Tuesday, October 24, 2023

The History of WWE Survivor Series (1988)

Time to talk about my favorite Survivor Series....

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 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 held until The New Day eclipsed it in 2016).  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 outlived all of them by decades.)  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 thanks to the story being told.

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, unless they go back to this format but with much better in-ring action.

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 be hard-pressed to present a better Survivor Series card, though 2018 came damn close.
Better than WrestleMania IV and/or Summerslam '88? - This absolutely destroys both.

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