WWE Survivor Series: One of the 'Big Four' tries to rediscover its roots

Since the mid-1990s, WWE's annual November pay-per-view has more often times felt like nothing more than empty promises. 

We're told how important this show is, how that it's one of the WWE's Big Four shows along with the Royal Rumble, SummerSlam and WrestleMania and countless Then, Now and Forever-isms.

It was a show built on 5-on-5 (sometimes 10-on-10) elimination style matches in an era that was much different than the multi-month PPV WWE era we live in now. In 1987, the show felt different. It came on the heels of WrestleMania III with Hulk and Andre, and smartly played off of not only the people but the ever-lasting feud. 

The first show, -- Thanksgiving 1987 -- only had four matches. No single matches, no title matches but with all the build and pressure that comes with. The main event was André the Giant, One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy, Butch Reed and Rick Rude vs. Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff, Don Muraco, Ken Patera and Bam Bam Bigelow.  

I remember watching the first show on VHS in the mid-1990s. Seeing Bam Bam used in a main event at the ripe age of 27 and the Ravishing One with those big bad dudes stands out in my mind. Bam Bam stood next to Hulk Hogan toe-to-toe against behemoths of a past era, showing off versatility and athleticism unseen in people his size at that time. 

This was part of what made the show feel so special through about 1996, its main matches had main event feel, the name recognition, but it also opened the door for unknowns to get on a big show and showcase their talents.  

Seriously, some of the who's who of made their debuts at WWE's November classic. 

The Undertaker made his debut in 1990 then won his first WWF Championship at the show in 1991, The Rock made his in 1996, Kurt Angle in 1999, among many others. Not only was it the debut for newish superstars, but the event saw the debut of the Elimination Chamber and the long-awaited company debut of Sting. 

The show was marred in 1997 by the Montreal Screwjob featuring Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Even if it wasn't the classic format the November show had followed for yeats, it still is a moment that makes this show stand up with the other three big ones. 

The show got away from its roots, style and focus that made it so special and stand out from the pack starting as far back as 1998. Damn. When I started writing this I figured 2001 was going to be my cut-off point. 

In 1998, there were no elimination style matches but rather a tournament to fill the vacated WWF Championship. The Rock won via Vince McMahon pouring salt in Bret Hart's wounds by calling for the bell to end the show prematurely. 

It was in bad taste. It was a hastily put together tournament. But, most importantly, it wasn't Survivor Series. 

The seeds of decline were planted in 1994, when the focus was on Yokozuna and Undertaker. That was OK, though, as there were still multiple elimination style matches. Vince's ego-trip finish in 1998 was definitely the last kick in the camel's back, or whatever that idiom is.

The next year in 1999, they kind of tried to bring some elimination matches through Big Show doing a one-on-four elimination match but rushed the finishes in each of the Survivor Series style matches. It wasn't that there shouldn't be singles or championship matches at Survivor Series, but the WWE clearly had/has not found that balance. 

Survivor Series main events over the next two decades -- give or take a couple here and there -- were dedicated to some busts. Last year, Roman Reigns vs. Dean Ambrose was fun, yet shadowed by the sadness that was Seth Rollins' knee, but then Sheamus took the belt in 9 seconds. There were two forgettable elimination matches that kicked-off a mostly forgettable show

The most fondly remembered November shows all have one key thing in common: 

Team WWF vs. The Alliance in 2001 went more than 44 minutes. Team Cena vs. The Authority got 43 minutes in 2014. The first-ever Elimination Chamber got 40 minutes. Each of the four elimination style matches got 20-plus minutes in 1987, the 10-on-10 match in 1988 (my personal favorite) got 37 minutes, all five elimination matches got 20-plus in 1989, 1990 was predicated on the last remaining wrestlers for its main event and 1993 gave the Hart Family 30 minutes. 

What do all of these shows have in common other than elimination match length? These shows were built around these matches and the elimination format, rather than just doing these matches because it induces feelings of nostalgia. 

You can say the talent was better, you can say it was a different era, you can say anything you want. The most successful SS shows were built around a story and a match style. Weak links were focused on by the announcers of yesteryear, big, raw talents were speculated on just as much. 

We are left with more announcers than ever before, but are shackled by each other and clearly don't understand what make a pro wrestling announcer a good one. But, all of this is irreversible through good stories and proper timing. 

Seriously, go and watch the 10-on-10 elimination match from 1988. This should have been a damn disaster, but instead, it featured 10 of the 80s best tag teams creating magic. All of these teams were intertwined in years worth of feuds and story, and the WWF let them do what they did best: 

These matches didn't need a title on the line or a various McMahon spawn involved (shit, 2016), but just enough time to make it work. Survivor Series was seemingly given its death certificate in 2010 when WWE hinted that it might rebrand it, but here we are. 

Either do these elimination style matches -- featuring nearly your entire roster -- justice or scrap this for something new. Even with all this doom and gloom, there is hope for optimism as the greatest creation from Vince's sperm is the one featured on the crowd. 

This year's show, taking place on CANADIAN SOIL (!), is built around a five-on-five match and, welp, a video game. We get a hella deep Raw vs. SmackDown match and the match that 2004 hated, Brock Lesnar vs. Bill Goldberg. 

Put the elimination match on last and give it 45 minutes, and this will go down as a high-tier Survivor Series show.  

See below for this year's card and a brief synopsis of what's going on in Raven Language: 

Brock Lesnar vs. Goldberg

-- Whether built on a video game or not, there is a unique intensity here. The promos on Raw have felt real and the idea of Goldberg putting his 1-0 record against Brock on the line in a Survivor Series match feels right up his character's alley. It's a fitting goodbye and let's just hope they don't stand around and Greco-Roman for the first 10 minutes like they did in 2004 while all of New York boo'd them. 

Team Raw (Kevin Owens, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, Braun Strowman, and Seth Rollins) vs. Team SmackDown (AJ Styles, Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt, Randy Orton, and Shane McMahon)

-- These teams feel right. The build has been OK, the added incentive that the members of these feuds are either all in a team together or in the midst of a feud is a nice dramatic shot in the arm. Hoping to see a blueprint for Braun laid out during this match while also hoping they don't have Randy Orton act as the Benedict Arnold. 

Team Raw (Charlotte Flair, Bayley, Nia Jax, Alicia Fox, and Sasha Banks) vs. Team SmackDown LIVE (Nikki Bella, Becky Lynch, Alexa Bliss, Naomi and Carmella)

-- Seeing Sasha, Bayley and Charlotte team up is worth our time alone. Also, insert Nia Jax's name for the same thing I just said for Braun here. It's time to see a plan unfold. Let her dominate. 

Team Raw (The New Day (Big E and/or Kofi Kingston and/or Xavier Woods), Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, Sheamus and Cesaro, Enzo Amore and Big Cass and The Shining Stars (Primo and Epico)) vs. Team SmackDown LIVE (Heath Slater and Rhyno, The Hype Bros (Zack Ryder and Mojo Rawley) , American Alpha (Jason Jordan and Chad Gable), The Usos (Jimmy Uso and Jey Uso), and Breezango (Tyler Breeze and Fandango)

-- Nostalgia has me pumped. There is enough talent in the tag division to make this work. Get Breezango and The Shining Stars out of the way early and let these teams go for a long time. 

The Miz (c) vs. Sami Zayn Singles match for the WWE Intercontinental Championship

-- Not the match I thought was happening as of 24 hours ago, but OK. Keep the IC belt on Miz and SmackDown. This works for him and the show. Feature him and this belt every Tuesday night like they were before No Mercy, and the IC belt could get back on the track it was ... prior to another lame, pointless, empty Dolph run. Seriously, what the shit? 

Brian Kendrick (c) vs. Kalisto for the WWE Cruiserweight Championship

-- Keep this belt on Raw. I can't imagine a 3-hour show without a separate division.