With the 34th annual WWE Survivor Series in less than two weeks, some of our contributors have thoughts on the show’s greatest matches, performers, and moments.
WWE Survivor Series is the company’s second-longest-running annual show only behind the WrestleMania but is often cast aside as the ugly duckling of the traditional “big four” pay-per-views. Though it lacks in stakes and spectacle relative to the other three shows, Survivor Series has a rich history of bangers and moments.
Survivor Series has been host to debuts, tournament finales, battles for brand supremacy, and controversy. The multi-man/woman elimination tag match belongs to the Series, but in an age of gimmick pay-per-views, the Survivor Series should be recognized for not chaining itself to a lone match type and going beyond to incorporate other stipulations.
That alone makes the Survivor Series one of the most anticipated shows of the year, even if this year — like the last 4 shows — is sticking to the brand supremacy concept that has grown a bit stale.
I’ll let the Daily DDT crew tell you more about what they most think and remember about the November classic.
What’s the greatest Survivor Series match ever?
Mark Justice (Read Mark’s work here): Team Cena vs. Team Authority. There were stakes in this match, which made this match more exciting and more memorable than most survivor series elimination matches. Dolph Ziggler stole the show as the sole survivor like he always does.
Chris Jeter (Twitter – @cjet91, read Chris’s work here): WWF vs. The Alliance. To be clear, nothing could’ve saved how WWE mismanaged The Invasion storyline; once they decided to cheap out and forgo bringing in the big names who were collecting their Turner checks without taking any bumps, fans knew how this was going to go.
However, the Survivor Series match that pitted the WWF against the WCW/ECW Alliance (note: Rob Van Dam and Booker T were the only WCW/ECW mainstays on The Alliance side) came close to making the four months to subpar booking worth it. The match encapsulated everything about the Federation during this period, for better and for worse, right down to The Rock and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin being the last two for their teams.
+ greatest non-elimination tag match: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart (WWF Championship; 1992)- When most fans hear “Shawn Michaels”, “Bret Hart”, and “Survivor Series” in the same sentence, they understandably think of the Montreal Screwjob, but their battle five years prior at the same event deserves as much, if not more, recognition. Unsurprisingly, the two gave a 26-minute masterclass in pacing, timing, and keeping a crowd invested in every move, even Michaels’ seemingly countless front chancery applications. If you’re a younger or newer fan, go out of your way to watch this gem.
In front of a Madison Square Garden crowd almost evenly split between the two stars, Hart and Austin put on a wrestling clinic. The match is one of the greatest examples of trusting the process. You start slow and hook the fans in with attitude and selling — or, “the details” — and you let it build to an exciting conclusion. This match is so captivating and I suggest you watch it if you haven’t!
Who’s the greatest Survivor Series performer ever?
Mark: Randy Orton. He doesn’t get enough credit for his ability to make survivor series elimination matches fun to watch. His finishing maneuver, the RKO, also works best in these matches thanks to its quick trigger. It will come outta nowhere for multiple superstars at once, eliciting mere mayhem. 99% is good enough but not good enough to surpass Randy Orton’s greatness.
Chris: Shawn Michaels. Randy Orton probably holds some sort of record for being the sole survivor in these Survivor Series matches, but Shawn Michaels gets the nod for being the ultimate floor-raiser in these matches. Just go back and watch the elimination matches from 2003 and 2005 that featured him for proof. Those bouts would’ve been much less interesting without him.
Ernesto: It’s Bret Hart, without a doubt. Volume and quality make the case for “Hitman” clear, the dude wrestled in every Survivor Series since the show premiered in 1987. It’s difficult to measure him as a performer in multi-man matches when there are so many moving parts, but he undoubtedly put together classic main event matches. I’m thinking mostly of 1995, 1996, and 1997, but his match with Shawn Micheals in 1992 is kind of slept on too!
What was the greatest Survivor Series ever?
Mark: Survivor Series 2019. I liked the concept of including NXT in the brand warfare. It’s unfortunate that they are not included in this year’s survivor series, but there’s hope that this concept will come back someday.
Chris: 2002. Fascinating that the best Survivor Series in company history included no traditional 5-on-5 elimination matches on the show (not to suggest that correlation equals causation). Instead, the focus of the supercard centered around the inaugural Elimination Chamber match, which more than lived up to the hype.
Aside from that, you got a fun elimination tables match (which ended with the Dudley Boyz reuniting), a better-than-expected WWE Championship match between Brock Lesnar and the Big Show, an outstanding elimination tag team title match between the hallowed “SmackDown Six”, a good women’s hardcore match, and the debut of Scott Steiner (the highlight of his WWE stint).
Ernesto: 2016. The novelty of the brand split made the matches for brand supremacy all the more exciting. The Raw and SmackDown teams were stacked. The men, women, and tag teams (the three genders) all showed out in their respective matches but the men’s 5-on-5 was the show-stealer. That’s probably because they had an hour to work with. Nonetheless, what a match.
The Toronto crowd was ready to explode, maybe even riot. You make people think Roman Reigns is going to win a match and they become apoplectic. It’s beautiful. The main event was more of a moment than a match, but it’s my favorite moment ever at the Survivor Series, and one of my favorite moments ever.
What is your favorite Survivor Series moment(s)?
Mark: The Shield Debut. I liked the idea of them helping CM Punk retain the WWE Championship. It would have been a pretty compelling concept if WWE followed through on it though.
Chris: Shawn Michaels winning the World Title inside the Elimination Chamber. No matter how many times I watch that ending to the first Elimination Chamber match, it still feels like I’m watching it for the first time.
Seeing a bloody HBK once again beat his former running buddy, Triple H, to win his first world title in over four years is still the greatest highlight in Survivor Series history. Honorable mention goes to Sting’s long-awaited WWE debut at the 2014 edition and Bob Backlund’s great promo following his WWF Title win at the 1994 event (SPORTS-EDUCATION!).
Ernesto: I remember yelling “OH MY GOD, HE KICKED HIS F*CKING A*S” when Goldberg pinned Brock in a minute twenty-six. An extreme reaction for an extremely bold booking decision. I thought “They wouldn’t bring Goldberg back just to lose to Brock, right?” Brock would rarely lose, so there was hardly any reason to think Brock would lose to Goldberg after his 12 years of inactivity, right?
I was confused about what they would do, but the result was amazing. The crowd was visibly and audibly shocked. It was so surreal and strange to see Brock get beat this way after two years of beating everyone with ease. WWE’s reliance on playing it safe makes moments like this one all the more special.
We are well past the point of peddling conspiracy theories regarding the Montreal Screwjob being harmful to anyone, in my opinion, at least. It can be argued that it greatly benefitted both sides (no matter how much WCW fumbled the ball with Bret), but that doesn’t mean it was a fabricated moment. This topic has been beaten into the ground, but,
I’ve gotta ask, do you think the Screwjob was a work?
Mark: Vince screwed Vince. That’s all I gotta say about that.
Chris: Haha, absolutely not. But you’ll never convince the people who think otherwise that it wasn’t.
Ernesto: Sometimes I think there’s no way Vince McMahon and Bret Hart actually let their mistrust for each other get this out of control. That’s the only thing keeping my mind on the idea that they executed the Montreal Screwjob as a ploy to get a bigger buzz around the WWF and Hart, who was leaving for WCW after Survivor Series 1997.
But then I look at the picture of Vince with a bruise around his left eye and I go back to thinking this was a real-life power struggle playing out on live television.
Any other thoughts on Survivor Series?
Mark: Survivor Series needs stakes. When the captains and sole survivors win, they should be rewarded with something special, such as a future championship opportunity or the #30 spot in the Royal Rumble.
Also, the winning brand overall should get the main event slot at WrestleMania. Stakes like that would get the fans more invested in the brand war and give them something more to care about than “brand supremacy.”
Chris: Even though it’s the least important of the “Big 4” pay-per-views and only exists because Vince just had to screw over Jim Crockett Promotions, I’ve always had a soft spot for Survivor Series, but even I have to admit that the WWE has rendered the concept pointless nowadays. After all, it’s hard to get fans excited about a show built around tag team matches when you produce roughly nine hours of content per week (and 12 PPVs per year, at least) and mostly use tag matches to save the major bouts for bigger shows. This forced WWE to add an extra hook for these otherwise mundane matches and led them to the nonsensical RAW vs. SmackDown promotional tactic.
The idea of building the show around All-Star teams while doing normal title defenses can still work in today’s wrestling landscape. It just takes a measure of restraint in terms of roster construction and not burning through all of your big matches in a matter of months. Unfortunately, WWE has shown time and time again that they’re incapable of that, which means we’ll have to continue seeing them make wrestlers randomly hate each other just because they wrestle on the other show (that isn’t in direct competition with the other) and the calendar flipped to November, further diluting an interesting concept.
Ernesto: Brand supremacy suuuucks. Also, the Invasion storyline rightfully gets a lot of criticism, but it has a special place in my heart. No Hogan, Sting, Goldberg, or DDP? Well, what’s the point then? As a kid, this was one of the first storylines to resonate with me and one I can vividly remember.
The entire WWF was on the line against The Alliance and The Rock saved the day! That was one of the first things I witnessed that made me want to run through a wall.
If you haven’t watched the closing sequence between Roman Reigns and Keith Lee at last year’s show, please do.