Breaking Down Survivor Series' Evolution Since Event's Creation

Ryan Dilbert@@ryandilbertWWE Lead WriterNovember 21, 2013

WWE Survivor Series has not aged well, going from one of the premier pay-per-views to an also-ran, another face in a crowd.

Over time, the event has lost its way. WrestleMania has managed to add to its prestige and Royal Rumble has maintained its ability to excite as Survivor Series has moved toward mediocrity.

Survivor Series 2013 will be the 27th edition of the pay-per-view. It will look little like the inaugural event from 1987.

WWE has drifted away from the traditional elimination tag team match, once the hallmark of the November show. On Nov. 24, CM Punk, Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Randy Orton and Alberto Del Rio will all be in either singles or standard tag matches.

That wouldn't have happened in the event's early years, when it was a chance to witness the genesis of star-studded alliances.


Star Power

The very first clash at the very first Survivor Series featured Ricky Steamboat, Randy Savage and Jake Roberts on the same team.

It's not often that fans have seen such an amalgamation of greatness. This was how the event began, showcasing never-before-seen partnerships and battles of future Hall of Famers.

In 1988, Savage and Hogan captained a team. The next year, Hogan was on the same squad as Roberts and Demolition.

Today, that would be like Cena joining forces with The Shield and Cody Rhodes.

This pay-per-view was the only place to see this type of match, and the show looked nothing like SummerSlam and WrestleMania. It was its own animal.

Survivor Series featured only four-on-four and five-on-five elimination bouts from 1987-1990. In 1991, when Hogan and Undertaker squared off in a singles match for the WWE Championship, a classic elimination match was the headliner.

The following year saw an extreme change.

The card featured only one Survivor Series elimination match. A Coffin match, a Nightstick on a Pole match and a few standards contests rounded out the lineup.


Cartoon Antics

Survivor Series in 1993 was a microcosm of WWE at the time.

It was a colorful, circus-like product heavily geared toward children. Bastion Booger, Adam Bomb, Irwin R. Schyster and Johnny Polo felt more like characters who belonged on Saturday morning cartoons than on a program built around violence and sports drama.

WWE seemed to take itself even less seriously when Survivor Series rolled around. Celebrities made special appearances at WrestleMania and SummerSlam. Survivor Series had The Gobbledy Gooker.

The 1994 Survivor Series featured a goofy match pitting a team of little people dressed as clowns against a team of little people dressed like Jerry Lawler.

WWE's lack of depth showed. Leif Cassidy earned a spot on the pay-per-view, as did Rad Radford and Barry Horowitz.

With the arrival of the Attitude Era, much of the sillier aspects of the company were washed away, both with WWE as a whole and with Survivor Series. Team names shifted from monikers like Guts and Glory or Clowns R' Us to Nation of Domination and the New Age Outlaws.


Championships Gain Prominence

A championship match didn't headline Survivor Series until 1992. In 1999, the event had three championships matches and four traditional elimination matches. Just a year later, championship matches outnumbered the bouts Survivor Series was famous for three to two.

Priorities shifted.

Much of the Survivor Series cards from the early '00s had one or two traditional elimination bouts while the majority of the lineup consisted of grudge matches and title fights. In 2002, the survival element of the pay-per-view was represented in a more thematic way.

The Dudley Boyz and Jeff Hardy battled 3-Minute Warning in a six-man tables elimination match. Three teams battled for the tag championships in a three-way elimination match. The main event was the first-ever Elimination Chamber match, the bastard child of a cage match and a traditional elimination match.

Even with the deemphasizing of Survivor Series' most famous match, it still often headlined the show.

Team Orton defeated Team Triple H in the 2004 main event. Team SmackDown took on Team Raw the next year.

The event continued to evolve and the titles took over, making the matches that were once Survivor Series' lifeblood less and less important.



2005 was the last year that a traditional elimination match was the main event of the pay-per-view. This year's event will mark the fourth year in a row with two or less of these bouts.

The percentage has gone from 100 percent of the event being about these kinds of contest to more like 30.

Survivor Series sees Big E. Langston take on Curtis Axel, a match fans saw on Raw. Del Rio and Cena do battle, a repeat of Hell in a Cell. Kofi Kingston and The Miz face off just as they have several times this year already.

All of those matches could impress and entertain, but they aren't the unique experiences Survivor Series once offered. 

Fans have only seen Bryan in one classic elimination bout. It's been several years since Punk was in one, and Cena hasn't been a part of that kind of match since 2006 when Team Cena beat Team Big Show.

2013 has some great talents pitted against each other in a traditional elimination match, but the star power involved is nothing compared to when The Undertaker, Chris Jericho, The Rock, Kane and Big Show were all on the same squad in 2001.

If WWE thinks there is more money in making Survivor Series more and more like the standard pay-per-views, it has to be ignoring the numbers.

According to Wrestling Observer, via, the event earned 341,000 buys in 2007 and only 212,000 in 2012. Viewership is sliding.

While Thanksgiving time used to mean well-crafted, well-promoted Survivor Series elimination matches, we're now getting matches like Team Tensai vs. Team Clay in 2012 or the slapped-together 14-Diva tag bout from this year's event.

Returning to 1987's format isn't necessary; finding a way to keep Survivor Series' personality is.


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