The first Survivor Series I ever watched was the 1989 edition. This was not live of course as I had only been alive for 7 months, but sometime around 1995/1996 at my grandfather’s house where my love of professional wrestling began to percolate. I remember popping in a VHS tape that had a plain white label titled “Survivor Series 1989.” I thought, “hey that’s when I born,” and “What is Survivor Series??” Looking back on it now, it’s probably my favorite one to this day, but the whole 89/90 era is particularly enthralling for me.
The opening match featured “The American Dream” Dusty Rhodes teaming with Brutus The Barber Beefcake, The Red Rooster, and Tito Santana taking on The Big Boss Man, Rick Martel, The Honky Tonk Man and Bad News Brown, who didn’t get along with anyone except he kept getting invites to teams year after year. Wonder how that happened?
This was the time when WWE/F had the power over the audience. They could force good or evil upon ANYONE. They were able to turn Big Boss Man into a good guy only a year after watching him beat on a handcuffed Dusty Rhodes with a nightstick. I loved the 4 on 4 elimination matches, and the thought that it could be 1 vs 4 if it came down to it. The way they booked these matches are now in my estimation absolutely hilarious. People got pinned off of sunset flips, bodyslams, and other simple moves, without the teammates breaking up the pins. Why? Because fuck logic that’s why!!! Let’s not forget the staple of Survivor Series eliminations, the countout or the double disqualification. As a kid any type of wrestling was good enough for me. It wasn’t until I was older where match quality took over, but even then I could tell the difference between Hacksaw Jim Duggan and Earthquake squaring off, and a team captained by Mr. Perfect and Ravishing Rick Rude. The crown jewels of these events though, were the 4 man promos around “Mean Gene” Okerlund. These interviews could be described as bizarre, hilarious, bordering on lunacy, and sexually awkward. For example, in 1989 Roddy Piper captained a team with guys I’m not sure he could communicate with, in Superfly Jimmy Snuka, and The Bushwackers. How Snuka was down to team with Piper after being blasted with that coconut I’ll never know. They came down a stairwell with turkey stuffed inside their singlets, and bones behind their ears, while Piper was the only one that was afforded the chance to speak. Toward the end a chant of “DEM BONES” broke out, but somehow that’s all was needed. We knew exactly what happening. I mean were we really itching to see Bushwacker Luke work the mic? All of this happened while Okerlund fights the urge to bust out laughing.
More of the matches on the card included Macho King Randy Savage, Earthquake, Dino Bravo and Greg “The Hammer” Valentine taking on Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Rugged Ronnie Garvin, Hercules and a young Bret “The Hitman” Hart, who you can’t help but feel sorry for when Savage eliminates him. The 4X4s came to the ring armed with wood 2 by 4’s and really heated up the crowd but Savages bunch was too much to overcome.
WWF Champion Hulk Hogan put on an epic performance as he teamed with Demolition and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. They took on “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase who recruited Zeus better known as Deebo from Friday and The Powers of Pain, Warlord and The Barbarian, who were oozing roids at this point. They took a guy from a movie and made it apart of the storyline. As a kid I was in shock as Zeus destroyed Hogan. Zeus was the king of no selling. He would pop up after being slammed, as Jesse Ventura would yell “NO EFFECT” each time. What was really happening with retrospect, is he didn’t know how to sell and they were left with no other option. After 2 or 3 minutes of dismantling Hogan, Earl Hebner, a Survivor Series legend in his own right, began to yank on Zeus’ head trying to break the blatant choke hold and DQ’ed Zeus for shoving him to the canvas. The promo preceding this match from the Hulkamaniacs was nothing short of knee slapping laughter, as Ax points at the tag team title and proclaims “This is not the million dollar belt, this is the Hulkamaniacs belt!” and Hogan repeatedly calling Dibiase “The Multimillion Dollar Man” while being covered in a mix of sweat and Johnsons baby oil. He then calls Demoltion “The best in world” and “The Best at what they do” angering two young fans by the name of Chris Irvine and Phillip Jack Brooks, before talking about the DDT stretcher service, and handing it off to Roberts who calmly ethers his 10 second portion of the promo. Please just watch it.
Mr. Perfect was the sole survivor in the next match, defeating Jimmy Snuka, and looking like the best wrestler on the roster at this time. Something wild happened next, THE VHS TAPE ENDED!!! Apparently that’s all my grandfather recorded, or that was all the time the tape had. I waited YEARS to watch the final match with The Ultimate Warriors facing the Heenan Family. I found out Andre the Giant got eliminated in 10 seconds, Bobby Heenan put on a singlet, and there was a young tag team wrestler named Shawn Michaels who would later go on to be the best wrestler ever. Remember this was 1995/96. I thought Shawn was an absolute god and couldn’t picture him as anything but THE MAN. I want to say there was a reason that last part was cut off. I’d love to ask my grandfather but he died 10 years ago. Subconsciously the tape cutting off turned me into a bigger fan than seeing the natural finish could have ever done.
Today, Survivor Series struggles with relevancy due to lack of foresight, championship matches taking their rightful place at the top of the card, the format being exhausted, and the amount of programming on TV. Back then there was no Raw to see rivals get their hands on each other each week. As the years went on, they added “The Final Survival Match” which was pretty cool, but would have been more interesting had faces and heels been randomly put on teams rather than good vs evil. I don’t see the traditional matches making a comeback anytime soon in a major capacity, so I’ll be forced to reread this column or pull up youtube and watch 1989, and 1990’s events while seeing all the unintentional comedy and feeling the nostalgia of a time where I got lost in wrestling.