Well, this is a fairly predictable list of Survivor Series PPVs you might say. And I have no problem with that. This is not my favourite of the gimmick PPVs and of the old ‘big four’ is the weakest, in my view. That said, it is home to one of wrestling’s most important angles (if you can call it that) – the Montreal Screwjob – and was the debut ppv for The Undertaker, one of wrestling’s most important performers. So, clearly I don’t know what I’m talking about.
My list is in chronological order. I’ve chosen not to rank this list because it is clear, even to the most casual of wrestling fans, that some of these events were better in terms of quality of wrestling, angles, build and feel than others, but I’m only arguing why I prefer these five, not why they might be ‘the best’ or better than any others.
Survivor Series 1990
This may have been the first WWF VHS that I owned. I remember watching it over and over, particularly the main event. But it wasn’t what I thought wrestling was and it confused me for a while. Men eliminated others in mass 4-on-4 teams was odd and nobody seemed to be defending titles. But being confused is part of life and the more confused I get, the more enlightened I feel.
This Survivor Series saw the on-screen WWF debut of The Undertaker, who went on to become WWF Champion at the next ppv, a year later. He scared the hell out of me then and did for at least another six months – his ability to absorb pain looked so real. Surely he was being hurt by all these moves so even if he was acting, he was still in pain, right? It blew my tiny mind. It was also the debut of the Gobbledy Gooker and his appearance highlights that this ppv was originally a Thanksgiving event that was all about the pomp and ceremony that comes with it. Sgt. Slaughter – who had been using an Iraqi sympathiser heel gimmick – cut a promo where he insulted servicemen stationed in Iraq for Thanksgiving during Operation Desert Shield. Even to English fans who were as young as I was, this was like stabbing the baby Jesus doll in the nativity play in the eyes with pins.
At this point, one of my heroes, Randy Savage, was the ‘Macho King’. A gimmick that I hated. I was going to love him; I just didn’t know it yet. Savage was interviewed by Gene Okerlund, and issued a challenge to the Ultimate Warrior for the WWF Championship. This was the set up for a fantastic feud and match.
I also remember the commentary – Monsoon and Piper were good together but it made me love wrestling even more when I discovered Bobby Heenan the following year.
Survivor Series 1997
I don’t really feel qualified to write about Survivor Series 1997. Nor do I want to add to the millions of column inches that are already in existence with the story of the ppv in my words. It seems utterly facile for me to discuss it and fairly pointless. Sorry.
What I will say, though, is that Bret losing, and his not expecting to, was nuts. Watching it, one assumed that it was a work, just a very good one, at first. Then you had that wonderful feeling that wrestling gives you sometimes when you feel like you may be witnessing something off script, something real. The more Bret stomped around the ring, the more he looked disgusted, the more you realised that he was serious. His spit in Vince’s face looked like a work, his facials looked worked, Jim Neidhart’s kind arm around his waist looks like acting but then Hart writes ‘WCW’ in the air and you realise it’s authentic. So, why leave the cameras running to film it all? It was a huge minefield that I didn’t get but I loved it all the more for being so.
This was the most important moment in WWE history happened at Survivor Series 1997 and that’s all you need to know.
Survivor Series 2001
There’s a lot to love about this ppv. It had a consistent theme – matches had tangible results, they meant something. Vince is tremendous throughout, the card top to bottom is great, JR and Paul Heyman on commentary are a fantastic duo (even though they clearly hate each other) and this is a ppv still within reach of fantastic era for this company.
There are few better than Jim Ross and he and Heyman are such fun to listen to as we’re taken through the show. It is before the days of the three different announce teams representing each ‘brand’ and so Heyman and Ross bicker like siblings – my favourite line from Heyman is when he points out that if WCW were to take control Ross would be out of a job, “wouldn’t this be like the third time you’ve been fired?” Ross just carries on calling the action. But later Ross retorts to a quip about Stacey Keibler with, “you’re a very lonely man, aren’t you?” Its wonderful stuff.
Edge wrestles a good match against Test as does Christian against Al Snow in the opener while there’s a fantastic cage match to unify the tag titles between The Hardy’s and The Dudley’s – “D’Von? Get the tables!”
There’s never been a better collection of WWE Superstars in a Survivor Series main event in history, in my view: The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane, Chris Jericho, The Big Show, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Kurt Angle and Shane McMahon. There aren’t many missing from that list. And it isn’t just a case of ‘if we all turn up, this will be good’. The main event delivers in many ways, wrestling included.
It was also a big night for Trish Stratus as she won a Six Pack Challenge to win her very first Women’s Championship and started on the road to being a legitimate wrestling superstar. It was a merciful end to the sometimes embarrassing and confusing WCW-ECW invasion storyline.
Just one closing thought (and this makes me shudder): listening to Steph on this show, it’s clear that her normal speaking voice has dropped about an octave. Now, why is that…?
Survivor Series 2002
With not a bad match on the card, a hot New York crowd, the debut of the Elimination Chamber and Michaels’ return, this ppv is tremendous. It is fun from the outset but gets better and more intense as it progresses.
The opener sets the tone. Hardy, Bully and Spike put on a great demonstration of how tables ought to be used for the crowd against 3-Minute Warning and Rico. They kill themselves in some really crazy spots, presumably knowing full-well that they really needed to go some if they were to be remembered on this show.
The top three matches on the card are all very strong. The first sees Angle, the Guerreros, Mysterio, Edge and Benoit all in the ring together. It’s not just a great technical display, they really put on a good show too.
Big Show and Lesnar is a good short bout. I love how, even then, Lesnar made matches seem important and real. He works such a monster style that suits Big Show perfectly but still manages to German suplex and belly-to-belly the giant. When he F5’s him, it looks incredible: this man is ridiculously strong. The Heyman turn is no doubt about to be repeated in the next six months but can be forgiven.
They’re followed by the debut of the chamber which is nothing short of awesome, if, like Shawn’s neat bobbed haircut, completely brutal. RVD and Triple H take way too many bumps, Shawn is awesome and it lives up to all the hype because the components make it so.
Survivor Series 2007
I like this ppv for so many reasons. Just under six months after the Benoit tragedy, the WWE’s luck was not in. The roster dwindled as Bobby Lashley, who Vince was big on, and many others were injured. A shopping list of wrestlers had to miss the month of September for violating the company’s Wellness Policy after their names were uncovered in the media-wide steroid scandal. But, actually many looked the healthiest they had done in a long time: Orton and Ken Kennedy look really skinny around this time and yet they don’t now – just saying. Then in early October when John Cena was injured and had to vacate the WWE Championship after a 12-month title reign, it was time to panic. Or was it?
This ppv centred around the few top stars they had left on the active roster. Triple H and one of the main beneficiaries of this talent drought, Jeff Hardy, were the men to carry the load for traditional elimination bout for the evening and pad out the show’s mid-card. Yet it was the two main-event title bouts that raised this show above mediocrity and into something extraordinary.
Batista and Undertaker were amidst an excellent set of matches in 2007. At Mania, WWE discovered that the man to bring out the best in Batista was Taker and they milked it. Throughout 2007, they had a string of top-draw matches and by this point they were two apiece making this the blow off to settle it. Of course the absent centre was Edge, who made his return from injury (no doubt ahead of schedule) in the Cell dressed as a cameraman. Undertaker’s facials are brilliant when he realises what has happened.
Shawn Michaels, often the saviour of Survivor Series was called upon to save the day. Michaels had been off since May after Randy Orton had storyline injured him. Michaels sold so well in this matches and he had returned in October looking for revenge. The stip where Michaels couldn’t use his superkick was fun and Michaels explored it fully – the slightest wiggle of his left hip and Randy hit the deck or cowered, it’s beautiful.