WWE Survivor Series: The Unauthorized History, Part One

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WWE Survivor Series: The Unauthorized History, Part One
Hulk Hogan's (left) inaugural Survivor Series team consisted of teammates Bam Bam Bigelow, Paul Orndorff, Ken Patera, and Don Muraco.

Flashback to 1987. Professional wrestling has been thrust into the mainstream in ways never imagined before.

Amidst the end of a territorial era, Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Federation have been catapulted into the national product of the defining era for sports entertainment.

Tough wrestlers, strongmen, and flashy personas have run amok as the WWF becomes the biggest, global provider of professional wrestling ever.

In March, Vince bills WrestleMania III from the Pontiac Silverdome in front of well over 93,000 screaming fans. Even if the number is contested to the more realistic 78,000, it is still one of the largest crowds ever to witness such a spectacle.

But in this new age, the spectacle isn't limited to live events and closed-circuit viewing. Rather, Vince McMahon has taken full advantage of a new cable medium quickly making waves: Pay-Per-View.

Charging a nominal fee, the WWF is making money hand over fist to bring the biggest event of the year into your living room for a three-hour supercard.

Other organizations cringe knowing that they'll never quite prosper in the land of PPV. All of them, save for one, are doomed to remain small-time.

The National Wrestling Alliance, on the other hand, still has the largest crop of the world's greatest wrestlers yet to be tapped by the Titan Sports offices.

Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Dusty Rhodes, Sting, The Road Warriors, Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, and the Freebirds are still making big bank for Jim Crockett Promotions as the NWA defies the monopoly WWF is putting on pro wrestling.

And all of it, all the incredible action and intensity, is drawing to its annual close when the NWA hits pay-per-view for the first time on November 26, 1987, with their biggest show of the year: Starrcade.

Since 1983, Starrcade had been a revolutionary force in closed-circuit presentations and was finally recognized as the biggest show the NWA had to offer.

When Jim Crockett Promotions announced their intention to compete with the Federation in the same, PPV medium, things went from calm and separate to all out war.

Vince McMahon has never been one to shy away from a challenge. He knew that Starrcade was the biggest card of the year for the NWA and JCP, and that their debut on pay-per-view could steal away a large majority of his audience.

So Vince concocted an elegant plan that would not only expand WWF's library of pay-per-view action, but would also cripple Starrcade. And thus, the Survivor Series was born.

Based on the idea that there was a need for more in-depth tag team action, the Survivor Series was set to showcase five-on-five elimination matches with the top stars of the World Wrestling Federation competing.

What made the idea unique, other than the inordinate amount of falls in such a small time frame, was the timing of the event.

McMahon publicized the event as a new Thanksgiving "tradition," hoping to capitalize on the crowd that would be spending their day indoors for a family feast.

But his choice to schedule the event on the same day as Starrcade was a little more suspicious. It only got more ominous from there.

Vince voluntarily called nearly all major cable providers across the country who had intended to provide both the Starrcade event and his Survivor Series on Nov. 26 with a simple proposition.

Carry only Survivor Series exclusively, dropping the JCP show, or miss out entirely on the World Wrestling Federation. After literally tying the hands of the cable providers, most executives were left with an excruciatingly difficult decision.

If they chose to go with Crockett, the cable providers were streaming a first-time pay-per-view event from a company with a solid track record on the closed-circuit front.

On the other side, they would have to choose McMahon, who promoted the biggest wrestling event to ever take place and was, at the time, a pay-per-view cash cow. The choice was obvious.

So on that fateful night, Starrcade found itself off the schedule in more than 70% of the country, dropped in favor of the first annual Survivor Series from the Richfield Coliseum.

For those unaware, Starrcade had been booked in the UIC Pavilion in Chicago, literally just six hours driving distance from McMahon's choice in Richfield, Ohio. Translation: McMahon was out for more than pay-per-view buys.

In order to draw a bigger number at the gate and the television, Vince McMahon booked the headline feud from WrestleMania III to continue, with Hulk Hogan captaining a five man team to take on his nemesis, Andre the Giant's team.

Then, he charged $15.95 (the 2010 equivalent of $29.95 when adjusted for inflation) just to see it at home. Starrcade, which had a main event of first-time NWA Champion Ronnie Garvin clashing with Ric Flair, in a steel cage, couldn't compare.

The opening contest brought together all the intrigue of four or five feuds into one melting pot of greatness.

Characters like the up-and-coming Randy Savage were feuding with arrogant antagonists like the Honky Tonk Man while their teammates, Jim Duggan and Harley Race, brawled on the outside.

After nearly 20 minutes, the first elimination match had been completed with Savage, Jake Roberts, and Ricky Steamboat still standing.

Fans would be treated to two more elimination matches before the main event, one with 10 WWF female wrestlers of yesteryear and a smorgasbord of tag teams in a 10-on-10 brawl that went to the brink. After it was over, we were ready for a monumental main event.

After all the hype, the main event delivered a few epic showdowns before Hulk Hogan was unthinkably counted out and Andre the Giant thwarted Bam Bam Bigelow's comeback attempt.

Andre the Giant not only one the main event on his own, but he would become the first man to ever be the sole survivor for his team, a theme that became more and more common as the WWF progressed their event.

When the numbers came out, Survivor Series had a 7.0 buy rate while Starrcade floundered with only a 3.3 buy rate. It didn't matter that Flair/Garvin delivered or that Dusty Rhodes and Lex Luger had a fantastic cage encounter.

The sheer saturation with which McMahon had promoted his product combined with the intrigue of this new tag team system overwhelmed the competition, pushing Jim Crockett promotions to the brink of elimination themselves.

Less than a year later, Jim Crockett Promotions folded amidst bad spending and fan delusion. The WWF had won, but it wasn't a nail-biter. They outright dominated thanks to an incredibly strong night for all parties involved.

All that was left now was to continue the tradition into 1988, which the WWF did by returning to Richfield on Nov. 24. The landscape had changed greatly in one year's time, as the WWF no longer had to compete with JCP or even Starrcade (which had now been moved back to December).

What's more, Survivor Series 1988 would be the third pay-per-view event of the year for the WWF, following WrestleMania IV and another new concept event, SummerSlam.

So how could Vince McMahon market this one to be any different and any more worth watching? Easy, he'd book the entire card to reveal pivotal plot points in some of his major feuds.

First, the rapidly emerging Ultimate Warrior became the sole survivor for his team after fighting back from a two-on-one assault at the hands of Ron Bass and Greg Valentine. Warrior, then the Intercontinental Champion, would soon embark on the biggest push of his professional career, lasting over a year before he became the WWF Champion.

The second match, another gigantic tag teams only showdown, featured the Brain Busters getting the better of the Hart Foundation in controversial fashion early on.

But the most important decision of the match would come when Mr. Fuji, longtime manager of the hell tandem Demolition, turned on his duo and joined forces with the face tag team the Powers of Pain.

The move would force one of the first recorded double switches, in which both the faces and heels changed roles due to one single event.

The third contest of the evening saw Jake "the Snake" Roberts continue to get the better of Andre the Giant as he started his run on the face side of things. Though Roberts would be on the losing side of things, his feud of Andre made him a main event player and escalated his career to the top tier.

Finally, the main event, in which the Mega Powers took on the Twin Towers, saw Randy Savage and Hulk Hogan dominate the competition...for the last time.

Hogan and Savage's victory celebration would be the last the two would share, as soon their respective egos boiled over both on and off-screen, culminating in an epic clash at WrestleMania V.

With two Survivor Series events in the can and the skies still the limit, the WWF decided to make a change in the format for 1989. But by that time, other important factors were jeopardizing the Thanksgiving tradition.

To be continued...

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