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The Night The Survivor Series Was Born

Retro Review: Survivor Series 1987

The inaugural Survivor Series event took place on the 26th of November 1987, LIVE from the Richfield Coliseum in Richfield Township, Ohio. The promotion operated under the name World Wrestling Federation at the time. Iconic ring announcer Howard Finkel opened the show and welcomed Jesse ‘The Body’ Ventura and Gorilla Monsoon (the commentators for the night) into the arena, where they officially welcomed the fans to the show. It was Thanksgiving night (for you nice American folk), and Monsoon gave us the opportunity to get comfortable and enjoy what would be a 3-hour extravaganza.

Now, watching the intro for this inaugural Survivor Series in 2020 is awesome. The graphics, the music, the wrestlers themselves. You can really see how hopeful the company was that this particular production would do well, obviously not knowing that Survivor Series would still be an iconic event today. I’m sure they were also hopeful that the show would do better numbers than the NWA’s Starrcade, that company’s first official pay-per-view, which Survivor Series was initially designed to counterprogramme and sink their competitors, which it did on the night. That dastardly Vince Mcmahon.

Team Savage vs. Team Honky Tonk Man

The first match on this historic night was an elimination tag match in which a participant could be eliminated by pinfall, submission, count-out, disqualification and/or referees discretion pending injury. The teams involved in this opening match were led by The Honky Tonk Man and ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage (great names, I know). The Honky Tonk Man appeared backstage (guitar in hand) prior to the match as he had a little something he wanted to get off his chest:

You’re seeing the greatest team ever assembled for the Survivor Series and this team is ready. We’re going to play a tune for Survivor Series that’s never been heard before and if you think somebody wants to get in our way, let them step up, they’ll get shoved down one by one. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is the greatest team ever assembled. I’ve got Harley Race, I’ve got Hercules, I’ve got Ron Bass, ‘Dangerous’ Danny Davis, I’ve got Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan and I’ve got Jimmy Hart. You’re looking at the greatest Intercontinental Heavyweight Champion of all time.

It was at this point that The Honky Tonk Man brought up Randy Savage’s other half. Tonk said that if Elizabeth sets foot in the ring, she will get exactly what she deserves. Right: I don’t care how many people you have behind you, you do not want a hot-headed Randy Savage coming at you. Tonk may have lost this match for his team before the match even started. Regardless, Tonk was fired up.

Monsoon and Ventura gave the floor to Howard Finkel, aka ‘The Fink’. ‘The Fink’ proceeded to announce that the opening contest would soon be underway. The first wrestler to be introduced to the ring was the first member of Team Honky Tonk Man, Harley Race, accompanied by his manager Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan. First off, Race was a bad guy and if you didn’t know that coming into the show, the audience sure would have let you know. The audience erupted with boos. His teammates followed; Ron Bass, ‘Dangerous’ Danny Davis and, finally, the captain, The Honky Tonk Man all sauntered to the ring alongside manager Jimmy Hart. Now that all of the bag guys were in the ring, Monsoon told us that ‘Mean’ Gene Okerlund was standing by with Team Randy Savage. Team Randy Savage was comprised of Ricky ‘The Dragon’ Steamboat, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake, ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan and, of course, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage as the captain. Randy Savage walked onto the set alongside Elizabeth and had the following to say:

I remember you Honky Tonk Man, you pushed Elizabeth down real hard, you hurt her and you embarrassed her and the Survivor Series, these men are excited for the match. It’s going to be bed time, yeah. It’s going to be the danger zone for you.

Ricky Steamboat was the first member of Team Randy Savage to enter the ring, followed by Brutus Beefcake, Jake Roberts, Jim Duggan and finally, the ‘Macho Man’ with Elizabeth. Savage entered the ring and embraced the audience. Beefcake and Hercules started things off for their respective teams. These larger than life characters were full of emotion and Beefcake soon locked a sleeper hold onto Hercules. The crowd were behind Beefcake and supported his every move. Beefcake then slapped his opponent around for a few minutes before tagging Jake Roberts into the match. Jake performed a wrist-lock for a moment and immediately tagged in Randy Savage.

After every tag, the crowd got louder and louder. It was easy to see who the Richfield Coliseum paid to see on this Thanksgiving night. Steamboat and Race were the next two to go at it, followed by Jim Duggan, who really got his hands on Harley Race! So much so that the two ended up brawling outside of the ring and got counted out, leaving Team Honky Tonk and Team Randy Savage down one team member each.

Back inside the ring, Jake Roberts and Ron Bass were going toe to toe. Jake avoided an elbow drop from Bass, which led to Savage being tagged back in. Savage delivered a stellar performance with multiple body slams to Bass. Later in the match, it was captain vs captain. Savage and Honky Tonk were brawling for moments up until Honky Tonk fled the ring. The next elimination came moments later when Beefcake and Bass were both tagged back into the match. Beefcake hit a high knee strike to Bass’ face and that was all she wrote for Ron Bass.

Team Savage vs Team Honky Tonk Man

Bass was eliminated courtesy of Beefcake via pinfall. Team Randy Savage was now up 4-3. Beefcakes’ adrenaline was pumping through his veins and he wound up being the legal man in the match for quite some time. Beefcake was fighting off his opponents until the fresh Honky Tonk Man entered back into the ring and took advantage of the worn Beefcake by hitting a ‘Shake, Rattle and Roll’ and following up with a pinfall victory, thus eliminating Brutus ‘The Barber’ Beefcake.

Savage jumped back into the ring on behalf of his team and was met by the opposing Hercules. Savage smartly tagged out of the match quickly in order to maintain his energy. Jake Roberts was tagged in by Savage, and Jake seemed to be dominated by Hercules for quite a while. Danny Davis was tagged in and was looking to pick the bones of Jake Roberts. Jake took a lot of damage but he seemed to feed on it, gathering enough energy to pull off a devastating spike DDT to eliminate ‘Dangerous’ Danny Davis.

Jake began to appear to be on the verge of elimination as Honky Tonk Man grasped a tight chin lock onto ‘The Snake’. Jake made it to his feet however but was desperate to make the tag. Jake’s passion was majorly on display during this match—he shouldn’t have been physically capable to make his way to the corner for a tag, but his passion carried him. Jake tagged in Steamboat, who rolled right through Hercules momentarily, tagged Savage into the match, allowing the ‘Macho Man’ to deliver his signature Elbow Drop (which is a thing of beauty) and eliminate Hercules.

Team Savage was now up 3-1. Honky Tonk Man was left to fend for himself. Tonk wasn’t afraid to try to fight off the odds. Towards the end of this great match, Jake was the legal man and tagged Savage in so that Savage could get some payback. Savage hit Tonk with an atomic drop which led to Tonk stumbling over the ropes and outside the ring. It was at this point that The Honky Tonk Man tucked his tailed between the legs and took the coward’s way out. Tonk started walking up the aisle with no intention of getting back in the match. Tonk was officially eliminated for abandoning the match and Howard Finkel announced Team Savage as the survivors.

Survivors: Team Randy Savage

Team Andre The Giant had some choice words for Team Hulk Hogan

Backstage, another team were ready to let their opponents know what they had in store for them. The team consisted of One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy, ‘Ravishing‘ Rick Rude, ‘The Natural’ Butch Reed and the team captain, Andre The Giant. Team Andre would be taking on Team Hulk Hogan later on in the night. Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan (who was on double-duty) was the mouthpiece for Team Andre and had the following to say:

Tasting victory, this man tasted victory at WrestleMania 3 (signalling to Andre The Giant) when he pinned Hulk Hogan’s shoulder to the mat. One-Two-Three. I’m going to guarantee you, like you thought and everybody thought, it’s going to happen again.

Andre himself then chimed in by saying ‘I’ve done it once and I’ll do it again’ before rubbing his hands together like a Bond Villain and laughing maniacally with his peers. Team Andre was confident and ready to take on Team Hulk Hogan.

Team Sherri vs Team Moolah

So, as we know, the year was 1987 and women in wrestling were not perceived in the light that they are today and some might have seen this as the time to go and get some snacks. When, in actuality, these women were paving the way for what was to come within the next number of decades. ‘The Fink’ himself did not even seem enthused as he announced the first-ever Women’s Survivor Series Elimination Match. As ‘The Fink’ announced each participant in this match, the crowd’s reaction was minimal. The WWF Ladies World Champion couldn’t even elicit a positive reaction from the fans, at least not in comparison to today’s Women’s Champions.

Team Sherri was comprised of ‘The Glamour Girls’ Leilani Kai and Judy Martin, Dawn Marie Johnston, Donna Christanello and, of course, the WWF Ladies World Champion, ‘Sensational’ Sherri, as the captain. Team Moolah consisted of ‘The Jumping Bomb Angels’ Itsuki Yamazaki and Noriyo Tateno, Rockin’ Robin, Velvet McIntyre, and ‘The Fabulous’ Moolah serving as her team’s captain. I have to say, I was happy to hear the bell ring as the match started, as team captain ‘Sensational’ Sherri kicked things off against Velvet McIntyre in high speed. Sherri and McIntyre had an impressive albeit brief showing right up until McIntyre tagged Moolah into the match, giving us a captain vs. captain battle sequence. Once again it was a short amount of time until another tag was made. We were only moments in and this match already felt unnecessarily rushed.

Donna Christanello was the first participant to taste elimination in this history-making match, giving Team Moolah the 5-4 advantage. Next to go was Johnson, being eliminated at the hands of Team Moolah’s own, Rockin’ Robin. Robin continued her path of destruction up until the WWF Ladies World Champion, Sherri, asserted her dominance and eliminated Robin via pinfall.

‘The Jumping Bomb Angels' put on an incredible showing in the first ever women's survivor series match.

The odds were now 4-3 in the favour of Team Moolah. Speaking of Moolah, ‘The Fabulous’ one soon found herself in uncharted territory as she got caught up in a pinning predicament thanks to Team Sherri’s Judy Martin, thus levelling out the playing field to 3 participants per team. As the match continued, Martin found herself as a victim of double team attacks from ‘The Jumping Bomb Angels’ who, in my opinion, were the standout stars of this match.

The next to be eliminated from the match was ‘Sensational’ Sherri at the hands of McIntyre (massive news as McIntyre had pinned the WWF Ladies World Champion!) Moments later, McIntyre got eliminated courtesy of Leilani Kai (via dirty tactics, nonetheless). McIntyre was so damn impressive in this match.

The last moments of the match saw ‘Jumping Bomb Angels’ member Yamazaki eliminating Kai, leaving the fate of Team Moolah in the hands of Judy Martin. Fellow ‘Jumping Bomb Angels’ member Tateno got the LOUDEST reaction of the entire match as, all of a sudden, ‘The Mouth of the South’ Jimmy Hart jumped atop the apron in hopes of causing a distraction, only to be drop-kicked off the apron by Tateno. The crowd lost their collective minds and erupted! Tateno continued her momentum by defeating Judy Martin via pinfall and winning this era-defining match on behalf of Team Moolah.

Survivors: Team Moolah

Team Hart Foundation vs Team Strike Force

As the night rolled on, we verged towards the third elimination match of the night, where Team Hart Foundation would take on Team Strikeforce. Team Hart Foundation were the ‘bad guys’ in this bout and consisted of The Bolsheviks (Boris Zhukov and Nikolai Volkoff), Demolition (Ax and Smash), The ‘Dream Team’ (Dino Bravo and Greg Valentine), The Hart Foundation (Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart and Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart) and finally, The ‘Islanders’ (Haku and Tama). Team Hart Foundation was accompanied to the ring by Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan, Mr. Fuji, Jimmy Hart, Johnny Valiant and Slick.

Team Strikeforce, who were the obvious fan favourites for this particular match as per the reception they received, was the amalgamation of The ‘British Bulldogs’ (Davey Boy Smith and ‘Dynamite Kid’), The ‘Killer Bees’ (B. Brian Blair and Jim Brunzell), ‘The Fabulous Rougeaus’ (Jacques and Raymond Rougeau), The ‘Young Stallions’ (Jim Powers and Paul Roma), and finally, the WWF World Tag Team Champions, Strike Force aka Rick Martel and Tito Santana.

This match was a little different than the first two elimination matches that we saw previously, as this match had 10 men per team involved, the two teams consisting of five tag teams each. If one member of a tag team were to be eliminated, the other member of that tag team would also be eliminated. Take Demolition, for example. If Ax were to be eliminated, so would Smash. You get the picture.

Nikolai Volkoff started things off against Rick Martel. Truthfully, this match was a lot to take in. While the talent were exceptional, there were way too many wrestlers out there. In what would have eventually become typical Survivor Series match fashion, there were a ton of tags made in such short spaces of time, some too quick to notice. The action was fast-paced and the wrestlers were hard-hitting. Strike Force member Tito Santana set the table by eliminating Boris Zhukov of The Bolsheviks. Team Hart Foundation later made the point back as Demolition’s Ax successfully pinned Jacques Rougeau’s shoulders down to the mat for the three count, thus eliminating ‘The Fabulous Rougeaus’ and reducing Team Strikeforce’s chance of being the surviving team.

Smash and Dynamite were eventually the two legal men in the match. Dynamite was temporarily being taken advantage of in the opposing team’s corner of the ring. However, Smash got into an encounter with the referee, striking him down. Needless to say, Smash was DQ’d right then and there and, as we knew, due to the rules of this tag-team elimination match, so was Ax—Demolition were out.

Team Hart Foundations vs Team Strikeforce

Team Hart Foundation had lost Demolition. Bret Hart was the next to enter the ring. Bret and Dynamite went one on one for a few moments, reminding us of why they are both so fondly remembered today. Bret quickly made a tag to Neidhart, as did Dynamite with Santana. Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart wasted no time in eliminating Strikeforce by pinning Tito Santana mere moments after being tagged into the match by ‘The Hitman’.

The ‘British Bulldogs’ were the next team to be eliminated after an unintentional self KO. Davey Boy hit Tama with a diving headbutt from the top rope, but instead of solely inflict damage upon his opponent, Davey Boy was KO’d, leading to the elimination of The ‘British Bulldogs’. Paul Roma of The ‘Young Stallions’ defeated and eliminated Greg Valentine, forcing The ‘Dream Team’ out of this match. Jim Brunzell of The Killer Bees pulled off an upset as he was the victim of a diving dropkick from Tama while holding Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart in his arms. Brunzell fell down backwards, unintentionally landing into a pinning predicament and successfully getting the three count on ‘The Hitman’, eliminating The Hart Foundation from this match.

The final moments of this match showed a switcharoo, as we were led to believe that B. Brian Blair of The ‘Killer Bees’ kept the ball rolling for his team as he went on to defeat Tama via pinfall. What actually happened was that the more energised Brunzell had donned The ‘Killer Bee’s’ mask and successfully pulled the wool over the referee’s eyes. Brunzell deceived the referee and did exactly what it took to pick up the victory in this match on behalf of Team Strikeforce.

Survivors: Team Strikeforce

How a Million Dollar Man Spends Thanksgiving

A vignette for ‘The Million Dollar Man’ Ted DiBiase played before the final Survivor Series elimination match. DiBiase wanted to show the entire world how he spends Thanksgiving. DiBiase appeared to be sat in the back of a snazzy limousine, reflecting over the differences between himself and the other wrestlers. DiBiase wanted to let it be known that he was sitting back and relaxing in style, as the other wrestlers were beating the living daylight out of each other. DiBiase went on to say that the others wrestlers ‘think they have to be the toughest to survive’ and that all the fans think that ‘you have to work hard and be thankful’ to survive. DiBiase was calmly shuffling hundreds of dollars in his hands while he stated that, to survive, ‘It takes money, tons of it, and I’ve got it’. DiBiase wanted to make it clear that he was thankful but that was mostly due to the joy that he gets out of making everyday people do desperate things to make a few bucks, all to the satisfaction of The ‘Million Dollar Man’.

The Million Dollar man explains why he is thankful.

An example of this was shown in a montage that played as part of the vignette. DiBiase would get a kid to come out of the crowd at a previous show and demand that the kid (probably aged 9-10) do ten successful sit-ups. This particular kid could only do nine sit-ups in front of ‘The Million Dollar Man’ and simply said ‘I did my best’. Of course, doing your best was not good enough for Dibiase and he would publicly embarrass this kid, amongst others. DiBiase’s vignette returned and he was beaming with pride after reflecting upon embarrassing men, woman and children. Everybody’s got a price for The ‘Million Dollar Man’.

Team Hogan vs Team Andre

‘Ravishing’ Rick Rude, ‘King Kong’ Bundy, ‘The Natural’ Butch Reed and The ‘One Man Gang’ all made their way to the ring and were patiently awaiting the arrival of their team captain, who was dubbed as ‘’The Uncrowned World Heavyweight Champion’, Andre The Giant. The cameras cut to the backstage area, where the WWF World Champion, Hulk Hogan, was doing Hulk Hogan things, by which I mean, hulking up backstage and firing up his teammates ahead of their clash with Team Andre. Team Hogan then made their way to the ring, waiting on the arrival of their captain. Once Hogan’s music hit, the Hulkster came out with the American flag in hand and crowd were ablaze. Hulkamania was truly running wild in 1987.

Hogan and Andre had met a number of months prior, at WrestleMania III, in what may be the most famous wrestling match of all time. Paul Orndorff, of Team Hogan, started the match off against Rick Rude. Hogan tagged in, and instantly the crowd were electric. Hogan gave the fans a taste of what they came to see and then promptly tagged Bam Bam Bigelow into the match. Team Hogan were tagging constantly; keeping fresh was crucial in this main event.

Hogan made it back into the match and hit his signature leg-drop on Butch Reed, eliminating Reed in the process via pinfall. Team Andre did not seem to be gelling as well as Team Hogan, up until ‘One Man Gang eliminated a member of Team Hogan, thus giving Team Andre a 5-4 advantage. Rick Rude of Team Andre became the legal man of the match but was quickly eliminated by Don Muraco. Muraco did not maintain his momentum however as he was eliminated soon after, courtesy of a big-splash from ‘One Man Gang’.

Team Andre

Later on in the match, Team Hogan had only two team members left: Bam Bam Bigelow and Hogan. Team Andre had a 3-2 advantage, with ‘One Man Gang’, ‘King Kong’ Bundy and Andre still standing. Soon enough, Andre had made it into the ring. The crowd had paid to see Andre and Hogan in the middle of the ring. Bigelow made the tag to Hogan and holy crap, if there was a roof on the Richfield Coliseum, it would have undoubtedly been blown off. Hogan and Andre battled for a few moments. The Hulkster was ‘Hulking Up’, so much so that ‘King Kong’ Bundy intervened and pulled Hogan to the outside. Hogan was forced to brawl on the outside with Bundy, which ended up with Hogan being counted out! Hogan was out of the main event! Howard Finkel even announced that if Hogan did not leave ringside, that the victory would be awarded to Team Andre via forfeit.

Hogan was forced to leave ringside and to leave Bam Bam Bigelow to fend for himself against ‘One Man Gang’ and Andre ‘The Giant’. Bigelow gave it everything he had, but opportunity presented itself when ‘One Man Gang’ took a risk by leaping from the top rope in hopes of colliding with the downed Bigelow. Bigelow managed to roll out of harm’s way just in time, causing ‘One Man Gang’ to crash to the canvas below. Bigelow has successfully created an opportunity and needed to take advantage.

Bigelow somehow had the wherewithal to throw his arm over the Gang’s chest to secure the pin. One-Two-Three! Bigelow was left to go one-on-one with Andre ‘The Giant’. Andre toyed with Bigelow before putting an end to the match so effortlessly. Suddenly, the crowd erupted once again. It wasn’t a usual occurrence in 1987 for Andre to have the backing of the fans, due to his feud with Hogan making him being ‘the bad guy’, and this was no different. The crowd had erupted for the return of Hulk Hogan! The match was over and Hogan was burning rubber down the ramp until he was in the ring with Andre ‘The Giant’ once more. Hogan had his WWF World Championship in hand and swung it right into ‘The Giant’s’ face multiple times until Andre was forced out of the ring.

The crowd were loving every moment of it and I just wish I could have been in that audience. To soak up that emotion and energy must have been so surreal. At this moment in the wrestling world, Hulk Hogan was god-like. For the next ten minutes, Hogan was stood in the ring, soaking it all up and living in the moment. Hogan hit every last one of his signature poses, from all four sides of the ring so that every fan in attendance could get a glimpse of their hero, the man described by Gorilla Monsoon as ‘The greatest professional athlete in the world today’, the WWF World Champion, Hulk Hogan.

Written by James Corcoran

James writes about Professional Wrestling. Be it a show from the mid to late 80s, current-day or anything in between. He is intrigued with all aspects of sports-entertainment.

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