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Posted in: Requesting Flyby
REQUESTING FLYBY: The Top Ten Matches In Survivor Series History
By Maverick
Nov 30, 2014 - 5:32:55 AM

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The Top 10 Matches In Survivor Series History

Well another Survivor Series has gone by, and with the event finally returning to its previous glories with Sunday’s main event, I thought it only right that I include it in consideration for the top ten I had written before the event, hence the delay while I rejigged the list. With 28 years worth of matches to choose from, many great efforts have obviously not made the cut, which led to much hand wringing on my part as I tried to narrow down the list. To that end, I thought I’d throw in some honourable mentions, starting with CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio for the WWE Title at Survivor Series 2011 which was the unfortunate match bumped for this year’s main event. It was a great technical battle and the MSG crowd were wild for the Straight Edge Superstar. I also wanted to find a place for Los Guerreros vs. Rey Mysterio and Edge vs. Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle for the WWE Tag Team Championship at Survivor Series 2002 which was as good as it sounds on paper, and one of many superb bouts from the Smackdown Six era. From the year before, The Dudley Boyz vs. The Hardy Boyz in a steel cage to unify the WCW and WWF Tag Team Championships was a wonderful end to a great era of tag wrestling. Many of you will know that I am a big defender of the New Generation, and Bret Hart vs. Diesel for the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1995 features the first announce table bump in company history in a typically brilliant Hitman led storytelling masterclass. In terms of elimination matches, three recent favourites were Team Miz vs. Team Morrison at Survivor Series 2009, Team Barrett vs. Team Orton at Survivor Series 2011 and best of all, Team Foley vs. Team Ziggler at Survivor Series 2012, which like Sunday’s match featured a bravura performance from Dolph Ziggler. Finally, a couple of hipster choices! The Immunity Battle Royal at Survivor Series 2001 made Test look an absolute monster and future star, whilst The Undertaker vs. Chris Jericho vs. The Big Show at Survivor Series 2009 is an underrated dream match scenario, and one of several excellent matches the Deadman had in his final title run.

So, if those were the matches that didn’t quite make it... what did? Let’s go!

10) Sycho Sid defeated Shawn Michaels in 20:02 to win the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1996

The Heartbreak Kid’s first title reign involved him taking on a huge variety of opponents, from Diesel, to Davey Boy, to Vader, to Mick Foley, and despite ratings being in the toilet, the Showstopper made sure that every single audience he performed in front of went home remembering the main event. Being paired with big Sid Eudy was his greatest challenge in terms of getting that outstanding match in the books. Whether it was in WCW or WWF, Sycho Sid had immense charisma but generally two left feet in the ring. Very few were able to have good matches with him, and that very short list has HBK at the very top of it.

Ultimately, what the two men put together here was a classic big man vs. small man contest. Shawn worked over the legs, trying to cut out Sid’s “vertical base” (copyright Jim Ross), whereas Sid looked to batter his smaller opponent into submission with a variety of power moves and heelish use of the outside ring environment. They managed to work a swift pace, with no wasted minutes, and their chemistry was good enough to make Sycho’s chain wrestling look relatively crisp. Michaels, for his part, played his plucky underdog role well, showing his willingness to fight no matter how many times he was knocked down; it’s typically excellent psychology from the Sexy Boy. It goes without saying that his selling is also top notch, with one particularly famous moment seeing the champ sell a big boot by going into a headstand.

It’s the finish of the match which really elevates it to classic status, because it’s a really well executed idea, originally tailor made for Vader. Sid hit Shawn’s mentor, the aged Jose Lothario, with a television camera but turned straight into Sweet Chin Music. Worried sick, the champion went to check on his manager rather than covering his challenger. Back in the ring, a ref bump gave Sid the opportunity to once again use the camera, this time on HBK, and then nail the powerbomb for the title win. Interestingly in this time of John Cena being booed as much as cheered, the crowd responded wildly to Sid’s win; it really is a noticeable pop. After the match, Michaels put on a bravura acting performance to sell his concern over Jose’s condition as he was stretchered away. While his title reign through most of 1996 did not do good business, it did give us a multitude of critically acclaimed matches. Pulling this out of someone of Sid’s limited capabilities may just be one of Shawn’s most impressive rabbits out of hats.

FLYBY! Rating: ****¼

9) Team Kofi defeated Team Orton in 20:47 (Kofi Kingston sole survivor) at Survivor Series 2009

WWE have often found it difficult to elevate midcard performers in recent years, particularly in the case of babyfaces, but in the build and execution of Team Kofi vs. Team Orton, they hit upon the perfect formula, one they could mine further if they chose to. Following his elevation from ECW to Raw in 2008, Kofi Kingston had become an increasingly popular midcarder, despite (or perhaps because of) the Ghanaian-American’s happy-go-lucky Jamaican gimmick. Realising that this was a character that would be difficult to take further up the card, WWE made the alarmingly sensible decision to have DX “out” him as having pretended to be Jamaican because of his “love for the culture”, meaning that for the first time, Kofi was able to deliver serious, meaningful promos and was thus able to step up to a career-high feud. In a seamless piece of storytelling, Kingston interfered in the Cena/Orton Ironman Match at Bragging Rights, thrillingly chasing The Viper’s Legacy lackeys away with a chair and setting up the feud that defined that year’s Survivor Series. The defining narrative of the rivalry was the fact that Kofi refused to be bullied by the top heel in the company, a fact underlined by the Boom Drop through a table on the Raw before the pay-per-view that looked like a star making moment for the young athlete from Ghana. Seriously, have a look at that spot again and listen to the crowd reaction.

It was the booking of the actual match that really sent Kingston over the top as a potential main event talent; it’s really rather old school and very cleverly done. Orton’s status as cerebral top dog was cemented psychologically in the early going by a superbly crisp RKO after his team-mates distracted Mark Henry, losing Team Kofi their strongest, most intimidating member from the get go. The underdog struggle was then underlined by R-Truth’s elimination by Punk, one which again took place due to the heel team’s ability to distract and bewilder the faces. All of this would mean nothing, however, without the numerous hope threads woven into the fabric of the bout, which allowed the fans in attendance to pop for the heroic striving of the face squad and their charismatic captain; Christian cleverly rolled up DiBiase, selling his wily veteran prowess and status as de facto vice-captain, while the crowd audibly grew excited when Kingston leapt into battle against Regal with the score at 4-3 to the villains, softening the Englishman up for the running knee strike of MVP that tied the scores and invested the crowd in a potentially heroic comeback.

However, it was only after the tit-for-tat eliminations of MVP, Rhodes and Christian that the match really became something special. Kofi’s performance was one of the greatest babyface performances of recent times. Sensibly, Kofi and Orton were kept apart in the first part of this two on one match within a match, which worked in a kayfabe sense, because The Viper had been running scared of Kingston and because Randall’s scrap with Christian moments earlier had taken much gas from his tank. Kofi was therefore left with a terrifyingly fresh CM Punk, who had been World Champion only a month before, but the Ghanaian was not intimidated in the least, which has been, lest we forget, his story throughout the evening. There was a fantastic piece of psychology here, as the two former tag partners stared each other down and then, without warning, embarked upon a breathless display of hold and counter hold, reversals and missed finishers; a brilliant story of stalemate. Orton, meanwhile, aware of his designated role as pantomime villain, stalked the ringside area menacingly, watching with smug satisfaction as his Straight Edge partner gradually takes control of Kofi….but then the most thrilling finish imaginable comes like lightning from a clear sky, a reversed roll up followed by the sweetest looking Trouble In Paradise you’ll ever see to pin Orton clean in the middle of the ring to the most rapturous of receptions. Now that’s how you push a babyface. The Survivor Series format is just perfect for this kind of underdog feelgood story.

FLYBY! Rating: ****¼

8) Bret Hart defeated Shawn Michaels in 26:40 to retain the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1992

In his first run as WWF Champion, Bret Hart was portrayed as a fighting champion willing to take on anyone, anytime. A company that usually built long programmes between champion and challenger switched gears to have Bret defend the belt against a multitude of different opponents. For Survivor Series ‘92, The Hitman met his stiffest challenge yet in facing The Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels, who had a tonne of momentum behind him after his split from Marty Jannetty at the end of the previous year. His cocksure heel character had caught on with audiences to the extent that he was booked to capture The British Bulldog’s Intercontinental Championship that summer, before being groomed for a shot at the top guy.

Having worked with Shawn in the tag ranks, Bret must have been delighted to have him as his dance partner in his first major pay-per-view as champion. This was just not the type of match we were used to seeing in a top title match at a WWF pay-per-view. Savage vs. DiBiase from Wrestlemania IV and Savage vs. Flair from Wrestlemania VIII are the only other bouts I can think of that pitted two pure workers together in a title situation prior to this match. Hart and Michaels, though, were on a planet of their own at this stage, at least when it came to the pure technicalities of wrestling a match. They proceeded, without much of a story going in, to craft their own, compelling story inside that 20x20 ring, in a fashion which you rarely see nowadays. It was not a match which was flashy, full of near falls, or possessed of crazed high spots. What it gave us was incredible wrestling psychology (both worked the other’s opposite arm at different points, both tried to keep each other grounded), an ebb and flow that was incredibly believable, crispness beyond words and a metronomic tempo that continues to fascinate.

If you want an example of the special chemistry and talent of these two geniuses, just look at the closing sequence, where a Sweet Chin Music “outta nowhere” downed Hart, but Michaels was too exhausted to take advantage. Climbing to the top, HBK desperately tried to finish Bret off but instead dived straight into the Sharpshooter and had to submit. Wonderful stuff. If you want to see a title match which allies old school nuance to new school workrate, this is the one for you. It’s a testament to how much Michaels and Hart were able to change the wrestling industry after almost a decade of Hogan and the big men offering larger than life but very limited performances. It’s a fine wine of a match to be sampled and relished. I love it.

FLYBY! Rating: ****¼

7) Shawn Michaels defeated Bret Hart in 12:19 to win the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1997

The inclusion of this match in this countdown may be controversial, but the truth is that the infamous Screwjob match is that it was absolutely electric, and would be remembered as a classic were it not for the skulduggery which marred its conclusion. The atmosphere was as charged as anything in the history of the business, and sitting here in 2014, knowing what ended up happening at the conclusion to the match, the entire build to it on the evening in question takes on a ghoulish, haunting quality. There was something almost funereal about it even then. A visibly uncomfortable Michael Cole in the rafters of the Molson Center asked Canadian fans who was going to win. DX marched through the backstage area accompanied by no commentary whatsoever. Shawn stepped through the curtain and strutting to the ring solo, with a noticeable tightness to his jaw as he frantically chewed gum. Even his ritual mocking of the maple leaf insignia seemed more charged; perhaps it’s me projecting, but he seemed distinctly jittery as he humped the flag. This may be because of his part in what was to come, or may have been genuine concern that a patriotic lunatic would leap over the barrier and attack him. Either way, you could have cut the tension with the knife. The camera work was gritty, almost like a 90s cop drama, and Bret’s determined stride through the backstage area, leaving the Hart Foundation behind at the curtain was that of a man determined to leave in a memorable way. It would be the last time Bret Hart walked to a WWE ring for thirteen years.

If you’ve read my series with Mazza, you’ll know that the Attitude main event style is something we have spoken about at length, and this match completes the process, for me. Before the bell even rings, Shawn jumped the champion, but Bret got the advantage with his greater power and clotheslined the Sexy Boy to the floor. The crowd were wild, unhinged even, and the two men went on to brawl across the entire arena in a manner that would be repeated many times afterwards, but might never have been quite so on the edge of reality. The two antagonists really sold their storyline and real life animosity in this brawl, and it was utterly convincing in its execution. Remember that Bret was under the impression that they’d have a heated brawl that ended in a no-finish after Hart Foundation and D-Generation X interference, so the story they tell in these opening minutes was entirely appropriate. Those of you who enjoyed the Wyatts/Shield match from earlier this year would find a lot to love about the sheer theatre of this contest. The actual bout has long been forgotten by most, with the closing minutes and their aftermath being the prime focus, but it must be stated for the record that, had the match gone the distance, it would have been a stone cold five star classic. Yet another thing to be sad about with Montreal, I suppose.

There are a red flags all over the place as to what will happen later in the night, but the biggest, of course, was Vince McMahon’s appearance with Commissioner Slaughter. This was a clear sign that, in the stories, the fact that he is the company owner was going to be openly referenced. Little did those in attendance know that he was there in a real life capacity. Ross on commentary remarked on “speculation” about the Hitman quitting the company if he lost, another sign of wrestling’s fourth wall breaking down, as Bret’s impending arrival in Atlanta was well known among dirtsheet readers. It was also a ghoulish piece of foreshadowing. The sense of chaos was palpable, even as the bout proper began, with Hart using the Quebec flag to choke out Michaels, a fantastic piece of revenge symbolism which was only broken up by referee attention. However, Shawn recovered quickly with a flying forearm and the action spilled to the floor once more, adding to the theme of unpredictability that had been a major theme of the encounter to that point. In the ring, HBK used sound heel psychology, trying to take the crowd out of the equation by working submissions, grinding Bret down, taking him on at his own game. On commentary, Lawler remarks on Hart being taken out of his gameplan, which seems to telegraph the Hitman very much getting back into the stride of his gameplan, with a chop block, ringpost figure four and in-ring figure four.

We seemed to be settling into a gruelling, psychological classic, with Bret just embarking upon his famous sequence of moves when Shawn, in a spot planned between the two, puts on the Sharpshooter, which, in a horrible irony, he almost performed wrongly, with the Hitman telling him which way to cross the legs. What happened next is still utterly surreal, even now. The Sharpshooter was turned, and Hebner ran to the ropes and yelled to the timekeeper to ring the bell. How long does it take to screw someone out of their life’s work? About five seconds, in this case. If you want my full thoughts on the Screwjob as a historical incident, check out ATTITUDE: Survivor Series 1997, which you can easily find by clicking on Mazza’s CPR Productions link. All I intend to state here is that the main event of the Fall Classic in ‘97 should be remembered as much for it being a great wrestling match as for its controversial ending.

FLYBY! Rating: ****¼

6) The Rock defeated Mankind in 17:10 in the finals of the Deadly Game tournament to win the vacant WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1998

The way the night long stories of Mankind and Rocky had been constructed during the tournament was absolutely superb, and a sense of the depth of storytelling was present in the attire of Mick Foley, who had spent the evening shedding his tuxedo and dress shoes; by the time he and Rocky kicked off the match with a collar and elbow tie up, he was back in the brown tights and baggy shirt, his hair all over the place, not the neat ponytail it had been in at the beginning of the evening. Rock showed his energy and relative freshness by using right hands and clotheslines to deck the more battle worn Mankind. In an excellent piece of psychology, the psychiatrically challenged Foley threw his younger opponent outside for some brawling in an environment he knew and excelled in.

The most eye catching thing about the bout was the kind of fluid outside the ring fighting that Mick Foley did better than anyone in the history of the grappling game. A trademark lunatic clothesline took the tournament finalists over the top before Rocky turned things around by burying Mankind under the steps and unleashing a barrage of chair shots onto said furniture, an innovative and brutal looking spot that showed the younger man losing his cool, foreshadowing the eventual turn. This was followed by a full chair shot to the skull but Mankind’s legendary resilience saw him kick out of the resulting cover. Foley managed to come back and choke his opponent, before hitting that trademark apron elbow and then a ludicrously entertaining legdrop from the barrier onto the announce table right in front of the commentators. A marvellous pace and intensity was the hallmark of the match. Rock managed to move away from Mankind’s attempted flying elbow to the announce table to allow the Hardcore Champion to go through the table with sickening velocity. Mankind stunningly kicked out of the People’s Elbow and then hit the double arm DDT as a counter. Mr Socko came out and the Mandible Claw was locked on, but The People’s Champ managed to score a desperation Rock Bottom. By the time he crawled to the cover, his madman opponent was able to thrillingly kick out. However, the young stud then locks on a Sharpshooter, and in a deja vu moment Vince ran to tell the timekeeper to ring the bell and Rocky is the champion, with his celebrations with the McMahons making clear that it had all been a conspiracy and the supposed People’s Champion was in fact the newly anointed Corporate Champion. As dramatic heel turns go, it’s hard to beat.

What’s particularly interesting in hindsight is that despite the disgust of JR on commentary about the swerve from the semi-final, the competitors actually started their double turn long before the actual piece of swerve booking at the end, with Rock acting in a distinctly heelish manner, while Mick’s dishevelled appearance and desperation makes him stand out as someone we should really be behind. All the while, the McMahons at ringside were an obvious and deliberate reminder of Montreal the year before, where Bret Hart was screwed for real. The match itself was a brilliant exhibition of the Attitude Era main event style and gains a good half star for its historical importance, giving birth to the Corporate Champ and also Mick Foley’s main event career. A stunning end to a pay-per-view with a very satisfying internal story. One of the most fondly remembered nights of the era.

FLYBY! Rating: ****¼

5) Team Bischoff defeated Team Austin in 27:27 (Randy Orton sole survivor) at Survivor Series 2003

The colourful rivalry between Eric Bischoff and Steve Austin as they co-piloted Raw through the spring and summer of 2003 was always bound to come to a head somehow or other, and Survivor Series offered the perfect avenue to settle their in work dispute; whoever’s team lost would have to leave Raw forever. In a fantastic piece of continuity, four fifths of Austin’s team had been with him in the Alliance back in 2001, while Jericho and Christian on Bischoff’s team had started out that angle as part of the WWF (Christian did defect around No Mercy ‘01, but only to further his feud with Edge). In addition, Booker had feuded with the two Canadians over the tag belts a year earlier when he was tagging with Goldust, while RVD had fought Christian over midcard gold. Jericho and Orton had both come off high profile programmes with Shawn Michaels earlier in 2003. With the Dudleys furious over Scott Steiner’s treatment of Stacy Keibler, there was a lot of beef to be settled and the stage was set for a classic.

The opening was hot and fast paced as a hyped crowd witnessed the Dudleys and Booker T take most of the weight for Team Austin, duking it out with the CLB and Scott Steiner. After the match broke down into an entertaining mass brawl, a modified 3D and a Book End saw the end of Freakzilla, much to the delight of the Duchess of Dudleyville at ringside, but the booking then immediately evened things up as Booker walked right into a World’s Strongest Slam. However, Henry was gone almost immediately after off a Five Star, but this was where the heels began to work as a true team, with Jericho shoving Van Dam off the top into an RKO and both Dudleys following each other to the back as the chemistry of the Sexy Beasts outwitted them.

It was only really at this point, with Michaels left three on one, that the match began to form into a classic, as HBK, who had barely even set foot in the ring to that point, was left to battle the combined powers of Christian, Y2J and Orton. The early face shine for Shawn is soon extinguished by heelish pulling down of the ring ropes, allowing the three members of Team Bischoff to distract the referee and set up double teams at will. The beat down of Michaels is brutal and compelling to witness, with his head bouncing off the ring post, allowing for one hell of an epic blade job. He was able to show heart and dedication by kicking out of the heinous beating to hit a snap Sweet Chin Music on Christian to take things from two to one. Even at this early stage in his career, Orton showed admirable big game moxie and crisply performed offense and holding his own with two gifted storytellers in Y2J and HBK, and his performance here is something I really enjoyed. Austin’s rallying of Michaels from the ring apron was an excellent addition to the psychology of the match, and the roar of the crowd was deafening, and the roll up of the King of the World off the Walls of Jericho attempt levelled things up to where the crowd might believe that Sexy Boy had a chance, but Jericho’s parting chairshot put Orton in the driving seat. Even so, the heart of Shawn Michaels kept him in things, to the extent that Bischoff had to prevent a Sweet Chin Music attempt, causing Austin to run in too in order to deal with his GM rival and give Randall a Stunner to boot. However, with the referee down, Batista’s perfectly timed run in proved decisive, and his Batista Bomb, starting one of the most successful Survivor Series runs in the history of the business for the Legend Killer. Austin’s dejection as he made his exit made this match that rare thing; a story where the villains decisively won, a dark ending that I give WWE Creative much credit for.

FLYBY! Rating: ****½

4) Shawn Michaels defeated Triple H, Rob Van Dam, Booker T, Kane and Chris Jericho in 39:22 in the Elimination Chamber to win the World Heavyweight Championship at Survivor Series 2002

When a new gimmick match is introduced, there is an awful lot of pressure on those involved to make it a success. TLC was elevated to the stratosphere by the unbelievable risk taking ability of the three tag teams who debuted it, while Hell in a Cell was sold as a brutal, career threatening war by Shawn Michaels and The Undertaker. The Elimination Chamber became, in the space of one evening, an absolute must see each time it was booked, and all credit must go to the six men involved. The Raw bookers certainly didn’t mess about, loading the pods and the ring with legitimate future Hall of Famers, as well as having Eric Bischoff cut an absolutely brilliant promo selling the structure as the most brutal ever created for a professional wrestling match.

The anticipation was palpable as the first four wrestlers made their way into the pods; like the Rumble, the drawing of lots and the anticipation of who will start off and who will be released when is a large part of the appeal. Ultimately it is The Game and Mr Monday Night who faced off first, which immediately invests everyone in the arena, as the two had been feuding for the title for the two months before. The brutality of the chamber is immediately placed into focus by Rob Van Dam’s unique brand of offense swiftly busting open Hunter, who bumps around like a maniac in the opening minutes (hey, maybe he didn’t bury Rob after all?). There’s just so much innovation going on even at this point, with a cool spot where Jericho tries to pull Van Dam’s legs down into his pod, Triple H getting crotched as he pursues him, and the former ECW man eventually hitting a somersault plancha off the top to the steel. Jericho and Triple H ended up teaming up when the King of the World was first out of the pod, using their mutual dislike of Van Dam to put aside their mutual dislike for each other, and it was as good an extended beat down as you’ll see. The explosion of Booker T out of his prison around the fifteen minute mark added yet more energy as he went on a tear that was so well received by the crowd that I’m fairly certain it got him his big title opportunity at Wrestlemania XIX a few months later. It is he who made the first elimination after his friend Rob had gone for an insane Five Star Frog Splash off the top of a pod, and soon after, the Big Red Monster took the amount of participants up to four again, immediately flinging Y2J thrillingly through the lexane of an empty pod. Nothing like the first time even if it does happen every year now. Another chamber convention, the multi-finisher elimination, happened to Booker T to take it back to three way, with only Michaels left to come into the match.

The Heartbreak Kid immediately brought his trademark energy and high flying dexterity to proceedings, before an equally textbook sell job when he got cut off. Kane’s elimination off a Pedigree and a Lionsault then set up another Jericho/Hunter two on one against Shawn, and it’s the masterful underdog story of the Showstopper that dominates the rest of a wonderfully gruelling and absorbing contest. It’s storytelling at its finest, predicated on one question- can Michaels do the impossible and fulfil the comeback dream of once again being a world champion, almost five years to the day since he last won one? With his face bloody, his kick out of the Lionsault was a thrilling moment, putting over that utter refusal to stay down, and in fact, the entire face off between the two, with Trips face down on the mat, was an amazing sneak preview of the ‘Mania classic that was to come. A Sweet Chin Music while Jericho had The Game in the Walls of Jericho took care of the Canadian, and that set up a one on one rematch from Summerslam between the founders of DX. A heartstopping few minutes followed, with a picture perfect elbow off the pod seeming to set up for the match ending superkick, only for The Game to block and hit a Pedigree, which the Heartbreak Kid gutsily kicked out of, before sliding out of another with a backdrop and nailing the match winning Sweet Chin Music. As JR screamed over commentary “do you believe in miracles?” What a wonderfully emotive story, and as a Michaels fan from the first time I saw The Rockers on my TV screen aged 10, I cried my eyes out!

FLYBY! Rating: ****½

3) Team Cena defeated Team Authority in 43:07 to banish Triple H and Stephanie McMahon at Survivor Series 2014 (Dolph Ziggler sole survivor)

After a decade of comparative neglect, the traditional Survivor Series elimination match was put firmly back on the map just a week ago in a thrilling, unpredictable main event upon which rested the storyline futures of the tyrannical McMahon and Helmsley, as well as Cena’s four babyface team mates. The month long build of stipulation swerves and face team revolving doors, if anything, actually made how it all came off on the night even better, as for one thing, expectations were lowered so that everyone enjoyed the bout for what it was rather than getting all smarky about it, and for another, it made the match less predictable (before the game of stip tennis, I was convinced that The Authority were nailed on as winners). And even with the dirtsheet rumours of Sting being in the building, I still wasn’t expecting it, which is the sign of a match that you have been able to get completely lost in.

It was the expert booking of this one which made it as much as the performances of the eleven superstars (including The Stinger) and five managers (Lana, Trips, Steph, Noble and Mercury). The immediate elimination of Henry as he hyped himself up only to walk into the KO from his former partner, though an obvious trope used many times before, was still an excellent way to get things underway. The early stages of the match proper then saw Rollins take responsibility for getting his team back into it, and his development into the second coming of the Cerebral Assassin was surely cemented by his performance here. I loved the sneaky kerb stomp run in to Ryback after things had broken down into a brawl which allowed Rusev to superkick the Big Guy out of the match. It just put across The Architect’s character so well. In many ways it was a tale of two wrestlers, with Rollins and Dolph Ziggler gluing the match together, and a typically sympathetic extended face in peril sequence from the Show Off in the middle of the match indicated that a special performance was in the offing, as a fast start from him was soon cut off by The Authority team and he ended up pounded in the corner as the heels tagged efficiently in and out. Throughout that passage of play, Zigs was able to create some wonderful hope spots, before getting himself cut off, a skill that few modern babyfaces possess in the way that he does.

The eliminations were creatively booked through the mid to late section of the contest, with Rusev’s count out after missing a table dive, Big Show trying to save his job by selling his soul to Triple H by KO-ing his team captain and getting himself counted out, and The Architect distracting Rowan so that his former partner Harper could hit the discus clothesline. That of course left Ziggler on his own against the combined powers of Kane, Harper and Rollins, and an epic HBK ‘03 tribute followed from Dolph that will be remembered for years to come. In a transcendent moment for a long time internet favourite, Ziggler went toe to toe with Kane and pinned him clean off a combo of his tertiary and primary finishers, while the big man Harper was rolled up, setting the stage for a dynamic and tense battle between two of the most aesthetically pleasing workers in the world today. How they competed at that pace after such a gruelling match was beyond me, but they absolutely nailed it, with near falls, missed finishers, reversals, the lot. Just great stuff.

The final shenanigans portion of the evening inevitably came about with the King of Kings desperate to keep his power, and the destruction of referees trying to count Ziggler to victory was a great storytelling touch. The mugging of Dolph by Trips seemed to indicate that he and Stephanie would continue their rule, but of course, the entrance of Sting changed everything. What a great way to debut an all time great, and his stare down with The Game and subsequent Scorpion Death Drop sent the match over the top. It was a compelling main event that will need some time before we know it’s true place in Survivor Series lore. For now, third place seems about right, just above Austin/Bischoff for the way that the action before the underdog scenario was more exciting than the earlier match, and I give it an extra quarter star than I did on the night. More rewatches may reveal even more to it than I have currently found.

FLYBY! Rating: ****½

2) Bret Hart defeated Steve Austin in 28:36 to become number one contender to the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1996

A lot of mythologising nonsense gets written about the rise of Stone Cold Steve Austin. The narrative people like to use has all manner of holes in it. The man from Victoria, Texas had already been a very successful tag and midcard wrestler in WCW and his Ringmaster gimmick in WWF was by no means the bomb everyone likes to pretend it was. The myth of Austin pitching the new character to McMahon and becoming an overnight success as Stone Cold is terribly attractive, as it makes for a nice story, but the truth is that even after the gimmick change, King of the Ring win and “Stone Cold 3:16 says I just whupped your ass” promo, he still had a lot of ground to cover, and he did it the old fashioned way, through hard work and getting better incrementally. Bret Hart had always admired the work of the Texan brawler and had, in fact, asked Vince McMahon to bring him into the company years before he actually arrived, so when Austin began calling Hart out through the summer sabbatical the Hitman took after his loss to Michaels in the Ironman Match, it was clear that this was going to be the beginning of Stone Cold’s ascension to the main event. Of course, no-one knew just how quickly he would explode into being the most popular man in wrestling, but it was certainly obvious by November 1996 that he was likely to be a major player moving forward. The first meeting between the two is overshadowed by the all time classic at Wrestlemania XIII a few months later, but for me, it is very nearly the equal of that match, with only the compelling intangibles of the submission match really setting it apart.

With the crowd cheering Austin’s promo before the bout, the growing overness of the heel was very apparent, and the raw charisma of the Rattlesnake as he made his entrance was something special to witness then, and remains so even now. The opening mat wrestling exchange was a masterclass in psychology as hold and counter hold were traded, with Austin looking almost Hart’s equal in the technical side of things, with the psychology being that the heel wants to beat the returning hero at his own game and humiliate him. Finally though, in a move befitting his character, Stone Cold dropped The Hitman neck first on the top rope, selling his ruthlessness for all to see. The neck of Bret was targeted ruthlessly by the cold eyed Texan, and even when a flurry of offense from the Excellence of Execution briefly shook him, he held his ground and continued to grind away at his opponent, taking Bret out of his gameplan and keeping the veteran on the back foot. The storytelling was wonderful as Austin’s frustration at not putting his opponent away began to show. It was the compelling command of character that really set the Rattlesnake apart at this time.

Having been pounded into the mat for much of the bout, Hart’s comeback saw him get ultra aggressive, as if he suddenly realised the threat posed by the young, hungry villain in front of him. A very un-Bret like use of the ropes to hang Stone Cold was followed by a sit out piledriver, but as The Hitman went to press his advantage, his opponent came roaring back with a huge superplex after he caught him on the second rope. Again, the story they told was front and centre; the new, hungry up and comer had an answer for all of his legendary foe’s best tricks. However, Bret thrillingly kicked out of the Stunner, to Austin’s disbelief, and the heel began once again to get frustrated, applying a Texas Cloverleaf in a taste of the submission war to come at Wrestlemania XIII. The small touches here were fantastic- Stone Cold pulled Hart away from the ropes before covering him, so the extra time allowed the Pink and Black Attack to get that shoulder up at two, and then ensured that he only broke the submission at a count of four when he reached the rope. The Rattlesnake then continues to work the back, breaking out a bow and arrow, with the psychology being that he wants The Hitman to be humiliated in MSG, where he had many of his finest moments, but Hart reversed and went for the Sharpshooter only for his canny opponent to prevent its application. Then suddenly, when the former Ringmaster applied the Million Dollar Dream, the finish came, with the Wrestlemania VIII style kick off the top turnbuckle giving Bret the win, while simultaneously putting over Stone Cold huge. Many will point to the loss Austin sustained at the Grandaddy as putting him on the map, but the process actually started here in Madison Square Garden. A storytelling classic which has aged superbly well.

FLYBY! Rating: ****½

1) Team WWF defeated Team Alliance in 44:57 (The Rock sole survivor) at Survivor Series 2001

As we have previously seen with Team Authority vs Team Cena and Team Bischoff vs Team Austin, Survivor Series matches often work best when there’s something important riding on them. Those matches also teach us that they tend to work better when they are the culmination of a long running company encompassing storyline where the team dynamics make good sense. However, for my money, the company got this right to the fullest extent at the 2001 edition of the Thanksgiving Classic. The InVasion angle, though wrongly derided by many, produced a great deal of interesting television, even if the amount of defections one way and the other did get a little ridiculous after a while. I am a huge defender of the angle. With the company deciding that setting up a WCW “brand” wasn’t really an idea they could move forwards with, they instead booked Survivor Series as a “winner takes all” unification show. The undercard featured midcard titles being unified (the WCW titles having been brought into the company in July that year) and an Immunity Battle Royal that meant that Test could not be terminated whichever company was victorious. The main event was what really made the mouth water though; all of the main event talent under contract at that time in a traditional Survivor Series match to determine the future kayfabe landscape of the WWF.

There was a beautiful circularity to this, since the storyline had kicked into high gear with a special pay-per-view, InVasion, which was main evented by a seven on seven “Inaugural Brawl” between the two factions, during which Austin had betrayed the WWF and won the match for the Alliance. Now the rivalry would finish as it began, in a squad vs. squad setting. The only disappointing thing about the booking, looking at Team Alliance at the beginning and at the end is the fact that only one WCW worker (Booker T) and one ECW alumnus (RVD) competed in the latter contest. That really harmed the feel of the match for me in the run up to the event, though once it began, I just enjoyed the hell out of it and left my purist reservations behind.

The bout itself was just so hot all the way through; I think that’s the main reason why it remains such a compelling watch. The amount of all time great talent inside the ring and on that ring apron is actually scary to contemplate, and there were terrific sequences from beginning to end. In the early going, Y2J and Van Dam showed tremendous chemistry in countering each other’s signature offense, while Shane O’Mac demonstrated wiliness typical of his character by consistently breaking up WWF pin attempts and submission holds. The first ten minutes or so was really a high paced feeling out process and was certainly edge of the seat stuff, since the first elimination took on so much more meaning with the kayfabe future of the company at stake. It was easy to admire the coherence of the booking and storytelling here; to have Angle, the most recent defector (and ultimate “WWF mole”) hit the Olympic Slam on the 500 pound giant so that the rest of his team could also hit their finishers and send the largest member of Team WWF back to the locker room was a masterstroke. To have the WWF then do the exact same thing to Shane McMahon was even better, a symbolic game of one-upmanship which illustrated the desperation behind the match itself.

Inevitably, given the era, the contest broke down into a mass brawl as it wore on; this often allowed an elimination to take place, as it did when Rob Van Dam caught Kane unawares as the other six men were scrapping outside the ring, and when Austin stunned ‘Taker out of his boots with the ref’s back turned so that Angle could eliminate him. With the Fed’s team down four to two, and with Rocky and Jericho’s kayfabe friction hurting their ability to function like a team, the tide was in favour of the Alliance, ramping up the tension. Ultimately, after RVD and Booker were quickly disposed of, we came down to the four principal players of the angle, who would go on to contest the unified title one pay-per-view later, and the way in which the tensions between the four men in the ring were constantly teased was genius, not to mention the fact that a quartet of all-time greats did their level best to out-work each other. Seeing Austin pulverise the Brahma Bull on the outside or Jericho roll through and slap Kurt’s own ankle lock on him remains as thrilling now as ever. The star power and charisma on display was truly awe inspiring, and that feeling was only enhanced by every dramatic moment; Angle’s tap out to Rocky’s Sharpshooter (what is it with Survivor Series and that hold?) is suitably transcendent for the Great One, while Jericho’s elimination and subsequent double cross of The Rock is a mark out moment for yours truly, as well as eliciting some superb colour commentary from Paul Heyman in the booth.

The final confrontation from the company’s two biggest stars was everything you’d expect from them; some ultra-hot brawling on the outside, a mat wrestling exchange where Sharpshooters were traded, using each other’s finishers for heart stopping near falls; essentially their match from Wrestlemania X-Seven in miniature, except with the result reversed and the “mole” Angle in the Vince role. A belt shot, a Rock Bottom and a very slow three from a dazed Hebner; a fantastic ending to a fantastic match, and anyway, who doesn’t love seeing a shirtless pre-gimmick change JBL leading the WWF locker room celebration? The best of all elimination matches and the best match in Survivor Series history.

FLYBY! Rating: *****

Well, there we go, dear readers, the Top Ten Matches In Survivor Series History according to Maverick. All that remains is to ask you, the reader, what your top ten would be? All comments welcomed or you can follow me on Twitter right here:

This is Maverick, requesting flyby!