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.
When discussing Survivor Series 1997, it’s important to get one thing out in the open right at the start.
This was a dreadful, dreadful event.
Seriously, it’s hands down one of the worst WWE shows of all time. What did we get?
Four Survivor Series matches. All of which were poor to dreadful. One of them was The Truth Commission vs. Disciples Of Apocalypse for goodness sake.
We also got Kane squashing Mankind under lighting akin to a boudoir in central Amsterdam as well as a four minute Intercontinental Title match won by a still clearly very injured Steve Austin working with a man he didn’t trust and didn’t want to work with.
Then we have the main event. Such a contrast between a pedestrian, forgettable match followed by the biggest news story in wrestling history.
We will come back to the ‘Screwjob’ in a moment but firstly the match.
It never got out of second gear. We often hear matches like this described as the first half of a great match. This really was that.
It went 12 minutes but one of the combatants, Bret Hart, believed he was going 30-35 minutes and was building the match accordingly. The other, Shawn Michaels did know the match was going short but he had to act like he didn’t. It did not a good match recipe make.
Now to the Screwjob. And I’m going to deliberately keep this brief simply because you’ve no doubt read all there is to say. Whoever you believe was in the right; the moment ultimately led to fortune for the WWE as the moment gave birth to Mr McMahon. Without this character, Steve Austin likely doesn’t reach the lucrative heights he did.
Bret however faced the beginning of the end here. What followed in years to come was professional disappointment and more importantly, deeply personal tragedy.
What we should discuss here, as is the theme of this essay series is the seismic shift this event represented in wrestling fan culture.
Put simply, this is the event where is fans forced ourselves backstage and decided never to leave again.
Fans around this time were becoming more Internet savvy. Access was improving, as need for content for grew.
No longer were us fans satisfied with talking about what happened in the ring. Rumours of ‘Sunny managing The Undertaker’ were incredible passe. We wanted something real we could get our teeth into and frankly, that we could pass off to those non-Interneters to make us look better informed than them.
The first gossip thrown on this new content bonfire was really ‘The Curtain Call’ in Madison Square Garden in 1996. We ate up the fact that The Cliq were actually all great buddies rather than great rivals.
But it was this event where, for the first time, what happened backstage became more interesting than what went on in the ring.
Bret Hart’s very real feud with Vince McMahon was drama beyond compare and it fascinated us all. We wanted more and we would never be satisfied again.
Think about it. After this moment, the prism that fans looked at the wrestling business through changed completely. We didn’t just want to absorb the storylines presented to us. We wanted to know who was doing what in the real lives and in dressing rooms. And we could get it too. The Internet democratised information and no longer could gatekeepers stop us accessing this information. It was ours and we did not want to let go.
What happened at Survivor Series; or more accurately, the aftermath most certainly changed the course of a number of careers and WWE’s overall direction but more importantly, it changed the way fans perceived wrestling forever.
No longer did us fans go through wrestling on the rails. Like a Super Mario Bros game. Instead we made the whole thing our own sandbox. Our own Grand Theft Auto style world where we could follow whatever strands we wanted. Storyline if we chose but reality as a preference.
Did we ever look back? No. This was a huge turning point. Imagine now consuming wrestling without the access we have enjoyed for over 20 years. Would you even still be a fan if that drama behind the drama had got you through the lean times? I’m not sure I would.
So here’s to Survivor Series 1997. The most important dreadful wrestling event of all time.
If you want to read more of this column series, you can find the rest at the following links: