By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Over the course of 2013, we were provided with a total of 12 WWE pay-per-views, with one airing each month (with the exception of March and October).
While some may argue that less is more, there's no questioning that quite a few of these events were highly enjoyable as well as some of the best shows we've seen in years.
Although there were quite a few duds, such as Battleground and Survivor Series, I believe I got my money's worth from at least half of the shows that I purchased. Even some of the gimmick events were successful, proving that innovative concepts deserve a spot on the pay-per-view schedule.
With all that being said, sit back and relax as I present to you the top five pay-per-views of 2013.
5. Royal Rumble (January 27, 2013)
The Royal Rumble is one of the most highly anticipated pay-per-views every year, if only for the Rumble match itself. The match determines who will be headlining that year's WrestleMania for a world championship. Last year's event was no exception, as it was also the night The Rock would return to the ring to contend for the WWE Championship. He and CM Punk built up their match phenomenally in the weeks that preceded the event, and it all paid off in the end. Although I personally found their rematch at Elimination Chamber the next month to be slightly better, seeing Rock capture the most prestigious prize in the business for the first time in over a decade was undoubtedly a monumental moment.
The Royal Rumble was also incredibly fun to watch, as it was easily one of the best Rumbles in recent memory. It saw the shocking returns of Chris Jericho (who entered at No. 2), Goldust and even The Godfather. Although it wasn't the result many were hoping for, John Cena lastly eliminated Ryback to win the matchup and went on to contend for the WWE title at The Show of Shows against The Rock.
Also on this show: Alberto Del Rio vs. Big Show in a Last Man Standing match for the World Heavyweight Championship, Team Hell No vs. Team Rhodes Scholars for the WWE Tag Team Championships.
4. Extreme Rules (May 19, 2013)
Since its inception in 2009, Extreme Rules has been one of the most consistently entertaining events on WWE's annual pay-per-view schedule. It is also one gimmick pay-per-view that most fans can tolerate, as the theme of the show is that every match must have some sort of "extreme" stipulation. The moment someone mentions last year's Extreme Rules event, The Shield is the first thing that comes to mind. Why, you ask? They owned this night in WWE. They took complete control by winning both the United States and WWE Tag Team Championships. Dean Ambrose competed a fun match against Kofi Kingston to wrestle away the star-spangled prize, while Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns defeated Team Hell No to win the tag team titles, ending their record-setting reign at 245 days. If The Shield weren't already on top before, they certainly were after this historic night.
A little later on in the night, John Cena took on Ryback for the first time ever in a Last Man Standing match where his WWE Championship was up for grabs. Surprisingly enough, the match stipulation worked to their benefit, as they had an enjoyable contest that ended in a draw after Ryback tackled Cena through the side wall at the top of the stage. It was a sight to behold for sure, and helped further the feud without either Superstar taking a loss early on.
Many people (myself included) groaned at the announcement of yet another match between Triple H and Brock Lesnar at Extreme Rules, but the match ultimately exceeded expectations. It was by far their best match to date and both Superstars put forth a strong effort. Following outside interference from Paul Heyman, Lesnar capitalized on the distraction and nailed the F-5 on HHH for the feud-ending win.
Also on this show: Chris Jericho vs. Fandango, Sheamus vs. Mark Henry in a Strap match, Alberto Del Rio vs. Jack Swagger in an "I Quit" No. 1 Contender's match for the World Heavyweight Championship, Ryback vs. Big Show in an Extreme Rules match.
3. Money in the Bank (July 14, 2013)
Along with Extreme Rules, Money in the Bank is another pay-per-view that wrestling fans look forward every year. Sure, removing the Money in the Bank Ladder match from WrestleMania wasn't a popular decision among fans, but holding not one but two Ladder matches at the annual event is always exciting. The main difference with this year's Ladder matches was who was involved. Similar to 2012, only former world champions were allowed to enter this year's WWE Championship Contract MITB match, including CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton, Sheamus, Christian and the returning Rob Van Dam. It was being billed as an "All-Stars" match, and rightfully so. The match was absolutely reckless, with carnage surrounding the ring at all points in the contest. Orton ultimately captured the contract after nailing RVD with an RKO out of nowhere.
However, some would argue that the MITB match for a World Heavyweight Championship contract was better than the aforementioned bout. It featured up-and-comers from SmackDown, all of whom being heel. The Philadelphia couldn't have cared less, as they cheered their favorites, regardless. In the match's final few moments, Damien Sandow betrayed his "best friend" Cody Rhodes before retrieving the blue briefcase for himself. The match stole the show and set the tone for the rest of the night.
Take nothing away from the night's two world title matches, though, as both bouts managed to entertain. Alberto Del Rio and Dolph Ziggler competed in another electric matchup that saw Del Rio walk away with his title intact after AJ Lee inadvertently interfered and cost her boy toy the strap. John Cena and Mark Henry also fought valiantly against one another for the WWE Championship, with Cena forcing Henry to tap out to the STF for the win.
Also on this show: Curtis Axel vs. The Miz for the Intercontinental Championship, AJ Lee vs. Kaitlyn for the Divas Championship, Ryback vs. Chris Jericho.
2. WWE Payback (June 16, 2013)
For a number of years, any WWE pay-per-view held in the month of June bombed. Let the record show that a different event has been held in June every year since 2008. Fans expected Payback to be much of the same, but it ended up being better than anyone could have ever expected. What separated Payback from every other pay-per-view of the year was that the show's undercard was actually even more entertaining than its main events (with the exception of CM Punk vs. Chris Jericho). The night's first hour was one of the most exciting ever on pay-per-view due to how many historic happenings there were.
In the opening match, Wade Barrett defended his Intercontinental Championship in a Triple Threat match against The Miz and Curtis Axel. Axel was not initially intended to be a part of the matchup, but was merely a replacement for the injured Fandango. Nonetheless, it was one of the best matches I have seen contested for the Intercontinental title in a long, long time, and the live Chicago crowd was into the action. Axel, unlike most heels, was clever in capturing the title. He didn't even have to cheat. He pinned Barrett for the three count while Miz was still applying the Figure Four Leglock on him. When better to win the same belt your father once held than on Father's Day?
At the time, Dolph Ziggler was fresh off suffering a concussion at the hands (or feet, rather) of Jack Swagger, but returned to action only a month later. He and Alberto Del Rio had contested great matches in the past, and this was no different. Del Rio relentlessly targeted the concussed head of the bleached blonde Superstar to win back the World Heavyweight Championship, turning the crowd against him in the process. This also earned Ziggler sympathy from the crowd, which would be the catalyst for his eventual face turn.
After a two month absence, CM Punk was set to return to WWE on this night to compete against Chris Jericho. Despite rumors of him "no-showing" the event, Punk arrived and showed zero signs of ring rust in his match against his former foe. They momentum shifted between the two Superstars throughout the bout, with Punk's hometown followers sitting on the edge of their seats the entire time. It was lights out for Y2J after Punk connected with the GTS, picking up his first pay-per-view win in over six months.
Also on this show: Kaitlyn vs. AJ Lee for the Divas Championship, Dean Ambrose vs. Kane for the United States Championship, The Shield vs. Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton for the WWE Tag Team Championships, John Cena vs. Ryback in a Three Stages of Hell match for the WWE Championship.
1. SummerSlam (August 18, 2013)
Why was it that I, among many others, was much more excited for SummerSlam last year than I was for WrestleMania 29? Was it because 'Mania was extremely underwhelming and disappointing, or was it that SummerSlam had the potential to be one of the best pay-per-views in years? Either way, there is no denying that SummerSlam was the premiere pay-per-view of 2013 for its card consisting of two of the best matches of the year, in addition to other solid matchups that helped round out the card nicely.
After returning to the ring only two months prior, Christian his "one more match" for the World Heavyweight Championship at SummerSlam by winning a No. 1 contender's match in early August. He and the then-champion Alberto Del Rio have history together, and fans knew in advance that their match at the event would be one to watch. Although the build to the bout left a lot to be desired, the match itself certainly didn't. It was filled with exciting action with the momentum constantly shifting between the two competitors throughout. There were several occasions where I thought Christian might just pull out the victory, but it wasn't meant to be. Del Rio scored the clean win and walked out with his title intact.
In one of the most anticipated matches in recent memory, CM Punk and Brock Lesnar also fought (notice how I didn't say wrestled) on this show. This was stemming from Punk's rivalry with Paul Heyman, who betrayed him at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view one month prior. Punk vs. Lesnar was one "dream" match that many fans were looking forward to seeing upon Lesnar's WWE return in April 2012, and it finally came to fruition at SummerSlam. Their MMA backgrounds meshed perfectly and made for a phenomenal match. Arguably, they had the match of the year (which is a toss-up with the next match). The intensity was there every step of the way and no one had any idea who would go over. In the end, Punk let his disdain for Heyman get the best of him, allowing Lesnar to capitalize and score the win.
The main event saw Daniel Bryan contend for the WWE Championship against John Cena. Cena handpicked Bryan as his opponent on the July 15 edition of Raw, meaning the stage was set for SummerSlam on that night. Prior to this point, Bryan and Cena had competed against each other only once, so it was a relatively fresh matchup that fans were dying to see. Bryan may have been the underdog going into the match, but he had the entire audience in the palm of his hand. They were fully behind him the entire contest and were ready to see him realize a dream by becoming champion. After a flurry of finishers, Bryan ultimately hit a running knee (another new move added to his repertoire) on The Champ to pick up the clean pinfall. The Staples Center came unglued and celebrated the title change... only to find out that Randy Orton was cashing in his Money in the Bank contract. Before he did so, Triple H, the special guest referee, delivered a Pedigree to Bryan, allowing Orton to pick up the scraps and capture the WWE Championship. It was one of the most shocking moments in recent memory and one that no one saw coming. It created a cliffhanger that left people wanting to see what was next for Bryan going into the next night's Raw. It was an epic conclusion to the unquestionable best pay-per-view of 2013.
Also on this show: Kane vs. Bray Wyatt in a Ring of Fire match, Cody Rhodes vs. Damien Sandow, Natayla vs. Brie Bella, Dolph Ziggler and Kaitlyn vs. AJ Lee and Big E Langston.