In 1996, Shawn Michaels was the hottest star in WWE. The Heavyweight champion for most of the year and the best worker in the business at that point, he was earning the reputation of wrestling's best big-match performer.
Bouts against Diesel, British Bulldog, Vader and Mankind had also established him as a diverse worker who could wrestle any wrestler of any style and still deliver and outstanding match.
Unfortunately, business did not back up his strong performances. Television ratings were down significantly, as Eric Bischoff, the New World Order and WCW easily defeated their competition on a weekly basis.
Vince McMahon seemed determined to stick with Michaels, however, as he led the company into the fall months with the title still strapped around his waist.
Sycho Sid had returned to WWE over the summer and become one of the most popular stars in the company. He was fresh and on the biggest roll of his career thanks to strong promos and a character that better suited the landscape of the sport. By November, he had earned himself a title shot, setting up a bout with his storyline friend for the Survivor Series.
Michaels, as he had done all year, delivered a phenomenal performance, but it was not enough to sway a partisan crowd. The fans inside New York's Madison Square Garden heavily favored Sid, even going as far as to cheer him when he struck legendary wrestler (and Michaels' trainer) Jose Lothario in the chest with a camera. He would do the same to Michaels before dropping him with the powerbomb and capturing his first WWE Championship.
What made it great?
The title change at Survivor Series 1996 was great because it was a change that needed to happen if WWE had any shot at making a comeback in the, to that point, one-sided war with WCW.
In his first run with the title, Michaels was still largely a bread-and-butter babyface. He smiled, danced around for the audience and invited kids into the ring with him to celebrate successful title defenses.
After this loss, Michaels would begin to exhibit the aggressiveness, the meanness and the attitude that would make him one of the most controversial on-air (and off-air) character in the business. The controversy that came along with Michaels would be a key piece in the establishment of the Attitude Era.
Had McMahon not capitalized on Sid's popularity and switched the title, he may have stuck with Michaels until the very end.
Who is to know what would have become of WWE had Michaels retained in New York? And for that reason alone, this match does not quite get the recognition for its importance that it probably deserves.