Monday, October 23, 2023

The History of WWE Survivor Series (1987)

From the wrestling-dependent jackoff who brought you The Histories of WWE WrestleMania and SummerSlam comes the official History of WWE Survivor Series.

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 wrestlers (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 extravaganza.  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' (and was brought back in 2016), but it was amazing.  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 (Savage, Steamboat and Jake) after the hopelessly outnumbered Honky Tonk Man took a powder and got counted out.  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 after the Bees donned their masks and pulled the ol' switcheroo.  This was a truly incredible display of tag team wrestling and it's mindboggling to me that this isn't still an annual attraction.

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 WWE 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 on 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 - This show just captures the magic for me in a way that's simultaneously nostalgic and timeless.  It was perfect for its era.
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.


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