Friday, November 3, 2023

The History of WWE Survivor Series (1996)

Here's a PPV that felt barely cobbled together but was still mostly enjoyable....

Survivor Series 1996 - Madison Square Garden - 11/17/96

Survivor Series '96 might be the best-ever PPV thrown together with seemingly no logic or common sense.  There are some good matches on this show, but really look at it - the lineup is a complete fucking mess.  Aside from one singles match there wasn't much of a reason for anything that happened here.  Four new wrestlers made their in-ring debuts on this show (FOUR!  That's way too many debuts all at once.), only one of the three elimination matches was assembled around a feud, one of the three singles matches was totally unnecessary at this point, and the WWF Title challenger had no business getting a title shot.  I really don't know what they were thinking putting this show together the way they did.

The opening match was entirely built around nothing.  Yet another two-teams vs. two-teams elimination bout, Tag Champions Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith teamed with The New Rockers against The Godwinns and WWF newcomers Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon.  Furnas & Lafon were a celebrated team in Japan but American audiences were not familiar with them at all, and they made no RAW appearances before debuting at this show.  Yet immediately they were positioned as the #1 Tag Title contenders.  Aside from this match having a lot of good wrestling, there was no reason to care about any of it.

Match #2 was the fourth PPV meeting between The Undertaker and Mankind.  Now, let me preface this by saying the Taker-Mankind feud from 1996-1998 was and is one of the greatest feuds of all time.  But they had already wrestled each other on PPV in a regular singles match, a Boiler Room Brawl, and the first-ever Buried Alive match.  So to follow this up the company opted for.....another regular singles match??  This made no sense.  If the level of violence wasn't going to escalate, have Taker and Mankind each captain a Survivor Series team.  Ya know, since the show is called Survivor Series??  This match was fine, but totally anticlimactic after their three previous efforts, and was probably the weakest of this entire feud.

The one elimination match involving a real feud was next, as I-C Champion Hunter Hearst Helmsley led Crush, Goldust and Jerry Lawler against Marc Mero, Jake Roberts, "The Stalker" Barry Windham (what a laughable gimmick), and another debuting star, Rocky Maivia (at least with Rocky the WWF showed a bunch of vignettes leading up to this).  This match was just ok, but I did like that both captains were eliminated before the end.  Rocky overcame the odds to win the whole thing, much to the delight one really.  This was long before Maivia showed us all what a true star he could be, and I'll confess that until his 1997 heel turn I didn't see any real potential in him.
Finally in the fourth slot came a true classic.  Bret Hart made his long-awaited return to action to face the company's hottest villain, Stone Cold Steve Austin, and they had a match for the ages.  This was wild, crisp, and brutal, and ran an amazing 28 minutes before Bret pulled out a surprise pinfall.  Many credit the WrestleMania 13 rematch as elevating Austin to main event status, but it was really this match that demonstrated how good he was.  Austin hung with Bret move for move, spot for spot, and began to win over the crowd.  Believe it or not, I consider this match superior to its sequel, and it's probably my all-time favorite Survivor Series match.

Dude, it's so f*ckin' on.....

The third elimination match felt like a smorgasbord of leftovers.  There was no feud involved and it just seemed like something for the remaining roster members to do in between important matchups.  Vader, Faarooq, Fake Diesel and Fake Razor took on Savio Vega, Yokozuna, the debuting Flash Funk (who also hadn't appeared on WWF TV prior to this), and surprise guest Jimmy Snuka.  I suspect the surprise partner was originally supposed to be a returning Ahmed Johnson, who was feuding with Faarooq but was sidelined four months earlier with a kidney injury.  Alas Ahmed wouldn't be medically cleared until the following January.  This match was utterly pointless and after two eliminations the remaining six participants were all disqualified for brawling in the ring.  Bra-fucking-vo.

The main event featured Shawn Michaels defending the WWF Title against The Wrong Guy, Sycho Sid.  Originally the plan was a Shawn-Vader rematch from SummerSlam, as Shawn was only able to beat Vader after two match restarts, and Vader had pinned Shawn twice in tag matches.  This could've been a really great match where Vader finally dethroned Shawn, setting up a rubber match at the Rumble.  But Shawn refused to drop the Title to Vader and instead selected real-life friend Sid as his successor.  The resulting feud felt very forced as Sid was Shawn's onscreen sidekick and there was little chemistry between them as foes (not to mention their previous matches together weren't exactly classics).  This match was extremely awkward due to some miscues and Sid's apparent inability to ad lib or fall into any kind of natural rhythm.  When even the amazing Shawn Michaels can't get a three-star match out of you, you probably aren't cut out for wrestling.  Sid won the belt by turning full heel (which the NYC fans cheered) and smashing Shawn with a ringside camera.  Thus began two excruciating months of Sid as the WWF Champion (I'd place him just above Sgt. Slaughter on the list of Weakest Champs Ever).

Most badass-looking undeserving Champion ever.

Now don't get me wrong, Survivor Series 1996 was a pretty entertaining show overall and featured an absolutely amazing semi-main event match.  But the rest of the show was so poorly assembled with seemingly little to no thought given, and it's quite vexing to think of how good this PPV could have been.

Here's what I would've done (aside from having Flash Funk and Furnas & Lafon debut on RAW in the weeks leading up to Series so we cared about them):

WWF Championship: Shawn Michaels vs. Vader - I mean come on, this was a great match at SummerSlam and the two rematches would've been light years better than either Shawn-Sid match.

Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin - Obviously no change there.

Undertaker/Sid/Yokozuna/Jake Roberts vs. Mankind/Crush/Razor Ramon/Diesel - A real battle of giants that would've easily been as good as the underwhelming Taker-Mankind singles match and certainly better than the Team Vader vs. Team Savio match.  Obviously this should've boiled down to Taker vs. Mankind, with Taker going over.  Oh and look, Taker vs. Kane again!

Hunter Hearst Helmsley/Goldust/New Rockers vs. Marc Mero/Rocky Maivia/Godwinns - Still built around the Helmsley-Mero feud, but now there won't be a rudderless two-team vs. two-team match on the card.  Rocky still wins here.

Faarooq/Jerry Lawler/Owen Hart/British Bulldog vs. Savio Vega/Flash Funk/Doug Furnas/Phil Lafon - Faarooq was sorta feuding with Savio around this time, so there's your two captains.  You have it come down to the two tag teams and elevate Furnas & Lafon, as was the plan anyway.

Now there are only five matches and the three traditional ones all have a purpose.  Much better this way.

Best Match: Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin
Worst Match: Team Vader vs. Team Savio
What I'd Change: See above.
Most Disappointing Match: Shawn Michaels vs. Sid - These two just never clicked in the ring (No one really ever had a good match with Sid - the guy was cosmically inept) and all these years later I'm still baffled that Sid got to be WWF Champion twice.
Most Pleasant Surprise: I guess the opening match?
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
Better than WrestleMania XII and/or SummerSlam '96? - No on the first, yes on the second.


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