WrestleManias may be more iconic. Royal Rumbles may be more action packed. Even SummerSlams may be more high-profile. But in the late 1990s, there was no event more pivotal than Survivor Series. Each instalment contained events of huge historical importance in wrestling. Not only that, but they acted as pivot points between key eras in WWE.
All this week Paul Benson, one of the co-hosts of Hooked On Wrestling’s 90s podcast HOW Mania, will be publishing mini-essays about the Survivor Series events from 1995-1999.
The first of these columns covers Survivor Series 1995 that took place on November 19th from the USAir Arena in Landover, Maryland.
What moment do you think was the dawn of the Attitude Era?
Was it ‘Bret screwing Bret’?
‘Tyson and Austin! Tyson and Austin! Tyson and Austin!’ per chance?
Could it even have been Shawn Michaels deciding he would bring his real-life persona to the wrestling ring?
This writer would contend that no, it was none of the above. It was Survivor Series 1995.
Recently, on the HOW Mania podcast, we did a couple of shows on Survivor Series events of the 1990s. The two-parter was split into 1990-1994 and 1995-1999. Obviously this split was decided for chronological reasons but after deciding on that split format it soon became clear that timing wasn’t the only split. A huge ideological fault-line ran directly between this event and its predecessor 12 months previously; just look at the marquee elimination matches.
In 1994, we had Guts & Glory facing off with The Million Dollar Team. It was a match that included King Kong Bundy, The Heavenly Bodies and Adam Bomb.
The following year saw a ‘Wildcard match’ built on intricate relationships between faces and heels working together as the divide between good and nefarious was blurred more than ever before in the company.
Then look at the main events. 1994? A casket match between pre-humanised Undertaker and Yokozuna that saw Chuck Norris get involved in the finish.
1995? A hard-hitting brawl between a tweener WWE champion in Diesel and Bret Hart that saw WWE’s first ever table bump. The contrast is stark.
This event saw a distinct shift in the tone of the entire company. The change was no more obvious than in the main event. Defending champion Diesel had spent the majority of his year-long reign as a smiling babyface, slapping hands and running through heel after heel including Mabel, Owen Hart and The British Bulldog. Along comes fellow ‘good guy’ Bret Hart and, attitude-wise, the pairing brought out the worst in both. Diesel became noticeably more aggressive and Hart more laser-focused on winning the title than ever before.
During the match itself, neither babyface acted like one. Whilst he didn’t so much cheat to win, Hart certainly bent the code of honour he previously lived by. Having taken a battering from Big Daddy Cool, Hart deviously waited until the champion’s sympathetic side shone through. As soon as it did, The Hitman took advantage for a quick small package and the win. Diesel, for his part, responded with an angry post-match Jackknife that signalled a distinct and permanent shift in demeanour.
The aforementioned Wildcard match blurred the lines in a different, broader way. Instead of splitting the teams down the traditional lines, Shawn Michaels and Ahmed Johnson teamed up with Sycho Sid and The British Bulldog to face the mismatched unit of Razor Ramon teaming with rulebreakers Owen Hart, Yokozuna and Dean Douglas.
Admittedly, it wasn’t subtle, but it marked the start of an era where the traditional heel/face divide was skewed by individual attitudes and motivations that decided match ups. It was WWE dipping a toe in this pool rather than jumping in, but a shift it was indeed.
The new tonal shift was reflected down the card too. This was the second PPV appearance for Goldust, whose victory over Bam Bam Bigelow saw the the Beast From The East ushered out of the company. ‘Dust was one of the most ambiguous, era-defining characters of the mid-90s. Primary colours of character heels such as Ludvig Borga were replaced by a mixed palette of bad guys that had influence from societal and fictional sources that created complex, three-dimensional villains where once there were only pantomime baddies.
Throw in the ultra-modern women’s Survivor Series elimination match with a strong focus on in-ring work and the much-lauded, action-packed, high-flying opening match and a change is clearly afoot.
That opening match by the way…The 1-2-3 Kid, Tom Pritchard, Rad Radford and Skip vs. Hakushi, Barry Horowitz, Bob Holly and Marty Jannetty. On the surface, a smorgasbord of jobbers. In reality, an action-packed showcase of modern, high-flying, technical wrestling. If you haven’t seen this one, do yourself a favour and seek it out.
The 1993-95 era in WWE was dubbed The New Generation and had been an almost unmitigated creative and financial failure, with Diesel held up (often unfairly) as one of the worst company figureheads of all time due to his lack of drawing power.
Survivor Series 1995 was the first blow struck in the slow death of the New Generation era.
The killer blow though? That came a little later. That particular axe dropped a year later in fact.
At Madison Square Garden…
If you want to read more of this column series, you can find the rest at the following links: