First impressions are one of the most important things about any presentation. Whether applying for a job, meeting your partner's family, or any number of other scenarios, nobody wants to make a bad first impression.
Storytelling is much the same. Ask any writer, and they will tell you that their most important scene or chapter is the opening one. The aim, of course, is to immerse the audience immediately so that they are a part of the created world and care more about what happens within it.
While it may not seem instantly apparent, the presentation of sports - in this case wrestling - operates on the same principle. A big event should be made to feel like a can't miss happening, or a themed event should display as much, and an integral part of this is the set.
Often this is the stage but it can also incorporate the ramp and other parts of the ring area. Here we shall take a look at those instances where wrestling companies really got it right with the sets for their events.
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25 Raw Is War
Chances are that when any current, or lapsed, fan thinks of the Attitude Era the image they picture has this stage as its landscape. A classic arena in its simplicity, the big feature was a screen so commanding that it warranted the invention of the word 'TitanTron'. This was flanked on either side by two rectangular screens, and the company's logo in the centre behind the wrestler's walk-out position.
So many memorable moments happened in this set including Mankind's legendary WWE Championship victory, The Undertaker's crucifixion of Stone Cold Steve Austin, and the debut of Y2J himself, Chris Jericho among countless others.
24 WrestleMania XXIV
In recent times WWE have taken WrestleMania to open top stadiums rather than the typical arenas, and the one to start the modern run was a sight to behold. The Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Florida was only the second ever outdoor WrestleMania and the first ever to be broadcast in high definition.
The set design didn't disappoint. A humongous structure of screens were erected to resemble a skyline of buildings, with palm trees placed around in front to fit with the 'sun' theme of the event. A metal dome was also constructed over the ring to protect from potential downpour - while it proved unnecessary, it remained impressive visually.
23 Survivor Series 2004
WWE's theme for the 2004 edition of Survivor Series was something completely different. All promotion leading up to the event saw the roster depicted like drawings in a comic book, a style that continued into its set design. While the theme fell short of fully exploring the potential of theme, it was still very unique to have four big rotating screens hanging around the stage area with these drawings appearing on them.
22 Survivor Series 2002
Two years prior, WWE created another truly unique set for Survivor Series - this one due to the logistical restrictions of (the original) Madison Square Garden. With a short walk to the ring and a very limited amount of space for a stage, the company had to innovate. This led to a literal split screen - a screen that would open to allow the wrestlers to enter through them.
The show itself delivered on its side of the bargain.
21 Capitol Punishment
This one-off event may not have set the world alight but its stage couldn't have been more perfect. After dropping the WCW adopted Great American Bash event two years prior, WWE decided that they missed have a patriotic pay-per-view event and took advantage of being in the capital of the country and created Capitol Punishment. The stage perfectly reflected this, recreating the White House out of screens and LED boards.
As previously mentioned, the event wasn't that memorable with a main event that saw John Cena defending the WWE Championship against a newly heel R-Truth.
20 In Your House
Another case of WWE recreating something, this time it comes in the form of 'your house'. With a clean cut house exterior, complete with shrubbery, and the wrestlers walkway taking the form of the garage, the set was a perfect fit and one of the earliest examples of a flashy themed set. WWE used the set for all but one of the first 17 In Your House shows and it is synonymous with the event in the minds of fans.
19 Monday Night Raw - The Parallelogram
While Raw is War's stage may be synonymous with the Attitude Era, there is one stage that fans instantly think of when talking about Monday Night Raw - the parallelogram. Introduced the first week into the brand extension, the stage would be used continuously for a decade.
The screen has been the setting of countless memorable moments, reminding us that the WWE didn't need the Attitude Era to have good programming.
18 SmackDown - The Original
Raw may be the flagship show for the WWE but when it comes to set design, SmackDown has historically been the superior brand. Its stage upon birth in 1999 would become dubbed the 'OvalTron' by some, named after the oval shaped screen that was placed to the side of the entranceway. This bold design choice was welcomed by fans and is still remembered fondly to this day.
17 WrestleMania XXX
The 30th WrestleMania was a big milestone and a grandiose stage was needed to fit the occasion - something that was delivered in full. The stage was filled with a huge version of the logo, with the screens being placed within the XXX numerals.
WrestleManias are typically historic nights but none other can claim to be the home of the end of The Undertaker's unprecedented undefeated streak as Brock Lesnar made it 21-1. Also that night, Daniel Bryan managed to finally overcome the odds and win both his matches to become the WWE World Heavyweight Champion. The Rock, Stone Cold, and Hulk Hogan also shared the ring to open the show, even if the latter forgot where he was.
16 Backlash 2000
The first Backlash to not have the In Your House moniker saw the debut of its classic logo, and it would be the design of which that served as the influence to this excellent set. The As in the logo contained a curved spike, which were recreated with scaffold around the stage area. Furthermore, these hanging spikes all swung backwards and forwards breathing life into the surroundings. The set was such a perfect fit that the WWE used it for three consecutive Backlash events, even when the set was changed the spikes remained an integral part of the design but no future Backlash stage would match it.
15 Vengeance 2005
Under Eric Bischoff, Raw made the most of Las Vegas when they passed through. None more so than the Vengeance pay-per-view in 2005, which themed its entire set around the glamour of the home of casinos. The screens took the shapes of the famous 'Welcome to Las Vegas' sign and a betting chip, as well as some playing cards displaying the wrestlers involved in each match. There were also two giant dice that the wrestlers walked out between.
The event was the only RAW exclusive PPV that saw both world titles defended, due to Cena having been drafted to RAW and Batista yet to have been drafted to Smackdown.
14 WrestleMania IX
Another themed pay-per-view in Las Vegas, only this time themed after the particular venue it took place in. WrestleMania IX hailed from Caesar's Palace, resulting in a Roman gladiator styled event. On this occasion, the entire show was themed this way, with commentators dressed in togas and some performers getting themed entrances - most notably Randy Savage and Bobby Heenan. The divisive reaction has made this a true one-of-a-kind. While the event may have been the worst in the company's history, set design sure did their part.
13 Royal Rumble 2006
Thirteen years later, WWE took on the Roman gladiator theme one more time and benefited from the advances in budget and technology. The entire entranceway was built to be like a Roman coliseum, complete with two slaves to open the doors to allow the wrestlers to walk out.
This event saw Rey Mysterio winning the Rumble match itself, in dedication to his late friend Eddie Guerrero - and lasting a record 62 minutes to do it.
12 WrestleMania X-Seven
Sometimes simple is better. The set for this event is little more than a standard TitanTron, with a screen above and below. The event name ran down the sides of this. There is very little more to the stage but despite seeming simple on paper, the execution is classy and a fan favorite.
Partly this is because WrestleMania X-Seven is considered by many to be the greatest pay-per-view ever. The card was headlined by Stone Cold and The Rock's battle and supported by The Undertaker vs. Triple H, the beloved TLC II, Vince and Shane McMahon facing off in a Street Fight and much more.
11 Bash At The Beach 1996
WCW had been experimenting with beach themed stages since 1992's event but their efforts were perfected on their fourth attempt - Bash at the Beach 1996. Creating a full boardwalk as the walkway surrounded by sand, palm trees, giant parrots and beach balls, the stage truly captured the summer feel in a way WWE has never achieved, despite a specific attempt at 2007's SummerSlam.
One of WCW's finest ever stages just so happened to be in place for one of their biggest ever shows - the creation of the game-changing nWo faction.
10 WrestleMania XX
'Where it all begins again' was the tagline for what was expected to be a changing of the guard for WWE with its milestone WrestleMania. While this transition to Shane McMahon never came to fruition - much to the chagrin of many fans, especially with current hindsight - this was one of the greatest events in company's history and created a stage worthy of the occasion. Not only was there a huge screen running the length of the stage displaying the New York skyline, the entire stage itself was a second screen for wrestlers to walk out atop of.
This set hosted one of the greatest entrances in history, as The Undertaker made his return as The Deadman.
9 King Of The Ring 2001
The King of the Ring typically focuses on the regal aspect of becoming ring royalty but during the Attitude Era, the harder edge of the company saw the focus shift more to medieval aspects - 2000 had focused on swords but it would be 2001's combination of throne and electric chair became iconic for many a fan. A giant metal chair took up the eyeline and it felt truly imposing. The stage would return in 2002, although the glass panels that ran underneath the screens was removed.
8 Royal Rumble 2000
The original Madison Square Garden was the classic WWE arena but the set-up of it made stage design very limited and tricky due to the small entrance area with barely any walkway. However, the WWE team excelled at the 2000 Royal Rumble with their set themed around the WWE Championship Street Fight. By simply placing a yellow taxi cab above the entrance, a classic backdrop was created for the event.
The show itself is best remembered for the aforementioned Street Fight between Triple H and Cactus Jack, and rightly so, but it also saw the much anticipated WWE debut of Tazz and The Rock winning the Royal Rumble match.
7 WrestleMania XIX
The 19th WrestleMania is often overlooked despite a great card and a truly iconic piece of set design. Emanating from Safeco Field in Seattle, the roofed, yet open building provided a unique lighting quality and the sheer size of the place provided by far the longest walk to the ring ever. So much so that the ramp actually curved round. Furthermore, a huge lit spike reading WrestleMania filled the backdrop of many shots.
This incredible night saw several highly regarded matches between legends including Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels, Mr. McMahon vs. Hulk Hogan, Brock Lesnar vs. Kurt Angle, and the final chapter in the saga between Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock, , in what turned out to be the Texas Rattlesnake's final match.
6 Survivor Series 1998
The 1998 edition of WWE's Thanksgiving pay-per-view, Survivor Series, was focused around the Deadly Game Tournament to crown a new WWE Champion. The tournament even had its own logo - a skull emblazoned with a tattoo across its forehead with Deadly Game around it. This would be recreated as the stage, for wrestlers to walk out in front of. Again, simple but classic.
The final provided a shocking twist as McMahon turned his back on Mankind to help The Rock win the championship to represent the company as his Corporate Champion.
5 The SmackDown Fist
As mentioned earlier in this list, the original SmackDown stage is beloved by fans however it was eclipsed by its successor. SmackDown's fist and shattered glass (styled) stage is one of the most popular in the history of wrestling and it easy to see why. As well as being instantly recognizable and with its own character, the stage screamed action.
The fist saw a plethora of classic moments including the debut of Rey Mysterio, Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar's Iron Man match, Lesnar's superplex of Big Show collapsing the ring, and the emotionally charged post-9/11 SmackDown.
4 WrestleMania XXIX
When WWE announced that the home of WrestleMania XXIX would be the MetLife Stadium, the company were delighted to be returning to New York (despite the fact the event was in New Jersey) and made it the focus point of all advertising. This continued into the truly phenomenal recreation of the city's landmarks in their set. With a Statue of Liberty sat atop the canopy over the ring and most impressively, the Brooklyn Bridge across the stage with the Empire State Building in the skyline behind, the set was a truly grandiose spectacle.
Sadly the event fell very short, with two of the three top billed matches - The Rock vs. John Cena II, and Triple H vs. Brock Lesnar - disappointing. Unsurprisingly, the match of the night, by some distance, was The Undertaker defending his undefeated streak against CM Punk.
3 WrestleMania 21
When WrestleMania came to the Staples Center in Los Angeles in 2005, WWE decided to embrace the glitz and glamor of Hollywood. With mock trailers starring roster members re-enacting famous movie scenes used as the promotion leading to the event, which itself had been dubbed 'WrestleMania Goes Hollywood', there was little surprise at the Hollywood themed stage. A recreation of the Hollywood Hills sign appeared next to a screen that was made to look like the front of a movie theatre, and a ramp comprised of a Hollywood star and red carpet, WWE truly captured the essence of Hollywood.
WrestleMania XX may have promised to begin again but WrestleMania 21 brought a bigger sense of the future - both John Cena and Batista won their first World Championships and the Money in the Bank Ladder Match was born - with its winner Edge, going on to win his first World Championship nine months later.
2 WrestleMania XXVII
Not necessarily the first stage that comes to mind when fans think of classic WrestleMania stages - typically the themed ones are thought of first - but 2011's effort was a perfect stage to display the grandness of WrestleMania itself. Not of a theme, but of the importance of 'the Showcase of the Immortals'. With a larger audience expected, thanks to the shocking return of The Rock to the wrestling world, albeit only as host, WWE needed to emphasize how big Mania was and this stage showed the class and scale of the event.
Sadly, the event itself didn't quite live up to the hype despite the extra eyes on the product, with a lackluster main event between John Cena and The Miz.
1 Halloween Havoc
WCW getting the top spot may surprise some of you, as the company were known for their underwhelming stage design, but when they got it right, they truly nailed it. Halloween Havoc is an event fans often cite as one of their most wanted to return, and this set is a large part of the adjuration. The giant pumpkin with the logo carved in, the large demon behind it, and the graveyard setting all set a perfect mood to remind viewers of the spooky Halloween theme and set the event out from the crowd.
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