It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame season is when we discuss and debate the best careers in the history of pro wrestling to determine who makes the cut for entry into the most difficult wrestling Hall of Fame to be inducted into.
One of the most challenging aspects involved with wrestling hall of fame discourse is the lack of stats, especially when comparing candidates from different decades whose careers took place in significantly different industries.
With that in mind, I set out to create an analysis that measures how well individual wrestlers influenced business for their promotion. The most obvious metric that correlates to this is PPV buys. Unlike live event gates, where tickets can be sold months in advance before any matches are announced or TV ratings that are heavily impacted by levels of competition on a given day (as well as larger cable industry trends), PPV buys are directly reflective of how motivated consumers were to pay to see a specific event.
Over the past few months, I gradually put together an analysis which tracks the increases and declines of PPV events when compared to the same event that took place in the prior year. Tracking the trends of the same event year to year is a better metric to judge a wrestler’s drawing power than just looking at raw PPV buy numbers or the buy rate itself.
Looking at buy rates exclusively is flawed because the PPV universe continually expanded each and every year from the 80s into the 2010s as more households became cable or satellite subscribers. At times in the early 90s a 1% buy rate would equate to 150k buys. That same buy rate a decade later could equate to 400k buys. This gradual PPV universe expansion makes comparing buy rates years apart problematic because an identical buy rate in a later year reflects more buys than the same buy rate from an earlier year.
Translating buy rates into raw PPV buy numbers is essential for this analysis. However, using raw PPV buy numbers exclusively also creates problems when measuring a wrestler’s drawing ability, as certain events will always do more buys than others based on tradition and the amount of effort the promotion puts into them. For example, WrestleMania and the Royal Rumble were always bigger than an In Your House event. There are also time periods when the same number of buys can tell a different story. A WrestleMania doing 560k buys would have been a massive success in the mid-90s when WWF’s biggest event of the year had fallen to levels of 250k-450k. In 2003 though, WrestleMania 19 was a massive disappointment with that same number, as WrestleMania 18 had done 800k, and WrestleMania 17 was over a million. Context is a critical consideration when measuring a wrestler’s drawing impact on their promotion’s business. Because of this, we’ll monitor increases and decreases yearly on a percentage basis.
The number of buys for each event was determined by cross-referencing total buy estimates and buy rate data from a variety of sources (source list provided at the end of the column). There was enough data available to include PPVs from WWE (WrestleMania 2 until Elimination Chamber 2014), AEW, and WCW (Bunkhouse Stampede until Greed 2001). It would have been great to include TNA as well but unfortunately, their PPV metrics aren’t as readily available.
After establishing the number of buys, the next step was to assign credit (or blame) to the wrestlers headlining (or sometimes co-headlining) each event. There is a degree of subjectivity involved in this and some headliners were much easier to determine than others. Chris Jericho and HHH may have gone on last at WrestleMania 18, but everyone knows the real main event was The Rock vs. Hollywood Hogan. John Cena and Batista may have been the World Champions going into SummerSlam 2005, but Shawn Michaels vs. Hulk Hogan was the special attraction that made it the second biggest SummerSlam ever. CM Punk may have been WWE Champion at WrestleMania 28 and Extreme Rules 2012, but Rock vs. Cena and Brock Lesnar’s return from UFC were the primary drawing cards for those events. Determining who deserved credit or blame for B-level PPVs during the brand split era and some of the larger WCW multi-man matches was admittedly more difficult. When in doubt, I spread the credit/blame to the most established stars involved in the top match or the top two matches (top 3 matches in very rare circumstances). I tried to be most careful when assigning credit for events that had massive increases as there was usually (but not always) an obvious match or program driving those positive results.
The last step was categorizing the increases and decreases into ranges for comparison purposes. Ranges are also important since estimates are involved, so a range categorization will help compensate if an estimate is off a little in either direction. The ranges are also helpful when illustrating the degree to which a headliner influenced (or failed to influence) interest in an event. After reviewing the frequency of various increases and declines, these were the final categories/ranges I landed on:
- Way Up – Increase of 30% or more from the prior year’s event
- Up – Increase between 10%-30% from the prior year’s event
- Steady – Within a 10% increase or a 10% decline from the prior year’s event (or an event didn’t have a prior year comparison because it was a new addition to the annual PPV schedule)
- Down – Decline of 10%-30% from the prior year’s event
- Tanked – Decline of over 30% from the prior year’s event
Now that the methodology is clear, let’s dig into the results. The full spreadsheet is available for viewing/download/filtering here:
Here are the consolidated results from WWE, WCW, and AEW filtered to exclude anyone with less than 3 PPVs.
*On the 2022 Ballot
***WON Hall of Famer
|Total PPV Events Headlined|
|Alberto Del Rio||0||1||3||3||0||7|
|Andre the Giant***||2||1||3||0||0||6|
|Curt Hennig/Mr. Perfect||0||1||1||1||0||3|
|Rob Van Dam||0||1||2||2||1||6|
|Scott Hall/Razor Ramon*||7||2||1||4||1||15|
After finishing this, the first question I had was, “Do these results make sense?” I was relieved to see that the most successful PPV draws are exactly who you’d assume, although there are a few surprising names. Here’s everyone with double-digit increases over 10% from the prior year:
What can we learn from this analysis?
One thing that stood out to me is that even the strongest draws have periods where they weren’t influencing business in the right direction. No one is perfect here… other than Roddy Piper who had eight events up over 30% and with none declining over 10%. While John Cena had 17 events that increased over 10% from the prior year, he also had 31 events that declined over 10%. HHH has similar results with 26 events with double-digit declines. Even Hogan, Austin, and The Rock had 19, 9, and 10 double-digit percentage declines. Ric Flair has double-digit 10%+ increases to his credit, but just as many 10% declines. Here’s the list of headliners with double digit declines over 10%:
Quite a few Hall of Famers actually had more double-digit declines than they did double-digit increases when headlining PPVs.
Here’s that list:
- Brock Lesnar
- Chris Benoit
- Chris Jericho
- Eddie Guerrero
- John Cena
- Rey Mysterio
- Ricky Steamboat
Does this mean these names shouldn’t be in the Hall of Fame? I wouldn’t necessarily make that assumption. Even though Brock Lesnar didn’t fair well on PPV, he was the primary drawing card on WWE’s biggest monthly network specials from the time it started in 2014 into the 2020s. Lesnar also set PPV buy records for the UFC by drawing from his pro wrestling fanbase. For several years he was the UFC’s biggest draw. Benoit, Guerrero, and Mysterio have incredibly strong in-ring Hall of Fame cases. Jericho is similar from an in-ring perspective but has 16 PPV events in the Steady category. If you view keeping business about the same for WWE or establishing new PPV events for AEW as meeting the Hall of Fame drawing criteria, then he’d meet it.
Similar logic also extends to Cena and HHH who may have more declines than increases, but also have 32 and 33 PPVs in the Steady category in addition to all their double-digit percentage increases. Ricky Steamboat was an all-time great in-ring, and significant portions of his career occurred before the PPV era had even been established. Steamboat also retired before PPVs became monthly events. Sting was on top for long periods of decline in WCW, but he also had 10 events that were up 30% or more from the prior year. The only people on the list with more increases in that range are Hogan, Austin, and Undertaker, which would qualify him as a Hall of Fame-level draw. Lastly, there’s Vader, who probably isn’t a Hall of Fame level draw in the US alone, but when you combine his North American success with his drawing record in Japan (similar to Kenny Omega) is pretty undeniable as a candidate.
Now that we’ve looked at how Hall of Famers performed in these metrics, how do the candidates currently on the ballot compare?
CM Punk is the candidate on the ballot helped the most by this analysis. He has 11 PPV increases over 10% from the previous year. Everyone with more than him has been inducted into the Observer Hall of Fame with the exception of Kevin Nash (who is discussed in more depth later). His WWE run accounted for eight of his double-digit increases, and his AEW run provided three over 30% increases. All Out 2021 actually increased over 100% from the prior year, which is something that was really only seen in boom periods like the late 80s when PPV was still growing as an industry or during the Attitude Era. His PPV success wasn’t limited to his return match though, as Revolution and Double or Nothing in 2022 were both up over 30% from the year before.
One of the criticisms often levied against Punk is that he lacks longevity on top, but he was one of the primary drawing cards on 26 PPVs, which is tied for 17th in the PPV era. That’s the same as Bret Hart and Kurt Angle, one less than Chris Jericho, more than Mick Foley, and over twice as many as Rey Mysterio. In terms of non-Hall of Famers, it’s the same number as Lex Luger and Big Show, six more than Kane, and 10-15 more than Goldberg, Booker T, JBL, DDP, and Jeff Hardy.
It’s also worth nothing that CM Punk brought his pro wrestling audience with him to the UFC. His debut added an extra 150k buys (or a 50% increase). We can measure his impact by comparing the number of buys Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem had garnered for their fights both before and after UFC 203 which included CM Punk’s debut.
- UFC 203 – Miocic Vs Overeem & Punk Vs Gall: 475k buys
- UFC 198 – Miocic Vs Werdum: 217k buys
- UFC 185 – Pettis Vs Dos Anjos & Overeem Vs Nelson: 310k buys
- UFC 209 – Woodley Vs Thompson II & Overeem Vs Hunt: 300k buys
- UFC 211 – Miocic Vs Dos Santos II: 300k buys
CM Punk meets the Hall of Fame drawing criteria based on his historical comparisons, his volume of being a positive PPV draw while in WWE, and his peak displays of drawing power in AEW and UFC.
As helpful as these metrics are for Punk, they’re damning for Edge. Out of the 35 PPV events where Edge could be considered a primary drawing card, only two increased more than 10% for the prior year. This isn’t to say that Edge was a failure as a main event act. 19 of his PPVs were within 10% of the prior year, which is more than his 14 events that declined 10% or more. These numbers indicate Edge was capable as a headliner, but he wasn’t someone that influenced PPV growth. Buying into Edge as a Hall of Fame level draw is seemingly reliant on the interpretation that keeping business about the same for the biggest promotion in the world qualifies as meeting the criteria.
Goldberg’s results are the most surprising.
While he’s remembered as one of the biggest stars from one of the most popular eras of the industry, he only has three PPVs that increased over 10%, which all came during his run with WWE. Goldberg didn’t start getting booked as a PPV headliner until after WCW had peaked. While Starrcade 98 was the 2nd biggest Starrcade in WCW history, it declined more than 30% from 1997. Halloween Havoc 98 featuring Goldberg vs. DDP and was also down over 10% from the Hogan vs. Piper match in 97. Then once you get into 1999, it’s all downhill.
In short, Goldberg’s time on top coincided with the beginning of WCW’s decline. That’s not to say that Goldberg was the reason for the decline, but he certainly wasn’t expanding their PPV business. In WWE, the story was a little more positive, as Goldberg’s showdown with Brock Lesnar at WrestleMania 20 was one of the biggest matches of that mega-successful event. He also did great business with HHH at Unforgiven 03 and Survivor Series 03, which were up 20% and 30% respectively. With that said, his WWE run included some disappointments like his debut match against The Rock at Backlash 03 (down over 10% from Hogan-HHH in 02) and Armageddon 03 (down 28% compared to HHH-HBK in 02). Even though Goldberg proved he could spike PPV business on occasion, he didn’t do so for long enough or consistently enough to be considered a Hall of Fame-level PPV draw. This doesn’t mean that Goldberg couldn’t have been a major PPV draw had he been booked or positioned better, but we can only judge a candidate based on what actually happened; not what could (or should) have been.
Randy Orton’s ability as a draw is always a debated subject during Hall of Fame season. His supporters point to all the big houses he headlined over his 20-year career in WWE. His critics note that he may have been headlining a lot, but he wasn’t doing much to influence WWE’s consumer metrics in a positive direction. This PPV analysis reveals Randy Orton’s drawing power is…open to interpretation. On one hand, he has eight double-digit increases over the prior year, which is the same as Mick Foley and more than Brock Lesnar and Chris Jericho.
On the other hand, he has 22 events that declined over 10% from the year before (3rd most all-time behind John Cena and HHH). Orton was a primary drawing card on a staggering 59 PPVs (5th most all-time). The majority of his events were in the Steady category of within 10% from the prior year (29 in total). If you’re low on Orton, then you can argue that people not in the Hall of Fame like Batista (9), Big Show (9), and Kane (8) have the same number of double-digit increases and they’ve never come close to sniffing induction.
In this case, the context matters, as only two of Big Show’s nine double-digit increases came during his entire WWE tenure, and the other seven came when he was part of an ensemble during the WCW vs. new World order angle. His run as The Giant before Hogan turned heel was not successful with multiple double-digit declines (two of which were over 30%). Kane’s run is similar, as six of his eight came in tag or multi-man matches where he wasn’t the primary focus but still played a significant role in the storylines. When Kane was presented as a headliner in singles matches, he wasn’t nearly as effective as a headliner. Batista however, has just as much PPV success as Orton without as many double-digit declines. You can argue that if Orton is a Hall of Fame Level PPV draw then Batista should be as well. I’d tentatively say that Orton was a Hall of Fame-level PPV draw since he managed to put up numbers comparable to the 2nd tier headliners from the Attitude Era in an era where WWE was much less successful overall. Orton somehow managed to have more 30% increases (3) than John Cena (1), although much less double-digit increases overall (17 to 8). When you combine this with Orton’s longevity of headlining live events that drew over 10k people (not an easy task in any era), you can make a strong case that he’s a Hall of Fame level draw. Whether that’s enough to warrant induction on its own is a different question, as I wouldn’t assess Orton as a strong enough draw to get in on that alone or possessing strong enough historical significance to trigger that criterion, so his case may come down to how you feel about his work.
The majority of Sgt. Slaughter’s career took place before his PPV-era WWF run, so these metrics don’t impact his case much either way. The Slaughter-Warrior title match at 1991 Royal Rumble increased business over 10% from the 1990 Rumble which didn’t have a World Title match, but his WrestleMania 7 with Hogan was down 27% from WrestleMania 6 with Hogan-Warrior. SummerSlam 91 was also over 20% down from 1990. I wouldn’t call this late-career WWF run a success, but it doesn’t reflect Slaughter’s business impact during his peak.
The Outsiders – Kevin Nash & Scott Hall
If you were surprised by how highly Hall and Nash ranked in this exercise, then you’re not alone. I was as well. Kevin Nash is notoriously considered the worst-drawing WWF Champion of all time and was also frequently on top while WCW entered its death spiral. Scott Hall wasn’t a consistent headliner year in and year out. In breaking down their numbers, I discovered that while Kevin Nash and Scott Hall may not be strong Hall of Fame candidates as individuals, The Outsiders are.
Here’s a breakdown of how Hall & Nash performed as PPV drawing cards on their own compared to how they drew when working together:
|Way Up||Up||Steady||Down||Tanked||Total Events|
The default instinct when thinking about the new World order is that it was so successful because “Hulk Hogan turned heel.” Hogan’s heel turn played a major role in WCW’s boom period, but how critical were The Outsiders in that equation? To tell the story of how The Outsiders influenced WCW’s business we have to look at the context where their events occurred.
When Hulk Hogan joined WCW he had an indisputable impact on their PPV business. Bash at the Beach 94 was the most purchased PPV in WCW history. Halloween Havoc 1994 was up over 100% from 1993. Starrcade 94 was even up 13% when Hogan was working with his friend Ed Leslie instead of an established main event level heel. The Hogan-Vader feud in the first half of 1995 also did great business with increases of 100% at SuperBrawl, 93% at Uncensored, and 23% at Slamboree. Even though the cage match between Hogan and Vader at Bash at the Beach 95 was down 15% from Hogan’s debut in 94, it was still a relatively strong performance considering they were on their 4th PPV meeting in a rather one-sided feud. After that feud with Vader ended though Hogan’s drawing power starts to decline.
Fall Brawl 95 was about the same as 94, even though 95 featured Hogan, Randy Savage, and the newly acquired Lex Luger compared to 1994 which was headlined by a War Games with teams lead by Dusty Rhodes and Terry Funk. Hogan’s feud with The Giant garnered over 30% declines at Halloween Havoc 95 and Superbrawl 96. Uncensored 96 was also down over 20% from 95. The non-Hogan PPVs also struggled during this time period as Starrcade 95 was down 26% from 94 (maybe it needed more Ed Leslie) and Slamboree 96 was down 15% from 95.
In summary, Hogan’s novelty in WCW lasted a year and then became impaired, offering continually diminishing returns.
Enter The Outsiders.
While Bash at the Beach 1996 falls into the Steady category when compared to Hogan-Vader from 1995, it had the highest buy rate for a non-Hogan WCW PPV since Halloween Havoc 1992 (Sting vs. Jake Roberts) and the most total buys for a non-Hogan WCW PPV since Sting-Flair at the 1990 Great American Bash. Bash at the Beach did as many or more buys than a number of Hogan headlined PPVs that came both before and after (Starrcade 94, Slamboree 95, Fall Brawl 95, Halloween Havoc 95, World War 3 1995, Superbrawl 96, Uncensored 96, Road Wild 96, Fall Brawl 96, Halloween Havoc 96). Since Hogan was not advertised for Bash at the Beach 1996 and his heel turn was a surprise, this establishes that The Outsiders themselves were a significant draw on PPV that heated up a promotion which had been going cold with Hogan as its centerpiece. The Outsiders were just as critical to the new World order’s success as Hogan.
The Outsiders teaming with Hogan at Fall Brawl 96 was up over 30% from 1995 (which Hogan had also been on). In addition to the 1996 World War 3 battle royal (which The Outsiders were in but Hogan was not) where the primary storyline was new World order vs. WCW, the biggest match at that event was The Outsiders defending their tag titles. World War 3 96 was up 27% from 95 (an event Hogan had been on). The Outsiders and Hogan then team up again at Uncensored 97 which was up 42% from 96 (an event Hogan had been on). The Outsiders headline Slamboree 97 without Hogan which garners an increase of 50% from 96, and co-headline the 97 Great American Bash without Hogan which increased by 37%. Somehow The Outsiders don’t headline or co-headline another PPV together until Slamboree 1998 which was up 50% from 97. The last PPV the Outsiders can be considered co-headlining together was World War 3 98 where they were scheduled for a match as part of their post-breakup feud. A potential reunion had been teased via Nash walking out of their PPV match the month before and tension growing between Hall, Hogan, and Bischoff in various segments leading up to the event. On the night of the event Bischoff had the black and white turn on Hall before his scheduled match with Nash, who then ran out to save Hall. Scott Hall then attempted to defend his World War 3 win from 97 in the battle royal which was won by Nash. World War 3 98 was up over 30% from 97. While the Outsiders teamed together on and off after that, they were never placed in a PPV’s primary drawing position as a team or against each other again.
To put The Outsiders’ drawing ability into historical perspective, here’s the list of everyone that’s tied or ahead of them in the Way Up category of PPV increases greater than 30%:
Every single name above them on that list is already in the Observer Hall of Fame with the exception of Kane. When looking into Kane’s context, there’s a significant difference revealed when compares to the Outsiders. Kane started headlining in June 1998 after the WWF had already been hot for 9+ months, whereas the Outsiders heated up a promotion that had been declining for almost a year. Additionally, Kane had seven events declining by over 10% compared to zero for The Outsiders.
Some may argue that Hogan’s heel turn would have had similar success without Hall and Nash involved. While that’s possible, I find it difficult to believe that Hogan joining the Dungeon of Doom would have had the same impact or longevity. While Hogan and Bischoff are notorious for changing their stories more frequently than the Big Show changes face/heel alignment, one thing they’ve always been consistent on is Hogan being reluctant to turn heel and needing to be convinced. He’d been the most successful babyface in the world for over a decade. While his drawing power had been declining, but his numbers were still better than anything WCW did before he arrived. He could have insisted on feuding with The Outsiders and going over the same way he attempted with “Loose Cannon” Brian Pillman (who cited medical issues to avoid it) in early 96. Instead, the Outsiders were such a hot act Hogan decided to attach himself to them.
How many other heel acts could have convinced Hogan to take the risk of turning heel? If the Outsiders never join WCW does the boom period they helped spark ever happen? In addition to their impressive PPV numbers (which they proved capable of achieving without Hogan being involved), their clear influence on WCW’s remarkable turnaround and the peaks it reached gives them a solid case for positive historical significance. Even though The Outsiders weren’t together long their drawing record and impact on the industry make them strong Hall of Fame candidates.
If you’d like to talk Observer Hall of Fame (or hate this column and are dying to call me an idiot) feel free to hit me up on Twitter @adam_bomb5150
AEW PPV Sources:
WWF/WWE PPV Sources:
- WrestleMania 2 through King of the Ring 1993 (unless otherwise noted): http://prowrestlinghistory.com/supercards/eventinfo.xls
- SummerSlam 1993 Onward (unless otherwise noted): https://wrestlenomics.com/resources/wwe-pay-per-view-buys-wwf-ppv-buyrate/
WCW PPV Sources:
- PPV Buy Estimates for Bunkhouse Stampede through Starrcade 1994 and buy rates for all WCW PPVs
- PPV Buy Estimates for 1995-2001 (unless otherwise noted)
- NOTE: All WCW and pre-2000 WWF buy estimates (before they became a public company that reported PPV numbers) were cross referenced against the buy rates to ensure reasonability