It's not very often that a Great Moment in Wrestling can also be an Epic Fail but that's what happened when the two biggest wrestling companies decided to go head to head on Thanksgiving night. The result was the beginning of the end for one promotion and the debut of one of the longest running PPV's in WWE history. Join me as I look back at the debut of the Survivor Series.
Thanksgiving has always been an important day in professional wrestling. In 1987, it would become important for another reason-the location of an all-out battle between rival promotions the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and Jim Crockett Promotions (JCP). In the end, one promoter would be very thankful while another was thankful to still be in business.
For years, Thanksgiving was one of the most important days (if not the most important) for Jim Crockett Promotions. Even before the promotion launched its Starcade show (The grand-daddy of them all), Thanksgiving held a special place for the promotion and its fans. Thanksgiving was the day in which many feuds were settled and new programs developed as the fans relaxed from a big Thanksgiving dinner and watched some top-rate wrestling action. Starcade only magnified this, giving fans from all around the Mid-Atlantic area a chance to see the big show that before then, was often sold out. This of course, made Thanksgiving the biggest night of the year for JCP. It was the promotion's Superbowl or in wrestling terms, its Wrestlemania.
And speaking of Wrestlemania, 1987 was an amazing year for the WWF. Wrestlemania III was a monster success for the WWF (thanks to its epic Hulk Hogan vs. Andre the Giant main event) as well as for the PPV companies which beamed the show into homes around the world. Seeing the success of Wrestlemania III, Vince McMahon decided to embark on a second PPV that year. After all, if one PPV was successful, imagine how good things would be with two. Some people were skeptical. After all, could the market sustain TWO pay-per-views in one year (McMahon had run two PPV's in 1985 but failed to do so in 1986)? As laughable as it may seem now, there was serious concern about flooding the market with two PPV's over the course of twelve months. Even more serious was the notion of running a show directly against their competitor JCP. Could the market sustain TWO pay-per-views on the same night (Thanksgiving)?
The wrestling world was all abuzz about the prospect of the WWF competing directly against JCP. For several years, the WWF and JCP had bumped heads as both companies grew from regional to national promotions. By 1987 the WWF had the upper hand but JCP remained a respectable second place to the WWF and they were by no means finished. While the WWF had Hulkamania powering its ship, JCP relied on traditional wrestling that appealed to many of the old school fans turned off by the sometimes cartoonish antics of the WWF. Stars like Ric Flair, Lex Luger, Dusty Rhodes, and the Road Warriors made JCP a thriving promotion of its own. Now, wrestling fans would be able to truly voice their opinion on who was the better company. It's even been said that JCP welcomed the chance to compete against the WWF as they felt their superior wrestling product would triumph over the glitz and glamour of the WWF.
If Vince McMahon had his way though, there would be no head to head battle. Using the leverage of the super-successful Wrestlemania III, McMahon made it known to cable companies that they now had another big WWF product to make loads of money off of. The only catch was that they had to carry this new show exclusively, especially if they wanted to get Wrestlemania IV. In a gesture reflecting his abundant goodwill, McMahon made it clear to the cable providers that there was no need to carry that second-rate Starcade any more since the big boys i.e. the WWF were running a Thanksgiving show. If that didn't get the cable companies thinking his way, he told them that they had to carry this new show exclusively, especially if they wanted to get Wrestlemania IV.
For those wondering about the legalities of what the WWF pulled, this was something that definitely could have been challenged in court. The problem was that by the time the case got to court, it would have been too little too late. JCP might have been able to get some sort of injunctive relief against the WWF and/or cable companies involved but they risked alienating the cable companies in the future. In the end, the majority of the cable companies went with the WWF, shutting JCP out of the picture. The result was that, Starcade had very few clearances while the WWF's new show Survivor Series had many. To no one's surprise, Survivor Series crushed Starcade, if for no other reason, because it was most fans' only choice if they wanted wrestling for their post-turkey dinner relaxation (Conventional wisdom has it that the WWF show was actually a better show wrestling-wise than Starcade but you be the judge).
Survivor Series' success continued the WWF's good fortunes, proving that the company could run more than one PPV a year. It also sealed JCP's doom as the company banked on Starcade to make a lot of money (which was certainly reasonable on their part as the show had always done so before). Without the revenue traditionally generated by Starcade, JCP ran into cash flow companies and its owners were forced to sell the company to Ted Turner just a year later. Debut of the Elimination Chamber.
As we all know, the Survivor Series has gone on to become one of the WWE's "Big Four" PPV's. The WWF stopped airing on Thanksgiving years ago and for a while it looked as if the Survivor Series elimination matches were history. Fortunately the WWE has seen fit to bring back the elimination matches, reestablishing the Survivor Series as more than just another PPV. Over the last twenty plus years, fans have delighted to many memorable moments at Survivor Series such as the inaugural show's ten team tag elimination match (1987), the debut of the Undertaker (1990), the Undertaker's tainted win over Hulk Hogan for the WWF Championship the following year (1991), the infamous Montreal Screwjob(1997), the night "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was run down by a mystery driver (1999), the climax to the Invasion angle, and the debut of the Elimination Chamber (2002). On a personal note, 1995's Survivor Series was memorable as it was the first PPV I ever attended (and actually a pretty good show in its own right).
Mike Rickard II is the author of Wrestling's Greatest Moments (published by ECW Press), a look back at the greatest matches, angles, and feuds of the last thirty years. The book is now availble for pre-order through amazon.com