Who screwed who?
My earliest memories of wrestling fandom consist of watching some of the early five-on-five and four-on-four traditional single elimination matches that entirely populated the first four Survivor Series pay per views. Back at that time, there were only four big shows a year; the Royal Rumble, WrestleMania, Summerslam and the Survivor Series, with each one maintaining a very individual character. The Survivor Series stood out though as something completely different.
Friends and enemies alike, working together – or not, as the case often was – in grueling multi-man bouts of endurance. Sure, it sometimes felt like a cheap way just to squeeze everyone onto the card and let even the perennial jobbers get a big-money payday, but it did hold a certain magic that no other event could match. With so many different brawlers working together, a myriad of storylines and feuds could be set-up for the next year, all within just a few bouts.
The eventual move away from purely team elimination bouts, and towards traditional matchups severely watered down the event, making it just another one of the now many monthly spectaculars. A few cursory bouts each year still hark back to those early chaotic days, but one can’t help but feel that a return to the old format couldn’t hurt in a world where there are so many homogenised pay per view events each month, that is it hard to keep track.
Nevertheless, there have been some huge and spectacular moments throughout the years – strangely most of which actually happened outside of the elimination match format. So join me now as the Fannish Announce Table counts down its own top ten biggest monents in Survivor Series history:
10. The Rock Makes His Debut – 1996
Long before he was a Hollywood icon, before he became the People’s Champ, and even before the “die, Rocky, die” chants began, Rocky Maivia was a fresh-faced debutant with a Pineapple for a haircut. Making his first in-ring appearance at the 1996 event, Rocky had been presented to fans for weeks in the old-fashioned WWF video packages that we both used to love and loathe in sometimes equal measure. We would soon realise Vince was trying to push this young grappler to the moon, too much, too young, but before we could all rebel against that, he managed an electrifying first match.
Obviously still being a bit green around the gills, Rocky wasn’t given too much of the heavy lifting in his four on four matchup. The match featured such Hall of Famers as Jerry Lawler, Barry Windham and Jake “The Snake” Roberts, as well as surefire future inductees Golddust and Triple H. These seasoned hands took care of the psychology and brunt of the action, leaving the future Rock free to show off his abundant athletic ability in eleminating two men to beat the odds and leave himself as the sole survivor for his team.
9. The Undertaker wins the Heavyweight Championship from Hulk Hogan – 1991
As many wrestling fans are well aware, there aren’t that many people who Hulk Hogan is willing to lay down for. That list includes such massive stars as Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Randy Savage, to name but a few. This was true throughout his storied career, but never more true than in the late eighties and early nineties, when he was truly “immortal”. Maybe therefore it is fitting that it took a Deadman to defeat him.
The Undertaker had only been in the WWF for one year by the time the 1991 event rolled around, yet he had already left a huge impression on both the fans and management. Having been on a long undefeated streak (aside from a handful of countout and disqualification losses which protected his mystique), the former Mean Mark Callous managed to take down the American hero, all without even saying his prayers or taking his vitamins. And with a little help from the dirtiest player in the game – a chair-toting Ric Flair – of course.
Not only was a Hogan defeat big news at that time, but a Tombstone onto a steel chair was also shocking and vicious – something the WWF rock’n’wrestling fans just weren’t used to seeing. Fans would cry at ringside, my eight year old self would be stunned, and we had a new world champion (albeit only for a week).
8. Austin Gets Hit By A Car – 1999
This is both one of the biggest ongoing storylines in WWF history, and one of the biggest disappointments. At the time, Stone Cold Steve Austin was still the biggest superstar in the company, but years on the road and several serious injuries had taken their toll, and he needed a break from in-ring action to have surgery and get some well needed R&R.
On the night that he was advertised to take part in a world title triple threat match with Triple H and The Rock, Austin was viciously taken out in a hit & run attack in the backstage parking lot. He couldn’t participate that night and wouldn’t be seen on WWF television for another six months, as fingers began to be pointed and rumours swirled as to who could have committed what was in fact attempted murder.
It was a great hook and a rare case of really long-term booking. His opponents that night were obvious choices for his assailant, but this storyline was dragged out for almost a year, after which the writers at Titan Towers had obviously lost their passion for the storyline. A massively deflating reveal of Rikishi as the driver made no sense, and only served to frustrate the fans who actually bothered to care about this plot for so long. A missed opportunity.
7. Team WWF vs Team Alliance – 2001
Speaking of massive disappointments, the entire WCW/ECW Invasion has to be high up on the list of all-time blunders. What should have been the biggest angle and money-making opportunity in the history of the wrestling industry was instead a calamity of errors, bad decisions and ego. But without digressing too far, at least the whole thing was given a suitably grandiose exclamation point with an elimnation match stacked to the brim with world class superstars.
Of course the entire angle suffered hugely because Vince couldn’t manage to lure the biggest WCW stars away from sitting out their huge Time Warner contracts, but even without the big guns like Goldberg and Hogan, this matchup was a veritable who’s who of nineties megastars. It was probably a little overbooked, with the petulance of Chris Jericho and the inevitable Rock versus Austin rematch. Kurt Angle rounding on his Alliance allies to turn the tide in the favour of WWE was also entirely predictable, but the whole Invasion was written to stroke the ego of one Vincent K. McMahon, so why would anyone have any doubt over the victor? We never really thought that a team containing WCW stars would be allowed to win did we?
6. The First Elimination chamber – 2002
By the 2002 event, four on four team matches were definitely an afterthought as far as the Survivor Series went. Thankfully one entirely new invention was set to add a completely original spin on the idea of multi-man elimination matches. This hybrid of Hell in a Cell and Royal Rumble was the Elimination Chamber, and the very first iteration remains the best one ever put together. Six men would compete – two starting off – with four others joining from sealed pods within the structure at set intervals.
It didn’t hurt that there were so many top-tier wrestlers involved, but the idea was actually fresh and exciting – we didn’t know what to expect from a match like this and the wrestlers involved were more than happy to push the limits of what could be done within its confines. All new high-spots and OMG moments were experienced for the very first time, and the whole match read as a story of redemption for the returning Shawn Michaels, which – love him or hate him – was a masterfully woven drama. Despite wrestling being a form of entertainment where almost anything is possible, very little ever feels one hundred percent new anymore. The Elimination Chamber is one of those rare and elusive original moments.
5. The Shield Make Their Mark – 2012
Putting a group of wrestlers together to form a stable has long been a successful tool for helping build heat and get over new talent. Teams like Degeneration X and Evolution blended experienced, old hands with new and upcoming talent, to give the younger grapplers the rub. Other groups like the Nexus helped entirely new guys gain popularity by selling them as a new force, taking over the business. The Shield perfected this second style of stable however, with a strong core of wrestlers which never got diluted, with the differing styles of each member complimenting each other brilliantly.
The Shield were booked very strong from start to finish, never suffering any of the missteps that previous rookie groups had suffered from, and the current prominence of all former members pays testament to how successful the team was. So successful that WWE writers bowed to fan pressure and reunited the team recently – despite a few health issues for Roman Reigns. Their debut at Survivor Series 2012 was a sign of things to come. Appearing from nowhere and causing an instant impact, near enough eliminating Ryback from the triple threat main event with a triple powerbomb through the Spanish announcement table.
Being involved in the outcome of a world title match on your first night on the main roster immediately shows the fans that these guys mean business – despite the somewhat cringey matching polo neck jumpers. Thankfully this evolved into the iconic riot gear that later became so synonymous with the group. It is unlikely that the new incarnation of the team will have the same impact and excitement that they did first time around, but Vince and Co. do love to recycle old ideas.
4. Dolph Ziggler is the Sole Survivor… With a Little Help – 2014
As I stated before, the demise of the team format at Survivor Series is truly lamentable, as when done well, great stories can be told – and ones that don’t feel like they have been wheeled out every week on Raw and Smackdown. The team Cena versus team Authority match in 2014 was a cleverly booked spectacle, made even more memorable by a huge returning star.
After years of suffering through interminable Stephanie and Triple H promos every week, the fans were clamouring for a change. Team Cena brought that hope, but the WWE booking team played it smart and added enough suspense to proceedings to allow victory to be snatched from the jaws of defeat. The Big Show turning on his team wouldn’t usually be surprising, but eliminating John Cena in the process made it a lot more dramatic. With big match John out of the way, fans really didn’t know what to expect, and that is when wrestling is at its best.
Perrenial nearly-man Dolph Ziggler seemed to be up against insurmountable odds, with the Authority set to reign supreme as he stood one man against three. After managing to somehow eliminate both Kane and Luke Harper, Triple H and the authority set to make sure he couldn’t get the decisive pinfall over Seth Rollins. They didn’t however factor in the returning WCW icon Sting. Seeing Sting at a WWE event was a massive thrill alone, but his interfering to remove the Authority from power was a massive shock that created a new iconic moment to remember. This huge victory should have been the start of another big run for Ziggler too, but that sadly never materialised.
3. Deadly Game Heavyweight Championship Tournament – 1998
The year 1998 saw the first Survivor Series event to not feature a single team elimination matchup (only this and the 2002 event shared that same ignominy). However, in keeping with the theme of survival, the entire event was built around a fourteen-man single elimination tournament, with the winner claiming the then-vacant WWF Heavyweight Championship. Aside from a Tag Team title match and a Women’s title match, the entire card was packed with tournament bracket bouts. Even though this meant that the card was rammed with some relatively short matches, will little time to tell a tale, the overall story of the tournament was masterfully crafted.
The McMahon family appeared to be carefully manipulating the tournament to both make things infinitely more difficult for the targets of their ire; The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin, but also to ensure that their chosen corporate contender Mankind (suited and booted in a scruffy McMahon-inspired style) went home with the gold. After Stone Cold had been cheated out of the Semi-Finals, we were left with The Rock versus Mankind in the final – in what looked like it would be an impossible task for the People’s Champ, the Corporation had interfered and done their best to impede The Rock in every previous round of the Deadly Game tournament, but he had somehow managed to survive. Surely that wouldn’t be allowed in the final.
But there was still more than enough time for one more sting in the tail. Both Vince and Shane conspired to re-enact the Sharpshooter submission that never happened from the infamous Montreal screwjob the year before, to give The Rock the victory – afterwards revealing himself as the Corporate Champ. After backing Mick Foley for months and months, both as Mankind and Dude Love, fans were shocked to see Vince use and discard him now, to make way for their new golden boy. The Rock denounced his peon fans and embarked on an incredibly successful heel run as champion, which laid the foundations for his mega-stardom to come. This heel turn was the making of Dwayne Johnson. This is just the sort of heel run that Roman Reigns could benefit from nowadays.
2. The Undertaker Makes His Debut / The One & Only Match of Survival – 1990
The 1990 iteration of the Survivor Series format was MY pay-per-view growing up. Sure, I had watched other WWF programming for several years at the time, but that was usually at a friend’s house, or on a borrowed VHS tape. Survivor Series 1990 was the first WWF tape I owned myself, and as such it was watched a hell of a lot in my household. It didn’t hurt that the event was full of iconic stars like the Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Mr Perfect, the Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase and Dusty Rhodes, to name just a few. Hell, one match featured teams of four which included two of my favourite childhood tag teams – Demolition and the Legion of Doom – facing off against one another.
Of course, the 1990 event has gone down in infamy for the whole Gobbledy Gooker fiasco – where a giant egg hatched in the arena, giving birth to Hector Guerrero in a Turkey outfit, who proceeded to dance with announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund for far too long. But for two other reasons it was a truly memorable event. Firstly, for the first and only time ever, a match of survival took pace at the end of the pay-per-view. This saw all of the survivors from the five previous elimination matches joining up for one final team match for supremacy. This added some extra stakes to proceedings, and a good way to carry storylines through the whole night. But secondly, and more famously, the event featured the very first WWF appearance of one of the greatest to ever lace up their boots. Appearing as the special mystery partner on the Million Dollar Team, and accompanied by the ill-chosen Bother Love, WWF fans got their very first look at the Undertaker.
This man-mountain looked like no-one else on the roster, towering over friends and foes alike – aided by the clever low-angle shots to make him look even more massive. This was when Undertaker looked truly dead – pale and stiff in the ring, so intimidating that he would make children cry at ringside. He decimated Koko B. Ware in short order and also destroyed team captain and wrestling royalty Dusty Rhodes. Mark Calloway nailed the part from day one, just the way he carried himself could strike fear into fans and opponents alike. This was a truly impactful and awe-inspiring debut, which marked out the Undertaker as someone to watch, and an incredibly unique character in the industry- as we all now know, this was the start of something very special.
1. The Montreal Screwjob – 1997
How could we end this list without what is – and probably always will be – the most famous on-air controversy in wrestling. The events of the main event from Survivor Series 1997 have been debated endlessly since, parodied and re-enacted in wrestling promotions around the world, and even made into a feature length film. Whilst most fans know wrestling is predetermined, the events in Montreal outed backstage politicking to the public like never before. So crazy were the events of that night that some people still think it was a work all along.
For those of you who don’t know about it, I thoroughly recommend you lookup the Wrestling with Shadows documentary film, as this tells the story better than I ever could. But the long and the short of it was that Vince McMahon didn’t want to pay Bret Hart for the remainder of his contract, but Bret didn’t want to lose his last match in the company to his bitter enemy (both in-ring and in real life) Shawn Michaels on his home soil of Canada. Vince secretly made the decision to double cross Bret and change the outcome mid-match, and the rest is history.
That this all played out live on pay per view makes it as memorable and earth-shattering as it was. The loyal company man betrayed on-air, spits in his bosses face and later knocks him out – this was real daytime soap stuff. Some will say Bret should have been more flexible, others will say Vince had to protect his business – but damn it, this is my article! Vince screwed Bret!
All of the views expressed in this article are purely the opinion of one writer and are not intended to be a definitive list.
What are your favourite Survivor Series moments? We would love yo hear your thoughts and opinions in our comment section below.