Ranking the 5 Best WWE PPVs to Take Place in the ThunderDome
On Sunday, Hell in a Cell marked the final WWE pay-per-view event to take place in the ThunderDome. The company's virtual fan experience was a creative way to make up for the lack of a live audience during the pandemic.
This version of the NBA's bubble served its purpose because it reintroduced the viewers to the high production values they were used to from the promotion's weekly programming and pay-per-views. In that regard, it was an upgrade from the empty-arena shows. However, the technological marvel is no substitute for the euphoric feeling of watching professional wrestling performed as it's intended: in front of a live crowd that can react in real time.
This much became clear as WWE made its triumphant return to Raymond James Stadium, the site of WrestleMania 37. The two-night event was a much-needed return to some semblance of normalcy, and it received a sizable boost from the fans in attendance.
As such, it was difficult to return to what now felt like a lifeless sea of monitors displaying viewers at home. Luckily, we won't have to endure this for much longer because the next pay-per-view, Money in the Bank, will emanate from Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas, on July 18.
In the meantime, let's look back at the five best pay-per-views to take place in the ThunderDome.
Honorable Mention: Hell in a Cell 2020
Hell in a Cell was an enjoyable show bolstered by two fantastic stipulation matches that made up for a largely forgettable card.
Roman Reigns and Jey Uso's rematch for the WWE Universal Championship opened the show. This Hell in a Cell "I Quit" match was just as brutal and melodramatic as their first encounter. The finish was also as satisfying, as The Head of Table forced his cousin to quit when his injured brother, Jimmy, interfered on his behalf.
It was an emotional and beautifully rendered story that laid the foundation for the rest of The Tribal Chief's reign. Later, Sasha Banks and Bayley produced the match of the night when they settled their long-term feud in the second Hell in a Cell bout. The Legit Boss finally conquered the demonic structure en route to her first SmackDown women's title win.
Unfortunately, the rest of the card felt fairly inconsequential, and the main event was kind of a bore. Three Hell in a Cell matches was probably overkill, and Randy Orton vs. Drew McIntrye just didn't measure up to the two that preceded it.
Nevertheless, the two SmackDown world title matches more than made up for this show's flaws. They will both be worth revisiting years from now.
5. WrestleMania Backlash
In terms of match quality, WrestleMania Backlash is possibly the best WWE pay-per-view of the 2021. Well, that's if you ignore the fact that there were zombies on the card, but bear with us.
There were some excellent matches on this show. In the opening contest, for the Raw Women's Championship, Rhea Ripley successfully defended her title against Asuka and Charlotte Flair. Yes, The Empress of Tomorrow predictably ate the pin, but this Triple Threat was much better than expected.
Similarly, Bobby Lashley, Braun Strowman, and Drew McIntrye delivered a wildly entertaining hoss fight that frankly overachieved. The Monster Among Men had a surprisingly great showing, pulling off a terrifying senton bomb. Nevertheless, the CEO of The Hurt Business stole the win from McIntyre to remain champion.
Dominik and Rey Mysterio's feel-good SmackDown tag titles win was another highlight. And Roman Reigns vs. Cesaro for the WWE Universal Championship was incredible. The Tribal Chief wrestled a decidedly technical style, possibly as a jab at Daniel Bryan, as he forced the challenger to pass out with the Guillotine Choke.
The only thing that stopped this show from making it higher on this list was the palpable commercial influence and blatant product placement. Damian Priest vs. The Miz was just a vehicle to promote Dave Batista's upcoming movie, Army of the Dead.
Also, the title, WrestleMania Backlash, was a clunky attempt to capitalize off the company's biggest event of the year as it migrated to Peacock. It was all a bit overbearing.
4. TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs
TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs closed 2020 on a high note for many WWE fans. There's a lot to like about this show, even though the ending is a bit divisive.
The opening match saw Drew McIntyre defend the WWE Championship against AJ Styles and The Miz in a Triple Threat TLC match. The build to this contest wasn't great, but the Superstars put on a phenomenal show, which set the event off with a bang.
Carmella is one of the most underrated wrestlers in the company's women's division. Her new look and character change fit her well, and she proved just how much she has improved between the ropes in her SmackDown women's title match with Sasha Banks. The two showcased some real chemistry and believable submission moves.
Ultimately, The Blueprint won via submission with the Bank Statement, but Mella put up a good fight in defeat. The Hurt Business defeated The New Day to become the new Raw tag team champions in a fun match. Then Charlotte Flair made her surprise return as Asuka's mystery partner in her title shot against Nia Jax and Shayna Baszler.
The unlikely pairing went on to win, making The Empress of Tomorrow a double champion and Flair a Grand Slam champion. Afterward, Kevin Owens and Roman Reigns punished each other in the second Tables, Ladders and Chairs match of the night. The Prizefighter showed unquestionable resilience, but The Tribal Chief retained his title with the help of right-hand man Jey Uso.
Randy Orton and "The Fiend" Bray Wyatt wrapped up the show with a bizarre Firefly Inferno match. The Viper came out on top after The Fiend's back caught on fire. Then he shocked the wrestling world as he RKO'ed Wyatt and seemingly burned him alive.
It was a haunting image, but it made for the most talked-about ending to a WWE pay-per-view in some time.
SummerSlam benefited from the change of scenery as the first WWE pay-per-view event to take place in the ThunderDome. As such, it felt just as big and flashy as one would expect The Biggest Party of the Summer to be.
Additionally, it was an eventful show. Asuka pulled double duty, as she challenged for both the Raw and SmackDown Women's Championships. The Empress of Tomorrow produced two exceptional matches with Bayley and Sasha Banks. Although the Japanese star fell to The Role Model, she was able to defeat Banks to regain the Raw women's title.
There was some excellent storytelling in both bouts that planted the seeds for Banks and Bayley's split. Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville made the best of a tough situation and delivered a solid No Disqualification Loser Leaves WWE match.
Meanwhile, Dominik Mysterio enjoyed an unforgettable in-ring debut in his Street Fight with Seth Rollins. The second-generation wrestler lost, but he proved that he has a bright future.
Both of the men's world title matches weren't much to write home about, but Roman Reigns' shocking return was the biggest moment of the night. In this day and age, it's not easy to surprise the fans. So Reigns' reemergence will go down as one of the most memorable occurrences in the ThunderDome.
Fastlane is a perfect example of why there are too many events between Royal Rumble and WrestleMania. This was an entertaining show, but most of it felt like filler.
Still, the first half of this card was very good. The brightest spot, Big E vs. Apollo Crews, came to an awkward and abrupt end after a sequence of pinning predicaments. Besides the finish, it was a solid match. However, WWE was clearly stretching out the feud so the two could compete again on The Grandest Stage of Them All.
Fortunately, the second half of the show was much better thanks to a surprisingly great performance from Seth Rollins and Shinsuke Nakamura. This was a last-minute addition to the event, but it delivered. Drew McIntyre and Sheamus's hard-hitting No Holds Barred match was also a standout contest.
But the best was yet to come, as Daniel Bryan and Roman Reigns produced arguably the greatest WWE pay-per-view match of the year. On a largely predictable show, this universal title bout had fans on the edges of their seats until the end.
At one point, it looked like Bryan had the match won as he cinched in the Yes! Lock and forced The Tribal Chief to tap out. But the referee didn't see it, and Edge's interference cost Bryan the title. This was an awesome way to set up a Triple Threat match at WrestleMania 37.
1. Royal Rumble
Even without fans in attendance, the Royal Rumble is the most rewarding WWE pay-per-view of the calendar year.
Admittedly, this year's edition lacked some of its traditional enthusiasm because there was no crowd to react to each entrant in the titular matches. But it was still a fun show with some incredible moments.
Drew McIntyre alleviated some viewers' fears when he successfully defended his WWE Championship against Goldberg in less than three minutes. It may not have been the ideal matchup, but it was a nice way for The Scottish Psychopath to come full circle following his Royal Rumble win a year prior.
Sasha Banks vs. Carmella wasn't as good as their match at TLC, but it was still an appealing placeholder. The women's Royal Rumble match was the highlight of the night. The contest came with some emotional surprise entrants like Victoria and featured bona fide star-making moments for both Rhea Ripley and Bianca Belair, the final two.
In the end, The EST of WWE became the fourth woman to win the match and punch her ticket to WrestleMania 37. Belair's win—and subsequent promo—was one of the most heartwarming and gratifying moments of the year.
Roman Reigns and Kevin Owens also had a strong Last Man Standing Match for the WWE Universal Championship. Then Edge continued his captivating comeback story by becoming the 2021 men's Royal Rumble winner.
This wasn't a perfect card, but there was something here for everyone. We will soon bid farewell to the ThunderDome, and it's hard to deny that it was the home of some amazing and historic moments and matches.