Not every great wrestling match has to take place during the main event of WrestleMania. There have been plenty that is great for varying reasons across all pay-per-views in history. It’s hard to narrow it down to just five must-watch matches, but these ones should be on every fan’s list of classic wrestling matches.
5. Ricky Steamboat vs. Ric Flair (WrestleWar 1989)
In its infancy, World Championship Wrestling (WCW) went hand-in-hand with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) before branching out into its own company. At the time, the WCW-NWA team-up gave some great matches, and that includes the WrestleWar pay-per-view in 1989, dubbed the Music City Showdown.
Interestingly enough, the match between Ricky Steamboat and Ric Flair wasn’t the main event as there were two tag team title matches that followed. However, the Steamboat-Flair contest stole the show, lasting for more than 30 minutes as Flair won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship by pinfall. The match instantly received five-star ratings across the board and is considered by some to be the greatest American wrestling match ever.
4. Triple H vs. Cactus Jack (Royal Rumble 2000)
If you’re looking for one of the biggest WWE pay-per-views that isn’t WrestleMania, look no further than the stacked Royal Rumble from 0200. Featuring The Rock winning the 30-man Royal Rumble, as well as the Hardy Boyz winning a triple threat tables match, the main event prior to the Rumble itself was the brutal Triple H vs. Cactus Jack street fight.
The match between the two went for nearly 30 minutes and featured a ton of weapons including barbed wire, two-by-fours, thumbtacks, and, of course, chairs. Triple H would end up winning the bloody contest, but Cactus Jack made sure to get plenty of damage in on the champion when it was all said and done.
3. Undertaker vs. Mankind (King of the Ring 1998)
Another one of Mick Foley’s alter egos, Mankind was another unhinged character that was willing to take punishment as much as he doled it out, if not more. While the namesake of the pay-per-view featured Ken Shamrock defeating The Rock in the tournament finals, it was the Undertaker and Mankind’s Hell in a Cell match that people still talk about to this day.
In the longest match of the night, The Undertaker was ultimately victorious after dealing out a massive amount of damage that included throwing Mankind off the top of the cell and through the announcers’ table. People still can’t believe that Mankind wasn’t seriously injured or even dead, showing why Foley is the hardcore legend.
2. CM Punk vs. John Cena (Money in the Bank 2011)
One of the loudest crowds in wrestling history, Chicago was on fire for CM Punk for what he said would be his final match following a contract dispute with WWE at Money in the Bank. The match was for the WWE Championship against John Cena, and the stipulation said that if Cena lost, he would be fired by Vince McMahon.
What fans didn’t know is that Punk had inked a new deal with WWE as the pay-per-view was going on, and this info being kept secret made the finish that much more surprising as Punk would walk out victorious following his upset victory in 33 minutes. In the end, Cena wouldn’t be fired and Punk would return, but at the moment, the match had a lot at stake.
1. Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (Survivor Series 1996)
In the event that many consider the beginning of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and the Attitude Era in general, the 1996 Survivor Series pitted the Texas Rattlesnake against Bret Hart. There was no title on the line, and the match wasn’t the main event, yet it’s Austin-Hart that gets talked about all these years later from the event.
The match was for the #1 contendership for the WWF Championship, which Hart would ultimately win after the two dueled for nearly a half hour. It appeared that Austin had the winning submission move locked in, but would reverse the move into a pin and left Stone Cold stunned in the middle of the ring.