Ranking the 15 Highest-Grossing WWE Pay-Per-Views of All Time
The WWE recently announced that SummerSlam 2012, centered almost entirely around the Brock Lesnar vs. Triple H match, had drawn an impressive 350,000 pay-per-view buys. This got me thinking as to where the event would figure when compared to the biggest financial successes in company history.*
Vince McMahon is regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of pay-per-view sports, and this article will rank the 15 most successful events his company has ever staged.
Note: Rankings are based on pay-per view grosses only. The information presented was collected by researching a great number of different sources and events before the year 2000 and are estimated since the WWE had yet to become a public company.
*By the way, the answer is nowhere near.
15. WrestleMania XIV (730,000 Buys)
Taking place on March 29, 1998, just as the hugely popular Attitude Era kicked into gear, WrestleMania XIV gained huge mainstream appeal thanks to the involvement of controversial boxing legend Mike Tyson in the main event.
Twelve months previously, WrestleMania 13 had drawn a terrible 237,000 buys. The following year's event trebled that number thanks to three key factors: the increasing popularity of the business as a whole, the aforementioned "Iron" Mike and the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin.
A crowd of 19,028 were in attendance to see "The Rattlesnake" capture his first WWF Championship from Shawn Michaels in the main event. The only other match of real note was the first WrestleMania clash between The Undertaker and Kane.
14. InVasion 2001 (770,000 Buys)
The only non-WrestleMania event on the list, the July 22, 2001 event was a massive financial success thanks to the huge interest from all wrestling fans in what had the potential to be one of the industry's greatest feuds: The WWF vs. the WCW/ECW Alliance.
A staggering 17,964 fans packed into Cleveland's Gund Arena to witness the 10-match card that featured only inter-promotional contests. The main event saw Team WWF (Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Chris Jericho, Kane and The Undertaker) come up short against Team WCW/ECW (Booker T, Diamond Dallas Page, Rhyno and The Dudley Boyz) after Stone Cold's shocking defection.
Following the event, the storyline petered out after the Alliance were treated as little more than jobbers by the established WWF stars. The huge buyrate showed just how popular the rivalry could have been had it not been squandered by the creative team in the months after.
13. WrestleMania XV (800,000 Buys)
One of the more disappointing WrestleManias in recent memory from an in-ring standpoint, the event was nevertheless a hit on pay-per-view, and the 20,276 fans in attendance added a further $1.4 million to the company coffers through gate receipts.
Headlined by Steve Austin's WWF Championship victory over The Rock in a no-disqualification match, the card also featured the final of the misguided Brawl for All tournament and The Undertaker's controversial Hell in a Cell match against The Big Boss Man.
12. WrestleMania 2000 (824,000 Buys)
For the third successive year, WrestleMania broke pay-per-view records for the WWE, although the card itself was nothing more than adequate.
The only WrestleMania not to feature a straight singles match, the main event was the "McMahon in Every Corner" fatal four-way for the WWF Championship featuring Triple H, The Rock, The Big Show and Mick Foley.
Other under-card highlights included the groundbreaking triple-threat tag team ladder match between Edge and Christian, The Hardy Boyz and The Dudleys, and the entertaining "Eurocontinental" Championship three-way dance with Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho.
The rest of the event was nothing more than filler, but the 18,034 fans in Anaheim's Arrowhead Pond lapped up the action nonetheless.
11. WrestleMania X8 (880,000 Buys)
The buildup for the event was heavily focused on the "Icon vs. Icon" dream match pitting The Rock against Hulk Hogan for the first time ever, and it helped WWE's annual extravaganza post another huge buyrate.
A record-breaking Toronto SkyDome attendance of 68,237 generated a huge $3.9 million in gate receipts to make up for the disappointment of not matching the previous WrestleMania's pay-per-view grosses.
Other than the Hogan vs. Rock clash, the other high-profile matches included Triple H's Undisputed Championship win over Chris Jericho and Steve Austin's triumph over nWo member Scott Hall, while The Undertaker extended "The Streak" to 10-0 with a win over "The Nature Boy" Ric Flair.
10. WrestleMania XXVI (885,000 Buys)
There were 72,219 fans present at the University of Phoenix Stadium for the 26th edition of "The Showcase of the Immortals," generating $5.8 million in ticket sales for the WWE on top of the impressive buyrate.
The card was headlined by the high-profile rematch between The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels that led to the retirement of "The Heartbreak Kid."
In other notable results, John Cena defeated Batista to lift his seventh WWE Championship, Chris Jericho retained the World Heavyweight Championship against Edge and Bret Hart crushed Vince McMahon in a street fight that had been 13 years in the making.
The under-card matches weren't of the highest in-ring quality, but thanks to the huge PPV numbers, Vince probably didn't lose much sleep over it, despite his loss at the hands of "The Hitman."
9. WrestleMania XXV (960,000 Buys)
The 25th edition of the "Showcase of the Immortals" is best remembered for the classic match between Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker, which made the event worth every penny for the 72,744 in attendance at the Reliant Stadium in Houston.
On top of the massive $6.9 million in ticket sales, the event also generated $50 million for the local economy throughout WrestleMania weekend, making it a huge financial success across the board for the WWE.
The main event saw Triple H retain the WWE Championship against Randy Orton, while John Cena captured the World Heavyweight Championship from Edge in a triple threat match that also featured The Big Show.
The under-card also featured CM Punk's second consecutive Money in the Bank ladder match victory.
8. WrestleMania 22 (975,000 Buys)
All 17,159 tickets for the event at Rosemont's Allstate Arena were sold out in under two minutes, and the $2.5 million in gate receipts ensured the event would be a massive success long before the PPV numbers came in.
A solid card from an in-ring perspective, the main event saw John Cena retain the WWE Championship against Triple H. Royal Rumble winner Rey Misterio also became an unlikely World Heavyweight Champion when he bested Randy Orton and Kurt Angle in a triple threat match.
Other highlights included the brutal hardcore match between Edge and Mick Foley, Rob Van Dam's victory in the annual Money in the Bank ladder match and Shawn Michaels' triumph over Vince McMahon in a hugely entertaining no-holds-barred match.
7. WrestleMania XX (1,007,000 Buys)
The 20th anniversary of WrestleMania was the third to be held in Madison Square Garden, and the sell-out crowd of 20,000 generated $2.4 million in ticket sales, while the WrestleMania weekend as a whole boosted the New York economy by a further $13.5 million. The event was promoted as a huge occasion, and this was reflected by over a million PPV buys.
A memorable card featured Chris Benoit's first World Heavyweight Championship win in a match that also featured Triple H and Shawn Michaels, and Eddie Guerrero was successful in his WWE Championship defence against Kurt Angle.
However, the contest between Goldberg and Brock Lesnar was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
The event also featured the return of The Rock N' Sock Connection in a defeat to Evolution, The Undertaker returned as "The Deadman" to defeat Kane, and John Cena captured his first singles championship in a United States title victory over JBL.
6. WrestleMania X-Seven (1,040,000 Buys)
Often referred to as the greatest WrestleMania in history, the 17th edition of the "Showcase of the Immortals" was the first event in company history to generate over a million pay-per-view buys as well as grossing $3.5 million in ticket sales from the 67,925 fans that packed into Houston's Reliant Astrodome.
The main event was the heated clash between arch-rivals Steve Austin and The Rock, which saw "The Rattlesnake" capture the WWF Championship and align himself with longtime nemesis Vince McMahon.
A high quality under-card saw The Undertaker defeat Triple H after a hard-hitting brawl, and Shane McMahon bested his father in a weapon-filled street fight.
And let's not forget the breathtaking TLC match featuring the Hardy Boyz, Edge and Christian and the Dudleys, and the wonderfully entertaining Hardcore title match between Kane, The Big Show and Raven.
Quite possibly the greatest pay-per-view WWE has ever staged, WrestleMania X-Seven was an event most definitely deserving of its financial success.
5. WrestleMania XXIV (1,058,000 Buys)
The second outdoor WrestleMania (after the ninth iteration in 1993) saw 74,635 fans witness the annual spectacle held at Orlando's Citrus Bowl.
Although the main event was The Undertaker's World Heavyweight Championship victory over Edge, the most highly promoted match on the card was the no-disqualification match between The Big Show and boxer Floyd Mayweather.
Garnering huge mainstream media attention in the buildup to the event, the mass appeal of Mayweather heavily contributed to the impressive buyrate for the event. The boxer emerged victorious in the entertaining clash thanks to a brass knuckle-assisted knockout punch.
Other notable events on the under-card were Kane's eight-second ECW Championship win over Chavo Guerrero, CM Punk's first Money in the Bank ladder match triumph and Ric Flair's "career-ending" loss to Shawn Michaels.
The huge crowd generated a further $5.85 million in ticket sales at the show, and over 60,000 visitors during WrestleMania weekend boosted the local economy to the tune of over $50 million, making the event a huge financial success for everyone involved.
4. WrestleMania XXVII (1,059,000 Buys)
The involvement of The Rock as special guest host saw the 27th edition of WrestleMania greatly increase PPV buyrates compared to the event's immediate predecessor. The 71,617 in attendance at the Georgia Dome boosted earnings by a cool $6.6 million, putting the event second all time in terms of gate receipts.
Putting the A-list Hollywood star front and center was a smart move by the WWE, as more curious or casual viewers were more inclined to tune in and watch "The People's Champion," making it the highest-grossing WrestleMania on pay-per-view in three years.
"The Great One" ended up costing Cena his chance at The Miz's WWE Championship, and he would ultimately plant the seeds for the following year's extravaganza, but more on that later.
In other notable action, The Undertaker defeated Triple H in a no holds barred match, Randy Orton defeated CM Punk, and Edge competed in what would be his final match in a successful World Heavyweight Championship defence against Alberto del Rio.
The proof that the huge buyrate stemmed mostly from The Rock comes from the damning facts that the card also contained the Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler debacle, and awful reality star Snooki competed in the penultimate match of the "Grandest Stage of them All."
3. WrestleMania 21 (1,085,000 Buys)
"WrestleMania Goes Hollywood."
After the tickets were sold out in less than a minute, the "Showcase of the Immortals" made its way to Los Angeles and picked up $2.6 million in gate money from the sold-out crowd of 20,193 at Staples Center, as well as the huge pay-per-view buyrate.
The card itself was absolutely packed with highlights: Edge triumphed in the inaugural Money in the Bank match; both John Cena and Batista became bona fide superstars with world title victories over JBL and Triple H, respectively; Randy Orton came closer to ending The Undertaker's streak than anyone in recent years; and the 'Grandest Stage of Them All" also provided an all-time classic between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels.
One of the great WrestleManias filled with memorable moments, you can see why over a million people parted with their cash to watch the event.
2. WrestleMania 23 (1,200,000 Buys)
The WWE loves mainstream media attention, and the heavily promoted involvement of billionaire Donald Trump certainly got plenty of that.
At Detroit's Ford Field, an all-time record audience of 80,103 brought in a huge $5.38 million in gate receipts and watched on with over a million people watching on television eagerly awaiting the fate of Trump's famous hair. In the end, it was Vince McMahon who was shaved bald, but that in itself has become an iconic moment in WWE history.
Besides the Hair vs. Hair, Billionaire versus "Billionaire" contest, the rest of the card was more than a little underwhelming.
In notable happenings, The Undertaker defeated Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship, John Cena retained the WWE Championship against Shawn Michaels and Mr. Kennedy won the Money in the Bank ladder match.
The record-breaking numbers for WrestleMania 23 proved that mainstream media attention does more to boost grosses than in-ring action, and it seemed as though the rest of the card suffered as a result of the emphasis placed on the Donald Trump storyline.
1. WrestleMania XVIII (1,217,000 Buys)
When the numbers came out, the WWE were more than happy to share the record-breaking news. As well as being watched at home by 1.2 million people across 120 countries, the 78,363 in attendance at Miami's Sun Life Stadium generated $8.9 million in gate receipts, a new company record.
Built around the "Once in a Lifetime" collision between John Cena and The Rock that had been building for almost an entire year, the card also saw The Undertaker go 20-0 by winning WrestleMania's second (yet best by far) Hell in a Cell match over Triple H, CM Punk retained the WWE Title against Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan lost the World Heavyweight Championship to Sheamus in 18 seconds.
The marketing for the event was almost entirely hyped around the "Once in a Lifetime" match to gain mainstream media attention to intrigue more casual viewers, and it worked like a charm.
The Rock's most high-profile match in nine years at WrestleMania against the current face of the company drew in viewers of all ages and proved without a doubt the continued popularity of "The Great One," ensuring record-breaking numbers for the event.
So there you have it, the 15 highest-grossing pay-per-views in WWE history.
Unsurprisingly, the company's flagship event dominates the rankings. Vince McMahon devotes more time and attention to WrestleMania than any other PPV, and that is reflected in the continuing record-breaking success of the "Showcase of the Immortals."
It also shows McMahon is quite right in his methods to heavily rely on celebrities and WWE legends for the biggest show of the year.
Are you surprised by the rankings?
Do you think the increasing cost of the events is a factor?
Do the buyrates reflect the in-ring quality?
As always, sound off in the comments below.