Before we begin, I will note that this article is, as Joe Lanza likes to say, tongue firmly planted in cheek. I don’t actually hate Survivor Series matches as much as I say, and I don’t hate elimination matches as much as Joe says I do. With that said, it’s my gimmick, so god dammit, I’m going to live up to it. And as only I can, I can’t just give you my opinion about them. I have to take a deeper look at Survivor Series Elimination matches, and only not tell you why I hate them, but prove why I hate them.
Around the time of every major WWE PPV be it WrestleMania, Royal Rumble, SummerSlam or (though it can be argued as a FORMER major PPV) Survivor Series, I binge-watch past events. While I still enjoy each and every Royal Rumble I watch, Survivor Series is not so lucky. In fact, with each additional year, I lose more and more interest in re-watching “classic” Survivor Series matches. This is a point I’ve made well known on numerous Voices of Wrestling podcasts, past article on this very website and in public — traditional Survivor Series elimination matches suck. No, not all of them, in fact, there’s a few (Team Austin vs. Team Bischoff immediately comes to mind) that don’t suck at all. However, the bulk of the ones we remember fondly are no good.
Before I bury these matches six-feet deep, let me talk about what I love about Survivor Series elimination matches. First off, the Survivor Series theme music is bad ass and is only beaten by the untouchably badass Royal Rumble theme. Listen to this greatness:
I’m also a huge fan of the intros to Survivor Series pay-per-views, which were highlighted most years by a coked out of his mind Vince McMahon introducing all of the teams, each with a more clever, punny name than the other. Some of my favorites all-time are The Rude Brood, Roddy’s Rowdies and the very aptly name “The Visionaries.” How Rick Martel, The Warlord and Power & Glory are “Visionaries” (definition: a person with original ideas about what the future will or could be like) I’ll never know but I don’t care.
Lastly, I’m a sucker for entrances. Before I really became a nerd about this stupid stuff, I use to rent wrestling tapes from my local Blockbuster and fast-forward through all the “boring stuff” (aka the actual match) and just watch intros and the finish. I’m still a sucker for some great music and an ominous entrance and that’s absolutely what you get with the Survivor Series. Unlike every other PPV, the entrances were rapid-fire — more guys, more entrances, more music — I love it.
Enough of this love fest, let’s start the hate! We will first break down a few of the reasons why I hate Survivor Series elimination matches and why they suck. These include the eliminations, the way happen, and how quickly occur. We’ll then wrap all of the things I like and dislike about a Survivor Series match and spit out one normalized number to determine the best and worst Survivor Series elimination matches. I may make reference to Survivor Series of most recent vintage for the sake of any statistics in this piece, they all come from “the glory years” which via a Twitter poll was determined to be 1987-1991.
I’ve made it well known why I dislike Survivor Series matches but if you’re a first-time viewer or reader, welcome (again read the disclaimer at the top, I don’t REALLY hate them as much as I’m about to write)! The biggest reason for my dislike is the psychology of Survivor Series matches don’t make a damn bit of sense. Moves that would never in any universe result in a decision for some reason work better than ever because there are guys surrounding the ring. I get the psychology of giving up while you’re in a submission in an Iron Man or 2-out-of-3 falls match, that’s fine with me. The idea that you’re saving up punishment for the rest of the match or you’ll sacrifice a fall to ensure that your leg doesn’t get ravaged by a submission, that’s cool.
But why is the roll-up suddenly one of the most deadly moves in the WWE so long as there are other guys standing on the apron? Using just the 1987 Survivor Series as an example we see such thrilling finishes as Jacques Rougeau being pinned by Demolition Ax after Jacques missed a crossbody. Yes, it wasn’t even an offensive move from Ax that downed Jacques. Thrilling stuff right there. In the very same match, B. Brian Blair defeated Tama via the deadly Sunset Flip to secure the match for The Killer Bees and Young Stallions.
Later in the 1987 Survivor Series, Bam Bam Bigelow pinned King Kong Bundy, who, as you probably know two years prior main evented WrestleMania, via a Slingshot.
Countouts and disqualifications are plentiful as guys routinely run out of the ring to attack whomever so long as it knocks them out of the match. One of my favorite moments came from the 1994 Survivor Series which saw Shawn Michaels and Diesel’s relationship dissolve.
While the two were fighting up the ramp all members of their team came down to break it up, seemingly forgetting that they were needed in the ring. A frantic Owen Hart runs up to the group and says “GUYS, GUYS…STOP… WE’RE GOING TO GET COUNTED OUT! GET BACK IN THE RING!” Naturally, all members of the team were counted out and it was match over. That sucks and you know it does!
I’m not saying every elimination needs to be a finishing/signature move but the lack of such finishes is few and far between. In 1987, only 32% of the Survivor Series match eliminations were via a finishing or signature move. Here are the averages for the five “Glory Years” (1987-1991):
Of the 143 total eliminations in those five years, only 54 (37.76%) were a result of a finishing/signature move. For some that’s not a problem and again, I don’t want 100% of eliminations to be finishers but there’s no reason for signature move finishes to make up a majority of PPV matches and then suddenly in Survivor Series, they aren’t necessary.
Bam Bam Bigelow could beat Duane Gill on an episode of Superstars with a minor move but Survivor Series matches are not jobbers vs. stars/monsters. It just doesn’t make sense and it’s something that grates at me every time I watch a classic Survivor Series match. Let’s take a look at the lowest and highest percentage of finishers used in individual elimination matches.
Lowest % Finishers Used For Eliminations: 0% Ric Flair, The Mountie, Ted DiBiase, and The Warlord vs. Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, Virgil, and Davey Boy Smith – 1991
We’ll get back to this match later as it ranks fairly well in our cumulative Survivor Series rankings but this is our only 0% finishing move elimination match. So what were the finishes? Top Rope Axe Handle from Flair, Bret Hart interference into a pin and five other guys were disqualified while brawling inside the ring.
Highest % Finishers Used for Eliminations: 75% The Ultimate Warrior, The Legion of Doom and The Texas Tornado vs. Mr. Perfect and Demolition – 1990
The Warriors vs. The Perfect Team come in at #1 on highest percentage of finisher eliminations: Warrior Splash, three guys DQed for brawling in the ring, Perfect Plex and Warrior Splash. The percentage is helped by three guys going out in one total elimination but still, Warrior hit his finisher, Perfect hit his. Hey, I’ll take it.
My next gripe with Survivor Series elimination matches is the rapid-fire eliminations or on a more macro-level the amount of time between eliminations. In some matches (we’ll get to these in a moment), there’s a fair amount of back and forth and you really feel like you’re getting a solid PPV-level match. Other times, eliminations occur every few minutes, mostly by non-finishers and you really feel cheated. I don’t expect each and every Survivor Series match to be an hour-long affair with guys lasting in the ring for 20-30 minutes at a time but c’mon, this is a PPV, I paid my hard earned money. I don’t want to see five squash matches lumped into one elimination match.
Let’s look at the average time between eliminations for each of the glory years:
These numbers are fairly consistent over the years with one lone exception, 1990. I have a theory though. If you’ll remember 1990 was the year of the Grand Finale Match of Survival where every participant that survived their elimination match would go on to the Grand Finale Match of Survival in the main event. You best believe some of these guys knew they were working double and didn’t want to spend another extra minute in that ring. We’ll get to these in more detail but the bottom three matches in average elimination time all came from 1990 and all predominantly featured guys who would move onto the Grand Finale Match of Survival Main Event.
Anyway, we’ll get back to the Grand Finale Match of Survival (I’m just typing this out of pure hilarity now), I’m not done with you. What I wanted to look at first was the difference between these Survivor Series elimination periods and a normal PPV match. I enlisted the help of wrestling stat god Chris Harrington (whose work you can check out on Bleacher Report) to give me average PPV match lengths to compare them to Survivor Series match lengths. I understand there’s some issues with doing this but outside of 1991, these other glory years Survivor Series were ONLY elimination matches. If I’m paying PPV prices, I want god damn PPV matches, not a bunch of quick jobber matches.
This chart shows us the average time between Survivor Series eliminations (Blue), average “anything but singles” match length (red) and average singles match length (yellow). As you can see, Vince McMahon cheated you out of your money by charging you PPV prices, taking away all your long PPV matches and replacing them with a bunch of quicker matches under the guise of an “elimination” match. Changes your perspective, huh?
Hey you idiot, why don’t you show the difference between these match lengths and the full elimination match? Way ahead of you, chief.
Again, you’ll notice the anomaly that was the 1990 Survivor Series which sticks out like a sore thumb even against 1991 when WWE slowly began phasing out the elimination match. This chart helps the Survivor Series defenders as in total they were longer than all comparable matches almost every year except 1990. In 1988 each Survivor Series match was just under 10 minutes longer than your average “other” match which is very impressive. I still contend that length means nothing if the eliminations happen so quickly but I’ll allow it. You won this round, apologists.
Shortest Avg. Time Between Eliminations: 01:03 Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior and Tito Santana vs. Ted DiBiase, Rick Martel, The Warlord, and Power and Glory – 1990
What the hell? I was shocked to see this match, the Grand Finale Match of Survival~! end up at the bottom of the list. I remember really enjoying it despite the quick eliminations but what gives, why would the main event of the 1990 Survivor Series have this distinction? Again, double-duty perhaps or they really wanted to put Hogan and Warrior over because they absolutely decimated their opponents. Santana won the first fall with a flying forearm in only 28 seconds. A little over a minute and a half later Ted DiBiase eliminated Santana with a hotshot. Paul Roma last another four minutes before he was literally clotheslined out of the match by Hogan. Two minutes later Rick Martel said “Fuck this” and deserted his team then at 8:30 and 9:07 DiBiase and Hercules fell to a Hogan leg drop and Warrior Splash respectively. Nine minutes and seven seconds is all it took for Hogan and Warrior to win the Grand Finale Match of Survival.
Highest Avg. Time Between Eliminations: 07:36 Ric Flair, The Mountie, Ted DiBiase and The Warlord vs. Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, Virgil, and Davey Boy Smith – 1991
Hey, these guys are back. They were our the match with the least amount of finishers and now they have the longest average elimination time. This number is certainly skewed by the fact that the match itself went over 22 minutes and half the participants were eliminated in one moment but it’s still pretty telling. The first elimination (Davey Boy Smith via Ric Flair) didn’t happen until 10:55 in.
I’ve detailed why I dislike Survivor Series matches and outlined the worst offenders. Now I’d like to wrap everything up and look at the official Best and Worst (I’m going to get a call from Mr. Stroud on this one) Survivor Series Elimination Matches: THE GLORY YEARS. To do this, I decided to create a metric, one nice and clean number to determine if a Survivor Series elimination match is good or bad — introducing CASEY!
CASEY is named after famed WWE jobber and Survivor Series participant Scott Casey and stands for Conscious Analytics Survivor Elimination Yield. Thanks to some help from reader Josh Engleman, we were able to put together a normalized statistic that rewards attributes I love about Survivor Series matches (long times between eliminations, finisher eliminations) and things I hate (quick eliminations, no finishers). We added a few other wrinkles in there just to be cute (Dave Meltzer star rating), but here it is… your official CASEY rankings!
23. Sgt. Slaughter, Jim Duggan, The Texas Tornado and Tito Santana vs. Col. Mustafa, The Berzerker, Skinner, and Hercules – 1991
Where to begin with this abortion. You already assume the match is awful just by looking at the participants, and don’t worry, it is. This bad boy received only ¾* from Dave Meltzer and pretty much checks all of my boxes for an awful Survivor Series match. The horrible match quality is matched by a bottom five average elimination time with only 25% of the eliminations coming from finishing or signature moves.
22. Hulk Hogan, The Ultimate Warrior and Tito Santana vs. Ted DiBiase, Rick Martel, The Warlord and Power and Glory – 1990
Remember when I said we’d be talking about the Grand Finale Match of Survival a lot? Well here it is…again. It received only *¼ stars from Dave, had our worst average elimination time but is actually tied for top 5 in finisher percentage. Either way, this guy definitely deserves it’s spot here.
21. Nikolai Volkoff, Tito Santana, and The Bushwhackers vs.Sgt. Slaughter, Boris Zhukov and The Orient Express – 1990
We can come to only one conclusion with this ranking — don’t put Tito Santana in Survivor Series matches. He unfortunately is on every single one of our bottom three CASEY rated elimination matches. I found this weird because Tito seems the prototypical exciting Survivor Series participant. He may not last long in the matches but you know during his portion you’re going to get some excitement. We shouldn’t let Sgt. Slaughter off the hook either, he’s in two of our bottom three. While Tito makes up for it with some higher rated ones down the line, Slaughter’s only two appearance in an elimination match are these terrible ones. Anyway, this match recieved one lonely star from Dave making it the second-worst rated match in our dataset. It’s also our second worst in terms of elimination time and recovers only as a result of having 43% finisher eliminations. Tito ended up being the sole survivor of this match when General Adnan hit Santana with the Iraqi flag disqualifying Sgt. Slaughter — that was pretty stupid.
- 20. Hulk Hogan, Jim Duggan, Big Boss Man and Tugboat vs. Earthquake, Haku, Dino Bravo and The Barbarian – 1990: -1.98 CASEY
- 19. The Legion of Doom (Hawk and Animal) and Big Boss Man defeated The Natural Disasters (Earthquake andTyphoon) and Irwin R. Schyster (with Jimmy Hart) – 1991: -1.68 CASEY
- 18. The Fabulous Moolah, Rockin’ Robin, Velvet McIntyre and The Jumping Bomb Angels vs. Sensational Sherri, The Glamour Girls, Donna Christianello and Dawn Marie – 1987: -1.57 CASEY
- 17. Dusty Rhodes, Brutus Beefcake, The Red Rooster and Tito Santana vs. Big Boss Man, Bad News Brown, Rick Martel and The Honky Tonk Man – 1989: -1.40 CASEY
- 16. The Ultimate Warrior, Brutus Beefcake, Sam Houston, The Blue Blazer and Jim Brunzell vs. The Honky Tonk Man, Ron Bass, Danny Davis, Greg Valentine and Bad News Brown – 1988: -1.24 CASEY
- 15. Ted DiBiase, The Undertaker and Rhythm and Blues vs. Dusty Rhodes, Koko B. Ware and The Hart Foundation – 1990: -0.88 CASEY
- 14. André the Giant, Rick Rude, Dino Bravo, Mr. Perfect and Harley Race vs. Jim Duggan, Jake Roberts, Scott Casey, Ken Patera, Tito Santana – 1988: -0.52 CASEY
- 13. Hulk Hogan, Demolition and Jake Roberts vs. Ted DiBiase, The Powers of Pain and Zeus – 1989: -0.28 CASEY
- 12. André the Giant, One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy, Butch Reed and Rick Rude vs. Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff, Don Muraco, Ken Patera and Bam Bam Bigelow – 1987: 0.05 CASEY
- 11. Randy Savage, Canadian Earthquake, Dino Bravo and Greg Valentine vs. Jim Duggan, Bret Hart, Ronnie Garvin and Hercules – 1989: 0.45 CASEY
- 10. Strike Force, The Young Stallions , The Fabulous Rougeaus, The Killer Bees and The British Bulldogs vs. The Hart Foundation, The Islanders, Demolition, The Bolsheviks , and The Dream Team – 1987: 0.89 CASEY
- 9. Rick Martel, The Warlord and Power and Glory vs. Jake Roberts, Jimmy Snuka and The Rockers – 1990: 1.10 CASEY
- 8. Rick Rude, Mr. Perfect, The Fabulous Rougeaus vs. Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and The Bushwhackers -1989: 1.25 CASEY
- 7. Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Hercules, Koko B. Ware and Hillbilly Jim vs. The Twin Towers, Ted DiBiase, Haku and The Red Rooster- 1988: 1.37 CASEY
- 6. The Ultimate Warrior, The Rockers and Jim Neidhart vs. Bobby Heenan, André the Giant, Haku and Arn Anderson – 1989: 1.54 CASEY
- 5. Randy Savage, Jake Roberts, Ricky Steamboat, Brutus Beefcake and Jim Duggan vs. The Honky Tonk Man, Hercules, Danny Davis, Ron Bass and Harley Race – 1987: 1.60 CASEY
- 4. The Powers of Pain, The Rockers, The British Bulldogs, The Hart Foundation and The Young Stallions vs. Demolition ,The Brain Busters , The Bolsheviks , The Fabulous Rougeaus and The Conquistadors – 1988: 1.62 CASEY
3. The Ultimate Warrior, The Legion of Doom and The Texas Tornado vs. Mr. Perfect and Demolition (Ax, Smash and Crush) – 1990:
I’m glad this one made it to the top 3 because it is genuinely one of my favorite Survivor Series elimination matches ever. The Perfect Team vs. The Ultimate Warriors. The competitors fit the time period like a glove — Mr. Perfect, The Ultimate Warrior. You have the ultimate painted muscle dudes in the LOD and Demolition. You even have a high as a kite Texas Tornado and prime Mr. Fuji/Bobby Heenan to boot. As mentioned prior, this match was tops in percentage of finishers but it also did well in average elimination time (03:31 – 11th overall). It only received **1/2 from Meltzer but I don’t care, when I think of Survivor Series it’s matches like these that immediately come to mind. This is everything that was right about the glory days of Survivor Series.
2. The Nasty Boys and The Beverly Brothers vs. The Rockers and The Bushwhackers – 1991:
When CASEY spit this match out as the 2nd best Survivor Series elimination match ever I had to second guess everything I was doing here. How could THIS match, a match that features one of my least favorite teams ever (The Bushwhackers) be the 2nd best Survivor Series matches ever? I tore apart the CASEY formula and deleted the spreadsheet never to re-visit it. Not really. I just re-watched it and all be damn, this is a really great match. The interplay between The Nasty Boys and The Rockers is fabulous with Shawn Michaels working underneath and the Nasty’s controlling a majority of the match. I initially assumed Meltzer was hanging with Texas Tornado in 1991 when he gave this match ***1/2 but, that’s about where I would put it too. I REALLY enjoyed this. Average elimination time was top 10 at 04:18 even with a relatively low 40% in finish percentage.
1. Ric Flair, The Mountie, Ted DiBiase and The Warlord vs. Roddy Piper, Bret Hart, Virgil and Davey Boy Smith – 1991:
The crown jewel, the number one Survivor Series elimination match ever according to the CASEY metric. It’s hard to argue this match’s place in history and it’s ranking here. It’s unique, as mentioned prior in this article, in that the first elimination doesn’t occur until nearly 11 minutes into the match. That’s unrivaled in Survivor Series history, making it stand out immediately. Sure, the ending left a lot to be desired for but it was a crazed brawl between warring teams that eventually got the most of the competitors. It may not be the most glamourous ending, but it’s one I can believe in and get behind — in this context, it worked. CASEY ranks this one high due to its high average elimination time (1st) as well as an average Meltzer star rating. The most surprising thing about this match going number one is the lack of finishers leading to elimination, no finishers led to an elimination…. 0%!
Do remember that we normalized the CASEY stat so any one factor didn’t tremendously outweigh the other, however, the normalized elimination length of this match was far more significant than the normalized value of 0% eliminations. To put it in layman’s terms, the uniqueness of going long between eliminations is far more important in the grand scheme of Survivor Series history than having no eliminations result from finishers. 16 Survivor Series matches from our dataset had under 50% finisher eliminations with another three coming in at 50%. The over seven minute elimination time beat the next closest match by over two full minutes.
And there you have it. As I mentioned in the lede, and as you can probably find out from my description of the top three matches, I don’t hate Survivor Series elimination matches that much. I do think we look back at them more fondly than we should and I do think as they get older they age even worse but there’s still an unmatched novelty to watch these classic teams. As I described at length in my description for The Perfect Team vs. The Ultimate Warriors, there will always be a part of me that marks out as a bunch of oiled up late 80s, early 90s juiced to the gills WWF superstars coming out to their classic theme music and teaming together in the same match. After all these years, it’s still really cool and I’m sure in the context of the era, it was very special. It’s hard to understand in 2014 how important it was to see some of these guys in the ring together, even if it wasn’t for a 1-on-1 match, even if it wasn’t the biggest stage in the company.
I may not love Survivor Series elimination matches as much as the first time I saw them and hey, they may suck, but that won’t stop my November tradition anytime soon.