In two weeks from now, we shall be witnessing the last of the year’s Big Four pay-per-views – the Survivor Series, and while everyone and their cousin seems to be talking about Bill Goldberg’s big (and most probably one-and-done) comeback match against Brock Lesnar, this year’s edition will be notable for another reason. It’s going to be all about brand-vs.-brand action for the traditional Survivor Series matches, as WWE will be showcasing three elimination matches – one for the men, one for the women, and one for the tag teams. Indeed, it’s going to be interesting to see how faces and heels work together for the good of their brand.
How will Survivor Series 2016 rank in the almost three-decade history of the PPV? That’s anyone’s guess at this point, but right now, it’s about time we look back at how the event fared in the 21st century. As the then-WWF moved on from the almost purely elimination match-centric Survivor Series of old, the event also served as a way to further or to blow off singles feuds. And the concept of survival was also redefined in some Survivor Series beginning in the late-'90s, with elimination matches totally getting eschewed twice in the span of five years.
Having said all that, let's count 'em all down from worst to best, and see how the Survivor Series of 2000 to 2015 rank in terms of quality, elimination and non-elimination matches included.
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16 Survivor Series 2013
We'll start off with a modern-day train wreck of a Survivor Series. The 2013 edition featured a traditional Survivor Series match pitting the women of Total Divas (featuring mat wizards such as Cameron, JoJo, and Eva Freaking Marie) against the non-Total Divas females on the roster. The Shield, who were still red-hot at the time, were stuck with the lukewarm Real Americans in a meaningless elimination match against Cody Rhodes, Goldust, The Usos, and Rey Mysterio. And since fans were demanding to see Daniel Bryan in the WWE Championship picture, Creative had him and CM Punk team up to beat Luke Harper and Erick Rowan of The Wyatt Family.
After the then-B-Plus Player and the increasingly discontented Voice of the Voiceless dispatched of Bray Wyatt’s hirsute thugs, it was on to the main event, where Randy Orton defeated Big Show in the WWE Championship match nobody asked for. Aside from the match’s plodding nature, everyone knew Big Show was a storyline patsy who kept flip-flopping from face to heel and back, and that Bryan was far more deserving of a title shot against the Viper. It would take another four months for that to happen, but fortunately when it did, it was more than worth it.
15 Survivor Series 2000
It’s funny how a lot of Attitude Era TV episodes and pay-per-views looked like a million bucks to the teenagers and young adults of the time, but look like a hot mess when re-watched in present day. That seems to be the case with Survivor Series 2000. For instance, try making sense of Edge and Christian being afterthoughts as they teamed up with Right to Censor’s Bull Buchanan and The Goodfather and lost to two teams of Boyz – the Dudleyz and the Hardyz – in a traditional Survivor Series match. Or what about that underwhelming match between The Rock and Rikishi, who had, of course, “(done) it for The Rock” when he ran Steve Austin over at the previous year’s Survivor Series? Ah, good times.
It didn’t help either that the marquee matches were huge disappointments. You’d expect Kurt Angle and The Undertaker to have a solid WWF Championship match, talented workers that they are. But they didn’t, as that match suffered from poor chemistry. And the no-DQ match between Austin vs. Triple H had what could be the most overbooked of no-contest finishes ever — the Game fleeing in his car, and Austin using a forklift to pick up the car and drop it from 30 feet above.
14 Survivor Series 2006
Ugh. After four straight years of (mostly) quality action, WWE turned in a clunker with Survivor Series 2006. To be fair, it was nice to see three traditional Survivor Series matches instead of the usual one or two, but most of the matches that evening felt rushed, what with WWE trying to cram in so much action into one pay-per-view. Team Legends vs. Spirit Squad was a throwaway, Team Rated-RKO looked like patsies as they got shut out in 11 minutes by Team DX, and Team Cena vs. Team (Big) Show lasted just 12-some minutes despite having eight eliminations.
Sadly, the marquee singles matches couldn’t save 2006’s Survivor Series from a bad rating. Mr. Kennedy and Undertaker in a First Blood match was a head-scratcher, let alone the decision for Kennedy to go over. Batista beat King Booker in a Last Chance match for the World Heavyweight title, and not only did he do so in only 13 minutes, he also did it while acting very heelish for an unquestioned babyface.
13 Survivor Series 2015
Looking back to last year’s Survivor Series, one can’t really get excited when looking at a lot of the matches. Both traditional Survivor Series elimination matches were hastily put-together affairs chock full of midcarders, Dolph Ziggler lost to a guy (Tyler Breeze) who’d eventually lose about 60 straight matches in 2016. And, in the culmination of a tournament for the vacant WWE World Heavyweight Championship, Roman Reigns beat Dean Ambrose to a chorus of boos (duh), and lost his title in five minutes to Sheamus, who cashed in his Money in the Bank contract for a transitional run on top of the card.
How bad was this Survivor Series? Bad enough that Ambrose was uncharacteristically off in his promo segment. Bad enough that the one-off Brothers of Destruction reunion against The Wyatt Family made you wish that Kane and ‘Taker were at least a decade younger. Bad enough for the normally-positive Mick Foley to criticize it extensively on social media. When talking about 2015’s worst PPVs, this one usually ends up near, or at the top of the list.
12 Survivor Series 2010
At Survivor Series 2010, the once-fearsome Nexus was hoping to reestablish their dominance after their emasculation at the hands of Team WWE (read: John Cena by his lonesome) at SummerSlam. On paper, their attempts yielded mixed results; Heath Slater and Justin Gabriel beat the comedy duo of Santino Marella and Vladimir Kozlov to retain the WWE Tag Team titles, but Randy Orton vs. Wade Barrett ended with the Viper going over, effectively firing Cena per match stipulations.
Naturally, Cena was back on WWE television soon after being “fired,” and this Survivor Series was essentially a setup for Cena’s literal and figurative burial of Barrett one month later at TLC. But would it have mattered if Barrett beat Orton, thereby allowing Cena to break free from Nexus? It probably wouldn’t have.
As for redeeming factors, John Morrison vs. Sheamus and Daniel Bryan vs. Ted DiBiase Jr. for the U.S. Championship were both solid, and Team Mysterio vs. Team Del Rio in the lone elimination match was one of the better such matches of the 2010s.
11 Survivor Series 2012
Meaningless random trivia question: when was the last time David Otunga was credited for a win in his recently-concluded, jobberific run as a WWE wrestler? The answer is Survivor Series 2012, where Otunga was part of the victorious Team Ziggler that beat Team Foley in a traditional Survivor Series match. Yes, this was an average, run-of-the-mill PG Era Survivor Series where the traditional matches featured midcarders and occasional main eventers with nothing to do. But the ending of the main event did make this edition particularly memorable.
The main event featured CM Punk defending his WWE Championship in a Triple Threat match against John Cena and Goldberg v2.0, er, Ryback, and as that match was drawing to a close, three men in black sweaters and black pants jumped from the crowd into the ring, attacking the Big Guy and triple-powerbombing him through the announce table. That allowed Punk to pin Cena and pick up the win, and Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins, and Roman Reigns soon traded their beat artist/moody ‘60s garage rocker getup for riot gear and established themselves as The Shield.
10 Survivor Series 2001
Survivor Series 2001 is known for two things. One, it’s the last with WWF branding, as the company would be renamed WWE in the spring of 2002. Two, it’s the Survivor Series that officially ended the Invasion storyline. You remember the Invasion storyline, right? You know, the one where WWF bought out WCW, with WWF’s homegrown Superstars making WCW and ECW's “invaders” look like complete losers? The one where the most prominent WCW/ECW Alliance members were WWF’s own Kurt Angle and Steve Austin? The storyline that ended up being all about the McMahons?
It’s true that the Invasion storyline gets a lot of flak from wrestling fans for being an excuse for WWF to assert its dominance over WCW and ECW. But a lot of the matches at Survivor Series 2001, including the Team WWF vs. Team Alliance main event, were surprisingly solid. Of course, the general awfulness of Invasion affects this event’s rating a bit, but there really isn’t much to complain about in terms of the actual in-ring action.
9 Survivor Series 2008
Like the 2006 Survivor Series, 2008’s edition had three traditional elimination matches, but the difference here was that they all worked, with the men’s matches lasting long enough. Team HBK vs. Team JBL was a great way to open the main show, and Team Orton’s win versus Team Batista helped further the idea of The Legacy (Orton, Cody Rhodes, and Manu) as a heel stable on the rise. Even the women’s brand-vs.-brand elimination match was decent, if short. John Cena defeating Chris Jericho for the World Heavyweight Championship was arguably anticlimactic due to Jericho’s brilliance as a hated heel that year, but at least the action and storytelling was fantastic.
There are, however, a couple of sore points worth mentioning. One, The Undertaker vs. Big Show in a casket match was plodding and boring. Two, Vladimir Kozlov had no business being in a WWE Championship match against Triple H. The crowd was turning on that match until Edge was brought in by Vickie Guerrero to make it a three-way, with the Rated-R Superstar winning the belt about a minute later.
8 Survivor Series 2009
And we’ve got another one of those modern-day Survivor Series with three traditional elimination matches. With The Miz and John Morrison’s partnership ended, Miz’s heel team beat JoMo’s babyface team in the opener. Kofi Kingston looked like a star in the making, as his team beat Randy Orton’s Legacy-led unit. And Team Mickie (James) emerged victorious over Team Michelle (McCool) in the women’s elimination match, which curiously came right before the John Cena vs. Triple H vs. Shawn Michaels triple threat main event for the WWE Championship. That was awful, but at least the men’s Survivor Series matches delivered.
Well, so did the main event, as best friends Triple H and Michaels both tried to fight Cena and fight each other in hopes of winning the big one. The action was excellent in several points, but one can say that the ending (#CenaWinsLOL, Triple H fails to break up the pin) was rife with predictability. Still, it was a good way to end what had been an above-average show across the board.
7 Survivor Series 2003
You know it, we know it, all wrestling fans who haven’t recently been living in caves know it. Goldberg will be returning at Survivor Series 2016 to face Brock Lesnar in a rematch of their WrestleMania XX debacle. Thirteen years before that, he wrestled his only Survivor Series thus far, retaining his World Heavyweight title against Triple H in the main event. Was it a good match? Probably decent enough, but it underwhelmed in many areas, just like Goldberg’s 2003-04 WWE run in general. Oh, and that match came before Vince McMahon vs. The Undertaker in a Buried Alive match, and Mr. McMahon matches are never technical spectacles.
Fortunately, the second traditional Survivor Series match of the night turned out to be a fantastic one, albeit one that ended in favor of the villainous Team Bischoff. With Shawn Michaels close to pinning Randy Orton and saving Stone Cold Steve Austin’s job as RAW co-general manager, Orton’s Evolution buddy Batista ran in to lay out HBK with a Batista Bomb, allowing Orton to pick up the win for Team Bischoff. Evolution may have been a mystery, but they sure were dominant back then.
6 Survivor Series 2011
2011’s Survivor Series had all the key ingredients of a modern-day iteration – midcarders in the elimination matches, all titles on the line in singles matches, and one of those matches standing out as a classic that wrestling fans still remember to this day. There was one little problem, though – that classic match was NOT the main event of the evening.
CM Punk’s win over Alberto Del Rio was an intense, technically-sound encounter where Punk beat Del Rio for the WWE Championship, kicking off his modern-day record 434-day reign. But it almost certainly rankled Punk that it took second billing to John Cena and returning part-timer The Rock versus The Miz and R-Truth. This was a tag team match where there weren’t any real stakes, just an excuse to showcase The Rock in his first big match since going Hollywood.
That said, Cena/Rock vs. Awesome Truth wasn’t a bad match by any means, just not main event-worthy compared to Punk vs. Del Rio.
5 Survivor Series 2014
A good chunk of the 2014 Survivor Series card was throwaway fodder. Jobbers (Adam Rose and Justin “The Bunny” Gabriel) defeated jobbers (Heath Slater and Titus O’Neil). The first traditional Survivor Series match was an excuse to give WWE’s then-Divas something to do. And after weeks of abuse from twin sister Nikki, Brie Bella inexplicably turned heel and helped Nikki retain the Divas title against AJ Lee by replicating the setup for the infamous Sheamus vs. Daniel Bryan “18 Seconds” match from WrestleMania XXVIII. Then the main event happened.
Team Cena’s victory over Team Authority can be considered a modern-day classic among traditional Survivor Series matches. The stakes were high, as a Team Cena win would oust The Authority from power, while a Team Authority win would result in the firing of everyone on John Cena’s team except the man himself. And just as Dolph Ziggler’s one-man attempts to rally Team Cena back from a 3-1 manpower deficit appeared to go to naught, in came Sting, making his long-awaited WWE debut by attacking the always-interfering Triple H and helping Ziggler pin Team Authority's Seth Rollins.
It wasn’t long before The Authority was back in power, and Sting’s WWE run was largely a disappointment due to the triple threat of age, injuries, and bad booking. But that main event alone makes Survivor Series 2014 arguably the best of the PG Era.
4 Survivor Series 2004
If it wasn’t for those darned singles matches. Team (Eddie) Guerrero vs. Team Angle was too short to be a classic, but it showcased some solid wrestling in the 12-something minutes it was on. The main event between Team Orton and Team Triple H was a great showcase for Randy Orton as a top babyface following his exit from Evolution, and even the filler guys from both teams – Maven and Gene Snitsky respectively – were interesting from the start of the show onward. So what’s keeping this Survivor Series from the top three?
The answer would be the singles matches. Shelton Benjamin vs. Christian for the Intercontinental belt was a great match, but JBL vs. Booker T for the WWE Championship didn’t live up to expectations, and Undertaker vs. Heidenreich was God-awful. Oh, and Trish Stratus vs. Lita for the Women’s Championship lasted all of one minute.
3 Survivor Series 2005
Survivor Series 2005 is probably the closest in spirit to this year’s event, as it concluded with a “Battle of the Brands” – a traditional elimination match pitting RAW’s and SmackDown’s top five male wrestlers against each other. And it was Randy Orton leading his team to victory for a second straight year, hitting an RKO on Shawn Michaels to win it for Team SmackDown. That match was a standout, and so was Triple H’s victory over Ric Flair in a Last Man Standing match earlier in the evening.
Another highlight featured Booker T defeating Chris Benoit in the first match of their best-of-seven series for the United States title – now that’s how you book a best-of-seven, present-day WWE Creative. On the other hand, Trish Stratus vs. Melina for the Women’s Championship was meh, and Teddy Long vs. Eric Bischoff was pointless; fortunately, those matches were short enough not to make much of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
2 Survivor Series 2007
Survivor Series 2007 had a rather interesting card. For one, there was only one elimination match, and it wasn’t even a “traditional” one to begin with, as it was a four-on-five battle due to Matt Hardy being deleted, er, injured in storyline. As for the main events, there was one each for RAW and SmackDown. The former had Randy Orton defending the WWE Championship against Shawn Michaels, with HBK’s Sweet Chin Music banned and Orton having to lose the title if he was disqualified. The latter, on the other hand, had Batista defending the World Heavyweight title against The Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell match.
With all that star power packed in the co-main events, Survivor Series 2007 delivered in spades, especially in the Orton vs. Michaels match, which had some great storytelling and a lot of moments where fans would have guessed HBK would be holding a main event title at the age of 42. Batista vs. ‘Taker wasn’t the best Hell in a Cell match of all time, but it was still one of the Animal’s finest moments to that point. And as far as the four-on-five handicap elimination match went, Triple H’s undermanned team also told a good story, overcoming the odds to beat Umaga’s team of upper midcard all-stars.
1 Survivor Series 2002
Just like they did in 1998, WWE tried once again in 2002 to have a quasi-Survivor Series, meaning one without any traditional Survivor Series elimination matches, but one with the theme of survival intact. This time, we saw the debut of the Elimination Chamber match, and to be fair to the lack of traditional matches, this first-ever Elimination Chamber match went down as an intense, physical classic. After the eliminations of Kane, Rob Van Dam, and Booker T, Shawn Michaels outlasted then-former best friend Triple H and Chris Jericho to win the World Heavyweight Championship, popping the crowd big-time as he won his first post-unretirement title.
Elimination would be a prevailing theme in 2002's Survivor Series. The event also saw Eddie and Chavo Guerrero outlast the teams of Edge and Rey Mysterio and Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit to win the WWE Tag Team titles, and the other Dudley Boyz duo (Bubba Ray and Spike) team up with Jeff Hardy to beat 3-Minute Warning and Rico in an elimination tables match.
Yes, it's certainly ironic. But the best Survivor Series since 2000 was the only one this century without traditional elimination matches, and the one responsible for the Elimination Chamber's debut.
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