By John Napolitano
The arrival of November brings about a great deal of excitement to many Americans across the nation. Staples of the month include Thanksgiving, Black Friday shopping, and for the WWE Universe, the second longest running pay-per-view event, Survivor Series. Debuting in 1986, Survivor Series has been a Thanksgiving tradition for the last 28 years, showcasing many of WWE’s most historic moments ever. The original appeal to this autumn spectacle was the unique five-on-five elimination matchup at the end of the night between WWE’s best and brightest stars. Although this annual bout has become somewhat of an afterthought over the years, the five-on-five elimination match is a mainstay on the card and makes the event feel special.
This year’s Survivor Series event is already heating up, as the five-on-five elimination match will feature Team Cena vs. the Authority. The participants have yet to be finalized, but if Team Cena is victorious, the Authority will no longer be in power in WWE. This added stipulation fused with the fact that the event will air live on the WWE Network for free is already looking to make Survivor Series 2014 historic, but what other historic moments have taken place at Survivor Series over the last 28 years? I have compiled a list of the five most historic Survivor Series moments in WWE history. Let’s get started!
5. John Cena & The Rock vs. Awesome Truth (The Miz & R-Truth)
“Never before, Never Again,” was the tagline for the main event of Survivor Series 2011, which saw two bitter rivals in John Cena and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson team up to take on the turbulent tandem of the “Awesome Truth.” The Miz and R-Truth were running roughshod on WWE, and John Cena and The Rock were not only tasked to vanquish these vitriolic villains but also coexist mere months before their epic encounter in Miami, Florida, at WrestleMania XXVIII. The match was a calamity-filled clash between the two unlikely teams, and it added a brand new dynamic to John Cena and The Rock’s rivalry, which is one of the greatest in WWE history. The “Leader of the Cenation” and the “Great One” pulled out the hard fought victory at Madison Square Garden that night, and The Rock capped off the evening by laying the smackdown on John Cena, planting his own teammate with a “Rock Bottom.” Cena would roll out of the ring and retreat to the stage to make for a captivating foreshadowing of their upcoming clash at WrestleMania. No one ever conceived that John Cena and The Rock would ever square off, much less team together. That is why their encounter at Survivor Series 2011 is one of the greatest moments in the event's history.
4. The Rock Becomes the Corporate Champion
Can you say, “swerve of the century?” In the fall of 1998, the WWE Championship was vacated in a triple-threat match in which Undertaker and Kane simultaneously pinned the champion "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. Following further controversy at In Your House: Judgment Day, Mr. McMahon set up a 14-man “Deadly Games” tournament to be held at Survivor Series where a new WWE Champion would be crowned. Prior to the event, McMahon was positioning his corporate puppet Mankind to win the WWE Title and be the torchbearer for his faction. Mankind made it to the finals of the tournament to take on the fan favorite competitor The Rock. In the latter half of 1998, The Rock’s charisma and in-ring ability were getting him over organically as a babyface, even though he was a heel. He began to portray a much more likeable demeanor as a result of being cheered by the WWE Universe. As he climbed through the ranks of the “Deadly Games” tournament at Survivor Series, he amassed so much support and admiration that it seemed as though he was going to become the number one babyface in the company. The match between The Rock and Mankind was satisfactory, but the real shocker would take place when The Rock put Mankind in the sharpshooter, and Mr. McMahon would call for the bell, signaling the end of the match. Mankind was not pinned nor did he submit. He was screwed by his boss Mr. McMahon who would embrace The Rock in the ring as his new “Corporate Champion.” A wave of confusion fell over the Kiel Center, including Mankind, as he begged for an explanation from his former number one supporter Mr. McMahon. Mankind would get no such explanation but rather a vicious “Rock Bottom” from The Rock in the middle of the ring. No one saw this swerve coming, which is why the 1998 Survivor Series will go down in history as one of the greatest.
3. Shawn Michaels Captures the World Heavyweight Championship
In 1998, if you had told a professional wrestling fanatic that the “Heartbreak Kid” Shawn Michaels would win the Big Gold Belt by superkicking his rival Triple H inside of a structure designed by Monday Night Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff at Survivor Series 2002, they would have dropped you with a “Stone Cold Stunner.” Alas, when Michael’s return to the ring after a four-year hiatus culminated with him winning the World Heavyweight Championship inside the Elimination Chamber at Survivor Series, there was not one dry eye in Madison Square Garden. The match featured Chris Jericho, Kane, Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Shawn Michaels, and then World Heavyweight Champion Triple H, and it was a gruesome contest to say the least. Seeing as though this was the first ever Elimination Chamber match in history, there was already an awesome atmosphere, add in the greatest in-ring performer in WWE history reclaiming his spot atop the mountain, and you have got yourself a historic night.
2. The Dawning of the Deadman
Many a pro-wrestling fan hold the 1990 Survivor Series in an unpleasant light, primarily because it featured the unveiling of the single worst gimmick in WWE history -- the Gobeldy Gooker. It’s no secret WWE's product was very campy and cartoonish in the early 1990s. To be unforgivingly honest, the debut of a second gimmick on that fateful night should have been, for all intents and purposes, doomed to go down in history as just another unsuccessful character; however, this character would not only prevail at the 1990 Survivor Series, but he would go on to thrive as The Phenom and the greatest performer in WrestleMania history. Of course, you are aware that I'm referring to The Undertaker. What many fans do not realize is that the Undertaker character has experienced the most longevity of any other character in pro-wrestling history. Undertaker was on top of the mountain in the “Golden Era,” the “New Generation,” the “Attitude Era,” the “Ruthless Aggression Era,” and the “PG Era.” Combine that with a Royal Rumble victory, multiple world championships, and a 21-year undefeated streak at WrestleMania, and one could argue that Survivor Series 1990 witnessed the most historic debut in WWE history.
1. The Montreal Screwjob
Ah yes, we have finally arrived to not only the most historic moment in Survivor Series history, but the most controversial occurrence in the entirety of all of pro-wrestling spanning back to 1905. There have been magazines, books, and even films produced centered on the events that took place on November 9, 1997. I suggest that everyone who reads this go online and watch Wrestling with Shadows, a tell-all exposé about the dirty dealings leading up to the infamous incident that took place at Survivor Series 1997.
The best way to start this story is from WrestleMania XII in 1996. Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart made history when they competed for over an hour in an Ironman Match for the WWE Championship. The two men were on relatively good terms and even considered each other friends, but after the match the victorious Michaels told Senior Referee Earl Hebner to get Bret the “f*ck out of his ring.” Their transformation into mortal enemies began. Bret Hart had visions of winning back the WWE Championship, having Shawn Michaels chase once again, and competing in a return match with the “Heartbreak Kid” at WrestleMania XIII; however, Bret Hart began to resent HBK when he admitted that he only wanted to work with his “Kliq,” composed of X-Pac, Diesel, Razor Ramon, and Hunter Hearst Helmsley. Hart watched on as Michaels’ ego grew exponentially. In February 1997, Michaels relinquished the WWE Championship, claiming he had “lost his smile” and ultimately took himself off the card at WrestleMania XIII. This led Hart to assume that Michaels vacated the title because his ego was too big to drop it back to him on the "Grandest Stage of Them All."
The plot thickened when the Executive Producer of World Championship Wrestling Eric Bischoff offered Hart a multimillion-dollar deal to jump ship and turn his back on WWE. Vince McMahon, who could not afford to let another top star join the rival promotion, offered Hart a lucrative contract to stay with WWE, and stay he did. McMahon soon realized that keeping Hart on board was doing more harm than good for his company as he was signed to the highest-paid contract in WWE history and simply did not have the drawing power that he once did. With great consideration, McMahon asked that Hart’s contract be reneged and that Hart sign with World Championship Wrestling. Hart was willing to comply with McMahon, but there was one problem. Bret Hart beat The Undertaker and won the WWE Championship at SummerSlam 1997 and was in the middle of a heated on and off-camera rivalry with Michaels. The two foes would engage in heated verbal exchanges on camera, many of which hit more than close to home including Michaels insinuating Hart’s involvement in an extramarital affair with WWE talent, Sunny. Hart would fire back by bringing Michael’s sexual orientation into question, and Michaels would have the audacity to perform antics like picking his nose with the Canadian Flag. All hell broke loose in Hartford, Connecticut, when Hart and Michaels got into a legitimate physical altercation, resulting in the two men breaking through a wall. Hart attempted to make peace with Michaels by saying that he respected him and his in-ring ability and would be willing to man up and drop the title to him at Survivor Series. The final straw that broke the camel’s back was when Michaels responded to Hart’s peace offering by saying, “I appreciate that, but if the roles were reversed, I can’t say I would do the same.”
Michaels’ snarky comment set Hart over the edge, and he told McMahon, with finality, that he would not lose to HBK at Survivor Series in his home country of Canada. McMahon and lead writer Vince Russo pitched every possible outcome for this match that would award Michaels with the title and make Hart look strong in defeat, but Hart would not budge; he refused to lose the WWE Championship in Montreal, Canada, at Survivor Series. McMahon became very fearful, seeing as though the man holding his company’s top prize refused to give it up and was set to leave for WCW immediately after Survivor Series. If Hart were to show up on WCW Nitro with the WWE Championship, WWE would surely take its final breath. McMahon had no choice. He had to screw Bret Hart.
On the night of November 9, 1997, four men knew what was going to take place. Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels, Triple H, and senior referee Earl Hebner knew that when Michaels applied the sharpshooter to Bret Hart, Hebner would call for the premature ending of the match. Once the bell rang, Michaels and Triple H retreated from the ring with the WWE Championship, and McMahon stood at ringside where Hart spat on him in front of millions of people. Hart was taken completely by surprise, as he thought the match was supposed to end in disqualification, and he would leave Montreal with the WWE Championship. The broadcast ended in Michaels exiting the arena and a very confused play-by-play commentator Jim Ross thanking everyone for watching. What the world did not see was Bret Hart destroying everything at ringside, signing “WCW” with his right hand, and eventually cold-cocking Vince McMahon in the right eye. There is no doubt that the Montreal Screwjob is the most historic moment in not only Survivor Series history but perhaps WWE history as well.