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, has been publishing mini-essays about the Survivor Series events from 1995-1999.
The first four columns can be found here (1995), here (1996), here (1997) and here (1998). This column, part four, covers ‘Deadly Game, the 1998 edition that was held at The Enterprise Center in St Louis, Missouri on November 15th.
If you were born before about 1987 I want you to close your eyes. Well, read the rest of these instructions and then close them anyway. Close those eyes and think back to 1999. If you were anything like this writer you were watching American Pie, The Matrix, Toy Story 2 and Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me. You were discovering who Ali G was, you were listening to Backstreet Boys, Bloodhound Gang, Slim Shady and Britney.
Baz Luhrmann spent the Summer telling you to wear sunscreen.
Most of all, you were watching A LOT of wrestling in a strange old year. The final year of the Millenium began with Mankind ‘putting butts in seats’ with his legendary WWF title win over The Rock whilst WCW gave us the fingerpoke of doom. We got to see Triple H turn heel, begin to climb to the main event and adopt ‘main event trunks’, we got the start of SmackDown, The Rock n’ Sock Connection and The Corporate Ministry. We got debuts in WWE for Chris Jericho, The Big Show and The Dudley Boyz..In short, there was a lot of muck thrown at the wall. Not all of it stuck but what did was fantastic. It was a transitional year, but a necessary one. The experimentation done in 1999 gave WWE an idea what worked so they could shoot out of the blocks in 2000 with arguably the greatest year in their history.
The gateway to that year was Survivor Series 1999 – A PPV that reflected not only the wrestling world at the time. It lacked substance, it was thrown together, it was superficial but also very loud and exciting. It was basically wrestling nu-metal. Most importantly from a historical perspective, it felt, for the first time, that WWE was becoming a soap opera rather than a wrestling programme for the first time.
Like it or loathe it, it was this commitment to storylines influenced by real life that drove the insane business in 2000. The ‘Who Hit Stone Cold’ story started here which led directly into the McMahon-Helmsley drama which then led directly to 2000 and the Kurt Angle-Stephanie-HHH affair.
This was the show that reset the deck. When Steve Austin got hit with the car (To mask a real life long term neck injury), it marked the end of Stone Cold’s mega-babyface run. Sure he came back in late 2000 but he was never the true top babyface of the company. The Rock had now taken this spot and the whole show had become much more of an ensemble. Whereas the early Attitude era was ‘Austin plus supporting acts’, the company now had quality up and down the card, highlighted here by the debut of Kurt Angle in a star making, insincere babyface performance against Shawn Stasiak. Remember him?
This also felt like ground zero for what was about to become an explosion in WWE’s tag team scene. On the card, two Survivor Series teams (In separate matches) were made up of The Dudley Boyz and the APA as well as The Hardys alongside Edge and Christian in a real portent of what was to come over the next year or so.
Following the trend of most of these late 90s Survivor Series, this was not an incredible show. It wasn’t bad but there wasn’t a good match. It was driven by storyline and soap opera and the matches were just window dressing. No better example of this was The Big Show destroying his own team and then quickly winning a four on one elimination match. It wasn’t a match in the traditional sense and the heels were basically props in an angle to get over that The Big Show was back and meant business.
But this was what WWE was back then and going into the new decade. The characters were incredibly strong and it was those characters that truly supported the dramatic stories the company sold in such a successful manner. The matches, at the time, were mere window dressing.
This would, in fairness, be remedied to a great extent in 2000. The emergence of Jericho, Angle and the ‘TLC Teams’ alongside the debuts of The Radicalz, Rikishi and Tazz added more ballast to the midcard in ring than the company had enjoyed in a decade.
But to close, this Survivor Series showed what was to come. The drama was going to be more Dallas and Eastenders rather than whether a certain wrestler could earn a world title. And we absolutely lapped it up. This card was the absolute perfect way to cap the brash emergence of disposable, crass, aggressive pop culture that gave the period its identity.
In short, Survivor Series could only have been more of its time if the theme song was Blue (Da Ba Dee Da Ba Da) sung by the cast of She’s All That.
Thank you for joining me this week for my look back at the Survivor Series of the late 1990s. A period that was transformative in wrestling and in pop culture, not to mention many of us personally. If you enjoy looking back at the 90s with us, do join me and Ash Rose for our bi weekly ‘HOW Mania’ podcast: The definitive 1990s wrestling podcast available on all major platforms where podcasts are served.
If you want to read more of this column series, you can find the rest at the following links: