Despite taking a noticeable dip in relevance, one of the WWE’s most iconic and long-lasting pay-per-views is Survivor Series, with its eponymous match type. Hosted every year, the match type has become a hub of storyline advancement, character cementation, and dream match-ups. However, as imaginable when a singular match relies on multiple participants, substitutions are not unlikely to occur for a multitude of reasons. Over the years, there have been many of these, enough to compile a retrospective on…
1987: Don Muraco (Replacing: “Superstar” Billy Graham)
The inaugural Survivor Series transpired in 1987 as an act of counterprogramming sabotage of the NWA’s Starrcade.
Early promotion of the match saw Hulk Hogan’s team with the lineup: Paul Orndorff, Bam Bam Bigelow, Ken Patera, and Billy Graham. Graham was already over-the-hill, at 44 – considerably old by the standards of the 1980s. A serious of health issues however saw the ex-WWF champion pulled from the match.
An angle on the November 14th edition of Superstars saw Graham triple teamed as Reverend Slick and Butch Reed held down Graham as One Man Gang hit him with multiple big splashes, sending the tie-dye Graham into his retirement. His position was filled by the man who ran in to help Superstar: Don Muraco.
The Rock – Muraco’s nickname, not Dwayne Johnson – scored an elimination in the match, eliminating Rick Rude, but his last-minute placement was not well-hidden with later promotional material showing Muraco on the far-left, with a completely different skin complexion.
1988: Scott Casey (Replacing: Junkyard Dog)
Funnily enough, after Muraco stepped in to replace Billy Graham, “Jumpin'” Jim Brunzell was forced to step in at the next year’s event as a replacement for Don.
A more odd appearance in 1988 was that of Scott Casey.
In a mid-card match, The Heenan face were set to battle the face contingent of Tito Santana, Ken Patera, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan, Jake Roberts, and Junkyard Dog. Yet JYD left the WWF beforehand. Brian Blair, formerly of The Killer Bees, took his place…until he also left.
Instead, WWF slotted in Scott Casey. Casey was a lower-card enhancement talent who beat fellow journeymen but failed against anyone above his status. If you want to know how relevant Casey was, he was announced as “Sam Casey”; he was eliminated second.
1989: Bobby Heenan (Replacing: Tully Blanchard)
1989’s event saw a fair few replacements such as Bad News Brown filling in for Akeem and The Widowmaker (Barry Windham) having his place taken by The Canadian Earthquake. The most significant however was in the main event.
In late 1989, The Brain Busters were on their way out of the WWF and on the way back to the NWA. Prior to this, they had a Survivor Series tag match in which the duo (Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard) would team up with Heenan Family cohorts Haku and Andre The Giant.
However, when tested for drugs, Blanchard failed and tested positive for cocaine. WWE washed their hands of him as NWA withdrew their deal, leaving Blanchard in career limbo.
Bobby Heenan served as a replacement whilst commentary made murmurs of descension within the family.
1990: The Undertaker (Replacing: Bad News Brown)
Again, 1990 saw a swathe of Survivor Series substitutions. Akeem left and was replaced in his match by Boris Zhukov, a smart move considering the anti-American foreign nature of the team, whilst Haku replaced “Ravishing” Rick Rude, who was kayfabe suspending for insulting The Big Boss Man’s mother whilst actually released over pay disputes with Vince McMahon.
The most important, without doubt, was Bad News Brown’s departure following not being made WWF’s first black champion as allegedly promised.
This opened a place on Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Team, which now consisted of himself, Honky Tonk Man, and Greg Valentine. Luckily, a certain red-headed, 6’10, ex-WCW star would make his first impression at the event in Brown’s place, with Brother Love at his side.
1991: Half A Mid-Card Match
1991 was the first Survivor Series with a singles match – with all other events featuring the namesake match – although there were still various Survivor Series matches.
A mid-card bout saw the faces earn a clean sweep in which Jim Duggan, Tito Santana, Texas Tornado, and Sgt Slaughter defeated The Berzerker, Colonel Mustafa, Hercules, and Skinner. The match was also the first traditional Survivor Series match to not feature any screwy finishes (disqualifications or count-outs).
Sgt Slaughter was a replacement for Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, who had been injured by Ric Flair and The Beverly Brothers. Also on that team, El Matador Tito Santana was a fill-in for Ricky Steamboat, then almost exclusively known as The Dragon, who had left after creative indifference from bookers.
On the opposing team, Hercules was a substitute for Big Bully Busick who had just left. Had he stayed, we would have seen the hairiest Survivor Series team of all time. There are also rumours The Barbarian may have been in the original line-up, perhaps replacing Busick originally.
Even the main event was changed as a four-on-four match main event was switched to a three-on-three as respective team leaders Jake Roberts was kayfabe suspended and Sid Justice had an elbow injury and thus both were removed.
1992: Mr Perfect (Replacing: Ultimate Warrior)
1991 saw the first non-Survivor Series match but by 1992, there was only one Survivor Series match on the bill. On this show, there was a kayfabe substitution as The Bushwhackers allowed the newly-face Nasty Boys to get revenge on Jimmy Hart’s Money Inc.
A real-life saga was that of The Ultimate Warrior. In 1992, at WrestleMania VIII, Warrior made a return to the WWF. This would be a short tenure as Warrior would be suspended up to Survivor Series, at which he was going to have a featured position in the main event.
Warrior would be suspended for failing a drug test. Amidst the Steroid Scandal, Vince could not risk promoting those taking performance-enhancing drugs so had to let Warrior go, losing out on his Mega Maniacs tag team bout when teaming with Randy Savage.
Mr Perfect turned face, going against Bobby Heenan and old ally Ric Flair to face The Nature Boy and Razor Ramon in Warrior’s place.
1993: Every Survivor Series Matches
At 1993’s event, every Survivor Series match had some form of substitution, whether kayfabe or shoot.
Mr Perfect left the WWF prior to the 1993 opener, taking some time off whilst collecting on a Lloyds Of London policy for injury. Ramon replaced him with “Macho Man” Randy Savage, with Ramon saying: “he tag[ged] out before the match starts.”
The Hart Family vs Knights match saw the heel team led by Shawn Michaels. The knights do not seem suited to Michaels, as they weren’t – being originally scheduled to tag with Jerry Lawler. The King had legal battles after accusations of sexual assault on a minor, although later dropped. The knights too were originally going to be unmasked and played by Jimmy Snuka, Greg Valentine, and Terry Funk, the latter of whom backed out due to his sick horse. The Hammer remained alongside knights portrayed by Jeff Gaylord and Barry Horowitz.
In one of the worst matches the WWF ever put on, called “f*cking horrible…worse than horrible” by Bruce Prichard, four Doinks wrestled in a Survivor Series tag match against Bam Bam Bigelow’s team. None of the participants were the real Doink (Ray Apollo), who only appeared via video. Apollo had not wrestled in the guise, not wanting to jeopardise the character in its new portrayal.
Both sides in the main event saw kayfabe replacements. On the face side, Tatanka was incapacitated and substituted for The Undertaker, who opened up a Betsy Ross flag in his coat. The heels saw Quebecer Pierre ousted after being injured by Lex Luger following being hit by his steel-plated, bionic forearm. Pierre was the subject of a Survivor Series substitution on a team – called The Foreign Fanatics nonetheless – by Crush…the Hawaiian.
1994: Sione (Replacing: Samu)
1994 saw few Survivor Series substitutions, at least compared to previous years.
About a month prior to Survivor Series, Samu of The Headshrinkers left the WWF to heal from injuries. In place, The Barbarian – going under real forename Sione – became a Headshrinker, taking Samu’s place in a Survivor Series tag bout in which The Bad Guys (Razor Ramon, The Headshrinkers, The Kid & The British Bulldog) wrestled The Teamsters (Diesel, Shawn Michaels, Jeff Jarrett, Jim Neidhart & Owen Hart).
Sione was eliminated in the match by Diesel, who the WWF were keen on pushing.
Sione did not entirely fit with the gimmick of a savage, placed in the team seemingly due to being born on the island of Tonga. Failing to wrestle barefoot, the gimmick switch was made so The Headshrinkers tried wearing boots whilst wrestling. The substitution was one caused by necessity and not just for the match but for the long term.
1995: The Kid (Replacing: Jean-Pierre Lafitte)
1995’s event opened with a tag match in which The BodyDonnas beat The Underdogs team.
For the match, The Kid turned heel the previous week, joining “The Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Corporation. His turn was also partly to slot him into the heel team in the curtain-jerker, replacing Jean Pierre Lafitte.
For the uninitiated, Jean-Pierre Lafitte was a pirate character portrayed by Pierre Ouellet (PCO and Pierre of The Quebecers), most famously putting on a “show saver” – in the words of Dave Meltzer – at In Your House 3: Triple Header in which he faced rival Bret Hart.
In November, Jean-Pierre left for a hernia surgery, for which he would not return.
The book Titan Sinking: The Decline Of The WWF In 1995, the book describes that “On November 10 1995…Lafitte wrestled his last match in the WWF. He had become sick of the backstage politics and wanted out. Ultimately, The Kliq had got the last laugh and defeated him.”
Only nine days later at Survivor Series, insult was added to Pierre’s injury as his Survivor Series substitution was a Kliq member, the same group that had kicked him out. That said, The Kid did aid the match and ended as the sole survivor of the match.
Conversely, The Kliq outsider Avatar (Justin Credible) was taken out and replaced, with Bob Holly placed in after he had allegedly threatened a walkout over his lack of screentime.
1996: Jake Roberts (Replacing: Mark Henry)
In 1996, hot off the Summer Olympics, the WWF signed Mark Henry to a near-unprecedented guaranteed contract with a 10-year deal for $2.5 million.
In 1996, The World’s Strongest Man had his first major feud, fighting Jerry “The King” Lawler. After In Your House 10: Mind Games, Henry suffered a serious leg injury that would shelve the Olympian for a year.
Henry’s absence was explained by an on-screen injury after beating the heel contingent of his scheduled Survivor Series opponents. A replacement was thus needed on Marc Mero’s team. Whilst the debuting Rocky Maivia may be who is first assumed as the substitution, the substitution was Jake “The Snake” Roberts.
Jake had already been off the road for a short time but the substitution made sense considering his feud earlier that year with The King Of Memphis.
Roberts got a measure of revenge, eliminating Lawler and lasting over 20 minutes before elimination by Crush.
1997: Steve Blackman (Replacing: The Patriot)
1997’s Survivor Series was most famous for its main event controversy, with the event taking place in the city of Montreal nonetheless. Yet Canada also featured on the earlier card with a Canada versus America clash.
In a mid-card bout, Team Canada (which consisted of only one Canadian: Phil Lafon, alongside Douglas Furnas, Jim Neidhart, and The British Bulldog) faced off against an American team featuring Vader, Goldust, and Marc Mero. Originally, The Patriot would be on the team but an injury would see him replaced.
The oddball American team instead added Steve Blackman. Originally working for the WWF in the 1980s before life-altering events delayed his debut, The Lethal Weapon debuted six days before Series, helping The Mastodon Vader after an assault by The Hart Foundation.
Blackman still needed to adjust to both the modern style and his new gimmick so was not kept in the match long. Keeping him strong, he was counted out after five minutes, in the match’s first elimination.
The Patriot never returned to the WWF whilst Blackman become one of the more praised lower-card acts of the Attitude Era.
1998: Big Boss Man (Replacing: Triple H)
1998 was the first Survivor Series event without a traditional tag match on the card as the PPV was built around the Vince Russo’s ‘Deadly Games’ tournament for the WWF championship.
An opening match in the first round of the bracket pitted old rivals against each other as Triple H was set to face The Rock. Respective leaders of DX and The Nation Of Domination, the two memorably clashed at SummerSlam earlier that year in an iconic Intercontinental title ladder match.
Unfortunately, the future Game would be sidelined by injury with a knee injury. Stooges Patterson and Brisco came out instead to Triple H’s theme, hilariously crotch-chopping as they way to the ring. They announced there would be “no forfeit” as The Brahma Bull would be forced to wrestle The Big Boss Man – who had already been eliminated from the tournament earlier that night.
The Rock immediately performed an inside cradle and pinned Boss Man in four seconds.
1999: Big Show (Replacing: Steve Austin)
The Big Show in WWE, just like in WCW, became an afterthought surprisingly quickly after debut.
By November 1999, Big Show was feuding with Big Boss Man, leading to a Survivor Series tag match in which both men led opposing teams. The match would be the shortest traditional Survivor Series tag match of all time. Pre-match, Big Show beat up teammates Kai En Tai and The Blue Meanie, wanting to wrestle alone.
Show was dominant, eliminating Viscera, Mideon, and Albert within a minute before winning the match with ease as Big Boss Man opted for a count-out loss.
Big Show was subsequently slotted as a surprise into the main event.
For weeks, the WWF knew “Stone Cold” Steve Austin would not be able to compete but still advertised a Rock/Austin/HHH triple threat bout for Survivor Series. At the event, the WWF booked an angle where The Texas Rattlesnake was hit with a car and ruled out of the match, kickstarting a year-long storyline. Big Show was the replacement and actually went on to have a brief run with the title belt.
2000: K-Kwik (Replacing: X-Pac)
Via Cultaholic, it has been put forward that the recently-debuted K-Kwik, who debuted just few weeks prior, was a last minute Survivor Series 2000 replacement for X-Pac.
The team consisted of the DX mid-card elsewhere with the former 1-2-3 Kid absent from a lineup featuring Billy Gunn, Road Dogg, and Chyna. Indeed, the slapdash nature of the team comprising Dogg and Kwik was perhaps to quickly establish a substitute member as quickly and logically as possible.
A month before the show, X-Pac sustained a neck injury, shelving him from the encounter, not returning until the Royal Rumble, by which time DX was a far memory, with Road Dogg gone and X-Pac going on to eventual create the X-Factor stable.
In the Survivor Series match, the de facto DX lost to The Radicalz with K-Kwik eliminated third.
Funnily enough, injured again the next year, the crotch-chopping striker was replaced in a scheduled match with Tajiri by William Regal.
2001: Big Show (Replacing: Vince McMahon)
Considering the storyline significance of the Survivor Series 2001 main event – the culmination of the Invasion storyline – it should not be surprising the boss was originally scheduled to compete, standing opposite his son.
Naturally, Shane McMahon would be one of anyone’s choices for the frontline of WCW/ECW talent during this era. Vince was originally set for the match too, representing the WWF. This was not out of the blue considering Vince had wrestled four times previous the same year, with his last match three weeks prior to Survivor Series in a street fight against Shane-O-Mac.
Vince was apparently injured by the time of the PPV, perhaps in the aforementioned match although that is not for certain. Instead, Vince subbed in The Big Show.
The World’s Largest Athlete was eliminated first. Show was fledgling in 2001 prior to this; he had short-lived go-nowhere tag teams with Billy Gunn, Spike Dudley, and Tajiri to show his positioning at the time.
2002: Big Show (Replacing: Hulk Hogan)
Big Show seemed to always be the second pick, having been so all three times he appeared at the event over from 1999-2002. This is also the second time he was substituted to win the WWF title, meaning his only two WWF title wins were the result of being a second choice in either kayfabe or shoot.
On the August 8th 2002 edition of SmackDown, WWE Undisputed champion Brock Lesnar surprisingly demolished Hulk Hogan on the night, forcing him into a state of bleeding unconscious with a vicious bearhug. Now a dream match, the result was huge – so much so that The Beast afterward smeared Hulk’s blood across his own chest.
Although uncharacteristically generous around this era (giving clean losses to other opponents with The Rock and Kurt Angle springing to mind), Hogan was seemingly not too up for a second loss to Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series as was the plan.
In Brock Lesnar’s book Death Clutch: My Story of Determination, Domination, and Survival, he writes: “My next opponent after Undertaker was originally supposed to be Hulk Hogan. […] Vince wanted to do a story line where Hogan was looking to settle the score, and the Lesnar vs. Hogan match would air live from Madison Square Garden as the main event of Survivor Series 2002. I would be headlining yet another pay-per-view. Vince wanted Hogan to look really good, but fall short of beating me for the title. I guess the ol’ Hulkster didn’t like that idea too much, and next thing I know, we were going with Plan B…the Big Show!”
Hogan would not return until the next year, starting the Mr. America storyline.
2003: John Cena (Replacing: Faarooq)
Originally, the 2003 match pitting Kurt Angle’s team vs Brock Lesnar’s was set to see Ron Simmons before he was substituted for John Cena.
Simmons would thus team alongside APA teammate John Bradshaw Layfield. However, WWE aired an injury angle where Big Show and Brock Lesnar injured the knee of the first African-American world champion with a chain, giving a kayfabe explanation for his writing out of the match.
In real-life, he was taken out as a way to push his replacement: John Cena. Cena had just turned face, rejecting the advances of SmackDown General Manager Paul Heyman to join Lesnar’s team. After rejecting their proposal, John was jumped by A-Train. As to why Simmons was removed over JBL, it may be to do with JBL having more involvement in the match – which would be saying something considering he lasted less than a minute before elimination.
In the match. Cena went on to be a survivor alongside Chris Benoit who overcame the extraordinarily beefy alliance of Brock Lesnar, Big Show, A-Train, Matt Morgan, and Nathan Jones. Interestingly, Cena had attacked Benoit in an unaired segment on the go-home SmackDown, with its pulling due to it going down as well as “an old man’s erection” according to one online writer.
2004: John Cena (Replacing: Rey Mysterio)
In 2004, John Cena’s return saw him oust Mysterio from a traditional four-on-four tag.
The long-lasting Eddie Guerrero vs Kurt Angle rivalry was to see both men captain respective teams. It was on the October 28th SmackDown that Theodore Long announced that facing the Olympian’s team was the fatal foursome of Guerrero, Big Show, Rob Van Dam, and Rey Mysterio. At the time, the WWE were building to a Mysterio/RVD tag team, although they would not win the titles until a month after the PPV.
A week after announcing the participants, Rey was instead placed in a fatal four-way bout in which he would challenge (unsuccessfully) for the Cruiserweight championship. Long gave Guerrero a chance to replace the luchador and did so with a returning Cena.
Although Rey was replaced for Cena, the Franchise (not Shane Douglas) would do little in the match although he would scare off competitor Carlito Caribbean Cool before the match.
2005: Randy Orton (Replacing: Eddie Guerrero)
Although qualifying for the match after beating Mr. Kennedy, tragically, Eddie Guerrero would pass away before getting to Survivor Series.
Latino Heat would pass away two weeks beforehand, dying aged 38 in his hotel room as a result of acute heart failure. The next few weeks saw very touching tributes to Guerrero on WWE television, showing how beloved Eddie was to Vince McMahon, the WWE, and the wrestling world at large.
His Survivor Series substitution was Randy Orton, who became the second person to be a three-time sole survivor – doing so in 2003, 2004, and 2005 – after The Ultimate Warrior. It is for this reason and others that The Viper has been cited as perhaps the most successful Survivor Series competitor in the match history’s entirety.
2006: Ron Simmons (Replacing: Roddy Piper)
Despite being in his 50s at the time, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper made a triumphant return to WWE in 2006, going on to turn back the clock with a World Tag Team title win alongside real-life friend Ric Flair, ending the Spirit Squad’s reign; with the Spirit Squad’s being the longest tag title reign of the 21st century at that point.
Piper was limited, due not only to his ageing but also his ill health, namely a diagnosis of Hodgkin’s lymphoma, something Bruce Prichard has claimed was known about before the title win.
With the industry-rattling Scotsman out of the picture, Ron Simmons was called in. Faarooq was an odd choice, looking like a bizarre replacement, which is not to discredit the former WCW World Heavyweight champion but he certainly peaked later than his ‘80s cohorts.
Simmons was counted out but was on the winning side.
2007: Nobody (Replacing: Matt Hardy)
In 2007, WWE took an unlikely approach, choosing no-one to substitute for Matt Hardy.
In a kayfabe injury, Matt was said to be out of action due to an injury at the hands of then-rival Montel Vontavious Porter (MVP) on SmackDown. This whittled down the participants into a four-on-five handicap Survivor Series tag.
As to why, it would further the underdog storyline for the babyfaces whilst also allowing a gauge for the popularity of Jeff for a potential top solo run.
2008: Edge (Replacing: Jeff Hardy)
Edge may use his Ultimate Opportunist gimmick for heat but the use of this in 2008 just had fans enraged and embittered.
Following on from last year’s Jeff Hardy solo experiment, by 2008’s instalment, The Charismatic Enigma was now firmly in the main event scene, including PPV challenges to Triple H’s WWE championship. Unfortunately, WWE shoved in another character into this feud, the immobile rookie Vladimir Kozlov.
On the day of Survivor Series, WWE announced Jeff Hardy was found unconscious in his hotel room. Despite concerns, this was only a kayfabe reasoning albeit one that won the Wrestling Observer Newsletter’s 2008 award for the Most Disgusting Promotional Tactic – putting it on the same level as the blood-thirsty Saudi Arabia deal, the Reid Flair (Fliehr) death angle, and the 2005 Muhammad Hassan terrorist angle.
Kozlov and Triple H instead wrestled, excluding the one person everyone had bought the PPV to see. After a match about as exciting as it sounds, Edge arrived and due to his relationship with Vickie Guerrero, got preferential treatment and was allowed to get a relatively easy pass to the World Heavyweight title.
Hardy eventually showed but it was too little too late. The audience had nonetheless felt conned.
2011: Dolph Ziggler (Replacing: Christian)
After seemingly no substitutions in 2009 and 2010, we move to 2011.
During the 2011 rivalry between Randy Orton and Wade Barrett, the Englishman’s partner Captain Charisma was forced to pull out of the Survivor Series match, citing an ankle injury suffered during a European tour. On WWE.com, Joey Styles added: “The severity of the sprain has made it impossible for [Christian] to compete as a member of Team Barrett against Team Orton at Survivor Series.”
He was replaced by Dolph Ziggler, who was eliminated within two minutes. Despite this, the heel team won.
Fun fact: the next year, the roles were entirely reversed. Instead, Ziggler beat Orton, with Orton being the last one eliminated.
2012: Half A Mid-Card Match
A complex series of events caused big changes in the mid-card Survivor Series match which was to see Team Ryback face Team Punk.
By the time of the event however, both Punk and Ryback were pulled from the bout. Vince McMahon revoked then-Raw GM Vickie Guerrero’s decision to place Punk and Ryback in the elimination match rather than a title bout. Both men were pulled out and would instead wrestle in a triple threat at the PPV, also involving John Cena; The Shield formally debuted in that match.
Punk was replaced by Dolph Ziggler and Ryback replaced by The Miz, who himself had defected from the heel team. It is already complicated isn’t it? Anyway, the new captains were Ziggler and Mick Foley, the latter of whom did not compete but was the de facto manager.
Cody Rhodes was also taken out although that was down to a legitimate injury; Cody was both concussed and had an injured shoulder. He was replaced by David Otunga, who had been prominent earlier in the year due to his role as chief stooge to John Laurinaitis.
2014: Erik Rowan (Replacing: Sheamus)
In 2013, there were no Survivor Series substitutions despite Big Show’s insertion into a feud previously prominently-featuring Daniel Bryan.
In 2014, one of the most memorable Survivor Series matches in years took place when Team Cena took on Team Authority. On the face team, two members were taken out before the PPV by The Authority on-screen.
Firstly, and perhaps more significantly for storyline reasons, Sheamus was to team with Cena after The Authority had ensured he failed to recapture the US title from Rusev – with the faux Russian being on Team Authority. The Irishman was taken out however by old nemesis Mark Henry.
Also originally rubbing shoulders with Cena was Jack Swagger. Although announced to join the team on the November 10th Raw, he was removed that same night, with Wrestling Inc. reporting that it was due to “a storyline injury he suffered from the Seth Rolling Curb Stomps on Raw.”
Both men’s places were eventually filled with Rowan – and interesting choice considering recently separated partner Harper stood opposite – and Ryback. In a recent Reddit Q&A, Rowan stated he was only told he was joining the team before a commercial break and no one expected him to turn up in the segment.
2015: Dean Ambrose (Replacing: Seth Rollins)
2015’s Survivor Series is generally regarded as one of the worst wrestling PPVs in WWE history. A factor in its badness was through unfortunate circumstance, in particular, the scuppering of plans through an injury to world champion Seth Rollins.
On the 26th of October 2015 edition of Raw, Roman Reigns won a fatal four-way number one contendership match. The match with Rollins was even built up with a Survivor Series-esque five-on-five on Raw a week later, which ended inconclusively.
As fate would have it, two days later at a house show in Dublin, Ireland, Rollins legitimately torn his ACL, MCL, and medial meniscus during a match against Kane.
Due to the status of The Architect, the WWE World Heavyweight championship was vacated with a tournament held. In the end, Roman main evented against other ex-Shield brethren Dean Ambrose.
2016: Shane McMahon (Replacing: Baron Corbin)
2016 SmackDown Live was an exciting prospect, set to face Raw for the first time in many years, due to a brand extension that year.
One of the most pushed new faces on the brand was The Lone Wolf Baron Corbin, who was placed onto the team despite his penchant for solitary work.
On the November 8th 2016 SmackDown, Corbin made himself look a bit of a tit when walking on the apron, tripping and kayfabe injuring his knee. This injury was only exploited by Kalisto, who despite being the babyface, acted like a right deviant twat and continued an attack of the knee even after the match.
With Corbin out, GM Daniel Bryan put Commissioner Shane McMahon into the match. This protected Corbin somewhat whilst giving an excuse for Shane to put in an effort for the match.
Following Corbin’s kayfabe injury, McMahon was actually injured in the match. Shane was clear-as-day knocked into a loop after a slightly mistimed spear from Roman Reigns. A glazed-eye Shane was ruled out by TKO in the match.
2017: AJ Styles (Replacing: Jinder Mahal)
On the November 7th 2017 edition of SmackDown, AJ Styles defeated Jinder Mahal to capture the WWE championship in Manchester, England in the first ever WWE championship switch outside of North America.
The reason for the abrupt switch two weeks before Survivor Series? Brock Lesnar did not want to work a main event programme with Jinder Mahal. This makes sense, after all, Jinder had been in a lower mid-card hellhole just half a year earlier.
According to Dave Meltzer on the Wrestling Observer Newsletter: “You know why they did that? Because Brock did not want to work with him [Jinder Mahal].” The story has since been corroborated by Road Dogg, who elaborated this on The Wrestling Outlaws podcast.
Some accounts even have John Cena as the guest referee. Nonetheless, it was best for all that it occurred like this, with Brock working better with smaller talents and Styles was a much bigger star for a sellable dream match.
Other changes on the night include the Survivor Series substitution of Jason Jordan in the five-on-five Survivor Series tag for Triple H and the swapping of Charlotte and Natalya after Flair beat The Queen Of Harts for her SmackDown women’s title.
2018: Charlotte Flair (Replacing: Becky Lynch)
2018 saw a reversal of the previous year with AJ Styles dropping his WWE title after a year to a heel-turning Daniel Bryan. Bryan’s heel turn and clunky positioning in a match against fellow heel Lesnar was to avoid another Styles/Lesnar title match. The encounter between The Beast and The Goat – a la South Park’s man-bear-pig – is now highly-regarded including by wrestling commentators, such as Adam Blampied.
More interesting though is the tale of Becky Lynch and Ronda Rousey at Survivor Series.
See, had WWE had there way, it would run like this: Becky Lynch turns heel at SummerSlam, Lynch loses to face Ronda, Ronda loses to Charlotte at WrestleMania. However, the fans were having absolutely none of that; sick of Charlotte and irritated by Ronda, a ginger-haired Irishwoman became the apple of fans’ eyes.
At SummerSlam, The Irish Lass-Kicker turned heel to rapturous applause from the crowd. Days before Survivor Series, a Raw/SmackDown brawled turned ugly when Nia Jax broke her nose, leaving Lynch’s face enveloped in blood – an accidental addition to the character in which Lynch, caked in blood, stood rebellious and rough even in the face of injury.
Flair was shoved in last minute, eventually losing to Rousey but only with a disqualification, thus protecting both.
It all worked out in the end as despite the powers that be holding her back, Lynch went on to main event WrestleMania 35, the first women’s main event, and win both the SmackDown and Raw Women’s titles.
2019: The New Day (Replacing: The Revival)
Despite the blockbuster 2019 event featuring a third brand (NXT), there is little evidence of much card movement on the show, with one notable exception on the pre-show.
A few weeks before Series, The New Day regained their SmackDown tag belts off of The Revival, just 54 days after Dash and Scott had beaten the team for the titles.
The reason the belts were put on the future FTR was due to their dissatisfaction in WWE, including them even giving in their notice as champions earlier in the year. Sportskeeda’s Tom Colohue states: “From what I’ve been told, they definitely raised concerns about the tag division. Changes have been made since and they are happier going forward with WWE now than they were.”
Considering the revilement of The Revival towards the WWE’s treatment of tag teams, it is likely they were not coaxed with a single title gift and certainly not with placement on the pre-show.
Although speculation, this may be the reason the reliable New Day were given back the championships, a team likely more than happy to compete off-PPV – even if Kofi Kingston had just come off a WWE title run. Linked to this, maybe it was a consolation prize for Kofi.
2020: Peyton Royce/Lacey Evans (Replacing: Dana Brooke/Mandy Rose)
WWE’s introduction of a women’s tag title belts sounded great on paper but in reality fell flatter than The Shockmaster.
In 2020, WWE ushered in a wealth of new slapdash tag teams, with the belts sometimes even used more as a storyline tool prop than prestige pieces of gold. Dana Brooke and Mandy Rose are an example of random tag teams, probably put together because they are similar in many ways, such as – and brace yourself for this – they are both blonde…and that is all!
More confusingly, The IIconics who were one of the only legitimate women’s tag teams were broken up in favour of a go-nowhere team featuring Peyton Royce and Lacey Evans.
Either way, when Brooke and Mandy were unable to compete in the 5-on-5 Survivor Series match, they were replaced by the new team of Royce and Evans, as announced by Adam Pearce.
2021: Sheamus (Replacing: Sami Zayn)
In 2021 on SmackDown, the self-proclaimed real Intercontinental Champion Sami Zayn was embroiled in a feud with Jeff Hardy. Once both men were announced to be on the Survivor Series team, Zayn demanded to Adam Pearce that The Charismatic Enigma should be removed, he ensured there would be no in-fighting by booking both in a match with only the winner entering the match.
Zayn’s loss meant he was taken out, eventually replaced by Sheamus, who won a fatal four-way to qualify. Zayn was rather unfairly plopped into a nothing 25-man battle royal, sharing the arse-end of the card with other undeservedly low-placed stars such as AJ Styles and Cesaro.
Other changes on the Survivor Series card saw Austin Theory replace kayfabe injured Rey Mysterio and Rey’s son Dominik changed for Bobby Lashley. On the women’s side, GM Sonya Deville substituted Aliyah with Toni Storm due to Aliyah’s allegiance with Sonya’s rival Naomi.