More often than not, the main event match is the culmination or continuation of weeks of build-up, trash talk, and physical attacks. All those factors lead to the big match that most of the fans are invested in at the time and it’s ultimately up to the bookers and the wrestlers to deliver in that spot. For 2016, the WWE has had a lot of ups and downs as far as their main events go.
Depending on the show, fans can give a variety of opinions of the main events the WWE has booked throughout the year. For NXT fans, they might agree that their Takeover Specials have delivered each and every time. For the fans who come back for the Big Four, they might say they were largely disappointed. For SmackDown supporters, they might say that A.J. Styles is carrying the brand right now and for Raw supporters, they might say the Kevin Owens Show is only great cause of Chris Jericho. A lot of fans have varying opinions of shows, but when looking at the opinion of the majority it becomes clear what main events fans loved and the ones they’ll never look at again.
So with Raw, SmackDown, and NXT in mind and 2017 on the horizon, this article will look at the main events of all WWE PPVs and Network Specials and rank them from worst to best.
PSA: This article will only be looking at matches that closed the show. Therefore, matches like AJ Styles vs. Dean Ambrose vs. John Cena from No Mercy and Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens from Hell in a Cell will not be included. They may have been announced as co-main events, but in most people’s opinion, the main event match is the last match on the card and this article will be abiding by that logic.
20 No Mercy - Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton
Most people were expecting the WWE Championship to main event the PPV, but in light of the Presidential election, the company opened the PPV with the World Title match instead. Fans then thought Dolph Ziggler versus The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship would main event, but that match took place in the mid-card.
The main event was revealed to be Bray Wyatt against Randy Orton, which was originally booked for Backlash, but an injury would prevent Orton from competing at the event. The match wasn’t too long and wasn’t all that good either. The only memorable moment, aside from the finish, was when Wyatt missed the senton onto the steel steps. The match was boring and it ended with Luke Harper returning, Orton getting distracted, and Wyatt hitting Sister Abigail for the win. A nonexistent storyline, no buildup worthy of a main event, and a boring match earned this encounter a spot in the dead last position.
19 Survivor Series - Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg
12 years after his infamous WrestleMania match with Brock Lesnar, the WWE brought back Goldberg into the fold for the launch of WWE 2K17 and booked him to fight Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series. Goldberg looked great, Brock was still undefeated, and their segments made both men look like monsters on a massive collision course. Aside from a few rumors and mistakes, this rematch seemed like it had the potential to surpass its predecessor.
However, it only seems to have surpassed the initial match from the standpoint of shock value and fan outrage. The match began when Lesnar picked up Goldberg and drove him into the corner. Goldberg would then push Lesnar down with huge force, hit him with two devastating spears, hit the Jackhammer, and win the match all within about 90 seconds. This is a match that has fans split as some thought it was a cool swerve that will make their inevitable rematch even better, while others thought it was a star-making opportunity squandered on another part-timer.
18 WrestleMania 32 - Roman Reigns vs. Triple H
When Roman Reigns lost the WWE Championship to Triple H at the Royal Rumble, many fans saw the main event of WrestleMania coming miles away. The buildup was worse than the hype between Brock Lesnar and Reigns last year, as Reigns wasn’t even there for most of it. The WWE tried to make it interesting with a few bloody brawls and a pull apart segment, but the fans never supported Reigns because of their view of his push.
The actual match was any average match you’d expect to see on Raw or SmackDown and not worthy of The Grandest Stage of Them All. The biggest moment in the match saw Reigns accidentally spear Stephanie McMahon, but everything else drew chants of boring, Roman Sucks, and NXT. The match ended with Reigns winning and more than half the crowd showering him with boos after cheering Triple H all night.
A big crowd, a big uphill battle, and a big disappointment.
17 Roadblock: End of the Line – Roman Reigns vs. Kevin Owens
After defeating Rusev to retain his United States Championship, Roman Reigns made his intentions known to get back into the Universal Championship picture via an after-match interview. The buildup to the match was paused due to the Survivor Series PPV, but resumed the week after the show when Reigns beat Kevin Owens in a non-title match to become the number one contender. The buildup focused more on the relationship between Owens and Chris Jericho than anything else, so this feud lacked in the animosity department.
The match itself was good, but nothing special. Some of the match highlights included a Superman Punch countered into a DDT, a Superplex countered into an inverted Superplex by Owens, and a frog splash through the announce table (which took two attempts). The match would end swiftly after Chris Jericho hit the Codebreaker on Owens to give KO the win by disqualification. The Shield attacks were cool, but they came after a lackluster interruption of a match that was just starting to gain steam. The ending seemed more fitting for an episode of Raw, but not a PPV.
16 NXT Takeover: The End - Finn Bálor vs. Samoa Joe
Following Finn Bálor’s victory at NXT Takeover: Dallas, the two men continued feuding over the NXT Championship. Bálor would go on to hold the belt for a record 292 days before losing to Samoa Joe at a live NXT event. This gave a new outlook on their feud as Joe was the champion standing tall and Bálor was obsessed with reclaiming a title he felt was rightfully his.
The match was okay, but as far as modern steel cage matches go, there wasn’t really anything special about the match. The biggest moments of the match saw Joe constantly throwing Bálor into the cage, Bálor hitting multiple dropkicks to Joe while pinned against the ropes and the cage, and the second rope muscle buster that won Joe the match. Not a bad match, but not as good as the one from NXT Takeover: Dallas.
15 SummerSlam - Brock Lesnar vs. Randy Orton
A match between Brock Lesnar and Randy Orton was a dream match that fans had wanted to see for years as both men had come quite far since their encounter in 2002. The two men seemed like they would put on a great bout together, but the match itself was disappointing.
The buildup came off as a little forced as both men invaded the rival brand to attack each other instead of waiting for the PPV to have them fight. The match followed the Lesnar formula of suplex after suplex and Orton hit some of his trademark moves, but the rest of their maneuvers were either strikes or finishers. The standout moments of the match featured Lesnar throwing Orton through the announcement table, Orton hitting an RKO on the announcers table, and Lesnar busting open Orton and causing the match to end by knockout. The ending was surprising and different from what the WWE typically does, but the match was just too short.
14 Battleground - Dean Ambrose vs. Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns
When Dean Ambrose walked away from Money in the Bank as the WWE Champion, many fans were hoping that they would get a Shield Triple Threat match at some point; preferably SummerSlam for some. Fans got the match sooner than they anticipated as Shane McMahon booked the match for Battleground. The build-up suffered immensely due to Roman Reigns suspension and when the draft took place in the final weeks, the match became more about which brand the title went to, rather than the history and competitiveness of all three men.
The match was good, but it didn’t really live up to the hype fans had for it. The wrestlers didn’t do anything outside of their normal moveset and the match looked more like something you’d see on Raw or SmackDown than in a PPV main event. The biggest highlights were Seth Rollins and Ambrose putting Reigns through the announcers table, the signature move sequence all three men did, and the SmackDown locker room coming to celebrate with Ambrose.
13 Hell in a Cell - Charlotte Flair vs. Sasha Banks
After Sasha Banks defeated Charlotte Flair in the main event of Raw for the second time, the WWE made history with their feud by booking them in the first ever women’s Hell in a Cell match in the main event. The buildup suffered because it focused less on the rivalry between the combatants and more on the history they were making.
Before the match started, Banks and Flair brawled, as the match would later spill onto the outside and feature Flair putting Banks through the announcers table. What followed was the overused wrestler looks hurt angle, doctors escort them, but the wrestler wants to keep fighting trope and the match began several minutes later.
The encounter was okay, but didn’t match up to the Hell in a Cell bout between Rollins and Owens earlier in the night. The cage was the best weapon they used as every other weapon they tried to incorporate didn’t yield positive results. The match came to an end after Flair threw Banks into a table twice and hit Natural Selection to win the match. As far as Banks-Flair matches on the main roster go, this was not one of their best performances.
12 Fastlane - Brock Lesnar vs. Dean Ambrose vs. Roman Reigns
To determine a new number one contender for the WWE Championship, Stephanie McMahon booked a match between Dean Ambrose, Brock Lesnar, and the former champion, Roman Reigns. In the weeks leading into the match, the buildup centered around the relationship between Ambrose and Reigns; an angle that was already used months before at Survivor Series.
When the match took place, it was very similar to the match between Lesnar, John Cena, and Seth Rollins with Lesnar being dominant suplexing everyone and Reigns and Ambrose uniting and putting Lesnar through the commentary booth. The match ended when Ambrose knocked Lesnar out of the ring with a chair shot and turned around into a spear from Reigns. The match was okay, but more was expected considering those involved.
11 Night of Champions - Seth Rollins vs. Kevin Owens
When Triple H betrayed Seth Rollins and basically gift wrapped the Universal Championship for Kevin Owens, the feud between Triple H’s former boy and his current one would begin. Rollins was irate following Triple H’s betrayal to the point where he berated Stephanie McMahon and Mick Foley while attacking Kevin Owens. McMahon was going to suspend him for this, but Foley decided to let him get his anger out by facing Owens for the title at Clash of Champions.
The match the two men had was good and both Superstars had some high impact spots. Some of the biggest moments were Owens hitting a second rope rib breaker, the different frog splashes from both men, and Owens missing a running senton onto the announcers table. The ending of the match was plagued with interference by Chris Jericho and ended when Stephanie sent a referee at just the right time for Owens to capitalize and retain.
10 Payback - A.J. Styles vs. Roman Reigns
After Reigns defeated Triple H for the WWE Championship at WrestleMania, a new number one contender was named in A.J. Styles. This was a follow-up to their interactions at the Royal Rumble and it established Styles as a wrestler on a World Championship level in the eyes of those unfamiliar with The Phenomenal One.
The buildup was a disappointment with a lackluster debut from Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, boring dialogue exchanges, and a few physical altercations. The match itself was pretty good as both men had great chemistry and had some memorable spots. The most memorable moments saw Styles putting Reigns through the commentary table with a Phenomenal Forearm and Reigns countering a Phenomenal Forearm with a Superman Punch. The sequence to end the match was a bit of overkill with the interference by The Usos, The Club, and the constant restarting and revamping from Shane and Stephanie McMahon, but the match was still really good.
9 The Royal Rumble
To kick of the year, Vince McMahon revealed that the WWE Championship would be defended in the Royal Rumble match. Roman Reigns was the number one entrant and the current champion, while Rusev was number two, but the third entrant was the biggest surprise of all as A.J. Styles debuted on the main roster to a massive pop. Other notable entrants were Sami Zayn, Brock Lesnar, and the number 30 entrant, Triple H.
The match was good and had some big moments like Kevin Owens eliminating A.J. Styles, Zayn eliminating Owens, The Wyatt Family ganging up on Brock Lesnar, and Triple H eliminating Roman Reigns and costing him his title. The final two combatants were a battered Dean Ambrose and Triple H who went blow for blow until Triple H eliminated Ambrose. This would make Triple H a 14-time World Champion and laid the foundation for the main event of WrestleMania.
8 NXT Takeover: Brooklyn II - Shinsuke Nakamura vs. Samoa Joe
When Samoa Joe beat Finn Bálor and ended their feud with the NXT Championship around his waist, Shinsuke Nakamura was on the rise and was headed towards a feud with The Samoan Submission Machine. This title match irritated Joe, as it reminded him of when he defeated a lot of opponents and asked for a title shot, but was denied by General Manager William Regal. Joe than threatened to harm Nakamura, but the two wouldn’t touch until their main event match.
The match these two men had was really good. Joe dominated the match primarily with his mix of kicks, strikes and submissions while Nakamura bounced back and slowly began to wear Joe down with his strong style hits. The match came to an end when Nakamura hit his second Kinshasa to win the NXT Championship for the first time.
7 Backlash - A.J. Styles vs. Dean Ambrose
Once A.J. Styles defeated John Cena, everyone knew that the next logical step would be to pursue the WWE Championship. The buildup was a mix of comedy and seriousness with Styles demanding a trophy for winning against Cena in the form of the WWE Championship and Dean Ambrose making light of Styles calling him “the face that comes in second place.”
The match had Styles dominating for the majority of the encounter by out wrestling Ambrose, but Dean more than held his own in the technical department. Some of the match highlights featured a top rope German suplex from Ambrose to Styles, a sequence that ended with a suplex into the corner, and a dive from Ambrose to Styles from the announce tables over the barricade and into the crowd. The match ended after Styles hit a low blow and a Styles Clash following a ref bump to win the WWE Championship. A good main event and a great way to end SmackDown’s first exclusive PPV.
6 NXT Takeover: Dallas - Finn Bálor vs. Samoa Joe
The feud between Samoa Joe and Finn Bálor began in 2015 following the Dusty Rhodes Tag Team Classic Tournament where Joe asked for a title shot against Bálor. When denied his opportunity, Joe attacked Bálor to make him angry enough to give him a title shot. The two men had a war at NXT Takeover: London which saw Bálor just barely come away with the victory. After fighting his way back into contention, Joe was eventually named the number one contender and the rematch was set for NXT Takeover: Dallas.
The match started off with Joe getting busted open and some high-flying offense from Joe and Bálor. The blood added to the intensity, but the constant pausing of the match for doctors to stop the blood was a distraction. The match finished when Bálor countered the Coquina Clutch with a roll-up. A good match that furthered the story of Bálor getting closer and closer to defeat.
5 Money in the Bank - Seth Rollins vs. Roman Reigns
When Seth Rollins made his return at Extreme Rules 2016, the stage was set for him and Roman Reigns to have a fight for the WWE Championship. Fans desperately wanted Reigns as a heel and Rollins as a face, but the company kept the characters as they were. The match itself was confusing from a character standpoint because Reigns acted like a heel and Rollins acted somewhat like a face, but their characters didn’t reflect that.
The match was great and both men exhibited some great chemistry. Reigns brought out all his moves and Rollins showed everyone just how healed he was. Some of the match highlights were the corner powerbomb and Superman Punch sequence, Reigns missing a big spear and running into the barricade, and Rollins countering the spear with an innovative pedigree. Rollins won the match with a final pedigree and would follow his mantra to a T; redesign, rebuild, and reclaim. That would’ve been a fine ending, but the cash-in by Dean Ambrose made it even better.
4 Roadblock - Dean Ambrose vs. Triple H
Just before WrestleMania, the WWE decided to air this live event on the WWE Network. The story between these two men was that Dean Ambrose was on a mission to hijack WrestleMania and Triple H was up for the challenge. The two men cut some decent promos and had some nice brawls in the limited time they had to build for the show.
The match was a lot better than the match between Roman Reigns and Triple H by leaps and bounds. The crowd cared about the match, the chemistry between the two was excellent and the story being told was great. The two biggest moments of the night were the false finish with Ambrose pinning Triple H and the ref waving off the ending and Ambrose missing an elbow drop and crashing through the announce table. The match ended with Ambrose beating a count-out and walking into a pedigree by Triple H.
3 NXT Takeover: Toronto - Samoa Joe vs. Shinsuke Nakamura
Following Shinsuke Nakamura winning the title from Samoa Joe, Joe appeared to be humbled, saying Nakamura was a deserving champion and asking for a rematch. Nakamura would accept Joe’s offer only to be ambushed and brutally attacked to the point where Nakamura needed an ambulance. Joe then began decimating the NXT roster prompting Regal to give him the title or its champion, Nakamura. Joe would then be attacked by a returning Nakamura who brawled with Joe up and down the NXT arena. This escalated the feud from a feud about respect to two men out for blood.
The pace of the match was completely different from their Brooklyn match with more intensity, more animosity, and a livelier crowd. After a brawl out into the crowd, back and forth strikes, a low blow, and a slam to the steel steps, Joe would beat Nakamura and become the first ever two-time NXT Champion.
2 TLC - Dean Ambrose vs. A.J. Styles
After A.J. Styles cheated to win the WWE Championship from Dean Ambrose, Ambrose made it his mission to get back at Styles. The weeks leading up to the TLC PPV had a lot of psychological games that came in the form of matches with James Ellsworth, screwjobs, and back and forth attacks. The two men had good singles matches before, but their TLC match was especially good.
The match was filled with innovative offense with the tables, ladders, and chairs that were available to them. Some of many great moments in the match saw Ambrose delivering a running clothesline to Styles on the barricade, a suplex to Styles on a bridge of chairs, an elbow drop from the ladder to the announce table, and the springboard 450 splash Styles did to Ambrose on an outside table. The match was going great, but was interrupted by a predictable interference by James Ellsworth. Aside from that annoyance, the match was easily one of the best TLC matches in recent memory, and more importantly a great match period.
1 Extreme Rules - A.J. Styles vs. Roman Reigns
After Roman Reigns defeated A.J. Styles at Payback, Shane and Stephanie McMahon booked the two combatants in a rematch at Extreme Rules. The storyline didn’t really change from Payback but it was turned up a notch with the inclusion of weapons and the back and forth physicality from both men. The buildup was good, but the match was easily one of the best matches the WWE had to offer for 2016.
The back and forth between the champion and challenger plus the innovation with weapons and other hard hitting spots made this match great. For every innovative, athletic maneuver Styles used, Reigns countered with huge feats of strength. The interference by the other Club members and The Usos was perfectly balanced and added to the story being told. The match ended when Reigns countered a Phenomenal Forearm with a Spear for the win. The match was fantastic, but the return of Seth Rollins made the show that much more interesting with the immediate presentation of Reigns' next threat.