The Survivor Series. Behind only WrestleMania for longevity, and possibly also for big PPV moments. The debut of the Elimination Chamber in 2002, the Montreal Screwjob in 1997. Back in the day, it was the only time you could see large teams in elimination tag matches. Today, it’s the only time you can see the Superstars of Raw and Smackdown face off against each other… if you don’t watch any of the other shows where they face off.
In 2010, the WWE announced they were rebranding Survivor Series, but by the end of June it was back on the calendar. Eight years on, has the time come for the event to be dropped from the annual schedule? None of the matches or concepts revolve around survival anymore, with the focus of the brand vs brand elimination tag matches being tied more to bragging rights. Is Survivor Series, as a concept PPV, dead?
Debuting in 1987 thanks to the raging success of WrestleMania III, the Survivor Series was created to showcase Hulk Hogan versus Andre the Giant on PPV again. But rather than repeat the Mania main event, WWE chose to package the show as something their fans at the time weren’t familiar with.
For the first two years, it would be teams of five in the main events at least. In 1987, Andre teamed with One Man Gang (later The African Dream, Akeem), King Kong Bundy, Butch Reed and Rick Rude to take on his arch rival Hogan and his teammates Paul Orndorff (before the ‘Dorf turned on Hulk), Don ‘The Original’ “Rock” Muraco, original WWE Olympian Ken Patera and Bam Bam Bigelow. Interesting side notes: firstly, the very first SS also featured the very-first all-women’s match at the event. Also, Akeem and Hogan were the only two men to appear in both the first and second Survivor Series main events. Hogan would go on to headline three more.
Survivor Series stayed special for two more years, featuring only gang warfare, with the zenith coming in 1990 and the Ultimate Survivors match. That they only used this gimmick once is stunning. Survivors from each match through the night would meet in a heel versus face main event elimination tag match.
In 1991, the main event for the show (despite being in the middle of the card) saw Hogan lose his WWF World Heavyweight Championship to The Undertaker, with some help from Ric Flair and a chair. Sure, the night closed with a Survivor Series-style match – but it was 3-on-3, between IRS and The Natural Disasters against Big Boss Man with the Legion of Doom. Hardly what you’d call a main event.
The 1992 event was the first to feature just one measly Survivor Series-style match. Sadly, it was just two teams thrust together – the Nasty Boys helping the Natural Disasters get a win over Money Inc. and the Beverly Brothers. The main event that year was Shawn Michaels versus Bret Hart for the WWF’s top title – the one that didn’t end in a screwjob. The interesting side note from 1992 is the Nightstick on a Pole match, the first ‘On A Pole’ match featured at a WWF PPV. If anyone had enjoyed the foresight back then to look into the future and see Judy Bagwell on the pole, would they have stopped things before they started?
1993 saw the reintroduction of the elimination tag bouts, with all but one match (between the Heavenly Bodies and Rock ‘n’ Roll Express for the Smokey Mountain Wrestling tag title, of all things) being traditional Survivor Series matches. It would be the lowest ratings for a Survivor Series PPV to that point.
There were no elimination tag matches in 1998, with the event that year instead being a tournament for the vacant WWF Championship. The Rock was the sole survivor on the night, albeit with a hackneyed version of the Montreal Screwjob being brought into play, as McMahon called for the bell despite Mankind not submitting. The next time there would be no elimination tag matches on the card would be 2002. But at least that year saw the debut of the Elimination Chamber, so the notion of survival was not lost completely.
Thanks to the invasion angle, in 2001 we got Team WWF against Team Alliance, which now looks like a precursor to the Raw vs Smackdown matches we get today. Obviously those dropped for a while when the brand split died, but since its reintroduction in 2016, it’s been the sole focus of the show.
The idea of ‘survival’ being the point of the night is long gone.
One fix that could satisfy both the by-gone days and today’s thirst for head-to-head brand competition would be to have two or three elimination tag matches between wrestlers from their own shows, with the winners facing off in the main event Ultimate Survivors Raw vs Smackdown match. Alas, WWE seem content with pitching Survivor Series as an annual night of champion vs champion… leaving many to wonder what Night of Champions is supposed to be about.
At the end of the day, Survivor Series was born because they had a pairing in Hogan and Andre fans were dying to pay for, and only one national showcase PPV event. They needed to create this show. Today, the big event calendar for WWE is over-saturated. This causes the repetitive booking, which cripples audience investment. If it’s not going to be returned to a night of elimination-style tag matches, thus at least providing some relief from the constant repetition, then kill off the Survivor Series name, and call it what it is: Raw vs Smackdown. Or axe the event altogether, and give talent a much-deserved break around Thanksgiving. Survivor Series is dead. Your thoughts, comments, debate and discussion are welcomed below!