As the 30th edition of the iconic WWE pay-per-view approaches, here’s a look back at the top 10 moments in Survivor Series history.
It’s hard to believe that this Sunday will be the 30th installment of WWE’s Survivor Series pay-per-view, making it the second-longest running event in the company’s storied history behind only WrestleMania. Survivor Series debuted in November of 1987 and has remained one of the “Big Four” pay-per-view events for nearly three decades along with WrestleMania, Royal Rumble and SummerSlam. And over the years, it’s certainly lived up to that billing as so many great moments and matches have come out of this event.
As times change, Survivor Series has changed over time as well. What used to be a platform for being used solely for the traditional Survivor Series matches went on to include some great singles matches, including so many epic battles for championships. While we’ll certainly get to the more famous match between the two, this event served as the battleground for one of the first singles encounters between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels in 1992, a Survivor Series that also saw the first casket match in WWE take place between The Undertaker and Kamala. ‘Taker would also have another epic battle in a casket match with Yokozuna two years later.
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And speaking of The Undertaker, this event was also where The Deadman debuted (more on that later), one of many debuts that we’ll get to as this list gets going.
As will be the case this Sunday, Survivor Series has also been used to host battles between brands, whether it be RAW vs Smackdown or the then-WWF versus The Alliance as part of the Invasion angle, giving us matchups that perhaps we haven’t seen in a while, or in some cases, that we’ve never seen at all, which always makes for a good time.
Over 30 years, we’ve seen a lot of great things come out of this particular event and here are the top 10 moments in Survivor Series history.
10. 1996: The Rock Debuts
Before Dwayne Johnson became the “Sexiest Man Alive”, he was simply a third-generation wrestler known as Rocky Maivia. Mixing the names of his father and his grandfather, he burst onto the scene at Survivor Series in 1996 at Madison Square Garden in New York City as a teammate of Marc Mero, Jake “The Snake” Roberts and The Stalker to take on Crush, Jerry “The King” Lawler, Goldust and another youngster named Hunter Hearst Helmsley in a 4-on-4 traditional Survivor Series match.
Looking a little bit different than he does today, the man who would become “The Rock” would put on a show in his big debut. After all of his teammates were eliminated, Maivia was left in a two-on-one situation with Goldust and Crush, both of whom were fairly big names at the time on the mid-card level. That didn’t matter as Rocky first pinned Goldust following a flying bodypress and then took out Crush with a shoulderbreaker to get the 1-2-3 and secured the win for his team as the sole survivor.
While Maivia looked to be a star, I don’t think that anyone could have predicted what the future held in store for this youngster, who would obviously go on to create his new persona as “The Rock” after the fans got fed up with him not long after this big debut. It was only two years later at Survivor Series that he would once again shock the world — but we’ll get to that a little bit later.
As I mentioned in the opening, Team RAW will take on Team Smackdown this Sunday at this year’s Survivor Series in three different types of matches, which most wrestling fans saw coming after the brand split took place over the summer. However, they’ll have a lot to live up to in order to be considered as good as this match was at Survivor Series 2005 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit.
Now, it’s hard to call an entire match a top moment but everything leading up to this is all part of one big moment for me. RAW would invade Smackdown and vice versa each and every week leading up to this event and every single superstar that was involved in what had become an intense rivalry (they actually spent time building this) delivered when he had to. Team RAW consisted of Shawn Michaels, Kane, Big Show, Carlito and Chris Masters and Team Smackdown boasted Randy Orton, Bobby Lashley, JBL, Rey Mysterio and Batista. And again, every single guy delivered in this match.
The end saw HBK in a 3-on-1 situation, but after taking out Mysterio with an amazing mid-air edition of Sweet Chin Music and then JBL, Michaels was left to go one-on-one with a young Randy Orton, who actually picked up the victory for his team following a beautiful RKO. However, his celebration didn’t last long as a returning Undertaker ruined his night and gave us even more to talk about. Throw in the great buildup, the match itself, and the return of The Deadman, and this version of RAW vs Smackdown makes the top ten.
Six years earlier at Survivor Series 1999, another big event took place at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit when an incident involving “Stone Cold” Steve Austin led to one of the biggest “who did it” moments in WWE history. The main event that night was supposed to be a triple-threat match between three of the biggest names in the industry in Austin, The Rock and Triple H. However, Austin would never make it to the match.
In reality, Austin was taking time off from WWE to heal yet another neck injury and the company had to find a way to write him off of television. So they devised a storyline to have Austin chase HHH into the backstage parking lot area after being interrupted in an interview and was subsequently run down by a car in a truly shocking moment.
Fingers were immediately pointed at Triple H for the incident, who along with his DX stablemates denied any involvement in the situation. Austin was loaded into an ambulance and replaced in the main event by Big Show, who had already competed in and won a traditional Survivor Series match earlier in the night. Big Show would go on to win the triple-threat match and the WWE Championship but the question of who hit Austin with the car would be the biggest story to come out of that particular Survivor Series.
It wasn’t until a year later that we actually found out who it was, and while the result wasn’t quite worth the wait, the incident actually led to the feud between Vince and Triple H that brought the HHH and Stephanie era to us, so it really was worth it.
There is simply no denying that The Undertaker is one of the biggest stars in WWE history and Survivor Series 1990 is where it all began. Back then, the company was full of colorful and vibrant superstars but ‘Taker came in and changed everything. He was a big guy who was way too agile for a man of his stature and he became an immediate threat to everyone in the industry on this night.
Ted DiBiase had been teasing a surprise member of his Million Dollar Survivor Series team that also included the Honky Tonk Man and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine (remember when Rhythm & Blues was a thing) to take on Dusty Rhodes and his Dream Team of Koko B. Ware and The Hart Foundation. Little did we know that this surprise member would go on to one of the most successful careers in history, especially when The Undertaker entered the arena.
He made an immediate impact when he entered the ring, eliminating Koko B. Ware, a huge fan favorite, in just over a minute. And he impressed even more when he took out the legendary Dusty Rhodes a little later in the match. However, ‘Taker would get himself counted out of the match as he continued his assault on Rhodes so his first match does technically go down as a loss. But the impact he made that night made it a very great moment in Survivor Series history and he would have an even bigger one only one year later.
Back in the 1980s and early 1990s, it wasn’t often that Hulk Hogan got pinned … or lost in any fashion for that matter. But that’s exactly what happened at the 1991 edition of Survivor Series.
Just one year after his debut in WWE, The Undertaker found himself in a WWE Championship match with arguably the biggest star the industry had ever seen in Hogan. And to make things a little more interesting, another man who could make that claim, Ric Flair, got involved in things as well.
Now, the match itself certainly isn’t a classic but it does serve as a classic moment. At the end of the match, Flair inserted himself into things by sliding a chair into the ring as The Undertaker delivered a Tombstone to Hogan, thus knocking Hogan out and allowing The Deadman to pick up the pinfall victory, securing the first championship in his storied career. Never mind that he lost it only a few days later back to Hogan at Tuesday in Texas and the title was vacated shortly after due to the controversial finishes of the matches.
In my humble opinion, The Undertaker was simply a pawn to get to what wrestling fans had wanted for years, a feud between Hogan and Flair for the title, which was supposed to happen at WrestleMania the following year. However, things never got to that point and even if they had, nobody could deny that The Undertaker had become a top guy in the company by beating Hogan, a role he wouldn’t relinquish for the next 25 years. While WrestleMania has become the event that most would associate with ‘Taker, it’s Survivor Series that helped him more in his early days in WWE than any other.
In the 25 years that The Undertaker spent dominating WWE, there was another man in another company that so many wrestling fans wanted to see battle The Deadman in a dream match. That man was Sting, the one guy that Vince McMahon never seemed to be able to lock down and give fans what they wanted after the demise of WCW. After spending the next decade in TNA, it became less and less likely that we’d ever see Sting step foot in a WWE ring.
But in yet another amazing Survivor Series debut, wishes were granted in 2014 as Sting shocked the world by getting involved in the Team Cena (John Cena, Dolph Ziggler, Big Show, Erick Rowan, Ryback) vs Team Authority (Seth Rollins, Kane, Mark Henry, Rusev, Luke Harper) main event. John Cena had been butting heads with Triple H and Stephanie for some time and this traditional 5-on-5 Survivor Series match had the stipulation that if Team Cena lost, all members except Cena himself would be fired. If Team Authority lost, they would lose their control and the only person who could give it back to them would be John Cena.
After Cena was eliminated from the match by a turning Big Show, Dolph Ziggler was left in a 3-on-1 situation against Kane, Luke Harper and Seth Rollins. Ziggler miraculously eliminated Kane, then Harper and had control against Rollins until Triple H got involved and knocked out multiple referees, eventually calling Scott Armstrong to the ring to count out Ziggler, who had been manhandled in the process.
However, Sting’s music hit and he finally appeared in a WWE arena, causing a massive reaction from the crowd and those watching around the world. He would hit his signature Scorpion Death Drop on Triple H and assist Ziggler in getting the win for Team Cena in an unbelievable moment for the business.
While Sting would eventually lose to Triple H at WrestleMania the following year, which created an amazing moment in its own right as the nWo and DX occupied the same ring, Sting’s debut at Survivor Series 2014 was a huge moment.
Just two years earlier at Survivor Series 1996, Rocky Maivia had become an overnight sensation after his big debut. However, as I said previously, nobody could have guessed what the next two years would do to his career. With his new persona, The Rock had become one of the biggest stars in wrestling and he was one of the heavy favorites going into the 14-man tournament for the vacant WWE Championship at Survivor Series in 1998.
“The People’s Champ” defeated the Big Boss Man in the first round, Ken Shamrock in the quarterfinals and found himself in the final four. He would watch as, in the first semifinal, Shane McMahon would align himself with his father and turn on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in his match against Mankind in what in itself was an awesome moment. The Rock would defeat The Undertaker by disqualification in the following match after some outside interference from the Big Boss Man and Kane, leading to a tournament final with Rock as the fan favorite and Mick Foley’s Mankind as the heel.
In what could only be described as one of the best double turns in WWE history, the McMahon family would screw over Foley and align themselves with The Rock in what was basically a recreation of the previous year’s Montreal Screwjob. As Foley was in the Sharpshooter, Vince called for the bell even though Foley had never tapped out and the new “Corporate Champion” was crowned in the form of The Rock. This event would lead to some great matches between The Rock and Foley, including their brutal “I Quit” encounter at the Royal Rumble and would ultimately lead to the first of three WrestleMania showdowns with Austin. Really great stuff all around that night.
Two and a half months prior to the 2002 edition of Survivor Series, Triple H had been awarded the World Heavyweight Championship as the Big Gold Belt made its way back to WWE. And speaking of making it back to WWE, there was Shawn Michaels, who had been out of the ring for nearly five years due to a back injury. This led to an epic encounter between the two at SummerSlam in an unsanctioned match that HBK would win. But with Triple H being awarded the title anyway not long after, Michaels had bigger things in mind come Survivor Series.
But he just didn’t have to deal with Triple H. He also had to battle Chris Jericho, Kane, Booker T and Rob Van Dam, and he would have to do so in the very first Elimination Chamber match in WWE history.
The new structure had been introduced by RAW general manager Eric Bischoff to counter the blue brand’s Hell In A Cell match from No Mercy and was to be a mix of the Survivor Series elimination format, the countdown style of Royal Rumble and the enclosed style of WCW’s War Games (seriously, could War Games just come back already). Add in the pods and the chain and the metal on the outside of the ring, and you had a brutal match on your hands and that’s exactly what it turned out to be.
After half an hour and four eliminations, the founders of DX squared off one-on-one to decide the World Heavyweight Championship and they did not disappoint. To give the other four members credit, nobody disappointed on that night, and in the end, Shawn Michaels completed one of the most unlikely comebacks to the top as he hit Sweet Chin Music on his former best friend to pick up the pin in one of the greatest matches and moments in Survivor Series history.
When Vince McMahon purchased WCW in the spring of 2001, abruptly ending the Monday Night War, wrestling fans around the world hoped that at some point they would see a WWF vs WCW matchup. And while the A-list roster took their sweet time getting there, we still got an Invasion storyline that also involved ECW as well as some crazy twists and turns that came to a head at Survivor Series in 2001 as the World Wrestling Federation took on The Alliance.
While The Alliance Team could have been made up of guys like Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Goldberg and Sting, we instead got Shane McMahon, who had kayfabe bought WCW out from underneath his father; Steve Austin, who had gone to WCW; Kurt Angle, who sided with ECW; Rob Van Dam (at least a real ECW guy) and Booker T (at least a real WCW guy). They would take on Team WWF, which consisted of The Rock, Chris Jericho, Kane, The Undertaker and Big Show. While this doesn’t sound like a real WWF vs WCW (because it wasn’t), the angle was still quite entertaining at points and seeing some of these guys battle one another at this time was still pretty solid.
The match itself was very good and, to the surprise of nobody, Team WWF would emerge victorious after a 45-minute affair that saw Kurt Angle change his allegiance and help The Rock beat Austin to seal the victory and the end of the Invasion storyline.
Professional wrestling –or sports entertainment if that’s what you want to go with– has been controversial in the eyes of many for decades in one way or another. And it doesn’t get any more controversial than Survivor Series 1997. Professional wrestling has provided some of its greatest moments when things get real, and things don’t get any more real than they did at Survivor Series 1997.
Of course, we’re talking about the Montreal Screwjob.
Now, I know a lot of you may not have thought that this could top a “best of” list but come on, this has everything. First of all, we got another match between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, who despite their disdain for one another, were always professionals and put on absolute classics with one another. I’m not saying that this would have been their best match ever, but no doubt it was still pretty good. Then throw in the real-life element of Bret Hart NOT wanting to do the professional thing in this case and drop the belt on his way out of the company as nine million dollars and a disastrous finish to his career awaited him in WCW. Throw in a referee and a championship challenger that lied for years about not knowing what was going to happen as this went down and add the owner of the company to this mix and we got the best moment in Survivor Series history.
Again, you may not look at this as the “best” moment but the look on Bret’s face when he realized what had happened was priceless. Add to that him spitting in Vince McMahon’s face, tearing up the set afterwards and air-writing “WCW” in the middle of a WWF ring and this train wreck has nowhere to be but in this top spot.
Yes, it was unfortunate how things went down but I’m on the side of Vince on this one. Hart should have done what he was told and dropped the title. Period. He gets paid to do his job and his job was to do what was right for the company. And he simply wouldn’t do business. So he had business done for him and while a lot of people would suffer in the process, including Vince himself and the left side of his face after Hart walloped him, it was ultimately the right thing to do. And the Mr. McMahon character was born in that moment as well, which led to the feud between he and Austin that pretty much saved the World Wrestling Federation. That alone is worth the top spot on this list.