wrestling / Columns

The Contentious Ten 11.19.12: The Top 10 Survivor Series Matches

November 19, 2012 | Posted by Gavin Napier

I was surprised as I went back through the years looking for high quality Survivor Series matches. To be one of WWE’s “big 5” pay per views, the number of matches that are great or anything close to it are in short supply. Something else I noticed (and this will be a bit of a peek into how I assemble these lists) is how certain people rate matches. I don’t rely on the match ratings of others to determine the list, but I do look at two or three reviews of each match that I select for the list just to make sure that I’m not way off base on things. For instance, if I’m feeling “meh” about a match, but I look around and see that three or four other respected guys have given it four stars, then I’m willing to watch again with the idea that maybe I’ve missed something to this point. Look at enough matches by enough guys, and you’ll see trends.

For instance, one popular IWC member in particular will consistently rate any match that sees Bret Hart or Chris Benoit go over about a half star higher than everyone else. By contrast, any match that features Hulk Hogan or Triple H going over (and really even if they’re involved at all) gets a quarter to half star penalty. It’s pretty remarkable. Now, to this point, I’ve been pretty open about my personal preferences playing a part in these lists. However, I try to keep some objectivity. I may not like Bret Hart that much, but I understand that he’s had a handful of great Survivor Series matches. By the same token, just because Chris Jericho is likely my second favorite wrestler ever, it doesn’t mean that his match against John Cena in 2008 was better than middle of the road, especially considering the talent of the men involved. With that rant out of the way, here’s my criteria for The Top 10 Survivor Series Matches

-Match quality, i.e. workrate
-“Sports Entertainment” quality
-Historic significance
-Personal preference

As always, criteria are listed in descending order. Pure wrestling goodness is the main criteria, but ability to entertain the crowd also plays a factor here. Historically, if the match stands out, it makes for a nice tiebreaker. Now, the elephant in the room.

1997. Montreal. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels.

If this list were crafted entirely on historic significance, then this would obviously be number one with a bullet. If this were a “top 10 moments” list, likewise. However, the match leading up to the “screwjob” wasn’t that great. It certainly wasn’t as good as any high profile match that Bret or Shawn had with each other, or really even against anyone else at that point. It certainly wasn’t as good as their 1992 match at Survivor Series, and wasn’t as good as either man’s match at Survivor Series the year prior. That’s why the match doesn’t appear on this list: because as a match, it wasn’t very good.

Matches that just missed the cut: Strike Force, The Young Stallions, The Fabulous Rougeaus, The Killer Bees, and the British Bulldogs vs. The Hart Foundation, The Islanders, Demolition, The Bolsheviks, and The New Dream Team (1987); Christian vs. Shelton Benjamin (2004); Dolph Ziggler vs. John Morrison (2011)

As an aside here, Dolph Ziggler’s last three Survivor Series matches are an example of how much the landscape changes from year to year in wrestling. This year, he’s in a high profile traditional Survivor Series matchup. Last year, he was defending the United States championship against John Morrison. It feels like John Morrison has been gone foreeeever. The year before that? He was wrestling Kaval! Mind blowing. Or maybe just for me. Oh well. On with the list.

Shawn Michaels vs. Randy Orton (2007)size=6>
Survivor Series 2007 Randy Orton vs Shawn… by TH3_GH0ST

Survivor Series 2007 Randy Orton vs Shawn… by TH3_GH0ST

Hooray for unnecessary stipulations!
-WWE Championship Match

Shawn Michaels is one of the greatest of all time by any standard, unless the standard is looking directly at the camera with both eyes at the same time. Randy Orton, while annoying to me, has proven to be a viable part of the main event scene in WWE. You wouldn’t think that men such as these would need a lot of fluff to pull off a great match. If you thought that, though, you wouldn’t be a part of WWE’s Creative (and I use that term loosely) Team. Orton was wrestling under “Flair Conditions”, which stated that if he were to be disqualified, he would lose his Championship. For his part, Shawn Michaels was forbidden from using the Sweet Chin Music. Hooray for unnecessary stipulations! The result was seeing Michaels use a lot of submission moves that he didn’t traditionally break out. The stipulations actually played a part in the ending of the match, so there’s bonus points awarded for psychology.

Diesel vs. Bret Hart (1995)size=6>
Bret Hart vs. Diesel – Survivor Series 1995 by pocomaxa

God bless Russian uploaders.
WWE Championship Match

Finding this match with reasonable quality was difficult. God bless Russian uploaders. I’m not sure what the difference is over there, or why they’re allowed to upload a thirty minute match in crystal clear quality when everyone else has to split it into three parts with grainy footage, but whatever. I’m not complaining. It could be argued that this is Kevin Nash’s best match, with the possible exception being against Shawn Michaels. This WWE Championship match falls right in the middle of five straight Survivor Series matches for Bret Hart that were either great or important. Whether I like him or not, Bret is the most consistently great performer in Survivor Series history, and dragging a four star match out of Kevin Nash is a great opening statement for why.

Team Bischoff vs. Team Austin (2003)size=6>
WWE Survivor Series 2003 – Team Austin vs Team… by DJLDX

Pack a lunch.
-Traditional Survivor Series match
-Determined GM of Monday Night Raw

Despite being the “theme” of Survivor Series through the years, most of the elimination matches haven’t been very good. A big part of that, in my opinion, is because they feel contrived. Four guys that are feuding happen to take on the four guys they’re feuding with. The match starts hot, guys that are feuding eliminate each other, the faces end up facing a three on two or two on one disadvantage, then overcome the odds to win or get cheated. Rarely does the formula deviate. It deviated in 2003. The match was allowed to develop organically and the parties involved were given time to do what they do best. If you’re going to watch this, pack a lunch. It’s forty five minutes, but one of the three best “traditional” Survivor Series matches ever.

Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (1992)size=6>
Bret Hart vs Shawn Michaels – SSeries 92 by Kse7en

Half as important, twice as good.
-WWE Championship Match
-WWE Champion vs. Intercontinental Champion

This was Shawn Michaels’ introduction to the main event scene. It also was the second chapter of their long and storied history, following the Rockers vs. Hart Foundation matches. This match is actually the byproduct of two cancelled matches. Davey Boy Smith was supposed to be defending the Intercontinental Title against The Mountie, but was released from the company due to steroid allegations and dropped the title to Michaels. Bret was actually set to defend the WWF World Title against Jake Roberts, but Roberts and the World Wrestling Federation couldn’t come to terms on a new contract. The result? A match between Bret and Shawn. In comparison to their 1997 match, it’s half as important, twice as good. It would prove that HBK belonged in the world title picture, though, and would become part of one of wrestling’s greatest rivalries.

John Cena vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (2009)size=6>
John Cena vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels 1/2 by BuuPetit

John Cena vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels 2/2 by BuuPetit

But..but..Cena can’t wrestle, right?
-WWE Championship Match

To my knowledge, this is the only Survivor Series main event that was determined by NASCAR. John Cena found himself in the unenviable position of defending the WWE Championship against both members of D-Generation X after Kyle Busch and Joey Logano made the match while guest hosting RAW. Look at all the capital letters I’ve used so far in this blurb. Ridiculous. The match played out pretty much like people thought it would, with HBK and HHH working together for a while before they both started going for the win. Cena played his part well and his power game balanced out the bumping by Michaels and the technical work by Triple H pretty well. But..but..Cena can’t wrestle, right? Well, no. That’s wrong. The guy has been pretty good through the years against a variety of opponents. This match is no different, as three consummate professionals turn in an outstanding match.

CM Punk vs. Alberto Del Rio (2011)size=6>
Instant Catch #9 Alberto Del Rio vs CM Punk by Vinc316

And so began a year of boredom.
-WWE Championship Match

Alberto Del Rio cashed in his Money In The Bank case and won the WWE Championship from CM Punk at Summerslam last year. Punk got a rematch against him, but John Cena was involved. This became Punk’s “official” rematch. He regained the title, and so began a year of boredom. Over the last year, they’ve done everything to get Punk over as a champion except let him wrestle matches and win them cleanly in feuds and programs that weren’t propped up by extracurricular parties. In CM Punk’s title reign, he’s been involved with AJ, Mick Foley, Triple H, John Laurinaitis, Bret Hart, Chris Jericho, Jerry Lawler, Vince McMahon, and Paul Heyman. That means that in the last 365 days, Punk is averaging working with a new non-wrestler, legend, manager, or part time wrestler about once every six weeks. It frustrates me so much because CM Punk doesn’t need that. This match is proof. Alberto Del Rio is the worst WWE Champion of the last ten years in my opinion, and he clicked with Punk and had a great match. I expect Punk to tack another sixty days or so onto his reign at the very least…but that’s just going to mean The Rock..another legend/part timer.

Team WWF vs. Team Alliance (2001)size=6>
survivor series 2001 Team Alliance vs. Team WWF by WrestlingFootball

Pretty typical of the InVasion angle.
-Best “traditional” Survivor Series match ever.

Looking back, everything about this match is pretty typical of the InVasion angle. Nothing fits. Why was the V capitalized for no reason? Why is Team Alliance made up of so many WWE wrestlers? Is there a good reason for Shane McMahon to be there? Why is this match so good after the entire angle stunk? The writing was on the wall for this match once it was announced that it was “winner take all.” There was no chance that Vince McMahon would do away with the family name of the WWF in favor of the recently purchased WCW. What would have made this interesting, however, would have been putting a show on the line. If Team WCW had won, they could have gotten Smackdown and renamed it WCW Nitro. Ric Flair would join the promotion the next night on Raw, but he could have just as easily headed the WCW brand altogether. That would have allowed a true brand split over the next few months, and a bigger WWE vs. WCW feel as more of the “high priced” free agents became available to Vince. Throwing Scott Steiner, Goldberg, Hall, and Nash into the mix would have made the WCW brand much more viable. A six month build to a WWE vs. WCW Wrestlemania where the WCW brand was officially laid to rest could have done a lot more business for WWE than how the InVasion was booked. Still, this match stands out as the high point of an otherwise disappointing angle.

Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin (1996)size=6>
Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin, WWE Survivor Series… by akim93

Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin, WWE Survivor Series… by akim93

Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin, WWE Survivor Series… by akim93

Arguably better than their Wrestlemania match.
-Match to determine the number one contender to the WWE Championship

If you think that the “I Quit” match was what put Steve Austin in the main event scene, you’re a little off. This match, arguably better than their Wrestlemania match, proved that Austin belonged. He was Bret’s equal both in terms of technical ability and in building the match as the minutes ticked by. They told an incredible story in the ring and Austin started shoehorning himself into the upper echelon of the World Wrestling Federation. Do I think this match deserved the full five stars that some people gave it? No. Is it still very, very good? Absolutely. Austin and Bret would build on this match to turn in their classic at Wrestlemania 13 a few months later. Without this one, though, the match at Wrestlemania wouldn’t have meant nearly as much.

Shawn Michaels vs. Sid (1996)size=6>
Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin, WWE Survivor Series… by akim93

I love Sid.
-WWF Championship Match

Here’s where personal preference plays a role for me. I love Sid. Always have. From his days in Memphis to the NWA to the WWF back to WCW, I’ve always been an unabashed mark for Sid. I was the only person I knew that wanted to see Sid win this match. If ever two guys were built to have a “big guy vs. little guy” match, it’s Sid and Shawn. Shawn bumps like no other, and Sid (for my money) looks like the most imposing physical specimen in wrestling history. Sid and Shawn had history. Sid turned on Shawn after Shawn gave him the “night off” as his bodyguard about 18 months earlier. There were matches with Diesel, there was an injury, and it took a while to get to this point. Once we did, though, I was desperate to see Sid get his first major title. The fact that these two turned in a match that exceeded all expectations was icing on the cake.

Bret Hart vs. Bob Backlund (1994)size=6>

Why is this match so hard to find?
-“Throw In The Towel” Match for WWE Championship

Why is this match so hard to find? The only place I was able to dig it up wouldn’t allow me to embed it anywhere. Something about it being WWE’s official page and it’s technically their property or something. I dunno. Anyway, you can find the match by clicking on it here. This remains one of my favorite matches of all time because of the story that was told not just here, but over a period of months. Backlund was phenomenal in his role as a lunatic, and both men held up their end of the bargain and then some in terms of the actual wrestling. A fantastic match that blends the best of yesteryear with the modern WWE style at the time.

Did I miss something? Let me know in the comment section below. Now with Disqus, it’s easier to comment and easier for me to interact. I enjoy hearing your thoughts and what your rankings would have looked like. Don’t be bashful. You can find me on Twitter @GavinNapier411 and check out my new podcast on iTunes by searching for The Casual Heroes, or go to www.thecasualheroes.com and I’ll be back here in 7..6..5..

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