WWE began and ended the 1990s as a pop culture phenomenon.
The company was making huge amounts of cash from merchandising and live events. However, it was pay-per-view where WWE was most successful. WrestleMania VI held on April 1, 1990, headlined by Hulk Hogan versus The Ultimate Warrior pulled a colossal 550,000 buys. WrestleMania XV which took place on March 28, 1999, headlined by The Rock versus Stone Cold Steve Austin was an even greater success. It pulled a then-record 800,000 pay-per-view buys.
Where WWE also excelled on occasion was its in-ring action between the ropes. The 1990s were highlighted by many superlative cards of action. This feature ranks the five best WWE pay-per-view events of the decade.
#5 WWE WrestleMania XIV – March 29, 1998
WrestleMania XIV is best remembered for Stone Cold Steve Austin’s coronation as WWF kingpin. Stone Cold defeated Shawn Michaels in the headliner, with special enforcer, ‘Iron’ Mike Tyson making the decisive three count. It’s also memorable for the first (and best) confrontation between the Brothers of Destruction, The Undertaker and Kane. They were the most hyped matches on the card but in truth, both contests were average at best and the best action on the card preceded these bouts.
The highlight of the show was the wild, chaotic Dumpster Match between WWF Tag Team Champions, The New Age Outlaws, and Terry Funk and Cactus Jack. After a tremendously fun brawl, Funk utilised a forklift truck to deposit the Outlaws into a dumpster to win the belts.
Triple H defeated Owen Hart in a solid encounter which was easily the best match-up of Helmsley’s three-year WWF career. Taka Michinoku defeated the future Essa Rios, Aguila in a spirited high-flying sprint. Admittedly, it was a pale imitation of WCW’s far superior Cruiserweight division but it was a good effort nonetheless.
Sable made her in-ring debut alongside Marc Mero to face the team of Luna and Goldust in a fabulous intergender collision that far exceeded everyone’s expectations. Sable’s performance as a first-timer was excellent. She nailed Luna with a first-rate powerbomb and TKO to earn her team the victory.
The card was rounded off by the Intercontinental Title match between The Rock and Ken Shamrock. At less than five minutes in length the contest was more angle than match. Shamrock appeared to win with the ankle lock. However, after refusing to break the hold he was disqualified, then proceeded to batter a succession of referees and road agents.
Although WrestleMania XIV didn’t feature any all-time classic matches, it contained a strong lineup of good ones, with everything delivering in some way.
#4 WWE King of the Ring 1993 – June 13, 1993
Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart was the star of the inaugural King of the Ring pay-per-view event. Hart defeated Razor Ramon, Mr. Perfect, and Bam Bam Bigelow to be crowned king. All three contests were excellent and completely different from one another. After he was unceremoniously demoted from the main event scene following WrestleMania IX, Hart demonstrated that he was the rightful company figurehead with his performances.
WWF shrewdly hired Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler to assault Hart following his coronation which set up the hottest feud of 1993 and occupied Hart for the remainder of the year.
The other tournament matches were complete duds. The worst offender was a tedious 15-minute time limit bore draw between Lex Luger and Tatanka. Only Vince McMahon could witness Hart’s and Luger’s respective matches on this show and anoint Luger as Hulk Hogan’s successor several weeks later.
On the subject of Hogan, this show marked his final WWF pay-per-view appearance for nine years. He lost the WWF Championship to Yokozuna in a poor bout that ended in a colossal screwjob. Harvey Wippleman, posing as a ringside photographer flashed a fireball into ‘The Hulkster’s’ face making him easy pickings for a massive Yokozuna legdrop.
Shawn Michaels carried Crush to a passable encounter with the Intercontinental Title on the line. Rounding out the card was another decent contest pitting The Steiners and The Smoking Gunns against Money Inc. and The Headshrinkers.
King of the Ring 1993 was the Bret Hart show no doubt. All three of his match-ups were excellent, in particular his contest with Mr. Perfect which surpassed their all-time (and more famous) classic at SummerSlam 1991. The rest of the card largely paled in comparison. However, three first-rate matches made this the finest card the WWF had ever produced at that point in time.
#3 WWE WrestleMania X – March 20, 1994
After the woeful WrestleMania IX, which featured no good matches and many utter dire ones, the WWF delivered in spades with their feature pay-per-view, one year later.
The card opened with a bang, with the brother versus brother bout between Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and Owen Hart. Expertly built over the previous four months, the storyline which saw an embittered Owen wanting to emerge from the shadow of his older, more famous brother was brilliantly done. Owen shockingly defeated Bret after a 20-minute technical clinic. The match is an all-time classic and remains one of the finest in WWF history. Perfectly paced, with excellent timing, fluid moves, and counter moves, the contest had everything. Owen’s win catapulted him from lower mid-carder to headliner.
The show is perhaps best remembered for the inaugural Ladder Match (on pay-per-view) in WWF history. Intercontinental Champion, Razor Ramon defended the gold against former champion, Shawn Michaels in another classic encounter. The pair performed bumps never seen before and used the ladder as a weapon in a number of innovative spots, which thrilled the Madison Square Garden crowd.
The finish saw Michaels get his foot tangled in the ring ropes, allowing Razor to ascend the ladder and receive the title, just as ‘The Showstopper’ managed to free himself. Superb, iconic match that paved the road for all stunt matches that followed.
The card featured ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage’s final WWF pay-per-view match-up opposite Crush. Fought under Falls Count Anywhere rules, they brawled around the arena in another ground-breaking match-up for the company. Fun contest, that featured some strong action and an innovative finish as Savage tied Crush up in some backstage apparatus ensuring he couldn’t make it back to the ring and was counted out. Underrated bout.
The only other match-up of note on the card was the headliner between WWF Champion, Yokozuna and Bret Hart. Although far from a classic, the action was serviceable as Hart kept the contest moving as best he could.
Hart pinned Yokozuna to claim his second WWF Championship.
With two all-time classics, one very good brawl, and a passable headliner, the card was a terrific show and the best the company had ever produced at the time. There were some poor undercard contests but the best matches far outweighed any duds on display.
#2 WWE Survivor Series 1996 – November 17, 1996
The 10th annual Survivor Series was a terrific card. The highlight of the show was a superb 29-minute classic between a returning Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The pair constructed a match that mixed technical wrestling with brawling and was fought at a furious pace. Both combatants continually attempted pinfalls and there was an infectious intensity to the action. In a hugely significant moment, Hart kicked out of the Stunner in an era where kickouts of finishers were rare. A desperate Austin utilised his old Million Dollar Dream submission hold, which Hart reversed into a pin. Superb match, that is regrettably overshadowed by the pair’s other five-star classic from WrestleMania 13.
The headliner was also a choice encounter between WWF Champion, Shawn Michaels and Sycho Sid. Michaels carried Sid to one of his best matches ever. Michaels bumped around like a ragdoll as Sid looked every inch the unstoppable monster. ‘The Showstopper’ timed his sporadic comebacks to perfection. Adding to the match was the incredible atmosphere inside MSG as the New York crowd loudly jeered Michaels and cheered the heel, Sid. The finish came when Sid decked Michaels’s manager, Jose Lothario with a camera. As Michaels tended to Lothario, who appeared to have a heart attack, Sid powerbombed him into oblivion to lift his first World Title. Tremendous effort.
Underneath, The Undertaker and Mankind drew a temporary line under their long-running rivalry, contesting an entertaining battle, which saw Paul Bearer suspended above the ring in a shark cage. The pair battered each other senseless in a great back-and-forth collision, which saw Mankind take several nasty bumps to the concrete floor. The Undertaker nailed Mankind with a Tombstone for the victory.
The card was rounded out by three classic Survivor Series tag team matches. The bout pitting Owen Hart, The British Bulldog, and The New Rockers against Doug Furnas, Phil Lafon, and The Godwinns picked up once the woeful Godwinns had been eliminated. Thanks to the efforts of Hart, Bulldog, Furnas and Lafon, the second half of this bout was top-rate.
The other Survivor Series tag team matches were both duds. However, one was notable for featuring the debut of The Rock who was the sole survivor for his team.
With two classic matches and two more very good ones, Survivor Series 1996 was a fantastic event and one of the very best cards the WWF produced in the 1990s.
#1 WWE Canadian Stampede: In Your House XVI – July 6, 1997
Canadian Stampede remains one of the finest supercards in WWE history. It still retains its power over two decades on.
The highlight is the 10-man tag team main event which featured The Hart Foundation competing with the team of Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Legion of Doom, Goldust, and Ken Shamrock. The 25-minute collision is an all-time classic. Expertly paced, heated, and packed full of big moves and world-class action. The finish came when Stone Cold tangled with the Hart family at ringside and in the chaos was rolled up by Owen Hart, setting up their Intercontinental Title series.
Underneath, Triple H and Mankind contested a decent brawl that was far superior to their King of the Ring final match-up several weeks earlier. Fought with much higher intensity and pace than the usual Triple H match from this era, this was an entertaining contest. The double count out finish didn’t matter one jot. It existed to extend the feud into SummerSlam, wherein they competed in another tidy collision.
In response to WCW’s hugely successful Cruiserweight division, the Federation introduced the Light-Heavyweights. The WWF planned to sign The Great Sasuke and he wrestled young Japanese sensation, Taka Michinoku in a superb contest on the card. Crisp, with excellent timing and a logical in-match story, this was a fabulous match-up. Sasuke won with a bridging Tiger Suplex. However, it was Taka who impressed WWF higher-ups more and earned the WWF contract, and became the figurehead of the division for a time.
The card was rounded out by the WWF Title match-up between the champion, The Undertaker, and Vader. The pair engaged in a great big man match, full of stiff, power moves which thrilled the Canadian live crowd. ‘The Phenom’ defeated ‘The Mastodon’ following two chokeslams and a Tombstone.
With four undercard matches that were all at least good and the headliner which was an all-time classic, Canadian Stampede was the greatest WWF pay-per-view of the 1990s.
You can watch all of these pay-per-views exclusively on the WWE Network.