Survivor Series is a weird’un for me. It shows up frequently at pivotal points in my wrestling fandom.
I was first introduced to WWF and wrestling in general through Survivor Series 1989. My younger brother (Liam, my co-host on the Hotdogs & Handshakes podcast) got it on VHS for Christmas when I was about 6 and that was my gateway drug. All the colourful characters and big teams and Hulk fucking Hogan really hooked me. From the opening video montage to the cocaine-fuelled interviews and the McMahon-tastic match run-down, I fucking loved every second.
Despite me having very negative opinions now for some of the talent on this show (racists, homophobes, abusers, murderers, The Bushwhackers, etc) it’s still a show I can watch with thick-rimmed rose tinted glasses. Just magical stuff.
By 1996 I had kinda fell out of wrestling. My little brother was still a WWF fan and would be gifted videos like Mega Matches ’95 and assorted wrestling annuals, but the characters and action really did nothing for me. Street Sharks, Biker Mice From Mars, Jim Carrey and Mighty Max were way cooler than Lex Luger, Tatanka, The Smoking Guns and Doink The Clown. That all changed when Liam got gifted Royal Rumble 1996 on VHS and I was addicted once again, largely due to being captivated by Shawn Michaels’ performance.
Despite not really following month-to-month, I got my WWF fix through random shows that were rented or borrowed, and the occasional glance at WWF magazine at the cornershop. Through all this, the one constant was Shawn Michaels; he was the best wrestler ever and my absolute fave, so I was crushed to find out through Royal Rumble 1997 (which my Grandad had taped for us the night prior) that he had lost the title two months ago to Psycho Sid at Survivor Series 1996. You see, WWF magazine was always three months behind, so in January 1997 it was still October 1996 for me.
I was heart broken.
Shawn winning back the title from Sid at that 1997 Royal Rumble wasn’t good enough, despite the poetic nature of becoming a HBK fan at the previous years Royal Rumble. Survivor Series ’96 had ruined me without me even seeing it and, twenty four years later, I still haven’t even watched the show for fear of breaking down into tears and throwing myself into an oven.
I kept up with the WWF though, even through that trauma. I purused through WWF magazines (despite all the news and coverage being 12 weeks old) and marvelled at the wrestling world being opened up through Powerslam (which was outdated by a couple of months as well). My Granddad would tape the shows when he could so I managed to keep up every now and then through the first half of 1997. Shawn lost his smile, found it again in his bumbag full of somas and came back, and wrestling was a bit good again.
Around the summer though, Granddad dropped the Sky Sports package and I was back in the dark ages for a while. The next time I saw a current WWF show was, yep you fucking guessed it, Survivor Series 1997. I was behind on everything by then and ,the last I knew, Shawn had accidentally twatted ‘Taker with a chair at Summerslam.
It was an accident, mate! Surely ‘Taker would understand the incident after watching the PPV replay and seeing that dastardly bastard Bret Hart spit in Shawn’s face first or, at the very least, Undertaker would become the bad guy going after the misunderstood good guy, HBK.
So there I was, sitting through Survivor Series 1997, and seeing all the video packages and flashbacks and interviews throughout the show, and colour me fuckless…Shawn was a fucking baddie and I almost threw myself into an oven. Gas mark 6, middle shelf, all the trimmings. Not you, Shawn! Beacon of light, man of hope and wisdom. A fucking bad guy! I was devastated. Again.
I stuck around with WWF (despite that devastating breach of trust) and became an avid fan throughout 1998 and all the way until late 2001. By then I had found out about WCW and ECW, and was eating up as much as I could even after they had both closed down. However, I had dropped out of wrestling almost completely by the later months of 2002. The drab and disappointing Invasion angle left a very sour taste in my mouth and there seemed to be no other alternative seeing as the competition was dead and I hadn’t been alerted to the existence of tape trading yet.
I was out of the WWE pool completely when I saw No Way Out 2002. Christ, what a sad state of affairs that was. The set comprised of two trucks and a couple of projectors, the NWO were shoehorned into the fed post-Invasion, Chris Jericho was miscast as the weaselly double-champion, Steve Austin clearly couldn’t give a fuck and the whole heap just felt heartless, heatless and uninteresting. Reminds me of New Japan in 2020 the more I think about it.
I was done with modern pro wrestling….until I moved school later in the year and one of the guys I started to hang out with copped on to my previous WWF fandom somehow. Maybe he caught me listening to ‘Tell Me A Lie’ on my Sony Walkman. He borrowed me Survivor Series 2002, which had only taken place a couple of days prior. Well fuck me, what a show! And what a difference a year makes;
Beware: The above highlight video contains over six minutes of Saliva, so I recommend muting it and playing something actually good in the background instead like ‘I Got The…’ by Labi Siffre.
HBK was back and won the big strap! Rey Mysterio turned up! Some beast called Brock Lesnar was tearing shit up! RVD looked amazing! Jeff Hardy had turned into an alien! The Dudleys reunited even though I never knew they broke up in the first place! New cage match! Bald Kurt Angle! Bad ass Eddie Guerrero! Kane with a non-burnt chin! Eric Bischoff was…around!
Survivor Series 2002 felt fresh, invigorating and exciting. The roster had been given a massive shake-up and a kick up the arsehole, and it felt like everyone was out to put on quality performances to win back those fans who had given up. Reminds me of Dragon Gate in 2020 the more I think about it.
Also, it was at Madison Square Garden with the classic TV set-up, just like Survivor Series 1996 (not that I’d know, obviously) so not only did it look fucking fantastic, it tickled the nostalgia buds.
The show became one of my favourite WWE shows. A really easy watch with loads going on and a great atmosphere. It also led me to dive into WWE’s post-brand split catalogue and thus really enjoying the vastly underrated May 2002 – July 2003 period (one of my favourite WWE runs, probably only second to January 2000 – June 2001). It also became my real jumping off point at exploring other promotions as after that I wanted more and more wrestling than I could handle. My interest in WWE would rise and fall throughout the years afterwards, but without Survivor Series 2002 I don’t think I would’ve given wrestling the same attention that I have for the past eighteen years.
And now, we wind the clock to a more recent time. I had been a happy subscriber of the WWE Network since the UK launch in January 2015. If a WWE PPV was a bit shite there was always other WWE archived content to dig into but, most of the time, the shows were usually quite good to average. Bang on the money (nine ninety-nine), lovely stuff. Honestly, I don’t expect the absolute best all the time from the world’s biggest professional wrestling company but I do expect consistency in regards to a decent level of quality.
However, there was a steep decline in quality in 2017. Smackdown, a brilliant little show that had me clamouring for more every week, had gone to shit. RAW was the usual turgid bollocks that I had been actively avoiding for years. 205 Live was performed in front of dead crowds and total indifference, even after the sublime Cruiserweight Classic. NXT Takeover was the only shining point left as the week-to-week show was getting increasingly bland at this point.
Well, as long as I can watch an average-good WWE PPV or two for my 9.99, along with the occasional Takeover (which were always great back then) I’d be happy with the service and the company. Yeah, I wasn’t bothering with the other content and I stopped watching Smackdown and I skipped through NXT like my finger was plastered to the FF button, but it seemed worth it. Keeping in touch with WWE programming on a regular basis was like having a child I had lost in a custody battle pop over to see me every other weekend (but a child I was relieved to be away from when they fucked off back to their mum’s house).
What show brought all this down? What show was so fucking terrible, wall to wall, that I just gave up and yanked the life-support machine from the wall? You can probably guess.
Survivor Series 2017.
This show. This fucking show. I had stuck with WWE through thick and thin for eighteen years. Sometimes at a distance, and sometimes up close and personal. But this show. THIS SHOW. Jesus fucking Christ. It finished me. I was done.
Survivor Series 2017 was a wankfest that left me so dissatisfied with the current product that I cancelled my WWE Network subscription very soon after. I actually waited to see where it was all going for a few weeks before declaring it all worthless, and even then I gave WWE yet another chance for redemption and waited until after the next PPV had faded to black before declaring the fed unsalvageable. It was total shitshow but the journey was over.
Just to think that the 2016 edition was so bloody well received, especially the 5-on-5 main event and Lesnar vs Goldberg, that I thought WWE had found a happy medium for it’s product. Yeah, the weekly TV was always going to be crud but at least the PPVs would deliver. But now we had Triple H and Shane McMahon shitting up the gaff and taking the spotlight away from a roster who desperately needed it, incredibly poor booking, WWE’s production habits cemented in place with solidified anthrax, and an unhealthy obsession with insulting their fanbase. The 2017 edition of Survivor Series, as a climax to a year that got steadily worse and worse, was the fork to my turkey.
Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, Survivor Series 1989 to Survivor Series 2017.
I attended WrestleMania in New Orleans the following April. This had been all bought and paid for the previous year, around the time of 2016’s rather good Survivor Series. Me and my friends had been planning this trip for over a decade, as it coincided with our 30th birthdays. It was an excellent fortnight, one the best times of my short 32 year old life. It’ll be really hard to top. The end of the week was propped up by ‘The Grand Daddy Of Them All’ with great seats and even better company.
The first half of the 2018 WrestleMania was like attending a wake. All the good memories of the fallen came flooding back. We had beers, ate food, reminisced, saw the old faces, saw some new ones, saw the current crop. It was nice. A really bloody good time.
Then the second half hit and it really hit home just how terrible WWE had gotten. Disappointment after disappointment after sheer disappointment. Have you ever heard 78,133 people leave a giant venue in complete silence and apathy? That’s how it felt when we were all queuing to leave after the mess that was Roman Reigns vs Brock Lesnar. You could hear a pin drop in the dark, endless pit of dismay.
I had no hopes that WWE would grab me back with that edition of ‘Mania. I had learnt my lesson from all the years of diminishing returns that no matter how good they could be on one night, hell how good they could be for one hour, that it always end in disaster. But they couldn’t even handle one WrestleMania.
Being a WWE fan is like being in a abusive relationship; the solution is to just get out and break it off, no matter how much the other side apologies or promises to change. It’s flowers at your door one night, then Kofi Kingston losing the title in mere seconds to Brock Lesnar the next.
If all the spectacle of a live WrestleMania with my best friends isn’t going to seal the deal, then nothing will.