With the 24th annual Survivor Series coming up this Sunday, I thought I’d take a look at what I consider to be the top ten greatest matches in the pay-per-view’s long history.
Before I start the list though, a few thoughts on this Sunday….
It’s too bad that this PPV will be just another WWE show that delivers a low buyrate, because the Survivor Series is only second to WrestleMania as the longest-running annual event. It shouldn’t be treated like a “B” show where some last-minute matches are thrown in mere days before with no buildup. If you take a look at the card right now, you’d think it was the card for perhaps Bragging Rights or Judgment Day and not one of the Big Four shows. What excuse will Vince McMahon come up with when this show tanks? With WrestleMania 26, he blamed it on “more people getting together to order the show than ever”, which is such bullshit. And when most of these new concept shows tank, he blames a bad economy.
He’ll never admit what the real problem is, and that’s a lack of buildup. Basically, the top two matches for the WWE and World Titles get promoted and that’s it. Only when there’s one episode of Raw or Smackdown left will they fill up the rest of the card, and they’ll even throw in a random match DURING THE PPV. Why is there only room to build up each brand’s main event and not a solid undercard? Why has Raw basically been The John Cena Show when they should be building interesting midcard feuds with Daniel Bryan, Ted DiBiase, John Morrison, etc? It wasn’t even that long ago that WWE was doing a decent job of promoting a good handful of matches leading into a PPV, so why in 2010 have they just gotten lazy? Yes, main events are important but they’re not the whole show, despite how much McMahon thinks Cena is a draw. (Which he really isn’t when you think about it, but that’s another column in itself)
My formula to properly promote a PPV is pretty basic; after each PPV, the following week of TV should confirm two matches from each brand – Raw’s WWE/US Titles and Smackdown’s World/IC Titles. And make the secondary title matches mean something instead of randomly selecting a challenger. Have someone fight and claw his way for a shot at the United States Title in a battle royal, and maybe do a one-night tournament for a shot at the Intercontinental Title. This means that by the end of Smackdown on Friday night, you’ll already have four matches booked for the next PPV, with a nice space of three or four weeks to promote them. This isn’t rocket science; it’s Promotion 101.
Anyway, on to my list of the Top Ten Matches in Survivor Series history, starting from 10 and going up.
10. 1991 – Hulk Hogan (C) vs The Undertaker for the WWF Championship: Not a five star classic by any means, but important as far as the history books go. This was billed as “The Gravest Challenge” and the contrast in characters between Hogan and Taker made for a marquee match. This was good vs evil at its most basic and definitive. Lightness vs darkness. I’m no Hogan fan by any means, but he goes out of his way to make Taker look incredibly dominant in this match and someone who is impervious to pain. The ending goes to show that sometimes the bad guys win, even against Hulk Hogan. Taker’s reign may have ended after only a few days, but it’s still a significant win and a sign that the Undertaker was going to go on to bigger and better things in the WWF.
9. 2007 – Hell in a Cell match, Batista (C) vs The Undertaker for the World Heavyweight Title: Is this a fantastic match? No, but it was a very enjoyable war between the two biggest bulls on Smackdown for the World Title. The Batista/Taker feud in 2007 was solid and will go down as one of the most hard-hitting and violent rivalries in years, and to cap this feud with a Hell in a Cell match was the right move. This is the last time a Cell match featured blood and it does indeed pour. Big Dave and the Dead Man tore each other to pieces in this match, whether it was Batista literally throwing Taker through a table with a powerbomb or the Phenom hitting a Tombstone straight onto the steps in the middle of the ring. The end of this match featured Edge’s return when he posed as a cameraman and ended up laying out the Undertaker with it, and then hitting a Con-Chairto using the same ring steps. It’s a cheap win for the Champion, Batista and the focus switches right away to the just-starting Edge/Taker feud, but a good ending to a feud that lasted almost the entire year of 2007.
8. 1993 – The Hart Family vs Shawn Michaels & The Knights: This was old school meeting the new school, so to speak. The WWF fans who idolized Bret “the Hitman” Hart got a chance to see where his wrestling background came from when he teamed with his youngest brother Owen and his older brothers Keith and Bruce. They wrestled in simple black singlets (though Captain Bret’s was pink) against Shawn Michaels, who led the Red, Blue and Black Knights into battle. It was supposed to be Jerry Lawler and the Knights, but Shawn was placed in the match after Lawler was taken off TV due to a charge of rape against him by some minor. Anyway, the match itself is great, classic technical wrestling with a lot of chain holds and counters. It’s also the match that lit the fuse for the war between Bret and Owen Hart when Owen ends up being the only one eliminated on his team after Michaels rolls him up following some Hart brother miscommunication. My favorite moment is when Michaels is wobbling on the outside and the legendary Stu Hart hits him with a forearm smash! The crowd goes nuts!
7. 2000 – Steve Austin vs Triple H: This was a no disqualification match and it pretty much had to be, since the Game had been outed as the man behind Austin getting hit by a car at the previous year’s Survivor Series all along. This is no technical clinic but it’s very entertaining as Austin beats HHH senseless in and around the ring. It gets pretty violent in the latter stages and this match was basically a precursor to their epic 2/3 Falls match at No Way Out three months later. Austin and Hunter always worked well together and Stone Cold had just returned from being on the shelf for a year. At the time, Steve wasn’t really “all there yet” when it came to conditioning and shaking off the ring rust, but he pretty much uses this fight to clear out the cobwebs and Hunter does a great job of selling and bumping for him. The ending with HHH getting dropped in the car by Austin using a forklift is still pretty cheesy today, but the purpose of the feud was for Stone Cold to get some form of revenge.
6. 1992 – Bret Hart (C) vs Shawn Michaels for the WWF Championship: This one is more or less on here for personal reasons. The 1992 Survivor Series, as some dedicated BOTC readers may know, was the first WWF pay-per-view I ever saw, so it holds good memories for me. This match itself is still great today. Bret and Shawn’s Iron Man match at Mania 12 and the infamous Montreal Screw Job at Survivor Series ’97 get the most attention, but few people realize that these two were working very well together for years. At this time, Hart had just won the WWF Title from Ric Flair and Michaels had just won the Intercontinental gold, so it was a Champion vs Champion match. It starts out slow and from there builds a great, technical in-ring story. As great as the Iron Man match is, this one isn’t far behind and you’ll be doing yourself a favor by finding it online.
5. 1995 – No Holds Barred match, Diesel (C) vs Bret Hart for the WWF Championship: For the most part, Diesel’s run at the top as the WWF Champion was a bust. Of course, we know that now but at the time, I was a fist-pumping, Jackknifing fan of Kevin Nash myself. I was a kid, and I didn’t take ticket sales and PPV buyrates into consideration at all. But 1995 will indeed go down as one of the worst in company history, both from a financial and creative standpoint. Diesel had the odd good match or two as titleholder; his Mania match with Shawn Michaels was very good, his first PPV defense against Bret himself at the Royal Rumble was great despite the constant interference and non-finish, but the problem with Diesel as Champion was that he was a 7-foot, powerhouse trucker dressed in black who throws guys around the ring with ease – how do you make a strong babyface Champion out of that character? Despite this, and using obvious political clout backstage, Diesel held the gold for an entire year before Bret won it in this very good brawl. Out of all of Bret’s great abilities as a wrestler, what I always loved about him was how he wrestled a big guy. He plays the scrappy fighter so well in this and targets Diesel’s legs almost right away, and at the same time bumping around for the Champ and selling very well. My favorite moment is when Bret ties Diesel’s legs around the ring post while he’s on the mat and stomping at him, showing that while Hart is a good guy, he’ll do whatever it takes to win the WWF Title. Most people will remember this match as the first time the announce table was destroyed in the WWF, as Bret stood on the ring apron and Diesel catapulted him off of it through the wood. Despite Diesel’s heel tendencies throughout the match, I love how in the end he shows some regret over battering Hart so much. When he tries to hit the Jackknife powerbomb, Bret flops down like a corpse. When the Champ tries it again, the Hitman surprises him with a small package for the win. Awesome match.
4. 1998 – Deadly Game tournament final, The Rock vs Mankind for the WWF Championship: This was the first in a series of violent clashes between The Rock and Mankind, as they’d go on to battle at the next few PPV events and on Monday Night Raw over the WWF Title. The ’98 Survivor Series event was unique in that a one night tournament was held to crown a new Champion. The result was a huge buyrate for the show. The match is also significant as being the night that The Rock jumped into the main event scene in the WWF, and he would go on to even bigger heights as a top draw in the WWF’s Attitude Era. As for the action itself, it’s fun watching the two different styles clash and it ends up showing a weird sort of chemistry between the two. A lot of people weren’t happy with McMahon’s decision to recreate the Montreal Screw job from only one year earlier, but this was a time where Vince’s mindset worked under the notion that any publicity was good publicity. (As opposed to the “Oh my God, Mattel isn’t happy” and “Help us fans, the media is shedding light on our past!” mindset of today)
3. 1996 – Bret Hart vs Steve Austin: Bret seems to show up a lot on this list, but you can’t deny that when it was time for a big show, the Hitman always brought his A game and gave audiences the best match possible. This first bout he had here with Stone Cold was a long time in the making and what many saw as the real main event of the ’96 Survivor Series. Austin had been calling out the Hitman week in and week out, building a ton of heat that really heightened the expectations of the match both from the audience and the WWF front office. Bret had been out since Mania 12 and despite the lengthy absence, he and Steve clicked right away and the tide shifts so many times during this near half-hour bout. Times were changing in the WWF and it wasn’t the squeaky clean environment anymore as things started getting more mature, but the action was still old school and this match was proof of that. The Hart/Austin match from Mania 13 a few months later may get all the attention when it comes to highlight reels, but their first bout at Survivor Series ’96 was just as good.
2. 2002 – Elimination Chamber match, Triple H (C) vs Rob Van Dam vs Shawn Michaels vs Chris Jericho vs Kane vs Booker T for the World Heavyweight Title: I think the first Chamber match has always been the best for a variety of reasons. First off, it’s the first one and the first gimmick match of any kind is usually the best (Iron Man, Hell in a Cell). Second, it took place at Madison Square Garden where the fans can pretty much make or break a match depending on the performance. And third, it featured one of the best nostalgia moments ever as Shawn Michaels won the World Title. Nobody expected HBK to even get in the ring again, let alone win the gold. The match itself is new for its time, violent, innovative and extremely well done. Things got scary after RVD accidentally crushed HHH’s throat with a Five Star frog splash, but the Game is a pro and he got himself through the rest of the match, which was still a long time from that point. The cool thing about this match is that the eliminations aren’t done so rapidly as they are these days; it eventually whittles down to Jericho, Michaels and Hunter and when Y2J gets taken out, HBK and the Game go at it for almost ten more minutes before the match is over. It makes eliminations in whatever kind of match much more meaningful when a pinfall or submission is highlighted instead of bunched in with one or two others.
1. 2001 – Winner Take All match, Team WWF (The Rock, Chris Jericho, The Undertaker, Kane and the Big Show) vs Team Alliance (Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Booker T, Rob Van Dam and Shane McMahon): Despite the fact that the WCW/ECW Alliance angle was booked terribly, you can’t deny that at the time, nobody complained about that and this match really meant something. As far as being a true definition of the term “Survivor Series”, this match is it. For 45 minutes, both teams go back and forth and change the momentum on so many occasions. It’s almost a game of one upsmanship in the beginning when the Big Show gets taken out after a barrage of finishers from Angle, Booker, RVD and Shane o’Mac. Right afterward, McMahon is pinned after a chokeslam from Kane, Tombstone from Taker and a Lionsault from Jericho. Sure, there was never really any doubt that the WWF would come out on top, but in the end it’s still a hugely stacked main event. It’s poetic justice when it finally comes down to The Rock and Stone Cold, who do battle for another ten minutes before Rock puts Austin away with a Rock Bottom.
So there, that’s my list of the Top Ten Greatest Matches in Survivor Series history. Let the debating begin!
See you at ringside,