WWE’s annual Thanksgiving-time supershow is upon us once again, so we asked a few of the Fight Game Media writers (and a few of our readers!) which Survivor Series stands out in their minds before the 34th installment this Sunday. Join us at FightGameMedia.com Sunday evening at 6:00 p.m ET for live coverage of Survivor Series 2020.
JD Oliva, Novelist and Fight Game Media Staff Writer: Survivor Series 1992
After eight years riding the Hulkamania wave, the World Wrestling Federation found themselves caught in the middle of a cultural shift. Gone were the ring-monsters that defined the 1980s; in their place came a generation of workers that relied on in-ring prowess and skill. Even the super-event itself, a collection of 8- and 10-man tag matches, had morphed into a more traditional pro wrestling program for the first time. The double main event stood as a crossroad between old and new.
The first main event at the ’92 Series featured a continuation of an story that had dominated WWF programming that year. Randy Savage and Ric Flair began a rivalry over the WWF title earlier that year, and the two had traded the belt back and forth. This would be their final confrontation as Flair teamed with newly arrived Razor Ramon (Scott Hall), instantly establishing him as a main event talent. Savage was supposed to team with his former rival, The Ultimate Warrior. However, when the Warrior left the company in the weeks leading up to the show, Savage offered the spot to the retired Mr. Perfect, who managed Flair. Perfect accepted and ended his first retirement.
In the second main event, the newly-minted WWF Champion Bret “The Hitman” Hart would defend the title against Intercontinental Champion, and a man with whom Hart would be forever-linked, Shawn Michaels. The two showcased as younger, more athletic style match than WWF audiences were used to seeing, and it would take a while for fans to adjust. By the time the two would have their career-defining rematch on the same show five years later, they had become responsible for a massive shift in the business.
This story in the double main event led to the bigger story of wrestling’s great change in the ’90s. One match was dominated by three men who were cornerstones of pro wrestling in the late-’80s, while second showcased two competitors whose rivalry would come to define the promotion later in the decade.
Darren Wadsworth, Fight Game Media reader: Survivor Series 1989
I can imagine that today a show like the third Survivor Series would have the hardcore wrestling fanbase clustering around the virtual water coolers, aka message boards, in bemusement. Wrestling podcast hosts would be shaking their heads and ranting about “Why should anyone care about a show where there are literally no stakes? No titles on the line? No stipulations? No consequences? What exactly do you gain by surviving a match? WHAT IS THE POINT??”
Survivor Series 1989 was all about grudges. Each team captain was locked in a bitter feud with the rival teams captain, but their teammates had no less heated scores to settle. Randy Savage and Jim Duggan may have been the big rivalry in their team’s match, but Ronnie Garvin and Greg Valentine were also at war. Dusty Rhodes and Big Bossman were the main issue in their match, but fans were just as ready to see former tag partners Santana and Martel going at each other. Fans would get to enjoy current feuds, throwbacks to old rivalries and the rare sight of single and tag team wrestlers clashing with each other, so many potential matchups in each contest, (or 16 per match if you want to get mathematical about it.)
The matches themselves were fast paced and lively (aided by wrestlers being able to go all out the brief times they were in the ring), with a good storytelling flow that was given time to develop. Eliminations were creative and were all built towards very well and felt earned, very unlike the rushed, unconvincing, rip off pinfalls that would soon come to mar the “traditional Survivor Series matches” in later years. The wrestling on the show may not have scored highly in the Wrestling Observer (three of the five matches scored two stars or less), but there were some good bursts of action. Snuka and Hennig exchanged fast paced reversals that blew my mind (granted, this was before I saw Steamboat vs Savage), Arn Anderson and Shawn Michaels worked their arses off in carrying their match, and there was a cracking pop of anticipation for when Savage found himself facing Bret Hart, despite the Canadian still been essentially a midcarder.
Rewatching Survivor Series 1989, I still find it a fun show. Although the wrestlers on that show are nowhere near the calibre of what we see today, there is a refreshing aura of spectacle and combatants that seem larger than life. Also, there is a real sense that each match is important, even if it is just as simple as wanting to kick the crap out of the other gang.
CJ Tappin, Fight Game Media reader: Survivor Series 2006
I was on family vacation on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast when my mother bought me a copy of the Survivor Series 2006, my first ever WWE DVD. It stood out as I browsed the rack. The cover sports a big skull with WWE Champion John Cena drawn into the middle of the forehead, with ECW Champion Big Show to his right and World Heavyweight Champion King Booker (or Bookah!, if you will). This was incredibly cool to eight-year-old me.
If collecting DVDs was still as prominent today was it once was, I like to think I’d have hundreds and hundreds, but today almost every match ever is just a small amount of clicks or finger-taps away.
This event is the reason why I have a soft spot for the Thanksgiving-tradition. The personal significance of Survivor Series ’06 is what made being in Staples Center for Survivor Series ’18 feel so special.
As an eight-year-old, I didn’t understand the significance of Dusty Rhodes, Ric Flair, Ron Simmons and Sgt. Slaughter teaming up. Although if I was my current self when in the build-up to this match, I probably would’ve groaned thinking “These guys are too old, and they’re just going to bury the Spirit Squad,” which is exactly what they did. It came down to Ric Flair, less than two years away from his first retirement, being the sole survivor for the Legends team by overcoming three male cheerleaders
Chris Benoit and Chavo Guerrero had a solid wrestling match, the work in which I now appreciate tenfold. The storyline for this match, however, was in poor taste, as the two shoot-friends were feuding over an issue that exploited the death of Chavo’s uncle and Benoit’s best friend Eddie Guerrero (RIP).
This show had some low-key significant moments throughout, like the last match of Lita’s career until 2012 dropping the Women’s Championship to Mickie James*, and the WWE PPV debut of CM Punk. The fifth member of Team DX (Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Jeff Hardy, Matt Hardy & Punk), the crowd chanted for Punk and only Punk despite being in the ring with four then-future hall of famers. They murked the heel Team Rated-RKO of Edge, Randy Orton, Johnny Nitro, Mike Knox and Gregory Helms. This was my first proper exposure to CM Punk (I wasn’t an ROH mark as an eight-year-old in Australia). This match was later brought up in a very memorable verbal joust between CM Punk and Triple H in 2011.
*We don’t talk about the Hoe-Sale. If you know, you know.
Mr. Kennedy won a First Blood match against the Undertaker which was pretty forgettable before the third traditional elimination tag team match. The babyface team in this semi-main event was almost stacked enough for me to soil myself at the time. John Cena, Bobby Lashley, Rob Van Dam, Kane & Sabu beat the heel team of Big Show, Finlay, M.V.P., Test and Umaga. Cena & Lashley together at that time was like a mid-200s mega-powers. Cena ended it by hitting the FU (oh how I miss that name) on a much bigger Big Show and he survived with Lashley. I would’ve watched this match so many times as a youngster.
In the main event, real-life rivals Batista and King Booker tangled over the World Heavyweight Championship. This match was the culmination of Batista’s odyssey back to the championship that no one ever beat him before when he had to surrender the belt after an injury earlier that year. Batista won this match, the longest on this show clocking in at 13:58.
With nothing on the show surpassing 15 minutes, it flies by. I love Survivor Series. This show is a big reason why.
Garrett Gonzales, Fight Game Media Head Honcho: Survivor Series 1991
The year 1991 was the year when my wrestling fandom was at its peak. I watched everything. It was also the year in which I was able to find information about the business. I wasn’t a subscriber to the Wrestling Observer yet, but I was finding information by listening to radio shows at weird hours of the night and through what was called the Cable Radio Network.
Andy Marshall, Fight Game Media Staff Writer: Survivor Series 1998
One year later, and at the height of Vince Russo’s creative control in the then-WWF, was Survivor Series 1998, featuring the Deadly Game one-night tournament to crown a new world champion. I was 11 years old when this show aired, and I remember coughing up some of my well-deserved birthday money to purchase the show. Pay-per-views back then were *only* $30.
So with it being the first show I ever bought, I wanted my money’s worth. The story of the night was Vince McMahon seemingly pulling the strings to have his handpicked competitor, Mankind, walk away with the gold. I had always been a Mick Foley fan, and was really hoping he would somehow win. Of course, the favorite to win was “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who the McMahons were out to screw at every turn. They eventually succeeded in getting an 11-year-old Andy to curse out loud as Shane McMahon turned on Austin to help eliminate him from the tournament and put Mankind in the finals.
This was also a star making performance from The Rock, who was a glimmer of hope after Stone Cold’s early elimination. He would face The Big Boss Man, Ken Shamrock, and finally The Undertaker before meeting Mankind in the finals.
What happened next makes a lot more sense to me 22 years later, but at the time had me extremely confused. The Rock would put Mankind in a Sharpshooter, and in the first of many, many recreations of Montreal, Vince McMahon rang the bell despite no submission and awarded the tournament and vacant championship to The Rock.
At the time, I felt pretty cheated. Looking back, it’s clear they had set out to do something as impactful as Montreal but without anyone’s actual feelings getting hurt.
Well, except mine. You know how much $30 is to an 11-year-old?