WWE Survivor Series: The Unauthorized History, Part Two

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WWE Survivor Series: The Unauthorized History, Part Two
The 1989 Survivor Series was initially designed to feature Hulk Hogan and Zeus' continuing rivalry. Not Pictured: Zeus.

In case you missed the details surrounding the beginning of the Survivor Series, including Vince McMahon’s pay-per-view ultimatum and the demise of Jim Crockett promotions, click here. If you’re all caught up, then we continue our story in 1989.

By the time the World Wrestling Federation was scheduled to present their third Survivor Series event, things in the pay-per-view and television ranks had changed. The WWF now had four events broadcast on the pay channels, with Survivor Series being the last of the year.

The Federation had such an expansive roster that even the most basic of concepts, the Survivor Series elimination match, was being modified from a five-on-five affair to simply four-on-four. Such modifications were coming fast and furious for the Federation, but perhaps no modification was more abrupt, or more necessary, than the changes coming at the top of the card.

1989 was an important year for professional wrestling fans, as it signaled the beginning of the end for the original era of Hulkamania. After five years dedicated almost entirely to Hulk Hogan, fans were beginning to look elsewhere for stars they could follow. The WWF hadn’t really pushed any faces to Hogan’s level, save for perhaps Randy Savage, who was now off to the mid card as a heel. Even more alarming, Hogan was looking elsewhere himself.

This was the year that Hogan returned to Hollywood, making the not-so-farfetched film "No Holds Barred." Though the film was notoriously panned for being nothing more than a self-righteous venture between Hogan and Vince McMahon, it would become the gateway for another huge Hulk feud and the beginning of the end at the top.

At the time, Hogan was being booked into a life-imitates-art feud with his NHB nemesis, Zeus. The actor, Tony Lister, knew as much about professional wrestling as he did being small, but that didn’t stop the WWF from making him their highest profile heel throughout the Summer and Fall of 1989. The plan, as it were, was to have Hogan and Zeus clash on several occasions in tag team affairs until they finally met one-on-one at WrestleMania VI in SkyDome.

The only issue, however, was that the quality of their contests was so disastrous and forgettable that the fans had already begun to turn their backs on the program, and Hogan as well. Scrambling, the WWF began the mega push of their next number one star, a supposed successor to Hulkamania: The Ultimate Warrior.

Warrior had come on strong throughout most of 1988 and was now easily the second best face on the roster behind the Hulkster. Coming into the Survivor Series, his feud with an aging and nearly immobile Andre the Giant was somewhat hard to watch, yet it drew a lot of attention. So much so, that the 1989 Survivor Series was headlined not by Hogan’s team and Zeus’ team, but rather by Warrior against Andre in eight-man mayhem.

You may not realize it, but seeing a pay-per-view from the World Wrestling Federation in the 80’s without Hulk Hogan in the main event was unheard of. In fact, to that point, Hogan had been involved in every main event match in some way on WWF pay-per-views with one exception: The oft-forgotten Wrestling Classic. The only match Hogan wasn’t actually competing in was WrestleMania IV’s tournament final, yet that didn’t stop him from playing a key role in the finish between Ted DiBiase and Randy Savage.

The strategy was superb. Market the Warrior, your next big face of the company, a few events early to get the fans excited for a potential super clash between the two kings of wrestling. As the night went on, Hogan became the sole survivor for his team while his Zeus feud seemingly derailed after Zeus was almost immediately disqualified in their match. A forgettable steel cage event one month later would signal the end of the road for this Hollywood rivalry.

Then, in the main event, Warrior pinned two men and was directly responsible for the elimination of Andre the Giant (a count-out just 27 seconds in) en route to his own victory. Warrior was now the main event player thanks to the Survivor Series, a trend that would pick up as the pay-per-view progressed through the years.

One year later, both Hogan and Warrior were still riding high. The WWF continued to market Hogan as Mr. Incredible while Warrior was now the WWF Champion. When it came time to showcase the two at the 1990 Survivor Series, the World Wrestling Federation didn’t mince words.

It was at this Survivor Series that the first, and to this point only, Grand Finale Match of Survival was held to the elation of the fans. In this contest, the winners of all the previous Survivor Series elimination matches would go on in one final confrontation. Unsurprisingly, Hogan and Warrior, along with Tito Santana, were among those left on the face side of things.

The heel team was comprised of five deceptive mid-carders in Power & Glory, The Warlord, Rick Martel and Ted DiBiase. Once Tito was eliminated, Hogan and Warrior trounced the competition and sent the folks home happy, yet it was becoming more and more noticeable that they weren’t equals in the eyes of thousands of screaming fans. More on that later.

While this pay-per-view was just another great example of how to get your biggest stars over in a survival atmosphere, the 1990 Survivor Series would become much larger for two other, completely unrelated debuts. For weeks on end, the WWF had teased two huge mystery appearances at the event. One was to be on DiBiase’s Million Dollar Team, and the other was going to hatch out of an egg. Seriously.

In their infinite brilliance, WWF creative hyped the Survivor Series on more than just elimination matches for the first time. They openly advertised that fans watching in the Hartford Civic Center and around the world would see a massive egg hatch and that something would be coming out. To what point and purpose this served for professional wrestling still remains unknown, but you have to hand it to Vince McMahon for such marketing genius.

We have an egg. It is going to hatch. Who knows what will be inside! This was the tease fans received for weeks, encouraging them to make the purchase and tune in to this event. And guess what, it worked, albeit with a horrible payoff.

When the egg finally hatched, Hector Guerrero emerged dressed in a bizarre, colorful turkey costume that looked like it came straight from a high school pep rally. “Mean” Gene Okerlund exploded with life and laughter as the newly dubbed Gobbledy Gooker square-danced his way into the record books. Fans booed, commentators choked on their excitement with muffled guffaws and the WWF pulled the wool over the eyes of nearly everyone with this joke.

Inevitably, it helped the buy rate for the program, as the 1990 Survivor Series outdrew the ‘89 affair. And that other mystery debut? Well by now you’re well aware that it was the Undertaker’s first match in the WWF, less than six months after his final appearance for the NWA/WCW at the Great American Bash as Mean Mark. Though the Undertaker lost in his first outing, the hype machine for a new, sinister heel was about to begin.

When it came time for the 1991 Survivor Series, the entire WWF was in a state of regression and looking for new ways to make applesauce out of apples thanks to an influx of new talent, and a disaster with old talent.

Remember when we told you that Hulk Hogan was still outdrawing the Ultimate Warrior? The WWF took notice and had Warrior drop the belt to Sgt. Slaughter that January just so Hogan could win it back and become the poster boy once more. In the six months that followed, Warrior grew more and more disenchanted with his diminishing spotlight until he delivered a company-changing ultimatum at SummerSlam.

In front of 18,000 strong at Madison Square Garden, Warrior threatened to walk out if Vince McMahon didn’t deliver double his salary that evening. McMahon, hands tied, agreed to the terms and allowed Warrior to double the share after the main event concluded. He then promptly fired Warrior, shattering any future the face would have in the spotlight. Even if the WWF had another ace in the hole with the recently acquired Sid Vicious (now named Sid Justice), Warrior’s absence left us with a big dose of Hogan and no heels to fill the void.

So the 1991 Survivor Series would see the official rise of two men in the WWF, one legend and one on his way. When all this turmoil broke out, the WWF achieved a major signing by snagging Ric Flair away from the WCW for a dream feud with Hogan. The feud would receive a very slow, plodding build that had to include Hogan jobbing out to the still very green Undertaker in the first non-elimination match at Survivor Series history.

With the Gravest Challenge on the way, the WWF was banking on fans wanting to see if Hulk Hogan could tame several demons in one show while the typical elimination fare saddled itself to the under card. It was a risky proposition, considering fans had been conditioned for four years to already support the all-tag format of the card. Even more risky, the WWF booked the contest mid-way through the evening, instead saving the main event slot for the only ever three-on-three elimination match that centered around two men not even competing that evening.

So much was going on both on and off the screen at this event that it eventually became one of the most memorable train wrecks in WWF and Survivor Series History. The night opened with an incredible eight-man tag that saw Ric Flair become the sole survivor by complete fluke after a brawl ensued at ringside. From there, Sgt. Slaughter, now back on the face side of things, led a clean sweep of his former allies before the time came for the World Title match.

Ric Flair was at ringside. Hulk Hogan battled valiantly to stagger the undead Undertaker. Jack Tunney, president of the World Wrestling Federation, made his presence known as well. But in the end, amidst chaos and referee bumps, Flair helped the Undertaker claim his first WWF Championship as the fans sat stunned.

Hogan couldn’t lose. The only time he had been beaten cleanly for the belt in the last seven years was against Warrior. He had already battled back from a controversial referee swap just before that, but never had he been decimated like he had been on this night. Thinking this would be a changing of the guard, the chaos of this Survivor Series only got better.

President Jack Tunney didn’t take long to proclaim that the WWF’s next PPV offering, This Tuesday in Texas (the first of numerous tries to get wrestling over on PPV on Tuesday nights), would be headlined by a Hogan/Taker rematch. The night in question, however, was still far from over.

What more could possibly go wrong for the fans at this pay-per-view? How about having the Rockers, one of the most popular WWF tag teams in history, begin their split thanks to simple miscommunication. That’s right, this event was the beginning of the end for Marty Jannetty and Shawn Michaels as an entity, and yet also the beginning of Shawn Michaels’ hall of fame career.

By the time the credits rolled, fans were already wondering just what they had seen. Was this really a great event or just a bridge for the WWF to promote yet another event just one week later? Truthfully speaking, it was the first time that the creative team and Vince McMahon realized that Survivor Series couldn’t be entirely about elimination matches, and that it needed an even balance between regular matches and signature tag contests.

This Tuesday in Texas failed to draw the numbers the Federation was hoping for despite the in-ring return of Randy Savage and a happy yet inconclusive finish to the Hulk Hogan/Undertaker rematch. In hindsight, had the WWF simply booked one less tag team elimination match and one or two more singles matches for their big rivalries, they would have had a greater success for Survivor Series and no reason to fail with This Tuesday in Texas.

But tinkering with the concept pay-per-view entirely? That was unheard of, or so we thought, as rivalries overtook the 1992 affair, suffocating the very match that made the pay-per-view what it was known for being.

To be continued…

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