Doctor's Orders: The Doc's 25 Favorite Survivor Series Happenings (The Top 5)
By The Doc
Nov 24, 2013 - 10:06:38 AM
QUESTION OF THE DAY: What is your all-time favorite Survivor Series match or moment?
Survivor Series was once a favorite PPV amongst avid wrestling fans. I used to look forward to the Fall Classic every year, but it has been a long time since then. The last Survivor Series that I eagerly anticipated was all the way back in 2007. In recent years, it has become just another monthly show - a far cry from the prominent member of the WWE's Big 4. From 2009 to the present, Survivor Series has been almost unrecognizable compared to its past, barely scraping by on its reputation as the 2nd annual PPV ever produced by WWE. However, while I was rummaging through an old collection of items in my parents' attic a few days ago, I stumbled upon an old notebook with my childhood wrestling predictions. Though it was not the first PPV that I ever purchased, the 1996 Survivor Series was the first PPV predictions that I recorded. It brought back fond memories. In hoping that the 2013 Survivor Series will bring back some of the allure of the event's past, I thought I would look back on a few favorite moments. Perhaps it will help us all get into the spirit for a show that was once a calendar-marking occurrence.
(Doc's Note - This is a list of favorites; not a ranking of critical or other kind of success)
The Doc's 25 Favorite Survivor Series Happenings
For #11-#25, click here.
10- Bob Backlund vs. Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1994
I have always found the “Submission” match at the 1994 Survivor Series to be fascinating. The match type, in and of itself, has been used so sparingly in the Wrestlemania Era that seeing it on the marquee, alone, is enough to recognize the match as unique. Adding in that Bret Hart was arguably the best technical wrestler in modern lore ups the gimmick’s ante. Only a handful of wrestlers in the last thirty years have made it to the main-event predominantly using a tap out-inducing finisher as their primary means to victory (Flair, Bret, and Angle are the most prominent names that come to mind). Then, there was also Bob Backlund to consider…the same Bob Backlund who had made a career on being an Olympic style grappler who beautifully blended the pro and amateur games and the same Bob Backlund who had lost the WWE Championship during a similar match ten years prior to bell time against Hart. Backlund’s mastery of the Crossface Chicken Wing vs. Bret Hart’s excellently executed Sharpshooter.
I have stated that you cannot watch wrestling in a bubble. If you have no context to the Backlund vs. Hart match, then it makes it more difficult to appreciate it. On the surface, it is a 25-minute match with a 10-minute conclusion tacked on. The final 20% of the match features Bret laying on the mat locked in the Crossface Chicken Wing. It does, indeed, get a little tedious (no matter your frame of mind or historical context when viewing). One of the stipulations was that the only way to win was to have the representative in each man’s corner throw in the towel when he felt that his guy could not go on. British Bulldog was in Bret’s corner; Owen Hart was in Backlund’s corner. The stipulation came from Backlund having never lost the title, but his former manager having thrown in the towel when he was locked in Iron Sheik’s Camel Clutch just prior to Hulkamania’s birth. Put yourself in his character’s shoes. Owen was the wild card and part of what makes the match great. Those final ten minutes are spent watching him “agonize” over Bulldog being knocked out and unable to help his brother out of the dreaded Chicken Wing. The youngest Hart brother eventually convinced his mother to throw in the towel, costing Bret the title in the process. Owen’s face immediately afterward was priceless. He was so good at playing the annoying, jealous little brother.
Unfortunately, the WWE did not do a very good job of setting the tone prior to the wrestler entrances. There is no hype video on the Survivor Series DVD. So, to watch the match and not fully grasp all the little details is to miss the point.
9- “Ha! Batista Can’t Get Over” fan sign at Survivor Series 2004
Evolution was the last truly great stable in pro wrestling. It garnered a lot of criticisms during its heyday, accomplishing its primary goal of drawing the ire of wrestling fans. As recently evidenced by my detailed description of WWE business over the last decade, the era that heavily featured Evolution on Monday Night Raw was a lot more successful than people realize. I have fond memories of the group, led by Triple H and Ric Flair with Randy Orton and Batista being groomed along the way. Oh, how I would love to see CM Punk or another emerging top heel form a similar group that’s purpose is both to rule the wrestling world as the preeminent bad guys for a year or two and to teach and, ultimately position, new stars at the main-event level for years to come. It is a formula that works wonders about once every half-to-full decade. The Four Horsemen produced Lex Luger and Sting. Degeneration X produced Triple H. Evolution produced Batista and Orton.
The theme song stated, “The Evolution is a mystery.” Batista personified that statement throughout 2004. We never really knew what he was all about. In limited chances throughout the year, he failed to make a connection with the people. Though he was working with elite talents such as Chris Jericho, The Rock, Mick Foley, and Edge, he was not rising up to their level as a performer. It seemed to hit rock bottom when, during the 2004 Survivor Series main-event, the camera shot of the ring captured a fan holding a sign that read, “HA! Batista Can’t Get Over!” I have never forgotten that. I have tried to remind people of it because of how ironic it was just one month later. In November, Batista was a jacked up afterthought. In December, he was on the precipice of superstardom.
Because of how well the Evolution concept had worked in creating so much heat on Triple H as the overly dominant heel World Champion, all it took was a tiny glance at the World title belt from Batista to make the fans go crazy in their support of The Animal. Almost in an instant, Batista was transformed. Today, he is regarded as one of the greatest stars of his era. It was an astronomic shift from one month to the next. In my observations and studies of the Wrestlemania Era, I have never seen anything like that. The rest was history. He won the Rumble, beat Triple H at Wrestlemania 21, and captured peoples’ imaginations.
The irony of that signs still gets me to this day…
8- The Rock joins the Corporation as its champion in 1998
Shaping historical context has become sort of a hobby for me in the last several years. This column has given me the opportunity to look at things from so many different angles. I like to look inside of a wrestler’s mind with all the information available to me about his potential emotions going into a match. Take, for instance, The Rock circa the summer of 1998. He had just completed the climax of his Intercontinental Championship run, losing to Triple H in a classic Ladder match at Summerslam. Then, the WWE turned him into a babyface because the fans were practically begging them to. Despite DX being so popular and Triple H firmly positioned as the #2 babyface in the company behind Steve Austin, the WWE went forward with Rock’s change in allegiance from antagonist to fan favorite. I wonder what Rock was thinking. Part of me assumes that he liked the challenge… “The Rock’s gonna make history and overtake both of these jabronis on the babyface ladder.” He became insanely over, building a legitimate legion of seven figure fans to back-up his cocky, premature claim of “the millions” earlier in the year. I was one of them. I drew a picture of The Rock in shop class that got me plenty of razzing from my classmates. They knew their role and shut their mouths! (Sike. I was embarrassed). Nevertheless, I was rooting him on strongly during the 1998 Survivor Series “Deadly Game” WWE Championship tournament.
I believe that the decision to turn Rock heel on a dime when he was building so much momentum as a babyface was a brilliant move by a creative team that was firing on all cylinders. I also believe that the reason why The Rock was able to turn it on so well once he returned the dark side was that he was gaining confidence by the boatload with each passing week. Every “Rocky” chant confirmed that he was the #1 guy in the company, in Rock’s mind. Turning heel, at that point, was merely the opportunity to hold the title that stamped him with the company (and Vince McMahon’s real life and storyline) approval. The title was not a prop back then, despite the frequent title changes. It was the Holy Grail. To be the champion meant that you were “The Man.” The Rock became “The Man” at Survivor Series 1998; maybe not in everyone’s mind, but certainly his. During the most competitive period in pro wrestling history, with ratings and buyrates meaning a victory or loss in a fight for survival, The Rock became WWE Champion. Recall that WCW was still very much in the game in the fall of 1998. They were only a month removed from their last ratings victory when Survivor Series ’98 happened. Whoever was crowned champion very much mattered for the WWE.
I love historical context…
7- HBK carries Sycho Sid to great match at Survivor Series 1996
The notebook mentioned in the intro to this column was bought in anticipation of Survivor Series 1996. It was purchased to contain my very first set of WWE PPV predictions that I ever recorded. I thought that would be the night that HBK lost the title and I was correct, despite HBK being one of my two favorite wrestlers at the time. What compelled me to make that pick is something that little 12 year old me would have to be asked. I highly anticipated the match; that much I can readily recall. Sid and HBK were both babyfaces back then and the Sycho was getting over in a hurry. I distinctly remember him on the other end of a tug-of-war competition, to which he garnered much fanfare. The Madison Square Garden crowd had clearly grown tired of HBK’s babyface act, turning on him and favoring Sid. If you transported the same match to a 2013 MSG show, people in the IWC would claim Sid as an internet darling. Imagine that for a moment.
HBK vs. Sid was a great match. Somehow, some way, Michaels managed to carry Sid to a memorable encounter that fired on all cylinders. They did not miss a spot. Everything that they tried worked well. It was quite the impressive effort from them both. HBK was well known for his ability to work excellent bouts against bigger wrestlers, but kudos to Sid for stepping up his game. Sid never had a better match than he did that night. His bouts with Chris Benoit and Bret Hart were good, but Sid did something special at Survivor Series ’96. Perhaps it was the combination of the title change, the incredible New York crowd, and the motivation to try and live up to the match that Steve Austin and Bret Hart had just a few minutes prior. Whatever the reason, Sid vs. HBK is still one of the best bouts in the history of WWE’s Fall Classic.
I will boldly state that it was a more entertaining match than Bret vs. Austin. Do not mistake me – I am not stating that it was a better match. The story told in Bret vs. Austin was awesome and the technically-oriented battle is a match that I have rated as the best singles match in Survivor Series history. In terms of pure entertainment value, though? I would take HBK vs. Sid. At 20-minutes in length, it was an analogous action film to Bret vs. Austin’s Academy Award-winning drama.
6- WWE vs. The Alliance ends on a high note at Survivor Series 2001
Though history reflects back to the WCW/ECW Invasion and frowns, it would be remiss of me, personally, to discount its impact on my fandom. I have stated this in the past and I will restate it now – Steve Austin drove me away from the WWE for 18 very historically significant Attitude Era months. It was a phone call alerting me to the fact that WCW had been bought by WWE and was “invading” WWE that prompted me to tune into Monday Night Raw in June of 2001 for the first time since late 1999. Suddenly, Raw at my house became a summer-time hit for me and my friends. My buddy’s dad classically called during one such episode and told his son that he had pressed a button for the “American Online,” accidentally clicking on a program called “chick magnet” that – upon opening it – sent the screen into a flashy, colorful picture with words that were far more acceptable to write back then they are now. It was also a summer in which my would-be girlfriend was angered by my bringing her to the house with all the guys over watching wrestling. I don’t think I admitted to another girl that I was a wrestling fan for half a decade.
Needless to say, WWE vs. WCW provided for some good memories. Critically admonished as it may be today, the Invasion was a lot of fun back in 2001. Sometimes, it is good to remember what it was like to just be that old casual, Type B “habitual” fan that just enjoyed wrestling for what it was. WWE vs. WCW was absolutely awesome in that mindset. I thought that the feud had two high points – the first being Summerslam 2001 with Rock vs. Booker, Angle vs. Austin (in Stone Cold’s best and most believable heel outing), Hardy vs. RVD, and a host of inspired undercard matches) ; the second being the 2001 Survivor Series. It felt like something was at stake in that Elimination Tag match that concluded the Alliance’s quest to overtake the WWE. I think it was a good thing that I was just a regular fan back then, getting back into wrestling for the first time in a couple of years. I did not think much about Austin being on WCW’s side. I just remember thinking about how different The Rock was in late ’01 from how I remembered him in mid-1999. I recall wanting to see him beat (FINALLY) beat Austin in a situation that mattered. I reminisce to being enamored by Rob Van Dam. I consider that I used to think that Kurt Angle could do nothing but punch. At the end of the day, the WWE came out on top and I have watched wrestling every week for nearly thirteen years straight and I just completed a book about the Wrestlemania Era. So, the WWE vs. WCW feud did something right…
5- Bret Hart defeats Diesel for the title at Survivor Series 1995
An underlying story that no one talks about from the "New Generation" period in WWE was who actually led it. If you were watching back then, you might remember that it was Diesel that the WWE built the ad campaign around. Bret Hart, conversely, is the star that most fans remember as the top star of the post-Hogan, pre-Attitude era due to his consistency. There was a competition between them. Bret was the first man chosen to lead the WWE after the original wrestling boom unceremoniously ended, but the WWE was constantly searching for his replacement…or so it seemed. If you’ve read Bret’s book, he never comes right out and says “they were always trying to find someone more marketable that better fit the Vince McMahon mold,” but he more or less makes the implication (knowingly or not). As I’ve studied history and reflected back to my personal memories, it certainly did seem that way to me. However, the WWE always came back to Bret because he was the most reliable man for the job.
Kevin Nash, with his seven foot frame and natural charisma, was the WWE’s second attempt, by my estimation, to supplant Bret (Lex Luger was the first). Diesel gained a ton of traction as 1994 came to an end, showing himself capable in matches involving Bret and fellow members of the infamous “Kliq.” Bret overcame the Lex Express and regained the top spot in the company at Wrestlemania X, but they ushered him out of the way by Survivor Series 1994. A few nights later, they gave Diesel the ball in one of the great early examples of pushing a wrestler as a babyface when he wasn’t really ready for it. Bret was integrally involved in helping Diesel as the new face of the WWE, carrying him to an outstanding match at the 1995 Royal Rumble. Shawn Michaels – a future member of the “Bret Hart Replacement” club – did very well to aid in Diesel’s attempted success, too.
By Survivor Series 1995, the WWE realized that Diesel was not what they wanted him to be. He was a huge contributor to the organization, capable of playing the babyface or heel, but he never got over to the level that they expected of the top babyface…he never reached Bret’s level. In an effort to transition from Bret to Shawn, the WWE put the World title back on the Hitman so he could drop it to Michaels at Wrestlemania XII. Diesel put Bret over, first, giving Bret time to build momentum as the champion. In a memorable, innovative WWE main-event, Bret defeated Diesel in the third match in a 2-year PPV series dating back to King of the Ring 1994. Bret always had a knack for dramatically outlasting his challengers to being “The Man” in the WWE, perhaps never more famously than he did at the ’95 Survivor Series against Big Daddy Cool.
4- HBK completes his comeback at Survivor Series 2002
I did not officially join the community of the “Ultimate” fans until the final day of 2002. So, I was fortunate enough to experience two huge occasions in pro wrestling history through non-critical eyes. The first, of course, was Wrestlemania X-8’s Rock vs. Hogan match. The second, though, had as much personal meaning for me as any in the history of the business. Shawn Michaels was my favorite wrestler of the New Generation. His athletic array of classic matches captivated by imagination and gave me someone (along with Bret) to legitimately root for during a time in which, as of his retirement, I had become increasingly aware that wrestling wasn’t based on the kind of competition that was team sports. I badly wanted HBK to succeed. I was invested. When he came back in the summer of 2002, I never really thought that he would wrestle. He and I suffered back injuries at the same time, basically. I blew out my L5/S1 disc as a 13 year old soccer player (highly unusual) shortly after he destroyed his at the 1998 Royal Rumble. I had to quit playing competitive sports and, at that time, figured I’d never be the same for the rest of my life (I’ve since found my miracle). Yet, out struts HBK to the ring at the 2002 Summerslam.
HBK vs. Triple H was one of my favorite matches ever. I was completely, 100% engaged in their story. Everything that they did in that match clicked for me. If Rock vs. Hogan secured pro wrestling as an everlasting extracurricular (or more) activity for me, then HBK’s return to the ring put it an ironclad lock box and threw away the key, forever and always making wrestling a priority for me. When HBK came back again as the Survivor Series approached and was announced as a participant in what was, using my thoughts from 2002, one of the coolest concepts for a match that I’d ever heard of…well, let’s just say that it took things to another level. I actually dreamed about the Elimination Chamber. I got so wrapped up in it in the weeks leading up to the match that I downloaded Kane, Jericho, HBK, Triple H, Booker T, and RVD’s theme songs and would play them in my college dorm room to mimic the entrances for the Survivor Series match.
It matters not that the match did not, in my critical opinion, stand the test of time or that HBK wore poop-colored, poorly designed tights. HBK won the World Heavyweight Championship and stamped his comeback as more than temporary. That…was…amazing.
3- Raw vs. Smackdown – the last real Survivor Series in 2005
When I came back to wrestling in 2001 after my short (in the grand scheme of my fandom) hiatus, Survivor Series picked right up where it had left off from 1996-1998 as an event that you had to plan to watch. From 2001-2005, I would not have dared miss the Fall Classic. I thought that the WWE did a marvelous job of bringing back the traditional elimination match – or, in the Elimination Chamber’s case, a really kick ass variation of it – as the focal point of the show. Both critically and financially, it made Survivor Series a yearly candidate for the calendar’s best PPV. Major happenings always took place in November, including big time matches and even Wrestlemania teases. Today, as we sit back and prepare for the 2013 Survivor Series, which makes the Wrestling God’s cry, I cannot help but think back to 2005 as the last event that truly fit the theme, spirit, and history of the WWE’s second-ever annual PPV.
Raw vs. Smackdown was a big deal. When the WWE split the roster into two brands, it created for this dream scenario down the line for when the two entities would finally come to blows in a battle for supremacy. Unlike the WWE vs. WCW feud, the sides were decidedly even for the most part (at least for the first few years). The budding rivalry only got bigger and better when the WWE chose to give each brand their own set of specific PPVs. It was bold. I loved it, personally. I was a Smackdown guy, as evidenced by initial stint here on LOP as the resident Smackdown Reviewer. I cut my LOP teeth watching Eddie Guerrero and JBL clash for the WWE Championship and John Cena rise the ranks to main-event stardom en route to all-time greatness.
I was still reviewing Smackdown in 2005 when the brands started to be more vocal about their dislike for one another on TV. Fascinating, I thought it, to see the red and blue teams butting heads and putting themselves on a collision course for Survivor Series. What better a traditional Elimination match concept than Raw vs. Smackdown? We had seen numerous teases over the years with the interpromotional matches at consecutive Wrestlemanias, but those bouts weren’t really about the brands. Some might argue that the feud was poorly executed. However, it was a storyline that allowed me to quite easily suspend my disbelief. That has rarely happened since I joined the Wrestling Media.
2- Bret Hart vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin at Survivor Series 1996
Speaking of suspending disbelief…
There have been few stories in wrestling history that have sucked me in quite like the feud between Steve Austin and Bret Hart. Good Lord, I hated Stone Cold. When he started talking you-know-what about the Hitman before Bret had even returned from his lengthy 1996 hiatus, he instantly joined the ranks of my least favorite stars of all-time. He kept at it until Bret came back, famously stating in an interview that I’ll never forget, “I am the best there is, the best there was, and the best that there ever will be…and at the Survivor Series, we’ll just see who kicks whose ass!”
In his pre-match promo, Bret told Austin that, by match’s end, Austin would respect him. Well, I personally think that the Bret vs. Stone Cold match at the ’96 Survivor Series was the best pure wrestling performance of Steve Austin’s career. In all other instances for the rest of his storied WWE tenure, he brawled and shortcut his way to critical success. That is not to state that I have not developed an immense respect for his body of main-event work during the Attitude Era. Rather, I just want to make it clear that Austin was unique and did his best purely technical wrestling in WCW other than the absolutely fabulous match he had with Bret in late 1996. So, in storyline, Austin was supposed to walk away from Survivor Series with a greater respect for Bret. In Doc’s reality, it was Austin that walked away with my respect. Stone Cold, love him or hate him as I did back then, put on a thrilling show with an brilliantly told story.
I get goosebumps thinking about that match. I love to put things into historical context. If you look at the events that transpired from one Survivor Series to the next, you could make an argument that it was the storyline issues with Austin that made it possible for the real life issues between Bret and others to boil over. Bret defeated Austin in 1996 and continually defeated him in head-to-head meetings well into 1997, but Austin’s rise to superstardom forced Bret to get out of his indispensible comfort zone – the one that allowed the WWE to continually call his number as the dependable top star that he was for half a decade. Austin finally took the spot that others had tried to take and failed. Bret’s huge contract became too much when Stone Cold changed the business.
For the longest time, I supported the idea that Bret vs. Austin at Survivor Series was the best match that the duo ever produced together, including their famous Wrestlemania 13 match. Based on pure technical wrestling, I stand by that. For me, it was the 1996 Match of the Year and all-time favorite.
1- Team Bischoff vs. Team Austin at Survivor Series 2003
If you crunch every available number and thoroughly evaluate the complete details of every traditional Elimination Tag Team match in Survivor Series history, I’m quite confident that some other bout such as WWE vs. WCW would eclipse Team Austin vs. Team Bischoff in the argument for “Greatest” Survivor Series match. However, if we were just talking about the “best,” then I’d undoubtedly give the nod to the Austin-Bischoff battle. If I’m putting on my critical hat, then Chris Jericho screwed up like five times in the WWE-WCW match in 2001 (Y2J was sloppy as hell that night). That alone put a dent in that bout’s historical armor. I thought that Team Austin vs. Team Bischoff was virtually flawless, featuring outstanding work from a wide variety of the combatants.
Austin and Bischoff, themselves, had a really good dynamic. Their roles as the dueling General Managers was an entertaining part of a relatively lackluster time for the Raw brand. Jericho’s interactions with Austin were also quite memorable. The quality of those segments over a lengthy period of time was a bright spot in the entertainment department, while simultaneously building to an interesting conclusion in which Austin and Bischoff would select respective teams to fight on their behalf. Jericho was the perfect choice to lead Bischoff’s team, but I liked the rest of the choices, too. Scott Steiner was best remembered for one lousy feud with Triple H, but I thought he pulled his act together well in the summer of 2003 in a solid series of matches with Test. I enjoyed seeing him back in a prominent spot. I also thought it was a great decision to add Randy Orton to the mix. He was on fire from a kayfabe standpoint. The talented blue chip prospect coming into his own was a logical decision for a cunning character like Bischoff. Christian was not someone I favored until about four months after 2003 Survivor Series and Mark Henry was not a wrestler that I enjoyed until about eight years after the fact, so their inclusions were neither here nor there for me.
On Austin’s side, I loved his team. The Dudley Boyz were one of the last truly great tag teams in modern lore (even then). RVD was in the most high profile match of his 2003 by representing Stone Cold. Booker T was always a guy that I liked, especially with the kind of year that he had at the beginning of ’03. Of course, Shawn Michaels stole the show from everyone in the match, performing a nasty blade job that ranks right up there amongst the most visually memorable in the last decade. His heroic effort to overcome the odds, attempting a 3-on-1 comeback against Christian, Jericho, and Orton, was the best Survivor Series Elimination match performance to date. If only the image of Stone Cold leaving a beer in the ring was the final moment of Austin’s WWE career instead of his return role as the forgettable “Sheriff” of Raw prior to Wrestlemania XX.
Hands down my favorite Survivor Series Elimination match and the one I’d assuredly show someone who wanted to know what Survivor Series was supposed to be all about…
I'm very proud to announce that my book is finished and that it should be available for purchase in all major online outlets by December 1st. I will post an update in my weekly, post-Raw column if I have one. I'm pretty pumped, though. Stay tuned!