If we break down the reason behind why Raw and SmackDown exist, for the most part, it's simply to promote Pay-Per-Views. Whether it be WrestleMania or the less renowned No Mercy, all roads lead to those Sunday evening events, where storylines come to a head and foes meet. Given the build-up that many matches are given, it’s expected that they'll live up to the anticipation created around them. While sometimes the writing lets the final match down, the time and preparation put into a main event should ensure they are memorable.
Almost all the historic matches happened at PPVs, with the majority occurring in the big four (WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, Survivor Series and SummerSlam). While Michaels vs. Hart, Hogan vs. Savage and The Rock vs. Austin all tore the roof down, there are some headline matches which have slipped away from recollection, either due to the Superstars involved or the interest levels.
The 15 main events on this list are all included not necessarily because they were bad matches – in fact, some were actually pretty good matches. But for one reason or another, they have fallen into the forgotten section of PPVs of the past.
15 Shawn Michaels vs. Mankind (In Your House: Mind Games)
The In Your House PPVs were interesting because they provided some of the lesser known stars the chance to really push themselves forward and potentially grab those brass rings that Vince McMahon loves mentioning in passing. This particular version of IYH is long recognized as one of the best, but that doesn’t mean it’s historic to younger fans.
While those born in the 2000s will probably know all about matches between Hart and Austin, the Foley and Michaels match isn’t given the time it deserves. Battling for nearly 30 minutes, Mankind was in his mind numbing phase. As if that wasn’t interesting enough, there was also a coffin by the ring. “Wait no way, why was there a coffin there?” We can hear you ask. Well shockingly, The Undertaker was inside the entire time. He attacked Mankind after he had earlier been disqualified, rounding off a stellar show.
14 Hulk Hogan vs. Triple H (Backlash 2002)
When Hulk Hogan made his return to the WWE as a part of the nWo, what should have been a huge deal felt a little bit flat as Hogan, Nash and Hall failed to have the same dominance as they experienced years before in WCW. When the group started to falter as new men joined and main guys departed, WWE was left in the difficult situation of finding something to do with the biggest star they have ever created.
That’s why old man Hogan was put into the WWE title picture, ultimately burying the king of bury’s, Triple H. Despite interference from Chris Jericho on behalf of Triple H, The Undertaker came to the aid of Hogan and helped Hulkamania run all over The Game to pick up another WWE Championship.
13 Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels (Raw 2005)
Two of the finest wrestlers that the WWE has ever had the pleasure to give a platform to met on several occasions, including this 30 minute Iron Man Match on Raw. Any meeting between these two should be historic and kept a long way from this list, but the fact this was only used for Raw is a real shame.
Iron Man Matches can only work if you have the right wrestlers involved and you can’t really find any better than this pair of wrestling studs. So why would you give it away for free?
The match was tied at 2-2 when the buzzer went, with the heel Angle refusing to battle it out for the final point in sudden death, as the rivalry continued. Over his time in the WWE, Angle took part in three legendary Iron Man Matches but sadly, he failed to pick up a single victory.
12 Diesel vs. King Mabel (SummerSlam 1995)
Before he became an irrelevant part of the WWE's programming, Viscera was the King of the Ring in the mid-90s. It’s not quite clear where it went wrong for the menacing former Tag Team Champion, because the fact he was at the top of the bill for one of the major PPVs shows that Vince was seriously set on him in the earlier days.
The fact that this is forgotten is more out of choice, as it wasn’t exactly a classic. Big Daddy Cool picked up the win and Mabel quickly moved back down from the top of the card, without any significant reason behind his drop. The reason the WWE will likely want you to forget this one is that by the time Nelson Frazier Jr. left the company, he could barely buy a victory and had unfortunately been turned into something of a joke.
11 Brock Lesnar & Paul Heyman vs. Edge (Rebellion 2002)
With this one, you might not even know that Rebellion was actually a PPV. Exclusive to Great Britain, the show began in 1999 and ran until 2002, where this classic proved to be the final match. The idea of Rebellion was great, especially for the legion of British fans who often feel a little out of the loop by all the action happening across the pond in the middle of the night.
The 2002 main event saw Lesnar & Heyman team together to take on babyface Edge, even though his huge push didn’t happen for another three years. At this point, the future Rated R Superstar was popular with fans, but not really expected to receive a main event spot at any point.
This is one of those unheard of occasions where the champion is defending his title, yet is also part of a handicap match. It’s unheard of because it's a terrible idea. Needless to say, Lesnar won and the whole thing was forgotten about quickly.
10 Triple H vs. Rob Van Dam (Unforgiven 2002)
It’s easy to forget a Triple H main event, because there have been dozens of them over the years. While most came against familiar foes in the shape of The Rock, Randy Orton and John Cena, it’s the more obscure ones that tend to slip the mind a little, such as this one against RVD.
It was no surprise to anyone when "Mr. Monday Night" encapsulated the WWE crowds after the invasion, due to his high-flying skills and ability to entertain audiences through his name alone. This match at Unforgiven ended as so many others did, with Triple H leaving with the title. This was actually a joint main event, even though it was only fifth on the card.
Brock Lesnar and The Undertaker battled it out to a no contest, while Triple H was aided by Ric Flair for the first time, providing him with a sledgehammer and setting the wheels in motion for the formation of Evolution.
9 DX vs. The Spirit Squad (Vengeance 2006)
The year is 2006. WWE are looking to make new stars following the departures of The Rock, Stone Cold, Chris Jericho and (soon to be) Kurt Angle. Yet in 2006, D-Generation X was still topping the card at PPVs? Does this have anything to do with Triple H’s influence? Probably.
The fact a Tag Team Match with no titles on the line topped the card is a tell-tale sign that there was influence from The Game and HBK because it saw a standard match take precedence over the WWE Championship. Unsurprisingly, Triple H picked up the win when the odds were against him, although he was taking on a group of male cheerleaders.
The fact this headlined was especially a shock considering some of the other matches on the card and their placement. Edge against RVD was a shocking three matches before the main event and even John Cena wasn't featured in the final match.
8 The Undertaker vs Faarooq (King of the Ring 1997)
Having spent his entire WWE career battling as part of alpha-male groups such as The Nation of Domination and The Acolytes, main event matches were at a premium for Ron Simmons. But at the 1997 King of the Ring, he was given his opportunity to take on The Deadman.
Battling it out for the WWE Championship, Faarooq was playing the dastardly villain with an army of friends behind him, as a number of interferences put the pressure on The Undertaker. But in true "Phenom" style, he was able to finish Faarooq off with the Tombstone, before being attacked by Ahmed Johnson after the bell. Johnson later joined the NOD but, ultimately, that didn’t go very far. Taker and Faarooq were on the same wavelength not long after as a part of The Ministry.
7 The Hart Foundation vs. Stone Cold, Ken Shamrock, Goldust & The Legion of Doom (In Your House 16: Canadian Stampede)
Okay, so this is something of a strange pairing. You’ve got The Texas Rattlesnake, the man who went onto become the most popular WWE Superstar of all-time. Then you’ve got Ken Shamrock, The World’s Most Dangerous Man. Then the bizarre Goldust and one of the most legendary tag teams of all-time, The Legion of Doom.
Canadian Stampede was one of the finest In Your House events, making the most of The Hart Foundation’s huge popularity in their home country by having them defeat the five outsiders. The match came after Bret Hart’s blockbuster WrestleMania match with Stone Cold, and though their rivalry ended after IYH, it’s fair to say that Steve Austin went on to make the most of his growing popularity. This match was yet another crucial part of Austin's rise to the top, although fans forget about it because of the outcome.
6 Randy Orton vs. Triple H (The Bash)
Randy Orton and Triple H have fought each other many times over their respective careers, with most of the matches similar in style and progression of the bout. This one is no real exception to that rule, but it's included due to the fact it took place in a one-off PPV.
The Bash was abbreviated from The Great American Bash by the WWE, although nobody really knows why that was done. Coming in at a time where WWE's ECW was still a thing (we’ll get to that), Orton and Hunter squared off in a Three Stages of Hell match, something which should be highly anticipated and memorable. Unfortunately, that didn’t materialize as a dirty finish meant Orton won before being pummeled with a sledgehammer after the bell. Hunter loses a rare match but still gets the last laugh. Shocking...
5 Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Lawrence Taylor (WrestleMania XI)
There really have been some awful matches to bring the curtain down at WrestleMania, but this one probably takes the title for the most astonishing. Bam Bam Bigelow was a great, athletic wrestler, but he never really commanded a top guy spot. Lawrence Taylor was not a wrestler and instead played in the NFL. How did this become the final match on the WM XI card?
Going on after Diesel beat Shawn Michaels to retain his title, Bigelow and Taylor fought for just over ten minutes to round off the show. This is despite the fact that aside from The Kliq members, other stars on the card included The Undertaker, Bret Hart, British Bulldog and Razor Ramon. But as Vince McMahon has shown, celebrity involvement is far more important than recognizing your own big stars…
4 Extreme Elimination Chamber Match (December to Dismember)
If you’re ever wondering why the revival of ECW failed, all the evidence is inside the horror show that was December to Dismember. With a terrible card on offer, ECW was dropping at a rapid speed. Paul Heyman, the mastermind of ECW and owner of one of the best wrestling brains in the world, was sent home by Vince McMahon, who thought he knew better.
As the story goes, Heyman wanted the title put on CM Punk, the man who went on to be one of the most popular and over stars of the 2000s. Vince instead opted for Bobby Lashley, who went on to… some TNA fame? In an overfilled main event, the Superstars chosen to participate (Test, Big Show, Hardcore Holly) were just a little bit peculiar.
Unsurprisingly, ECW continued to worsen without Heyman and what could have been a huge draw turned into a McMahon mistake.
3 Randy Orton vs. Chris Benoit (SummerSlam 2004)
In the same way that number one of this list is memorable, yet not mentioned, this has been eradicated from WWE history. The fact that Randy Orton has gone onto become one of the most successful performers of all-time is something of a nightmare for the WWE because they cannot show where it all started due to the man he beat.
Any mention of Chris Benoit is obviously not welcomed in WWE programming and, becasue of that, any coverage of the rise of Randy Orton will sidestep his first ever World Championship victory, preferring to stick with coverage of Evolution and the aftermath of his SummerSlam win.
The match Orton and Benoit put on was very good, with the ending feeling shocking, as Orton went from protégé to the top guy in the company – the subsequent break up of Evolution only furthered to elevate The Legend Killer.
2 The Undertaker vs. Stone Cold & Triple H (Insurrextion 2001)
2001 was a strange year for mainstream wrestling, mainly due to the demise of World Championship Wrestling. We all know what a mess Vince McMahon and co made of the Invasion angle, failing to secure the big names after seizing control of the company and subsequently building what should have been the biggest storyline of all-time amongst WCW mid-carders and Booker T.
The Insurrextion PPV (exclusive to Britain) happened less than a month before Lance Storm(ed) onto Raw, so this was sort of the final farewell to WWE as it was.
Triple H and Steve Austin were together as The Two-Man Power Trip at the time and The Undertaker was in his American Badass phase. The handicap match saw Stone Cold holding the belt, with Taker winning the match in under 20 minutes. However, he failed to pick up the title because he pinned Triple H instead, who was not champion. It sounds complicated and messy, a decent prelude to the year ahead.
1 Triple H vs. Chris Benoit vs. Shawn Michaels (WrestleMania XX)
We all know what happened with Chris Benoit and the terrible actions he committed in the final days of his life. But there can be no denying that seeing him and Eddie Guerrero – long-time best friends – embracing with World Championships at the end of WrestleMania XX was a really special sight at the time.
The build up to WM XX was perfect, with the perennial underdog Benoit winning the Royal Rumble from the opening spot, before putting the fear of God into Triple H in the months before. Feuding with Evolution, Benoit saw Shawn Michaels join him in the triple threat, a move which promised the Madison Square Garden crowd a classic before it even got started.
The match didn’t disappoint and was one of the best main-events in the history of the prestigious show. The euphoria of Benoit tapping out Triple H was felt around the wrestling word, with The Rabid Wolverine finally reaching his end goal. But due to the tragic events that surrounded his death, it is extremely unlikely that WWE will ever acknowledge the event happened and, as such, it slowly fades into the past.