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SLAM! WRESTLING: And Nothing but the Truth

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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, November 17, 2000

Still confounded by 1997 Survivor Series

Eric Benner
By ERIC BENNER
Special to SLAM! Sports


A weekly
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When asked what they think of the Survivor Series, wrestling fans offer a wide variety of answers. Some remember the unlikely groups of faces and heels that teamed up for this unique event since its inception some thirteen years ago. Others remember the more hokey combinations from WWF efforts in the mid- to late-1990's, featuring such marquee matches as The Truth Commission vs. Los Boriquas. Readers of this website especially, I would imagine, will bring up what happened at that fateful Survivor Series event three years ago, in 1997. I'd like to take you back, if you will, and tell you a story about my first venture into the underbelly of professional wrestling.

I'm not sure how many people were really into the behind-the-scenes backstage gossip that currently dominates wrestling sites before the Internet, but I do know that there are more people who desire this information than ever before. Though I've enjoyed wrestling for as long as I can remember, I'm something of a late bloomer when it comes to backstage stuff.

The year was 1997. Still riding high off the success of their nWo phenomenon, WCW was starting to wear thin on those who tired of their repetitive finishes, week after week on Nitro and month after month at the pay-per-view. One thing that the WWF had always accomplished, if nothing else, was strong main events. Even in the worst of times, they always managed to put two talented guys in there for the end of a show and send the crowd home happy. So it was because of that -- and partly because I really wanted to see Kane live, of all things -- that I went with a friend and fellow wrestling fan to Montreal's Molson Centre for Survivor Series.

I remember this was right before Degeneration-X hit its stride, and in fact the very next pay-per-view would be called Degeneration-X. I remember thinking to myself, as they played the ads for it on the giant screen in the arena, that I was very happy to be at Survivor Series and not one of those other pay-per-views. Given that the WWF hadn't put on a show of note in Montreal in years and that the best WCW could offer was a house show with Hollywood Hogan taking on Jacques Rougeau in the main event, I probably shouldn't have been that picky.

We couldn't get any good tickets by the time we had actually decided to go, so we just scalped for some, and to this day I'm surprised we could get fifth-row ringside seats (on the entrance railing, no less) for less than fifty bucks a pop. At this point, I'm really counting my blessings.

Truth be told, the show itself was kind of average. There was a lot of that hokey stuff I wrote of above, with some combination of those gangs-of-four the WWF was so fond of at the time (Truth Commission, DOA, Los Boriquas, even the Nation of Domination). Ken Shamrock and the Legion of Doom were also featured prominently in these matches, as I recall. About half the show was pretty much a throw-away. This was also a time when the WWF would have killed for a tag team division as good as it is now. Back then, it consisted of, besides the LOD, the Headbangers and the Godwinns. The New Age Outlaws, at least, were half-decent and still fresh.

The real matches worth watching were the title match, the Intercontinental title match, Kane's debut pay-per-view match, and the Team Canada vs. Team USA match.

In the latter match, I wish Patriot was still around then because it mostly sucked. Basically Vader, who with Steve Blackman, Goldust, and Marc Mero represented the United States, does all the work, then gets pinned by the British Bulldog while was distracted.

Kane's first match was something else. I'd seen him on Raw, with that intense red light shining over the crowd as he beat down whoever was in the ring at the time so Paul Bearer could talk trash about Undertaker, but watching him wrestle was cool. Say what you want about this guy, he had a unique style that was fun to watch. Kane just destroys Mankind, whom I'd also never seen live to this point (though many times since), and it was a fun squash, the way squashes are supposed to be.

I was very disappointed in Owen Hart's match with Steve Austin, his defense of the Intercontinental title. Jim Neidhart interferes before the match, Team Canada member Doug Furnas (of Furnas and Lafon fame) interferes after, but no one can stop Stone Cold. Despite Steve Austin's total lack of mobility here, he still gets the easy and out-of-nowhere win on Owen. What really irked me though was that the fans weren't cheering Owen on. Granted, he was a heel and Austin was Austin, but still, all Canadian wrestlers and especially the Harts had always been wildly cheered in Montreal. This night was my first taste of a less regional, more culturally constant hometown crowd. They were homogenized, behaving the way any fans might on Monday Night Raw, as if the hometown (or home country) advantage weren't even a factor. That was the first time I had ever witnessed that, and I think now that it might have been a symptom of things to come. Nowadays, the fans here react exactly as they do on television.

The main event match largely speaks for itself. Even if it didn't, John Powell had some pretty harsh words for it in his review of the show: 'What [the main event] will be remembered as,' wrote Powell, 'is the biggest screw job ever in the history in professional wrestling. An open-handed, direct slap in the face to any wrestling fan shelling out their hard-earned cash on sports entertainment.' At the time, I wasn't a SLAM! reader. This is the first time I've read it.

What I wonder is how Powell could have been so right without actually having been there.

By that, I mean that that's exactly what it felt like. A slap in the face. Or a punch to the stomach. I wasn't angry with the WWF the way I sometimes get (at any wrestling company) after a disappointing outing. Instead, I was left confused. I asked my friend if he knew what the hell had happened. He just shrugged. Then I went home.

It's strange to me -- after all, it's only entertainment, but I felt really bad about the end of that main event. It just didn't feel right. For those not in the know, here's what happened:

Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels were fighting for the WWF heavyweight title. Hart had just been released from the WWF and this was his last match. He was the champ. He didn't want to lose the belt in Montreal, and Vince McMahon didn't want his title dropped in the trash on Nitro, as had actually happened to the women's title some time before. I didn't know any of this, to me this was just one of bitter rivalry things. Anyway, Hart and Michaels brawled for a good six minutes before the match even started (in the crowd, no less), then traded moves in the ring for about ten minutes. At the time, it was not unreasonable to expect a half-hour main event from every WWF pay-per-view.

All of a sudden, Michaels locks Hart in his own submission hold, the Sharpshooter -- this never works in wrestling -- and then wins. We never see Hart submit, and both he and Shawn looked pretty surprised. Vince McMahon starts yelling, Sergeant Slaughter and Triple H run out, Shawn Michaels leaves quickly with his title, followed by the folks in charge. Then, in a display that now reminds me of the infamous clique incident and Madison Square Gardens, The British Bulldog and Jim Neidhart run out and join Hart in his post-match 'celebration'. Owen was notably absent. Bret smashes some video equipment, then spells out (with his hands) the letters W - C - W. At that point, I understood what he meant, but I had no idea leading up to it. Of course, Bulldog and Neidhart would also end up in WCW, which explains perhaps why they were there but Owen elected not to participate.

I was totally dumbfounded and disturbed by this event, partly because I had no idea what the heck had happened. So I hit the Internet -- after all, pretty much all information was and is available on the 'Net, right? -- and found out. I also wrote a little rant about the show just to get it out of my system, and a little while later I ended up right here.

Since then, we're had a 'screw-job' every year at Survivor Series. Two years ago, Rock turned heel and joined the Corporation to win the title in a clear poke at the previous year's event. It was last year that Stone Cold Steve Austin was run over by Rikishi/Rock/Triple H/whomever, and The Big Show won the WWF title. This year, who knows what's in store.

Most people think that the Royal Rumble or Summerslam is the WWF's second-most-important pay-per-view. Maybe. But Survivor Series pre-dates them all, and certainly has had the lion's share of 'holy cow!' moments.

Here's the mailbag.

Ben Carter, from benmcarter@hotmail.com, writes:
'Hey Eric, I think that the Liberals, PCs and the Alliance are all equally good choices for Canadian Wrestling. The only party I'd be worried about is the NDP, but it's not like they'll ever be elected.

And if anyone is basing their vote on who will help wrestling the most, they might want to rethink that stance.'

If you ask me, I think anyone voting just on the party leader's likeability (as opposed to party policy) also oughta rethink their stance.

I was going to say that no Canadian party would be good for wrestling, since it all gets censored and the companies don't come here much anymore anyway, but then the WWF went and beat me to the punch, announcing like five trips to Toronto next year, including tapings. Maybe I should vote Bloc and try to force the WWF to put on a pay-per-view here.

(Just kidding. My personal voting preferences have nothing to do with wrestling, and I don't endorse anyone.)


Bryan, from stargate1@sympatico.ca, writes:
'I enjoyed reading your November 3rd column on Bret Hart. Reading that tribute, I learned a lot about his wrestling past. I never really knew too much about him until the Survivor Series incident and I'm sorry his wrestling career ended the way it did. I feel I missed out.'

Thanks Bryan. I hope you enjoyed this week's installment, too. Bret Hart has had one of the most storied careers in wrestling, and I think he'd make a great case study on the world of pro wrestling.

That's all for this week. Thanks for tuning in. Thanks also for writing in. Have a great week!

Send email to ebenner@hotmail.com.

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