Survivor Series: Unlikely Partners

Albert Ching

Last week on SmackDown, Commissioner Shane McMahon proclaimed that Daniel Bryan and The Miz—bitter nemeses since Bryan’s 2010 WWE debut—would serve as co-captains for Team Smackdown in the traditional five-on-five elimination match taking place at this year’s Survivor Series event on November 18.

While those two working together is certainly a twist, it actually upholds a longstanding Survivor Series tradition. The annual November affair—distinguished for its signature four-on-four or five-on-five elimination tag team matches—has often featured unlikely teammates placed on the same side, either banded together to face a greater threat or forced into partnership by a wayward authority figure looking to incite a little (more) chaos.

Survivor Series 1995

The prototypical unlikely partners encounter—dubbed a “Wildcard” match—pitted Ahmed Johnson, Shawn Michaels, The British Bulldog, and Sycho Sid against Razor Ramon, Dean Douglas, Owen Hart, and Yokozuna. At the time, Hart, Yokozuna, and Bulldog were all under the management of Jim Cornette, meaning that established allies were facing each other. On top of that, the match also put fan-favorites (Michaels and Johnson; Ramon) on the same team as villains (British Bulldog and Sid; Douglas, Hart, and Yokozuna) on both sides, creating a uniquely volatile situation. To perfectly describe this match in 1995, Jim Ross compared it on commentary to putting Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich in the same small room to balance the budget.

How’d it all turn out? Well, about as well as you’d expect. Tensions between ersatz teammates Douglas and Ramon led to the latter punching the other, with Michaels then eliminating Douglas from the match. Miscommunication meant that Michaels superkicked Sid (ostensibly by accident, though he didn’t seem too concerned about it), and Sid retaliated with a powerbomb. Ultimately, Michaels, Johnson, and the Bulldog were left standing as the winners, following nearly a half hour of dysfunctional tag team action.

Survivor Series 1999

In November 1999, Big Show was less than a year into his run in WWF, and well on his way to becoming one of the biggest stars of the company. So it was at least a little bit surprising when he was announced to be teaming at Survivor Series with Funaki, Taka Michinoku, and The Blue Meanie, who were… not the biggest stars of the company.

Apparently, The Big Show also thought it was a bad fit, and he beat up all three of those partners backstage on the episode of Sunday Night Heat that preceded Survivor Series 1999. Big Show then took on the team of Big Boss Man, Mideon, Prince Albert, and Viscera alone, but the numbers advantage was most definitely no advantage at all—Show eliminated Mideon, Albert, and Viscera in about a minute, prompting his then-archenemy Boss Man to frantically flee the ring for a count-out loss.

Big Show’s big night didn’t stop there—taking the place of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin in the main event, he won his first WWF Championship in a triple threat match against Triple H and The Rock.

Survivor Series 2001

Several months of WWF’s 2001 was dominated by the “Invasion” storyline, in which WWF’s former competition WCW and ECW—at that point both recently acquired by WWF—joined forces as “The Alliance,” and sought to challenge WWF for pro wrestling supremacy.

That narrative came to a head at Survivor Series 2001, with a “Winner Take All” match featuring the Alliance team of Booker T, Rob Van Dam, Kurt Angle, Shane McMahon, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin against Team WWF, which consisted of The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane, Chris Jericho, and The Big Show. Of course, it’s unlikely enough that Austin and Angle were on the Alliance team—the Invasion story took all sorts of wild turns—but Jericho and The Rock had some serious beef at that point, with Jericho attacking Rocky during the match and nearly sealing the fate of Team WWF.

Things ended with one more teammate turning on another—Kurt Angle hitting Stone Cold with the WWF Championship belt—and The Rock getting the win, with the Invasion angle coming to a close.

Survivor Series 2003

The John Cena of 2003 was a very different John Cena than the clean-cut superhero that’s defined WWE for years and stars in Hollywood films—he wore oversized jerseys and delivered foul-mouthed raps against his opponents. Survivor Series 2003 was a major turning point for Cena, as he deemed the enemy of his enemy as his friend—by teaming with Kurt Angle, who he wrestled less than a month earlier at No Mercy—to take on the epically massive team of Brock Lesnar, Big Show, A-Train (previously known as the aforementioned Prince Albert), Nathan Jones, and Matt Morgan.

Survivor Series 2003 firmly entrenched Cena as a fan favorite—a role he’s held onto in the subsequent 15 years—where along the way he’s become one of the biggest stars in WWE history. The match itself worked out well for Cena, too, with him winning the match by impressively hoisting Big Show up on his shoulders for an Attitude Adjustment (called, in the less family-friendly era, “the F-U”). Of course, change doesn’t happen overnight: Cena, at that point still very willing to play dirty, hit Big Show with a chain to the face right before that F-U.

Survivor Series 2006

While many Survivor Series matches have featured current foes teaming together, there were about 30 years of history between Ric Flair and Dusty Rhodes when they teamed together at Survivor Series 2006. Flair and Dusty had one of the most-storied feuds of all time—some say the best—with Flair himself naming the late Rhodes as his favorite opponent on ESPN last year. Their rivalry also inspired one of the most frequently-quoted wrestling segments of all time: Rhodes’ “Hard Times” promo.

Rhodes and Flair were both in the twilight of their in-ring careers by November 2006—it was Rhodes’ second-to-last match ever—making their team-up something of a full circle moment. The match was a classic battle of youth vs. experience, with the Spirit Squad (young up-and-comers including the future Dolph Ziggler) against the Hall of Fame crew of Rhodes, Flair, Sgt. Slaughter, and Ron Simmons (taking the place of an injured “Rowdy” Roddy Piper). The wily vets prevailed on that evening—Flair was the sole survivor, beating Spirit Squad member “Johnny” (mysteriously, none of the Spirit Squad had last names) with his famed figure-four leglock.

Survivor Series 2017

You don’t have to go back very far to find unlikely Survivor Series partner. Just last year saw longtime adversaries Triple H and Kurt Angle on the same squad, as part of Team RAW in brand warfare alongside Braun Strowman, Finn Bálor, and Samoa Joe.

Angle and Triple H came into the match with nearly two decades of history, and they weren’t able to coexist peacefully for even the entire match. When Shane McMahon was about to tap to Angle’s ankle lock, Triple H turned on his partner and hit him with a Pedigree—not because he was showing sympathy to his brother-in-law, but because, in an iconically Triple H move, he wanted to pin Shane himself. The tension between Triple H and Angle evolved all the way until this past April’s WrestleMania 34, with Kurt Angle and Ronda Rousey defeating Triple H and Stephanie McMahon.

Survivor Series 2018—with its own fair share of unlikely partners—takes place November 18 on the WWE Network.

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