It's the big show. The final grudge match. The one where everything will be settled. Having grown up addicted to professional wrestling my life was a constant series of begging and whining to try and get my parents to shell out an exorbitant amount of money to watch grown men pretend to beat each other up for a few hours. For 11 straight years I never missed a Royal Rumble or a Wrestlemania, surrounded with like-minded grappling enthusiasts.
But every once in a while Houstonians didn't have to be content seeing it on the TV screen. When the stars aligned and everything was just right the big boys came to town and we got to see the whole thing live. Hit the lights because these were the ones you should not have missed.
10. Bad Blood (2003): This was not a particularly great time for the Raw brand of WWE, and Bad Blood was a fairly lackluster PPV all things told. The Hell in the Cell main event between Kevin Nash and Triple H was a match never designed for wrestlers of their style, and it's telling that the best bump in the whole match was taken by special guest referee Mick Foley. Bad Blood did definitely give Goldberg the best match he had in WWE, and maybe in his whole career against Chris Jericho. Very few wrestlers were ever able to move around the squash beast, but Jericho guided the bout into a masterpiece of conniving storytelling not seen since Ric Flair in his youth.
9. No Mercy (2005): The Smackdown brand came to the Toyota center with a lot of promise, but a little lacking in their ability to deliver. Watching Eddie Guerrero was painful by now. Never had he been bigger, and never had he failed to find opponents with good chemistry. Likewise, the cruiserweight bout between Juventude and Nunzio showed how far both had fallen.
What saved it was a four-way battle for the Unites States title. Booker T had one of his best matches ever with Christian two years prior, and his best-of-seven run with Chris Benoit in WCW was the stuff of legend. Throw in Orlando Jones and the match was a non-stop display of technical elegance so magical you didn't care who won.
8. Fall Brawl 1993: Believe it or not WCW only ever held a single PPV in Houston, and it was terrible. Beyond terrible. However, it will always be remembered because there was an eight-man tag match with Sting, Davey Boy Smith, Dustin Rhodes and Warrior Hawk vs. Sid Vicious, Vader and Harlem Heat scheduled. Unfortunately, Warrior Hawk had to be replaced, and thus was born The Shockmaster. Also was born the single most embarrassing introduction in the history of the business, as seen in the video above. Without Fall Brawl it would never have existed, so God bless it.
7. No Way Out of Texas: In Your House: In 1998 the WWF invaded the Compaq Center for the first No Way Out. Marc Mero and Goldust took on the Headbangers in a match that showed that Mero really could perform when he focused on it. The massive eight-man, no-holds-barred was also wonderfully chaotic, with some really first-rate hardcore spots by Mick Foley and Terry Funk. The real gem of the night, though was Pantera vs. Taka Michinoku. It was one of those rare, unbeatable lightweight high-flying matches in WWF that often their audience just didn't appreciate enough. That match was one for the books. Shame no one ever talks about it.
6. Vengeance: Night of Champions: The 2007 mega-event held at the Toyota Center is very hard to judge on its own merits sometimes, being the night everyone wondered what had happened to the mysteriously absent Chris Benoit only to discover the tragic murder-suicide at his home the next week. The show went on though, and featured at least two classics. Chavo Guerrero and Jimmy Wang Yang vied for the Cruiserweight title, and that meant we got to see Wang's almost superhuman vertical leaping skills in his absolutely fearless moonsaults.
It was John Cena taking on Bobby Lashley, Mick Foley, King Booker, and Randy Orton that was the highlight, though. I don't think John Cena has ever had a better physical chemistry with anyone as he did with Lashley. Orton and Booker T used their lank frames to pull off stuff that looked like video game physics.
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5. TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs (2013): Though it's one of the weaker TLCs, even a bad one is better than nearly anything else. The undercard was very solid, including probably the female wrestling highlight of the year between AJ Lee and Natalya. The fatal four-way tag-team elimination match was the sort of thing that you just don't see anymore, and Big Show in particular put on a performance than proved him finally equal to the iconic Andre as a wrestling giant. The main event between John Cena and Randy Orton felt fairly tame until some ridiculously dangerous spots involving handcuffs and chains came out. I legitimately thought someone was going to suffer a career-ending injury.
4. Wrestlemania XXV: The silver anniversary of the biggest show in wrestling took place at Reliant Stadium in 2009, and it was one for the records. Though no match was at stake, The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels fought as if their very lives were on the line. The number of near falls as both men pulled off their classic moves as well as some of the most inventive spots in their careers was heart-stopping. It was like watching Haydn duel Mozart on the piano, and even for two men with scores of legendary matches under their belts it was triumphant.
Even it would be topped by the Money in the Bank match between CM Punk, Kane, Mark Henry, MVP, Shelton Benjamin, Kofi Kingston, Christian, and Finlay. If ladder matches were paintings this would be a Van Gogh, and I still can't believe some of the tricks that were pulled. Also, it is a crime against wrestling that Kofi Kingston didn't win this match. The others were great, but Kingston? He was like a god.
3. TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs (2010): If you could take the TLC concept and spread it perfectly throughout an event then this be the template for perfection. Natalya and Beth Phoenix took on LayCool in the women's match of the freakin' decade, and the tag-team bout between Santino Marella and Vladimir Kozlov against Justin Gabriel and Heath Slater shook up the whole event with a purely technical marvel that was a great palate cleanser.
On the ladders Kingston got screwed again, but put on a great show, as did John Morrison and Sheamus. The four-way TLC was, to my mind, the defining solo outing on the ladders by Edge. Not because of his performance per se, but because I've never seen him invest so much emotion in it before.
2. Royal Rumble (1989): I was eight-years-old, and I couldn't believe that this gem of a PPV was happening just 20 miles west of me in the Summit. The Hart Foundation and Jim Duggan bested Dino Bravo and The Fabulous Rougeaus in a classic good-and-evil battle that you just don't see anymore. Haku and Harley Race put up a highly underrated contest between stiff rights, headbutts and suplexes that never seems to come up.
But it was the main event. Andre the giant entering the Rumble at #3 and being unstoppable until Jake Roberts, bitter at elimination, frightened the big man off with his snake. Shawn Michaels showed the beginnings of what would become one of the most gifted performers of all time. The beginning of the end of the Mega Powers was seeded when Hulk Hogan accidentally eliminated Randy Savage. Finally it came down to Big John Studd and Ted Dibiase, and right up to the end you had no idea who was going to stand supreme. Of the first five or ten Royal Rumbles, this was one of the best.
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1. WrestleMania X-Seven: When Wrestlemania first came to Houston the only place for it was the Astrodome, and it was a show to end all shows. The Gimmick Battle Royal alone was a nostalgia-fueled celebration of classic wrestling that warmed the hearts of fans everywhere.
There was Shane McMahon showing the world that had he been allowed to pursue in-ring dreams he would have been one of the greatest ever. Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit redefined mat wrestling between them. The Dudleys, The Hardys, and Edge and Christian topped the first TLC match ever with a sequel that cemented TLC as an institution. Then the unthinkable happened when Stone Cold and The Rock were in the middle of one of their iconic matchups when Austin accepted the help of Mr. McMahon to sell-out on his entire career. No one saw it coming, and it left everyone spitting nails in anger.
It was one of the best of the bests, and it took place right here in the 8th Wonder of the World.