The WWE Network has arrived. It’s basically Netflix Instant for wrestling fans, a streaming service that offers new and classic wrestling programming on demand for subscribers. For ten dollars a month (with a six-month commitment) users get access to each new monthly pay-per-view (starting with WrestleMania XXX in April) along with original programming and classic events. It’s available through an app on the Playstation 3 and 4, the Xbox 360, Android devices, iOS devices, the Kindle Fire, and Roku 2 and Roku 3 devices, and will launch with every WWF/WWE, NWA/WCW and ECW pay-per-view streamable at launch (except for four PPVs that WCW promoted jointly with New Japan Pro Wrestling).
We corralled Paste’s resident wrestling expert, games editor Garrett Martin, and Robert Newsome, the editor of the wrestling fanzine The Atomic Elbow, to tell you what you should watch first on the WWE Network.
I’m going to be open about my biases right at the top: I am a WCW/NWA loyalist. I suppose there are good and maybe even great offerings on the WWE Network from the actual WWE (or WWF, if you’re an old person like I am). I’ll probably even get around to checking some of those out one day. Maybe. Like, if it snows again and I can’t go outside for two or three days, or if I have to stay home sick from work. But given the choice (and from the looks of it, the WWE is giving us a lot of choices next Monday), here’s what’s streaming into my house first:
1. Starrcade ’86: Night of the Sky Walkers
This is my favorite pay-per-view event of all time. 1986 was right in the middle of a period of transition for the National Wrestling Alliance. Wrestling was slowly evolving into the spectacle that it would become in the 1990s, and the card for Starrcade ‘86 reflects that change. Mixed in with wrestlers like The Road Warriors and Big Bubba Rogers (The Big Boss Man before he became The Big Boss Man) who would become stars in WCW (and WWF), the card also featured stars from the 1960s and ’70s like Baron Von Raschke and Don Kernodle. This is also the event that featured the main event scaffold match that ruined Jim Cornette’s knees forever.
2. WCW Uncensored 1995
Uncensored eventually became just another WCW pay-per-view, airing every March from 1995 through 2000. (In 2001, the March pay-per-view was replaced with WCW’s Greed, which was also the final WCW pay-per-view ever.) The inaugural Uncensored was truly something special, though. It is quite possibly one of the weirdest, dumbest and funniest things ever to air on television. Among repeated reminders from the broadcast team that all of the matches aired were “unsanctioned” (never mind the heavy WCW branding all over the place), viewers were treated to a “concession stand” brawl between The Nasty Boys and Harlem Heat (taking place in the most fake-looking concession stand set ever built), Randy Savage winning a “no disqualification” match over Avalanche by disqualification (yes, really), and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan in a martial arts match. This is also the pay-per-view that’s responsible for eventually giving the world Goldust, as Dustin Rhodes (along with his opponent, the Blacktop Bully) was fired for violating WCW’s “no bleeding” policy in his “King of the Road” match, which was a wrestling match that took place inside a hay-filled cage on the trailer of an 18-wheeler as it drove around what we were told was Tupelo, Mississippi. (It was actually suburban Atlanta.) “Uncensored,” indeed!
3. Starrcade ’83: A Flair for the Gold
Ever wonder where the WWF got the idea for WrestleMania? Probably from Starrcade. I’m sure you could point to other “supercards” in wrestling history that may have given them the idea, but Starrcade, “the Grandaddy of ’em All”, was the nationwide proof of concept that the whole wrestling super show idea could take off on closed circuit TV (and, later, pay-per-view). The first Starrcade also benefits from being really, really good. I could write a bunch of words about how much I love that Charlie Brown vs. The Great Kabuki match, but you know we’re all in it to see Ric Flair try to win his NWA Heavyweight title back from that dastardly Harley Race. Will he succeed? You’ll find out on February 24th.
4. Bash at the Beach 1996
This is the one that quite literally changed the face of history. The Outsiders (Scott Hall and Kevin Nash) had been terrorizing WCW for weeks, and promising that their “mystery partner” would be revealed at the Bash. But before we could find out who it was (it was Hulk Hogan… sorry for the 18-year-old spoiler) we got to sit through some pretty good mid-’90s WCW undercard matches and also something called a “Carson City Silver Dollar Match.” This one’s forever etched into my brain because of Tony Schiavone’s final words to the viewer as Hulk Hogan stands in the ring, taunting the crowd after having turned his back on WCW. “Hulk Hogan,” says Schiavone, “you can go to hell.”
5. Chi-Town Rumble 1989
You know how annoying old wrestling fans won’t shut up about how great Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat’s feud from 1989 was? That’s because no matter how great they make it sound, the truth is that it was actually even better. Chi-Town Rumble is not a great pay-per-view. It’s okay, I guess. But the main event is the first of the “Flair/Steamboat Trilogy,” and that makes this one required viewing. The second and third matches of this series are from Clash of the Champions VI and WrestleWar 1989: Music City Showdown. The WrestleWar show is on the list of events that will be available on the WWE Network, but none of the Clash of the Champions appear there, so you’ll have to wait for more content to be added before you can watch all three matches. (Luckily, there’s plenty of other stuff to watch while you wait.)
Next: Newsome tags out to Garrett Martin, who looks at the best Royal Rumble, the last great WarGames match and the most brutal WWE match of 2012.