Let me preface this article by saying that Vince McMahon, during his climb to the top, planned out everything. There were no random acts, no coincidences, he always had purpose to his actions and while he may not have always got the outcome he wanted or expected, he certainly thinks about every move he makes like a game of chess.
Here we are again… turkey time, the weather is a little chilly, there is a touch of frost in the mornings, the NFL is in full swing and the WWE Survivor Series is unfolding as I write this in the form of a 16 man title tournament. Before we get to crowning a new champion at the Philips arena in Atlanta on November 22nd let’s jump in a time machine and go back to a time of Atari 2600 and Reaganomics, a time when Return of the Jedi is playing in every theater across the globe and a time when Jim Crockett Promotions, running the National Wrestling Alliance, is getting ready to launch its new powerhouse Thanksgiving pay per view- Starrcade: A Flair for the Gold. The year was 1983 and the card featured some marquee matchup’s including the now infamous piper versus Valentine dog collar match in which Piper lost some of his hearing and part of his ear.
Meanwhile up north at his “Fortress of Evil”, well at least that’s what the good ole’ territory boys felt of the brash Vince Junior at the time, McMahon and company were still two years away from piecing together Wrestlemania. At this point in time Crockett had a chance to actually compete head to head with the WWF. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on what side you are on, Vince did what he so often does, he beat Crockett at his own game. McMahon saw the potential in the pay per view model and that Crockett was turning a profit from Starrcade, and in 1985 we got Wrestlemania, Hulkamania ran wild and the WWF made history.
After a few years of Vince tinkering with the formula, he had nearly perfected the art of the pay per view and it culminated in the Pontiac Silverdome with a mass of 93,000 people at Wrestlemania 3. Vince had blown the doors off the wrestling world, but there was still this fly in the ointment called Starrcade. So Vince sets his sites at Crockett, and his ammunition? Survivor Series!
The inaugural Survivor Series was announced to take place on November 26th 1987 the same day as Starrcade. Crockett scrambled his troops and they moved the starting time of there annual “show of the year” to an afternoon start, however Vince strong armed many of the cable providers by making them choose to either carry only WWF’s product or Crocketts, they could not carry both. Naturally most companies chose the more popular option of the Survivor Series.
The Survivor Series itself was a completely new take on a wrestling event, 5 on 5 elimination style matches featuring the biggest names the WWF could muster including a few NWA staples like Rick Rude and Harley Race. The main event would feature Hulk Hogans team vs Andre the Giants team, whos rivalry still carried a lot of heat from earlier in the year at mania. The novelty alone to see teams you would normally never see was a major draw and still is when the WWE decides to treat us to traditional style matches.
Needless to say Crockett didn’t make the expected financial returns for Starrcade and McMahon to further prove that even though Crockett did closed circuit/pay per view first, WWF did it better, he would strike again in January when Crockett launched the NWA’s Bunkhouse Stampede show. Vince announced that the Royal Rumble would take place the same night, with the same pay per view options for cable companies as The Survivor Series, shortly after this Crockett sold out to Ted Turner.
The whole thing reminds me of another critical point in wrestling history, you may remember a little run called The Monday Night Wars, Eric Bicshoff took someone else’s creations and went head to head to see who had the better product. The difference of course is that in one instance Vince was on the offensive, and in the other instance he was on defense, however in both wars… he won.
So now you know the legend, the origin story if you will of perhaps the most beloved wrestling event historically outside of Wrestlemania.