FOLLOW Mr. Tito on Twitter: @titowrestling
On This Day in Pro Wrestling History... 25 Years ago, WWF Survivor Series was Born
By Mr. Tito
Nov 26, 2012 - 9:42:29 PM
ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... The World Wrestling Federation (WWF - now WWE) held its first annual Survivor Series event on November 26th, 1987, 25 years ago.
Coming off the enormous success of Wrestlemania 3, which as headlined by Hulk Hogan vs. Andre "the Giant", the WWF distanced itself away from its competition... The WWF began to observe the massive revenue opportunity with the blooming Pay Per View and other "closed circuit" forms of television, as proven by Wrestlemania 3's numbers. Not only could the WWF draw massive $$$ at the live gate, but also through purchases of the event through someone's cable company. As more and more Americans obtained cable through 1987, the availability of Pay Per View grew. With the WWF's drawing power of huge names like Hulk Hogan and Andre "the Giant" nationally via Cable television or syndicated shows, the demand was there to PAY for major WWF events. Thanks to Andre and Hogan, along with a deep midcard that made the Intercontinental and Tag Titles have actual drawing power, WWF was exploding in popularity during 1987.
Especially after Wrestlemania 3. That was the "make or break" event for the WWF. During the 1980's, the WWF, now under the leadership of Vince McMahon Jr., began to raid local territories and also invade television markets of those territories. As opposed to the pro wrestling industry of the past that honored geographical territories, Vince had visions of a national pro wrestling company. Armed with the ability to challenge territories via syndication or growing availability of Cable television, Vince began to destroy territory after territory. Vince took it to a new level with Wrestlemania 1 in 1985 especially when he attempted to draw a more mainstream audience towards his product. Vince figured out that pro wrestling and the entertainment industry could mix quite well, and thus for Wrestlemania 1, he used Music Television (Mtv) to garner a wider audience (as well as musician Cindy Lauper, huge at the time).
Wrestlemania 2 did well but it didn't quite set the WWF apart from the remainder of the competition. However, Vince had a huge match-up to offer... Andre "the Giant" was the big name draw wrestler of the 1970's. As acquired from the American Wrestling Association (AWA) during late 1983, Hulk Hogan was becoming the huge star of the 1980's thanks to his loads of charisma and probably from his Rocky 3 appearance. Even though both Hogan and Andre actually wrestled in the WWF during 1980 when Hogan was a heel, Hogan was the star on the rise while Andre saw better days due to his ailing health and older age. Andre had the better of their previous feuds, provided that Andre was "the man", but Hogan's popularity soared to new heights upon his 1983 WWF return. Andre was turned heel, as he wanted a shot at the WWF Title, and the stage was set for a HUGE drawing event at Wrestlemania 3 in 1987. And of course, it did very well.
Wrestlemania 3 did a reported $1.6 million in ticket sales while generating $10 million on the early days of Pay Per View. Absurd numbers for 1987 that are even impressive draws for today's wrestling shows. The newfound Pay Per View money probably became addictive, as plans were underway for a second "big show" of the year. That big show became Survivor Series 1987...
Survivor Series #1 was created as a concept show which involved 5 on 5 singles wrestlers elimination style matches and one 5 on 5 tag teams (or 20 person) elimination match. The concept was extremely fascinating back in 1987 as the pro wrestling industry was much different than what you see today. Back in 1987, many of the wrestlers within the 5 on 5 matches wrestled against each other for the first time on television. WWF wrestlers did NOT wrestle each other much on the WWF's Cable or syndicated shows. Typically, the contracted WWF wrestler (or "superstar") would take on a local independent wrestler or "jobber" instead. Having the WWF wrestler absolutely dominate the "jobber" was a means to showcase the WWF wrestler and their signature moves/holds. Then, the real draw was wanting to see the WWF wrestler take on other WWF wrestlers at a live houseshow event or now on Pay Per View.
It wasn't until WCW Nitro arrived in 1995 that this old business model was smashed. The name wrestler vs. jobber match was eliminated once WCW Nitro began giving away non-jobber matches up and down their Nitro cards which prompted WWF Monday Night RAW to eventually follow suit. The "jobber" matches were over... But during 1987, the "jobber" matches were regular. Thus, when you tuned into All-American Wrestling on the USA Network (Sundays @ noon, baby!) or the syndicated Superstars/Challenge shows, you'd see your favorite wrestlers beat the living crap out of a no-name wrestler consistently with MAYBE a match featuring 2 WWF regulars as the main event. Again, the big goal was for you to attend live events WANTING TO SEE MORE... And now, it was also to drive you towards Pay Per Views WANTING TO SEE MORE. WWF had the "less is more" model set to perfection back in 1987.
The drawing power of these 5 on 5 match-ups was finally seeing several name wrestlers finally wrestle. For instance, the match-up of Randy "Macho Man" Savage, Jake "the Snake" Roberts, Ricky "the Dragon", "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan, and Brutus "the Barber" Beefcake take on Honky Tonk Man, Hercules, Danny Davis, "Outlaw" Ron Bass, and Harley Race allowed you to see various Intercontinental Title contenders get a piece of the current champ, Honky Tonk Man, in the same match. Better yet, Harley Race was a NWA Crockett region import... Each of the babyfaces could effectively take on a former NWA Champion! You never saw match-ups of these kinds of match-ups on WWF All-American Wrestling, Superstars, or Challenge because you saw non-stop "jobber" matches instead. What a treat!
The Tag Team Survivor Series match was just awesome back then. 10 teams together to combine as 2 teams against each other. But the truth of the matter was that the WWE had about 10 decent to great tag teams to showcase: Strike Force/Young Stallions/Fabulous Rougeaus/Killer Bees/British Bulldogs vs. Hart Foundation/Islanders/Demolition/Bolsheviks/"New" Dream Team. The excitement of the match was that when 1 tag team wrestler was eliminated, the tag team was also eliminated. The match got over, as did the previous one, because the WWF was displaying their Intercontinental and Tag Team title divisions in front of fans.
Imagine that... Being able to brag-up the depth of your midcard titles. WWF was able to do so in 1987 and continued onward through the early 1990's. The WWF business model then understood that strong midcard titles with set wrestlers specifically chasing those titles actually drew. It's unlike today's WWE where you have no idea who on the RAW/Smackdown rosters are legitimate contenders for US/Intercontinental Titles and the Tag Team division is finally getting attention after years of neglect.
The Main Event of Survivor Series 1987 was essentially Hulk Hogan vs. Andre "the Giant", plus 4 additional wrestlers on each team. The match was Hulk Hogan/"Mr. Wonderful" Paul Orndorff/Don Muraco/Ken Patera/Bam Bam Bigelow vs. Andre "the Giant"/One Man Gang/King Kong Bundy/"Hacksaw" Butch Reed/"Ravishing" Rick Rude. In addition to the WWF drawing fans in with Hogan vs. Andre again, each of the other 8 wrestlers were able to showcase themselves in the main event match and possibly get a piece of Hogan/Andre. Better yet, the WWF could use this 5 on 5 Survivor Series match to further the Andre vs. Hogan storyline that would continue onward through 1988. For the result of this match, Andre "the Giant"'s team won the match so thus setting up another huge singles battle between Andre and Hogan was needed to "settle the score".
Survivor Series #1 in 1987 was a major success. It actually went head-to-head with NWA's Starrcade event and effectively took over the November spot from Starrcade. Vince reportedly used the drawing power of Hogan/Andre to push NWA off of Pay Per View dials in order to make Survivor Series more available instead. For 1988, in addition to Wrestlemania 4 and the returning Survivor Series, the WWF introduced the world to yet another Pay Per View spectacular in SummerSlam 1988. Then, to start 1989, the WWF converted the 2nd Royal Rumble event into another annual Pay Per View show (prior year was just a USA Network special). Thus, within a 2 year span between Wrestlemania 3 in 1987 to Wrestlemania 5 in 1989, the WWF had their "Big 4" Pay Per Views in place for years to come. Now, fans could enjoy "jobber" matches and satisfy their hunger to see GOOD wrestling 4 times a year on Pay Per View!
Survivor Series would go on to possibly become the #2 Pay Per View through the 1990's. The Royal Rumble Pay Per View would grow with importance over time while SummerSlam was mostly living off the fumes of Wrestlemania events. Survivor Series seemed to be perfectly timed, almost as a midway point between Wrestlemanias. For a while, the 5 on 5 match-ups (sometimes 4 on 4) drew very well. The endless "jobber" matches always created a curiosity for the unique match-ups along with the prospect of building superteams stacked with great wrestlers. But then in 1991, the WWF experimented with a Singles match-up to help headline the show...
At Survivor Series 1991, the WWF placed Hulk Hogan vs. the Undertaker as a singles match, the first of its kind for Survivor Series. Funny thing is that Hogan vs. Undertaker was NOT the main event. In fact, it was the 3rd match of a 5 match card. Adding a singles match was a huge success for the WWF long-term. In the years to come, high profile singles matches would headline Survivor Series such as an early preview of great things to come with Survivor Series 1992 between Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart, Undertaker vs. Yokozuna at Survivor Series 1994 (Bret Hart vs. Bob Backlund just as important on the midcard), Bret Hart vs. Diesel at Survivor Series 1995, and then Sycho Sid vs. Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series 1996. And of course, who could forget one of the most important matches in pro wrestling history, Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart at Survivor Series 1997 in Montreal. I'd argue the WWF Title tournament won by the Rock, his first WWF Title, was quite important at Survivor Series 1998. Survivor Series 2001 featured the end of the WCW/ECW "Invasion" angle.
In the years following, Survivor Series had good match-ups here and there, but as the WWF/WWE began to reduce their booking from long-term to on-the-fly short-term booking by 2001, each monthly Pay Per View began receiving equal hype with the exception of Wrestlemania. Traditional shows like Survivor Series and SummerSlam became "just another Pay Per View", as each show lost their importance in comparison with other monthly Pay Per Views. Royal Rumble is probably the #2 show for the WWE now, although it's World Title contendership result of the big Rumble match has been watered down thanks to the Elimination Chamber Pay Per View.
On this day in pro wrestling history... The first ever Survivor Series was created. It's sense of importance in the 25 years of existence, however, has diminished. Even when you thought that the classic 5 on 5 Survivor Series match with a purpose could have occurred with Team Punk vs. Team Foley, which was going to push the CM Punk vs. Ryback feud further, the WWE Creative Team undercut the match and moved Punk and Ryback to a Triple Threat match with John Cena instead. Just another Pay Per View... But in 1987, this was the second Pay Per View franchise created and it was damn important.
Just chill till the next history lesson...
Comments and Tweets are welcome.
FOLLOW ME ON TWITTER: @titowrestling