I started with the 12 American pay per views from the year 2000, then I combined that with the 12 from 2001, with the bottom four dropping off (bye bye, King of the Ring 2000). Then for each ensuing year, I'd add qualifying events, whilst dropping off others: if four events from 2002 qualified, then the *new* four worst would drop off (I hope this makes sense).
While with the 90s list, there weren't too many changes as it went on, with the 2000s list, great events were missing the cut. By the end, Judgment Day 2005, One Night Stand 2006, Fully Loaded 2000, Survivor Series 2002 - all somewhat surprisingly took the plunge.
Here were the 20 that survived. If you didn't know how great the 2000s were for WWE pay per views before, you will now...
20. Survivor Series 2005
Maybe it was residual bewilderment and haze from Eddie Guerrero's passing, or perhaps the fact that the event was tucked into the end of a long Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Whatever the reason, the 2005 Survivor Series is shamefully neglected when great events of the past are recalled.
Perhaps the last match of the year candidate to involve the legendary Ric Flair came at this show, as he and Triple H fought to the near-death in a bloody, hate-filled Last Man Standing match. The Raw vs. SmackDown elimination bout was actually *enhanced* by the bickering on commentary, as the announce teams argued snidely through the course of a match filled with slick double-teams and good pacing. The Chris Benoit/Booker T US Title Best of Seven kicked off at this event, and though there'd be better matches coming, they had themselves a quality opening salvo here.
19. No Mercy 2001
As a high-school senior at the time of the show, a couple of my buddies asked if I would be getting No Mercy, not because of Rob Van Dam's chance at winning the WWE Championship, nor the intriguing Rock/Jericho WCW Championship match. No, they were willing to chip in to see the Torrie Wilson/Stacy Keibler Lingerie Match. Ahh, teenage hormones.
The two championship matches anchored what was one the better shows of the stunted Invasion angle, particularly Rock vs. Jericho. The crowd in St. Louis was wild for Jericho to finally come through on his promise, and he and Rock pieced together a congruously-dramatic title bout. It takes a lot to make an Edge vs. Christian Ladder Match for the IC title feel tertiary, but that's the sort of the roll the show was on that night.
18. No Mercy 2008
Another sneaky-great show that doesn't get its deserved accolades for whatever reason. First off, you have to love any WWE event that licenses Metallica for the show (unless it's SummerSlam 2003, which used St. Anger, or WrestleMania XXVII, which used For Whom the Bell Tolls...okay, bad example - Metallica can't fix everything).
The "All Nightmare Long" show produced WWE's best match of 2008, the disquieting Ladder Match that settled the Chris Jericho/Shawn Michaels war, with one of Jericho's teeth ending up as a casualty. The Triple H/Jeff Hardy babyface battle for the WWE Championship had fans thinking Hardy was on the cusp of winning the belt, a flourish that was extremely well built-up. The Undertaker and Big Show have faced off countless times, but their battle on this show was easily the best of that interminable series, shocking even those who groaned at having to see it.
17. Vengeance 2003
The first-ever SmackDown-exclusive pay per view had its work cut out following an uneven Raw offering in the prior month's Bad Blood. Between a regrettable 'Redneck Triathalon' and a Hell in a Cell match in which the referee was being counted on to make interesting, it didn't appear that SmackDown was going to need to overachieve to top it.
Yet, Vengeance overachieved in the form of three genuinely-awesome matches: the Brock Lesnar-Kurt Angle-Big Show Triple Threat, the Chris Benoit-Eddie Guerrero US Title final, and the Tag Team title bout pitting The World's Greatest Tag Team against Rey Mysterio and Billy Kidman, all of which flirted with or surpassed credible four-star ratings. The show is also notable for a very good Undertaker-John Cena battle, back when Cena didn't have to plead with a TV camera for "The Dead Man" to show up.
16. No Mercy 2002
What is it with these No Mercy events? The 1999 show was the only event from that particular year to make my 90s list, and now we're three No Mercys deep into the 2000s cut. I'll spoil things by noting that there will be no further No Mercys making this list, which is understandable: this one's hard to beat.
The Tag Team title tournament final pitting Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle against Edge and Rey Mysterio won many Match of the Year awards, while Undertaker and Brock Lesnar set new standards for gory hoss-fights inside one of the greatest Hell in a Cell matches of all time. Not even Katie Vick, nor Chris Jericho breaking one of the ropes, could've conceivably marred this jewel of a night.
15. One Night Stand 2005
Full disclosure: I'm an ECW mark, and have remained one long after the company's demise, even as I've grown more objective in admitting its flaws and shortcomings. That said, my fond memories of the promotion have never ceased, and I don't think you could call me biased for including the first One Night Stand in this list.
Different eras of the company's admittedly-brief history came together on one show, soundtracked by both Joey Styles and a raucous New York crowd. The parade of one nostalgic joy after another captivated through the night, whether it was Tommy Dreamer and The Sandman's blood-soaked, interference-laden fight with The Dudley Boyz, or Lance Storm and Chris Jericho's exhibition of athletic sagacity. It was all there except for New Jack's trash can of goodies and an obscenity-filled Shane Douglas tirade.
14. WrestleMania 23
About time that one of the 'Manias made the cut, especially since the noughties were the decade of truly-grand spectacles. The closing video package of WrestleMania 23 tried to parallel the night's events with WrestleMania III's highlights, attempting to commemorate the 20-year anniversary of the other Michigan 'Mania. WrestleMania 23 was no WrestleMania III (not many events are), but it does stand strongly on its own two feet.
With two excellent World title bouts (Cena vs. Michaels is near perfection, while Batista and Undertaker's shared performance was something of a revelation) and one of the better Money in the Bank Ladder Matches in the gimmick's 13-year history, the thumbs up was assured. Seeing Vince McMahon get shorn down to the flesh, not to mention seeing Slick make an awesome cameo, only added sprinkles to the hearty sundae.
13. Backlash 2004
In some ways, it's a bit difficult to get into this show, especially since the main event (excellent as it was) plays up a family man image for hometown hero Chris Benoit, with wife Nancy and his sons at ringside. It's understandably uncomfortable for some to try and relive the event without thinking of how things turned out.
Through an untarnished lens, Backlash was an excellent card, held aloft on the strength of two matches: Benoit winning a WrestleMania rematch over Triple H and Shawn Michaels, and Randy Orton's coming-of-age by way of a messily-violent victory over Mick Foley. Those two championship bouts were among the best matches of WWE's 2004 calendar. Elsewhere, Chris Jericho felling Christian and Trish Stratus in a Handicap Match, and Shelton Benjamin's win over Ric Flair, balanced an enjoyable show out nicely.
12. Royal Rumble 2000
With the turn of the millennium came the righting of an egregious wrong: the fact that there hadn't been a great Rumble pay per view in eight years, and even a particularly good one since roughly that same time frame. The Rumble needed to be restored as a true Big Four titan, and the 2000 event quickly rebuilt its once-good standing.
No one can possibly forget the ghastly blood-letting that was the Triple H-Cactus Jack World title match, which did for the champion what the Backlash 2004 match with Foley did for Orton. The Hardyz and Dudleyz continued their respective ascents into upper-card relevance through their frenetic table match, combining with the aforementioned World title bout to make this Rumble more extreme (and enjoyable) than ECW's fare of the time. The Rumble match was also the best it'd been since the star-studded early-nineties.
11. Vengeance 2005
My inner conspiracy theorist believes (through a tongue-in-cheek smile) that WWE's braintrust didn't want ECW upstaging their own general product, so they made sure that Vengeance was an absolute stand-out. It probably didn't actually happen that way, but coming just two weeks after One Night Stand, Vengeance was just as academia-bound.
This time in WWE was about establishing John Cena and Batista as the faces of the opposing brands, and each was given a statement victory in Vegas - the former in a tightly-booked triple threat with Chris Jericho and Christian, the latter in a gory feud-ending Hell in a Cell bout with Triple H (which may be Big Dave's best match ever). Add in a hyper-competitive Shawn Michaels/Kurt Angle rematch that resides close to its predecessor, and June 2005 was a helluva month for WWE's pay per view offerings.
10. Judgment Day 2000
Four years after Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart polarized viewers and critics with a 60-minute Iron Man match in which the consensus was, "Yeah, it was technically great, but...", people were wondering how The Rock and Triple H were going to keep Attitude Era fans enthralled over the same length of time. With more pinfalls, clear psychology and strategy, and some infusion of chaos, Rock and Helmsley produced the better match, wonky ending aside.
Judgment Day was just another year-2000 pay per view that demonstrated WWE's elite product, from an excellent Chris Benoit/Chris Jericho Submission Match, to the other three Radicalz wasting no motion in a Triple Threat, to a hot opener that saw Rikishi and Too Cool defeat Kurt Angle, Edge, and Christian (the jug band!). The lively crowd played a part in the show's fun factor, appropriately losing their minds for Undertaker's grand return.
9. Royal Rumble 2001
To kick off the year that would see WWE stand tall over the ravaged bodies of its nearest competition, the company produced what might just be the greatest Rumble of all time. If 2000 was an apology for the previous handfuls of January offerings, then 2001 was sweetening that apology with the bestowing of a very generous gift.
Take away the Chyna/Ivory nonsense, and you have a four-match card not unlike Canadian Stampede in that each match delivered. The Dudleyz/Edge and Christian Tag Team title bout? Exciting opener. Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho's IC title ladder match? Forgotten classic. Kurt Angle and Triple H's WWE Championship bout? Heel vs. heel action at its best. All three undercard gems led to an excellent Rumble match, notable for Steve Austin's valiant victory, Kane's run of dominance, Drew Carey's harmless appearance, and HAKU~! popping up.
8. WrestleMania XIX
There seems to be this groundswell for 'Mania 19, as many fans happily carry a torch for an event they believe is the best WrestleMania ever. Compared to some WrestleManias that are still to come, it's slightly outmatched, on account of the oddly-subdued crowd (particularly for Stone Cold Steve Austin's noted exit), and the Triple H/Booker T match that was irritating for a litany of reasons.
But hey, it's still a top 10 show (for this list and for the best WrestleManias ever), and its overall specialness can't be denied. Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho's clash of shed-ego vs abundant-ego was match of the night, shadowed closely by Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar's gallant struggle against each other, not to mention their own acquired damage. Steve Austin's farewell match saw him finally putting The Rock over clean, though few at the time seemed to understand why the showcase was so noteworthy.
7. WrestleMania 21
I sense I'm going to catch a bit of flack for putting 21 over 19. After all, "The World title matches sucked! Cena and JBL was a nothing match, while Hunter took too much of his match for himself!" I do agree that both matches could've been better (though HHH and Batista was fine). But there are some reasons why I'm inclined to take the Hollywood WrestleMania over its Space City peer.
For one thing, it had the better match of the two shows, in Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle. For another, the second-best match of 21 (The original, and best, Money in the Bank) is on par with Michaels/Jericho in my eyes. While it is true that there were less disappointments at 19 than at 21 (Undertaker/Randy Orton and Rey Mysterio/Eddie Guerrero aside), at least the right guys went over in the Championship bouts at 21. And the crowd in Los Angeles managed to not sit on their hands for most of the night.
6. Backlash 2000
It's hailed as the greatest secondary pay per view in WWE history, although I slightly disagree (as the next entry will show). If this were a top 20 of the best WWE pay per view events ever, Backlash 2000 would fall somewhere between 10 and 15, as it was clearly a fantastic card, as well as an apology for such a mediocre and disappointing WrestleMania.
You've never heard a crowd lose their minds until Steve Austin's music hits during the main event, coming to play equalizer in Rock's quest to thwart WWE Champion Triple H and the entire Corporation. That frenzied climax paid off a show filled with great wrestling (Benoit/Jericho, Dean Malenko/Scotty 2 Hotty), comedy (The Showster), and overbooked hysteria (the main event). Secondary label, be damned - Backlash 2000 had everything.
5. No Way Out 2001
Name a better consecutive three-pay per view run than the 2001 Royal Rumble, No Way Out, and WrestleMania X-Seven. It's never been equalled and likely won't ever be (Payback, Money in the Bank, and SummerSlam 2013 is impressive in its own right, but a distant second). Usually, the February pay per view is just a placeholder between major events (Saturday Night's Main Event on a Sunday evening), but this particular card proved to be highly notable.
The Match of the Year candidate list was already clogged before March, when Steve Austin and Triple H's Three Stages of Hell classic and Kurt Angle and The Rock's WWE Title bout firmly embedded themselves into the nominee sheet. The four-way match for Chris Jericho's Intercontinental title would've been the best bout of many other pay per views, but had to settle for a respective third here. And Stephanie McMahon's match with Trish Stratus? Talk about sleeper showings.
4. SummerSlam 2000
It sure took long enough for one of the SummerSlams to appear on this list, no? Events like 2001 just missed the cut, while 2005, 2008, and 2009 were good, but not quite good enough. The 2000 incarnation is the first of a couple August spectaculars that gets its due, and for a handful of very good reasons.
For one, it's the home of the first (and perhaps best) TLC match, with Edge and Christian, The Hardyz, and The Dudleyz dying for their art. Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho having a match together will always earn an acknowledgement, and their SummerSlam 2-Out-Of-3 Falls match is no exception. The Rock/Triple H/Kurt Angle main event placed Rock an obvious third in storyline involvement (due to the Stephanie-related love triangle), but was no less of an ideal finish to an electric evening.
3. SummerSlam 2002
Fifteen out of the 18 individuals that wrestled on the show were former, current, or future World Champions (the exceptions are Goldust, Lance Storm, and Test). With such undeniable star power, most of which were still in their career primes, WWE was bound to have a truly-special pay per view if each match was given the chance.
The undercard in and of itself came off truly masterful (Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio, Eddie Guerrero vs. Edge, Rob Van Dam vs. Chris Benoit), but the highest praise belongs to the last two bouts. Shawn Michaels' return after a four-year injury-layoff showed no rust as he and Triple H delivered on one hell of a story in the Unsanctioned Match, the sort of match that Johnny Gargano might've taken notes from. Brock Lesnar's rapid ascension paid off with a no doubt about it victory over WWE Champion The Rock, a match more than worthy of the extensive hype that it received.
2. WrestleMania XX
Yeah, it was long. Fans who chastise WWE for their interminable pay per view lengths might find it hard to defend four hours and 40 minutes of WrestleMania 20, but for some reason, the Ten Commandments-like run-time doesn't grate as badly as today's fare tends to. Maybe the New York crowd, the better-established roster of stars, and the overall pacing had something to do with it.
Nothing overstayed its welcome (except for Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar) on a night where two unlikely World Champions in Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero stood tall beneath the final curtain. Their respective matches (Benoit over Triple H and Shawn Michaels, Guerrero over Kurt Angle) were enough to earn this card a thumbs up on its own. It's more than just a two-match show, as seen in the Evolution/Rock 'n' Sock bout (Rock and Flair's interactions are simply prodigious), and Chris Jericho vs. Christian. Even the filler made the show feel like a classic WrestleMania, except, you know, way better.
1. WrestleMania X-Seven
Perhaps I could've tried to be trendy and/or ironic by listing another event number one, but what would the point of going against the grain here? WrestleMania X-Seven set a standard of excellence that all prior and future WWE shows would be unfairly measured up to. Even as the night was still playing itself out, you had a feeling you were witnessing something wholly unique.
Picking match of the night out of Steve Austin vs. The Rock or TLC II is difficult, since each flirted with (or achieved) perfection. The rest of the top five includes Chris Benoit vs. Kurt Angle, Triple H vs. The Undertaker, Vince McMahon vs. Shane McMahon, all epic for their own reasons. The next tier includes a handful of good supplementary bouts in Chris Jericho vs. William Regal, Eddie Guerrero vs. Test, and the Hardcore title three-way. That's one hell of a top eight, one that would be incredibly difficult to equal. It's little wonder that nothing else has.