By Graham "GSM" Matthews
Having started watching wrestling in April 2008, I missed the window for truly great Survivor Series pay-per-views. There have been a few decent ones here and there over the past eight years, and while I loved the 2011 installment, every other event has fallen far below expectations. In fact, there was a point several years ago where, despite the event's long lineage, Vince McMahon was on the verge of scrapping the show from the pay-per-view calendar due to a low buyrate in 2009 (which was entirely their fault because that show was terribly built toward).
All that said, I really hope this year's installment will break that curse of less-than-stellar shows, especially considering the Thanksgiving classic will be celebrating 30 years tonight. I was going to do a day-by-day countdown of my top 20 or 30 favorite Survivor Series matches of all-time to commemorate the occasion (similar to WrestleMania and SummerSlam), but truth be told, I could hardly come up with 15. Thus, I figured I would compile one list instead with seven Survivor Series matches that I hold near and dear to my heart. Could any matches we see tonight soon be added to this illustrious list?
7. Team Orton vs. Team Barrett (2011)
I think we can all agree WWE dropped the ball big time on Wade Barrett coming out of that red hot Nexus angle. They should have put the WWE Championship on him right then and there, but alas, they did not, and thus he was forced to work his way back up the card in 2011. After doing next to nothing with him for the better part of the year, WWE randomly decided to start pushing him again by the fall, which was long overdue.
On the Nov. 11 edition of SmackDown, Barrett scored a huge upset victory over Randy Orton, setting the stage for a grand five-on-five traditional tag team elimination match at Survivor Series. The teams were rather random, though, with Orton recruiting Sin Cara, Kofi Kingston, Sheamus and Mason Ryan as his partners while Barrett led the squad of Cody Rhodes, Hunico, Jack Swagger and Dolph Ziggler. Ziggler, who had already competed earlier in the evening, replaced an injured Christian.
The hype heading into the match was nothing special, but the way the match was laid out was beautiful. Ziggler was eliminated almost immediately with Cara following suit shortly thereafter due to suffering an injury (what else is new?). From there, it was nearly a clean sweep with the heels getting rid of Ryan, Kingston and Sheamus by disqualification. Once Orton was by his lonesome, that was when his inner sole survivor shined through. He took out Swagger and Hunico in a matter of minutes, only to fall short to a Wasteland from Barrett. It was a huge victory for Barrett and Rhodes that should have cemented them as main event players once and for all.
6. John Cena vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels (2009)
This was the show that nearly convinced Vince to scrap Survivor Series all together. Yes, the build was that bad. I know it's hard to imagine that an event headlined by a John Cena vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels Triple Threat match tanked, but it was because in the weeks that preceded the pay-per-view, the focus was on anything but the WWE title. Instead, a large portion of WWE programming was dedicated to Hornswoggle wanting to join D-Generation X. Seriously.
By the time Survivor Series rolled around, it was too late for WWE to entice fans to buy the show. But that isn't to say that this match wasn't a classic. In the opening seconds of the contest, Michaels blasted HHH, his own partner and best friend, with a Sweet Chin Music. Who could have ever seen that coming! Cena stood there with his jaw on the floor, and that fantastic first fired shot set the tone for the remainder of the match.
It was mostly a flurry of finishers in the second half of the contest, but it wasn't done in a way that quickly became tiresome (a la Cena vs. The Rock at WrestleMania 29). They took turns going at it inside the ring while the third Superstar rested on the outside, but like I said, I was on the edge of my seat the entire time. Featuring three of the biggest WWE icons in the past 15 years, this match was everything it should have been and then some. It's just a shame the build didn't reflect that.
5. Team Austin vs. Team Bischoff (2003)
When ranking the greatest authority figures in Raw's history, Eric Bischoff and Stone Cold Steve Austin have to be leading the list. While Bischoff is remembered for his lengthy stint as GM and for everything he contributed to the flagship show in his three years in power, Austin was definitely one of more entertaining authority figures the program ever had. Together, they were pure magic, and having been at odds for the better part of 2003, it was only inevitable before one of them got rid of the other.
The ruthless rivalry between Bischoff and Austin hit its breaking point at Survivor Series 2003 when they compiled two teams to represent them in a traditional five-on-five tag team elimination match. The winning team would earn ultimate power of Raw. Joining Team Austin was Shawn Michaels, Rob Van Dam, Booker T and The Dudley Boyz while Bischoff was represented by Randy Orton, Chris Jericho, Christian, Scott Steiner and Mark Henry.
This, to me, is what these type of matches are all about and the magic that the matches have been missing in the decade since. Not only was there something at stake and a reason for fans to care who won, the athletes involved were all excellent, and that final stretch could not have been any more suspenseful. Michaels was the last man standing for his team, but in exciting fashion, he eliminated everyone with the exception of Orton. With a little help from his Evolution stablemate Batista, Orton pinned The Heartbreak Kid to exile Austin from WWE. Furthermore, this marked the start of an extremely impressive run of Survivor Series outings for The Legend Killer.
4. Team Foley vs. Team Ziggler (2012)
Similar to the 2009 installment, I couldn't have cared less about Survivor Series 2012 heading into it. The match I was most excited for at first, Team Foley vs. Team Punk in a traditional five-on-five tag team elimination match, was changed a week after it was announced. Most of the combatants remained the same, but with Dolph Ziggler replacing CM Punk as team captain, it made zero storyline sense because Ziggler and Foley didn't have any established issues.
It goes back to what I said about Team Austin vs. Team Bischoff: without anything on the line, fans had little reason to get invested in the action. However, they managed to hook me as a viewer throughout the bout with the way Ziggler and others were presented. The first half of the matchup was hardly memorable, but it was the little things they did in the second half that made it so great. For example, the biggest question going into the event was how Team Foley would be able to coexist despite being polar opposites, whereas Team Ziggler at least had some cohesiveness as a unit.
What I loved most about the match was when it came down to Orton and Ziggler. At that point, it appeared to be fairly obvious to me that Orton was emerging victorious, and that was apparent when Orton nailed the bleached-blonde Superstar with the RKO. However, he failed to capitalize, and instead wanted to take it one step further by bringing back the punt kick and rendering Ziggler inactive indefinitely. But at the last possible second, Ziggler connected with a scintillating superkick on the former multi-time WWE champion for the shocking victory. Afterward, Orton sat in the corner turnbuckle stunned, while Foley stood nearby with a disappointed look on his face. Stellar storytelling that planted the seeds for his future heel turn.
3. Alberto Del Rio vs. CM Punk (2011)
WWE played a game of hot potato with the WWE Championship in the second half of 2011 so many times it devalued the title greatly in my opinion. The biggest mistake they made was taking the title off Alberto Del Rio so early into his reign at Night of Champions, and although he regained the gold two weeks later at Hell in a Cell, few fans cared. His subsequent feud with CM Punk en route to Survivor Series provided Del Rio with a chance to redeem himself, while Punk was determined to make the once-prestigious prize interesting again.
Admittedly, the build to the bout could have been a bit better. They attacked each other on a few occasions and Punk at one point choked out Del Rio in an effort to "earn" himself a title match, but that was about it. Additionally, prior to that point, Del Rio and Punk hadn't been given a real opportunity to have the match that they were capable of. But that changed at the Thanksgiving classic, and what made the match all the more meaningful was how the event emanated from Madison Square Garden that night, the last time to date a WWE pay-per-view would be held in that historic arena.
The chemistry these two had was always enjoyable and this encounter was evident of that. Del Rio was obviously desperate to do anything it took to maintain his possession of the belt, but Punk was resilient and refused to give up so easily. With Punk being so over at the time, they had the crowd engaged in everything they did, and once The Mexican Aristocrat tapped out to the Anaconda Vise, the audience exploded with elation. You could not wipe that smile off Punk's face when he was celebrating his second WWE title win with the fans in attendance. Little did we know he would hold that strap until Royal Rumble 2013.
2. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels vs. Chris Jericho vs. Booker T vs. Rob Van Dam vs. Kane (2002)
WWE has done their fair share of great Elimination Chamber matches over the past near-decade and a half, but in my opinion, nothing will ever top the original that took place at 2002's Survivor Series pay-per-view. Triple H had a major target on his back as World Heavyweight Champion in the final few months of 2002, and somehow he managed to escape each of his title defenses with his title intact. Thus, an Elimination Chamber match pitting six of Raw's most elite athletes against each other was only appropriate.
The sadistic structure was unlike anything fans had seen before, and it quickly proved to be as brutal as it looked once the combatants starting using it to their advantage. Rob Van Dam at one point came crashing down on HHH with a Five Star Frog Splash off the top rope, but because it took more of a toll on him than his adversary, he was eliminated by Booker T moments later. Both Booker and Kane were gone from the contest not long after either, leaving HHH, Shawn Michaels and Chris Jericho as the remaining three competitors.
In what was a small taste of their WrestleMania 19 match the following spring, HBK and Jericho had an awesome mini-match, but while Jericho had the Walls of Jericho locked in on HHH, Michaels came out of nowhere with a Sweet Chin Music to eliminate his future foe. Then, the two men that squared off at SummerSlam months earlier, Triple H and Shawn Michaels, came face-to-face at long last. The crowd thought HHH had the match won when he hit his former friend with a Pedigree, but they came back to life when Michaels powered out of the pinfall attempt, followed it up with a Sweet Chin Music, and scored the three count for his first world title in nearly five years. A monumental moment to say the least.
1. Team Cena vs. Team Authority (2014)
I'll start off this selection by saying that the overall event in 2014 was mediocre at best. AJ Lee vs. Nikki Bella lasted all of ten seconds, Dean Ambrose vs. Bray Wyatt was slightly disappointing, and Adam Rose teamed with... The Bunny. Needless to say, the main event saved the show from being completely forgettable. In early November, Mr. McMahon returned to Raw, and unhappy with the way the program had been run, he announced The Authority's jobs would be on the line in a traditional five-on-five elimination tag team match.
If Team Cena won, The Authority would be ousted from power until Cena reinstated them himself. But if The Authority emerged victorious, everyone on Team Cena (other than Cena) would be fired. Those high stakes had me extremely excited for the matchup, and everyone involved played their part to perfection. Ryback, for as big of a role as he had in the buildup, should have lasted longer, and Big Show's millionth heel turn made me roll my eyes, but that was merely nitpicking. Show immediately eliminating Mark Henry made sense given their history, Rusev getting eliminated by count-out protected his undefeated streak, and Cena wasn't among the sole survivors!
Regardless of whether they thought he would win or lose, there was no one in that St. Louis arena that night that that wasn't watching this match with bated breath. Ziggler barely beat Kane and Luke Harper, but Seth Rollins was a different story. The former Intercontinental Champion was on the verge of victory when Triple H inserted himself into the action and laid out Ziggler, only for Sting to shockingly surface in one of the greatest moments in the event's history. As everyone else did, I lost my mind seeing Sting in a WWE ring for the first time, and to then see him attack Triple H and aid Ziggler in overcoming The Authority was surreal. Granted, they were brought back to TV a mere month later, but the match itself remains my favorite Survivor Series match of all-time.
SEE ALSO: "Remembering John Cena vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels From WWE Survivor Series 2009"