The WWE pay-per-view business model is widely believed to be the most successful in private telecast distribution. The company typically produces between 12 and 15 broadcasts per year, with each one routinely earning commendable buy-rates. The success of Vince McMahon’s PPV model can be measured in the significant fact that his company was chosen to produce The Rolling Stones’ landmark “One More Shot” 50th anniversary concert in December (via Georg Szalai of The Hollywood Reporter).
When WWE’s own pay-per-views are considered, however, only four events are usually mentioned: Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, SummerSlam and Survivor Series. These attractions are synonymous with classic bouts such as Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant, Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart and The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin.
But then, there are the "B-shows."
Numerous significant moments of professional wrestling have happened at B events such as No Way Out, Backlash and the In Your House series.
Stone Cold winning the King of the Ring tournament and delivering his iconic “Austin 3:16” promo. Undertaker competing against Kane and six-foot flames in the inaugural Inferno Match. Jeff Hardy finally winning “the big one” to capture his first WWE Championship.
All of the above took place outside of the “big four” domain.
With an electric Tables, Ladders and Chairs pay-per-view now in the history books, this article takes the in-depth look that the B-show deserves and will highlight some of the most overlooked events in the history of the WWE.
(Note: Events are listed in chronological order and are not placed in a ranking system.)
A collection of events that fell just short of the list:
Headlined by the exciting Stone Cold Steve Austin/Triple H brawl, No Mercy 1999 was a stacked card that will be remembered for the emergence of The Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian as well as the ridiculous-yet-entertaining Good Housekeeping Match between Chyna and Jeff Jarrett.
Armageddon 2000 was a consistently high-quality event with a blockbuster main event. The Hell in a Cell six-way between Kurt Angle, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H, Undertaker, Rikishi and The Rock was a fittingly chaotic end to one of the most prosperous years in WWE history.
Vengeance 2001 was a unique pay-per-view that featured a spectacular three-match series in the headline slot. On a night in which the WWE Undisputed Championship was created, Chris Jericho’s victories over The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin finally gave him the main event push that he had deserved.
Recently removed from the brilliant WrestleMania 21, this night was billed as the climax of the impressive Triple H/Batista programme. The two’s Hell in a Cell bout, combined with great efforts from the likes of Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels, shaped Vengeance 2005 into one of the most solid pay-per-views of the modern era.
A surprisingly good effort, the first ever TLC event contained entertaining matches from start to finish. Notable for the shocking title switch between John Cena and Sheamus, TLC 2009 produced seven good to excellent bouts, including Randy Orton vs. Kofi Kingston and the DX/Jeri-Show confrontation.
Milwaukee, Wisconsin: June 23, 1996
Taking place during a time when the professional wrestling landscape was completely dominated by Ted Turner’s WCW, the WWF needed a spectacular show to re-ignite interest in its floundering product. Fortunately, King of the Ring 1996 featured a captivating card that ultimately gave the green light to the headline career of a certain Stone Cold Steve Austin.
With an undercard featuring a rare loss for the Undertaker and Goldust at his controversial best, King of the Ring contained several lively matches that earned great reactions from the Milwaukee crowd.
The double main event, in particular, saw the ultra-heated WWF Championship bout between Shawn Michaels and the British Bulldog end with a memorable appearance from the Ultimate Warrior, whilst the dramatic KOTR tournament final (including Austin’s monumental post-match promo) was a masterpiece in pro wrestling storytelling.
An event often cited as the birth of the celebrated the Attitude Era, King of the Ring 1996 was the beginning of a much-needed purple patch for the WWF that may have effectively saved the company from going under.
Match of the Night: KOTR Final: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Jake "the Snake" Roberts
With the emphasis placed on storytelling as opposed to athletic action, this unforgettable moment placed "The Texas Rattlesnake" on the road to the WWF main event scene.
Calgary, Alberta (Canada): July 6, 1997
In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede was an extremely well-executed pay-per-view that occurred in front of a notoriously partisan Calgary audience. A brief event consisting of only four matches, the action on offer needed to be of top quality in order to produce decent value for money.
And it was.
Despite an average Godwinns/New Blackjacks "Free for All" opener, the event kicked up a notch with the wild brawl between Mankind and the “Connecticut Blueblood," Hunter Hearst Helmsley that featured a number of high spots, including interference from the intimidating Chyna.
Undertaker and Vader put over a strong big man WWF title match following an awe-inspiring Taka Michinoku/Great Sasuke bout that featured spectacular Puroresu moves more commonly found (at the time) in the WCW Cruiserweight division. But it was the 10-man headline match that solidified this event as a must-see attraction.
Home country heroes The Hart Foundation (Bret, Owen, Neidhart, Bulldog and Pillman) were in the midst of their new Anti-America gimmick, and the contest at Canadian Stampede was catered towards showcasing the group (and Bret Hart in particular) as the WWF’s top heels of summer 1997. Extremely over with the biased crowd, the Canadians defeated a babyface super team consisting of Steve Austin, Ken Shamrock, Goldust and The LOD in a back-and-forth affair when Owen Hart rolled up Stone Cold for the underhanded victory.
An event complete with some of the most remarkably genuine crowd heat in professional wrestling history, Canadian Stampede elevated The Hart Foundation’s stock and succeeded in preparing Bret Hart for his upcoming run as WWF Champion.
A highly entertaining match with a typically villainous finish, the main event of the IYH 16 event saw the heels score a contentious victory, much to the delight of the heavily pro-Canada crowd.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: June 28, 1998
An event that hosted possibly the most famous match in WWE history, King of the Ring 1998 is arguably one of the greatest (if not bloodiest) pay-per-views of all-time. Complete with a brutal double main event, this event illustrated just how much talent depth the WWF had during the middle of 1998.
Starting out with on free TV in the weeks leading up to the show, the ’98 KOTR tournament featured promising mid-carders such as Triple H and The Rock turning in great performances on a consistent basis. The up-and-coming Ken Shamrock defeated The Great One at the event in a spirited WrestleMania XIV rematch to be crowned the winner, with the only downside being Shamrock and the WWF’s inability to capitalise on the momentum in the months following the pay-per-view.
However, despite the stellar matches on the undercard, the night belonged to the breathtaking main events.
The incredibly popular Stone Cold Steve Austin lost his WWF Championship to Kane in a controversial First Blood Match to close the evening, but not before the Undertaker and Mankind effectively stole the show with an almost unbelievable Hell in a Cell bout. In two high spots that came to define the Attitude Era, Mankind was thrown off and through the cage on his way to defeat at the hands of The Phenom.
A cornerstone of one of the WWF’s most prosperous periods, King of the Ring 1998 set an astonishingly high bar for both pro-wrestling violence and entertainment.
Match of the Night: Hell in a Cell: Undertaker vs. Mankind
More of a spot-fest than a competitive matchup, the Undertaker’s beating of an incredibly daring Mick Foley truly put the Hell in a Cell match on the map.
Washington, DC: April 30, 2000
WrestleMania is, traditionally, a show that is designed to send the crowd home happy. WrestleMania 2000, however, sent out a clear message with the screw-job ending of the WWF Championship match: Times had changed.
Backlash 2000, then, took the opportunity to capitalize on the finish of the Fatal Four Way bout and booked the marquee match that should have happened at WrestleMania: The Rock vs. Triple H in a singles contest for Helmsley’s WWF title.
The Rock vs. Triple H and the McMahons dominated the majority of 2000, and the match at Backlash was the beginning of an enthralling rivalry that saw the WWF title switch hands several times in a series of captivating matches.
Alongside the main event, the broadcast’s preliminary matches are also worth noting. The likes of Edge and Christian, the Dudleys and Eddie Guerrero showed great talent in competent opening matches, whilst the Canadian duo of Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit put on an engrossing Intercontinental Championship match, with Benoit only keeping the strap due to a DQ finish (a fitting ending considering the volatile nature of their feud).
However, unfortunately for Jericho et al, Triple H and The Rock deservedly swiped the spotlight on a night that proved why the WWF had regained its footing as the greatest wrestling promotion in the world. Backlash 2000 was an example of professional wrestling at its very best and took place during a time when the WWF was on fire in terms of popularity and ratings.
Match of the Night: WWF Championship: The Rock vs. Triple H
Containing one of the most electric finishing sequences to a WWF title match ever, The Rock’s win over Triple H was an exceptional showing by two men whom were in the prime of their careers. Also, a cameo appearance from an inactive Stone Cold Steve Austin earned one of the most sustained pops ever heard on a WWF broadcast.
Boston, Massachusetts: June 25, 2000
Taking place a mere two months after the super-card that was Backlash 2000, King of the Ring matched the former in terms of high quality action and five-star entertainment.
Only slightly marred by the abysmal Pat Patterson/Gerald Brisco evening gown debacle, the undercard featured a range of excellent pay-per-view worthy matches. The KOTR tournament was a profound success (won by a very deserving Kurt Angle, whom the WWF was grooming to become the company’s next headline star), and the Tables/Dumpster Match between DX and the Dudley Boyz was a violent ECW-style tag bout that was warmly received by the Boston crowd.
The six-man provided the match of the night, however, and saw The Rock once again walk away as WWF Champion. A cleverly worked bout that camouflaged the limited abilities of both Vince and Shane McMahon, the match centred upon the temperamental teamwork of both sides and featured several high spots (including a violent Undertaker/Kane exchange and an astonishing table bump by Shane that would be likely banned in today’s product).
With the emergence of Kurt Angle and the start of The Rock’s summer-long title run, King of the Ring 2000 was a noteworthy event that provided 11 matches of impressive Attitude Era action.
Match of the Night: Triple H, Vince McMahon and Shane McMahon vs. The Rock, Undertaker and Kane
Despite both McMahons being limited performers, the six-man WWF title match succeeded as a highly entertaining headliner. An enjoyable finish saw The Rock pin Vince to capture his fifth WWF Championship.
Las Vegas, Nevada: February 25, 2001
No Way Out 2001 had the honour of being the last B event on the road to what is widely regarded as the greatest show in WWF history, WrestleMania X-Seven.
Taking place a month before the 17th edition of the Showcase of the Immortals, No Way Out did a remarkable job of preparing for the upcoming event as well as projecting an evening of scintillating matches.
In the mid-card, notable events included the Big Show’s Hardcore title victory, as well as the elevation of the tag team division due to the largely exciting Triangle Tables match between The Dudleys, Edge and Christian and the Brothers of Destruction. Trish Stratus and Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley also delivered in a decent grudge match that today’s Divas could benefit from re-visiting. The Billion Dollar Princess picked up the win via outside interference from the amusing William Regal.
In an intense Three Stages of Hell bout, the super-heated feud between Stone Cold Steve Austin and Triple H came to its fiery conclusion. The two battled evenly through to the deciding third fall in which the climactic Steel Cage surrounded the ring. After an impassioned 40 minutes of brutal action, Triple H eventually scored the victory in a cleverly-booked finish that protected both men leading into WrestleMania.
In the headline slot was the sensational yet somewhat overshadowed WWF title showdown between Kurt Angle and The Rock. In an absorbing contest, both men pulled out exceptional performances in an emotional match that included a flurry of extremely believable near-falls. Despite the pointless interference from the Big Show, The Rock defeated Angle to set up a blockbuster WrestleMania main event against Steve Austin.
No Way Out 2001 served its purpose of setting the groundwork for the upcoming WrestleMania, but happily went above and beyond the call of duty by providing one of the most impressive pay-per-views of the WWF era.
Match of the Night: Three Stages of Hell: Stone Cold Steve Austin vs. Triple H
The best and by far, most anticipated match of the event saw Triple H pick up a clever win whilst protecting Steve Austin for his upcoming WrestleMania bout with The Rock.
North Little Rock, Arkansas: October 20, 2002
The only WWE pay-per-view to emanate from the state of Arkansas, No Mercy 2002 featured several significant moments.
Firstly, in the first main event of a stacked card complete with six championship matches, Triple H defeated Kane to unify the Intercontinental and World Heavyweight Championships in a fine Winner Takes All affair. Despite occurring during the notoriously distasteful Katie Vick angle, the two entered a competent match filled with referee bumps and interference from Helmsley’s ally, Ric Flair.
A particularly bloody Hell in a Cell bout between the Undertaker and the WWE’s newest monster heel Brock Lesnar closed the show and, as expected, delivered an effective passing of the torch moment. The veteran Undertaker convincingly put over the young champion Lesnar whom, towards the end of 2002, was clearly being positioned as the new top guy of the WWE.
In terms of in-ring action, however, the bout to determine the inaugural WWE Tag Team Champions stood out as the contest of the night. Following this sizzling bout, the two teams (along with Eddie and Chavo Guerrero) went on to be dubbed the SmackDown Six, as their exemplary performances on the blue brand came to define the promising WWE mid-card.
No Mercy 2002 is an important event when considering the history of WWE, as this event served as a bridge between the end of the Attitude Era and the emerging Ruthless Aggression period.
Match of the Night: WWE Tag Team Championship: Edge and Rey Mysterio vs. Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle
Featuring an amalgamation of aerial athleticism and technical mat work, the WWE Tag Team title match kicked off the new championship with a phenomenal performance.
New York, New York: June 11, 2006
Containing seven matches inspired by the original Extreme Championship Wrestling, One Night Stand was an impressive effort that adequately captured the essence of Paul Heyman’s former brainchild. Combining high-energy action with 1990’s garbage wrestling, the WWE’s second revisit of the EC0W brand took place in front of a riotous crowd at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom.
Former extremists such as The Full Blooded Italians, Tazz and Masato Tanaka filled thrilling matches that, over the course of the night, contained the famous mixture of hardcore, lucha libre and Japanese-infused professional wrestling that drew fans to the original ECW during the product’s mid-90’s heyday.
ECW originals Rey Mysterio and Sabu offered a vivacious World Heavyweight Championship brawl that, in one of the highlights of the night, featured a No Contest finish—sparked by a reckless Triple Jump DDT spot—that sent the crowd wild.
In one of the best matches of either man’s careers, the storming WWE title bout between John Cena and ECW alumni Rob Van Dam took the One Night Stand main event honours. A dramatic contest that ended with a well-received interference spot from Edge, the Cena/RVD bout featured the now famous sign draping from the rafters that encapsulated the feelings of the old ECW faithful: “If Cena Wins, We Riot."
Overall, One Night Stand 2006—like the initial ONS event a year previously—was a brave show from the WWE, but one that acted as a highly satisfactory tribute to the spirit of the original ECW.
Match of the Night: WWE Championship: John Cena vs. Rob Van Dam
With John Cena receiving unflattering chants (“Same old ****”, “**** you Cena”) and debris filling the ring, Rob Van Dam’s WWE title victory managed to re-live the raucous aura of the original ECW.
Toronto, Ontario (Canada): September 17, 2006
Similar to the setting of In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede nearly a decade earlier, Unforgiven 2006 was an event that is noteworthy not only for the solid action offered, but for the highly partisan audience. Hailing from the largest city in Canada, the frenzied fans at the Air Canada Centre created an unforgettable atmosphere.
Matches from the Raw-only event contained several inspiring outings, including Trish Stratus winning the Women’s Championship in her retirement match and a competent contest between Carlito and Randy Orton that featured an athletic finish (back when the RKO was actually unpredictable). The Hell in a Cell bout between D-Generation X and the team of the McMahons and Big Show was predictably sluggish, but contained a lively finish with an ultra-violent sledgehammer shot to the back of the WWE Chairman.
Much like at One Night Stand three months earlier, the main event saw John Cena having to overcome an extremely volatile crowd. Unlike the bout against Rob Van Dam, however, the entertaining TLC battle with Toronto’s own Edge ended with Cena walking away as WWE Champion. In a match packed full of risky table and ladder stunts, Cena overcame the Rated-R Superstar in spectacular fashion with an Attitude Adjustment spot that saw Edge crash through several tables in the middle of the ring.
The ending of the title bout was not the Toronto crowd’s preferred outcome, but the standing ovations filling the arena immediately afterwards acknowledged that a modern classic had just unfolded.
Unforgiven 2006 was a card filled with good encounters, and the Cena/Edge showdown, in particular, was a very good climax to a feud that had dominated WWE programming throughout most of the summer.
Match of the Night: Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match: John Cena vs. Edge
Competing against the crowd as much as his opponent, John Cena showed admirable composure to deliver an electric performance against one of the most entertaining WWE Champions in years, Edge.
Las Vegas, Nevada: February 17, 2008
The first card to include two Elimination Chamber matches in one night, No Way Out 2008 was an intriguing show that contained six excellent contests.
The first decent match from the superb undercard was the chaotic SmackDown chamber bout in which the Undertaker was victorious and several performers (including an unusually daring Finlay) took surreal bumps in high spots that earned tremendous reactions from the Las Vegas fans.
Other matches of note saw Randy Orton and John Cena battle to a DQ finish in a very good WWE title match that was only let down by the outdated ending. World Heavyweight Champion Edge and Rey Mysterio took part in a brief but animated contest, with the post-match angle between a returning Big Show and boxer Floyd Mayweather, Jr. laying the seeds for the titanic confrontation at the upcoming WrestleMania.
The second Elimination Chamber match of the night was a fast-paced affair that benefited from the memorable performance from Jeff Hardy. Playing the underdog to perfection and, in turn, pulling out stunning offensive manoeuvres (including a beautiful Swanton Bomb from the roof of a Chamber pod), Hardy entered one of his best performances to date in the Elimination Chamber.
Unfortunately for the younger Hardy brother, Triple H eventually came away with the win that would secure his place in the WrestleMania main event.
Full of captivating matches and several interesting angles, No Way Out 2008 was an industrious B-show that foreshadowed a riveting event in WrestleMania XXIV.
As the main highlight of a night full of decent bouts, the Raw Chamber match (and specifically, the closing exchanges between Triple H and Jeff Hardy) typified the high quality of action that No Way Out 2008 offered.
Providence, Rhode Island: April 26, 2009
Following on from the underwhelming WrestleMania 25, Backlash 2009, with two exceptional main events and very little filler, made amends for the disappointing show that occurred three weeks earlier.
Significant results from the preliminary matches saw a returning Christian defeat Jack Swagger to win the ECW Championship in a spirited opener, a resurgent Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat taking a loss from Chris Jericho and a barbaric "I Quit" fight between Matt and Jeff Hardy ending with a memorable spot in which the older Hardy was physically strapped to a table.
Continuing from the exceptionally strong opening bouts, Backlash featured a solid double main event in which the two heavyweight titles changed hands.
Firstly, in a superior match to the Orton/Triple H bore at WrestleMania 25, the six-man tag team match provided an entertaining Legacy faction (Randy Orton, Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase) taking on the team of Triple H, Batista and Shane McMahon. Pinning Triple H with the sadistic punt kick, Orton’s captured the WWE title in a result that should have occurred at WrestleMania.
In the bout of the evening, John Cena and Edge ended their three-year long feud in a Last Man Standing match for Cena’s World Heavyweight Championship. With the action expanding into the crowd and other sections of the Dunkin’ Donuts Centre, the match was a fun contest that concluded with a unique finishing sequence that involved the Big Show and one of the more dangerous bumps of Cena’s career.
In a dazzling event, Backlash 2009 successfully surpassed the expectation that WrestleMania 25 had previously failed to live up to.
Match of the Night: Last Man Standing Match: John Cena vs. Edge
Winning the “big gold belt” via the Big Show’s savage attack on Cena, Edge took the opportunity to remind the world that he was still one of the best heels in the business.
Chicago, Illinois: July 17, 2011
With Money in the Bank 2011, the WWE offered a show that contained a number of faultless matches and a headline bout that exemplified the rare “big fight” aura.
The Raw and SmackDown Money in the Bank Ladder matches were well-executed spot fests. Won by Alberto Del Rio and Daniel Bryan, respectively, the bouts featured the usual array of dangerous stunts (including an audacious Sheamus powerbomb that could just as easily of broken Sin Cara’s neck as it did a Ladder) that have become associated with such contests.
In other matches on the card, Mark Henry defeated Big Show to kick-start his “Hall of Pain” gimmick, and the newly-turned Christian showed his natural ability as a heel by stealing the World Heavyweight Championship from an irate Randy Orton.
In a main event that could also be classed as Match of the Year in addition to Match of the Night, John Cena lost his WWE Championship to CM Punk in one of the most exciting matches in recent memory. Playing out in front of a crowd verging on hysteria, Punk overcame Cena (and subsequently, Vince McMahon and his stooge, John Laurinaitis) in a red-hot encounter that was being (kayfabe) billed as his last with the company.
Continuing the wave of momentum that was established by the revered CM Punk shoot/work promo from the June 26 edition of Raw, Money in the Bank 2011 was an immaculate pay-per-view event that acted as proof that McMahon’s company can still provide engrossing entertainment.
Match of the Night: WWE Championship: John Cena vs. CM Punk
With John Cena certainly no stranger to a partisan crowd and CM Punk very much the hometown hero, the night’s main event was a fine effort from both performers that featured a strong storytelling dynamic throughout.
B-shows, by their very nature, are generally meant to be enhancement events that link together main pay-per-views such as the Royal Rumble (upcoming on January 27) and WrestleMania.
This events mentioned in this article (and indeed, the recent Tables, Ladders and Chairs show from December) argues that the B-show, when executed properly, can be every bit as (if not, more so) entertaining as one of the big four.
Recently, WWE has improved its booking of the B-show, with blockbuster matches such as Cena vs. Punk (Night of Champions) and Punk vs. Ryback (Hell in a Cell) taking place outside of the traditional big-time pay-per-views.
This in itself is a very smart move from the company, as the B-show, as this article proves, can offer a considerable amount more than it has in recent years.
Thanks for reading!
Comments welcome below or on Twitter: @matthewtsquires