THREE GUYS AND… RETRO WRESTLING
series created by Marvin Mercer and Nick Stephenson
“THE SURVIVOR SERIES LEGACY”
written by Dominick Cappello
Don’t you dare be sour. Clap for the Survivor Series. The Thanksgiving Day tradition. Okay, it’s the Thanksgiving Eve tradition. Well, now it’s the Sunday before Thanksgiving tradition. Close enough. From the debuts of The Undertaker, The Rock, Kurt Angle, and The Shield to the infamous Montreal Screw-Job, the Survivor Series is the second longest running annual WWE pay-per-view extravaganza. It’s the night when only strong will survive.
We’ve already posted an article which chronicles the inaugural Survivor Series from way back in 1987 with Andre the Giant being the sole survivor in the main event. A rare loss for Hulk Hogan during the heyday of Hulkamania. The foundation of this event was tag team elimination matches. For the first four years, it was nothing but classic tag team elimination matches. Legends were in action such as Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, The Honky Tonk Man, Harley Race, “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper. The Mega Powers were victorious in the main event of the 1988 Survivor Series, but “Macho Man” Randy Savage was none too pleased with the post match celebration as Hulk Hogan embraced Miss Elizabeth. There was also a twenty man match that night. Demolition (Axe & Smash) were forsaken by their own manager, the devious one, Mr. Fuji. Why would you not want to manage the WWF Tag Team Champions? The Ultimate Warrior lead his team to victory over The Heenan Family in 1989. Bobby “The Brain” Heenan himself laced up his boots for this match, but he was no match for the power of The Warrior. The Ultimate Warrior was a sole survivor for three consecutive years. Hulk Hogan and The Hulkamaniacs defeated “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase and The Million Dollar Team. Hulk Hogan and Ted DiBiase were on apposing teams three years in a row. I enjoyed the grand finale match of survival from Survivor Series 1990 in which all of the survivors returned for the main event. Tito Santana made it into the finale, fighting along side Hulk Hogan and The Ultimate Warrior. Way to go, Tito. Arriba! This was the same night in which we saw the debut of the greatest superstar of all time… The Gobbledy Gooker. No, I’m just messing with you. It was The Undertaker. The man from the darkside.
The WWF Championship wasn’t defended until Survivor Series 1991. The Undertaker defeated Hulk Hogan with some help from “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. But, that wasn’t the main event because time was needed to promote the impromptu Tuesday in Texas pay-per-view. Jake “The Snake” Roberts was meant to compete at the 1991 Survivor Series, but was suspended because his king cobra had recently bitten “Macho Man” Randy Savage. The Legion of the Doom (Animal & Hawk) were triumphant in the main event. In 1992, the WWF strayed from the tag team elimination concept. Bret “Hit Man” Hart defended the WWF Championship against Shawn Michaels. A rivalry which would intensify over the next five years. Also, Mr. Perfect returned to the ring to team with Randy Savage in match against Ric Flair and Razor Ramon. The classic Survivor Series tag team elimination matches returned in 1993. Lex Luger and The All-Americans vanquished Yokozuna and The Foreign Fanatics. The Hart Brothers were a also team, but after the match, Owen Hart shoved Bret Hart and berated him in front of their parents. A year later, Owen Hart took it a step further by tricking his mother into throwing in the towel during a submission match, causing Bret Hart to lose the WWF Championship to Bob Backlund. Early that night, “Big Daddy Cool” Diesel dominating, eliminating four of the five members of the apposing team, before having a falling out with Shawn Michaels. Diesel won the WWF Championship from Bob Backlund later that weekend at Madison Square Garden. Diesel would go on to have the longest title reign of the 1990s. The 1994 Survivor Series will live in infamy because of The Royal Family (Cheesy, Queasy, & Sleazy). The WWF ran of diesel power for an entire year, then Diesel was bested by Bret Hart in a No-Holds-Barred match at the 1995 Survivor Series. This was the first match in which someone was driven through the Spanish commentators table. A proud hallmark of the WWF/WWE.
Madison Square Garden was the venue for the 1996 Survivor Series. The Rock, back when he was Rocky Maivia, the rookie sensation, made his WWF debut in a classic tag team elimination match and was the sole survivor. Bret Hart returned from sabbatical that night and defeated “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in a #1 contenders match. Also, Shawn Michaels lost the WWF Championship to Sycho Sid. Survivor Series 1997 was undoubtedly the most controversial pay-per-view in the history of the industry. Kane made his in-ring debut in a match with Mankind, Steve Austin returned from a career threatening neck injury and defeated Owen Hart for the Intercontinental Championship, but all of that was overshadowed by the intrigue surrounding the WWF Championship. Bret Hart, the reigning champion, would soon be defecting to WCW (World Championship Wrestling). He was defending the gold against his long time rival, Shawn Michaels. Vince McMahon, the WWF chairman of the board, was fearful that Bret Hart would abscond with the championship belt, so he ordered the referee to end the match prematurely and award the title to Shawn Michaels. Officially, Shawn Michaels won via submission, but it was obvious that Bret Hart never submitted. Vince screwed Bret.
The WWF Championship was vacant heading into the 1998 Survivor Series, so the “Deadly Game” tournament was held to crown a new title holder. The Rock defeated Mankind in the finals with some assistance from The McMahons. It was a tasteless homage to the Montreal Screw-Job. According to Mr. McMahon, the people screwed the people. The People’s Champion was now The Corporate Champion. Say it isn’t so. At the time, The Rock was the youngest WWF Champion in history. Survivor Series 1999 saw the debut of Kurt Angle, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist. It also saw “Stone Cold” Steve Austin the victim of a hit & run. The Big Show took his place in the main event and won the WWF Championship from Triple H. It would take almost an entire year before the perpetrator of this hit & run was revealed to be Rikishi Phatu. Rikishi? What? Does that make any sense? Steve Austin returned at the 2000 Survivor Series and faced Triple H in No Disqualification match because Triple H was the true culprit. He was the man who hired Rikishi to run down The Texas Rattlesnake. Seriously, does any of this make any sense? Also, Kurt Angle successfully defended the WWF Championship against The Undertaker by reenacting the Doink the Clown finish from WrestleMania IX.
No one could deny that the WCW/ECW invasion in 2001 was a great disappointment, but at least it lead to the classic Survivor Series tag team elimination matches returning to prominence. The Rock defeated Steve Austin to become the sole survivor and The Great One also put The Alliance out of business for good. Survivor Series 2002 saw the return of Shawn Michaels as a fulltime member of the WWE roster. He won the first ever Elimination Chamber match, defeating Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship. HBK was still the show-stopper. Earlier that night, Brock Lesnar was double-crossed by Paul Heyman and The Big Show won the WWE Championship. It’s a wonder that Brock Lesnar ever forgave Paul Heyman for this transgression.
By the time 2003 rolled around, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Eric Bischoff were the co-GMs of Monday Night RAW, but the two could not coexist, so they put their jobs on the line in a Survivor Series match. The last man standing for Stone Cold’s team was Shawn Michaels. HBK eliminated Christian and Chris Jericho, then was defeated by Randy Orton thanks to outside interference from Batista. In the main event, Goldberg successfully defended the World Heavyweight Championship against Triple H. One of the few highlights for Goldberg during his WWE tenure. Not long before Survivor Series 2004, Randy Orton was booted from “Evolution” by a resentful Triple H. Randy Orton gained a measure of revenge when his team bested Triple H’s in the main event of the Survivor Series. Randy Orton scored the winning pin-fall on Triple H. This was the second year in a row where Randy Orton was the sole survivor. At Survivor Series 2005, John Cena successfully defended the WWE Championship against Kurt Angle. During this match, for the first time ever, the majority of the crowd chanted “Cena Sucks!”. Something that John Cena is use to by now, but it was jarring at the time. The main event was Team RAW vs. Team SmackDown!. Randy Orton had spent most of his career on RAW, but was recently drafted to Smackdown! and he won the match for his brand by pinning Shawn Michaels. Randy Orton was the sole survivor for the third year in a row, but The Undertaker spoiled the post match celebration. The Phenom emerged from a flaming casket and cleared the ring of the Smackdown! superstars. (I call them superstars, but there were plenty of jobbers in that ring.)
In 2006, the emphasis was back on tag team elimination matches. Ric Flair and a team of legends defeated The Spirit Squad, who were male cheerleaders. Degeneration-X (Shawn Michaels & Triple H), The Hardy Boyz (Matt & Jeff), and CM Punk pitched a shutout against the opposition lead by Team Rated RKO (Edge & Randy Orton). Randy Orton’s first Survivor Series loss. Team Cena vs. Team Big Show was sloppy and had too many botches to count. Survivor Series 2007 saw Randy Orton intentionally get disqualified in a WWE Championship match with Shawn Michaels since titles can only change hands by pin-fall or submission. In a Hell in a Cell match, it seemed as if The Undertaker had Batista beaten for the World Heavyweight Championship, but Edge, who was posing as a cameraman, interfered and cost The Undertaker the win. Randy Orton was back to his winning ways at the 2008 Survivor Series when his team defeated a team captained by Batista. Randy Orton survived along side Cody Rhodes. Randy Orton was in the midst of forming The Legacy, a stable of second and third generation superstars. In the main event, John Cena returned from a neck injury and defeated Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship. Kofi Kingston stole the show at the 2009 Survivor Series by pinning both CM Punk and Randy Orton to become the sole survivor in a classic tag team elimination match. In the main event, John Cena successfully defended the WWE Championship against both Triple H and Shawn Michaels in a triple threat match.
John Cena was and is the marquee superstar of his generation, but his career was on the line at Survivor Series 2010. He was the guest referee in the main event. Randy Orton successfully defended the WWE Championship against Wade Barrett, the leader of The Nexus, which meant that John Cena was to be fired. But, happily for the Cenation, he returned just 24 hours later on Monday Night RAW. At Survivor Series 2011, in Madison Square Garden, CM Punk defeated Alberto Del Rio for the WWE Championship. It was the beginning of a historic 14 month reign as champion. The longest title reign of the new millennium thus far. The Rock also returned to the ring for the first time since WrestleMania XX. He teamed with John Cena, who would be his opponent at the upcoming WrestleMania XXVIII. The Rock and John Cena defeated The Miz and R-Truth, but once the match was over, The Rock dropped John Cena with a Rock Bottom. The Brahma Bull was back.
At Survivor Series 2012, Dolph Ziggler was the sole survivor by defeating Randy Orton, who for one night only was being managed by his former nemesis, Mick Foley. CM Punk successfully defended the WWE Championship against Ryback and John Cena thanks to outside interference from The Shield (Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, & Roman Reigns), who were making their WWE debut. One year later, The Shield competed in a classic tag team elimination match. Roman Reigns eliminated four of the five members of the apposing team and was the sole survivor. Also at the 2013 Survivor Series, CM Punk and Daniel Bryan defeated Luke Harper and Erick Rowan of The Wyatt Family. The stakes were high heading into the 2014 Survivor Series. John Cena assembled a team with intent of unseating The Authority (Triple H & Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley). Because of The Big Show double-crossing Team Cena, (Yes, The Big Show turned heel. What a shocker.) Dolph Ziggler found himself in a 3 on 1 situation, but he prevailed with some assistance from “The Icon” Sting, a former WCW Champion making his first ever appearance on a WWE pay-per-view. Sting leveled Triple H with a Scorpion Death-Drop before Dolph Ziggler pinned Seth Rollins for the win. The WWE proudly celebrated the 25th anniversary of The Undertaker’s debut at the 2015 Survivor Series. The Brothers of Destruction (The Undertaker & Kane) decisively defeated The Wyatt Family (Bray Wyatt & Luke Harper) to mark the occasion. The WWE World Heavyweight Championship was vacant due to Seth Rollins injuring his knee, so a 16 man tournament was held which culminated at the Survivor Series. Ironically, it was Seth Rollins’ former Shield brethren Dean Ambrose and Roman Reigns squaring off in the finals with Roman Reigns winning the gold, but his crowning moment was short-lived as Sheamus cashed in his “Money in the Bank” contract and defeated Roman Reigns.
From classic tag team elimination matches, to screw-jobs, to hit & runs, to title tournaments, the Survivor Series is always a highlight of the WWE’s pay-per-view schedule. Nothing quite says Thanksgiving like tag team unity, but don’t get too use to these WWE superstars being so friendly with one another because the next major pay-per-view on the schedule is every man for himself… The Royal Rumble. No friends. Only enemies.