Survivor Series made its debut in 1987, becoming the second annual WWE PPV after WrestleMania, and has been a November tradition ever since. In three decades since it was created, Survivor Series has seen more than its share of huge debuts, spectacular matches, and events which changed the course of wrestling forever, making it one of the most important parts of WWE history. With that in mind, we’ve gathered up some of the greatest moments to ever happen at WWE’s second-oldest PPV, so that you can enjoy a trip down memory lane.
13. 1994 – Backlund Wins
Bob Backlund defeating Bret Hart in a shocking upset to win the WWF Championship at Survivor Series 1994 was important for a few reasons. First of all, it set a record for most time between World Title wins that has not yet been surpassed, with Backlund’s previous reign ending in 1983, an astounding 3985 days earlier. Secondly, it lasted a whole three days, at which point Backlund lost the title in eight whole seconds to Diesel, at a live event in Madison Square Garden. This transitional reign kicked off WWF’s “New Generation” era, with Diesel at the forefront, and is generally considered a low point for the company in nearly every respect, as Diesel became known as the lowest-drawing WWF champion in company history, eventually dropping the belt back to Bret Hart a year later, once again, at Survivor Series.
12. 2012 – The Shield Debuts
In 2012, three men burst onto the scene and changed the direction of WWE forever. During the main event of Survivor Series, a Triple Threat match between CM Punk, Ryback, and John Cena, the lights briefly went out in the arena. When they were restored, Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns were attacking Ryback, culminating in a massive triple powerbomb through the announce table. With that sudden act of violence, we were introduced to The Shield, a trio of talented Superstars who were nearly unbeatable as a unit, who embarked on nearly a year-and-a-half long reign of terror over WWE, defeating every team sent against them, including all of WWE’s top talent. When The Shield was ultimately destroyed from within, all three men went on to become World Champions, pillars of the main event, and a significant part of the future of WWE. Never before has a group made up of young Superstars been so incredibly successful, and left their mark on the company for years to come.
11. 2002 – The Elimination Chamber
In his continuing refusal to admit that War Games was an incredible gimmick that could easily be replicated in his company, Vince McMahon regularly tried to invent “better” versions of WCW’s infamous double cage match. The first attempt was Hell in a Cell, and the second one, which debuted at Survivor Series in 2002, was the Elimination Chamber. Presented on-screen as the brainchild of Eric Bischoff, the Raw GM at the time, the Chamber was incredibly imposing. menacingly dangerous, and ridiculously expensive. Over its history, the Chamber hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, never really having any blowaway 5-star matches like War Games or Hell in a Cell before it. In fact, WWE has attempted to phase out the Chamber in recent years, mostly due to the fact that modern arena designs no longer have the structural ability to hang the massive structure above the ring. However, while the matches have rarely been great, they’ve never been truly horrible, and the gimmick has had a long and moderately successful lifespan in WWE.
10. 2002 – Lesnar’s First Loss
Brock Lesnar’s winning streak after he debuted the day after WrestleMania X-8 isn’t really spoken about in the same reverence as the truly memorable ones like Angle, Tatanka, and of course, Goldberg. The reason for this is that during his streak, Brock often failed to win a lot of matches without getting pinned, usually by DQ (including an infamous double DQ against The Undertaker on PPV that enraged fans in attendance, who had expected an actual finish to their main event that evening), which still technically counted as being undefeated in the eyes of WWE. In that time, Brock won the King of the Ring tournament and the WWE Championship, defeated Hulk Hogan, The Rock, and The Undertaker, and held the title until Survivor Series 2002, at which point he suffered the first pinfall loss of his WWE career to…The Big Show, losing the WWE Title in the process. It was fair to say that this was not a popular decision, but it did cement Brock as a fan favorite (due to his manager Paul Heyman betraying him) that would carry him through to the main event of WrestleMania XIX, where he regained the title.
9. 1996 – The Rock Debuts
As great as he may be (and he is), the one thing The Rock will never live down is his initial character of Rocky Maivia. Introduced as a third-generation blue chip prospect, Maivia was the biggest babyface who ever babyfaced, and WWE debuted him at Survivor Series 1996, in front of a rowdy crowd as Madison Square Garden, considered the “home base” of the company for many years. His debut actually received a fairly loud ovation, and even got the win for his team, overcoming a 2-on-1 disadvantage to do so. However, things quickly soured for Rocky in the days and weeks that would follow. An admittedly goofy look, an annoyingly cheerful persona, and the fact that he was still relatively inexperienced (and in many case, downright bad) as a wrestler led to crowds quickly turning on him. Fortunately, a well-timed heel turn saved his career, turning him into The Rock that we’re all familiar with to this day.
8. 1999 – Who Hit Stone Cold
In 1999, it had become clear that Steve Austin, who had become the centerpiece of WWF during the Attitude Era, was going to have to finally have the neck surgery he’d been putting off ever since he’d suffered a severe injury during a match with Owen Hart years earlier. However, WWE decided they didn’t want to just send Austin off TV for an entire year without an on-screen reason, so they continued to advertise his presence in a Triple Threat match at Survivor Series, knowing that there was no way he would be wrestling. Then, at the show, Austin was filmed walking through the parking lot of the arena, which a mysterious car came from nowhere, ran him down, and squealed off into the night. Austin was whisked away for his surgery, replaced by The Big Show in the main event (who ended up winning the match and his first WWF Championship), and when he returned roughly a year later, Austin was hell-bent on finding out who had dared to try and take him out.
7. 2001 – Winner Takes All
The sins of the WCW Invasion angle are almost too numerous to list, but as the weeks went by, it was clear that absolutely nothing could be done to save the mess, and the decision was made to pull the plug entirely. In a final attempt to wring some money and fan interest out of the shambles, a final “Winner Takes All” match was declared for Survivor Series 2001, a five-on-five Elimination Match between the forces of WWE and the invading Alliance, with the winning team’s organization gaining full control, and the losers erased forever. As much as WWE tried to create some doubt in the outcome, obviously WWE won, when WWE mole Kurt Angle revealed himself, preventing Alliance leader Steve Austin from winning the match, and allowing The Rock to seize victory. The next night, things reverted to normal, although a bunch of character alignments suddenly shifted in the aftermath. Austin turned face due to the fact that he never should have turned heel in the first place (more specifically, due to sympathy after Vince McMahon continued to gloat about his win), and Kurt Angle, savior of WWE, turned heel due to the fact that he kept bragging about that fact and thought he deserved more respect. Also, Ric Flair made his shocking return to become co-owner of the company alongside Vince. A lot happened very quickly, is what we’re saying.
6. 2003 – Team Angle vs Team Lesnar
Honestly, at the time, this 2003 Elimination Match didn’t seem like much more than a continuation of the ongoing feud between Brock Lesnar and Kurt Angle, one which had begun nearly a year earlier and seen both men switch alignments halfway through. This match was also done to prepare Chris Benoit for his eventual World title victory at WrestleMania XX only a few months later, but that’s also not the reason why this match ended up being important in the grand scheme of things. You see, when he was trying to find a fifth member for his team, Angle turned to an up-and-coming young heel named John Cena, who had earlier been courted by Lesnar’s side, then attacked when he turned them down. Cena accepted, and at Survivor Series, he was an integral part of Team Angle’s victory over Lesnar and his team of giants, and was even responsible for the final elimination, taking out The Big Show. This was, in fact, Cena’s official babyface turn, one which he would never look back from, winning the US Title from Show a few months later at WrestleMania XX, then the WWF Title from JBL at WrestleMania 21 a year after that, becoming the absolute top star in the company in the process.
5. 1996 – Austin vs Hart, Part One
If you ever want to see a match that shows how incredible a technical wrestler Steve Austin was before his unfortunate neck injury and the resulting years of pain and surgeries, his bout with Bret Hart at the 1996 Survivor Series would have to be the first one you go to. At the time, Austin had just become “Stone Cold” after winning King in the Ring earlier in the year, but was not yet even close to what he would become in the future, and Hart had taken a sabbatical following his loss to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII, before finally deciding to return to the company where he’d made his name (his contract was expiring, and there was legitimate concern he would jump to WCW), signing his infamous 20-year contract and announcing to the world that he would face Austin (who had spent the summer calling Hart a variety of unkind names due to his absence) at Survivor Series. With both men having something to prove, they put on an absolute wrestling clinic, one which quickly elevated Austin into a Superstar to watch, and which reinforced Hart as one of the greatest workers of his generation. Their second match, at WrestleMania 13, is more well-remembered, but this one should not be forgotten.
4. 2011 – Rock/Cena, One Time, Only Time
As part of the year-long build to their first-ever meeting at WrestleMania XXVIII, John Cena managed to talk The Rock into teaming up with him for a sort of warm-up match against the dominant tag team of…The Awesome Truth. Listen, we thought the team of Miz and R-Truth was actually pretty good for the short time that it lasted, but this was in no way a fair match-up, and Cena and Rock managed to work together long enough to easily put away their opponents, before focusing once again on their mutual dislike and upcoming match, with Rock hitting Cena with a Rock Bottom post-match. The important part, of course, is that this was The Rock’s first match in WWE since WrestleMania XX, nearly eight years earlier, and the only time that Rock and Cena have ever teamed up in an official match. That same card saw CM Punk defeat Alberto Del Rio to win the WWE Championship, the first day of his 434-day reign, which would end at the hands of The Rock, in preparation for Rock’s rematch with Cena at WrestleMania XXIX.
3. 1998 – Deadly Game
This would be the first time that Survivor Series did not include a traditional Elimination Match, as the entire evening was given over to a tournament for the vacant WWF Championship. It was also the culmination of several months of storylines related to Vince McMahon’s burgeoning war with Steve Austin, and signified the point at which things were taken to another level. Austin was eliminated during the tournament due to the shenanigans of referee Shane McMahon, leaving the door wide open for the perceived favorite, Mankind, who had somehow made his way into Vince McMahon’s good graces. Instead, in a nod to the Montreal Screwjob of just a year ago, Vince screwed over Mankind while he was locked in a Sharpshooter, instead giving The Rock his first WWF Championship and turning him into the centerpiece of Vince’s newly formed Corporation. In addition to stoking the fire between Austin and McMahon, it also had the side effect of turning Mankind into a hugely sympathetic babyface, which would result in him also winning his first WWF Championship later in the same year, on an unforgettable episode of Raw.
2. 1990 – The Undertaker Debuts
As much as The Undertaker’s name has become synonymous with WrestleMania, it was Survivor Series where he made his debut, as part of Ted DiBiase’s Million Dollar Team in 1990. Managed initiall by Brother Love before being turned over to Paul Bearer, The Undertaker was incredibly effective in his first match, debuting his Tombstone finisher and effortlesly plowing through the bulk of the opposing babyfaces, before being counted out while brawling with an eliminated Dusty Rhodes on the outside. A year later, The Undertaker would win his first WWF Championship, defeating the immortal Hulk Hogan, once again at Survivor Series. Although he would only hold the title for two days, it was a sign of how far The Undertaker had risen since his first match, and the first chapter of one of WWE’s most legendary figures.
1. 1997 – The Montreal Screwjob
At this point, it’s impossible to talk about the history of Survivor Series without bringing up Montreal, where Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels, and diverse others conspired to screw Bret Hart out of the WWF Championship live on PPV. No matter whose side you take in the eternal argument over who was right, the Montreal Screwjob is without a doubt a moment that changed the course of WWE forever. Obviously, it was the last appearance of Bret Hart, who had helped carry the company on his back since the departure of Hulk Hogan, and the removal of the final obstacle behind the rise of the Attitude Era (as Hart’s old-school mentality was seen by several in charge as a stumbling block to the new era). It also turned Vince McMahon’s on-screen character from bland announcer to evil authority figure, creating the character that would become the ultimate foil for “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, who would take the WWF from a struggling national promotion to the billion-dollar juggernaut we know and love. Oh, and it turned Shawn Michaels into the sworn enemy of the entire country of Canada, and created a new kind of match finish that WWE would proceed to run into the ground for years after the fact.