Tuesday, November 6, 2018

The History of WWE Survivor Series, part 3 (1993-1995)

After three pretty bad editions of the Thanksgiving Night/Eve Spectacular, things somewhat got back on track in the mid-90s.......

Survivor Series 1993 - Boston Garden - 11/24/93

Well that's more like it.  The '93 Series PPV was something of a return to form after the format had been watered down and then abandoned completely over the three previous years.  This show marks the first time a wrestling PPV had ever been held in Boston, so it has some sentimental value for me.  I was tempted to buy a ticket, but since it was Thanksgiving Eve and I'd have to travel home to the 'burbs anyway, I opted to watch on the tube.

This show not only put the focus back on the elimination matches, but for the first time since 1990 the main event was one of them.  The company made the most of a terribly depleted roster and put on a pretty damn good show, all things considered.  This would sadly be Bobby Heenan's final WWF PPV, as he would soon leave the company and wind up in WCW.

The show kicked off with a bang as the Razor Ramon-led team of Marty Janetty, 1-2-3 Kid, and Randy Savage (subbing for Mr. Perfect) faced IRS, Rick Martel, Adam Bomb, and Diesel.  The midcard crew brought their working shoes and set the bar fairly high.  This match benefited from some unpredictable eliminations, as neither team captain was among the final four participants.  It eventually came down to Janetty/Kid vs. Diesel/Adam Bomb, and the underdog babyfaces pulled out the surprise win to a huge pop.  Helluva nice opening match.

Next up was a bizarre but unexpectedly well-worked match between four Hart Brothers (Bret, Owen, Keith and Bruce) and a team of masked Knights that was supposed to have been led by Jerry Lawler but due to allegations of sexual assault against "The King", Shawn Michaels took his place.  While from a storyline perspective this made zero sense, Michaels' involvement in the match instantly added to its "star rating."  This was a wild, fast-paced match with some great mat wrestling and some spectacular bumping by Shawn, and eventually Michaels ended up alone against all four Harts.  Then suddenly Owen was eliminated after an accidental ring apron collision with Bret, planting the seeds for the wonderful Bret-Owen feud of 1994.  Shawn took a powder a few minutes later, and the remaining three Harts won the match.  I've read a lot of reviews that slag this match off as pointless and boring, but despite only featuring three full-time WWF guys I still thought this was the best match on the card.  I suppose it's kinda hard to go wrong when you have Bret, Shawn and Owen in the same match.

Only three full-time WWF roster members in this match.

The one non-Survivor Series match on the card was a Smoky Mountain Wrestling Tag Team Title match, as the Rock & Roll Express took on the Heavenly Bodies.  Seeing Ricky Morton and Robert Gibson in a WWF ring was pretty surreal, but the match was quite good.  I don't think Boston was the right city for this, as probably few fans in the building knew who these guys were.  Regardless I have no complaints about the match itself.

The one stinker on this card was next, as Team Doink (featuring Men on a Mission and The Bushwhackers in Doink makeup, but no Doink himself) took on Bam Bam Bigelow, Bastion Booger, and the Headshrinkers.  This was purely a comedy match and went mercifully fast.  The Doink team swept, largely using nefarious means which I found irksome.  Pretty superfluous stuff.

The main event had a nice epic feel to it, as The All-Americans - Lex Luger, The Steiner Brothers, and The Undertaker (subbing for an "injured" Tatanka) faced The Foreign Fanatics - Yokozuna, Ludvig Borga, Quebecer Jacques Rougeau, and Crush (subbing for an "injured" Quebecer Pierre).  In the same vein as the late 80s Survivor Series main events, this bout featured hard-hitting power wrestling and some nice strategy (saving Taker and Yokozuna for the later stages of the match for example).  Eventually Taker and Yoko eliminated each other, sparking a new feud between them, and Luger vanquished Borga to become the sole survivor.  Not a technical masterpiece by any means, but this was a worthy Series main event and a lot of fun.

Jacques Rougeau is sadly the only surviving member of his 1993 team.

For the first time since 1989 it seemed like the company was taking the Survivor Series concept seriously again.  Four of the five matches were traditional elimination matches, and three of them were quite good.  There were multiple substitutions, but they pretty much all improved the quality of the matches and a couple of them were clearly planned.  For one year at least, Survivor Series was somewhat back to its old self.

Best Match: Harts vs. Michaels' Knights
Worst Match: Four Doinks vs. Team Bam Bam
What I'd Change: I'd have actually put Doink in the Four Doinks match!
Most Disappointing Match: Nothing really disappointed me as I wasn't expecting to like the Doink-Bigelow match anyway.
Most Pleasant Surprise: Shawn taking Lawler's place.  The addition of Michaels clearly made this match better than it would've otherwise been.
Overall Rating: 7/10
Better than WrestleMania IX and/or SummerSlam '93? - Yes on both.

Survivor Series 1994 - Freeman Coliseum - 11/23/94

Here's an ugly bit of business.  Survivor Series '94 saw the return of 5-on-5 elimination matches, which sounds like it'd be great.  Unfortunately the WWF didn't seem to care about making them seem at all important, so they came off as a jumbled mess.  The two main events on the show were singles matches (this began an infuriating trend of every major feud on a Survivor Series card being settled in a singles match while the elimination matches were treated as obligatory filler), neither of which really delivered.

Far too similar to the first match on the 1991 card, the opening match here had all the hallmarks of a classic.  The Bad Guys - Razor Ramon, 1-2-3 Kid, British Bulldog, and The Headshrinkers vs. The Teamsters - Shawn Michaels, Diesel, Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Jeff Jarrett.  A bunch of good workers and a bunch of future main eventers.  What could go wrong?  Well, much like its 1991 counterpart, this match started out great, establishing Diesel as a killing machine, and then about twenty minutes in, ended with five - FIVE - men getting eliminated at the same time, with one guy left standing as the winner.  This was so unbelievably stupid.  It all happened after Shawn accidentally superkicked Diesel (the third time this had happened), leading to Diesel chasing Shawn out of the ring and back to the dressing room.  The rest of their team went with them to try and break up the impending melee, and the referee counted the whole team (yes, the WHOLE TEAM) out of the ring.  Umm, shouldn't only the legal man be counted out?  And then the next legal man would get counted out?  So like, shouldn't the referee have had to count to fifty to eliminate the entire team?

Hey look, it's the Kliq......and Davey Boy.

Look, dummies.  Here's what you do with this match.  The main objectives were obviously to break up Shawn and Diesel, turn Diesel face, and position Diesel as the next main event guy.  So instead of wasting everyone's time with a 20-minute match without a third act and a totally nonsensical ending, how 'bout you have Diesel run through Razor's whole team (like he did), tag Shawn in (like he did), hold Razor for the superkick (like he did), have Shawn miss and hit Diesel (like he did), and then have Razor roll Shawn up for the pin.  Then Diesel (now the legal man) realizes what happened and angrily chases Shawn back to the dressing room, thus getting counted out and making it a 3-on-1 match.  Razor gallantly battles Owen, Jarrett and Neidhart, eventually eliminating "The Anvil," befor Owen and Jarrett's heel tactics become too much and Jarrett covers Razor for the win (thus setting Jarrett up as the #1 I-C contender, which they were gonna do anyway!).  Would that have been so hard?  Then you'd have an epic, dramatic elimination match that elevated Diesel and Jarrett, set up the Shawn-Diesel feud, and painted Razor as a courageous fighter who never gave up despite the long odds. 

Nope, let's just throw out another potentially awesome Survivor Series match.  Next?

From bad to worse, the next match pitted Jerry Lawler and three midget wrestlers dressed like Jerry Lawler, against Doink the Clown and three midget wrestlers dressed like Doink the Clown.  On paper this is bad enough, but the rules of the match presented a bigger problem: the full-size wrestlers were not allowed to be in the ring with the little wrestlers.  So that meant if one of the full-size guys were pinned, his team became incapable of winning because the three little guys weren't allowed to fight the opposing full-size guy.   This exact scenario occurred ten and a half minutes in, when Doink was the first one eliminated.  So at best if Dink, Pink and Wink eliminated Lawler's teammates Cheesy, Queasy and Sleazy, that would leave them at a stalemate since Lawler wouldn't be able to fight his remaining three opponents.  But that didn't stop this match from going another six minutes.  That's right, this was a 16+-minute comedy match where one team was mathematically precluded from winning ten minutes in.  Even if the reverse were true and Doink's partners were all eliminated first, Doink wouldn't be able to wrestle their counterparts and therefore couldn't win either.  This might be the most pointless match of all time.  Someone clearly didn't think things through when they booked it.

Next up might be the most overrated match in the history of this event: WWF Champion Bret Hart vs. Bob Backlund in a Submission match where a winner could only be declared if a wrestler's cornerman threw in the towel (see 'cause in 1983 when Backlund lost the WWF Title it was due to his manager Arnold Skaaland throwing in the towel).  Now that sounds pretty awesome, and when these two wrestled on RAW over the summer it was a damn good match.  But this particular time they turned in twenty minutes of good wrestling, followed by an angle wherein Backlund's cornerman Owen Hart knocked out Bret's cornerman Davey Boy Smith.  Meanwhile Backlund had locked Bret in the dreaded Crossface Chickenwing but since Bret now had no cornerman the match couldn't end.  Owen then pleaded with his mother Helen to throw in the towel to save Bret from permanent injury.  I'll admit this was a pretty creative way to have a title change hands, but in execution this angle took fifteen minutes.  Fif. Teen. Minutes.  43% of this bout's running time consisted of Bret being stuck in a submission hold and Owen conning his mom into ending the match.  So yeah it bored the shit out of me.  And after all this, Backlund dropped the belt to Diesel in a one-move match three days later.  Simply stunning.

This is actually an animated GIF of the last 15 minutes of this match.

The other elimination match also seemed pretty promising but ended up being very forgettable.  The Million Dollar Team - King Kong Bundy, Bam Bam Bigelow, Tatanka and The Heavenly Bodies vs. Guts & Glory - Lex Luger, Adam Bomb, Mabel and The Smokin' Gunns.  There's certainly not much workrate there, but this could've been okay.  Alas it was slow and dull, and aside from the 3-on-1 drama that I'm a sucker for, provided little to care about.  Bam Bam and Bundy were the winners.  How far did Luger's stock fall over the course of a year, by the way?

The main event was a rematch from the '94 Royal Rumble - Undertaker vs. Yokozuna in a Casket Match.  By the way I just realized Bret Hart main evented zero PPVs during his second (and longest) title reign.  That's smart.  Anywho, Taker-Yoko II was just as bad as the first installment.  These two didn't work well together at all and this was yet another terrible Survivor Series headlining match for Taker.

The 1994 edition was another step back for this PPV event.  The elimination matches were lackluster and/or flummoxing, and the two main events were quite boring.  The company was still looking for the next Hulk Hogan, and thought they had found him in Diesel.  History, and the WWF audience, would tell a different story, as Kevin Nash went on to be one of the worst-drawing long-term champions ever.  What's funny is I thought Taker's main event win here was going to set him up to challenge Backlund for the Title, and I was excited.  Then Diesel swooped in and I was pissed.  Oh, and Survivor Series 1994 is for the birds, I assure you.

Best Match: The Bad Guys vs. The Teamsters, again by default
Worst Match: The Royal Family vs. Clowns R' Us - it's no mystery why this won Wrestling Observer's Worst Match of the Year award.
What I'd Change: Hey, instead of doing the exact same shitty Casket Match from the Rumble, how 'about Taker and Yokozuna each captain a team, hmmm?  Put Bret-Backlund last and cut the match-ending angle down to 5 minutes so it doesn't put me to sleep.  Restructure the Razor match as outlined above, and if you must include a comedy match, make the Doink-Lawler match one-fall and only 7-8 minutes.
Most Disappointing Match: Bret Hart vs. Bob Backlund
Most Pleasant Surprise: Nothing
Overall Rating: 3/10
Better than WrestleMania X and/or Summerslam '94? - Not in a million years.

Survivor Series 1995 - USAir Arena - 11/19/95

To paraphrase Bobby Heenan, comparing Survivor Series '94 to Survivor Series '95 is like comparing horse manure to ice cream.  The 1995 edition was such a monumental improvement it's hard to even consider them as the same type of event.  While the '94 edition felt disorganized and largely inconsequential aside from a few key moments, this show featured multiple strong elimination matches and a big marquee Title match.

1995 was not a very successful year for the company, as Diesel failed to draw as WWF Champion and fans instead preferred the athleticism of Bret Hart and hot new babyface star Shawn Michaels.  But several newcomers were added to the roster which freshened up the product, such as Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Ahmed Johnson, Hakushi and Goldust.

The first match featured mostly bottom-level talent but ended up being one of the best on the show.  The Bodydonnas - Skip, Rad Radford, Tom Prichard, and surprise member The 1-2-3 Kid took on The Underdogs - Marty Janetty, Bob Holly, Hakushi, and Barry Horowitz.  These eight guys wrestled like they had something to prove, as the match featured lots of aerial moves and spectacular high spots (for example Janetty's mindblowing top rope powerbomb on Skip).  The Kid stole a victory in the end after his new stablemate Sycho Sid interfered, and this seemed to be the beginning of a nice heel push for Sean Waltman.  However due to some drug issues his career stagnated and he left for WCW several months later.

Next up was a women's match reminiscent of the Team Sherri vs. Team Moolah bout from 1987, featuring several Japanese women wrestlers utilizing intricate, crowd-pleasing movesets previously not seen in the WWF.  The Women's Champion Alundra Blayze captained a team of Kyoko Inoue, Sakie Hasegawa and Chaparita Asari against Bertha Faye's team of Aja Kong, Tomoko Watanabe and Lioness Asuka.  This was a highly entertaining, action-heavy showcase of Japanese-style wrestling that seemed to signal the push of Aja Kong as a major women's star.  Unfortunately Alundra Blayze defected to WCW a month later and the planned Women's Title feud was off.  Still this is easily worth a watch.

The third match for some reason went to a singles bout between Bam Bam Bigelow and newcomer Goldust.  Why this match was considered important enough to warrant a one-on-one showdown I'll never know.  It wasn't even Goldust's debut.  This was middling at best and I'd much rather have seen these two on opposing elimination teams.

The one poorly executed elimination match on the card was The Undertaker's Dark Side - Henry Godwinn, Fatu, and Savio Vega (what a terrible squad of teammates for Taker) vs. King Mabel's Royals - Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Jerry Lawler and Isaac Yankem (hey look at that - Taker vs. Kane!).  This was really little more than a squash, as Taker eliminated Mabel's entire team singlehandedly before Mabel walked away with a countout loss.

How did they abandon this concept after only one year?

Things picked up huge however, as the final elimination bout was a Wild Card Match.  President Gorilla Monsoon announced that the eight wrestlers in this match would be drawn at random to determine the teams.  So babyface Razor Ramon got stuck with heels Owen Hart, Yokozuna, and rival Dean Douglas, against faces Shawn Michaels and Ahmed Johnson, and their heel partners the British Bulldog and Sid.  This made for an extremely exciting, unpredictable dynamic, and the match ran 27 action-packed minutes.  This is still one of the best elimination matches I've ever seen.  Michaels, Bulldog and Ahmed were the survivors, and this match cemented Ahmed as an intended future headliner (which I believe he would've been had he not been so injury-prone).  I was sad not to see the Wild Card concept brought back in subsequent years.


The main event was a rematch between WWF Champion Diesel and Bret Hart, in a No Holds Barred contest.  While fairly slow-paced, this match was realistically brutal and very well-worked.  It featured strong psychology with Bret using any and all available tactics to negate Diesel's size advantage, and portrayed Diesel as somewhat torn between getting the win at all costs or remaining the company's top hero.  After hesitating long enough for Bret to get the pin with a small package, Diesel snapped and became a tweener for several months, rediscovering his killer instinct.  Incidentally the spot where Diesel knocked Bret off the apron and through a ringside table just about made me poop.  At the time I had never seen anything like that.  Anyway, helluva match.
The 1995 Survivor Series was an extremely watchable show that pretty much blew away everything else on the WWF's PPV calendar that year.  While the main event was still a singles match, all the other major feuds were settled within the elimination format, thus making the traditional Survivor Series matches feel important again.  This was the best Survivor Series show since the first two.

Best Match: Wild Card Match
Worst Match: Goldust vs. Bam Bam Bigelow - This isn't even bad per se, it's just not good.
What I'd Change: Put Bam Bam on Taker's team instead of Fatu, put Goldust on Mabel's team instead of Lawler (whose color commentary was missed on this broadcast), have Goldust eliminate two members of Taker's team before getting DQd (thus protecting him) and then have Taker eliminate the rest of his opponents.
Most Disappointing Match: Probably the Taker one.  His team was comprised of wrestlers who didn't fit in with him at all and the match was too one-sided.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The opening contest.  Despite being full of jobbers, these two teams tore it up.
Overall Rating: 8.5/10
Better than WrestleMania XI and/or SummerSlam '95? - You bet your sweet ass it was.

Well as Meat Loaf used to say, "Two outta three ain't bad."  

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Part 2                                                                                                                                                Part 4

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