Monday, November 6, 2023

The History of WWE Survivor Series (1998)

One of the worst wrestling tournaments ever, that was super entertaining at the time....

Survivor Series 1998 - Kiel Center - 11/15/98

The 1998 edition almost defies critique as a wrestling event.  Almost.  As an angle played out over a three-hour running time it was rather genius.  As a professional wrestling show it was abysmal.  Once again nothing about this show earned it the title of Survivor Series.  The PPV was built around a WWF Title tournament after Steve Austin lost the belt under controversial circumstances and the belt was vacated.  As with WrestleMania IV, the company tried to cram far too much into one show, and this didn't even have the benefit of a fourth hour.  Fourteen matches in three hours.  Simply batshit insane.

There were two non-tournament matches, Sable vs. Jacqueline for the new Women's Title (this one stunk), and a Triple Threat for the Tag belts pitting The New Age Outlaws against The Headbangers and D-Lo Brown/Mark Henry (this one was mediocre).

The tournament itself was shabbily thrown together and had some baffling inclusions such as jobber Duane Gill, midcarder Al Snow, newcomer Steven Regal, who had only been in the company a few weeks, and two first-round matches featuring McMahon henchman the Big Bossman.  Now the storyline going into this was that Vince would do anything to keep Austin from regaining the Title, and had handpicked (rather reluctantly) Mankind to be the next Champion (Mankind had shaved off his beard and styled his hair for the occasion).  Mankind opened the show against pushover Duane Gill to allow him easy advancement.  Steve Austin's first round match was against Bossman, tasked specifically with injuring Austin and hindering him going forward (why not just use a crooked referee to take Austin out of the tournament right at the beginning?).  The Rock, who had been slowly turning babyface and had run afoul of Vince, was slated to face Triple H in the first round.  Triple H, despite being injured, was nonetheless billed to appear on this show in a rather shameless bait-and-switch.  Instead Rocky faced the Bossman (making his second first-round appearance) and quickly rolled him up in a four-second match.

The second round featured a shitty Undertaker-Kane rematch, a very good little Rock-Shamrock rematch (where Bossman's interference on Shamrock's behalf backfired), a Steve Austin bye into the semis, and an exceedingly brief Al Snow vs. Mankind bout.
The semifinals saw Rock advancing after the Undertaker got disqualified, and Mankind beating Steve Austin with the help of newly appointed babyface referee Shane McMahon, who doublecrossed the Rattlesnake and rejoined Vince's side (Mick Foley considers this one of the worst matches he's ever been involved in).

This was probably the only good part of the match.

This meant the Finals would pit Vince's chosen one Mankind against Vince's newest enemy The Rock.  The final match was a crazy and entertaining brawl and very easily stole the show as one of only two or three memorable bouts.  The big swerve came when Rocky applied a sharpshooter, and Vince immediately signaled for the bell to ring, echoing the Montreal Screwjob from a year earlier.  Upon Rocky being announced as the new Champion, Vince revealed he had been the chosen one all along and Mankind was merely a pawn.

At the time this aired I was honestly pretty blown away by this whole angle.  From a storyline perspective it was very well-executed and I didn't see any of this coming.  I was also excited about The Rock becoming the newest main eventer and feuding with Mankind over the next few months.  However this PPV had almost no good wrestling and a few of these tournament participants had no business vying for the company's top championship.  If you're going to have a tournament for the World Title, there should be few to no filler contestants.

Ok, that was a good swerve.

As I said, it's hard to even grade this show as a wrestling card.  It was really more of an extended angle meant to set up The Rock as the new top heel and create new obstacles for Steve Austin to overcome on his way to regaining the Championship.  Much like a suspense thriller with a crazy twist ending, you watch it the first time for the initial mindfuck, and watch it a second time to try and spot the clues you missed the first time.  There's usually very little rewatch value after that.

Best Match: The Rock vs. Mankind
Worst Match: Tough to say, maybe Steve Austin vs. Big Bossman?
What I'd Change: As with 'Mania 4, there were way too many matches here.  Make this an 8-man tournament (you could even have the qualifying round on RAW leading up to this) with Austin, Rock, Mankind, Taker, Kane, Shamrock, X-Pac, and Owen Hart.  Then there would only be seven tournament matches at the most and they'd have been a helluva lot better.  What were Snow, Regal, Bossman, or Gill doing in a World Title tournament?
Most Disappointing Match: Steve Austin vs. Mankind - this was far from their best meeting, and the ending was quite poorly executed.
Most Pleasant Surprise: The swerve - I literally did not see this coming.
Overall Rating: 4/10
Better than WrestleMania XIV and/or SummerSlam '98? - Not by damn sight.

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