Now I'm well aware that the 2010s are still playing themselves out, and there are about 19 more events that would qualify for inclusion in this list, and my response to that is: meh. I felt like writing about WWE pay per views that took place between 2010 and now, and I got the approval, so, yeah. I could always update the list another day, since I tend to change my mind about as often as Vince does during the weekly drafting of Raw's TV format.
In all sincerity, I will say this much: I criticize WWE as much as anyone else with social media free rein. But in compiling this list, it occurs to me just how many awesome pay per views there were this decade. The 2000s were better overall, but the 2010s hold their own nicely.
Away we go.
20. Survivor Series 2016
There were some reasonable criticisms of the show, like "THAT was the Goldberg/Lesnar match?!" and "Why is Shane working long matches when he has the cardio of Chief Wiggum?" In the end, my high praise for Survivor Series 2016 may be due to my nostalgic eye for the classic events, which the 2016 show kindly catered to. Bringing back the five team-vs-five team match from the 1987 and 1988 events really warmed the cockles of my heart.
That match, along with the men's five-on-five (insanely long as it was) and The Miz vs. Sami Zayn, propelled this show a few cuts above most typical Survivor Series fare of recent years. And as far as Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar goes, the match did fit the story they were telling (Lesnar not taking the match seriously and paying for it), so for it that was, that worked too.
19. Royal Rumble 2017
This would've made the top 10 had the super-heavyweight Rumble match entrants, instead of using those off-screen scooter dealies, made their way toward the ring in the classic WrestleMania III ring-carts. Actually, everybody should use those ring-carts, regardless of event. They should also replace the Popemobile as the Pontiff's means of travel. They spruce everything up.
Kidding aside, last year's Rumble was a lot of fun, largely due to an excellent John Cena/AJ Styles WWE Championship match, a Rumble match that was mostly awesome (until everybody suddenly played dead while Goldberg and Lesnar squared off), and a rather-unheralded Universal title bout between Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns, with Chris Jericho stuck in the shark cage. The immense Alamodome setting in San Antonio added to the overall flair, too.
18. Elimination Chamber 2011
To call this show a pleasant surprise would be a bit of an understatement, since it was situated between a bloated, lifeless Royal Rumble and a near-total misfire of a WrestleMania. When 61-year-old Jerry Lawler challenging for the WWE Championship is the second or third best match of a given show, then said show sounds like it was about as good as a forgettable In Your House. But since Lawler's bout with The Miz was more dramatic than anyone anticipated, the perspective changes.
Aside from Lawler and Miz, you had two very good Chamber bouts, including a SmackDown one in which Edge and Rey Mysterio had the final nine minutes all to themselves, and had the fans losing their minds with each near fall. Throw in a solid Albert Del Rio/Kofi Kingston opener and the return of Trish Stratus, and you've got quite a sleeper of a night.
17. Money In The Bank 2016
Babyface briefcase cash-ins can be challenging, due to the nature of how cash-ins are done. Running in on an exhausted champion just makes you look like an asshole, which is why John Cena and Rob Van Dam's challenges were done with notice ("the honourable way"). In the case of Dean Ambrose, his cash-in made sense, as he was doing what he had long vowed to try to do: prevent turncoat Seth Rollins from reigning.
Ambrose's cash-in on an exhausted Rollins capped off a very good pay per view that was highlighted by the Ladder Match itself, Rollins' clean Championship win over Roman Reigns (prior to Reigns' Wellness Policy suspension), and one of those Cena/Styles epics. The show was oddly paced due to WWE anticipating fans being more interested in the finish of the NBA finals (Cleveland actually won something!), but overall, the night was memorable for a plethora of reasons.
16. SummerSlam 2015
Granted, there were some excellent SummerSlams from the event's six years in Los Angeles (as this list will eventually reveal), but there's just something about a SummerSlam from the tri-state area. The first four SummerSlams took place in either New York, New Jersey, or Pennsylvania, and some of the better later ones (1998, 2002) were rooted in The Big Apple. Bringing the August fiesta to Brooklyn re-installed some of that old charm.
Matches like Undertaker vs. Brock Lesnar (wonky finish and all), Seth Rollins vs. John Cena (again, wonky finish and all), and Ambrose/Reigns vs. Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper (no wonky finish, but Roman's sleeping, and you're gonna hear about it) lent a big event feel to the night. The show had a rather "not-quite-a-WrestleMania" feel that SummerSlam *should* have, as the designated last hurrah before summer, as well as the 10 percent of the Raw audience that loves football, goes away.
15. TLC 2012
As 2012 began drawing to a close, I got to thinking what WWE's best match of the year was. I leaned toward the CM Punk/Daniel Bryan battle from Over the Limit, while part of me enjoyed the visceral shocks of Brock Lesnar and John Cena's melee at Extreme Rules. Turns out that I didn't have to choose between them. A six-man tag from the TLC pay per view made the decision for me.
The Shield's grand debut in a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match against Kane, Daniel Bryan, and Ryback surprised me, in the sense that I was merely expecting "really good", and not "holy crap, more of *that!*". Paired with a John Cena/Dolph Ziggler Ladder Match for Ziggler's briefcase, you have an event with a solid-enough midcard and two top-notch gimmick bouts, the perfect christening for the brand new Barclays Center.
14. SummerSlam 2014
There was something so delightfully classic about SummerSlam 2014. Maybe it was just the fact that the show didn't seem to conform to rote, overused formulas, or maybe it was because I felt I could comfortably call it "great" without an undoubted Match of the Year candidate from the card. It was a show that, to me, brought out your inner child's fandom, instead of the critical eye.
The fact that the main event was not a back-and-forth match, and was instead a Cena-tossing exhibition that only Lesnar was competing in, was welcome - not because I dislike Cena or anything, but because it broke the expected back-and-forth formula. Matches like Ambrose and Rollins' Lumberjack bout, and Rusev and Jack Swagger's Flag Match, brought some traditional gimmickry back in ways that the crowd was heavily into (especially Ambrose and Rollins' ballsy antics). Shows like this one cleanse the fan palate.
13. Money In The Bank 2010
The idea that all secondary pay per views should be themed with a shoehorned gimmick match has kinda removed the specialness of said gimmicks. Hell in a Cell and TLC bouts are no more auspicious when they're written into the calendar well in advance, when they force a feud to fit the gimmick, instead of vice versa, which is where conventional wisdom lay.
Money in the Bank, on the other hand, avoids that pitfall by being a "build-up" gimmick instead of one that requires a blow-off. As such, when the fight for the briefcase spun off into its own pay per view, it immediately paid dividends with two great ladder matches and a criminally-forgotten Rey Mysterio/Jack Swagger World Heavyweight title bouts. There's rarely ever a bad Money in the Bank pay per view, but some have achieved a clear level of greatness. This would be one of them.
12. WrestleMania 34
Since WWE made the decision a few years back to extend WrestleMania's length to that of a cross-Atlantic cruise, reactions to shows like 32 and 33 have ranged between, "It was fine, but it was too long," to "Holy mother of Haku, make it stop." WrestleMania 34 was no different in terms of its interminable duration, but it was easily the best WrestleMania of the last trio.
Ronda Rousey's wrestling debut could not have gone better, and the mixed tag team bout was the perfect blend of a star-making performance with old-school formula tag wrestling. The Intercontinental and SmackDown Women's title matches that opened the show would've been the best matches of most other pay per views, but had to settle for honourable second and third here. The show hits a bit of a wall as it drags into the fourth hour (Daniel Bryan's return match was really good, and Styles/Nakamura is grossly underrated), but it's still a winning WrestleMania overall.
11. Royal Rumble 2018
Certainly, it was a very oddly-structured Rumble, with the crowd deader than MySpace for one Tag Team title bout that had to follow the men's Rumble match. There was no issue with the women's match going last, although Stephanie McMahon's commentary made Art Donovan and Susan St. James look more insightful and studious.
Odd structure aside, the event was largely great, thanks to a men's Rumble that was among the best of its type (perhaps the best since 2010's gem of a match, maybe better), a handicap WWE title match that cast AJ Styles as an ideal babyface hero whose fight against odds was noble, and a women's Rumble that, while not perfect, came through on its grand ambitions. If only people didn't get so up in arms over Ronda Rousey's debut, but what can you do?
10. WrestleMania XXVI
The earliest entry on the list (Rumble 2010 juuuust missed the cut) is kind of weird to look back on. We're still in the same decade as a pay per view that included Shawn Michaels, Edge, Christian, Bret Hart, Vince McMahon, Batista, among others, in in-ring action. It feels like it's been an eternity since any of them were in a match, and yet here they all were on the same card.
'Mania 26 succeeded on the power of its more anticipated bouts, be they Michaels' finale against Undertaker, the two World title matches (Cena/Batista itself doesn't get enough credit for being great, even in compressed circumstances), and the Money in the Bank match. With Triple H vs. Sheamus and CM Punk vs. Rey Mysterio holding up the middle of the show, you get a WrestleMania that's mostly awesome and lived up to the event's heritage.
9. Payback 2013
There was just something in the air come Payback 2013. Maybe it was because Payback was the first pay per view in months to be free of part-timers wrestling. Maybe it was because the show took place in Chicago, where the crowds are more red-hot than a leather car seat beneath the summer sun. Whatever the case was, there were no bad or even filler performances at Payback - the show was sustained goodness.
CM Punk's return bout against Chris Jericho took match of the night honours, followed by Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton's failed attempt to defeat Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns (the only time that Bryan lost to Reigns in which the internet *didn't* go full Three Mile Island). It was rare in 2013 that discriminating fans would talk with glowing terms about matches involving Ryback, Curtis Axel, The Miz, Kaitlyn, among others, but everybody delivered with something above the norm, it seemed.
8. Royal Rumble 2016
The only real negative of the 2016 Rumble was that all of the sudden goodwill that Roman Reigns had built up through December had worn off by this point. Just when it seemed as though "The Big Dog" (insert sassy Ross body-bending motion here) had turned the corner as a conquering hero, *poof*, it was all gone. Getting a 30-minute breather in the Rumble match certainly didn't help him, either.
That said, the show itself was excellent, the best overall Rumble event since at least 2007, maybe even earlier. Ambrose and Kevin Owens' Last Man Standing match for the IC title was a brilliantly-violent opener, while the Rumble match itself was extremely well paced and star-studded. The three championship bouts in between all held their own, particularly the Charlotte/Becky Lynch Women's title bout.
7. Money In The Bank 2013
I'm a southern New Jersey guy who identifies with Philadelphia as his primary region. I bled ECW. I went to SummerSlam 1990 when I was six. I still haven't gotten over seeing my Eagles win Super Bowl 52. All that said, before the 2013 Money in the Bank, there had never been a WWE PPV in Philly that was particularly lofty. The 2004 Rumble was decent, SummerSlam (through older eyes) was okay, but there was just so much garbage (King of the Ring 1999, WrestleMania XV).
This show changed that in droves, from the babyface-laden ladder main event (the best MITB match since the original at WrestleMania 21), the heel-filled opener that turned heads on Cody Rhodes, and the unexpectedly-great John Cena/Mark Henry WWE title bout. Philly had to suffer through the 2015 Rumble and 2017 Battleground after this (before this year's Rumble spun fortunes again), but it was nice to see Money in the Bank put us firmly in the win column.
6. Extreme Rules 2012
After WrestleMania XXVIII polarized audiences (18 seconds, an End of an Era that some found pretentious, part-timer vs. public enemy number one on top), Extreme Rules felt like a make-good for the core audience, something that would appeal more to diehard sensibilities. For one thing, Daniel Bryan and Sheamus were actually allowed to have a match of considerable length, and it was pretty damn great.
Most will remember the John Cena/Brock Lesnar closer for its unflinching brutality, its clear disregard for the family values that WWE clung too for marketing and licensing reasons. That finale was preceded by some other brutal matches, some WrestleMania reduxes like Kane vs. Randy Orton and CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho. Along with Bryan/Sheamus as another 'Mania rematch, each of the three either surpassed their WrestleMania predecessor or in the case of Punk/Jericho, virtually mirrored it.
5. SummerSlam 2011
This SummerSlam really had its work cut out, trying to follow to a wildly-incredible secondary pay per view (which should hardly be a spoiler for the rest of this list). A pair of rematches in CM Punk vs. John Cena and Christian vs. Randy Orton (the latter of which was being run for the fourth straight pay per view) came with raised expectations.
Punk and Cena's rematch was an A- to the A+ that came at Money in the Bank, while Orton and Christian's No Holds Barred match was the best match of the pair's series, and is arguably the best singles match that either man has ever had. The double-main event was preceded by an underrated battle of wills between Daniel Bryan and Wade Barrett that is, for some reason, lost to history. The strength of the last three matches (plus a fast-paced six-man opener) put this among the better SummerSlams.
4. WrestleMania 31
Going in, there seemed to be low expectations. Reigns main eventing in what looked to be an undesired coronation had fans miffed, while the builds to Sting/Triple H and Undertaker/Bray Wyatt were severely lacking. Three straight bad pay per views had sapped the goodwill that a strong 2013-14 run had going, and nobody was looking at the 31st WrestleMania changing that.
How surprised were we? The first two bouts, a seven-way Ladder Match and Randy Orton vs. Seth Rollins, got the party started in grand fashion. The next couple hours rolled along at an even keel, with some choice moments (Rusev on the tank, Ronda Rousey and The Rock kicking ass) before a brutal (in a good way) main event pitting Reigns against Lesnar. Reigns winning may have soured some, but it also may have cut off the later negativity toward him if he'd gone over in a true conquering. Instead, the ending we got was incredibly memorable and will remain Seth Rollins' apex in the business, no matter how many more match of the year candidates he pieces together.
3. WrestleMania XXX
If WrestleMania 31 wasn't looking like a gamechanger in its build-up, then 30 had similar problems, at least until Occupy Raw. When Daniel Bryan's path to the main event opened up four weeks before the grand spectacle, optimism was in full bloom. Suddenly, this WrestleMania looked like it was going to have, if nothing else, the ending many were craving.
But yet, there was so much more. Bryan's bookending matches were the two best of the night, and were among the top WWE matches of 2014. Cesaro's Battle Royal win and John Cena's psychological battle against Bray Wyatt added plenty of zest to what was shaping up to be the greatest 'Mania in years. Not even the controversial decision to end The Streak could damage the show - enough was mined from the aftermath, the way the moment hit all of us, that one could argue that having Lesnar break Undertaker was more than worth it. On quality matches and memories, WrestleMania XXX belongs in the pantheon.
2. SummerSlam 2013
There may be some who feel that Bryan having the carpet pulled out from under him at the end is an unforgivable sin. Granted, it looked bad in the fall when WWE was transitioning Bryan out of the World title scene, but enough angry crowds would fix that injustice. On its own merits, SummerSlam 2013 easily ranks among the greatest pay per views in WWE history, never mind the decade.
When you have two matches that either border on or are at (subjective) five stars, it's a thumbs-way-up show, no matter what else happens. Bryan and John Cena's WWE title match (whilst Cena worked with a badly-knackered elbow) and Lesnar and Punk's No Holds Barred brawl assure this SummerSlam its continuous praise. Add in an excellent Alberto Del Rio/Christian World Heavyweight title match, and a great event is only further well-rounded.
1. Money In The Bank 2011
It deserved far more than the mere 195,000 buys that it got, which was actually down from the Elimination Chamber five months earlier. After the head-turning speech from CM Punk sent the internet into a goddamn frenzy, suddenly the benign TV product had an element of delectable danger to it. If only the fans that excitedly counted down to the match didn't illegally stream the show online, and had actually paid for it - who knows how high the number could've gone.
Needless to say, there are many (Dave Meltzer included) who went five stars on the Punk/Cena main event, as the Chicago crowd, the intense brawling, and the Attitude Era-like involvement of corporate figures, sucked in the audience like few matches of recent memory. When you have two epic ladder matches and a very good Orton/Christian World title match (complete with wacky Orton going berserk afterwards), and you've forgotten all of them because of how the main event went, you know you just saw one of the seminal events in WWE's long history. Money in the Bank 2011 is worth that level of due, and then some.