The years 2003 and 2017 are different from one another when it comes to the wrestling landscape, obviously. But being one of the “Big 4” pay-per-view events means that every November, Survivor Series is coming, whether the booking is ready for it or not.
And most times, it hasn’t always been. The traditional Survivor Series Elimination Match has been tweaked and bended in every direction conceivable and sometimes even thrown onto the card as an appeasement or an afterthought. But in 2003, that wasn’t the case. Neither is it in 2017.
Make fun of the “brand supremacy” storyline all you want, it’s the best card the WWE holds in its deck. Ultimately, that’s the goal of every show and especially major events like Survivor Series; to put on the top matches available at the time and let the results fall where they may. Taking a look back at the 2003 Survivor Series card, and it’s not hard to see a mega-show right before your eyes:
Team Angle vs. Team Lesnar in a 5-on-5 Elimination Match
Kane vs. Shane McMahon in an Ambulance Match
The Undertaker vs. Vince McMahon in a Buried Alive Match
Goldberg vs. Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship
Team Bischoff vs. Team Austin in a 5-on-5 Elimination Match
We’ll get to that Bischoff v. Austin match later on, but for now, let’s appreciate the massive card this was. Single-brand PPV’s had begun earlier this year, leaving some shows to feel like glorified episodes of television programming (where have we heard that before?). Was this the most technically sound card in the history of Survivor Series? Of course not. But if you were a fan at the time, you were certainly sports entertained.
Take the Kane vs. Shane-o-Mac match for example. In the build-up, Kane had become unmasked for the first time earlier in the summer and was eviscerating everything in his path. He was an unleashed monster, capable of nothing but destruction, which really isn’t all that different from where we currently sit. An Ambulance Match and a Buried Alive Match (which wound up both involving Kane) on the same card is a recipe for anything but brilliant in-ring work, but it remains one of the memorable cards in what will be the 31-year history of the event.
At the same time that the 14-year gap feels like a brief wave of the hand, there are subtle reminders that the WWE no longer plays by the same rules: Kane hooked jumper cables to Shane’s nether regions weeks before they met at Survivor Series, Triple H and Evolution put out a bounty on Goldberg’s head, and there was a Buried Alive Match, which hasn’t happened on WWE programming since 2010 and happened just a single time since The Undertaker and Vince met.
When I first began to draw comparisons between the event taking place on Sunday and the one that occurred 14 years ago to this date, the levity and greatness of the 5-on-5 Survivor Series Match jumped off the page. It would be unfair to say that it was the last great Traditional Elimination Match, due to the chaotic ending to the Cena-Authority rivalry in 2014 (which saw Sting help Dolph Ziggler); but there is definitely a parallel to draw between the two.
At the time, Eric Bischoff and Stone Cold Steve Austin were sharing general manager duties of Raw, and as one could imagine, it wasn’t going well. Austin couldn’t put his hands on Raw superstars, so in order to attempt to get that lifted, he put his job on the line in a Survivor Series Elimination Match, going against his “Don’t Trust Anyone” mantra. Current Raw general manager Kurt Angle got here in a bit of a different way, but nonetheless, his job is on the line in a Survivor Series Elimination Match.
What would a traditional Survivor Series Match be without a little interference and/or controversy? If there was ever a match for it to happen, this Sunday would be the time and place, with an overwhelming amount of star power in the ring, not even considering that babyfaces and heels are expected to play nice in the sandbox together.
If you haven’t already paused reading to queue up the WWE Network and watch the show, you’ll find out that Randy Orton is the sole survivor of the Bischoff/Austin match, pinning Shawn Michaels after Batista (who was fairly new to the scene) delivered a Batista Bomb with no one around. In other words, shady tactics led to the finish. With everyone from Kane, to Jason Jordan, to Kevin Owens and Sami Zayn all serving as potential suppliers of interference, Sunday’s contest has a chance to mirror it’s predecessor in frightening ways.