one of the greatest bouts in WWE history, with "The Hitman" doing one of the greatest carry-jobs that has ever been executed. Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior couldn't quite match the intensity of their WrestleMania VII battle, but they were only a few degrees off of that lofty mark in their face-vs-face WWF Title match that needed an ending. The show adheres more to the older WWF style that emphasized stars and cheerful gaudiness over complex match quality, but with a classic main event and an exciting WWF Championship bout, not much else was needed.
2. In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede
Recently, I took every single In Your House pay per view, four years worth of "secondary" events, and ranked them all. In listing Canadian Stampede as the lead dog, I noted that the distance between this show and the second-place finisher (Beware of Dog) was astronomical. Seeing as Canadian Stampede was the only In Your House to make this 90s-in-general list, and that it's second overall, that should tell you something.
If I had to give star ratings (which are subjective, but still cause argument anyway), I'd go ***1/2 for Undertaker vs. Vader, ***3/4 for Triple H and Mankind, ****1/4 for Great Sasuke and Taka Michinoku, and the full ***** for the Hart Foundation vs. Team USA. No other two-hour wrestling show comes close to meeting such a high median of quality. Even if you disagree with my personal scores, an honest viewer would find it hard to criticize Stampede all that much.
1. WrestleMania X
You say "two-match show" like it's a bad thing. While it's true that the Ladder Match and the Hart brothers' battle for pride are jockeying like mad at the finish line, whilst the rest of the show had been lapped a few times over, it's still fair to call WrestleMania X a great show overall.
Yes, Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, as well as Bret Hart vs. Owen Hart, can each be graded as five-star classics without much arduous scrutiny. But the rest of the card boasted some worthwhile matches, such as Randy Savage and Crush's Falls Count Anywhere match that happened to be Savage's final WWE pay per view match. The Men on a Mission-Quebecers Tag Team title match was pretty good before the unsatisfying finish, and Bret's win over Yokozuna at night's end blended some decent drama with a very happy conclusion.
'Mania 10 is about two all-timers affording the show its legendary status, but the card is not without solid action otherwise. The total show is worth every ounce of praise it gets.