For the first four chapters, click any of the following links.
And now, without further ado, the final chapter in the legacy of the Survivor Series.
The 2001 Survivor Series was legitimately the last one to truly showcase the event’s purpose in full. Over the past nine years, we’ve seen a different breed of Survivor Series that honestly doesn’t have the feel of the original or anything like a “big four” pay-per-view.
Take, for example, the 2002 event, our next in the series. World Wrestling Entertainment (now renamed, finally) had lost most of the edge of the Attitude Era. No competition, no Stone Cold, no Rock. In fact, the WWE was in a state of total reconstruction and searching for its next big money maker.
The company brought in Eric Bischoff, the very same man that almost put them out of business when he headed WCW. They inexplicably began to bring in WCW stars that were, for whatever reason, unavailable at the time of the 2001 Invasion storyline. They were even creating a new star that was tearing up the roster named Brock Lesnar.
All of this, however, amounted to little fanfare and ratings as interest in the company slid downward. With a surely bankable affair at Madison Square Garden, the WWE decided to change the format of the Survivor Series by adding a contest that was sure to get numbers. The match in question was the Elimination Chamber.
Shrouded in mystery with only several descriptors and imagination, the Elimination Chamber was to be the newest evolution in spectacle wrestling. The WWE even went so far as to abstain from showing any images of the structure until the pay-per-view began, implying that you wouldn’t get any bit of the satisfaction unless you shelled out the dough.
Even with the Elimination Chamber, the night was quite memorable for a lot of other reasons. Trish Stratus and Victoria gave us a brutal women’s championship match that was contested with hardcore weapons surrounding the ring. The Dudley Boyz reunited during a six-man tables match against Rico and 3-Minute Warning.
The aforementioned Lesnar met his first true obstacle in the WWE when he was defeated by Big Show after Paul Heyman, Lesnar’s manager, betrayed "The Next Big Thing" and helped Show capture the title. Show’s first two WWE title reigns started at the Survivor Series, for those interested.
The night even had some excellent tag team action and the surprise debut of Scott Steiner, who by this point, was almost too juiced up to move. The fans still erupted for Big Poppa Pump, though that love affair was short lived.
The night’s main event, the Elimination Chamber match, was a gruesome six-man contest that saw the competitors devastate one another for more than half an hour. But in the end, as stars like Rob Van Dam, Booker T, or Chris Benoit could have triumphed, the WWE booked an aging, semi-retired Shawn Michaels to win the World Heavyweight title from his best buddy Triple H.
Not that it wasn’t an exciting conclusion to a definitively excellent concept match, but having Michaels be the one to win the strap when nearly all the other combatants deserved the chance seemed all too familiar. Despite being one of the strongest cards in a lackluster 2002, the pay-per-view buy rates for Survivor Series were down from 2001.
The mystique of the Elimination Chamber only helped to draw back so much of the audience, and with respect to the other big events of the year, it was the lowest subscribed. Naturally, when the WWE could have blamed the changing climate on professional wrestling around them, they instead hastily believed that continued booking of their only established main event talents would keep them in the black.
At the 2003 Survivor Series, the WWE went back to their old ways by bringing in two elimination matches to fill out a card that was already ripe with stipulation clashes. It was, however, this event that showed the important symbolism of what surviving the five-on-five tag match could do for your career.
In the opening Team Angle vs. Team Lesnar escapade, Kurt Angle’s team triumphed handily with two survivors, neither of whom was Kurt Angle. Instead, it was Chris Benoit and John Cena who would dominate the contest and go on to bigger and better things soon after. The same could be said of Randy Orton, who survived the Team Austin/Team Bischoff war later in the evening.
But the 2003 Survivor Series was booked with pretty blatant disregard for these elimination matches. The Austin/Bischoff angle was all about Austin and Bischoff, neither of whom was competing in the contest. The ambulance match that was meant to be a pivotal contest of the evening was booked with Shane McMahon actually holding his own against Kane, an incredibly laughable premise.
A Buried Alive match later in the evening wasn’t even really a match, as the Undertaker bloodied and battered Vince McMahon for ten minutes before Kane ran in and helped Vince win the match. And in the night’s main event, Triple H once again did the job, but this time, it was to Bill Goldberg. Yes, Bill Goldberg.
Despite being the seventeenth annual Survivor Series event, the whole show felt like it was being booked by a 17-year old. The trend would continue nearly every year without change.
The 2004 PPV was a repackaged event in almost every sense of the word. Randy Orton ended the night on top as the sole survivor after defeating, you guessed it, Triple H. The next great chapter in the Divas feud between Trish Stratus and Lita ended in a disappointing disqualification after only one minute of action. And the only world title match on the card, contested between John Bradshaw Layfield and Booker T, was all wrong from the opening bell.
In fact, each of the last two events were some of the lowest watched Survivor Series pay-per-views in history. Only the 1995 and 1996 events fared worse, likely because of the rough competition from WCW and the battle scars coming from the Monday Night War. Things were in an odd and awkward place when it appeared as if the WWE would turn the corner in 2005.
Over the course of that year, the WWE developed two new, legitimate company stars, John Cena and Batista. They would be heavyweight threats and Randy Orton was finally ready to be in the main event as well. There was even a steady stable of midcard wrestlers who were making an impact and looking primed to be at the top.
But as well as 2005 started, it was falling apart by mid-year. The progression of John Cena as the top face in the company was turning into a nightmare when fans began to jeer at the Superman style character. Batista, who was steadily still the most popular name on the RAW roster, was moved to SmackDown and almost immediately stuck in a string of injuries and bad matches.
The next big heel entity in the company, Muhammad Hassan, fell on hard times when SmackDown broadcaster UPN refused to show any footage of the often offensive character on their network. And as if all of this wasn’t enough to stir the pot in the company, a longtime fan favorite and star Eddie Guerrero passed away just two weeks before the event.
While the WWE attempted to come together and put on their best possible product, the 2005 Survivor Series was still lacking a little something overall. The night was also booked to fail from the get-go thanks to more than strange decisions from top to bottom.
With fans clamoring for John Cena to show weakness against his uber-popular opponent Kurt Angle, Cena triumphed with ease as the crowd panned their WWE Champion. Just before that, they were treated to a 30-minute brawl between Triple H and Ric Flair, neither of whom was necessarily on top of their game in a match that had more low blows and nut shots than a pornographic movie.
The night even had a match between Theodore Long and Eric Bischoff. Yes, fans were charged to see this match, which went on for five minutes. Pass.
In the main event, the Survivor Series elimination contest took center stage with RAW taking on SmackDown. But as Randy Orton stood victorious as the sole survivor for the third consecutive year, the action took a backseat to the return of the Undertaker, who had been advertised as appearing on the card for months. In total, he was on screen for less than five minutes, or the rough duration of the Long/Bischoff affair.
All in all, things were shaping up as par for the course for the Survivor Series. Not to snub them outright, but each of the next four Survivor Series events would turn out exactly the same way.
In 2006, we witnessed the first 5-0 sweep and the rise of Bobby Lashley as the next big star for the company. When Batista won the World Title in the main event, fans yawned as the peak of the Animal’s popularity had long passed.
In 2007, it would be Jeff Hardy that rose to the occasion as the next big star for the company thanks to his outing in an elimination match. But again, that victory was overshadowed by the return of Edge and a Hell in a Cell disaster between Batista and the Undertaker.
In 2008, John Cena devastated Chris Jericho to win the WWE Title, much to the chagrin of the still anti-Cena audience. This night was also notable for a heinously booked Vladimir Kozlov/Triple H match that got exciting only when Edge appeared, and ended it quickly under triple threat rules.
Finally, in 2009, the WWE went triple threat crazy with two such affairs for each world title. Fans saw the same faces of the company fight over and over again and despite being high quality matches, there was little to motivate anyone towards continually purchasing the Survivor Series.
Had the booking been a little more savvy, people would have recognized the importance of the opening elimination match, in which three cocky heels survived to become something much more. Those three men? Drew McIntyre, The Miz and Sheamus. All of their careers would take off within the year, and each is still likely to have a world title reign or two going forward.
In February of 2010, Vince McMahon announced that the Survivor Series would be coming to an end. After an illustrious run, McMahon blamed what he believed was fans’ disinterest with the tag team format for causing low buy rates and underwhelming results. It didn’t take long for him to eat his words, as fan outrage and backlash flew fast and furious.
When the WWE reinstated Survivor Series in June, it seemed like a major victory for the event’s history and lineage. But at this point, take a look at the card and see that it is more of the same from the WWE.
-One Survivor Series elimination match.
-Two world title affairs that have been overbooked and hyped ad nauseum.
-John Cena still battling the boo birds.
-A Divas match that will likely inspire fans to hit the merchandise stands.
-Tyler Reks on the card.
If this one fails, the WWE will have no one to blame but themselves. The heights at which people have documented this particular event are dizzying, so I won’t comment too much on the situation. But seeing Survivor Series die and then have a resurrection only to be lackluster is disappointing at best. Maybe it wasn’t the fact that the original tradition has been lost, but rather the fact that it had been mismanaged from the start.
WWE added a similarly themed pay-per-view, Bragging Rights, to go on just one month previous. Two of the last five pay-per-views have been headlined with tag team elimination matches. Two of the last five televised programs have been headlined with five-on-five affairs. It feels almost as if the creative team is throwing it in the faces of the fans just to get a reaction.
The Survivor Series can survive, but as to whether or not it will, that remains the bittersweet ending to a triumphant beginning.
For the first four chapters, click any of the following links.