Welcome to my retrospective about what has traditionally been one of my favorite wrestling concepts, the Survivor Series. The PPV debuted in 1987 when the WWF's chief rival, the NWA decided to venture into the PPV market with Starrcade '87. Vince McMahon, in full-on predatory mode, created a new gimmick PPV to go head-to-head with Jim Crockett's flagship show, but also told the cable companies they would have to choose between Starrcade and Survivor Series, and if they chose the former they would not be permitted to carry the following year's WrestleMania event. This unfortunately crippled Starrcade's distribution (a shame since Starrcade '87 was a helluva show) and essentially ruined Crockett's PPV hopes, leading to the promotion's sale to Ted Turner in 1988.
The Survivor Series was built around a simple but ultra-awesome concept, superteams of five men (with either one or two captains depending on the year) battling for supremacy in a sequence of elimination matches. The last team (or portion thereof) left standing would be the winners. I had seen six-man elimination tag matches but the idea of a 5-on-5 version blew my freakin' mind and I absolutely loved this plan.
For the first few editions the show was entirely comprised of these elimination matches, but as the years have worn on WWE has almost disowned them and made the card more like a regular old PPV with an occasional elimination bout thrown in. The result has been a very watered-down version of a once epic annual tradition. But let's take a look at the history of WWE's second-oldest PPV event.
|Survivor Series 1987 - Richfield Coliseum - 11/26/87|
The original Survivor Series was an absolutely colossal extravanganza. The three-hour PPV consisted of only four matches, three of which pitted teams of five against each other. The fourth (and this was fucking GENIUS) stacked five tag teams to a side, and when one man from a tag team was eliminated, both members were gone. So for example if Dynamite Kid got pinned, his partner Davey Boy Smith had to leave the ring as well. This match type was only featured in the first two Survivor Series', but it was amazing both times. It also demonstrated how incredibly deep the tag team division used to be.
|That there is a tag team division.|
The first event opened with the team of Randy Savage, Ricky Steamboat, Jake Roberts, Brutus Beefcake, and "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan facing the Honky Tonk Man, Hercules, "Outlaw" Ron Bass, Harley Race, and Danny Davis. Savage and HTM were feuding over the Intercontinental Title, and the "Macho Man" had become the second-most popular babyface in the company. Also consider how monumental it was that Savage and Steamboat were teaming up only months after their venomous blood feud. This match was absolutely thrilling and kicked off this historic event in style. Team Savage was dominant, winning the match with three survivors. Just twenty-four minutes of BOSS.
Next up was a groundbreaking and shockingly good women's match between Team Sherri Martel and Team Fabulous Moolah. Sherri had just beaten Moolah for the WWF Women's Title, ending a lengthy reign and thirty years of dominance in women's wrestling. After several minutes of fast-paced action, the match boiled down to the heel team of The Glamour Girls (Judy Martin and Leilani Kai) and The Jumping Bomb Angels (Noriyo Tateno and Itsuki Yamazaki), who were feuding over the WWF Women's Tag belts (yes this Championship existed once upon a time). The Angels' repertoire included spectacular aerial moves that had never been seen in North American wrestling. Many of these moves are commonplace today, but in 1987 this was cutting-edge stuff. The Angels won a pretty fantastic match, and even heel announcer Jesse Ventura couldn't help but praise their work.
The aforementioned mega-tag team match went third, as new Tag Champs Strike Force captained a team of The British Bulldogs, The Killer Bees, The Rougeau Brothers, and The Young Stallions against The Hart Foundation, Demolition, The Islanders, Greg Valentine & Dino Bravo, and The Bolsheviks. The action was incredibly fast and furious, and this epic match went 37 glorious minutes before underdog teams The Killer Bees and Young Stallions prevailed. This was a truly incredible display of tag team wrestling.
Finally the gigantic main event was a rematch of sorts from WrestleMania III, as Hulk Hogan captained a team of Paul Orndorff, Ken Patera, Don Muraco, and newcomer Bam Bam Bigelow, against Andre the Giant's squad of King Kong Bundy, One Man Gang, Butch Reed, and Ravishing Rick Rude (billed as the biggest team ever assembled). This ended up being the weakest match of the night given all the superheavyweights involved, but it's still a fun 80s main event. In the final minutes it came down to Bam Bam against Andre, Bundy and Gang. Bigelow eliminated two of the three before finally succumbing to the Giant's underhook suplex. Bam Bam seemed primed for a big push but for some reason he left the company only five months later. A shame because a Hogan vs. Bigelow feud could've been pretty great.
|I always dug this pic.|
The inaugural Survivor Series is still one of my all-time favorite PPVs. Everything about it felt grand, and the concept proved to be one of the most enjoyable gimmick matches the company has ever pioneered. I'll still pop this one in from time to time.
Best Match: Team Strike Force vs. Team Hart Foundation
Worst Match: Team Hogan vs. Team Andre
What I'd Change: Nothing really - this show is fucking stupendous.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably the main event, but it's still fun to watch.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The women's match. The Jumping Bomb Angels were a fantastic team.
Overall Rating: 10/10
Better than WrestleMania III? - This is a really hard question to answer. From a pure wrestling standpoint, yes. There's not a bad match on this show. From the perspective of historical importance, there are few PPVs better than 'Mania 3. We'll call this a push.
|Survivor Series 1988 - Richfield Coliseum - 11/24/88|
Well somehow they did it. The WWF managed to top the near-perfect 1987 Survivor Series with an EVEN BETTER show in 1988. They crammed 50 wrestlers on the show (granted some were hardly A-listers but still) and presented 4 huge elimination matches once again. Because of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage being presented as co-faces of the company, each team this year had two captains instead of one. Kinda silly but it's a minor nitpick.
The opening match was once again built around the Intercontinental Championship feud, as new champ The Ultimate Warrior and Brutus Beefcake captained a team including Sam Houston, The Blue Blazer, and former Killer Bee Jim Brunzell (subbing for Don Muraco), against The Honky Tonk Man & Outlaw Ron Bass, and their team of Greg Valentine, Bad News Brown, and Danny Davis. This bout was nothing special but kicked off the show with a fast-paced match and a feel-good moment, as the Warrior overcame the odds to survive.
The second match on this show is my favorite elimination bout in Survivor Series history. Once again five tag teams were partnered up on each side of the ring, and this might be the single greatest assembly of tag teams in a single match. Newcomers (and Road Warrior clones) The Powers of Pain captained a team of the Hart Foundation, the British Bulldogs, the Rockers, and the Young Stallions (that's an unbelievably stacked crew right there) against Tag Champs Demolition, the Brain Busters, the Rougeaus, the Bolsheviks, and jobber team The Conquistadors (okay so they probably didn't belong). The match was an epic 42-minute war where all the teams got plenty of ring time and the action was more or less non-stop until the closing minutes. Then a shocking double-turn occurred, as Mr. Fuji turned on Demolition, causing their elimination. The Powers of Pain then made short work of the Conquistadors and adopted Fuji as their new manager. Demolition went on to become one of the most beloved teams in WWF history and set a new record for the longest Tag Championship reign (which still holds today). This match holds up as a classic example of elimination wrestling. Spectacular stuff.
|That there is an even BETTER tag team division.|
The third match is an example of a throwaway midcard bout that far exceeded all realistic expectations. It contained no feuds I was interested in, but due to the drama set up by the mismatched teams it ended up telling a really great story. Co-captains Jake Roberts and Hacksaw Jim Duggan led a job squad of Tito Santana, Ken Patera and actual jobber Scott Casey (subbed in for the Junkyard Dog) against the insurmountable team of Andre the Giant, Dino Bravo, Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect and Harley Race (incidentally Race was the oldest of those five and is sadly the only one still living). By all rights this should've been a squash, but it went an intense 30 minutes and came down to a 4-on-2 scenario. Jake and Duggan were left to fend against all but Harley Race, when Duggan got himself disqualified, leaving only Jake. Jake managed to eliminate two of his opponents (one by DQ) before being pinned by Perfect. This match spotlighted Jake's gutsy performance and was actually quite captivating.
The main event featured The MegaPowers leading the team of Hercules, Koko B. Ware, and Hillbilly Jim (yeah I was baffled by the inclusion of Koko and Jim too) against Akeem, The Big Bossman, Ted Dibiase, Haku, and The Red Rooster. In another drama-filled match, Hogan and Savage ended up alone against three of their opponents. Hogan found himself handcuffed to the ropes while Haku dominated Savage. Finally thanks to help from Elizabeth, Hogan escaped and finished off Haku, leaving the MegaPowers as the survivors, but also planting the seeds for the eventual Savage heel turn. This match told a great story, and while not an amazing wrestling match, was far more compelling than the previous year's main event.
|Good night, Mr. Taylor.|
Survivor Series 1988 is still the best edition of them all, in my opinion. All four matches were loads of fun, and one of them was a true classic of the genre. The show featured an absolutely stacked card that measured up brilliantly against the original. I'm not sure any Survivor Series card will ever outshine this one.
Best Match: Team Demolition vs. Team Powers of Pain
Worst Match: Team Warrior/Beefcake vs. Team HTM/Bass
What I'd Change: Assembling a card requiring fifty stars proved to be extremely difficult, as no main roster members were left for the purpose of substitutions. So they ended up putting multiple jobbers on the show, but this didn't really detract from the quality of the matches. Still it's clear why they changed the format the following year. I have no major gripes with this show or its format, other than the number of disqualifications in the last two bouts.
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing really disappointed per se.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Team Andre/Bravo vs. Team Jake/Duggan - this was so much better than it had any right to be.
Overall Rating: 10/10 - Until the company goes back to the full-on Survivor Series format, they'll never present a better Survivor Series card.
Better than WrestleMania IV and/or Summerslam '88? - This absolutely destroys both.
|Survivor Series 1989 - Rosemont Horizon - 11/23/89|
Here's a Survivor Series I went into just eager to hate the whole thing. When I found out they had changed the format to 4-on-4 and done away with the 20-man tag team-based match I was livid. This felt like it would totally water down the concept and ruin what had been one of my favorite gimmick matches. Instead of putting all the tag teams in one supermatch, they paired two singles wrestlers with each tag team, and in the case of the Hart Foundation, actually split them into separate matches (something I still find baffling).
Fortunately though, Survivor Series 1989 was still a fun show to watch and featured some very good elimination bouts. This was also the first Series where each team had a name - a silly touch, but it added a sense of officiality to the whole thing.
The opening match featured The Dream Team - Dusty Rhodes, Brutus Beefcake, Tito Santana, and The Red Rooster vs. The Enforcers - Big Bossman, Bad News Brown, Rick Martel and Honky Tonk Man. On paper this looked like a yawner but it was actually pretty good. Rhodes and Beefcake outlasted the Bossman team.
Second was the match I was initially looking the most forward to, as Randy Savage captained The King's Court, with Dino Bravo, Greg Valentine, and originally Barry Windham, who had jumped to the WWF as The Widowmaker. I loved Windham at the time and had high hopes for his WWF run. Unfortunately Windham only spent about six months in the company, for reasons I still don't understand, and was replaced by the WWF's newest monster heel Earthquake. Savage's opponents were the 4x4s (a name that makes little sense since Jim Duggan carried a 2x4, not a 4x4): Jim Duggan, Bret Hart, Ronnie Garvin, and Hercules. This match was solid and featured some rare televised Bret Hart vs. Randy Savage interaction (why they never had a major feud with each other I'll never know). Savage's team was dominant thanks largely to Earthquake's involvement.
|How much better would this match have been with Windham?|
Up next was the main event (the first of three Series cards where the advertised main event didn't close the show), as The HulkaManiacs - Hulk Hogan, Jake Roberts and Demolition (what a stacked team!) faced Ted Dibase, Zeus, and The Powers of Pain. The company was still milking this No Holds Barred thing well after it had run its course, but with Savage being moved down the card they made Dibiase Zeus's new handler. The Demolition-PoP feud was also long over by this point but I guess the company felt this match needed a lot of power guys. The match itself was nowhere near as good as it should've been and three of the four heels were eliminated by disqualification. Hogan looked pretty unheroic as a result, but he did pin Dibiase to win the whole thing.
Match 4 was the sleeper hit of the show, as Roddy's Rowdies - Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and The Bushwhackers took on The Rude Brood - Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect, and the Rougeaus, in a helluva fun contest. The Rougeaus were eliminated early, leaving Rude and Perfect as 4-to-2 underdogs. Perfect was booked very strong here and managed to outlast Piper's whole team on his way to a very successful 1990.
The main event slot went to the Ultimate Warriors-Heenan Family match. Warrior, Jim Neidhart, and The Rockers took on Andre the Giant, Haku, Arn Anderson, and Bobby Heenan (sadly forced to sub for a just-fired Tully Blanchard). This ended up stealing the show after a really lame start where Andre was taken out in the first minute of the match. Very anticlimactic since this was built around the Warrior-Andre feud, but it was still a fine elimination match.
|OH MY GOD!! Hogan bodyslammed someone almost as big as him! Wait...|
The 1989 Survivor Series is really kind of a pointless PPV in terms of advancing any kind of feuds or angles. No one was really elevated except maybe Mr. Perfect and Earthquake, and the top two matches were primarily built around feuds that had already run out of steam. I guess the whole point was to position Hogan and Warrior as dominant forces to build to 'Mania 6, but it made for a very predictable show. I also resented the format change as I said earlier, but I ended up enjoying this show much more than I probably should have.
Best Match: Ultimate Warriors vs. Heenan Family - this would've been even better had Tully been involved.
Worst Match: HulkaManiacs vs. Million Dollar Team
What I'd Change: They needed to take a risk with the Hogan-Dibiase match, especially if it wasn't going on last. Dibiase should've pulled out a win after Hogan and Zeus eliminated each other. Or better yet, enough with the fucking No Holds Barred hype! The movie tanked and the only thing worse was Zeus's wrestling ability! What they should've done is teamed Dibiase, Perfect, and the Powers against Hogan, Jake and the Hart Foundation. That would've been a helluva match. Then Demolition could've been on Warrior's team since they were about to feud with Andre and Haku anyway. Put the Rockers on Dusty's team, Beefcake on Warrior's team, and I guess Rooster on Duggan's team, though he's not exactly a 4x4 type guy. That just leaves a heel spot on Rude's team. I'm sure they could've found someone to take that spot (where was Akeem?).
Most Disappointing Match: HulkaManiacs vs. Million Dollar Team - no reason a lineup that stacked should've resulted in such a weak match.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Roddy's Rowdies vs. Rude Brood
Overall Rating: 8/10
Better than WrestleMania V and/or SummerSlam '89? - Yes on the former, no on the latter.