Ahead of the 35th Survivor Series we take a look back at the biggest and most earth-shattering moments to take place at WWE’s annual spectacular.
Survivor Series has been a mainstay of WWE’s calendar since 1987. Held on Thanksgiving night at the Richfield Coliseum in front of more than 20,000 fans, the first ever Survivor Series was held as a direct result of the success of WrestleMania III. An event which saw the epic rivalry between Hulk Hogan and Andre The Giant finally come to a head.
Perhaps foreshadowing it’s later reputation, Survivor Series was surrounded by controversy right from it’s inception. By holding the new show on Thanksgiving it placed WWE in direct competition with Jim Crockett Promotions and their annual extravaganza, Starrcade.
To gain an advantage over the opposition, Vince McMahon provided cable companies with an ultimatum. Those providers who carried Starrcade wouldn’t be able to air WrestleMania IV the following year. It was a tactic that worked, as very few cable companies decided to show Starrcade and the show was never held in November again while running as a JCP or WCW event.
As a tribute to the second longest running WWE pay-per-view behind WrestleMania, here are the ten biggest moments in Survivor Series history.
Before diving into the list properly, there are a handful of honourable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut.
The Undertaker Says Goodbye
It all began at Survivor Series so it seemed only fitting that’s where it should end. While the ceremony might be remembered more for Kane arriving in his gear, and the weird experience of hearing piped in “Thank you Taker” chants as no fans were present, the visual of The Deadman saluting a hologram of the sadly departed Paul Bearer would bring a tear to a glass eye.
Goldberg Returns, Stuns Lesnar
By the time Goldberg stood across the ring from Brock Lesnar in 2016, the WWE Hall of Famer hadn’t wrestled in more than 12 and a half years. Most thought he’d never wrestle again, and few thought he’d be able to capture the magic of his prime. But in under 90 seconds, Goldberg rolled back the years, recaptured lightening in a bottle and toppled Lesnar with two Spear’s and a Jackhammer.
Austin Tries To Commit Actual Murder
At Survivor Series 1999 Stone Cold Steve Austin was run down by a man later revealed to be Rikishi. Who didn’t in fact do it for The Rock, but instead took out Austin for Triple H. A year later, Austin was out for revenge, facing The Game in a wild brawl which ended with him attempting murder (No Goldberg) by dropping a car containing Triple H 30-feet from a forklift.
Shawn vs. Bret For The First Time On Pay-Per-View
While Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart would go on to have more important and more infamous matches (We’ll get to that) they first met on pay-per-view at Survivor Series 1992. Hart had won the WWF Championship a month previously from Ric Flair and headed to the November spectacular to meet HBK who was fresh off his own Intercontinental Title win. The match itself may have been little more than a fairly routine win for The Hitman, but it hinted at much bigger things to come.
Brock Lesnar Betrayed By Paul Heyman
Guided by the master of manipulation Paul Heyman, Brock Lesnar stood tall as Undisputed Champion heading into Survivor Series 2002. However, with cracks beginning to appear between Lesnar and Heyman as they prepared to meet The Big Show, the former ECW owner smashed the relationship to pieces on the big night. After Lesnar delivered an F-5 to seemingly win the match, Heyman pulled the referee out of the ring, leaving Big Show to Chokeslam Lesnar onto a chair and claim the gold in front of a stunned Madison Square Garden.
10. The Mega Powers Almost Explode
The story of the Mega Powers reads more like a Shakespearean epic than a wrestling rivalry. Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage began as sworn enemies before joining forces in October 1987. Over the next year the team reigned over the World Wrestling Federation, with Hogan helping Savage with the WWF Title at WrestleMania IV.
However, professional wrestling has never been known for its ‘happy ever afters’ and so it proved for Savage and Hogan. By the time the pair arrived at Survivor Series 1988, the Macho Man had begun show flickers of jealousy in Hogan’s direction as he began giving Savage’s wife Miss Elizabeth more than passing glance.
At the event, The Mega Powers teamed with Hercules, Koko B. Ware and Hillbilly Jim to take on The Twin Towers (The Big Boss Man & Akeem) Haku, The Red Rooster and Ted DiBiase. During the match Hogan came to Elizabeth’s rescue before being handcuffed to the ropes by Boss Man. This left Savage in survival mode on his own before Elizabeth freed Hogan who tagged in and hit his famous Leg Drop on Haku to claim the win.
Despite the win, the drama was far from over. Savage was visibly agitated by Hogan being a little too friendly towards Elizabeth. Never one to miss an opportunity to stir the pot, Jesse Ventura stoked the fires of discontent after the match, both on commentary and when interviewing Savage.
The Mega Powers finally exploded at WrestleMania V where Savage lost the WWF Title to Hogan.
9. Sting Arrives In WWE
For 13 long years, Sting was the one who got away. The greatest wrestler to never compete in WWE. For years The Icon had resisted overtures from the company, but on November 23rd 2014, Sting stepped into a WWE ring for the first time.
Sting had come close to signing with WWE before, most notably in 2011, but on that occasion he ultimately decided to re-sign with TNA. But things were different three years later. After leaving TNA it was announced that he would feature in an upcoming WWE video game, get a new action figure and be the subject of a DVD looking back at his career.
The only thing fans were left to wonder was whether he would compete in the ring. That question was answered at Survivor Series when the lights went out and the WCW legend arrived to help Team Cena overcome The Authority, dropping Triple H with a Scorpion Death Drop in the process.
While he never had that dream match with The Undertaker lost at WrestleMania and had his run cut short through injury, his shock debut was befitting of wrestling royalty.
8. “That’s A Blue-Chipper Right There”
In 2021, Dwayne Johnson is recognised as a cultural icon. He’s arguably the biggest movie star on the planet, one of the most recognisable people on earth and maybe even the most famous name to come out of WWE. But in November 1996, he was just Rocky Maivia. WWE’s first ever third-generation star making his debut inside the ‘World’s most famous arena’ with a slightly suspect haircut.
On the night he teamed with Jake “The Snake” Roberts, Marc Mero and The Stalker to take on Hunter Hurst Helmsley (Triple H) Crush, Jerry “The King” Lawler and Goldust. As the match neared it’s conclusion, the young rookie dodged a Heart Punch from Crush before eliminating him with a Cross-body. Leaving him to secure victory as the lone-survivor for his team by pinning Goldust after a Shoulder Breaker.
While he later performed in front of bigger crowds and had better matches, it all started here as a wide-eyed, 24-year-old with seven dollars and a dream.
7. Who Ran Down Stone Cold?
History may show Survivor Series 1999 as one of the most important nights in WWE, but it had nothing to do with the action in the ring. In the main event The Big Show captured his first WWF Championship in a match he wasn’t advertised to even be in, but that proved to be merely a footnote to what came before.
Heading into the event, the show was due to feature Stone Cold Steve Austin taking on Triple H and The Rock in a Triple Threat match for the WWF’s top prize. But Austin never made it to the ring.
Ahead of the main event, Austin was being interviewed backstage by Kevin Kelly, but was quickly attacked by Triple H who ran off. Stone Cold gave chase all the way to the parking lot, before being run down by a black car driven by a mystery assailant. With the car speeding off, Austin was left on floor being tended to by medics as an irate Vince McMahon accused The Game of driving the car.
Austin was taken away to hospital and The Big Show was added to the championship match, eventually claiming the win.
The reality was that Stone Cold needed time off for surgery to repair his neck which had been broken at SummerSlam two years previously. It was an injury that would eventually lead to Austin’s retirement in 2003.
In his absence, Triple H became a solidified main event player and The Rock went from being one of the company’s top stars to being the top star. The gap at the top of the card also led to Mick Foley postponing his retirement and clashing with Triple H in an unforgettable series of matches in early 2000.
The show also saw the in-ring debut of a certain Olympic gold medallist. The WWF/E would never be quite the same again.
6. “Look At The Size Of That Ham Hock!”
Survivor Series has been the scene of many wrestling debuts in it’s more than three decade long history, but none have had a longer lasting impact than that of The Undertaker. It was a gimmick that even those involved have admitted had no right to work, handed to a man of three years experience and a pretty undistinguished run in WCW behind him.
At the 1990 Survivor Series The Million Dollar Team headed by Ted DiBiase, were scheduled to face The Dream Team captained by the late, great Dusty Rhodes. However, with both teams in the ring DiBiase was yet to reveal the identity of his mystery partner. Grabbing a microphone he then announced the debutant to the ring to stunned silence.
During the match The Undertaker delivered his first Tombstone, with Koko B. Ware the unlucky recipient. Later seeing off Dusty Rhodes before eventually being counted out.
No one realised it at the time, but they had witnessed the beginning of a run, the likes of which had never been seen before, and likely will never see again. The Deadman cometh.
5. The Hounds Of Justice Spark Chaos
Between them, the three former members of The Shield boast 12 World Championships (Including those won outside of WWE), one NXT Championship, multiple Tag Team Title reigns, and have won every major honour that WWE have to offer.
From later 2012 until the summer of 2014, The Shield ran roughshod over WWE and everyone in it, and it was a reign of terror that began at Survivor Series. By the time he headed to the ring to face John Cena and Ryback at the autumn spectacular, CM Punk was in the midst of a World Championship reign that would eventually last 434 days.
At Survivor Series all three men were laid out when a mysterious trio clad in black, later identified as Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins came from the crowd and attacked Ryback. After laying down a beating in the ring, they delivered their soon to be signature Triple Powerbomb through the announce table.
In the aftermath of the chaos Punk pinned Cena to retain his title, reigning until the 2013 Royal Rumble.
4. The Corporate Champion Wins The Deadly Game
Two years on from his WWE debut, The Rock climbed to the top of the wrestling mountain at Survivor Series 1998 Deadly Game.
At Breakdown in September, both The Undertaker and Kane pinned Stone Cold to claim the WWF Championship. This led to Vince McMahon setting up a match between the pair at Judgement Day to declare the true champion, but special guest referee Steve Austin counted both men out. As a result, McMahon fired Austin leaving the title vacant heading into Survivor Series.
A babyface Rock beat The Big Boss Man, Ken Shamrock and The Undertaker to make to the finals, while the corporate choice Mankind got past Gillberg, Al Snow and Stone Cold. In the final, Vince McMahon turned on Mankind, with The Rock aligning with The Corporation. It was a shocking conclusion to a night of twists and turns, with The Rock walking out of St Louis with the first of what would turn out to be ten World Championships before all was said and done.
3. Winner Takes It All
When The Invasion began in May 2001, the potential seemed limitless. WWE had acquired WCW only months earlier, setting about signing talents from the Atlanta based promotion. The general idea being that the company would relaunch WCW as it’s own stand-alone brand in the coming months. However, one poorly received match between Buff Bagwell and Booker T later, that plan was quickly nixed.
At Invasion, Stone Cold turned on the WWF to join the WCW/ECW Alliance helping them win on the night in the process. The war continued throughout the summer, leading to a ‘Winner Takes All’ Elimination match at Survivor Series 2001. While the story was quickly running out of steam, Paul Heyman delivered one of the greatest promos of his career on the SmackDown before Survivor Series, laying into Vince McMahon in blistering fashion.
At the event, Team WWF was made up of The Rock, Chris Jericho, The Big Show, Kane and The Undertaker, while The Alliance consisted of Steve Austin, Kurt Angle, Rob Van Dam, Booker T and Shane McMahon.
The match itself was an epic lasting nearly 45 minutes and stands as one of the great Survivor Matches in history. Jim Ross called the match like it was life and death while a ring packed full of Hall of Fame talent went to war. There were feuding referees, finishers galore, but when the dust settled it was left to The Rock and Stone Cold to battle it out for the win.
With referee Earl Hebner laid out, Kurt Angle ran back to the ring, turning his back on The Alliance, hitting Austin with the WWF Title. The Rock followed up with the Rock Bottom to grab the win in the match to put The Alliance out of business.
While the Invasion story is not always remembered fondly, the match which brought it to an end is a Stone Cold classic.
2. “Do You Believe In Miracles?!”
At SummerSlam 2002 Shawn Michaels returned to the ring for the first time in four years. After sustaining a serious back injury in early 1998, HBK was forced to retire after being pinned by Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV.
Over the next four years he was never too far from the action making special appearances and even serving as the Commissioner in 1999. After returning to WWE as part of the nWo in 2002, it looked as though Michaels would reunite with Triple H when the faction disbanded. However, Triple H turned on his friend leading to the Unsanctioned Match at SummerSlam.
Heading into Survivor Series, Rob Van Dam, Kane, Chris Jericho, Booker T and Shawn Michaels all had eyes on Triple H and the World Title he had been awarded by Eric Bischoff in September. In an effort to get one up on SmackDown, Raw General Manger Bischoff announced the creation of the Elimination Chamber, with all six Superstars mentioned above taking part.
Nearly 20 years on, the match is still widely regarded as the greatest Elimination Chamber match in history. The story of the match being, could Shawn Michaels roll back the years one more time to claim the World Title? In the bout, Triple H suffered a crushed trachea after being hit by a Five-Star Frog Splash from Van Dam, but he battled on.
The match was a brutal affair but came to a close with Triple H and HBK fighting tooth and nail for the win. Jim Ross turned in one of the most underrated calls of his career, willing Michaels to victory. A win that finally came when Michaels nailed his rival with Sweet Chin Music to spark emotional celebrations from the Madison Square Garden faithful.
1. The Montreal Screwjob
Whether or not Bret Hart had any intention, or would have been allowed to appear on WCW Monday Nitro with the WWF Title, on November 9th 1997, Vince McMahon made sure it wouldn’t be possible.
Over the course of 1997, the professional and personal relationship between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels totally disintegrated. Each accused the other of disrespect, taking not-so-thinly-veiled shots at each other both on television and behind the scenes. To make matters worse, Hart had been informed by Vince McMahon that the WWF couldn’t afford to pay him in accordance with the new contract he had signed a year previously.
By the time that Survivor Series rolled around Hart had agreed to join WCW, but in the eyes of Vince McMahon there was one huge problem, he was still WWF Champion. In addition, he was refusing to lose the championship to Michaels, especially in Canada. Despite reaching a compromise which would have seen the match end in a disqualification and Hart lose the title at a later date, distrust between all involved reigned supreme.
Against that backdrop, McMahon put into action a plan to guarantee that Hart wouldn’t leave the event with the title. What transpired was arguably the most infamous moment in wrestling history. With Shawn Michaels locking in the Sharpshooter on The Hitman, referee Earl Hebner called for the bell, despite Hart not tapping out.
Shawn Michaels grabbed the WWF Championship and quickly made his way to the back, while a disgusted Bret Hart spat in Vince McMahon’s face at ringside. After Hart finally made his way to the locker room, he ended up confronting McMahon, punching him in the face.
Numerous other Superstars and backstage figures were less than impressed with how the events unfolded, reportedly planning a boycott of the following night’s episode of Monday Night Raw. This famously led to Mick Foley not appearing on the show out of protest.
In the years that followed, the ‘Screwjob’ was often replicated and parodied, while the relationships between Bret Hart and Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels took more than a decade to repair.
Survivor Series has seen title wins, returns, debuts, retirements, attempted vehicular homicide, blood, sweat and tears, but never again has it seen anything like the Montreal Screwjob.